Something I Learned Recently
I had a bad childhood. By that I mean bad in the sense that I’m having to deal with the repercussions of it today. It’s given me challenges that I have to overcome in order to have a healthy life today. I know, I know, a lot of people have to do this, but that fact doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about it ever. In fact, I think if people talked about it more, the world would be a healthier place. But I digress. Since I first became aware that I needed to unlearn some thought processes and behaviors and learn new ones, I consider each lesson I learn a victory. This is one more way in which I won’t repeat the mistakes of my elders. I will break the cycle. Of course I also always wish that I had learned it sooner, but one should focus on the positives. Something that it kind of astounds me it took this long for me to learn is how not to have a disagreement with people you care about.
People model how they fight primarily based on two things: how their parents fought with each other and how their parents responded when the child disagreed with or felt hurt by them. My mother was the model of the “I’m angry at you but I’m not going to tell you and simultaneously make your life miserable until you figure it out” woman with my father. My father, who I love dearly, has the classic Irish temper (although it’s mellowed with age).
Here’s a sample scenario that got played out over and over. My mother wanted my father to help her with the dishes, but she didn’t ask him to, because he should just know that. (This is a mistake psychiatrists call “mind reading” and normal people call “ask for what you want, doofus, your husband can’t read minds”). My father, being unable to read minds and working full-time while my mother stayed at home so probably figured her doing the dishes was probably part of the deal, didn’t help with the dishes. My mother got angry and instead of calmly telling my father that she was hurt he didn’t offer to help with the dishes, she went on full-on attack mode. One thing couples know, it’s how to push each other’s buttons, so my mom would set out to do exactly that. My dad would take it and take it and then suddenly, randomly explode. Then yelling and screaming occurred, and also sometimes throwing of things by my mother. (A long-running “funny” family tale was how she threw dishes at his head in their first year of marriage). This generally revolved around bringing up old wounds, yelling insults, and more until finally the actual original incident might possibly be brought up. This was followed by more yelling and screaming at which point my dad would vacate to the garage where he would “fix things” aka throw tools around. Eventually my mother, after ranting to us about our father for a while, would follow him to the garage where I’m assuming they made up as they came back in happy.
The above scenario wasn’t a rare occurrence. This was how my parents fought, almost each and every time they had a disagreement. At least to my knowledge. Maybe they calmly worked some things out by talking to each other, but they certainly didn’t do that in front of us.
Now, couple that with how my mother would react to me disagreeing with her. Kids don’t always agree with their parents, and sometimes parents do make a mistake and the kid has every right to be upset, yes? Not in my mother’s world. In my mother’s mind she was the adult so she was always right and disagreeing was synonymous with disobeying. For instance, we’d be driving someplace and my brother would tell my mother he was pretty sure we got there by taking the left turn back there, and my mom would tell him she’s the adult. She knows what she’s doing, and is he implying that she’s stupid?! Then there were the few times I dared to tell my mother, for instance, that it hurt me that she called me that name she called me. My mother’s reaction was always “that never happened,” followed by her entirely made up version of what happened and me being punished for lying.
Put these two things together, and it’s not exactly in my nature to calmly say “hey, when you did this, it upset me.” Why? Subconsciously I think my feelings won’t be calmly listened to or validated. Also it’s just instinctual at this point to get upset and just act upset until the other person asks what’s wrong. For some reason, it’s only recently that I realized healthy people don’t interact this way! It’s normal when relating with people to sometimes have a disagreement or feel irritated or hurt by something they did, but if they’re a good person and you bring it up calmly and rationally, you can talk about it, forgive each other, and move on. Novel concept, eh?
Honestly though, I think that a lot of people had bad disagreements and fighting modeled for them as kids. Maybe they do realize it, not everyone is as slow as me to realize being mean to the people you care about is not the way to handle things. But maybe they don’t. So, internet-world, there is such a thing as the good way to disagree versus the bad way to disagree. Talk to each other. Really listen to what the other person is saying. Try to see their perspective. Validate their feelings. Accept and give forgiveness gracefully. Your life will be better, and maybe the world will be a slightly better place.