I am naturally a pretty wildly emotional person. I’ve struggled my entire life to get to the point that I don’t cry when people raise their voice. For most of my life, I’ve cried when people raised their voice, regardless of whether they were raising it at me.
But as I grew up, it didn’t really serve me. I couldn’t get through any kind of conflict without tears, which isn’t great, in the workplace. It tends to read as manipulative, in relationships, even though I never meant for it to be. I’d cry when I felt overwhelmed in a relationship. My high school boyfriend would buy me flowers anytime I cried, and I’m of the opinion that if you know that accepting the flowers is a “I forgive you” or even a “we’re good,” it’s almost dirty pool to go back and hash over why you cried, which was a huge source of frustration for me, because if we were going to work out, we needed to dig into some of that stuff. But we never did and I ultimately did intentionally make him break up with me. Not my proudest admission.
I’ve gotten to the point that I can stand and face someone who’s yelling without tears, most of the time. I hate every nanosecond of it and would prefer to live in a world where people discussed things calmly, but I can do it. I don’t process well in that situation, so I tend to go away and come back when I have words to describe what I feel and think. And there are many good things about that. I don’t tend to live in a lot of drama, and I like that so much I can’t even tell you.
But lately, it feels like I may have overcorrected. I’m striking myself as a little robotic. Very calm, very pragmatic. I have situations that bother me at work and as a volunteer, but I tend not to engage. A lot of the working day, I listen to podcasts to drown out the coworkers who annoy me. I’m pretty stinking effective at what I’m focused on, but my mom said something to me last night and I can’t for the life of you tell you anything about it— I was completely somewhere else. With her, I steer conversations toward acceptably neutral topics. I’ve let them veer into deeper water lately, because I’ve had a conversation or two with her about politics that didn’t make me want to peel off my own skin (serious improvement), but I honestly give her a limited menu because I’m not interested in having certain conversations. And it’s not just a limited menu of acceptable conversation topics— there’s an approved list of shows we can watch and she has a range of places she can ask me to go in certain situations— she can ask for a side trip under condition A, but not under any other condition. She will be invited to participate in conditions B, C, and D, but not in every event or condition, and not all the ones she might want to participate in. She will be given advance notice, but if she doesn’t make timely decisions, I’ll decide… that kind of thing.
I think there are some merits to the way I’m handling things. The situation at work— I’ve got no control over that. Refusing to engage is the mature response, because the less mature response gets to a screaming match on the double. Coworker is defensive, I’m prone to defensiveness, I can’t make her do it differently and her boss won’t make her do it differently. It seems like we can’t have many neutral conversations, so we don’t have conversations unless it’s absolutely necessary. With mom, some conversations, she uses to manipulate me— shaming me into some things and out of others. I’ve determined that I lose in those conversations every time, so I’m avoiding them, and leaving them when I find myself in them inadvertently. Even with friends— I reached a threshold a couple of years ago where it so annoys me to get unsolicited advice that I have carefully constructed conversations, I don’t ask for advice when it’s not requested, and I have been known to get more than a little snippy.
The other side of this is that, last Friday, at the conference I went to with my niece, I cried so hard and laughed so hard that I exhausted myself. I’m navigating the whole thing with the dog and an imperfect job situation surprisingly successfully. I’ve got car stuff that’s going to be financially and logistically stressful, but I’m not letting that stress bleed over into other things. I’m speaking my truth, to the extent that I can. I’m actually making quite a bit of headway toward things I want (with the possible exception of my love life and a change for the more strategic in my job situation).
My mom calls me robotic when I won’t rise to the bait. It’s another form of button-pushing. She’s not calling me robotic at the moment, but I am concerned about it. I don’t desire to go back to uncontrollable crying, and I don’t want to invite drama. But I do want room for grace and surprise and joy. Where is the line between sensible boundaries and a fascist regime of environmental control that I’ll look back and regret, in time? And how do I adjust without overcorrecting? Or is another word for where I am “peaceful”?