I am what I am – part 2

Thanks to IHM for tagging my previous post I am what I am and also encouraging me to post something for emotional atyachar contest. Taking on from the previous post, here are some more statements used to victimise people

I have seen worse/ You should understand I am having a bad time/ If only things were different/ Now is not the ‘right’ time

Perhaps the first time we heard this was when we asked our parents for more pocket money. They were unable or not ready to give it to us and then they started on this whole talk about how when they were your age, they didn’t have chappals, or had to walk miles etc etc, you get the picture. While I would still support it when it comes to flimsy (oops hope I am not stepping on someone’s toes) things like pocket money, there is a limit to how much this argument can be used. But because we are lulled by this usage early on, we stop asking, we stop asserting, we stop everything once someone says ‘I have seen worse’.

A lot of times I have been involved in friendships and relationships with people who truly have seen some bad times. And I would assume the responsibility that knowingly I remained in their lives. The moment of clarity always came when suddenly ‘I have seen worse’ became an excuse to treat you as they wish. The first few times a person says this, you being the empathetic you, think that ‘Oh poor he/she, has had it rough’ and also something like ‘If I were in his/her place, I would want someone else to understand’ and all your decisions taken henceforth are to avoid any discomfort to that person, so what if it adds to your own discomfort. ‘Ok I will obey him, I wont call him before 12 pm, he hates being disturbed the first hours of work.’ Little voice in the head says but you are sick and you need someone to help you out but you silence it saying no no, how can I be selfish enough to think about me when he has told me it ruins his concentration, I should understand his problems because we love each other.

Your abuser/coward (any control freak is one and abusers are control freaks) has had a bad day in office, because she/he couldn’t stand up to their boss (its funny how abusers always have some person they don’t have the guts to stand up to) and then they come back home and are all dull and morose. This also happens to be the day when you have made the gajar ka halwa or done whatever it is that pleases them. But the only thing the abuser notices is that you havent folded the napkin just the way you have always been asked to. A fight ensues, you cry, the abuser hurls his/her choicest abuses and walks away in the end satisfied that the pent up anger has been expended. But what about you? You regret not folding the napkin well, what a dunce I am. And then the classic case, seeing you crying for so long the abuser comes and gives a half hearted apology, ‘Listen I am sorry, but baby you know how I have a tough time most of the days, don’t you see how much I have struggled and is it too much to ask that you do what I say?’ And you hear some great professions of love after that. Most of us get taken in again, please, please don’t be so naïve.

The abuser is not really sorry, he/she is doing this because they have to keep you confused and holding on to the promise of a good time, the time which is supposed to come once their ‘current crisis’ is over. But if you have been in a long term abusive relationship, you would know the good times never come, its an empty promise, so that you don’t leave. The time is never right. And if you ask, you will always get a variant of ‘I am in so much pain’ or ‘I have seen worse’ and the ultimate ‘You don’t understand don’t you, you are only thinking of your benefit.’ Their bad times are no excuse to treat you bad. That is sadism, not love.

X, Y and Z arent complaining, so why are you?

Well because X, Y and Z probably love being the jellyfish without a backbone or maybe because X, Y and Z’s reality is different from mine or maybe because X, Y and Z find it to their benefit to agree. This argument is generally used by schools, organisations and communities. You don’t like the new dress code, you find it uncomfortable and say so, the boss says well whats your problem no one else is complaining. The worse forms of this is when you are demanding something that you deserve and you are told something to the effect of well its really not so bad, look at A, he/she has worked harder/longer and is still waiting for that which you are asking. Or the missionary type arguments of why you shouldn’t be unhappy with your lot because there are hungry children in Somalia. (I love this analogy I read in a book 🙂 ) Fact is you are living your life, not someone else’s, so you have every right to ask for what makes you comfortable and it is not mean to want something for yourself.

