Cold Turkey

I have spent much of the last year addicted to a site where Moms ask for and give advice.  I am not going to say which one or post a link to it, because, trust me, it is a gateway drug to full-on internet addiction.  Earlier this week, after an especially restless night, I put up a post asking for advice on….something that had been troubling me.  Because I was exhausted, it wasn’t written with the care I usually put forth in any kind of writing. 

The first commenter, offended by my post, said she looked back and suggested the issue was my fault, stating that I did many wrong things.  The following commenters took her word for it, and though they were not rude, they were not helpful either.  If they had looked back, they might have seen the post where I wrote about my effort to stay polite in the face of this outrageous emotional abuse.  They might have found the first commenter’s answers revealed that she was extremely hostile to working Moms.  But they didn’t, and so, I had a stack of responses suggesting I examine my behavior.

As I am apt to do when anyone tells me anything is my fault, I did look back.  I looked back at everything I had said and done about this issue.  On the website, I looked back and re-read, seeking my “many wrong things” and the anger I had been told I felt.  And I didn’t think I sounded angry at any point.  In fact, to me, the post that set it all off sounded pathetic – whiney even.  And though one of my sons recently gave me a nice 2-year tutorial in whining, whiny is not something I want to be.  I also realized that, in the past year, I had written about the same issue three times.  For me, with something like this, that means I spent at least three months thinking about it.  Three months in twelve.  25% of this year of my life.  Oh….no.

no longer going around & around & around

Did I really want to put so much energy into something that benefited me in no way?  Did I want to turn it around & around & around in my head when, intellectually, I knew that the issue was no way, no how my fault? 

And though not unkind, my desire to fix the problem, to find something I could do, was self-absorbed and controlling.  Those were things I did not want to be either.  In fact, those were the qualities that, in another (more mean-spirited) person, triggered my angst in the first place!  So, I decided to go cold turkey on both the website and the unnecessary self-excoriation examination. 

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

I asked the moderators of the website to delete my account, something they don’t seem to want to do.  They unsubscribed me from email, which isn’t what I asked for.  So, when I found myself answering a question on that site this morning, I logged out.  I don’t remember my password.  But I discovered, even logged out, I can still look around the site and read…everything.  *sigh*

Some might think that my desire to leave that site meant the rude commenter won – but really, I don’t want to compete with her or anyone else.  I received an apology from one commenter who looked back, after the fact, at what I had previously written.  That was nice, but it didn’t change what I needed to do.  After all, this is a forum in which I did not have to take part.  Why put myself out there in such a vulnerable way when, inevitably, someone who enjoys being cruel will come along?  This activity did not feed or clothe my family and had no potential to do so.  If anyone on the site was family, I didn’t know it.  And though most people were nice, what did that get me?  Oh yeh, it got me addicted.  Really, it was time to stop….

As for the emotional abuse issue – it’s rarely part of my life.   What I spent 3 months thinking about was part of my life for days.  That’s right – a few days.  And though it may happen again, the more I think about it, the more it will hurt me.  If I stop thinking about it, stop caring about it, the unkind person and unkind behavior will lose power over me…completely.  What happens to the “issue” is this: it becomes small.  Which is what it is – small smallness in big fat smallsality.  It’s not about putting on a smiley face a few days a year while I endure nasty behavior – it’s about not caring about that behavior at all.  If I walk through a rainforest, a monkey might sling feces on me.  But it makes no sense to spend time being upset with the monkey.  I still got to walk through the rainforest.  Feces wash off – I don’t need to keep them.  And the monkey is just a monkey doing what monkeys do, after all.

For now, every time I find myself thinking about that issue, wanting to talk about it, wanting to write details about it, I think, “King Charlie is a good name for a rabbit.”  So far, that’s working pretty well.  It usually puts a smile on my face.  And at the very least, it makes me think of the now-defunct TV show “Reaper.”  If that fails, I’ll sing myself “The Monkey Song” which my oldest son and I made up when he was 3 (and which I can’t seem to upload right now).

I had a few thoughts after this experience: 

1) If someone is being emotionally abused, you don’t tell him/her any version of “this is your fault” – no matter who the abuser is.  It doesn’t matter if the abuser is famous, powerful, or pretty.  Really, that’s just…horrible.

