Do you find yourself being one of those people who is chronically late to things? Lateness is one of those experiences that we have, alongside things like procrastination or boredom, where we can tend to take it at face value. We can frame it as, “Oh this is just the way it is,” or “This is the just the way I am.” It can also function as a way to take us right into harsh self criticism- “I’m bad/wrong/lazy/the worst. End of story.” In these situations, however, I think there are often much deeper things operating. When we take it at face value or find a way to be hard on ourselves about it, we miss the opportunity for a more in depth exploration of what might actually be happening. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you find yourself often being late:
What am I late to? Do I tend to be late to everything or am I just late to certain things or with certain people?
Our lateness to particular events or with particular people can sometimes contain information about how we may be feeling about that event or person. Sometimes we may be struggling in a relationship (feeling hurt, angry, disappointed etc) and that can feel hard to name, which can cause us to show up late. Or we may feel worried about a task at work that could cause us to press the snooze button a few too many times making us tardy. Finding that you are late to everything would be good information as well, although my suspicion would be that upon closer examination, you would find that there are certain areas where lateness is more of an issue than others. Does a part of me want some type of response around my lateness?
I think that sometimes when we’re late, a part of us wants to be “called out” on it. The typically response from most people is, “Oh no problem.” But I think we may be unconsciously looking for something from other people when we are late. It is possible that often, as children, our more subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) struggles went unnoticed by our caregivers. So in our lateness as adults, we may be trying to get the people close to us to say, “What’s going on” or “Are you okay?” Unfortunately, this is not the response we tend to get, which can reinforce our lateness.
How might my lateness actually be serving me?
There are many behaviors we might have that on the surface we don’t like or don’t want to be doing but there is actually something about doing that behavior that may serve an important purpose. There are many reasons that lateness might actually get you something you want or need. What does it mean for you to show up to a particular situation frazzled and potentially apologetic? Does you worry about the expectations you might feel if you showed up in a more grounded place? Is there a way you are attempting to protect yourself from something by beginning an interaction from a one down position? Does a state of constant rush, struggle, drama, and unease feel normal, familiar, and comfortable to you? And if so, why?
All of these are possible things to explore in yourself around what the function of your lateness might be.
-- Liz Hayman, MFT, is a relationship and individual therapist in San Francisco, CA