Learning not to get on the defensive

I never had a problem with getting on the defensive until I was traumatized in 2011. After that, since I had endured something that was torture and a threat to my life, I became defensive way too much. I felt attacked a lot of the time, and if I did, I struck back verbally. I hadn’t been like that before. Often when this occurred the person did not have bad intentions at all. Because I had been traumatized I would perceive it as an attack. This harmed many of my friendships, because my friends did not recognize what was going on. (They claimed I was addicted to water and had invented the abuse.)

There were times, though, that people bashed me very badly, especially on Facebook. Some of these things they wrote were likely not intended for my viewing. Some claimed I had “negative energy,” which is about the same as calling a person “character-disordered.” One of my ex-friends wrote that I was “not a person anymore.” They all chimed in, saying I was dangerous and violent. Where did they get that from? They even talked about locking their doors even though I lived thousands of miles away. They said the State should take Puzzle away from me. Yes, it was hurtful.

Should I laugh or cry? I wasn’t sure. Was this comical or sad? I knew their fear of me doing physical harm to them was so irrational that it qualified as delusional. Should I feel sorry for them?

Someone I really cared about wrote me an email (and to drive her point home, also sent a replica via snail mail) saying I was a liar and an addict. She went on and on for a couple of pages saying what a shit she thought I was. She said I should dress like a proper anorexic. Huh? Looking back, I think she was just having a hard time and decided it was all my fault.

For a long time I felt that I could not forgive her. Oddly, I do now.

Another time, someone that was a good friend (so I thought) wrote to me several times, including messaging me on Facebook, using swear words, etc. Again, I suspect she was just having a hard time. We aren’t friends anymore.

One time, maybe a couple of months ago, a customer was abusive to me over the phone, using swear words and insults. I went back and looked at her history and found that every times she’d called us she’d been verbally abusive. Maybe she had been through some really bad trauma in her life. I don’t know. I felt so sorry for her.

Imagine what it’s like to be so angry inside that every time you get on the phone with a customer service person, you get upset and defensive? Actually, my life used to be that way. I knew it was from trauma, and I hated myself for it. I wondered if I’d ever be capable of carrying on a conversation. Now I do not get along with everyone, but I do get along with some people.

Sometimes, people really do attack. But what about perceived attacks? One time, a supervisor doubted my word that there was an error in the company documentation. I was insulted, feeling like she was calling me incompetent. I was right about the error, though. I’m not sure how it was all resolved, or if it ever was. There were a few times I found errors. I don’t understand why she didn’t thank me for finding them. Still, although she wasn’t truly attacking me, I felt that I had to defend myself. I did not.

I have to learn to withhold, to refrain from verbally strike back. It is not a good idea, even though inside, I might want to. I was able to withhold easily when I did customer service. Customers run out of steam. They will stop after a while. Many even apologized. This, I believe is the tactic to take when I am senselessly bashed (not that there’s a right and wrong tactic).

After bashing me over the phone, customers who felt apologetic often turned it all inward. When that happened, I told them we’re all human, that their anger (at our company) was understandable. I was surprised at how often customers apologized for forgetting stuff, such as forgetting they’d made a purchase from us. They’d yell at us for charging them. When they said stuff like “Sorry I wasted your time,” I would say, “That is what we are here for. Anytime you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call us again.”

What’s cool is that I feel sure of myself enough to be able to brush off character-bashing now.  I didn’t have the same confidence when I was in therapy. When someone bashed me I went crying to my therapist. I’m glad there’s no one to go crying to anymore!

Why is it easier to brush off over-the-top bashing, vs. microaggressions? I think when it’s way too much, it’s easier. Why? Because senseless bashing reflects badly on the basher. Worse than it reflects on the bashee. I have learned to walk away and feel very sorry for the person.

When I was a patient I thought that not getting along with another person was a symptom of my own character flaws. Actually, it’s not. Decades ago, one of my fellow patients had not accepted me as a friend. I remember complaining to the staff about feeling rejected. The staff person told me that since the patient had frequent headaches, maybe it was hard for her to converse anyway.

Interestingly, we became friends later on, for about a year, but eventually lost touch. Sometimes it is hard to be friends with married people!

You can’t get along with everyone. There will always be some people that rub you the wrong way! Fact of life. Spend a week on an online dating site and you’ll see many people you’d rather not get to know any better! They’re not bad people, but maybe just not your type. See my point?

Now that I have six years’ distance on the trauma, and the second trauma (abuse in Mount Auburn Hospital), I’m wondering if maybe next time I get too much on the defensive, I should find some way of explaining myself without using disease terms. “It is something I’m working on,” might be appropriate. I don’t want to excuse bad behavior, but to help the person understand why I acted badly. If I lash out, maybe I’m just lashing out at “them.” “Staff.” Because there’s actually nowhere to go with this. I have to let it dissipate on its own. Because it will.

Feedback and comments welcome!