It might sound entirely crazy … but … I am so much better because of one of the darkest times in my life … with someone who seemed like one of the most mean-spirited people I had ever encountered. I expect I am not the only one who has encountered someone that squashed their spirit, poked their most vulnerable wounded spots, and found fault with their very best efforts to make peace and be nice. In this particular case … it seemed to me that they got a charge out of it in some convoluted way.
In fact, I am seeing now, that in my best efforts to convince them that I was worthy of their respect, I became a victim. Not because of how I was treated by this person, but rather, because of how I victimized myself in terms of what I made their behavior and actions mean about me. I beat myself up mercilessly. What is so wrong with me that they hate me so much? What hoops can I jump through to win their approval? And, the harder I tried to get in her good graces the worse it seemed to get! Eventually, I began to question what would possess someone to be so nasty, unkind and downright unlikeable. At that point, I became a little bit self-righteous with a generous helping of self-pity. How could you treat me this way? I have been nothing but good to you. Who the hell do you think you are? Pffft … you are certainly a piece of work!
It’s been said: “Hurt people, hurt people” . When we are hurting, there is a part of us that wants to hurt others. I have come to recognize (both from my work as a counselor and from my own lived experience) that victims can be the most vicious people on the planet. In our most painful moments, we can justify some pretty nasty retributions for the people we believe have wronged us. Fortunately, most of us never act out the vengeful schemes we are dreaming up in our heads. The healthiest response for most of us is to deliberately put some space between us. That is, we try to ignore them, walk away, or simply limit our exchanges with them. OK … and the less healthy versions of distancing include: snubbing, gossip intended to ostracize, talk to the hand, and the ultimate … “f*#k you”. There are times, however, when those kinds of distancing are simply not an option. The ‘victimizer’ might be your boss, a family member, a friend of a good friend or someone that is loved by someone you love. In any case, your lives are tangled up in such a way that and you just can’t avoid or escape them.
Over the past five decades, I’ve had a handful of these folks invade my heart-space. It sucked … and because I’ve always valued connection, it always caught me up-side the head when I ended up in those entanglements. In the height of my people-pleasing days, I made every effort to create something different between us. I would wage Herculean efforts to win them over and redeem myself in their eyes. And then, I would experience immeasurable pain and heartache when my attempts failed miserably. Sheesh, in retrospect, I can see I wasted so much precious time, energy and effort with that unfavorable handful of people … time I could have been investing favorably in the healthier relationships in my life. BUT … enough talking about the heartache with that handful! This particular ‘better because of you’ tribute is dedicated to one of those people in particular … who shall remain nameless (for obvious reasons).
It took me a long while to heal enough to seek out the gifts in my experience with this woman. But, I can see so clearly now that I have so much to thank her for. Really, I do. She rendered visible how hopelessly dependent I had been upon other people’s approval for my own sense of self worth. If people liked me, I must be OK. If people didn’t like me, there must be something wrong with me. She has shown me (however painfully!) the absolute fallacy in that. I can see now, how I triggered her … however unintentionally. And, I can own my part in co-creating some of the prickly-ness between us, but … because of her, I no longer give other people’s perceptions as much power to define me.
Because of her, I learned that I can survive it if others don’t like me. She has taught me that people can and will find fault …even in the best of situations, if that is what they are seeking. And it may have nothing to do with me. Unless, of course, I let it. I have to thank her for teaching me that I may not be safe with all people. Once again, hurt people hurt people. I am grateful to her for reminding me that we are all interpreting the world through the lens of our prior lived experiences (some of it very wounding) and that those wounds can (dis)color each of our perspectives. I even remember thinking at one point, “If I was on my knees kissing the ground she walks on, she’d accuse me of tying her shoe laces together while I was down there”. I am aware that she had been very wounded in her life. I have come to believe that her past experience unfavorably skewed her perceptions of my intentions. I may be wrong, but it helps me to make sense of things.
I thank her for helping me learn that I am not responsible for everyone’s happiness. My interactions with her clearly demonstrated that people have their own agendas … something I can’t always know and/or understand … and … certainly cannot be responsible for. I really needed to learn to let people think what they want to think and feel what they want to feel. I don’t have to make them happy. I just don’t. I want to thank her for showing me that I can still be who I am, even if that is not who others prefer me to be. I can survive their disapproval …
This woman really showed me how much courage I have. I thank her for teaching me that I’m tough enough to take the ride, with all it’s ups and downs. I can respect her for asserting herself, however misguided I believe she has been. I have chosen to re-interpret her as an ‘angel in a dark disguise’ sent forth to stretch my soul … to help me grow … to teach me how to hold on tight during tumultuous times and look deep inside myself and honor my own ‘truth’ … regardless of what others are thinking or believing.
I can thank this woman for teaching me that I don’t have to participate in every battle I’m invited to. I thank her for showing me how hurtful gossip can be, and how negative attracts negative and positive attracts positive. I learned from this woman that I can stand tall without making someone else small. In fact, in the best of my humanity, I can hold a different point of view without criticizing others. I thank her for teaching me that there is no integrity in doing the right thing if you do it for the wrong reason … nor … in doing the wrong thing for the right reason. There is only integrity in doing the right thing for the right reason.
I thank her for helping me learn that I need not carry the anger, hurt and bitterness of our exchange into the future. I was able to forgive her when I realized that each challenge in our lives is just one small aspect of our total lives. We don’t have to give it more space than that … lest it eclipse all the bright and beautiful points of light that also exist in our personal worlds. I thank her for inviting me to keep things in perspective and not give more energy than necessary to the negative forces amongst us.
I thank her for inviting me to learn how to intervene on my own behalf … instead of remaining a victim and waiting for someone else to save me. Oh my … this may have been the most critical lesson I needed her to teach me! I had erroneously assumed that it was somehow noble to suffer in silence … well … until the pain of our exchange made it unbearable for me to do so. Thank goodness. I might still be going along to get along, I might still be silencing my own pain … were it not for her.
As crazy as it sounds, I have got to the point where I can truly thank her … not for the pain that existed in our exchange, but for the lessons that were also tucked into it. I gained so much more through those awful few years with her than it cost me! Honestly, I am so much better because of her … truly.
Beneath every challenge is an invitation to transform my life. May I be wise enough to look for it … Karen
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