They do this because they love you

This is a statement that the bystanders use. Bystanders are those people who while you are suffering abuse, are somewhere in the background, aware of what is going on and sometimes complicit with the abuser. The bystander is either dumb/scared or stands to gain himself/herself by your abuse and so wouldn’t do anything. Sometimes even an abuser says this. Children in abusive families are told this a lot. Say the father is highly verbally abusive and sometimes even hits the child. This time the child got a beating for asking for a new bicycle. Mom stands by as the child is being beaten, probably even crying helplessly. But once father has gone and the child has also spent some time crying alone, suddenly mom bursts into action. She comes and tells the child, see dad is having a bad time etc etc and you should understand that, see he loves you or else would he have paid for your new watch. But mom conveniently forgets to talk about all the times when dad has done everything that shows contempt, tells the child he/she is a burden, bane of their existence. The child should feel grateful and know that the parents love him/her because, well, because the child isnt wearing torn clothes, is not beaten up to an inch like some others and that the parents have put him/her in a school. This brings me to another excuse that we hear a lot…

That is how the world is, you should just accept your lot

Say you are having a bad time with some friends, they are being unsupportive and basically malicious. You walk up to this best buddy of yours and you say that those people are unsupportive and you feel lost and betrayed. What does your supposed best buddy say ‘Well that’s how the world is, you should know that you cant trust anyone’. Darn, there your bubble is burst again. You thought that someone would understand and validate your experience, instead you are re-victimised, you are told that you were stupid enough to trust and well what were you expecting. Technically, you are being told that you are the one with the flaw. Now many times, people say this thinking their intentions are good, that they are only making you aware of the reality. Well maybe they are right, but do they really have to tell you so heartlessly, wouldn’t it be of better help if they shared their similar experience and the two of you find a common way to deal with all this?

Most forms of emotionally abusive statements are some form of invalidation. Invalidation in fact is at the core of abuse of all types. Invalidation seeks to deny the importance of your existence by denying you your feelings, your rights and your dreams and expectations. So whenever you come across any of these statements, dig deeper before you decide to act on their suggestions. Like my favourite writer on this topic Susan Elliot repeats, “Love is an action” and so mere words wont and shouldn’t suffice.

Life lessons in ambition : Revolutionary Road and Marley and Me

A little late in the day, but managed to catch both Revolutionary Road and Marley and Me the last week. Both are realistic movies about life. While one deals with ambition and the discontent it causes, the other talks of readjusting goals according to the reality.

The couple in Revolutionary Road, Frank and April Wheeler would remind you of how you were in your teens and early twenties. Its about having this feeling that life suddenly happened to you and that you are not living to your full potential. True as that may be, Revolutionary Road talks about the incendiary nature of unfulfilled dreams and delusions of potential. At one point in the movie April says : “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t care if I am completely insane.” But the same April, when confronted with the reality of life, says, “For years I thought we’ve shared this secret that we would be wonderful in the world. I don’t know exactly how, but just the possibility kept me hoping. How pathetic is that? So stupid. To put all your hopes in a promise that was never made. Frank knows what he wants, he found his place, he’s just fine. Married, two kids, it should be enough. It is for him. And he’s right; we were never special or destined for anything at all.” Perhaps the premise of the movie is best explained by the dialogue by a certified insane neighbour of the Wheelers who says about their view of suburban life “Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness…”

The Wheelers are torn by their own ambitions and April especially finds it difficult that life is generally not what its cooked up to be. It is not all about achieving your potential and the dreams, but about drab details like bills, cooking and kids. She sums up the general angst faced by young couples best when she says that they have been punishing each other for their unfulfilled dreams that they believe were interrupted by the kids – an attitude that leads her to try the tragic try-at-home abortion of their child. Frank on the other hand, wants to make it big, but it is not for the sake of ambition, its more because he equates big with the good life, more respect, better standing in the society.

The Wheelers are not liked in the neighbourhood much, they are admired for their odd ball thoughts, but not liked, because looking at the Wheelers reminds the neighbours of the drabness of their existence. It is like the Wheelers show them a mirror and mock them with their plans of quitting it all and moving to Paris. The neighbours want to be like the Wheelers, but at the same time think the Wheelers are delusional. The Wheelers however are just you and me, with an exaggerated sense of dissatisfaction, people who believe life should matter and that there should be a reason for everything. But perhaps life isnt that logical. At one point, April screams in frustration, “Who made these rules anyways?” But it is more about their inability to make their own rules, rather than about following the herd. Reviewer Mick LaSalle talks about the brilliant use of extra marital sex in the movie. To quote him, “As is so often the case in life, it’s the only creative outlet left to people who have given up hope. It’s an expression of deep despair.” With the Wheelers this is true.

