How Not to Be Wrong

I am good at being wrong.  My mother often tells me I am, I have to be wrong so she could be right.  She criticises me every chance she gets and loves to tell me that I’m wrong and I learned how to be wrong – to her advantage.

Her harshness and black and white approach to right and wrong taught me a lesson – how to take feedback.  I take it well, yes, it initially stings but I consider the feedback and try and make an improvement.  The opposite is also true, I take it so well even when someone is being cruel and doing so for narcissistic supply, like my mother.  This is why I’ve always gotten the feedback from my managers that I take it well – I totally get that now.

What happens to me when I know I did something wrong (hurtful, etc.) – I feel bad and then, I self-destruct.  I decide, myself, that I should be punished for doing/saying/thinking something horribly.  Like Tori Amos, I crucify myself.

Recently, I was wrong about an old university friend of mine, a good friend and roommate.  She contacted me after an 8 year period of not being in contact with each other (see post: When They Come Back).  To sum up, her e-mails have been sporadic with no real dialogue or exchange and she blew me off when we tried to meet up during a visit home last year.

On my birthday in October, I received an e-mail from my aunt and my old friend, Cari.  This sparked a huge amount of anger.  I was sick and tired of this.  E-mails that are nothing, no substance at all.  I would walk away from an exchange thinking WTF!  I was pissed, I had just started to enjoy celebrating my birthdays.  Ns have ruined my birthdays in the past – my mother, my friends and just when I found joy again in this celebration – here were two e-mails that sent me through the roof.

It lead to an explosion, okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  I swore a little, okay, a lot and there was some name-calling.  I mostly spoke out loud all the thoughts in my head, DH was present but he was a sounding broad letting me talk until I was tired.  Here is a paraphrasing of what I said -

Why the FCK is she e-mailing me?  Seriously, she doesn’t know one single thing about me, she doesn’t ask, it isn’t a dialogue, there is no FCKing point to this, is there? (DH responds – No).  I ask: Why do they bother?  Wasn’t it better when we didn’t talk to each other?  What is the point?  What do you think the point is? (DH: I have no clue.)  Either do I, I should FCKing ask them.

And that was it, right there, in that moment of me swearing was my answer: I should ask them.

And that is exactly what I did with my aunt and Cari.  The e-mails to my aunt were posted in The Sport of Paradoxing and for those following the e-mails I added her follow-up.

Here is the e-mail exchange with Cari:

Dear Cari,

Based on our sporadic e-mails since August of 2011, I am interested in better understanding what the purpose is of our interactions in an effort to have healthier relationships with family and friends.  I would like to clarify and better understand your intentions with regard to our contact since August 2011.  What has been your purpose of our e-mails?

Kind regards,

TR

Hi TR,

Over the years I have missed hearing from you and seeing you. We had been such great friends and it ended so strangely. I was excited when I found you were on LinkedIn and surprised to learn you moved so far away. Life gets so busy so it is hard to keep up the emailing, but I would like to stay in touch and maybe visit with each other at some point. If you have moved on from our friendship, I can respect that and will stop emailing you. If you’d like to keep in touch, I would like that.

Cari

Cari’s e-mail was thoughtful and I appreciated her response – it was a contrast to my aunt’s response.  DH found it so interesting to see the two responses side by side.

After taking in Cari’s words I started to feel awful about my feelings from our e-mails since August of 2011.  I had misjudged her intention and that was wrong.  My natural default setting* in this situation is to try and make it up to the person for how I felt initially.  This translated to giving too much and letting someone walk all over me because I deserved this because I judged someone harshly.  I was wrong and I needed to pay for it.  I learned how to be wrong – to everyone else’s advantage.

What was surprising is that my natural default setting didn’t kick-in right away.  I had some moments to breathe.

Perhaps, the second best part of this was the fact that after I listened to Cari’s words, I then listened to how I felt about the e-mail.  I did appreciate what she said and how she felt.  It meant a lot.  However, it didn’t nullify her past behaviours.  Her actions don’t reflect her words.  I understand she is busy and e-mails can get dropped.  It happens.  It doesn’t happen that consistently over and over again over a two year time span.

