I used to be a seriously egocentric drama queen. I could whip myself up into a frenzy of anxiety and self-righteous anger, with the best of them. I would verbally reenact every conversation where someone hurt me, offended me, or somehow made me feel “less than.” Then I became a defender of others who I believed were being treated the same way – diminished, devalued, and disregarded. I became hyper vigilant in my quest to protect myself and others from maltreatment. Which meant that I sought reasons to be offended. Believe me, it was not difficult to find reasons to be offended on my own behalf or on the behalf of others.
You name it, I’ve probably either been the poster child for the statistic or championed others who were:
Teen mom – check
Runaway – check
Street kid – check
Working mom – check
Welfare mom – check
Homeless – check
and the list goes on….and on, and on.
Words and attitude became my weapons of choice and boy did I take pride in that. Especially with men. I developed this ability to give a look and say a few words and have a guy who had mistakenly made an ignorant comment about women or welfare or teen pregnancy, shrink and cower, without raising my voice or using foul language. It even reached a point where a former girlfriend of mine would have the guys in the club see her and hide because they assumed I would be right behind. Hmmm, perhaps that’s why I had so many tearful moments in the bathroom because my friends had dance partners and dates while I was alone and not the fact that I was heavier than them?
Wow, am I sooo glad those days are 15-20 years gone, never to be seen again.
I guess the point of this post is this: In my woundedness, bitterness, and crusade against being treated wrong by others, I looked for and took offense, whether it was intended or not. I would assume that what other people said or did was out of an intent to hurt, wound, and marginalize me and others around me. I spent so much energy being offended and fighting back against it that I sacrificed friendships, familial relationships, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. I was so offended, that I became offensive and I drove myself into isolation.
I have learned over the years is that a lot of people who do things that are thoughtless and inconsiderate or seem overwhelmed and incompetent in a situation, aren’t behaving that way in order to thwart the lives and efforts of the rest of us. The speed racer weaving in and out of traffic in the shiny new car, may have gotten a call to the hospital because a family member is dying. The woman who pulled out in front of you, unexpectedly and caused you to have to slam on your brakes, may not have seen you through the long line of parked cars and group of pedestrians obscuring her view of oncoming traffic. The co-worker who is chronically late and distracted which causes you to have to pick up the slack, may be suffering from a mental or physical illness and have some serious family issues going on.
During one of my early forays into the recovery and healing process, someone told me to assume innocent motive. That really stumped me for a while. Finally, I realized what was meant. Instead of assuming that the people I was feeling victimized and offended by were intentionally doing something against me, I could assume that the motivation for their behaviors and words had nothing to do with me personally and weren’t about causing deliberate harm to me or others. This released me from the need to do anything in response other than take care of myself.
There are definitely people who are just in it for themselves and don’t pay attention or care about their impact on others. It is also true that there are people in the world who do exactly what I was on guard against. However, most people that are out there being offensive are probably coming from a similar mental and emotional space as I was: wounded and insecure people just trying to protect themselves and those they care about. When I approach things people and situations with this understanding, I’m much calmer, more rational, less rattled, and easier to be around.
It helps me to deal with unkind, unreasonable, and irrational people as well. I am able to conserve, concentrate, and constructively direct my emotional energy when dealing with the emotional and psychic vampires of the world.
It is also helping me to cope with and go through the very real pain of being rejected and marginalized by someone whom I care about very deeply. I can recognize that in many ways I have “earned” the way I am currently being treated and allow him to have the space to deal with his thoughts and feelings about it. At the same time, because I know what I’ve done to grow and change from the person I was that caused him harm, I am able to establish the boundaries that protect us both from continuing the cycle of harming each other emotionally. I have faith that, eventually, our relationship will heal and we will be connected again. In the meantime, I will assume that his motivations aren’t to deliberately wound me, but to protect himself and do my part to maintain open lines of communication, while letting him know I’ll be here when he’s ready. I don’t need to address the hurtful words and actions, because it would be counterproductive and he has to go through his process.
If I was still getting offended and angry, going off on every little thing I perceived others were doing to me, I would not have the capacity to handle the pain and grief in this present time from this critical relationship in my life. I’m grateful to have learned this life lesson. Assuming innocent motives of other people does make life easier to live through.