We have all been subject to the behaviour of people we love or respect that completely throws us. How can they be so rude? So uncaring? How could they be so abusive? So angry? So harsh? How could they be so dismissive? so cold etc….. We could come to the conclusion that… they don’t care, they are heartless, they just use people, they don’t ascribe value to anyone but themselves. We are basically trying to make sense of their behaviour and in doing so ascribe a ‘type’ to them and place them in a box.
To feel safer and to protect ourselves we can see the person as ‘bad’. In psychology we sometimes call that splitting or demonising vs idolising. When we come across behaviour directed at us that we don’t like, we may split it off. The attacking person is then ‘all bad’ and we can’t see the other parts of them. What if we had the capacity to hold ambivalent emotions? That is, the persons’ behaviour is bad but they are also good.
Can we determine from their actions, their behaviour, what they actually feel? Human beings are complex creatures, I know I am one of them 🙂 External behaviour is only a small part of the whole story, it is often only a description of a defense mechanism, a coping strategy, a lack of capacity to hold or tolerate an emotion or an expression of vulnerability of a perceived threat.
When we are on the receiving end of dismissive, rejecting, humiliating, belittling or aggressive behaviour it is always difficult. It surprises us, it confuses us and ultimately it hurts us. The interesting thing is that we often respond by displaying behaviours linked to our internal emotions, just like they did to us (we mirror the same process that the ‘attacker’ used). We withdraw, or show anger or are dismissive…
So what is the expression of anger about?
Because we often respond to the behaviour, we are responding to an expression of something very different to the root cause. This is how misinterpretations start as we have only considered the behaviour… and this is also how misinterpretations grow and grow and grow and grow. We become hypervigilant and add more and more ‘facts’ to this story of who this person is. The perpetrator. This is how family feuds start and get entrenched in the history of the family. The children of the children all get subject to a misunderstood history that now becomes the ‘TRUTH’ and the’FACTS’
It is a fact that not everyone feels safe enough to self-reflect, some people have an obsessional defense, a need to self-protect at all costs. This behaviour may have been created at a young age and they may not have insight. Without the capacity to self reflect it is hard to be authentic and have a real conversation. We need to know what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable. But… we also need to develop the art of real communication, cutting through the messy emotions, not holding onto the perceived injustice as a precious toxic object and – we need to find a spirit of generosity – firstly for ourselves and then for the other.
We don’t need to fix the other, in fact we always need healthy boundaries, but we also need to go inside ourselves and look at our relationship to the other. After all we have to live with ourselves for ever. Both parties of the dispute should go inside themselves to find a place of understanding. We need to rather focus on understanding our emotion behind our behaviour and then possibly we can gain insight into their emotion behind their behaviour. Then and only then do we stand a much better chance of the issue being resolved through true communication.
Some things we can do:
For the non-feuding family on the sidelines:
Author: Debra©2018Psych in a Box