The single best part of this was I learned How Not to Be Wrong.  Before, I would let my boundaries get crossed and allow myself to be taken advantage of as punishment for my bad behaviours or inappropriate thoughts.  Being wrong does not mean that Cari has a free-pass to cross my boundaries or not listen to my voice.  Even when I have behaved terribly towards someone or misjudged them initially – this is not a way for me to cancel out my own bad behaviours or thoughts.  Punishing myself for behaving in a way I don’t value means: I apologise and then Mind the Gap more carefully next time.

I went back to her e-mail after a few hours and looked closer.  My intention is not to pick apart her words and dissect it further because overall it was a thoughtful e-mail.  I tried to find how I felt about it and in the end, I felt “I’m still a little cautious”.

I am no where near ready to meet her face to face like before.  To re-establish this connection, there needs to be authenticity behind it.  I do not feel that a connection has been established through our e-mails.  The next part is letting her know that this is my voice – we are building a new connection regardless of having had a 10 year friendship.  Our friendship was unhealthy (‘strangely’ is a euphemism for unhealthy), we were cruel to each other and I needed to share with her my feelings – ultimately, my voice in all this.

I thought about a million ways to word it.  This is how I responded:

Hi Cari,

Thank you for responding.  We were good friends and I have missed our friendship and it did end strangely.  In a way, since 2011, we are starting over – not from scratch but nonetheless where we are getting to know each other all over again.  I would like to continue to stay in touch and re-connect with you and learn more about each other and our new stories as I can imagine we have changed and a lot has happened in 10 years.  I welcome your e-mails and I hope to be able to exchange more of our stories in the coming time.

Have a great Halloween with the family.

xxTR

After this Cari responded with what they were up to for Halloween and she asked me what I was doing for it.  I will send her an e-mail during Thanskgiving and see how it goes from there.

After dealing with both my aunt and Cari my body reacted.  I was uneasy and anxious and not able to sleep well.  When I was writing this post and connecting the links I saw that the song Crucify by Tori Amos was from her album: Little Earthquakes.  That is exactly what it feels like when disrupting the pattern that is automatic for me – my natural default setting*.  They are like little earthquakes.

xxoo TR
*Please note the term natural default setting is a term David Foster Wallace used in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College in Ohio.  I enjoyed the speech, click here to view.

13 thoughts on “How Not to Be Wrong

  1. That is so huge to be able to recognize flaky behavior and instead of accepting it and blame yourself decide how much you’re willing to accept. Go you. I’ve had friends from the past try to reconnect. Most of them haven’t worked out because they wanted to step back into the past. I wasn’t willing to go there. I think I’ve mentioned I have an “insanity” folder in my email for all the emails from NM. She isn’t allowed to ruin my birthday and other special occasions anymore. You are doing great.

    • Hi Judy,
      Thank you; your support and posts and other blogs have helped me take these steps.

      I remember the ‘insanity’ folder – I love the name! Hugs, TR

  2. I have a similar default setting of needing to punish myself. I’ve recently come to the conclusion too that I’m just too hard on myself. I’ve heard that many times before, but never really understood what that meant.
    I’m glad you are able to step back and see things more clearly. Breaking these old habits are hard but you are doing really well.

    • Hi Jessie,
      The self-compassion thing is hard. For some reason this time I did have a moment to take a step back, I think starting with friends over e-mails has given that opportunity. Thanks for your support. xx TR

  3. I think it is awesome that you saw that both of you contributed to the breakdown in communication. You didn’t take all the blame. You also established your conditions for reconnecting by getting to know each other again. I really like what you have done here to establish a new pattern for yourself.

