Day 1721 – Day 1727
When I was a girl, I was bullied on the playground. My mother taught me to try to overlook bad behaviour and with empathy, see what might be driving people to act so badly. ‘Maybe there is something going on in their life that you don’t understand and it is making them behave in a mean way’, she would say. I suppose that my mother did this to help me see that being bullied by a kid on the playground was more about them and their issues than it was about me. But, as an overly empathetic young person, I grew up always trying to understand the psychology of people who treated me like dirt, rather than getting out of the way of their abuse.
Empathy is a great thing. It is, in fact, one of the core underlying practices (along with mindfulness and authenticity) that makes practicing gratitude, magnifying joy, being of service, experiencing our oneness and living a life of meaning, with purpose possible. Empathy and pro social behaviour are requirements for belonging to society. Without empathy, I don’t think it is possible to actually be happy, because empathy is key to forming relationships. Those lacking empathy, as far as I understand it, are often diagnosed with Cluster B personality disorders that include psychopathy and narcissism.
Empathy is a good thing. Too much empathy, to the detriment of mutual respect and self-preservation, is a very bad thing.
Someone treated me badly recently and I was recounting the story to a friend. The first thing she did was jump to hypothetical reasons why they might have behaved so badly “Maybe they think this or maybe they feel that.” My feelings were not acknowledged. I’m sure she had good intentions, but this is not empathy. It is looking for rationalizations of bad behaviour.
I notice this is common with some women – at least women over 40 – and I notice that my male friends do not bother to try to understand, rationalize, or find excuses for bad behaviour. They say it like it is. The behaviour was unacceptable. Usually, they use more colourful words. I also notice that those women who tend to look for excuses have stayed in situations where their potential has been limited or where their needs aren’t being met. I put my hand up as one of them.
People of my generation were raised in an era where women were working full-time outside the home, en masse, for the first time. My mother was a stay at home mom and while many of my friends had mothers who worked outside of the home, it was rare that they were ‘career women’. We were the first generation who had no expectation or hope that we would ever be taken care of by a partner who was a breadwinner. We were the first generation who would have to make our own way in the world, a world that was ruled by men.
Our mothers had no idea what it would take to get along in the world, for their daughters. Our mothers had to practice the subtle art of persuasion and ego stroking, and they had to learn to overlook the flaws of their husbands. They had to do this, no matter how bad his behaviour was, at times, because it was a matter of survival. And for their part, some of our fathers – used to having their bad behaviour overlooked – modeled, for their daughters, that this was what men expect of women. Many men of that generation still expect to be obeyed, no matter what their behaviour.
Mine is the first generation to make her own way in the world. And, our parents did not prepare many of us to do that.
Even at my ripe (rotting?) old age, I have tended to still make excuses and try to be understanding of people who aren’t always pro social and in control of their mouths or behaviour.
But, something has changed in me, and it is growing stronger.
I wrote about germinating ideas and the need to change my life. One of the first things I’ve found myself feeling is that I no longer want to make excuses for bad behaviour.
My life took a very hard turn in 2016. I think about the young man who said he loved me and with whom I fell in love. He had a charming and gentle exterior when we met in 2015. That was who I believed him to be. Who he turned out to be was a man who was self involved, opportunistic and exploitative, who had no empathy for others, and had a moral compass that was strongly anti-social. I had believed his lies. Like my mother, and her generation, I stood on my head and turned myself inside out for months that turned into years, trying to make sense of his treating me with disdain and cruelty and then vulnerability and sweetness in turn. I tried to find a reason why the sweet and vulnerable man was lying to me and hurting me. Like my mother, I chose not to see what was right in front of me if it meant I could not rationalize his anti-social ways. I had clocked what was either embarrassment or disdain, towards a bouncer who didn’t want to let him into the pub for dressing shabbily, on the first night we met. That was a red flag. But, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on that first night and every night after, for over 2 years. The bad behaviour was who he really was, and he had pegged me for a gullible target. He exploited me, betrayed me and broke my heart, and when I finally got pushed to far, I reacted, in kind. All that did was allow him to alleviate his own self hatred and position me as the bad guy. While I am not victim blaming, I must admit that up to that point, I had made the excuses that let him continue, for years. I’m sure I’m not the only one. He likely lied to and exploited the other women who were, unbenownst to me, in his life, as well.
His sweet exterior was a necessary mask he wore to disguise his anti-social self, in order to make his way in the world.
I went through the worst time in my life, and I sort of sleep walked through 2017, but I’m awake now.
I have forgiven him, not because he is remorseful or because his behaviour is excusable. Whatever made him the way that he is, whether nature or nurture, it was not in his control. I don’t feel any joy in knowing that he is probably still stuck in a spiral of anti-social behaviour and shame, but Il struggle with the knowledge that his shame is not remorse. I feel sad for what has become of him, but don’t mistake me – he is still accountable for his behaviour. He could have behaved differently. He’s certainly capable of being charming and likable with those who aren’t particularly close to him. He can behave pro-socially when he wants to, he just chose to lie and behave badly with me because he didn’t care how his anti-social behaviour would hurt me.
Empathy is good, but not everyone has our best interests at heart and deserves our efforts to understand their less than shining moments. I’m grateful for this lesson, though I wish it had come earlier in my life, and I wish it had come at a much lower personal cost. But, we learn when we learn.
And I do feel joy that I am free of it.
Having come through that I’m working on forgiving myself for making the wrong (overly empathetic) choices with him. A part of forgiving myself for letting it go on too long is to have zero tolerance for disrespectful behaviour being directed at me and to resist the need to rationalize, that I learned from my parents. Yes, sometimes we can’t completely end toxic relationships (example: co-parenting) but we can enforce our boundaries with people who do not have our best interests at heart. We are all One at the level of the soul and spirit. At the level of the mundane, where most of us live our day to day life, we must honour the light of our own soul by protecting ourselves against abuse.
To let anyone dump on us is to dim our own spiritual light.
No. More. Excuses.