Passive-Aggression & Misappropriated Terms

CW: Me being not my usual fuzzy-wuzzy self, and pissed off about it.

It often amazes me how people throw words around like they mean whatever they believe them to mean, and not what they actually, legitimately, lexicographically mean.  Maybe it’s because I’m pedantic as f*ck, I don’t know; but maybe if you’re going to use a word, make sure you are using it correctly so’s you don’t sound like an ass.  Given that you’ve got an actual smart phone in your real life hand with the Entire Internet on it, I feel like, hey maybe make sure you’re saying what you mean, especially when you’re criticising other human beings who have feelings and an internal life and their own sh*t with which they must deal.

A benign, but oft-corrected, example of this is sentient/sapient.  Sentient life includes all creatures or beings that can respond to stimuli, while Sapient (a la Homo sapien, kids) life includes all creatures capable of some degree of rational decision-making. Interestingly, a being need not have senses to be sapient, though most seem to do.  An advanced AI might, for example, not respond to sensory data, but show the ability to make sapient choices.   It’s a common mistake to use ‘sentient’ to refer to both sentient and sapient life forms.  Another benign example of the misappropriation of a commonly used term is ‘anti-social’.  Anti-social behavior is diagnosable.  So when someone says, “I just feel anti-social today,” I’m like, “Do you need to see someone about that?” because hey, Unabomber.  What the speaker almost always actually means is “I just feel asocial today,” in that they would prefer not to have the company of other people, and would like to remove themselves from social situations.  I CAN RELATE TO THAT, YO.  (Segue!)

Passive-Aggression is another one of those things where, judging from some conversations, if I were not so native and facile a speaker of the English language, I would believe it meant Just About Anything the Speaker Doesn’t Like.  I was talking to Amanda (one of my three readers) last night on the phone (like we do), and passive-aggression came up over the course of us talking a bunch of smack on people we don’t like, which is most people, honestly.  This activity is one of the major pillars of our friendship, and has been for the last seriously eighteen years.  We are adept as f*ck at judging. Accurately.  Here’s the thing.  Passive-Aggressive Behavior has an actual definition: “Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, hostile jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.” Thanks, Wikipedia.  You’re like, the total best.

If there is no hostility* on the part of the speaker/actor?  There is no passive aggression.  There might be some faux pas, or maybe an embarrassing social mistake of some other kind, or perhaps even just some folk saying some sh*t some other folk don’t like.  This got me thinking. (* NB: I interpret the violation of consent and reasonable preferences as hostile.  If someone says, “please don’t do that, it hurts,” or, “Could you please find another way to say that?” and you keep at it like it’s welcome, funny, or acceptable?  You’re being hostile, bro-scout.)

Most of the times I’ve seen people wrongly accused of passive aggression, it’s because what they’ve said or done has actually sparked hostility in the listener/receiver of their words/actions, and then that person projects that hostility outwards onto the speaker/actor.  Here’s the thing.  If I say something you don’t like, and I say it directly without hostile or mean-spirited motivations, and you get all bent out of shape about it?  That might be indicative of any number of things, but the speaker being passive-aggressive?  Ain’t one.  Being critical of another human being’s wrongdoing?  Not actually passive aggressive!  Correcting a mistake in someone else’s words or actions in an effort to problem solve?  Not actually passive aggressive.  Even if one does so as gently as one can.  Even if one comes to the table in the spirit of repair. Even if one hedges to preserve the feelings of one’s listener.  None of that sh*t is passive aggressive, because it is not done out of hostility.

You know what actually is passive aggressive, though?  Deliberately ignoring someone’s request to discontinue dialogue.  Demanding apologies from people after they have acted as you suggest they act.  Phrasing communication as though you intend it to be helpful, when it is clear that you actually intend to have the last word.  Trolling people into continuing dialogue with you after they have expressed that doing so does not make them happy or well.  Presenting someone with an annotated version of their own communications after they have specifically stated, “I do not intend to invite or respond to further dialogue or conversation in this matter.”  When these events or actions take place, my will is crystallized, and my mind firmly made.  

