Can I get a refund on today? I’m sure almost everyone has had one of these days, where negativity and frustration seem to be waiting around every corner. I won’t bore you with my list of “all the things that went wrong out of nowhere” but it is growing by the minute. I’m searching for grace and it seems to be as elusive as ever, although I’m noticing that my body isn’t physically reacting as intensely as it normally would be by this level of ridiculousness.
I feel like complaining to someone and then I find myself swinging internally to a feeling of guilt for not being more grateful for the blessings I do have. The phrase “in the grand scheme of things…” feels like a necessary preface to everything that isn’t 100% positivity during the international crisis we are facing. I find myself judging others as harshly as I judge myself in this regard, having little empathy for those who are complaining about the celebrations they don’t get to have while others are forced to endure the lose of the opportunity to properly mourn their dead. How do we hold our own disappointment and give it the space it deserves without conflating it with trauma and grief? Can something one person might consider a mere disappointment be a real loss to another? (The answer’s yes, I just needed to write it out to see the truth). Is it alright to complain about a bad day when others are suffering more severely? (Yes, but how?).
I’ve found myself biting my tongue when people post “woe is me” style about minor inconveniences, at times wanting to insert a “check your privilege” in response. I don’t know that asking permission before complaining always sets things right, but it feels like one measure that can reduce an “I’m suffering–get over yourself” exchange. I also find tapping into the emotions that a situation is causing to be a way to connect. “I’m sad/angry/anxious because I no longer get to…” is slightly less obnoxious than “Can you believe I don’t even get to..!”
As I sit with my own anxieties and disappointments of the day, what brings things home for me is distilling the situations I’m facing down to the core fear they provoke–being rejected, being impoverished, going hungry (I’m pretty sure you would roll your eyes HARD if I shared the situations that are leading to these base fears). If I get to the heart of why something sets me off, it is easier to feel sympathy for myself for being upset by it, even if the connection to the fear is irrational. Complaints and “complainers” often give away more than intended. Listen hard enough and you might hear the child-level reaction the person is hiding through their blustering.
I think there is a lot to unpack on this topic and I will need to take more time with it to get there. If you’ve felt grumpy and then subsequently guilty for feeling grumpy, know that you aren’t alone and that it doesn’t mean you don’t care about others who are suffering. Unchecked rage at a small slight is one thing, complicated agony at life’s grind is another. In the grand scheme of things, my life is alright today. On a truth level, I’ve had a shit day that’s stirred up a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too.
I am feeling angry today and I don’t know what to do with my anger. First, I’ve struggled for years to empathize and relate to people in the Boomer generation. Both of my parents fit into this generation so it was always destined to be the one I would have the hardest time with, but seeing multiple neighbors and community members playing games with social distancing by forming what look like extended tailgates is setting me over the edge. We shut down our entire society in large part to protect this generation, and the “thanks” I am witnessing in return is an adolescent belief of invincibility. I cannot muster a lot of grace for someone who purposefully puts themselves in danger when they would seem to be at a place where they should have had enough life experience to know better.
To top it off, I took my dog to the park and finally found a large open space where we could walk without any chance (or so I thought) of running into another person. Right as we were making our way between reservoir areas, this absolute f*ckhead got out of his car and starting hitting golf balls in our direction of travel, effectively blocking off a vast area of land from us. The park was most definitely not a golf course. I had a lot of nasty thoughts go through my head because it seemed intentionally sadistic–“hey, here’s this person trying to enjoy a walk, let me ruin it!” He got in his car and drove away after I’d walked quite a distance across the parking lot in the other direction.
I am someone who wishes bad things on those who are intentionally cruel. I want them to suffer. On an intellectual level, I know that this is where grace is supposed to enter the picture, I’m supposed to think of the times I’ve been mean on purpose and therefore empathize with that sentiment. I can think of a few, but I generally try to lighten other people’s load in life, not to add to it. I make many mistakes and react with impatience, but I do not go out of my way to mess with someone trying to, for example, enjoy their day. I want justice for those who are victimized by the sadism of the powerful; I would go further and say I lust for it.
