I know! Long patches of silence and now two posts in one day. I actually wrote both of the posts from today earlier in the month, but put them on a back burner to simmer for a little while. I wasn’t sure about sharing them. I wanted time to think, to ruminate on their purpose and outcomes, to be sure I wanted to be as vulnerable as they open me up to being.
In both of these posts, as in others I write, I use examples from my life, my story, my interactions to convey the points I want to make. I don’t do this to gain pity. I don’t need that. I don’t do it because I’m the center of the world. I do it because I don’t want to use someone else’s story to make my point. I do it so that someone who needs to be hearing what I have to say can read it and say, “yeah, me too.”
In an earlier post I was thinking about whether or not an individual can make a difference in the world. I was looking at the stories Andy Andrews told about how far back in the story you have to go trying to figure out who is responsible for something great. Often magnificent achievements or influential people get started with a small action that is magnified as its influence is felt down through the years.
I also had the last line of the Starfish story in mind — it makes a difference to this one. I can’t feed the world, but I can work in my community to alleviate the need. When put with the votes of many others, my vote can have big impact. There were inspiring examples all around in the videos and stories I referenced in that blog post.
Since then my thoughts have continued on what difference one person can make, but they have taken on a different tenor. I believe that we can make a positive difference when we are determined, kind, and purposeful in doing and saying the right thing. I also believe that we can do a terrible amount of damage without every trying or realizing what we are doing.
A careless word, an action done impulsively without much thought, or even a joke that veils criticism can inflict more damage and scars than we would ever guess. Teasing that hits a vulnerable place in someone can sting. I inadvertently did that to someone last week and felt terrible when I realized that what I meant as just a good-natured ribbing had been hurtful. Sometimes the impact of any one of these has to do with a past hurt that has left someone vulnerable in that area. It might have to do with insecurities that someone hides most of the time. It might also hit a person who is suffering from depression and anxiety causing them to ruminate nonstop about their insufficiencies.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this, and that I’m not the only one who can’t just “forget about it” and move on. We all need to be conscious of the impact we are having, to really think about what we say and do. But we also need to watch for the reactions people have that show us when we’ve done the damage. Don’t rely on tears or anger. People might not ever say anything, but you may see their eyes change, the face drop, or hear crickets.
The kinds of actions and words that often leave a negative impact fall into a few categories where you make someone:
- Feel unwelcome, uninvited
- Feel unworthy, unimportant
- Feel incompetent or stupid
Someone can easily be hurt under seemingly innocuous situations:
Feeling unwelcome or uninvited – There have been occasions where I hear that friends are doing something or that they did something, but I wasn’t included. There might be reasons, but I default to the worst case scenario. I can remember one time many, many years ago having some friends talking about a party they were going to on Saturday night. One person mentioned it. Others looked uncomfortable for a minute, but then they joined in going on and on about it. They told me they were going with some friends they played on a team with, people I didn’t hang out with. I still felt left out. The party turned out to be a surprise birthday party—for me. They hadn’t intended to talk about the party, but when someone slipped up, they were stuck. And even though I could laugh about it later, I still remember the feeling of being left out all these years later because within a short time the same small group again made me feel this way because they were doing something behind my back that was terribly hurtful.
There can be all kinds of reasons for not being included, but I immediately fall back on the idea that they didn’t want me around. I relive the past occasions over and over in my mind and wonder why I didn’t measure up. I wonder what I did to offend them. Are they angry or don’t they want me around any more? It might be that they just happened to be on the phone and made a plan at the last minute. It might be that they thought I really couldn’t afford to go along. But what I default to is self-doubt and insecurity.
Feeling unworthy or unimportant – I walk into a room and no one greets me when I’ve said hello. I don’t think that they were busy or didn’t hear me come in. I think, they don’t want me here. Twice in the last 24 hours I became invisible. I was standing in an office with another person when someone else walked in. He said hello to the other person and when I tried to say hello to him, he glanced at me and then started talking to her without even acknowledging my presence, without even a hello or a go to hell. I’ve have very few interactions with this man and really can’t jump to the conclusion that I’ve angered him. I was just invisible to him. I didn’t come up as worth his time or attention. I’d say it was because I was so skinny he missed me, but those of you who know me would know what a very big lie that is!
Later in the day, I went into a friend’s home — invited so I wasn’t barging in. After texting from outside that I needed help carrying something, I came in, unpacked the things I brought with me, sat down and waited…and waited. After ten minutes of no one even shouting hello from another room and saying anything to me, I left. I went out and ran an errand. I couldn’t bear to be invisible and unimportant enough to even say hello to again. Twice in one day in February especially was more than I could handle.
Feeling incompetent or stupid – I’m not going to give a personal example of this happening recently. Possibly because when it happens, it becomes an ugly story about me going buck-nutty on someone. Instead, let me explain that everyone has issues that are hot-buttons for them. There are places where people are so vulnerable that they build their defenses and protect themselves at all costs. This area is mine.
There are many things I know nothing about. There are things I’m not good at. I understand that I have lots and lots of things I can learn. But I have a very touchy hot-button when someone talks to me as if I am too dumb to learn about those things. I will go crazy when someone talks down to me, mansplains something to me, or takes a haughty attitude insinuating that I could never measure up. I lived in situations early in my life where I allowed that to happen and said nothing. As Dr. Phil says, we teach people how to treat us. By allowing it, it continued. By its sheer repetition, it became my truth. When I finally broke away from the daily erosion of that input, I vowed never to allow it again because it was not fact. I will come at people hard over this.
Obviously, you can’t know everyone’s triggers, hot-buttons, vulnerabilities, and past hurts. If you do know them and intentionally take advantage of them to hurt someone, well, all I can say is that you are an ass.
For the rest of us who would never intentionally do that, we just need to be kind, empathetic, and aware. The first two without the last just fall short. We need to look at the reactions people have. Not everyone will speak up when they have been hurt. People suffering with depression or anxiety aren’t brave enough to find out if it is intentional, but inside they will be feeling that it was. Be keenly aware of what they are screaming through their eyes, their posture and their silence. Adopt the physician’s creed of “first, do no harm.” If you sense there is a problem, ask. Reassure as you can. The self talk from depression and anxiety is so hurtful and cruel, but can’t always be shaken off.