toxic relationships

Question: Six Word Friday

Disclaimer: This is usually a poetic prose entry, however when I thought of the topic word, Question, this is what came up for me. So, there are six, six word questions to meet the criteria for a Six Word Friday entry. Please visit Adrienne at My Memory Art for more Six Word Friday entries.

It has been said there is no such thing as a stupid question or that the only bad question is the one unasked. However, it has been my experience that there are a number of questions that should not be voiced because they are harsh, critical, shaming, and condemning. The person who hears these questions is generally a “loved one” who may already be experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, condemnation, self-hatred, and feeling less-than. To hear these words, especially from someone who is a person of authority or someone who is supposed to be a safe, loving, and trusted caregiver will more than likely cause the one being asked to shut down, tune out, and put walls up between you and them.

What the *expletive* were you thinking?

Why would you believe that’s okay?

What the *expletive’s* wrong with you?

You are not seriously considering that?

What do you think you’re doing?

Did you ever stop to think . . .?

These questions usually are expressed during moments of high emotion when you might be feeling the negative effects or experiencing the fallout from consequences of the words or actions of the person you are addressing, generally with a raised voice dripping with censure while shooting venomous daggers from your eyes in order to get across to them in no uncertain terms that whatever it is that they did is unacceptable and should never have happened in the first place and should absolutely never occur again.

Let me share a little secret with you. That’s called emotional bullying, abuse, and manipulation, especially if it is your usual method of communication. It’s a passive aggressive form of verbal communication. Truth be told, depending on the degree of raised voice and non-verbal facial expression and body language that accompanies it, it can be experienced by the recipient as more aggressive than passive.

I don’t have many specific memories that are readily accessible. Most of them, from the entirety of my life, are almost instantly inaccessible as forgotten as soon as they are formed. I retain knowledge, for the most part, of the sequence of events, in a Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am,” kind of way and I have general impressions of the feelings and emotional atmosphere of some periods. Very few things are readily retained for instant recollection. However, there is a memory from about 16 years ago that is practically branded into my psyche and it has to do with a question of this nature.

Jerry and I met in February 1996 and within a few months he was living with me and my kids who were 9 and 2 at the time. Within a couple of months of him moving in I made the choice to go back to school while working full-time. That proved to be too overwhelming for me so I gave notice at the job, because I thought I needed the degree in order to ever move ahead in my chosen career path of social and human services. Then Jerry’s job ended, for whatever reason, and we wound up in a money crunch and were running low on food.

We went out to his parents house for a visit. His family was overwhelming to me. Mom and dad, still married, with three older sisters and one younger brother. At the time, the “baby” sister and her husband were living in a travel trailer in the backyard of the family home with their five kids, his “middle” sister was living upstairs with her youngest son, and his oldest sister lived a block over and had custody of several of her grandchildren, who were regular visitors at the grandparents.

I grew up as the lonely only of a single mother who was deceased by the time I was 12 years old. The remaining family at that point was the uncle who had guardianship over me and his wife who lived in the same apartment complex as my grandfather and his second wife (who just happened to be the younger sister of my aunt. Yes, my step-grandmother was the biological sister of her step-daughter-in-law.)

My mom had always worked in cafeterias and restaurants, so learning to cook home-made meals was never part of my early education. The things I did learn to cook were from my aunt and “grandmother,” who were from Arkansas, I believe. So, there was a lot of Southern Fried food that I never quite got to learn how to cook. Although, once upon a time I did fry a pretty mean chicken. Well, I don’t know if it was mean before it got beheaded, plucked, and sold in the store, but you get my meaning. Other than that, I never did get a domestic arts education at home. I was the only kid running around, so I did a lot of the cleaning up and washing of dishes, greasy, greasy, greasy, did I mention greasy? dishes. Must be why I hate washing dishes today.

By the time I met Jerry, I was involved and integrating, somewhat, into a Christian denomination that promoted a vegetarian/vegan diet and did a lot of potlucks. So, I had a killer recipe for a wonderfully yummy and satisfyingly fattening spinach-cheese casserole. I also was a master combiner of pre-packaged pasta and rice dishes with canned or frozen veggies with browned ground beef. When all else failed, a can of tuna, a box of mac ‘n cheese, and a can of cream of mushroom soup and voila, tuna casserole in a pot. I wish I could say my cooking skills have improved, but I really can’t. *sigh*

So, here we were, at his parent’s home, with a freezer in the garage, filled with butcher paper wrapped meat and assorted other basics for good home-made, meat and potato meals. This was beyond my experience or comprehension. As we were getting ready to leave his mother comes out of the garage and hands me a white paper covered frozen package about the size of a small watermelon and said, “Here’s a roast for you,” and thrusts it in my general direction.

I looked at Jerry and he looks at me. I look at this package in my hand in confusion and fear. A roast? What? How do you cook such a thing?