Protip: Just say, “I want this conversation to continue, and I intend to bully and batter you until you give me what I want or I get bored (whichever happens first).”  

Because let me tell you!  You’ll get bored.  So bored.  The Boredening will come for you.  Know why?   Because I will peace the f*ck out harder than I have ever peaced the f*ck out before now!  Lookit, B*tches: I abandoned my own parent, who aided in giving me life (and my good looks), whose approval I craved like it was crack cocaine coated in pixie sticks and coffee grounds for basically every formative year I had.  Serious actual radio silence and a restraining order for the last seventeen years and counting.  My children won’t even know his name.  Deathbed phonecall?  Sorry, busy painting my nails and being awesome.  I do not abide this bullsh*t.  Ever.  I have had enough of this behavior for an entire lifetime, and had it at the hands of people whose love and approval mattered infinitely more than your average person to whom I owe a sum total of Absolutely Nothing.  I know passive-aggression because it shaped my parents’ marriage, my relationship with both of them, and I’ve spent years (and thousands and thousands of dollars) weeding its vocabulary and gestures — including sarcasm and counter-signalling — out of my personal lexicon.  So if you ever want to really be sure I do an about-face and walk right the h*ll out of your life, permanent-like?  Doing any of the above is a great start.  

I’m going to go adjust my gmail filters some more.

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Passive-Aggression & Misappropriated Terms

The empathetic brain

So, this was pretty interesting.  
I’m something of a dilettante when it comes to serious scientific research. It fascinates me, but I’ve never considered myself clever enough (or honestly, dedicated enough) to learn the nuts and bolts of serious gut science.  Biology was for sure my strength, and Anatomy and Physiology held my interest firmly enough that I considered a career in medical examination for a while.  Then I got to chemistry and was like, “Wull there goes that.  Humanities it is!” 

 

All of that notwithstanding, I am constantly wonderstruck at the ways and methods people devise to learn more about neuroscience.  The secrets locked up in that strange, wiggly, greyish organ sort of boggle the mind (pun!  Oh man).  We certainly know less than we don’t know, and it seems like pretty fertile ground to try and discover more about human behavior and response.  

 

Empathy is one of those things that interests me a lot, because I happen to possess sort of an alarming amount of it.  The feelings of other human beings touch me like I don’t have skin, if I don’t watch myself and pay attention.  Things like anger or sadness, contempt or even an overwhelming abundance of joy (yes, I will ugly cry at your wedding, even if I don’t know you) affect me really deeply, and it doesn’t seem to be something that I can change about myself, even if I wanted to do.  

This can be endearing, I’m told.  Tomthulhu often smiles in a smitten sort of way when I weep at movies, even when (especially when) I’ve seen them thousands of times.  A high empathy response also helps me respond and react to people in ways that help them feel very connected to me.  As a crisis counselor, this was pretty central to my work.  As a friend or lover, it can be pretty useful when things like bonding or comfort are needed.  

It has its downsides, though.  I’m very prone to compassion fatigue, and because I’m naturally highly available to (and highly affected by) a lot of people simultaneously I sometimes have trouble identifying the sources of that fatigue accurately.  In addition, a high empathetic response can make people feel more connected to or intimate with me than I feel with them.  This is especially true for people for whom acts of service are primary received and sent love languages.  Mine is touch (both sent and received) by a fairly wide margin followed by words of affirmation and gifts at a pretty even tie for second place.  I perform acts of service well and happily for lots of reasons, but I often prefer them to be physical tasks.  Let me do your damn dishes.  I will get you ice cream.  Here, I can fold that laundry for you.  May I make you food?  I don’t internalize acts of service as deeply, when I receive them, as things like touch or praise or tokens — unless they are rare for a person to perform.    In relationships where words are the primary intimacy builders, this inequality of closeness-feelings has a tendency to sediment.  People who rely on my empathy are often very close to me, because I take that reliance as the compliment it is.  However, other ways of enacting love are required for me to be able to match them in how close they feel to me.  