2)  I think we need to turn the tide on abusers – all kinds of abusers – including those who browbeat and verbally abuse strangers.  Sure, it’s good for adults to know how to stand up for ourselves, but is it really so hard to say “Wow, that’s rude/nasty/unfair” when someone is hurting others? 

3)  When we (okay when I) spend lots of time on anything that that has no benefit to me, emotional or otherwise, it’s time to step back.

4) We should never take another person’s word for it when it comes to evaluating others – unless we know that person to be fair-minded and kind (or, you know, if it’s your hiring manager so you have to).

5)  Reaper was pretty funny.

So what do you think?  Do you think adults who don’t “stand up for themselves” are to blame when others hurt or take advantage of them?  Or do you think the onus is on the ones doing the hurting?  Do you find yourself going back to something over and over – whether a website or a set of thoughts – that steals time you could spend writing, working, playing with your kids, or enjoying the company of friends? What do you do about it?

As for me, for now, with the thoughts, with the wrong-headed self-blame, my plan is working.  With the web-site, I may need a sponsor….

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5 thoughts on “Cold Turkey

  1. Tracy

    Well said! I love the monkey analogy — I couldn’t agree more. I definitely agree with you that the person being hurt is not at fault. I do think that many times that person has a choice with how much to participate in it, though. To be clear, I do *not* mean that the person has a choice to either put up with it or tell the person to knock it off. (And I think what I’m going to say maybe would not apply to kids who are experiencing this with a parent, since kids tend to see everything as being about them and believe everything their parents tell them.) But for other people, at some point isn’t there a choice between buying into what the other person is saying, or telling themselves, “Hey, I know I’m a good person, and whether or not I made a mistake, I’m still a good person, and I refuse to walk another step carrying around monkey dung” or something to that effect. And then the problem is effectively handed back to the person doing the hurting. It’s like, we can only be responsible for ourselves and our own behavior. If we carry around the monkey dung, then it’s like we’re now carrying around the other person’s “stuff”, too. Which really doesn’t help anybody. I think the sad thing is when someone actually just doesn’t have enough faith in themselves to be able to say that. In which case, there may be a different choice involved. Like the choice to work on their own self esteem and confidence.

    Your thought #2 — I do think it would be nice for people to stand up for each other more. I would hesitate, though, to get in between family members for fear of causing someone even more problems later.

    Your thought #3 — Excellent point! I definitely need to make those kinds of evaluations on a regular basis. It’s too easy to just get stuck in a rut and lose time!

    Thank you for an awesome post! 🙂

    (A qualifier — I’m sorry if any of this sounded weird or “off”! I’m running a fever, and I have noticed sometimes that when I go back and reread something later when the fever is gone, that it might not be exactly as I would have said it otherwise!)

    1. Not weird or off AT ALL. It was very well written (as always).

      I agree with your assessment of #2, but what if it was the NORM for others, even total strangers, to say “Hey, that’s rude!” when they saw a nasty interaction? What if it being family made NO difference? What if speaking up was considered as normal as walking around wearing pants? Then what would happen?

      Yes, I know, that’s only happening on Fantasy Earth, but still….it COULD be that way. It wasn’t that long ago that you and I would’ve gotten the hairy eyeball for going out in public in *gasp* pants!

      And you are dead on about the monkey dung. Did you hear that flushing sound? ; )

  2. I’m sorry to hear that you had such a difficult experience. It’s hard to ask for advice, making yourself vulnerable, and then have someone respond in a hurtful and blaming manner. I agree that we should not engage in “blaming the victim”. Sometimes we can (gently) suggest alternative choices for victims that might prevent or mitigate their victimization, but this should always be very carefully framed so as to avoid casting blame on someone for their suffering.

    I think that blaming the victim happens, in part, as a self-protective measure. It fosters a sense of control over misfortune (if bad things happen because we do something bad, then I can avoid suffering by doing good) and it mitigates the pain we feel when we someone else suffering (well, they are to blame for it, so I don’t have to feel bad for them). I am not trying to justify the other person’s behavior toward you, but I suspect it came from a defensive mechanism that was magnified by the relative anonymity of the internet.

