I continue to struggle with hurt feelings. Someone hassled me on Facebook, accusing me of being unclear when I had paid him a compliment! It was a small thing, to do with a rush to judgment, but he kept at it until I had to log off to avoid a minor meltdown.
No one in my family of origin ever kept their feelings in check. The emotional volume was always turned up. My mother could not ever let one small mistake go unnoticed and she would take people to task, reading into their comments and body language, profound persecution.
The older I get—now verging on 66, as many years old as the year I graduated from high school—the more I believe that we learn how to be in the world from the behavior of our parents. In essence, she taught me, imprinted upon me like a bantam hen upon her chick, or perhaps more like a timber wolf roughly instructing her pups–that you never let anyone off the hook.
It is indelibly difficult to change nearly anything about oneself. But I am determined….I see, ref. previous post, that when I let something get under my skin I am giving the Other the power to affect me, wound me, discombobulate and dys-regulate me.
I think about the time now nearly ten years ago when I was in the choir in St. Luke’s and the director, who had been given misinformation by another choir member, came down on me before a performance.
I so wish I had been able to take her rude jab at me in stride, without doing what I did— being crushed and devastated, leaving, throwing my music down in the parking lot like the enfant terrible I am…
I have been the worst offender when it comes to letting people be imperfect, letting them say or do something hurtful, rude, especially accuse me of something that I haven’t done. I know that I have harped on this ad nauseam but it is deeply important to me.
Many people have forgiven and overlooked my failings when I have been bitchy, overtired, or made a rush to judgment. And I regret to say that I am no good—yet—at not reacting.
O, the delicious power in not taking the bait, in letting someone hurt or offend me without falling into a reaction. If only we could bottle and sell forbearance.
Two months ago, I went to a new physician’s office for my second appointment with him. He had misinterpreted something I had said in a call, and he came in and sat down and began making angry accusations. He pointed to my chart on his laptop, showing me a log of phone calls I had made to his office in the course of straightening out confusion over my records and to try to get worked in earlier in the summer—something he had encouraged me to do.
Far from being the put-together kind, sharp young man he had been during my first visit, he coldly unloaded on me.
In fact, he made an immense issue out of my phone calls. I was stunned and humiliated and I reacted before I had a chance to catch myself. I interrupted him and told him that he was mistaken in an allegation he made.
The problem was that we each escalated our clash until he snarled, “I’m done!” at me, that he was dismissing me from his practice, and I had told him that I would report him if he didn’t renew my PTSD meds, which would mean physical withdrawal, and is irresponsible medicine.
It doesn’t matter now that before he said that, in my hurt I had said, “I can always get a different doctor.”
The whole thing triggered a tape in my brain; I was that little girl back in the Catholic private school with a nun dressing me down in front of the whole class. I had committed the actionable error of whistling in amazement at a profuse guppie-hatch.
“Miss Andrews!,” the nun had shouted. “Little girls don’t whistle!”
From that moment forward, and probably because my own mother had mortified and devastated me with her relentless criticism, the perfectionism with which she had me re-ironing my father’s shirts in the dank and dark basement, I have never handled it all well when someone finds fault with me.
An old friend once listened to my litany of woes on this subject and said, “But we all have to take criticism.”
I disagreed. And sometime later was to learn from a therapist, that when it comes to unsolicited feedback and commentary from others, we all have the right to say, “Thank you, but if I want your input, I will ask.”
As I spoke to in the previous post, it’s about the triggers—what gets triggered, and why. They say knowledge is power, but sometimes belated realization is useless.
Regarding the dear doctor, and despite my many resolutions not to react, I did what I do, when I am unhorsed and hurt. I invoked the ADA—the “direct threat” clause, which states that the only basis for termination of a disabled patient is if he or she is a direct threat to the health and safety of others. This provision was incorporated during the Aids epidemic, when physicians were refusing to treat HIV-positive patients who were desperate for care.
Predictably, the powers that be at this clinic have scoffed at my gauntlet. I can’t afford a lawyer and I am still drained by my efforts to get my former landlord to comply with the Fair Housing Act; I have many things to do and that I like to do, and I have scant appetite for going after this doctor. I have an appointment with someone else, in a few weeks and I am hopeful I’ll get there.
But wouldn’t it have been terrific, if I could have said suavely and with the utmost equanimity, “You are a real jerk, Dr. X. You are far afield of your Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. I needed you and I made myself vulnerable to you. Regarding holding your feet to the fire, it’s not worth my time and energy. See you around.”
And not to merely say this, but mean it and be o.k. with it, thereby bypassing any period of devastation at all.
I often think about the anecdotes about Jesus, that when the good people of Nazareth or wherever he lived and worked didn’t want his message, he went on to the next town. He simply moved on and waited for the right audience.
This is admirable and at this point completely out of reach for me. I believe that my PTSD is a form of rejection trauma, if that makes sense. Being sent the message that I am unwelcome as a tenant of someone’s property, or someone’s patient, lover, wife, daughter or friend is deeply painful to me, and I have experienced more of this than anyone I know.
But there isn’t any way to keep the world from hurting us, or even, ourselves from hurting others in retaliation or because we too are human and flawed. The only answer I can come up with is to increase my own tolerance for my own feelings. To ever be alert to the fact that I have a deep, deep wound in my solar plexus that goes back over sixty-five years…and to withhold reaction in the awareness that other human beings are very imperfect. To excuse myself from the setting and the moment and process my feelings. To wait out the pain—the hit, the implosion, the burn, the sear and then…the diminishment of the nearly visceral anguish. And then, ideally, I will respond rather than react, from a place of calm, my personal power and self-esteem intact.
It doesn’t work to lock myself away or to be at the mercy of my own reactions. I need community as much as anyone. But I am not especially good at forgiveness. And when we hurt others we are often unaware of what we have done or said, and vice versa. I am confident that those whom I allude to here are generally clueless over what set me off. There are so many variables here. I hope and pray—and I hope and pray for you, my reader as well if you identify with this struggle—that I will forfeit my personal power less and less often. That I will stop wearing my heart on my sleeve and vis a vis my interactions on and offline, keep my guard up to a great extent, and thereby be less vulnerable. .
At the end of the day, it’s about survival, isn’t it? And finding joy and meaning in our associations? Jack and I continue to stumble through Paradise. He is much better at biting his tongue than I, but perseverance sets us free…Happy Halloween, Friends and Readers all.