Yesterday one of the women here said something that sounded mean. Instead of just letting it pass, I asked her why she had responded to me the way she did. She said that she was not a morning person and did not want to be drawn into conversations right after she gets up. I knew this about her, and thought I had been respecting it. The question I had asked her was whether or not she wanted a step ladder out. I was going to put it away to mop the floor, but since she is very short I thought she may have taken it out for a reason. It was a question that only required a yes or no answer. Instead of giving me the answer I expected, she defensively replied that “she” had not taken the ladder out of the closet and had no idea why it was there. Later in the day, she avoided me, and when we passed in the kitchen we didn’t talk. Only when another woman appeared, did she start talking to me.
As someone who does not normally challenge personal slights, this was a brave step. I am so used to people being mean that I take for granted this is going to happen to me. But what I am finding is that talking about these situations does not necessarily make anything better.
When I lived with my last housemate I got very angry at her for leaving the garage door open and the house unlocked. I had some confidential papers stored in the garage that I thought had been stolen and was concerned about identy theft. I found the papers later so that potential crisis went away, but my housemate never got over the episode. Despite talking about the incident at great length on a number of occasions, with me apologizing profusely, she still said months later that I had “barfed all over her.” I felt shocked that her feelings about my getting angry at her were still so intense and realized that she had no intention of ever letting it go. This incident would always hover menacingly in background of our relationship.
I think it can, in some cases, be very unpleasant to have someone point out what we don’t want to see or acknowledge about our behavior. It can also be very unpleasant to know that someone harbors negative feelings about us that we have no control over. I used to consistently think that when someone was mean to me, it was my fault. Now, I am more receptive to the idea that perhaps the negative feelings really have nothing to do with me but are simply a manifestation of something within the other person.
In the garage incident, I realized afterwards that my rage towards my housemate was about something more than just her leaving the door open. And the reason I knew this was because of the unconscious quality of the rage. When she brought up the incident later, I did not remember some of what I had said to her. In that moment when I was most angry, there was something happening I was unaware of.
I read an article today that quoted the Swiss psychologist Alice Miller. One of the most influential books I have ever read is, Banished Knowledge, Facing Childhood Injuries. I have half of this book underlined.
It is easier to see oneself as a criminal than to know and feel that one was, and is, an innocent victim who must be prepared at all times for torture and persecution. Every patient clings to fantasies in which she sees herself in the active role so as to escape the pain of being defenseless and helpless. Their warranted anger is repressed, and in this repressed form it festers to the point of total self-destruction in disease and addiction.
It is so interesting to me how people are always talking about cruelty being perpetrated on certain groups of people, without ever acknowledging that cruelty is everywhere. Cruelty is the way someone looks at another, it is a remark that cuts to the bone, it is being ignored when you are crying, it is unconscious disrespect in every form this takes. In order to rise above the cruelty, “that we know is going to be inflicted on us” we actively cultivate a feeling of being bad ourselves. If the cruelty we feel can be perceived as being “our fault” then at least we feel some control over it and can make sense of it. It mitigates the feeling of being a victim of something we don’t understand.
In a conversation a few days ago with my uncle he said, “Your parents pitted you and your brother against each other and always let him win.” This was something I knew happened to me as a child, but since no ever talked about it, I never perceived it as cruelty – which obviously it was. My parents did not want a girl child.
Getting back to my current situation, I don’t know if talking things over with people is worth the effort. When evaluating this I often think of the famous quote from Benjamin Disraeli, “Never complain, never explain.” The Hindu guru I studied with for a brief period of time took a vow of silence when he was in his early twenties. Maybe there was a reason I was led to him as opposed to any number of other spiritual teachers.
I am starting to question the old belief that, “In the beginning, there was the Word.” As I age, I am more inclined to believe that, “In the beginning, there were no words, only the sounds of silence.” This seems to be the beginning point I am trying to get back to.