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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Bad Days and Mondays: Being a Hostage to "Bad Days" of Others

A while back I was reminded by a sibling about a toxic relationship that I'd been in long ago.  I have been meaning to write about it, but Covid-19, the George Floyd situation and other things had taken from my attention.  But as my patient audience, you will be rewarded by what I hope is a good read.   So, the short version of the story is that I was dating a single mom of a young child.   She had primary custody of her daughter and was both a full-time mom and she worked full-time.   Naturally, she portrayed herself as the responsible one who had had to pick up the slack for an irresponsible, incompetent dad.  In other words, she had to be supermom.  That should have been my first clue as to problems.  Anyway, we met and dated for a year and a half, off and on.   

So, as we know, new relationships are 'great'.  In new relationships you try to prove yourself supportive of your significant other and all that entails.   However, I noticed a trend early on.  She would complain a lot about the pressures of being a single mom and having to maintain her full-time job.   So, being the good sport, I listened and tried to be as supportive as possible.   Anyone who knows anything about me knows a few things:
  • I hate drama and like peace.
  • I used to be people pleaser/peacemaker.  This led to
    • Being too tolerant of people crossing my boundaries
    • Being too tolerant of manipulative people.
  • I have dealt with an anxiety disorder for much of my life and sometimes that means pushing away for the moment stressful things.  Not ignoring responsibility so much as trying to find a way to push aside stressors.  This means avoiding discord.
  • I don't particularly like adding to the stress of others, though I'm sure I have.
I "knew" that having a lot of responsibility like she had is a tall order and stressful.  I knew that I like being supportive.  I knew I didn't want to add to her stress.  I knew I hated confrontation  and that I wasn't looking to strongly challenge people.  Basically, I just wanted peace and being appreciated.  Unfortunately, the combination above is perfectly suited for a controlling person.   For whatever reason, members of her family apparently didn't think that I was good enough for her.   They hadn't liked her ex too, so you know...  In any case, she was too 'mindful' of their thoughts.  So, you know I'm just trying to mind my own business, be a considerate/supportive boyfriend, trying to be helpful and trying not to make negative waves or give her or her family a reason to dislike me.

As you might imagine, this type of relationship could not last.  I was criticized by her for not having my anxiety under better control.  Anyone that knows anything about anxiety knows that the worst thing you can do is negatively highlight an anxious person's anxiety.  You might as well tell a suicidal person what a lousy person they are, IMHO.  In any case, I consistently heard from her, woe is me, life is hard as a single, fully employed mom.  So, I would try consider her 'hardships' as such when dealing with her.  If that mean, not adding to her stress by avoiding addressing things bothering me, well that happened.  If it meant trying to do what I could do to 'change' to ensure I brought her no extra stress, that happened too.  If it meant my desires not being considered properly, well shit happens, you know.  So, over the course of nearly a year in a half, she pressed her anxieties on me, she let others have undue influence in our relationship, she shut me down and she told me that my 'anxiety' was a large part of the problem.   

Now, some would say, why did you let this happen? The only thing I would say is it is easier to say that looking for the outside.  Beyond that, manipulative people don't show their cards all at once.  They reveal it slowly over time.   But, I digress.  What did I learn from this circumstance?   What have a I learned along the way?   Glad you ask!   I called this post, "Bad Days and Mondays..." to indicate what I learned from that relationship (and what I've observed over time).
  • Unless you live an utterly charmed life, you will likely have the following at some point(s) in your life:
    • Bad moments
    • Bad days
    • Bad periods
    • Challenging circumstances. 
Now, if you want to have a healthy relationship with others, you have to take into account their bad times.  If you want to have a strong relationship with someone, you have to be able to empathize with them.   In short, you have to be there for them and with them.   Sometimes that can be as simple as holding off your 'good news' for a little while until they are in a better place to hear it.  Sometimes, that means listening to them for a time rather than them being your sounding board.  What it doesn't mean is completely minimizing yourself and your needs to deal with their neediness or selfishness, even if they can't see it.  It doesn't mean allowing them to dictate the terms of the relationship to suit their needs even if their circumstances 'are more trying'.  It doesn't mean allowing yourself to be mistreated and then allowing them to excuse it on 'having a bad day". 

I had realized that I had over time allowed her to take the circumstances of her life and situation to dictate the terms of the relationship.  I had allowed her to elevate her needs over mine and justify it by invoking the pressures of her full-time parent/employee life.  I had allowed her to elevate herself over me by focusing on approval from her family (as if approval from me wasn't near as important).  She was so focused on HER needs being met that she didn't give enough space or consideration of mine.

So, here are a few takeaways I learned.
  • You can empathize with someone's bad day or circumstance, but you cannot be held hostage to it. This is especially true if you had nothing to do with creating it.  Yeah, I can be there for you, but that doesn't mean you get to completely ignore my needs in the process.
    • I wasn't part of the problem, but I can be part of the solution.  Being part of the solution, however doesn't mean shutting me down or shutting me out either.
  • People can have a bad day or time, but provided you are dealing with them with respect and in good faith, they don't have a right to 'punish' you for it.  
    • They don't have a right to shoot first and apologize later.  In other words, you don't get to go after me misguidedly if I dot an 'i' or cross a 't' imperfectly because you are already having a bad day.  You don't get to excuse it later as a I was just having a bad day.
    • They don't have a right to ignore or belittle your concerns because their concerns are 'so much bigger'.  This is especially true if you have zero culpability for their issues.  I can empathize with your concerns or situation, but that doesn't mean that I lose voice in the process.
    • They don't have a right to overreact and treat a little issue as if you have ruined their life.
  • I have bad days too.  I have feelings too.  I have rights and needs too.  Just because things aren't easy for you doesn't mean you get to ignore that.  I am willing to be there for you, but there has to be reciprocation and most importantly respect.  

Most people have the capacity to be there for family, friends and other loved ones.  However, it has to go both ways.  If someone is having a bad day or period, it is important to be able to read that and react as needed.   Sometimes that means asking if there is anything you can do to help, sometimes it means listening and sometimes it means just letting them have time to decompress.   What it doesn't mean is taking abuse from them.  It doesn't mean that your needs suddenly don't matter.  It means being there without losing yourself in the process.  Just remember you can't help others if you aren't taking care of yourself and sometimes that just means securing your boundaries before you walk along with them.

Thank you for reading,
Rich

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