While the Wheelers end up as a dysfunctional, confused couple who feel betrayed by life, the Grogans in Marley and Me come across as the few who have made peace with life. Like the Wheelers there is a time in the life of the Grogans when the stress of handling daily family details, takes its toll on the marriage. Jenny hates the fact that she has had to quit her job and play suburban wife while her equally talented husband is still earning. She is edgy, depressed and picks up fights and John Grogan doesn’t quite know how to salvage the situation. But the Grogans are more real, they have no illusions of being ‘special’. The mature way in which the Grogans talk their problems out and the way they discuss everything together in the movie, is in complete contrast to the Wheelers, who heap their own inefficiencies on to the other. While Jenny slowly comes to accept her new responsibilities, April openly loathes the constraints of family and kids and Frank claims to be special but has no clue in what. The mutual frustration of the couple and the way they punish each other for their problems leads a neighbour to say that he is glad he wont be the Wheelers’ child.

John Grogan too has had to let go of his dream of being an investigative reporter and has to instead be a columnist to run the house, but he makes peace with this change in life. John is shown to sometimes yearn for and maybe even secretly grudge the life of his single friend, a fellow journalist, who can travel to exotic locations, write great stories, flirt around to his heart’s content. John however does get a chance to see for himself if the grass is greener on the other side. Like it often happens in life, much after he has forgotten about his reporting career he gets an opportunity at a different city. The Grogans make the big move but John discovers that he truly is a better columnist than a reporter and all the angst is suddenly gone, however by now, John is also around 40 and has learnt to make peace with life as it is. A significant moment that shows his change of attitude is when he meets the same high flying friend again after years and sees that while his friend is still the single flirt, still asking out girls on the road, looking for the One girl who would be right, Grogan himself has a fulfilled life. Like they say, in the end, it all works out and Grogan’s is a true story. Frank on the other hand, remains clueless about what he wants till the end. His desire for something more is born more out of the need to appear special, than really be special, whereas April wants to achieve being special at any cost. It is this fundamental difference that plays itself out leading April to view Frank as man of all fluff and no substance while he views her as unrealistic.

While both these movies might never be mentioned in the same breath by cinema purists, what I find to be a learning experience in both of them is how your attitude to ambition can make or break your own life. The Wheelers are forever looking for that extra something and in the process hating every minute of the present. The Grogans on the other hand make adjustments based on the circumstances and because they make those adjustments, life gives them an opportunity later on to even try what they perceived as great once.

A lot of people in their twenties like me are still struggling with that fine balance of what is ambition and what could end up as delusion. Just out of college, we have our ideas of what the world should be like, how we would contribute to it and what we want to do in it. But life is hardly perfect and probably even life, if it were an entity, doesn’t know what the next moment is going to be like. When our ideas of what life ought to be like, clash with reality, most of us have those ‘Is there any point?’ moments. But what I am slowly learning to accept is that perhaps life wasn’t meant to be this star studded event of cosmic brilliance, life was meant to be about days that turned into months and years. If life really were supposed to be one adrenaline rush, maybe there wouldn’t be so much routine in nature. Maybe because life is also about routine and ordinary stability just like the mighty sun rises everyday in the same way. If it were meant to be different each day, maybe the sun would rise differently each day too, maybe it would end up shuttling between Mercury and Pluto whenever it pleases. I do not mean to say that one shouldn’t aspire to be more, do more, but one should also accept that sometimes life is not all its cracked up to be. Maybe there really isn’t much beyond the horizon, or maybe there is and like John Grogan found out, you are better off with what you have.
Its ok to go slow in life, its ok to be ordinary, because like someone said any idiot can handle a crisis, it’s handling the daily living that is tough. Or like Frank Wheeler himself puts it. “Knowing what you’ve got, knowing what you need, knowing what you can do without – That’s inventory control.” Knowing it all surely isn’t life. Maybe its wise to stop asking, “Is there a point?” when the question has remained unanswered throughout recorded history Life really isn’t perfect and not all of it is in our control, the key is to change what we own and leave the rest to sort itself out, a lesson that I hope to fully assimilate someday.

I am what I am

Here are some common statements people make, specially on those days when you feel down and out, statements that do nothing to change/help you, but instead are designed to keep you hostage in the land of confusion, hurt and stagnation. These are some pretty harmless statements actually, that might even seem like an assessment of your character and a way of helping you out, but beware, unless you know the correct intentions of the person, take these statements. And one final word, the interpretations are based on my experience and understanding, could vary for you.