People have often said to me, as a way for them to efface experiences I’ve had to make them more palatable, that if I hadn’t suffered so much in life, perhaps I wouldn’t have this capacity for empathy.  This study shows that the possibility exists that my capacity for empathetic response need not be explained as a silver lining to painful or degrading experiences, and might rather be simply a function of the incidents and accidents of my wiggly brain.  While this could be an emergent response to ongoing lifelong stimuli, it could also simply be that my blood vessels supply a lot of blood goo to particular parts of my nog.  This is especially interesting, since I don’t really tend to see my own empathy as that much of a value-laden virtue as a lot of folks seem to do.  It’s pretty inconvenient.  It can lead to a lot (a lot) of inequality in my life, if I am not cautious.  It requires a lot of me, both in terms of choosing it, or choosing to raise my threshold for my own well-being.  It requires a lot of maintenance to well, maintain.  It also attracts unhealthy people, at times.  It means certain kinds of media are not “safe” feeling for me.  

I’ve been trained to unlearn identifying with the pain or anger of others.  I no longer make it my own, because hey, not helpful.  But I don’t know what my capacity is when it comes to my ability to control sharing in the feelings of others, taking them seriously, and feeling them alongside others.  

It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

The empathetic brain

Meanwhile, back at the Warren…

One of the things that brings me a lot of joy (I can’t leave posts that feel negative hanging in the air… so here we are with Now For Something Completely Unrelated) is spending time in the kitchen with people I love.  Some of this is coming from a Giant Family, in which food, culture, love, and bonding are all pretty inextricably tied.  I recall fondly the year that I was “old enough” (read: tall enough to reach the counter) to join my myriad of aunts and uncles in the kitchen as we prepared holiday meals.  It made me feel included, connected, and like I was part of something much larger than myself or a meal.  I was part of a familial ritual, and had come of age, in a way.  Because the stories come along with the food and its making.  In any event, making food is as important to me as eating it, and should be at least half of the fun.

Making things from scratch was a reality of my childhood, in part because once the bills were paid… we really didn’t have a lot left over.  I never knew it explicitly at the time, but when I was five or six, Ma often only had $30 for a weeks’ worth of groceries for a family of four.  She didn’t buy Wonderbread — we made our own.  We never had soda in the house, unless it was someone’s birthday.  My brother was allergic to milk in a pretty serious way, so things like cheese and cookies, candy, ice cream, and snackie cakes were never a part of our pantry.  I didn’t eat a slice of pizza until I was probably nine or ten years old (it was at a birthday party), and honestly?  I didn’t really like it at the time, though I certainly didn’t say so aloud.  I know now that my parents often went to bed hungry so that my brother and I could have second helpings.

As a result of all of that, both my brother and I know our way around a kitchen, are pretty adept at knowing what portions look like, and know how to stretch food over a week.  Leftovers for lyfe, y’all.  Put that ish on some eggs — it’s an omelet!  Add it to a salad — Fancy salad!  Can you throw more vegetables in?  Casserole!  How about some cheese?  Quiche!  Is it good with tomatoes?  Make it into red sauce, and pour it over spinach and kale! Needless to say, problem-solving in the kitchen is way more fun when you actually have the resources to do so.  I will probably never lose the habit of looking at what’s in the fridge and thinking, “Hmm… how can I get two more meals out of that?” Seriously, it’s like Xeno’s paradox sometimes.  I believe leftovers are infinitely divisible into breakfasts and lunches, if I’m just creative enough about it. Having a partner in crime just makes it more fun.   

Anyway, Tomthulhu and I are spending this evening preparing for LARP this weekend.  In his infinite wisdom, he emailed me this as an idea for something paleo, protein dense, and delicious that will yield at least 5-6 meals. So this evening after work, I am the Errand Bunny, with a pretty shopping list full of delicious things. Making our own hot stuff (not a euphemism) is constantly on our List of Things We Ought to Do, so I’m excited to spend some of this evening making our own adobo sauce, and preparing a brisket for impending glory.  

