Everyone wants to be heard; to know that their opinion matters, that THEY matter. But there is a difference between being “heard” (i.e. “understood”) vs. winning people over to agree with your opinion. It’s when people get these two concepts confused that problems arise.
Most of us learn at a very early age that we can’t always get our way, or at least we can’t always get what we want, when we want it or in the exact manner we want it. That’s what the so-called “Terrible Twos” is all about. The reason that you don’t hear about the Terrible Five’s, Ten’s, or Thirty’s, is because the majority of us figure out how to balance our personal needs and desires, with the needs and desires of our parents, siblings, neighbors, countrymen, and the world. It’s that simple but vital skill of Give-and-Take that distinguishes civilization from barbarism. It’s learning to play well with others.
Unfortunately, not everyone successfully learns the lessons necessary to progress past the stage where a toddler suddenly is faced with the fact that they are not the center of the world, and so these Eternal Toddlers [“ET’s”] continue to believe that everyone outside of themselves exists solely to satisfy their needs and desires. When confronted by the reality that they cannot make everyone snap to attention at their every beck and call, the ET ends up feeling constantly thwarted, oppressed, unappreciated, disrespected, and even abandoned. In turn, those feelings lead to intense, never-ending anger at those the ET perceives have come between them and their desires that they ultimately deal with by turning that anger back on others (in the form of adult temper tantrums or worse) and/or on themselves (i.e. self-loathing, severe depression, suicide). This is hardly a satisfying strategy to procure either the respect of others or a realistic sense of self-worth for the ET. As obvious as that equation may seem, ET’s rarely appear capable of recognizing the folly of that mindset or recalibrating their expectations and methods of communication that’s needed to escape the viscious circle they’re trapped in.
It is easy to fall into the trap of judging an ET – especially when you’re caught within the scope of an ET’s rage or continually compelled to witness the dark, disheartening world of an ET who has turned their rage inward. The inclination to yell “Snap out of it”, “Get Real”, “Grow-Up”, or “#!!?@!&!!! You!”, is understandable yet it’s foolish and counter-productive to give into your frustration that way, and can even be putting yourself at risk of great danger. So what can you do when your life crosses with an ET that won’t set you up as their Eternal Victim [“EV”]? The easy answer is to walk away and fuggetaboudit. But that’s not always possible, especially if you have conflicting feelings such as actually liking the person or even loving them, or if you’re stuck with having to deal with them for professional or other reasons. It’s heartbreaking to watch otherwise intelligent, decent people self-destruct and fearsome when an ET has the attitude of “Take No Prisoners”.
Lamentably, we are powerless to make the necessary changes for them. All we can do is try to be patient, to listen, to maintain our self-composure and dignity, to always maintain our self-respect, try to protect ourselves the best that we can, and then pray. Pray for a miracle that forces the ET take stock of themself, gather the strength to face the truth and seek help to turn their life around. Keep reminding yourself you did nothing wrong to deserve the ET’s venom. Forgive the ET, who is undoubtedly hurting even more than you, but don’t forget to take cover. And most important of all, constantly remind yourself that you can survive anything as long as you stick to the truth, never act with malice, and never stop having faith that somehow, somewhere, some time, you’ll finally be free.
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In total darkness and bubbled water I sat, crying my eyes out uncontrollably, my chest heaving with hysterical cries. Rushing in like a madman to save his damsel in distress, my hubby got down on his knees, praying I hadn’t fallen, praying our baby hadn’t decided that would be the day he arrived. Still unable to calm down enough to speak, I nodded my head to show that my distress was not physical. After a minute or two in watchful silence, accompanied by a lot of head scratching, followed by his hand thrust into the water, Don looked at me even more perplexed. “I don’t get it. This water is pretty warm so it can’t be that.” He was of course referring to the day before, which was the first time he had to rush into the bathroom to rescue his delirious bride, mother of his soon-to-be son, whose eyes and decibel level appeared to be seriously trying to compete with Victoria Falls, for no reason other than the lack of hot water. This time, my anguish was over something far more solemn and deserving.
Sensing that our first (and only) child would be showing his face in a matter of days, I had finally permitted myself to look beyond my pregnancy and imagine all the possible kinds of fun we’d soon share with our child, when I was rudely interrupted by the ever so practical, pragmatic side of me that had to speak up and remind me that with fun also comes responsibility. (What a Party Popper!)
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I was already well prepared for that without any serious trepidations, but what had managed to get me in such a panic was the sudden realization, Don and I bore the primary responsibility for teaching our child to SPEAK! and I had absolutely no clue how to do it. Okay. Breathe.
I tried to work it out in my head while lying in my (usually) calming bubble bath with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” wafting in from a stereo in the adjacent room. I managed to come up with a plan for words like ”Cat”,”Dog”,”Apple“, and ”Daddy”. That was good. Then, I came up with similar solutions for a nice size rudimentary vocabulary that I figured would get him through his first year. Whew! That’s when the ground began to shake and give way and the dark clouds suddenly overcame me, when the terrifying thought entered my brain screaming out “How on earth are you going to teach your infant – a virtual alien to this planet born without any conception of words or their purpose – the difference between “You” and “I”?
That day, in the throes of the lunacy commonly shared by many women in the 48-72 hours before giving birth, this dilemma seemed not only rational but absolutely crucial to our child’s entire future. Perhaps I had seen Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine one too many times or spent too many hours reading Sartre and Kierkegaard. As it turned out, my pregnant panic was all for nought. The truth is, I never had to consciously teach Robert how to distinguish between that particular pair of words or the meaning behind them, as one day, somewhere between the ages of 18 months and 2 years, Don and I realized that Rob was way ahead of us and had figured out this linguistic dilemma all on his own! Just like a million other toddlers before and after him, likewise accomplished.
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The memory of that day, which was close to 30 years ago, popped into my consciousness last week-end while my oldest, dearest friend and I were enjoying the intellectual challenge of trying to apply various philosophical, scientific, psychological, and spiritual theories to the very concrete reality of each of our lives, trying to find the sense in what has no sense. While the specific facts and circumstances of my friend‘s life has little in common with mine – at least to the naked eye – we have shared the same frustration, hurt, and complete bewilderment over how can there be (and why?) people, chronologically adults, who somehow managed to miss out on that “Aha!” moment, when most toddlers learned that there IS a difference between “You” and “I”.
Subtle as the concept may be about where “You” end and another person begins, it just seems so fundamental to the ability to get beyond the proverbial sandbox, that I find it even more incomprehensible as to why it seems to be such an impossible hurdle for some folks to handle, despite the fact that for most other intents and purposes, they seem to have above-average intelligence and potential.
”When we feel our emotional boundaries, we can discriminate between our feelings & another’s feelings. We can hear another’s feelings & not have to fix them. We can discern what issues are ours & what issues belong to the other person. We can protect ourselves from being dumped on when someone else can’t handle his feelings. We can refuse to take responsibility when it rightly belongs to the other guy.” Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine
I simply don’t get it and so these remain questions I still have no answers for.
And that’s my rant for the day and utterly biased opinion. 🙂 What’s yours?
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