    • Hi Ruth,
      Thank you. That was a big one – ‘your conditions for reconnecting by getting to know each other again’. My limits are different now which for the first time I could really see that. You stories have helped me along the way, thank you. xx TR

  4. Hi TR, what you did with Cari and your aunt shows so much integrity. Basically, beneath your words you’re saying “I’d like to continue to know you but only if we can be authentic with each other.” That is such a rare gift, and if they don’t fully take you up on it, they have a lot to learn. I would’ve loved getting a query like yours from either sister, or several old friends. But people are phobic about genuine connection. It’s a weird cultural pathology, IMO.

    • Thank you for the kind words, your support has helped so much to take the next steps. I would like to have a real relationship with them and that is it exactly, if I didn’t care I could easily shut down (my natural tendency) and decide to go No Contact (which I’ve done before).

      I think you are right about it being a phobia. It makes me think of in-laws, maybe because I will see them soon, and our relationship with them is talking about food and what they purchased and how busy they are. That about sums up every conversation. Is the fear so much so that we can’t connect through shared experiences and emotions? It could be, maybe it would force emotions they don’t want to feel to the surface and it would be unbearable? The fear and the lack of awareness combined? I know it is hard for me to do this.

      xxooTR

  5. This is the kind of authentic relationship I’d love to have with my siblings and friends! Something deeper than a Facebook quote, ya know? Maybe people who grew up with parents that didn’t know the “real” them, are a little harder on people who don’t validate our authenticity or want to know us on an intimate level? I dunno…but surface relationships leave me empty. Perhaps this is the legacy of my childhood.

    I’ve been hard on people who couldn’t meet my needs and I finally realized it was my responsibility to let people know what I need/want from the relationship. I’m not very good at this yet which means I “catch myself in the act” and take a more assertive approach with people I truly care about (and hope care about me). I also see and appreciate your integrity and your desire to build healthy and intimate relationships instead of settling for shallow (therefore: pseudoSAFE) relationships. It’s always a risk to put ourselves out there and tell people what we want, need, expect. But that is the path to personal growth and joy! I love your post!

    • “but surface relationships leave me empty.” Yes, I feel that way too, and the older I get the more difficult I find it to bother with those relationships. I think not being able to let people know about our needs is the legacy of our childhood. There’s a reason why we don’t ask, and it’s because we were not allowed to ask for what we needed or wanted as we were growing up. Undoing those patterns is hard but like you said “it’s the path to personal growth and joy” xxoo

      • Hi CZ and Kara,
        Thank you. I can see how my aunt and Cari grew up in non-validating households. My mother and aunt’s mother didn’t seem to have a good relationship with her children from the information I’ve heard.

        And that is it ‘the surface relationships leave me empty’. That is exactly it. I would be going through the motions with them which isn’t fair to me or to them. I felt the biggest risk with Cari because we were really close and was more nervous to send that e-mail than with my aunt.

        I have a hard time with catching myself in the act as well. With my aunt and Cari there was the advantage of the distance and the connections were building via e-mails. If this had been more face to face time it would have been a lot harder to see my old patterns developing. This was due to a lot of your support and what you guys share. Thank you.
        xxooTR

  6. Hi TR,
    Thanks for sharing this. It is an immensely helpful post. I deal with a lot of the same issues you describe here and I also struggle with the “try and make it up to the person for how I felt initially. This translated to giving too much and letting someone walk all over me because I deserved this because I judged someone harshly. I was wrong and I needed to pay for it. I learned how to be wrong – to everyone else’s advantage.” I look forward to hear how it goes with your aunt and Cari.

    Hugs,
    Kara xxoo

    P.S.
    I watched D.F. Wallace’s speech and found it very interesting. It highlighted to me though how hard is this stuff we’re dealing is, and how so many don’t make it.

    • Hi Kara,
      You are welcome and glad it helped. I hadn’t connected the fact that I let go of my boundaries to when I feel bad about something I did. It is, indeed, a struggle not to hand out a free pass when we are feeling bad.

      Wallace’s speech was very different than other commencement speech’s I’ve heard. That is a good point, I hadn’t realised that, but that is true. He does show how hard it is to change the natural default setting. His speech has resonated with me and I’m wondering if this is why.
      Hugs, TR

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