“One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not. We who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs, or seem to seek them. Who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors. We are not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.”
― Piers Anthony
I hate conflict. But I also sometimes create it or add to it. Sometimes my feelings bubble up and I can’t hold them back and they come spilling out in a mess. And I spend a LOT of time apologizing for that when it happens. I know how much it sucks, and for someone who hates conflict it is the literal worst. It feels like I betray myself.
Otherwise, I avoid conflict with anyone I care about. Even if it has nothing to do with me. Even if I have a legitimate beef with you… Even if I caught you lying.. if you were mean or unfair or cruel.. even if you were the one that treated me badly, my tendency is to want to take the hit if it will just end this gnashing of teeth. The FIRST thing I think when anyone I care about is upset is, “what did I do?” I apologize for my feelings. I apologize for wanting. I apologize for being a mess and for needing. I apologize for having felt hurt.
A long time ago Traveler dated a deceitful person with little character. After a weekend where we all went camping and I’d paid for her to go and worked hard to please her, and on which she was mostly sour, she accidentally sent me a text that she’d meant for someone else saying mean things about me and somehow I apologized to HER. There was this conflict, and I’d promised her I wouldn’t go tell Traveler what she’d done or about a resulting lie I’d caught her in and she (of course) ran right to Traveler and attempted to stab me in the back and get her story in there first. He called her on it and told me what she’d said and I didn’t tell him what she’d done because I’d given her my word I wouldn’t. It was painful to feel his reproach and know I couldn’t fix it. I still haven’t ever told him what happened beyond that there was something I couldn’t tell him because I’d given her my word.
But I didn’t want this conflict with her at the time, so I made the decision to make peace. I knew she would not own her part, even though she was in the wrong, but I admitted my fault in the situation (I’d written a vague blog about it that mentioned that she was having financial trouble). I admittedly feel superior in a situation like that because I’ve honored my word or thought of the big picture or maybe even been a martyr. But I hate myself for selling out at times like that too, because part of it is wanting to do the right thing and part of it is wanting to end the terrible feeling. I fall on my sword with both honor and pretty huge cowardice. And I know and understand it’s actually weakness.
I hate it. I know it’s wrong and it’s placed me almost always at some eventual end at a disadvantage where whoever I was in conflict with has the idea that all the conflict is ALL my fault. Sometimes it lets people look with all their might at me and not see themselves. And I end up feeling sad because usually people don’t return the favor. Nobody is EVER blameless in these things but I’m usually the one who eats crow. I want it better. Give me a half-hearted apology and I’ll hug you. Scream in my face and later I’ll cut off your scant apology to say it was okay and totally ignore how quick you are to be defensive if I mention that it hurt. It’s like I don’t matter, or at least I’m not a hill worth dying on.
I feel sometimes like the rest of you got a manual, and I was absent that day. I’ll end up at 330am with my stomach in knots and I can’t sleep. I had diarrhea and insomnia and I felt physically sick about it. Traveler and I were in the bookshop having a nice day and hitting a museum and walking around by the University and I was nauseous and kept having to go to the bathroom because of conflict with someone else.
Of course I’ve worked on this a lot. And I can draw a boundary, even if it’s hard (and I hate it). I can tell the truth and stand up for myself (even if I do take it back most of the time and apologize for wanting anything). It doesn’t have to be a huge thing for me to say it and I like clearing up things as they come most of the time. I’m not actually better at tolerating ill will. I’m just better at avoiding it in healthier ways.
It’s a weird thing to be 42 and really do not know what humans are supposed to do in a normal run-of-the-mill kinda situation. I wrote to my friend and asked “what do humans do in this ordinary situation? Really. I don’t know what the options are?” I start to feel like Ricky Bobby in Talledega nights. “What do I do with my hands?”