N is for Negation.

When we (me and DH) went back home for my MiL’s funeral in October of 2012 we had 4 days after the service to see family and friends.  DH’s best friend – Lou (let’s call him) – lives an 1 hour away and we were able to see him a few times.

There were a few things that bugged me from our visits.  I recognised right away, Samy’s (Lou’s wife) N behaviours.  She is covert in her behaviours and I feel that I am getting better  at seeing her behaviours in real time.  Even after recognising them I walked away still feeling like something was off – you know the feeling.

I racked my brain and I gave up on it for a while.  And then one day it hit me.  Maybe it was from something I read but I saw what Samy had done.  She had negated.

I didn’t call it that when I was replaying the conversations in my head:

Lou absolutely loathes his job.  In fact, every time we see him he talks about it.  When he came to visit my FiL before the funeral he talked non-stop about his job.  The visits before that he talked all about his job and how much he can’t take it.  DH and I listened and listened and I could relate to his situation well – I had a job I loathed and it can consume your thoughts and eat up your life.  Most of the time he would end the conversations with potential solutions.  It has been 2 years.  And still we listen. 

One night we went out to a bar for drinks and he again proceeded to talk about his job.  I started to tune it out until at the end of the conversation Samy says to us: “I just tell him he should just be grateful for having a job”.  

Her comment bugged me.  She was negating his feelings.  Her behaviour suggested that he wasn’t grateful for his job.  Never once did DH or I assume he wasn’t grateful for having one in a slow economy.  And subtly she was trying to tell us that she is this awesome wife by telling him to look at the positive.  The fact of the matter is that one emotion does not negate another.  He feeling disappointed and frustrated at work does not equal ungratefulness.  She is simply saying that his current feelings about his job deny the existence of his gratitude for having a job.

That was like saying I can’t love DH and at the same time be angry at him for leaving his shoes in the hallway for the 254th time.  When I’m angry at him I still love him.  When I am jealous of my friend I still am at the same time happy for him/her.  One emotion does not negate another.

When we saw them after that incident this past holiday break something interesting happened.  DH and Lou left to go pick up the pizza and during the car ride Lou begins about his job.  But this time Lou immediately says after complaining ‘Oh but I’m grateful I have a job.’  My DH says to him “Because you don’t like your job doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for it, it just means you don’t like it”.  Samy was brainwashing him and it was working.  On a side note, go DH!

N is for negation.  It is like one thing cancels out a million other things.  Kinda like getting a gift from an N after they have treated you badly for the past year.

xxoo TR

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7 thoughts on “N is for Negation.

  1. Hi T Reddy, people negate each others’ feelings often. It’s like an epidemic. One way they do it is through “at least” formulations. You’re unhappy with your job? “At least you have a job.” You’re unhappy with your colleagues? “At least you have a job.” You’ve been underpaid for a decade? “At least,” at least at least, ad nauseum. My NM makes “at least” negations all the time. My sisters have picked it up. When they talk about their problems, they always wrap it up with “at least…..I wasn’t struck by lightening, don’t have cancer, still have all my limbs. UGH
    I have to catch myself when I talk with one of my sisters (don’t talk with the other), when I describe any hardship, that I don’t trivialize it myself. We’ve built in our Narc mother’s voice in our heads, to “at least” ourselves into negating our own feelings. And your last remark, about sending a gift after a year (or three or five or ten) of crap treatment, well, “at least she sent you cookies” 🙂 My mother, who’s always been jealous of me, loves it when I complain. Then she can say “you’re lucky to have a job.” Luck had nothing to do with it. Years of hard work did.
    I say weigh everything. Look at where the balance is. Just because someone doesn’t have cancer doesn’t give anyone the right to say, about their illness or whatever, “at least.” The all time classic for everything, that my father loves, is “at least you have your health.” Gee thanks, that really helps. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. xx CS

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    • That is so true! I never realised the connection to the ‘at least’ comments. I have a hard time with those. At times, I have to catch myself to stop saying those words. Samy is a member of the court when it comes to ‘at least’ statements. She is so covert she dresses up the verbal bomb with little pink bows.

      I realise that I do that often in my head too. I have to practice to not let that enter in my head when I feel horrible about something. And in Lou’s case from the post, I get the feeling that he talks about his work with us so much that he doesn’t ever really get to truly talk through it with his wife. She tells him how to feel and that can get really, really awful when he spends most of his time in a soul-sucking job. And on top of that he is trapped. His wife has said: “You can find another job in another city as long as it offers the same health benefits we get from my job.” She works for a renowned hospital in the USA. Her health benefits won’t be better anywhere else. So he is stuck in a small town (built around the hospital) that doesn’t offer him any careers opportunities in his field.

      So true, no one has the right to treat someone horribly because of x, y and z. Thanks for the comment, it connected that feeling to how I feel when I hear ‘at least’ comments. xxoo T

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      • I love your illustration of the verbal bombs dressed up in pink bows, pink is such a loud colour that while you’re distracted by it you miss the bomb that’s landed. Such an apt description of what they do. xx

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  2. Brilliant work T. I’ve been thinking about this post since yesterday, because there was something else about this “at least” mentality that was bothering me, and, at last, it came. It’s that whether Lou had reasons to be grateful for his job or not, was not the point, because grateful or not, he still had to deal with his feelings. Because “being there” for someone while they’re trying to sort out their feelings (or in other words, empathising) is like a slow death to a N, they wrap it up as quickly as they can (because it isn’t in their agenda to sit there and hold your hand while they have a million other more important things to do), hence the “at least be grateful you have a job”. It’s a conversation stopper disguised as “support”.

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    • Thank you! DH read your comment and he said, ‘yup it totally stopped the conversation.’ So true, we didn’t discuss his job after that. That is the essence of her disguising her comments and that is spot on – she disguised her lack of empathy and not wanting to listen to it as support. I feel she is the most talented of the N friends I have had.

      And that is a great point, it wasn’t about being grateful or not, he has to deal with his current feelings about his job. And my guess, also the feeling that he feels trapped since Samy has made the stipulation about moving anywhere else for his career.

      Thanks for the insight! xxoo

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