I have become aware in recent times of what I can only call an indulgent sense of smugness. Some of it manifests itself in a self-satisfied Cheshire cat-like enjoyment of my nice house, nice family and cosily heated car seats. Some of it manifests itself in the sort of attitude displayed by the old guy that reminds any complainers that he used to have to get up at 3am to walk 20 miles to school, barefoot in the snow through bear-infested woods. It shows itself in the form of my firmly tied tubes smirking at people recounting the torment of sleepless newborn nights. It’s the little piece of me that is in danger of giving out slightly patronising relationship advice from the warmth of my happy marriage.
All-in-all it’s really pretty ugly. I had always put it in the category of pride up until now – and while that still may be a part of it, I have become more convinced that for many of us, smugness is the cushion on which rests the still traumatised parts of a past experience. An emotional and mental barrier between where we’re at and where we once were. An illusion of being protected from ever having to return to that place or those feelings.
You see, when I consider it, I am most prone to smugness in areas where I have come through a significant struggle. The nightmare of having a severely-refluxy newborn that won’t stop screaming, the many years of singleness that were so desperately unwanted, the intense work of dealing through my inner mess – my bitter acquaintance with these things has resulted in an almost ironic mingling of compassion and smugness towards others facing similar issues. Which only goes to show, that there is a measure of brokenness evident.
For me, there are two main reasons to be aware of smugsville. The first of which is that it is terribly unkind to others. You know that feeling when people are patronising, dismissive, or know-it-all about a situation you are facing – it’s the very worst! Our smugness leads us to assumptions about others’ experiences and blocks us from truly being present and compassionate. And secondly, it’s an indicator that there’s likely some part of me that is needing a bit of TLC.
When we encounter a traumatic event (which doesn’t need to be ‘traumatic’ by any objective scale – it’s all in how our minds perceive it), our brains often segregate the traumatised part behind a wall in order to help keep us functional. While this is super handy to keep living life, there comes a time, usually once the trauma is well behind us, when the injured part of us can start to be disruptive to healthy living. In order to experience wholeness, the wounded part of ourselves needs to be integrated back into our lives.
Put it this way, the part of us that has experienced trauma is locked up in a cell so it’s not able to incapacitate us by running rampant through our minds. But, eventually, it will start to make its presence known. At that point, we have a choice. We can smother the tin-cup-on-the-jail-bars noise with a big pillow of smugness and rest our weary bones on top of it. OR, we can undergo the often-painstaking process of integrating our injured cellmate back into the society of our life. How we go about that will differ based on varying factors – including the severity of our trauma, other stuff going on in our lives, and past experience of working through mental and emotional issues. We may simply need awareness and a few moments of reflection or journaling – or we may need to get help from someone qualified to walk the journey with us.
I don’t want to be a smuggerton any more – the only cushion I want others to experience with me is a soft place for them to rest their stories for a bit.
Love you friends,