1. Its for your own good – means that this is what I think is right or this is what I can concede to you. It has got nothing to do with either your good or your bad, its all about the other person.

2. You think too much – unless you are a person who has some sort of an OCD, this just means one thing, you have probably put the other person in a spot, where he/she might have to take some action. This is a techinique of abuse known as minimising or even denying your feelings. By saying you think too much, your abuser is trying to again point out that the problem is with you and that he/she is on the right track and has done everything possible. But has he/she really done everything possible? At the end of this talk you will probably question yourself and the validity of your feelings/reactions, well its their mission accomplished.

3. You are too sensitive – means that you are asking for something the other person is not ready to give. If you are asking your boyfriend to give you more time, he says he has a lot of work (while you find him on facebook or out with friends) and when you confront him, he stays adamant. You break down and he says, you are too sensitive, in that patronising, come-on-calm-down-girl voice, you have to understand that this is not about your sensitivity, but about his lack of it. If you ask your boss why you didn’t get a particular assignment and he/she runs you down similarly, even then realise that you are sane here. Its human to get upset, its human to feel bad if something doesn’t go well, its human to cry over unfairness, so don’t think you are wrong.

4. You are too small/large/brown/pink/blue – any statement that starts with you are too…is 90% of the time patented untruth or a statement of uncontrollable truths. You cant help it if you are tall, you cant help it if your color is brown, you cant help it if you have a muscular figure, its what God gave you. So if you have learnt to live with 6.7 feet of height or 300 pounds of mass, its time the ones who told you this start living with it too. If they don’t, then they always have other options, just like you have others who wont mind these attributes of yours. Never let anyone victimise you about the body God gave you. While its nice to be fit and try to achieve some of that too, its certainly not worth it to get anorexic or bulimic or even fat just to please someone.

5. You are the only person who can do this for me – this is a statement a manipulator uses so that he can get his work done, so what if its your first PTA meeting, so what if its your mom’s birthday, the manipulator will make you do the work with this backhanded praise. Don’t fall for it.

6. I cant because – like I said in a previous post, there is NO cant. There is only WILL NOT because of such and such.

7. Don’t you trust me – classic case of throwing you off by confusing you. And yes, they are probably cheating on you.

8. Do we have to talk about this now – and they sound hurt, stressed out even though you are the one who is hurt, suddenly you are apologising for your lack of consideration. This is just a way of guilt tripping you and avoiding the conversation. The fault is all yours after all, you just are not adept to know that they don’t ever want to talk/change/take responsibility. Normal people, sensitive people believe in solutions, unempathetic people or those who live in denial avoid talking about it.

9. Why cant you just forget/get over it – everyone takes their own time to get over things, and your feelings are your own, there is no fixed time limit or no specific way in which your feelings should be. As someone I admire says, feelings are not right or wrong, they are just there. If you hear this statement, it only means one thing, the person who told you this, doesn’t have the time or sensitivity for your feelings. If they are really caught up in something, you can be understanding, if not, then just learn that this is not the person who can offer you empathy, so look to others for that.

10. You have a victim syndrome – of all the examples, this takes the cake. It puts all the responsibility of all that’s wrong squarely on YOU. While it is true that thinking like a victim makes you powerless and wont help you change, its also important that when someone says you have a victim syndrome, you don’t minimise what the other person has done and look only at whats wrong with you. Own only what is yours, don’t make this about how you need to try more and more, try what you know is reasonable, anything else is unnecessary. I agree with those people who say that victims syndromes were invented by intelligent psychiatrists because they figured that manipulators/abusers don’t come to shrinks to get cured, its always the victims who come and well what better way to keep them and the fees coming rather than say that it’s the victim who is the problem.

Finally one word, everyone owns their perceptions and you can only own your own actions and the perceptions that caused those actions. You cannot and will not succeed in changing anyone else, so quit trying hard. You need to know what is within your control and what is outside yours and once you know that, quit worrying about what is not in your control. Let whoever is in control of that deal with it. You are what you are and if others demand you to be something else, you have an equal right to demand them to be something else. Acceptance is mutual, if you want to be accepted unconditionally, you should accept unconditionally too. Be what you are, no one is perfect and in the end we all do die, so it doesn’t really matter (wink).