Once Bitten, Twice Shy

I was recently accused of maliciously and deliberately setting out to inflict emotional pain on someone already in crisis. It was further insinuated that this is something I do routinely for the sole purpose of entertaining myself, as if I derive some sort of twisted pleasure from watching other people suffer.

I take particular issue with this accusation because I most certainly am not the kind of person who would even wish harm on someone, much less set out to cause that harm.

I don’t even wish suffering on those who have hurt me most in my life. At times I even hurt for them, knowing that they will never experience, much less enjoy, some of life’s simplest pleasures, or understand the deeper meaning of “tea for two”.

Because these accusations run so completely contrary to who I am as a person, I cannot bring myself to let them go unchallenged. Writing also gives it a sort of physical form, making it easier to process and providing a place to “put” it all. Perhaps other writers can relate.

So, what the hell happened anyway?

A few months ago, I had a falling out with someone whom, for a brief time, I had thought of as a sort of kindred spirit, only to soon discover that I had been mistaken.

I stopped reading her blog for a while, but when the holiday season came around, I started feeling nostalgic and decided to check in and see how she was getting along. There had been a new development in her life: She had become involved in a long-distance relationship with a man in England (she’s American).

I found this particularly fascinating because, as many of you know, my husband and I (he’s English, I’m American) have been in a long-distance relationship for nearly eight years, and finally married in March 2008. So I started following along, reading her declarations of love and plans to travel abroad.

Now, I will admit to privately questioning her priorities due to circumstances that I have never mentioned to her and will not discuss here because that would be deliberately hurtful and mean-spirited. But I did not begrudge her finding love, and I totally relate to the joy of having someone who “gets” you; who seems to understand you in ways that possibly no one else ever has.

A few days ago, she posted something that I might have written a few years ago. She is facing many of the same barriers that I have faced, ranging from having spent seven (plus) years as a stay-home mom with no recent work history to put on a résumé, to figuring out how to spend six months (on a visa waiver) in England without being able to work during that time, and needing to have a home and a job to return to after spending six months out of the country.

Yes, I faced all these issues and overcame them! Now here was another woman standing in the same shoes I stood in: same color, same size, with nearly identical scuff marks. Part of me wanted to reach out, knowing how overwhelming and hopeless it can all seem, and to share my experiences and offer advice.

Advice. That’s where I froze up. If you read the above linked entry, you know that the last time this person asked for help or advice and I offered it, I was basically told to fuck off.

I was filled with mixed emotions.

The post that initiated this was entitled, What am I going to do?, and went on to describe the dilemma and how she is a “complete mess” over it all. I felt compassion and empathy, and a desire to help. But I was also reminded of how much it had hurt the last time I reached out, only to be told where I could stuff it.

I decided to come out of hiding and try to express these feelings. I used sarcasm to do so; this may not have been the best way to go about it, but it’s a far cry from malicious.

Here is what I wrote:

Gosh, [BB], too bad you don’t know a couple of people who have spent the past eight years or so dealing with these very issues. If you did, they might be able to give you some pointers or advi…

Oh, that’s right! You do know a couple like that. Only the last time they cared enough to share their experiences with you and offer their help when you asked, you basically told them to shove their advice up their asses.

What a shame.

Like I said, I realize that sarcasm may not have been the best approach to expressing all of my conflicting feelings. I can also see how my comment may have come across as insensitive, and I do regret that. But I honestly do not understand how sarcasm or even insensitivity automatically translates into being deliberately malicious, or designed solely to inflict pain on another.

It seems clear to me that it was not an attack on anyone or an attempt to cause pain, but rather an expression of grief and regret. I also feel quite certain that if someone responded to me in this way, I would be able to sense the hurt feelings and recognize it as something other than maliciousness.

Anyway, as predicted, my comment was deleted. Actually, I had predicted that she would delete the whole damn entry, but not too shabby for someone who isn’t even psychic, huh?

But why was it deleted? Well, according to [BB], my comment was “inconsiderate and made only for one purpose, to cause more pain to [her] personally”.

I think this response demonstrates a complete and utter lack of empathy or consideration, and yet I am the heartless one. My comment was sarcastic, yes, but “sarcastic” and “malicious” are by no means synonymous.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that even after I replied to the accusation of maliciousness, pointing out that perhaps other people’s feelings were also a factor, I was completely ignored. No response, whatsoever.

Sometimes, what people don’t say can be just as telling, if not more so, than what they do say.

My words were an expression of grief, not only for the shabby way I had been treated, but for another woman facing what I know can seem like insurmountable obstacles; for the internal struggle of wanting to offer help or even a tiny shred of hope and comfort to someone who was clearly suffering, while at the same time feeling the need to care for and guard my own emotional well-being from someone who had basically told me that my struggles, victories and life experiences were completely meaningless.

All this went unrecognized. Instead, my words were perceived as having no purpose other than to cause her more pain. Why? Because the only feelings that matter to this individual are her own. Whatever benefit of the doubt I had given her in that regard has now been destroyed by her own behavior, not only towards me, but everyone with whom I see her interact.

Contrary to comments made about me (which, ironically, come across as incredibly inconsiderate and designed solely to wound) my purpose was not to cause additional pain. I do not deliberately “set fires” or “cause explosions” so I can “watch the pretty fireworks” I create.

These types of accusations seem to display a disturbing level of indifference and lack of compassion.

As to “pointing fingers that never point at themselves”, they point back plenty. The problem is that you have to actually pay attention to someone besides yourself to know that, and we’re talking about someone with a clear deficit in that regard.

When a reader of her poetry blog commented, “I hurt today as well”, her response was, “I will be ok..I just have some things to deal with and I am sad.” [emphasis mine]

Not a single acknowledgment of the pain expressed by another, much less a kind or compassionate word.

But I am inconsiderate.

I wish I could say that I have never known anyone as self-centered and indifferent to the feelings of others, but I’m not so fortunate.

It’s disturbing, even disorienting, to know that there are people in the world who could spit in your face, and then call you insensitive for daring to object or express the slightest displeasure. You should be grateful, after all, that these very special individuals glanced in your direction long enough to spit on you. If you don’t smile, thank them for doing it and agree to wear their spit on your face for the rest of the day, you are ungrateful and inconsiderate. If you dare to wipe your face and say that you don’t like being spat upon, why, then you’re the epitome of evil and the source of every problem known to humanity.

If they slap you, and you cry out in pain, you are being difficult. If they treat you disrespectfully, and you protest, you are the one who doesn’t want to get along. If they steal from you, and you complain, you are selfish.

You see, our needs are irrelevant, perhaps even non-existent in their minds. We are not entitled to feel or to express ourselves in any way that runs counter to how these people think we ought to feel. Any expression of emotion that doesn’t prop up their grandiosity is a malicious personal attack against them. Honesty is hatefulness, if it paints them in a less than favorable light, so they choose to associate only with yes-men.

In fact, this post couldn’t possibly have any purpose apart from hurting the subject of it, because other people’s feelings and needs don’t even factor into her thinking.

No matter how many times or how many ways I try to explain it, she will never understand that it isn’t just about her.

No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true. — Nathaniel Hawthorne

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