Acts of cooperative creation are a huge bonding experience.  Appreciation of excellence and beauty (which includes things that are handmade and tasty) is high on my list of personal virtues, and having an opportunity to create something over the course of a relaxing evening with someone I love sounds pretty amazing.  I know a lot of people think of making dinner after a tough day at work and say, “uh, how about takeout?”  But honestly, there are few things that help me feel more relaxed and energized than setting up a mise en place with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and some jazz on Spotify and someone to lend helping hands, stir that roux, or provide a playful butt squeeze.  There is a great intimacy in quietly creating something beautiful with two sets of hands.  

In other words, I’m looking forward to this evening.  

Meanwhile, back at the Warren…

Gross Loss, Net Gain

CW: casual anecdotes re: child abuse.

Amanda says I should write more, so I do.

Lana del Rey style (like I do), I was driving yesterday, tired of feeling like I’m f*cking crazy.  Since March, I’ve had a lot of conversations with the following structure:

Person: “I am angry at you because you allowed me to hurt you.”

Me: “…. uh. Excuse me, whut.”

I have been having some version of this dialogue episodically since I was approximately four years old.  It was, perhaps, especially inappropriate then, given that my interlocutor was a parent (nominally), and I was at the time, you know, a baby who despite being a precocious reader and speaker, was four actual human years old.  My first memory of its occurrence in my life was immediately after having been pushed down a flight of stairs.  In the intervening twenty-eight years of my life, that single phrase (and things that share its import and sentiment) have gradually transformed into a one way ticket on the express train to the bustling metropolis of Get the H*ll Away From Me, You Manipulative Assh*le Town.  

Perhaps most significantly, I’ve had to punch my father’s aforementioned train ticket recently.  There have been others, too; but I imagine he will always hurt the most.  I’d say it wasn’t personal — but it is.  It is always personal.  The minute someone utters words that orbit around  the strange notion that persons who are not our own selves are somehow responsible for 1) making sure we aren’t acting like assh*les, and 2) assuaging our yucky feelings when we realize we have, in fact, been assh*les, I make a pretty expeditious egress.  I know exactly what lies down that particular path.  Hell, I’ve been down the damn thing enough times that I could probably show you some shortcuts. There’s a really neat one, right around the time when you realize that there are people in this world who believe that what governs their behavior is What You Will Let Them Get Away With, and not, What It Means To Love A Person.  You can cut right through the underbrush at that point, and skip right to “Holy god, what was I even.”  It is then time for a bubblebath and an orgasm (or ten).

It’s funny.  My mom used to say, “Some people can never forgive the people they’ve wronged.”  She and I disagree about a lot, but we sure have some shared life experiences.  I know the experience of being the locus of someone else’s deficiencies and short-comings and therefore, the object of their anger and derision.  Because really, how dare I allow my hurt to remind them of their imperfection?  Seriously, where are my manners I should absolutely know better.

This pattern of behavior revolves around hijacking someone’s legitimate injury, licking it to claim it as one’s own, and then placing the burden of care, apology, effort, and repair firmly on the shoulders of the injured party.  I have been known to call this behavior “Pain Thievery”.  Its sought-after response is, “I am sorry that my injury (that you caused) hurts you so much. How can I make this okay for you (when it sort of shouldn’t be)?”  I am not exaggerating.  That was not hyperbolic snark: the dialogue is geared specifically towards eliciting that response.  I lived with one of these jokers for the first fifteen years of my life.  If there is one thing he desires from me, it is absolution — not just forgiveness, but absolution.  I have since made the regrettable discovery that he was by no means a unique creature, nor was his behavior in any way novel or rare.  If they gave out merit badges for this crap, I would have quite the collection. 

Here’s the thing, though.  I don’t want to be anyone’s instructor.  I reject the notion that it is somehow my job to educate adult human persons on how to treat people and love them properly.  I simply won’t do it.  If someone wants to be a part of my life, they need to have certain basic skill sets and attitudes already in place.  If I find out they don’t have them, I will exit pretty unapologetically.  I’m not going to sit cross-legged and, zen-like, explain to grown human beings that the task of monitoring or regulating one’s behavior is one’s own responsibility, or that failing to do so can have a negative impact on the people with whom we are close.  It grows tedious, trying to come up with new and interesting ways to express the idea that if what you’re doing isn’t loving or done in a loving way, it is very likely that people around you will not feel loved.  It is one thing to be asked, “How may I love you better?”; and it is quite another to be told, “It is your job to ensure I treat you in a loving way.”  Because the implication is that again, relationships are about what you can get away with doing, and not striving to create an atmosphere in which the people you love flourish in your company. Strip mining vs. Sunshine?  Well, gee.  Let me think about that for.. oh wait, I’ll take the sunshine thanks.  

