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.