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01 August 2008

Looking for a little peace. [More:]

This evening I got a call from someone close to me which quickly dissolved into a shouting match full of accusations, hate, and all manner of other nastiness. I slammed the phone down at the end of the call and actually screamed in anger at the end of it. My hands were shaking. I don't think either one of us were listening to each other at the end: like playing two recordings at opposite ends of the line.

I'm usually really even-keeled on the phone, even with this person, but tonight I feel like this scary genie of anger has come out of its bottle. I don't want to be someone who reacts to things the way I reacted to them tonight. I should have just hung up on the person when it got really heated, but I ignored the better angels of my nature and got drawn in.

Suffice it to say I don't feel close to this person anymore. I feel like the whole positive history of my relationship with this person is now gone forever. It's like their true nature was finally revealed and it was worse - far worse - than anything I imagined. It feels like what I imagine the death of someone dear to you might feel like: an excision of the parts of you that resided in them. Like I invested this love and time and forgiveness and patience into them and came to find that all that's just as easily discarded as yesterday's newspaper.

So what can I do? I'm moving to the other side of the world from this person in about a month, but I don't know if I want to leave without resolving this, or at least trying to come to a negotiated peace. Do I wash my hands of them or keep re-investing? This person, for better or worse, will be in my family's life for the foreseeable future; they are not easily avoided and are nearby whenever I'm home.

I want to believe that people change, that anger subsides. But I also know that the things we both said to each other were awful, truly awful, and I don't know how to go back, or forward, from there.
Were you right, wrong, or some of both? I prefer to confront these situations quickly, like after a day or two, and at least establish some sort of understanding.
posted by Ardiril 01 August | 04:19
well I don't know the particular details here, but certainly things can be resolved by people - everyone, everyone has a capacity to change.

1) Know that the person's awfulness is THEM, not you, your good and friendly behaviour has its own merits irregardless of their assholery.
2) You can apologise for what you said for your own honour's sake.
3) You can't usefully expect them to apologise - you've got no control over them or what is up in their heads. You can ask for certain standards of behaviour from them, though.
4) remember the lesson and don't get drawn in again.

Give it a week or two, and then call them up, maybe with a good friend of yours present - or even ask for a face to face meeting, if you like.. But focus on what you can do and say and be and feel, because you've got no control over them. In ten years you will remember your honourable resolution to this and barely remember them at all, it is to be hoped.

I care about you irregardless of what you decide to do here. You're clearly a good person, from what you post here.
posted by By the Grace of God 01 August | 04:22
Grace is right: you can only control what you do, not what the other person does.

I suggest you figure out what you want from the situation. (What you really want, not what you think you should want.) Sometimes when you give yourself the space to ask that simple question, some surprising things can come up. Once you know what you truly want, I'm thinking a path or choice or action will become clear.

Incidentally, I don't think the choice is between washing your hands of them or "re-investing". You don't have to re-invest to make peace within yourself about the situation.

Also, I'm wondering why you're playing the non-specific gender game. I'm wondering why it matters to you that you not use "her" and "she" or "him" and "he" in your post.
posted by Specklet 01 August | 06:28
Not knowing the details, this may be out of line, but: You say that during the call you became someone you did not want to be, but presumably you don't think of that "momentary you" as canceling out all the good qualities you have (nor should you); yet, you seem to be saying the bad qualities that came up in this other person during this phone call *do* cancel out all their good qualities.

There may, of course, be a larger context for your disillusionment, but if the issue is just this single phone call, then maybe try to give the other person as much of a break as you seem to be trying to give yourself.

And I would agree with Specklet that making peace does not necessarily have to actively involve the other person at all.
posted by occhiblu 01 August | 12:44
I don't have a lot of advice except that something similar happened last year with a friend of mine.

We decided we still wanted to be friends and basically faked it for a while- did things together, avoided a couple of conversation topics until we weren't so triggered by them.

We aren't where we used to be, and maybe never will be, but we're definitely real friends again.

Unfortunately, the trick was time. It's taken months and months and still isn't 100%. It's maybe 75%. (And there are still moments when I think *WHY* am I bothering with this again?)

If you guys make the same decision we did, but you're leaving in a month it'll be harder to pull off.
posted by small_ruminant 01 August | 13:07
And in the meantime, I found myself reading lots of books on grief and loss, which sort of sounds melodramatic, but the whole thing really was traumatic.
posted by small_ruminant 01 August | 13:09
Do I wash my hands of them or keep re-investing?

This is pretty binary. There's a concept in codependency literature called "compassionate detachment" (not sure if I'm remembering the term correctly). Anyway, you CAN learn to detach from this person's behavior and words without losing your compassion for him/her. He/she may or may not feel awful about what they said, but they surely were suffering somehow in order to be so angry towards you.

You may be totally right and justified in your anger. You may be able to prove in a court of law that the other person was wrong and cruel. Moving forward, ask yourself if it works for you and your life to hold onto this justification. Does it make you feel superior or does it make you feel guilty? What kind of person do you want to be in your life, big or small? Eventually you may be able to give up being right about the issue at hand and about your feelings toward this person. It doesn't mean you have to be BFF.

But for right now I recommend taking care of yourself and doing whatever it is you do to chill out. You're in Europe somewhere IIRC, surely there is beautiful architecture you can see and bike rides you can take. Eat well, sleep well, manage your money and your health. Your anger will fade in proportion to how well you take care of yourself. Thich Nhat Hanh, a buddhist monk (who wrote a book called Anger), advises one to treat one's anger like a screaming baby. Hold it, rock it to sleep, speak softly to it, be caring to it.

I'm rambling on and on but I hope this helps you even a little. From your posts I can tell you are a good person. Feel free to email me, if it's not in my profile it's zenparadox2#remove#@gmail
posted by desjardins 01 August | 13:29
Thanks everyone. I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this, even the ones that tell me I'm not being fair-minded about things. Anger gets us lost, and it's good to have people point you in any new direction.

I avoided mentioning the exact details of the person's identity partly to protect their anonymity, and partly to make the post more useful to others seeking a way past anger in any relationship.

desjardins, thanks for the Thich Nhat Hanh quote. That helps me see the anger as something that's not just something I'm dealing with, but something that everyone deals with. The total lack of uniqueness here makes things seem more manageable.

Again, thanks to everyone.
posted by mdonley 01 August | 14:25
I wish you the best of luck in untangling this one. I know (boy, do I) it's tricky. I urge you (gently) to be gentle with yourself.
posted by Specklet 01 August | 17:32
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