Expressing anger at someone for reporting an injury is equivalent to punishing them for having feelings and being a person.  It’s why a lot of people have so much trouble reporting that they have been hurt.  If you’re hurt, it’s probably your fault, after all, amirite? Maybe toughen up!  The thing is, I don’t buy that, and people who do are unworthy of my time.  It’s never easy or simple to go into a situation knowing that it’s a 75% (no, really.  75%) chance that your hurt is going to be shoved back down your own throat.  Are you ready for that?  Are you ready to have to tell yet another person to F*ck Right Off?  Are you fully and adequately prepared to walk away and not look back once you’ve seen it happen?  Are your supports in place?  Do you have time available and blocked out to take care of yourself if and when shit goes down?  Have you had the time to reality-check your perceptions and plan of action with someone you trust?  Do you have the means to resist the crazy-making that might/will probably ensue?  These considerations and preparations take time and energy to execute at a time when both might be at a premium.  

So when my father shows up on my front porch on the evening of my thirty-second birthday and says things like, “Why didn’t you tell me sooooooooooner? Now I’m maaaaaaad because you made me feel things I hate.” Or someone finds a delay in my report of some hurt or injury to be dishonest, my response is kind of like, “Well, you know.  F*ck you.  In the ear. Also, get out. OUT. Don’t come back.”  My father’s ridiculousness is mitigated slightly by the presence of some pretty severe mental illnesses.  That fact is just about the only thing that keeps me kind, with him (also, you know, he’s m’Da.).  Other people who don’t suffer from a lifetime of completely untreated disordered personality, a history of pretty terrifying physical and emotional abuse, and a myriad of psycho-emotional barriers get far less kindness afforded to them (also, you know, he’s m’Da).  So whereas I might say to my father, “Daddy, I love you, but I will not protect or shield you from the consequences of your behavior.  One of those consequences is that you can’t be a part of my life,” I will tell a fully capable person, “Screw off.”  Because my dad has a diminished capacity to understand that no, really, other people exist separate and independent of their ability to meet his ever-fluctuating needs and desires, it is reasonable for me to assume that when we interact, I’m probably going to have to reiterate that my world does not revolve around him.  In a very real way, he does not understand this.  He cannot grasp that This Rabbit Darling Who is Real and Human is unrelated to Fictional Rabbit to Whom He Relates in His Head and Whose World Revolves Around His Needs.  To him, I am her.  My decisions are because of or in spite of him.  I do not have an existence that is independent of his story about me.  I don’t get to have my own story, in the psychoemotional world in which he resides.  It’s, you know, why we don’t interact.  Cos that sh*t is exhausting and painful.  He can have whatever kindness I can afford him, but he cannot have my care.  Because no one who behaves in this way gets to have my care.  For people who exist closer to the healthy and reality-based end of the spectrum?  Uh.  No.  Just, No.  Things like kindness or charity will not be on offer.

There exists no set of circumstances under which I’m going to prostrate myself in apology for being hurt by hurtful behavior, especially to a person who simply would prefer it if I would stop having feelings that make them feel gross.  If the feelings that follow from treating someone  carelessly or thoughtlessly, or unkindly are unpleasant?  Maybe don’t do that, then you won’t have to feel that way.  If the answer to, “Is what I am doing/saying loving?  Does it communicate that I value them?” is “Uh, probs not,” then you know… maybe stop, if Loved and Valued is how you would most like for them to feel. 

