Saturday, July 2, 2011

Avoiding the dissolve into chaos - Putting patterns into perspective: Part 2

Sorry it's taken me so long. But here it is. The cliffhanger episode of what happened this one time I found myself in an energy-sucking fight to the negative-feedback death on Ebay. I know it's long, but I hope you will come with me on this one. It's important. (and you might want to read the first part of this exchange to get the background to this one).

So where did we get to? Ah, yes. Noticing at some point - blessedly early - that I was being drawn in somehow. Note this does not mean I absolved myself at all of any of the responsibility. In fact, if anything, the fact that I began to see what was happening made it almost solely my duty to salvage what was left of my own dignity, go for broke and back away. This in itself is something I have only recently matured/evolved into doing, where before I'd leave a parting shot just as the door hit me on the arse.

Perhaps it would be useful to explain how I recognised it and what this felt like:

•  I found myself feeling superior, initially. I felt I had the upper hand. This was a clear-cut case of opinion vs opinion and I am well versed now in holding my own (and defending same). All I needed was a bit of thinly veiled arrogance via my wordly way with words and I would be right. Right? *deflating balloon sound*
•  I was thinking about it for an increasingly longer space of time. It began to consume my thoughts - while I did dishes, while I was trying to watch the small bit of tv I grant myself at night time, while I was reading the words from her story out loud to the LGBB at bedtime but not hearing a word I was saying because my mind was leaping to wild conclusions about the swathe of new emails I would find when I left her room.
•  I was getting angry.

This last point was interesting for me to note. Why would I get angry over something like this? Something relatively so far removed from me, and over a toy that held hardly a skerrick of sentimental value?

What I do know about anger is that
as soon as I get angry towards someone, I am reminded that I do not know 
everything about the situation. 
If nothing else, I hold as true as I can to this. It is something I try to tell myself as early as I can possibly wrangle it from the archives in my brain where all these past years of study, dissecting and understanding about the myriad ways we humans interact with one another have been catalogued and filed. As soon as I remind myself consciously (I am still waiting for it to become an unconscious, more flowing reaction to my own anger - a way of self-soothing and taking the red hot excessive force out of my self-righteous hot-headedness), I feel a small wave of relief. I go in to the moment of clarity further. Repeat it to myself in my mind.

I don't know everything and I am making assumptions about this person's situation.

Of course, it goes without saying that it took me a little time when I began to use this self-talk technique to go easy on myself. There were times when I would almost argue with the two sides of my brain - the one that didn't want to give over being Right. It would invariably be talked down from the ledge by the other side of my brain, pointing out that being Right was not necessarily always Correct. Two different but very connected things. Hard to let go of if you are used to being on the defense, continually, as I was. Conditioned by my childhood, my upbringing, my peers, you name it.

But none of them operate me or pull my strings now. I don't allow them to. Which is not to say I do everything correctly all the time. Far from it! Want to see the last spitfire reply I sent my Ebay seller? Here, take a geezer at this lot:
Sorry. My apologies. I offered you a full refund twice. I will honour your insistence that return postage is paid for. Give me account details or a Paypal email address. You will be refunded as soon as the item is returned safely and undamaged by transit.
Much appreciated.

Now, you might read that and not think much of it. It might sound even polite to you. But it doesn't to me. For one thing, I am never that succinct. And for another, I knew exactly how riled I was by this point. By some saving grace, it was all I wrote.

 And that is where patterns come into it. 

Having several hours or more with the email program closed down so I was assured of some breathing space to sort through this, I got my hands busy. I cleaned. I washed. I thought bloody hard. What was it about this particular woman - this stranger, but representative of something that had always "got my goat" - and how was I going to learn from it so I would never again have to confront the same uncomfortable lesson?

It wasn't long before I worked my way around to the realisation. The lofty tone of the woman, the fact that she was a woman, that she had at least one child (so she was a mother) because the toy she had won from me was for a grandchild.... it all built an instant picture, a representation, for me. Without properly being able to explain to you (it was just a knowing), I was reacting to her in a couple of ways. These ways were, namely:

•  her self-assumed air of authority - "I know better than you and you will do as I say... but you have to guess what I'm saying" (grrrrrr!).
•  the almost pious tone in the correspondence. My own words were matched with an obviously well-learned, well-read, calculated trump each time (double-grrrrrr!) and I felt invalidated and belittled the more the exchanges went on. My point was not being validated. I knew that if this was a family member, I would be holding on tight by now and it was certain to get ugly soon.

And, booyah!, that was the money shot. Right there. I recognised a family pattern in play with a stranger. Something I had equally set up within the exchange. And something, mercifully, I was able to nip in the bud because I did not have nearly as high a personal stake in the outcome. This was someone I should actually be thanking. Someone who would not be continuing to hold the pattern, for she was from an entirely different upbringing and background to me. Perhaps, if I were to have a crystal ball and the ability to dig deeper via conversations with her (never gonna happen), I would discover some startling similiarities. Perhaps that is why we locked horns in the first place in this way.

