Monday, December 17, 2007

Think it, Don't say it

I think we left off talking about how you might consider being sensitive to make-up or the lack thereof at the holiday party. It's not about the make-up. Readers made the point that there are a million great reasons not to wear any.

But we try to look for the sad, maybe look through the make-up with some, and ask, sincerely, How goes it? Not that everyone's going to want to out themselves about feelings, but you never know.

It's nice to have permission to do that, to really be honest and be able to tell even casual friends what's going on with us. We need a certain amount of established intimacy in the relationship, I should think. But when does that start? Somebody has to get it rolling, take the risk and the fall. Might as well be you. It's that How are you feeling, REALLY, we're talking about here. You go fishing and sometimes you catch one.

One tries not to do that too often as a therapydoc, FYI. At parties, I mean.

We were looking for ways to approach these family reunions. I wanted to give you a little armor, a Jedi shield, light saber maybe. This year, you can see, we're a little stuck on the party theme. It's just one of those things. You either love 'em or you hate 'em, nobody's neutral. Obviously some people must love them or there wouldn't be so many.

Just an excuse to get together, right? Take it from me. Bring a gift to the hostess. Don't listen to the Your presence is our present thing. A little something.

Oh, I digress. Anyway, on to parties. It's a tool, right, a way of picturing people interacting socially. That movie, Goodbye Columbus comes to mind, but I can't remember-- Did that first scene, the shmorg, take place at a wedding? A Bar Mitzvah? All I remember is that the movie irrevocably stereotyped Jews and it wasn't a nice stereotyping, so I couldn't get past that scene and hated the movie. Don't see it.

For our purposes, just picture everyone at a party eating and drinking.

Could be coming right up at your house. One More Week.

We'll look at an interactional sequence that's pretty common, even though it's terrifically dysfunctional. It's dysfunctional at parties, it's dysfunctional at home, it's dysfunctional in the bedroom or at the breakfast table. It's one of those faux pas that you can't take back once you make it, but boy, you had better try.

What else could I be talking about except:

Don't you DARE say that about my mother.


How DARE you say that about my mother?

Same thing.

It works like this. I'm in some kind of mood, maybe irritated at my mother (Mom, please, this is totally made up, it's not at all about you, we're just illustrating a point at your expense. You're good with that, being part of the fun. It's one of your greatest traits.).

My mom's always been a good sport.

But let's say she were an annoying person, which she is NOT, and that I'm irritated with her. FD is in ear shot and I feel like kvetching and I say, "My MOTHER is SO domineering. She drives me crazy telling me what I should be doing with my life. And have you ever noticed how she always has to have it her way?" (She's not like this, just to reiterate. She's the opposite, if anything, a total push-over.)

But this is a vignette, so FD falls into the unwitting trap and says, "Yeah, I've always thought she's pretty domineering."

Not being a violent person, I take the 5 lb sack of potatoes on the kitchen counter and whip it over his head.

He gets up off the floor and says, "But YOU said she's domineering."

I CAN SAY WHATEVER I WANT ABOUT MY (fill in the blank, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, god-child, any close relationship)_________BUT YOU BETTER THE H. . . NOT!

So clearly, at a holiday party, the same rules apply. It's hard, too, because what are we doing at a holiday party if not talking quietly over drinks and hors deurves about someone else? We're all about pseudo-intimacy.*

Still. Avoid the trap of agreeing with someone who is busy dissing a close relative. You will be sorry.

Let's say your friend, who is nibbling on an olive for example, says to you, sincerely, "My uncle is a total miser." You work with this person's uncle and you know it's true.

Still. You can't agree with him, even if it seems like he wants you to agree. You can't agree because this is your friend's uncle, not Tom Cruise. Your friend knows all about his uncle's great qualities, so he can talk about him. He can say whatever he wants. Not being a close relation, you don't know the half of it, however, even if you do work with him, and if you say something negative this will surely make him defensive. Maybe not immediately, but later on, when he's taking off his tie, thinking about the conversation. And he'll hate you.

This is pretty normal proprietary stuff. We own our relatives, share blood lines basically, and we want to be proud of our possessions, our stuff, our DNA. Insult my mother? My uncle? You're insulting me, stupid.

Doesn't have to be a blood relation, either. It can be anyone towards whom we feel an attachment. If I'm close to someone, that person's a part of me. A friend. A teacher. A doctor. MY friend. MY teacher. MY doctor. Boundaries can blur. We blur them unconsciously.

No, it's not a hard and fast rule. Many of us have abusive relatives about whom we feel we simply have to say something negative. Certainly that's what therapy is about sometimes. It's a fairly good family roast. But even in good therapy, especially in good therapy, we try very hard to look for the reasons people behave in the ways that they do. We really want to get people OFF the hook.

Not that you can't fantasize, when it works, about pulverizing someone who has it coming.

But let's let the victim make that call.

So at the cheese dip, when someone disses his mother, I'd stay on the safe side. Think about it this way.

(a) Whatever you say about someone WILL get back to that person
(b) You insult people? You look bad.

When someone disses someone else, in fact, I'd stick with, "Wow, (she) he's so NICE to everyone else. You have to admire that in a person, you know?"

And mean it.


*Pseudo-intimacy happens, in this case, when we talk about someone else to avoid talking about ourselves.