But, stepping back, I know my desires are too concrete and too rigid. They lack the nuance of awareness of the interwoven systems within our society. For example, idiotic leaders who tell their acolytes that social distancing is impinging on their “freedom” to get sick and die in service to America’s “economy” (aka the rich and powerful) are in part to blame for the poor decisions of some Boomers to treat the shelter-in-place as a joke. The idea that the thinly-veiled threat of violence cis white men can hold towards people like me who are queer (as well as those who are PoC, poor and so forth) is not limited to one human specimen who decided his “recreation” included obstructing my freedom of movement, but is embedded in the patriarchal, heterosexist white supremacy inherent in American society. I can acknowledge those truths intellectually, but I still wanted respond aggressively to the flaunting of privilege and ignorance I witnessed. Once I calm myself after episodes like this, it usually leads me to redouble my efforts at constructive change, but, if I’m being totally honest, I do truly savor the schadenfreude that results when the powerful get what’s coming to them.
Today’s card invited me to consider vulnerability and sharing in confidence with others. What it led me to consider is how I can discern, both inwardly and outwardly, whether my pain and needs are being taken seriously or not. I know how to spot invalidation, experiencing and acting from a place of validation is more of a challenge.
Signs of A Validating Relationship
Respect includes boundaries. No one can solve all of our problems or bear all of our burdens. When someone respects me, they care enough to ask how they can be there for me, and to be realistic if there is something I need that they are unable to provide. The message “I agree you need this. I can’t provide it right now, but let’s talk about how you might get what you need” is my clearest approach to respectfully declining something I can’t take on personally.
Respect also includes holding what people share in confidence. This has been a struggle for me for reasons I’ve never fully understood. I think holding someone’s secret feels like lying to me and I have been known to gossip at times. Perhaps being forced to prove my “loyalty” by hiding the fact that I was being sexually abuse as a child has made me averse to knowing someone’s business but having to pretend to others that I don’t. I’m not a hypocrite in that I don’t expect others to hold most things I share with them in total confidence. If I have an area of providing a validating environment on which I most need to work on myself, this would likely be it.
People express empathy in different ways, but there has to be some degree of caring shown in order to feel validated. People who ignore me by not responding at all when I’m venting show me that my concerns are unimportant to them. Likewise, those who listen to my needs and then immediately focus defensively on discounting my concerns and/or on asserting their own conflicting demands demonstrate to me that they only want to take, rather than to engage in a mutually-beneficial relationship. Responsiveness includes acknowledging my perception of the experience, apologizing if harm has been done and discussing ways to improve the situation with a non-defensive, open mind.
In terms of feeling cared for, having someone remember a sensitivity or remind me that they care about a particular burden I’m carrying feels extremely validating. On the other hand, having to remind someone again and again that something upsets me leads me to believe they don’t actually care deep down. Sometimes, through dialogue, I’ve learned that they simply struggle with memory in general. Other times, repeated failures in this area have proven true as an indicator of their lack of concern for my general well-being.
Which relationship behaviors are necessary for you to feel heard and seen? What red flags show you someone might not be a trustworthy person who cares about you? What do you do in relationship to validate others?
I wrote recently about encouraging a stranger which was a task I found challenging. It was a lot easier for me to reach out to a friend in an uplifting way. Even so, I think that I hold myself back at times from doing so because I worry I won’t have the right comment to add or that I’ll seem overly-invested in their life in a way that disrupts the balance of the friendship. As a single person, I assume that I need positive input more than my partnered friends who have someone else in their life. When I step back, I realize that isn’t necessarily the case as people may share and receive kindness in different ways.
I am also aware that I bring some expectations to a check-in with a friend. When I ask someone how they are doing, I’m really asking for an answer and I feel closest to those who give me a full update rather than a curt “all’s well” in reply. I pity those who ask me how I’m doing with an expectation of it being merely a greeting, as I usually have a steady stream of consciousness about the current state of my life ready to go. How often do you reach out to those with whom you are close to encourage them? How does it affect your relationship?