Who Knows What Growth Can Come from Even the Most Depleted Soil?

Complex PTSD is just that–COMPLEX!  Trying to sort out the mess in my psyche has kept me busy all my life, and in doing the sorting, I have neglected to develop some coping skills that a lot of people probably take for granted. Now, however, at the age of 73, I am beginning to grapple with issues that I might have taken care of long ago if I had not been struggling so hard to just survive. Perhaps you can relate to the following incident, my reaction, and what I learned from the experience.  My heartfelt wish is that by sharing my experience with you, my readers, I can help ease your journey. Peace and Blessings. . .   Jean

Learning to respond appropriately to triggering incidents has been one of my most challenging projects, and I know that the more skill I gain in this area, the more peaceful my inner life will be.  Achieving a more peaceful inner life is one of my goals as I work in therapy and as I go through my daily life. As it is now, when I’m involved in an interpersonal transaction that hits me the wrong way, I may take a week to bounce back to my pre-incident state of mind.  A week is a long time!  I’m old, elderly, and I don’t have so much life left that I can afford to lose a week as I recover from an unfortunate run-in with another person.  So–what to do?  

First, let me describe the most recent incident that laid me low for about a week.  The week before last, I missed a meeting, but I arranged to get the low-down from another person later.  When I arrived home from my dental appointment, the reason I had missed the meeting, I happened to see a person who had attended the meeting and casually asked her what had happened.  She gave me the information as we stood in the hall in front of our apartment doors. I entered my apartment, sent the facilitators an e-mail telling them how I felt, and went about recovering from my dental appointment.

The next morning, as I was brushing my teeth, somebody banged on my door. I opened the door, and the person entered my apartment unbidden. I could tell that she was on a mission of some sort, but I had no clue as to what that mission was.  Then she began her rant!  She had heard me ask my neighbor about the meeting, and she let me know that I was a fool for taking gossip seriously.  I was completely caught off guard by the force of her energy, and I did not respond–but I did react!  I let her know that I had checked the information when I sent the facilitators an e-mail message, and the information I received was accurate.  She repeated her rant about not believing gossip, and I let her know I was not that stupid. She shrugged her shoulders and stomped out of my apartment.

For the next week I was in a real downer.  I had taken what she said personally.  In condemning me for believing what she considered gossip, she had, in my mind, told me I was stupid.  Being told I was stupid took me back to my first eighteen years of life as the “stupid” one in my family of origin and then to the twenty years of my marriage where I was, again, the “stupid” one.  Since I’ve been single, 1981, I’ve fought hard to prove to myself that I’m not stupid. I earned all A grades in four years of graduate school, in fact, to prove to myself that I’m not stupid.  But, really, I’ve never succeeded in obliterating my label.  No matter how hard I work or what I accomplish, I’ll probably never be entirely convinced that I’m not stupid.  

So for the week following that incident, I was not only stupid, but I was also a loser, incompetent, ugly, and every other negative adjective I could think of.  By the end of a week, the unfortunate mess had begun to fade, and I had started to climb uphill. But it took a whole week!  And that meant for a whole week I was miserable for no rational reason at all!  I had let that incident trigger my feelings of inadequacy and incompetence and steal virtually everything positive from that one week of my life!

In other words, I had allowed that other person to lay her own trip on me, and her trip was her trip and NOT my trip!  The problem was that I had not taken the source of the rant into consideration, probably because she came at me like a Mack truck with her negative energy and just plowed into me.  I had not expected her irrational accusations, and I reacted rather than respond.

Fortunately, these incidents do not happen often.  I have learned to avoid situations and people who might take me down into the pits.  Given time, when I encounter problematic people, I can tell myself to “consider the source.”  But in this case, I was not given time to do this. Had I been given time, I would have remembered that the person who bore down on me was an alcoholic.  I was raised by alcoholics, and I was married to an alcoholic.  One thing I learned about alcoholics, at least the ones who raised me and the one I married, is that what they do and say can be problematic and not reflective of rational thought or of compassion for their fellow human beings. Brains that are driven by addictive substances frequently drive off the deep end–that’s what I have witnessed, anyway.

Thus, if I had had time to “consider the source,” I would not have taken her words personally. In fact, I would not have put any value at all on what she said or how she said it.  I would have steered her out of my apartment and then shut and locked my door–after telling her to mind her own damned business. That parting shot would not, I realize, have registered with her, but I would have felt good saying it.

A few days after the incident, I received an e-mail message from this person that said: Sometimes it’s not about you.  I realize now that she was ever so correct in saying that!  What happened that morning was certainly NOT about me!  It was all about HER!  But at the time she was deep in her rant, I didn’t grasp that.  As a result, I let her behavior take its toll on me.  A few days later, I received another e-mail from her asking if I knew of a place where she could buy salmon from Native Americans.  I laughed when I saw that message because it was such a non-sequitur, and I did not respond. It’s possible that she did not even remember her visit and her rant.  Who knows?

The incident I described was unfortunate, but now I believe that the woman involved actually gave me a gift:  Her behavior and my reaction to it have taught me that I need to quickly identify and consider the source of negativity that comes to me, even when it catches me off guard.  The instant I detect the negative content in another person’s rant at me or in the other person’s behavior, then I will say to myself, “Consider the source . . . ,” turn off my receptors, and quietly walk away. That’s my plan.  I’ll let you know how well it works.

Posted by Jean Fairgrieve at 12:04 PM 0 comments