I glanced up at her and hesitantly ask her how to cook it.

“What’s the matter with you?” she exclaimed, “Don’t you know how to cook?!” A mixture of incredulous disbelief and displeasure underlying a tone of disapproval sprinkled with disgust.

Sixteen years later and I still feel like anything I say is received with all the same attitudes and criticism.

It used to be part of the problem in the relationship between Jerry and I because he didn’t understand how dismissive and hurtful her words and actions toward me were. After all it was just his normal experience in growing up with her. I’ve since learned that it isn’t just me, she’s like this with everyone. She’s mellowed a little bit. I’ve learned to not react and to shed the feelings as soon as I can like water off a duck’s back. I like her in small doses.

In retrospect, it provide insight regarding why Jerry gets defensive and shuts down or reacts with resentment and anger when I try to ask him questions to gain an understanding of what is going on inside so I can relate to what he’s going through. Questions were the whip used to manipulate, demean, and control the people in his world while he was growing up. yeesh.

So, be careful how you pose your questions and what your motivations are when you ask the questions. Please.

Loving the unlovable

Modern wisdom states that if you want to change your life and be a happier person, identify the people in your life that detract from your happiness because they are “toxic” and kick them to the curb. Protect yourself from their damage, do what’s right for you, and cut them off. I can certainly understand why that seems to be the “healthiest” thing to do. It is certainly true in the case of those who are being terrorized and tormented by abusers intent on causing harm to others, regardless of reason. However, I question whether that is truly the best way to deal with other people who are what more and more of us seem to be: the walking wounded, people who have been hurt and damaged by life who are doing their best to love and be loved through faulty filters and misfired good intentions.

Personally, I have encountered very few people who aren’t mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally damaged in one way or another. We see them as users, manipulators, workaholics, busybodies, addicts, layabouts, womanizers, party girls, freaks, narcissists, unapproachable, gossipy, undependable, flaky, disrespectful, clueless, jerks, @$$holes, weak-willed, insular, narrow-minded, close-minded, liberal, conservative, misguided, stupid, too smart for their own good, frivolous, sticks in the mud, ignorant, and know-it-alls. I’m sure I’ve left out a few.  The thing is, just about any person moving down the street has been seen in one or more of these descriptions by someone they’ve encountered in their life.  I know I have.

I’ve also been cut off. After years of cycling through my depression, being on and off meds, and going in and out of my crazy, chaotic, toxic relationship with Jerry a very good friend, whom I considered to be my best friend, just stopped returning my calls. It took me a while to get the hint, but I finally did get it and stopped calling. It still hurts every time I think of her. The thing is, I always judged her to be better than me. I valued myself less than I valued her.  I questioned what she saw in me and why she stayed friends with me. I openly admitted that she was a better friend to me than I was to her, but that wasn’t for lack of trying or intention on my part. I get it. I completely understand why, after a while someone would just give up on me and stop dealing with me. But, it hurt, a lot.

I’ve latched onto people I considered better than myself, hoping to learn how to be a better person from them.  Women who were better moms, more connected spiritually, who enjoyed the domestic arts, or seemed stronger at being self-sufficient and independent became my unsuspecting targets. I earnestly and sincerely wanted to be like they were. I wanted what they had ~ lives that seemed more integrated and interactive with their families and the world at large. Somehow, because I knew I was damaged goods and was constantly living a life of chaos and conflict, I was less than and these people were better than me.  If these better than me people could just help me to learn and be more like them, then I could be better too. After a while my life would inevitably separate from theirs. Usually because I fell back into my damage.

Over time, the only ones who seemed to be consistent, or at least intermittent, are those who are as difficult and challenging to deal with as I myself am. How painful and exhausting that has been.  However, I’ve started noticing something, the longer I stick with these relationships and the more I continue to work through my own healing and recovery issues, learning how to separate myself and my issues from them and their issues, while staying in relationship with them, my healing is progressing. I’m a stronger, more emotionally capable, compassionate, and stable person than I’ve ever been before.

Part of the reason for that is I’m beginning to trust and believe in my God given identity as someone who is fearfully and wonderfully made. I remember various slogans and cute images from the 70’s:

God don’t make no junk.

Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.

I’m not junk and I am a work in progress.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have life everlasting. John 3:16.

I’m loved. I was loved before I existed,  I am loved because I am loved.

Romans 8:38-39 ~ Complete Jewish Bible (CJB):  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, 39 neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord.

Gaining my sense of worth and value from a God who loves me means I don’t have to abandon and reject painful relationships with people I love who are as wounded and hurting as I have been. It gives me the strength, the fortitude, and the courage to keep trying in spite of what others believe I should do or conventional wisdom dictates is necessary for mutual growth and healing.

Remember this: Stone sharpens stone and rocks are polished by being spun around in a closed environment and knocking the sharp and rough edges off of each other.