I find it almost impossible to hate others – even those who have harmed me. I usually end up empathising, identifying, feeling sorry for, forgiving, giving another chance.
Since childhood, I have been a listener – absorbing, sympathising, caring. And now, in my late fifties, I am going to have to learn one of life’s hardest lessons, for me: How to not listen; how to say to others, ‘I am not prepared to have this conversation with you.’ I am going to have to deafen my ears, and harden my heart, to their cries and entreaties, their emotional blackmail and threats. I am going to have to sever threads of talk which are toxic and draining – and I will struggle. It is terribly difficult for me to turn my back in this way: To refuse another a chance; to send someone away without listening. It hurts to even think about it.
All my life, I have been too soft, too malleable, too naive and gullible – in some respects, overly trusting. I tend to judge others by my own values, to give people the benefit of the doubt; to see good motives when, in fact, nastiness is at the core of their behaviour. Now, I am having to toughen up fast, to seal up the gaps, to wise up to life’s more undesirable realities, to recognise that not everyone is kind and honourable and honest.
I have, on too many occasions, given bullies a fair hearing. I have, far too often, allowed them their voice because I felt it just and equitable to do so; because I did not wish to deny people their say, or stifle their need to speak.
But, there is a perilously thin line between accepting an invitation to be heard in a healthy way – and using that platform to abuse, to sow doubt, to launch an attack upon the listener. And it has taken me far too long to learn to erect barriers of cynicism, of doubt, in order to repel the negative and protect myself from harm.
The sad thing is this: My gut instinct is finely-tuned, and my body tends to act with violent surges of pain to any threat. So why do I not batten down the hatches and curtail the chat? I know when conversations feel off in some way. I know when I am under psychic attack. Yet, I cannot be assertive soon enough to stop the flow, to limit the poison. I cannot put a metaphorical ice-pick through the brain of the fiendishly clever rhetorical speaker, cannot bring myself to interrupt the scatter-gun of increasingly hostile questions, cannot even find the words to interject and divert the danger elsewhere.
Manners are important. Consideration is too. But sometimes our early upbringing – with its long list of rules about what is construed as rude and insensitive – can be counter-productive. And I find it very hard to be rude, to interrupt another’s story, to put a phone down on a hostile caller. I have been brought up to wait my turn, be patient, be polite and kind, to LISTEN rather than talking – and to feel guilt, even when the fault is not actually mine.
In consequence, I am lamentably easy to bully, to talk into or out of things.
I crave love and approval and warmth. I loathe and dread conflict and anger, and people breaking friends with me. The weaknesses of this are very obvious: I find it almost impossible to reject those who harm me, and to stand up to anyone lest they turn against me.
I am having to learn to say ‘No,’ – and to keep on saying it even when the other ignores me and carries on with his or her diatribe.
Most of all, though, I am having to practise – and practise hard – the art of taking a scalpel to the dialogue sooner rather than later and, even harder, not caring what the other person’s response to my rudeness is.
It is desperately difficult for me.
I can call upon protectors from other realms – and do. But, ultimately, I also need the means, from within, to repel unwanted visitations.