Sometimes, I am required to spend time with a person who taxes my inner resources to the extreme. That sounds rather exaggerated, you may think. Not so. There is an individual who -- without delving into any details -- triggers my fight-or-flight instincts merely by being present. As a result of years of history, I do not feel safe in the same room as this individual. Physically, there is no risk of harm (excepting any physical discomfort I might feel from the individual stepping into my personal space). Emotionally, all I can sense is danger.
Why? Because there will be Words: a passive-aggressive quip; a direct put-down disguised as "I'm only kidding" so its harm can be denied; an overt criticism of my possessions or my decisions or my activities, or my friendships, or my dreams; minimization of my concerns and turning of the conversation back towards themselves; didactic commentary; a "joke" about how I have never been forgiven for some perceived slight from decades ago; statements to demonstrate the erudite nature of the individual and to contrast unfavorably my simple tastes; observations mocking other people or particular social groups in a manner designed to make me uncomfortable; pointed questions to highlight my deficiencies. I never know what form the Words will take, and frequently, the Words will be so unexpected or bizarre that I cannot even begin to formulate an appropriate reply.
I normally love words -- but not words from this individual. Those words are shuriken. Ugly Words.
When I am in danger from Ugly Words, I try to protect myself. I try to make sure I am not alone with the individual and the Ugly Words (although I cannot use the Offspring as shield; rather, I put myself between them and the Ugly Words -- for better that I, than they, be impaled). I reach out to those who might understand, to try to the describe the Ugly Words, so that the Words will not take root. I try to strike up a conversation, however brief, with my Safe People, for a moment of respite from the exhausting alert-protective stance I need to hold.
Sometimes, though, my Safe People are not available. And sometimes they do not hear, or do not understand, or cannot or will not reach back to me. Perhaps they do not realize the danger I feel myself to be in. Perhaps they have their own battles to wage and are unable to spare any of their own strength to give to me. Perhaps I have not explained myself fully to enable them to see what I need -- after all, I cannot bring myself to say, "HELP ME," for what if they were to say "no"?
I tell myself that it's not because they don't care, that they do not help me. And I choose to believe that, because to believe otherwise would be to impale myself on my own Ugly Words.
They just Don't Know. That is what I tell myself.
And I am Alone.
Sometimes, when things are especially difficult, I think of a picture of myself at about age three. I see that little girl, with her bangs and small face. I tell her: it is OK. I am here for you. And I imagine holding her hand.
And somehow, I feel better.