    I would also agree that we have choices about how we respond to other people’s behavior, and I’m glad you are trying to make choices that maximize your well-being. It’s hard to not care — we are social creatures and the opinion of others matters to us, so it’s hard to just shake off those hurtful comments. They rankle. We worry they might be true. We wonder what elicited this abuse and whether it speaks of some flaw in ourselves. I think a willingness to engage in critical self-reflection (could that person have had a point in their criticism of me?) can be a really healthy characteristic. I worry about those who take no notice of any criticism — that kind of hubris can lead to really bad decisions at times. But we need to keep that self-reflection in balance, and be able to say, after careful consideration, that the person’s criticism was overstated or invalid.

    As for your second comment, I agree that it would be desirable for bystanders to step in and make it clear that abuse is not acceptable. However, that is really difficult. It’s hard to be sure that we understand the situation fully enough to judge what is going on. It’s hard to know whether the situation warrants intervention. It’s hard to feel that we have a right to step in. What is needed is a clearly defined set of social norms that makes abuse unacceptable. With online forums, it really helps to have a moderator who takes on the job of enforcing norms of acceptable behavior, as that gives them clear authority to intervene. Without an authority role, it takes a great deal of courage to speak up — it happens, but it’s harder.

    So I agree that it would help to have a more involved sense of community in which we felt responsible for the care of others and intervened in cases of abuse. But it’s also the case, as you note, that the right to speak up would also mean that we would all feel entitled to enforce a variety of social norms (including the dress code). So I want there to be a very clear sense that we should speak up in cases of abuse or harm, but not feel that we have to intervene when a person’s behavior is merely eccentric or nonnormative in a way that involves no harm to others.

    Your fourth comment — I totally agree. Always take someone’s evaluation of others with a grain of salt and check for yourself if it is important to you.

    And again, I’m sorry for your difficult experience. {Hugs}

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Deb.

      I agree completely about “victim blaming”. Though it’s not as obvious as blaming the victim of an assault, I suspect that those who have never tried to maintain a relationship with someone who is mentally unstable and/or an addict of some sort “read between the lines” and see things that are not there – because they CANNOT believe what they are reading could be true! It’s hard to imagine that certain behaviors could come about without provocation. But if that were true, we’d hardly have to be “assertive”…ever.

      As for the expectation that we be assertive. I am beginning to have problems with it. I mean, I can speak up, but should I have to? I am not co-dependent – I don’t rest my self-worth with the behaviors of others. And the idea (not yours) that my desire to stay polite makes me “codependent” or “enabling” or otherwise false…is off base.

      If I stay polite I AM doing what I need to do to be true to ME. The part I need to work on is thinking my behavior can influence the monkey. I also need to work on not being angry with the monkey. And honestly, calling this problem “the monkey” is helping quite a bit! ; )

      I do think people all ready feel justified in intervening – or at least COMMENTING – when the impetus is “judgment”. But when it’s stopping unkindness….then, no. I suspect that it comes from fear, and it’s covered up with all kind of rationalizations. I am not sure what it looks like, but I do think we can get there from here without it meaning we become more judgemental. I am going to try anyway. It’s scary…but it’s how I’d like the world to change, so….hmmm…I guess we’ll see what I have the courage to do there.

      Now the fun part:
      The experience on the internet site got me thinking about group dynamics and supposed truisms. The initilal (unkind) comment spurred the judgement of others. If the initial comment was kind, based upon what I had seen before, most of those who followed would have been kind. The supposed “truism” was “maybe the two of you can’t get along because you are a lot alike.” Um, I had written quite a bit about being kind and polite while someone indulged in bizaare, outrageous, offensive, and hurtful behavior. Alike? To answer as my colloquial self, “Not hardly”. And really, anyone who is mentally healthy GETS ALONG WELL with those who are like them.

      After all, you and I enjoy thinking, talking about ideas, and deconstructing social norms. We have made different life choices, and so the place where we have the most FUN TOGETHER is the area in which we are the most alike. The things we have in common connect us.

      *sorry that some of reply this was so obliquely written* nothing good can come from identifying details in this case….as always, you write and think with the most loving and amazing clarity…

  3. I finally got my account deleted from the Mom’s site. Boo ya! I can look around a bit but after a few minutes, I am prompted to sign in or sign up – so that’s my cue to get back to work! : )

    From what I can see, the commenters are way b*tchier than when I started using the site a year ago. Or maybe I was just so sucked in that I didn’t notice before.

    I have begun using some “thought stopping” techniques on the other….

    I love my friends!

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