My Achilles Heel gets scraped by people who can only see things from their own point of view, for whatever reason. Somehow, it seems to violate their sense of safety to do otherwise.
When someone “triggers” us, its actually a gift. My husband and I received one of these scat-wrapped blessings just the other day.
It started with Richard moving the neighbor’s clothes out of the washer to the top of the dryer so we could do ours. He was in a hurry to get Harper to a dentist appointment. Once he’d done that he texted the neighbor letting her know, and even apologized for touching her clothes.
He triggered her, apparently.
For twenty-four years we’ve coexisted peacefully with our neighbors.
Now we have a new neighbor. Today she demonstrated a very different view from ours of what constitutes reasonable behavior.
We’ve all heard how you can’t choose your family. The fact is, unless you’ve got unlimited resources, you don’t get to choose your neighbors, either.
So what do you do when there’s no escape?
What if you’re someone like my husband and I, who feel everything intensely? If you’re creative or highly empathic, chances are you can relate.
Funny thing is, I imagine my upstairs neighbor is a member of this club.
Rather than psychoanalyze her, however, I will reference my own past behavior.
I’ve always been one of those “overly sensitive” people. Still am. But pre-evolution, I felt victimized by any experience I held as negative. If someone yelled at me, was rude to me, rejected me, behaved in any way that I perceived as inconsiderate, I felt personally attacked….and if I didn’t fall to pieces I’d lash out, or expend megawatts of energy striving to be vindicated.
That never made being “overly sensitive” any easier.
Usually, things got exponentially worse.
And I can only imagine how miserable I made other people.
Ultimately life got so difficult that I was literally faced with a choice at one point: Work on myself, get therapy, study self-optimization. Or follow through on that other plan (which involved sedatives, yogurt, wine and a plastic bag.)
Some people harden into their beliefs about how others should and shouldn’t behave. Once offended they opt to keep their distance and vilify the “other,” finding allies that strengthen their case. This may work for a while. Maybe even lifetimes if you believe as I do.
Sometimes I wish I could be that way. But the thought of estrangement as a chronic survival tactic breaks my heart.
Fortunately, I have tools now.
I take care as best I can not to reciprocate shame, and in my finer moments, I hold the party I have unwittingly injured in my heart with love, whether or not they behave as I would like.
So thanks to my upstairs neighbor, I pass her gift on to you by offering a few guidelines to follow when you’ve been hurt by anyone:
1. Abort any imaginary arguments or revenge fantasies the moment you notice them arise. (Unless you are making art out of them.)
Nothing exists the way we think it does. So this behavior is devoid of reality and only detracts from your own peace of mind.
2. Be kind, even if they’re not.
My son said, “You should throw shade at her.” It’s tempting, but I won’t. He’s 16. I’m not. Pouting or otherwise “throwing shade” perpetuates the cycle of shame and blame, and keeps the incident central in your mind.
3. Reframe the situation positively.
For instance, now we know our neighbor better. In fact, whenever you can, find moments to be grateful for exactly how things go down. What wonderful teachers we all have! Carlos Castenada termed these teachers “petty tyrants,” and it’s been said that they can lead us to enlightenment.
4. Do not beat yourself up for feeling hurt. Just feel it.
Honestly, there is only one way to get past anything. And that is to go through it. The longer we place blame, the longer it takes. Above all, if blame is placed on you, don’t try to hand it back. Better yet, don’t even pick it up in the first place, assuming you’ve acted in good faith.
5. You’re hurting. Be really gentle with yourself.
Take care going about your day.
You’re going to forget things, space out at times.
But do go about your day.
And Finally, remember, a gift keeps giving when you turn it into something else….like art.
WHEN PAIN COMES…
Whatever you do, don’t grow a thick skin
Grow a bigger heart.
Don’t reciprocate injury
Simply feel your own
And acknowledge the pain of the other by whom you feel maligned.
If you grow a “thick skin,” how can you feel a warm breeze as it caresses you gently?
How can you appreciate poignancy?
Or be moved to create with nuance or subtlety?
Beauty is bourne of vulnerability.
Vulnerability leaves us open to pain.
Anything we do to get rid of our pain,
Through shaming, blaming, retaliation, suppression or otherwise anesthetizing
Suffering is the problem.
Pain allows us
to recognize despair
So that we know how to reach out to each other.
I don’t mean you should be naive,
Be wise, be safe
But when it comes to pain