Tag Archives: passive aggressive

Poisoned Bait

A good thing happened recently. I declined to take poisoned bait.

The bait arrived in the form of a terse email from an individual with whom I’ve recently done business. I’ve never met them in person. I approached our business transaction with a willingness to negotiate, share power, cooperate and communicate directly, thoroughly and clearly. I saved all documents, contracts and emails regarding our business, and upon successfully (in my view) concluding our interaction, I moved on with a sense of gratitude, satisfaction and relief.

More than a month later, I had an email expressing frustration and blame.

It felt like a slap in the face, and it was unexpected and hurtful.

My immediate impulse was to strike back, followed quickly by the thought that I hadn’t communicated well and I could fix things by explaining myself (again). Obviously, I had been misunderstood.

Then I decided to pause for a day or so and think carefully about this.

The fact is, I have a longstanding deeply-rooted pattern of believing I’ve been misunderstood due to my inept communication. This belief keeps me firmly locked in escalating attempts to explain and be heard and understood. What I’ve failed to perceive, over and over again through the years, is that I’ve frequently been in relationships with people who had no interest in explanations. They were deliberately fostering misunderstanding, drama and conflict because it fed them in some way.

This, by the way, is a very common strategy of narcissists, psychopaths and borderline personality disordered people. I’ve written previously about projection and gaslighting , two tools frequently used to control others.

Deliberately keeping another in confusion and on the defensive, constantly changing the goalposts and passive aggressive tactics like the silent treatment are all baited hooks I’ve eagerly swallowed and writhed on for years. Words can’t convey the anguish and erosion of self that occurs in the context of this kind of long-term abuse. I’ve crept away from relationships like this as nothing more than a cracked shell of woman, my sexuality and femininity withered, my emotions torn to shreds, my body impoverished and barren, and firmly convinced of my own worthlessness, ugliness and inadequacy.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

A perfect set-up to fall for it all over again.

And again.

And again.

But not this time!

This time I had hard evidence. Over and over again, I checked the timing of contract and closing, emails sent and received, all the fine print. It was all right there, the date my responsibility ended and the date after that of a sudden dissatisfaction I was expected to fix.

I concluded I’d done nothing wrong. On the contrary, I’d consistently demonstrated the kind of integrity I aspire to in every interaction. I went above and beyond. I provided explanation, suggestions for resolution and alternate options, along with names and numbers.

That email was bait.

So, a couple of days later I took a deep breath, opened my email and replied with sincere wishes for happiness and success. One sentence. Then I signed off and hit “send.”

This happened about three weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s a small thing, but it reveals to me how very far I’ve come in healing, growth and wisdom. I now know that I have the power to decline an invitation to struggle. I recognize poisoned bait for what it is, and I know it conceals a hook, and that hook no longer tempts me. I don’t need to waste any energy in defense or repeated explanations. I don’t choose to revisit old bones of contention and chaos. I accept that people think what they think, make up and believe the stories they make up and believe, carry the assumptions they carry, and none of it has anything to do with me.

Misunderstanding certainly occurs, but it’s not that difficult to clear up, given two adults who intend to. The trick is to identify as quickly and accurately as possible if the person I’m interacting with is an adult who to intends to clear up misunderstanding. In the case of my email, that person was only peripherally in my life and we’ll probably never interact again, so I didn’t bother. However, we all have people in our lives with whom we have ongoing connection. In those cases, I use a single question to clarify “misunderstanding.”

“Is there anything I can say or do to clear this up and repair our relationship?”

This direct, simple question seems to encourage surprisingly honest answers, albeit answers I haven’t wanted to accept or believe. However, if the answer is some variation of “no,” then everything immediately becomes blessedly clear. I want to repair. They don’t. Continuing to engage is a waste of our mutual time and energy, and if any kind of a hook remains dangling, I know it’s a manipulation. They’ve made up their mind, and I have no power there.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The words on the screen fail to convey the annihilating heartbreak attendant on understanding that someone you care about and even love doesn’t value your relationship enough to make repairs, but arguing with what is has never worked for me, and I think we owe it to ourselves and others to pay attention when people tell us who they are, no matter how devastated we might feel or how much we want to deny.

I don’t think of this as a too-sweet maiden, politically correct, starry-eyed liberal ideology. Neither is it a religious thing for me, or some kind of higher moral ground tactic. It’s not about making nice and giving others the benefit of a doubt, turning the other cheek, or making excuses for why people do the things they do. It’s also not a blanket rejection. I’m perfectly prepared to turn aside into another conversation, activity or form of connection. I’m also perfectly prepared to walk away.