Heidi said...

Noted. Thanks for the heads up.

Polar Bear said...

People can insult my mother for all they want. I'd never deck them for doing that.

What about rude people? I was at a christmas work do the other day and I asked this colleague rather casually, how are you? She turned around and said - grumpy and shitty. I said Okk..... and next thing I know, she's talking so nicely to this GUY she's always hanging with.

That really hurt. I've been nothing but respectful to her all year.

therapydoc said...

Polar Bear? I have to tell you. Someone does that to me and I go on the offensive. (assert, of course, not aggress).

Grumpy? I'd never have guessed, seriously.

Once I thought I'd get a license plate "Get Therapy." Just couldn't do it though, a vanity plate. But it's with her (yes, all of us) in mind.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I found myself visiting my mother's brother. Now, I've been aware for years that a certain amount of animosity existed between my uncle and my dad but I always questioned if this was true or just my dad's perception of the relationship. Dad always felt that Uncle "Ed" looked down on him. So of course dad didn't care much for Uncle.
At one point in that day's conversation, I was complimenting my Aunt, Uncle's wife, telling her that I always admired her and thought she was such a nice person. At which point Uncle interjected: "You're just like your dad," accompanied with a sarcastic sneer on his face. Well, push the buttons Matilda, I responded with, "Are you saying I'm full of s**t?" Definitely not one of my finer moments but I realized at that point that the animosity between Uncle and dad was quite valid. Uncle went on in a rather defensive tone,"Don't you think I know that my wife is a nice person? I wouldn't have married her if she was not nice."
Well, thank goodness shortly after that the conversation veered off into safer waters but the damage was done. Later I realized that Uncle always thought my dad was insincere with his compliments and when I complimented my Aunt, it triggered thoughts of my dad in my Uncle's head. I went back out to see them several months later and "made nice," and I am glad I did. Uncle died last February. And I never mentioned the incident to my dad until last month. Had I told my dad about it right after it happened, it just would have caused more hurt/hard feelings. I mean, the man is dead -- How much harm could it do at that point? At first my dad wasn't sure if he appreciated my "full of s**t" remark but then I said, "hey, if someone disses you I'm going to speak up." Ah family, you got to love 'em. (Or not!)

therapydoc said...

ANON, GREAT STORY! Wouldn't you have just loved to have dug in and found out what the real issue was between them?

Anonymous said...

how do we break the cycle and deeslacate the problem ? What if you find yourself agree or saying something stupid to them and instead of apogalizing you dont because you are so mad at them but dont want to tell them that so you just let ti build and sooner or later they catch your bug and you get into a fight verbal that is...

therapydoc said...

Assertiveness is all about, Don't let it simmer, talk about stuff unemotionally.

Like you could go, Hey, that's my MOTHER you're talking about!

Or sorry, I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings. Tell me more about her/him.

Usually if you can get people talking that's all they care about. But not everyone's forgiving, and that's just the way it is. You apologize and it might be as far as you can go.

Blancodeviosa said...

awe.. dysfunctional family gatherings.

sometime i don't know why people bother.

therapydoc said...

B, Me thinks that's the beauty of it-- the challenge.

Anonymous said...

F Cubed. Forced Family Fun.

Sometimes being disowned is not the end of the world!

therapydoc said...

Sometimes being disowned is the object, no joke, if only for a little while. The whole cut-off thing is something we've got to get to.

Mark said...

Great stuff, good lessons in here about how to watch our tounge when we are in a social situation. Someone sent this to me the other day and I think that it is appropriate for your post:
Before any word leaves your mouth it must be approved by the three gatekeepers;

The first will ask: “Is it true?”

The second will ask: “Is it necessary?”

The third will ask: “Is it kind?”


the sabra said...

skimmed ur post and wanted to let you know that i appreciated it :)

Batya said...

Sometimes it's perfect timing to ask if they have some creme d'menthe, much more refreshing, OK mint tea's fine.

therapydoc said...

In Chicago we go, How 'bout those Cubs?

Anonymous said...

*Pseudo-intimacy happens, in this case, when we talk about someone else to avoid talking about ourselves.

And narcissism is when we talk only about ourselves to avoid talking about anyone else.

Striking the perfect balance is a fine art. No wonder we all need therapy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips, Doc. Gonna be needing them.
And that part about your mom? If you backpedaled any harder you'd be up on one wheel! Good!

have popcorn will lurk said...

Speaking of meakup, have you seen this article? Remarkable.

therapydoc said...

CHANA, amazing story.
ANGELISSIMA, I haven't posted the comment yet because I'm a little afraid of outing the problem here. Your m-i-l might not take kindly to that. But your problem is really, How do we deal with people who make us EXTREMELY uncomfortable and whose social repertoire tends towards the negative. Great question, and we'll deal with it eventually.

Anonymous said...

Seconds to reply...

I read this the other day and have been allowing it roll around. It's been interesting to listen to others bring up this very topic.

I just sit and smile as they talk.

Who knows what they're thinking/feeling about that!

Sidenote to Mark: Yes, very good challenges to consider before opening the mouth. (laughing)


Angelissima said...

Thanks, Therapy Doc. I appreciate your taking the time to read all the babble and actually acknowledge it.

You rule!

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