In between the extremes of ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘an eye for an eye’ lies a world of possibility. Much of that territory is Education. Not just formal education but seizing upon teachable moments to present a fresh perspective and to infuse compassion into a volatile situation. For ourselves,there is the opportunity for  lessons in authenticity, the chance to practice and be who we really are in the core of our True Self. For those of us who have a history of having been victimized or dis-empowered, situations involving conflict or mistreatment (no matter how slight) can trigger very immediate reactions that arise from a place of self defense. From that position we are behind a false front, a suit of armor which obscures our authentic self from the rest of the world. It becomes a blockade through which no true human interaction can pass, in or out, and the opportunities are lost. We percieve a careless word, a dismissive comment or even a misunderstanding as a personal attack. Taking on the feelings of other people, especially the negative is most likely due to our hightenend state of self preservation. It’s not that we want to own the world’s problems as it may appear at times. It’s actually quite the opposite, we dread being the receptacle for someone else’s bad day the dumping point for other’s anger.
 Anyone who done time an an abusive relationship will tell you that the “blame game” a crucial element of the dynamic. The abuser will not take responsibility for their actions, can you blame them? Who wants to be a jerk? No one is really proud of it, so naturally they shift the blame to the victim. As we learn to play the game, we develop all sort of tricks of our own to throw into the mix. Because the game is usually high stakes, at least emotionally, we often draw our reactions from extreme ends of the spectrum; we either withdraw and forgive or we return the attack with more venom increasing the potential for violence but armed with a sense of self righteousness. If we do become “clever enough to find a middle road, it is often a muddled combination of the two extremes resulting the the most odious of all behaviors, the passive-aggressive reaction. We may pretend to forgive for example, but do so in such a way that is so self deprecating that it practically begs for continued conflict. The role we play and the moves we make within the complicated and ever changing rules of the game of an abusive relationship are well documented and discussed in many books and studies; what I’m here to address is the far reaching after effects that bleed over into our lives sometimes even years after ending an abusive relationship.
I’ve noticed, in my own experience, that even if I’m generally doing pretty well in my relationships with others there are events and people that can easily trigger those old responses. For me the devastating duo are stressful external circumstances where I feel I have no control, and people (usually authority figures) who interact in a manner that feels cold and detached. You know, the medical personnel who identifies you by the illness or injury you are been treated for, “we’ve got pneumonia in room 306” or the service provider to whom you are case number 45361.  Unfortunately crisis situations, category number one, often brings us into contact with category two. These are the times I personally am most at risk for becoming either a doormat or a viper depending on my mood and energy level at the time.
These are the times that I have to remind myself that if I want to have sense of personal power over the situation the only thing I really do have any control of is how I choose to respond. If I am being treated in a way I feel is disrespectful or dehumanizing, I have the ability and the right to address the person who is causing the perceived injury. If I am to come out of this scenario with any sense of success it is up to me to be mindful in my words and actions.
So here’s an example of a recent event where I was able to catch myself and walk my talk.
Last week was one of those weeks where it seemed everything was going wrong. I had a problem with my bank account due to an auto bill pay that I had authorized long ago and forgotten, my computer was on the fritz, I was having issues with my cel phone provider and then…my Dad passed away. Basically a shit storm of powerlessness. Putting things into perspective obviously some things are more significant than others and Dad’s passing was by far the biggie. Death however is after all an inevitable part of life, overdraft fees, not so much. I managed to solve all of the mundane issues while also passing through various stages of grieving my father (of course that’s all still going on but that’s another story). The clincher came when I realized I was going to have to visit the food pantry for the second month in a row. That in itself was not such a big deal but I needed to cram the visit into a very busy schedule. Where I live there is a “Community Service Hotline” where clients can call to get information about the dates and times of availability of food pantries and other services. I wasn’t certain of the times so I called the number to double check.The operator who answered the phone may have been having a bad day or maybe he just doesn’t posses proper phone etiquette and I may never know the answer to that. What I do know is he picked the wrong day to tell me, very icily, that according to their records I’d already visited the pantry within a 30 day period and that I couldn’t go there again for another week. Now according to the cheat sheet in front of him this may have been the instructions he was told to provide, but I know from experience that particular pantry allows people to come every two weeks, and  I told him that all I really needed was the hours of operation. He actually refused to give me the information, based on his belief that I was somehow breaking the rules. I tried reasoning with him telling him that I wasn’t going to argue the rules I simply wanted to know what time they open, and he became more determined to not tell me. The phone call ended rather abruptly when I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and was put on ‘hold’ i.e. disconnected.
So at his point I was beyond “triggered” I was loaded, cocked and ready to fire at anything that crossed my path. I was also in tears. Everything hit me at once and it was my grief that saved me. All I’d really wanted was a little compassion. I thought about that for a bit, and after running through the first scenarios that came to mind, the victim card, the righteous indignant card the passive-aggressive ‘let me speak to your manager and get you into trouble ‘ card it occurred to me that none of those were real, they were all just moves in a game that I no longer play. If I want real that I have to be real. I took some deep breaths, I got real and I called the hotline back. The same operator answered. I took another deep breath and told him calmly how I felt, in the moment; no extra information, no long stories, I simply let him know that his manner of speaking had made me feel less than deserving, less than human. I told him that while I understood that maybe he was having a bad day that his job involves interacting with people who are in need and that people in need tend to be vulnerable. I asked for no apology or explanation, I simply asked that in the future he would remember that on the other end of the phone was a real person with real needs and real feelings. Then I wished him a pleasant day, hung up and let it go.
I really sincerely do hope that the next time he has a crappy day that he can envision a real person on the other side of the phone. I hope that no one else has to be made to feel less than human because he has to “follow the rules” without question. I hope we can all remember, when were having a shitty day that our bad moods are fleeting and temporary but that the words we say and how we say them can send ripples through time. Maybe our teachable moment will bring something of value to someone else, maybe not.  If we can be honest with ourselves the words we put out there will be authentic and the ripples they send will be the vibration of our true Being and that, my friends, is the gift of Life.
© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard


About nanakoosa

Me...I am a trained Advocate and Counselor with 20 years experience working with Youth and Families. My most recent employment brought me to the field of Domestic and Sexual Violence Counseling and support. I myself am a Survivor of violence and have been on both side of the service desk, which provides for a unique, often conflicting, theoretical orientation. I am a regular blogger, journal keeper and story teller. My current focus is to give voice to the experiences of survivors, to shine some light in the dark corners of family life where all the spiders and creepy things hide. I also enjoy writing about my unconventional childhood in the tumultuous 60's and am dabbling in memoir writing. I have three wonderful children, two fabulous granddaughters and an assortment of pets. View all posts by nanakoosa

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