There is a positive place for me to land, despite these musings.  I have expanded the kinds of questions I ask myself, when I interrogate my own behavior.  I have learned new ways to ask the people I love, “How best can I assure and remind you of your value to me?” Negative examples provide an excellent silhouette for better choices in the space they delimit.  They also throw into relief the truly amazing forces and people who remain in my life.  I’ve also gained a lot of clarity regarding where I am accountable (Buck up, take the risk, and say you’re hurt once you feel ready to do so), and where I’m not (“Your hurt is so painful for me! I throw myself upon the thorns of life.  I bleeeeeed. Please you to fix it meow.”).  I am also reminded that while I am not entirely liberated from the more negative influences and characters I’ve encountered, I am also not enslaved to them.  Remembering the lessons I’ve learned is not credit I owe to the people who have made those lessons painful.  

Gross Loss, Net Gain

Today, I learned something wicked cool.

Figs and Wasps have been involved in a symbiotic (and weird) relationship for 34 million years.  

Figs are one of my favorite things.  They’re up there with pineapple (the fruit of which is arranged in an interlocking helix related to the Fiboanacci sequence) and symbiotic relationships and gluten free marshmallows.  I had no clue figs were actually inverted flowers pollinated from the inside by the reproductive cycle of scary wasps (all wasps are scary… bees are fine; wasps are vile mean creatures who apparently exist solely to give me figs and figgy products and terrorize me by getting stuck in my car while I’m driving).  

 

Beyond that, I’m reading Attached, at the recommendation of a dear friend.  She has also recommended to me Emotional Unavailability.  One of the ways I respond to shite situations is to read, research, reflect, and discuss (nerd); so I’m excited to be able to invest in a shared vocabulary with someone close to me.  

As a result, there will likely be “Stuff I Learned Today” posts coming at a fairly decent clip.  But today: FIGS, Y’ALL.

 

Today, I learned something wicked cool.

How Much a Heart Can Hold

If playfulness and pretend are my sunlight, then quiet is my rainfall.  When I have an abundance of each, I am most fully and happily myself.  My reflection is clearer, my eyes keener, and my heart kinder.  I don’t know if this is idiosyncratic to me individually, to persons of my personality type, or simply a requirement that most people have to varying degrees.  

Life has been far quieter lately than it has been.  I’m more focused, and strangely, more creative. On my walk to work in the early, balmy hours of this morning, I could not stop smiling for the love of a blooming lilac, fresh raspberries from my neighbors’ bramble, a freshly made iced ginger tea, and a devious text message from the man I love.  I’ve danced more in the last week than I have in months.  I’m reading again, and have ideas for a new character for a stealth-based campaign a close friend will be running.  When the tides of chaos recede in my life, gratitude and creativity rush in to lap at the shore like smitten puppies.    

Factually speaking, much of my time is spent alone and quiet.  For the next month, I will continue to live alone.  My job is quite solitary.  I walk to and from work and home for lunch every day, rather than spend it in the office with my co-workers.  I work out by myself, and spend a lot of my free time reading, dancing, and writing alone.  Recent tumult had me sleeping poorly.  Nightmares had returned to being nightly occurrences.  I often woke with a vague sense of having been buried alive or chased past my endurance, hurt by unseen hands.  Now, even as the heat of summer climbs, I’ve slept solidly, completely, and the happy and creative dreams I value have returned to me.  I want to roll how I’m feeling around in my mouth like an ice cube on a hot day.

As the solstice approaches, it seems a worthy enterprise to make my words here be more for myself.  Since that date also marks my anniversary with Tomthulhu, and we begin the preparations for our lives to merge another degree or two, I want to spend time writing and thinking about what is wonderful in my life.  The solstice marks a time of abundance.  At the height of summer, what once remained hidden reveals itself, and what was waiting to bear fruit often blossoms.  I am filled with the anticipation of good things, gratitude for what I possess, and a renewed sense of self-knowledge. It seems like as fine a place to begin as any. 

So, then: to new beginnings, fireworks, roller coasters, and sweat-soaked kisses stolen in the sunshine. To lemonade, sudden thunderstorms, and early morning trips to the beach.  To painted toenails peeking through sandals, sunburns, and mosquito bites.  To fizzy drinks and crazy straws, moving boxes, outdoor movies, and long walks at night.  

How Much a Heart Can Hold