At this point, all I was now aware of was that I needed to express as much of my truth as I was permitted to a) inflict on the other person (for this was my learning - hers was going to be her own) and b) try to nip the cycle in the bud. So I sent back this in response to her latest really long accusatory off-point email, which I received as soon as I turned on my computer:

No worries. This has rattled me more than you may realise. One must never assume anything online about where someone is coming from and I feel like my story is being told for me. Bizarre. However, I can only assume ownership of my own inappropriate and irresponsible energy exchanges with you. It is highly out of character for me to have interacted in this way over the course of the past 24 hours, so there is a lesson there (for me). What you take from this I am sure you will on some level of your own choosing.
If I could start this over again, I would. I am quite horrified (and mortified) by the whole thing, including your assumptions of me.You just let me know what (if anything) you actually need me to do. All I have gleaned so far is that you want to be heard. Please take it as read that you have well and truly stated your case.Enjoy your weekend. All the best.

I had to then expect the best outcome. I had put it all out there, without exposing my entire vulnerability (for I was so shaken and rattled by this point that it did not warrant me leaving myself so wide open for another possible "attack of words" from her). However, I did not feel nearly as absolved and cleared as I had hoped. This aside, I knew I had responded with honesty and integrity. I really bared just as much as I was willing to allow her to see. So be it if she received it in the way I was familiar with (the familial pattern to cut down the tall poppy, the one who stuck her neck on the chopping block and admitted recognition of her own failings but wanted ultimately to make things right...).

I then wrote that post you read a week or so ago. And did not post it for several days, by which time, knock me down with a feather. I had received a most unexpected response. In part (removing any identifying information), it reads:

I am just letting you know that I am delighted with the (toy). It looks great. My grandchild is going to love it.
Life's lessons can often come to us in unexpected ways. Having thought about it, I think you were right, I did want to be heard. In the past, I would not have even contacted you. I would have just been unhappy with the condition of the (toy), and probably relegated it to the garage or the op shop.
Since (my parent's) unexpected death in February, I am trying to change aspects of myself that I was not happy with before. One of them being, instead of doing nothing, contacting people and letting them know what I am unhappy with, and thus providing the opportunity to change the outcome. I decided life was too short to live with indecision and just letting life get on top of me.
In this case I believe my words were probably too strong, and certainly the assumptions you took, were not what I intended. I was just reading the other day in a book by Dianne Cooper that when we react strongly to something, then we should be looking closer at why, that this is when life's lessons often come to us.
It seems strange to be talking to you in this way, and I do not even know your name. I will certainly be looking for the lesson in our encounter.
Wishing you all the best

Now, I don't know about you, but I would call that a rather successful result from what was surely setting out to be the Ebay exchange from hell. I even got positive feedback. Further, it was not lost on me that this was coming from someone who was at least a couple of generations ahead of me. That we could work this out, from our different backgrounds and ages/stages of life.... well, I am truly humbled. And excited about the possibilities this represents.

Here we both discovered that we were actually coming from exactly - no, let me reiterate, EXACTLY! - the same place. The need to be heard. This had been, for me as much as for her, going by the sounds of her email, the same well-worn pattern for the both of us for some time. That was the dynamic in this particular case (I'm not saying it will always be a fight to the death about needing to be heard). How interesting was that? No wonder we were both hotly pursuing our own cause. 

With this realisation, I saw in hindsight that without being the bearer of the olive branch this opportunity might have passed us both by. Again. While at the same time, in no way did I relinquish my own sense of personal power. In actual fact, if anything, I affirmed it by properly speaking my truth instead of continuing to battle her with will and wit (what she did with this was always up to her, but it would never have jeopardised that sense of self that I thankfully recouped during the exchange unless I let it be so... thereby prolonging and confirming the same old pattern).

I will always remember this woman (by name, for she gave me hers). And I will thank her silently and humbly appreciate the way the Universe continues to deliver its greatest lessons if only we are so willing to follow through on the challenge. It's not nearly so hard as long as we strive to upturn each exchange, each challenge, each lesson, to the most positive path.

Well..... that's what I reckon, anyway. I not only avoided the moment dissolving into chaos, I actually inadertently helped us both dissolve a long-held pattern. Perhaps conditioned by upbringing, perhaps passed on as a "family way" or trait. Whichever, because we were able to recognise our own parts - and lessons - in the exchange, I have no doubt that next time (if there is even a next time, for the moment doesn't usually arise again for you to deal with if you have actually overcome the struggle and striving survival nature of the pattern), we will know much better our triggers and our tools for further dissolving and disowning what is not ours to own.


Now, a completely optional question to answer (because I am interested in you!):  
Do you have any patterns - family traits or otherwise - that you know are red rags to the bull? Ummm... you being the bull, apparently, in this scenario? I have many. Patterns, not bulls. I'd love to learn from you. And hey, sorry for calling you a bull. *smiles sweetly*

(p.s. I just wanted to address the fact that I have not shared any of the earlier, hotter exchanges... I don't feel it necessary or conducive to any sort of positive, productive insight to extend the ill-will in them, which is why they don't appear in either of the posts on this topic)

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