No. This is about dignity. It’s about wisdom. It’s about self-defense and self-care. Explaining oneself once, apologizing if warranted, taking responsibility if appropriate, is healthy, adult behavior. Distortions, refusing to hear or accept explanations, verbal or physical threats or violence, scenes, emotional meltdowns and shame and blame games are signs and symptoms of a dangerously abusive relationship and I’m no longer available.

I’ve changed my diet and I don’t take that poisoned bait anymore.

I’ve had a bellyful of it already.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Ready For a Change?

A year and a half ago I left everything I knew and traveled halfway across the continent in a U-Haul to start a new life in Maine.  I’d never even bought a plane ticket for myself before.  I’d never taken a road trip.  I’d never lived anywhere but Colorado.  I’d never been to Maine.  I rented my little house, which I’d never intended to leave, and I’d never been a landlady before.  I had very little money, and in fact had to borrow money to accomplish the transition (which I’ve since paid back).

I was 51 years old.

As you can probably imagine, this decision was not met with enthusiastic support from all sides.

How this impacted my relationships will be a subject for a future blog.  Today I want to answer the question no one quite asked, but everyone wanted to.

WTF?

It’s complicated, of course.  It always is.  The short version is that I slowly realized I was living a life that didn’t feel like my own.  Nothing fit right.  It was as though I’d been wearing clothes and shoes from someone else’s closet.  My life was a tiny room that got a centimeter smaller every day.  I lost a relationship, the neighborhood diner and my dearest companion.  I woke every morning knowing I would fail, no matter how hard I worked at…everything.  I felt like a character in a play someone else had written and I began to drop my lines.

The most remarkable thing about that time wasn’t that I was having an unusual experience.  I’m certain many of you reading this blog can relate to my experience.  No, what’s remarkable is that few people knew how it really was with me, which was exactly how I wanted it.

I had a beautiful little house that everyone loved.  I had friends.  I had a garden.  I lived in a lovely place that had been home for nearly twenty years.  I was financially independent—as long as nothing unexpected happened.  I had my music, my movies, my books, my early morning walks, my comfortable bed, my dance group, my small luxuries.  I had a good life, and I wasn’t happy.  I was deeply ashamed.  I was also unbelievably, unbearably, terminally lonely.

I began to write more, not with any plan or hope, but because I had to.  Because it was the only thing I really enjoyed.  It was the only time I felt real.  For various reasons I felt unable to seek support for my writing locally, so I went online and connected with other writers.  One of the writers I connected with was a life coach who teaches emotional intelligence.

I decided to work with him, and that’s when it all began to change.  http://carmineleo.com/

I’m not going to try to sell you on life coaching.  You’re online right now—research for yourself.  There are lots of articles and sites to look at.  I’ll let the coaches sell themselves.  What I want to do is give you reasons not to do it, because if you hire a well-trained, certified, experienced coach and you’re serious about the work your life is going to transform, and an exhausting, bloody, terrifying experience it is.  Creating new life is damned hard work.  Ask any mother.

So here we go.  Don’t do life coaching if:

  • You don’t want things to change, both internally and externally (good luck with that, by the way!).
  • You’re not really willing to invest time and money in yourself.
  • You’re looking for a therapist or prescription medications, or you’re struggling with serious mental illness.
  • You don’t want to take responsibility for your power, life and choices.
  • You don’t want to deal with your feelings.
  • You’re perfectly happy with your current role of victim, martyr, addict, people pleaser, passive aggressive, etc.  (But in that case you might recommend life coaching to someone you’re in relationship with.  Perhaps they could use it!)
  • You don’t want your creative life to blossom.
  • You don’t want to be honest.
  • You don’t want to learn new language, strategies, coping mechanisms and communication skills.
  • You don’t want your relationships at work, in your family and with your friends to become healthier, more honest and more effective.
  • You don’t want to become a more effective and loving parent.
  • You don’t want to cut out of your life the habits, relationships, behaviors and beliefs that are holding you back.

And so how, you ask, has it worked out so far?  The coaching, the move, the new life?

Guess what?  It’s not perfect.  I miss parts of my old life.  But I live with meaning, learning, creativity, humor, curiosity, joy, love and companionship.  I recognize myself.  I like myself.  I feel useful and successful.  I’m learning to be more honest.

The coaching, the move, the new life?

Best thing I ever did.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted