Archive for the 'relationships' Category

“I’ve changed”

April 19, 2015

I sometimes think the theme of my life is to resolve my difficulty with people who want yet another chance despite past disastrous results.  They say, “I’ve changed.”  I think my version of Diogenes and his search for an honest man is my desire to find an instance in which the other person (or couple or family) actually has changed in a way that would actually make things come out different if we tried again.  I’ve tried again, many times, with many people.  Clearly there’s a lesson I haven’t yet learned.

What I think I have learned, though, is that in these situations, the people involved need encouragement to blossom themselves and in ways they avoid, if things are ever to come out any different, and that the only encouragement they will perceive from me within a re-engagement won’t lead to that but will lead to further entrenchment of existing patterns of interaction, the patterns that lead to the disastrous results.

I think the question for me at this point may be to what extent I can ever actually be helpful in that process of blossoming and to what extent that is a process these people will engage in, if they engage in it at all, with others.

At least wishing someone well is a unilateral act.

I actually think the theme of my life is loss, and that this scenario is a subset of that theme.  It’s a loss which requires my recognition of the reality, rather than a situation in which I have no choices to make and the loss occurs in the same way whether I am willing or not willing, conscious of what is going on or not.

It’s a tough one, because this situation doesn’t come up unless there are also strands of at least seemingly positive connection.  And one is letting go of the possibility that this will be the instance in which re-engagement actually works out, that Diogenes will this time find what he is looking for.

“Please relay this message”

March 19, 2015

Suppose you got such a request from the soul of someone who is locked outside of the person to whom the soul is related.  The connection between the physical incarnation of the person and their soul became so tenuous that the physical person was no longer sufficiently in touch with their soul, and their soul was locked out in the cold.  Kind of like going for a space walk and then finding oneself locked out of the mothership.

There’s a soul who has made that request of me:  “Please tell my person to get in touch with me so we can re-connect.”

Well, I can’t get this person to even accept that such a connection is possible, I can’t get them to listen to me, much less have a direct dialogue with me, during which I could try to suggest how, if they were willing, I could try to teach them to find and expand their connection to their higher self.  They do not appear to want to have contact with me.

But their soul is a great buddy of mine.  In fact, Gita refers to him as my Buddy.  For a long time, I’ve thought my Buddy extended down into his person, that my connection with this soul, the physical person was in on, too.  But Gita advised me not to assume that other people are as integrated with the vast reaches of ourselves beyond the tips of our iceberg that is our self in our physical body as I am.  (This integration is what allowed me to help my mother at her passing.)  She said to me, “Find out if this person is connected enough to their soul to be in on the relationship with you.”

So, are you?

In the meantime, I am trying to figure out how to deal with their soul.  Does that soul have to keep waiting out in the cold while their person reads books on love and maybe becomes willing to have life experiences that will re-open their connection with their soul?  How much do I take that soul into my heart, even temporarily, if that is not going to happen at the other end?  What is my responsibility, what do I feel called upon to do, what would be enabling, what would be cruel not to do, what do I actually feel capable of doing?

Not sure.  Gita says I should put the question out there, wait for an answer, and act according to that answer (or the lack thereof).  That plan is certainly an improvement on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I hope I have taken the first step with this post.



Too much communication

March 15, 2015

I’ve had that from some people, most particularly a certain family member, who will remain nameless.  I was thinking about it recently, because it unfortunately came up this winter when a social worker for the aforementioned but unnamed family member behaved in, at best, a careless way that threatened to undermine the boundaries I had built up with this relative over more than 20 years.

I try to make sure this relative has the information they should have, and I try to do right by them in other regards, but I learned from experience that I need strong boundaries with respect to them.

What I say, and what is all too true, when I decline to have the relationship and communication they desire, is that I can’t — I can’t have the relationship they want, I can’t engage in the communication they want.  I can’t, as in, I am unable to.  I really am unable to.  And it is, as I said, all too true, I can’t.

I have made the point that if the person shows evidence of change, things might be different and maybe it would become a situation I am able to handle.  How would I know?  Probably when the person backed off and showed some evidence of taking me, my needs, and my words into account.  (They don’t hear the word “no,” for example.)  And when communication did not fall into the same scripts and I did not feel preyed upon and provoked.

It’s hard to argue with an “I can’t.”  I don’t say it because it is hard to argue with, but because it is true, and I can’t do what I can’t do.

I would add as a footnote that, for people without knowledge of the history here, I may look like Attila the Hun, but I’ve learned to live with that, too — it’s the lesser of the two difficulties.


New Year’s resolution 2015

March 15, 2015

I didn’t think about New Year’s resolutions when the calendar turned this year because I was so busy with my mother and her affairs.  But now that she is gone and buried and her affairs are at a point where they take up less room, at least temporarily, on my plate, the question of what I want to work on this year came to my attention.

I decided I want to work on my defensiveness.  I know it gets in my way.  It gets in other people’s way, too, I think.

My next thought was a memory of Willy sitting in an office with someone who was supposed to help our family, about whom I had my doubts and suspicions.  And there he was, sitting on the couch in her office, leaning back and with his arms so undefensively crossed above his head, his torso exposed (beneath shirt, tie, and jacket), talking so genially.

I can’t say how effective his attitude was in that situation, and I know it was not self-consciously produced.  But he was offering no resistance, and that, I am pretty sure, can be a good thing in some situations in which I unhelpfully introduce my baggage of fear about what may come next.  The thing I want to try doing is staying in the actual moment and worrying less about where it will lead.  I don’t mean suspending my practical judgment and not making a photocopy of an important document before I send it out, but I think there is a point of balance that I have overshot; perhaps I have learned to overshoot it, but we can unlearn survival skills that got us through one situation that are now getting in our way.

So that’s, I think, going to be my approach, to try to stay in the moment, discern what I am called on to do without so much concern about what comes next, what sort of a limb I might be going out on or what trouble might ensue from the other end (will the office process my paperwork correctly and how can I, in how I prepare it, guard against it doing it incorrectly, for example) — I want to try to wait to see, to wait and see, and not get all tensed up about it.  I want to put my best foot forward instead of arranging it according to what I think may come next.

I got a sense of what that would feel like both when Willy died and when my mother died — it was as if I got a preview of how I could be, and I have to say, it felt great.  It wasn’t irresponsibility but something like allowing everything to take its appropriate place.  Having gotten that preview, I have to figure out a way, I think, of how to develop organically to get from where I am to that place — the sensation and attitude did not stick.

I think this may apply to personal relationships as well as to business contexts.

We’ll see.  At the very least, I am hoping that I feel lighter, that I feel less regret that I have contributed unnecessarily to the creation of vexed interactions with others.  I am pretty good at figuring out what I want to do in other ways so that I have least regret, but I think I have not yet addressed how my defensiveness can produce difficulties in that regard.

In some ways I think it’s a question of editing out that aspect in my presentation of myself to others — I doubt I will have no concerns about what will happen next — but in other ways I think it’s about “turning things over” more — I tend not to turn over my love life or my bureaucratic life enough, I think.  That would be about feeling less of the concern that produces the defensiveness in the first place.  If I give more space for the universe to work in those situations in my life, I am hoping I will feel greater peace, the sort of sensation I got a preview of when my loved ones died in my presence.

Subsequent conditions

March 13, 2015

I am in the process of transferring my mother’s accounts into accounts registered to her Estate.  This morning I had, in connection with that, an experience that I surely didn’t like, but which also allowed me to see other, past situations more clearly.

Last evening I was told that a second of my mother’s accounts at a bank was being transferred in to her Estate’s account and that I would see it, online, posted to the Estate’s account later that night.

This process has been an arduous one, because, despite what my mother was told when she moved, she really needed to have closed these accounts in the NJ branch and reopened them in a MA branch office of the same national bank.  She was advised that there was no reason to, that the only difference would be the deposit slips she would need to use if she left her accounts registered as they were.

It turns out it does make a difference to New Jersey and its taxing authority, in terms of demonstrating change of domicile and leaving NJ with a conduit for trying to tax assets upon death.

My mother moved to MA with the intention of living here permanently.  She sold her house, filed a permanent change of address card with the USPS, took a year’s lease on an apartment, found new doctors, etc., etc.  I know because I helped her with most of the heavy lifting involved.

When I didn’t see the money posted to my mother’s Estate’s new account last night, I thought that maybe it would show up after 8:00 a.m. this morning on the account.  It didn’t show up then either.

So this morning I called.  It turns out there is a note in the file that they need another document from me, a bill mailed to my mother showing where her residence was around the time of her death.  I faxed a copy of her January electricity bill for service at her apartment and sent to her apartment.

But I was most definitely not a happy camper (or happy Personal Representative).

I do understand the need for evidence showing my mother’s change of domicile, I don’t mind faxing copies of bills, leases, doctors, whatever.  But I found being told everything was all set when it wasn’t, not okay;  the imposition of a subsequent condition I found upsetting.  I had calibrated my expectations in relation to what I had been voluntarily told, I had worked my schedule and arranged my work on the Estate around things being as I had been told.  I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if this hadn’t been a big hump to have gotten over — I had been told we had gotten over it and now I was being told that we hadn’t.

I’ve had this sort of experience in personal relationships, where I find it upsetting, too, but in the midst of the he said/she said type of argument that usually ensues in such cases, it can be more difficult to see what has happened and the issues at the root.  The person does actually say one thing, it is relied on, not unreasonably, and relied on in a difficult situation that will be ameliorated by the assertion’s being true, and then later the person says something else, something that removes what has been relied on.  The root of the problem is probably that what was said means things of different importance to the the person saying them and person hearing them.

In the Estate banking situation, I have more detachment than I often do when this sort of dynamic comes up in other parts of my life.  I can more easily see that timing is an issue (they could have told me this last evening) but that so also is substance:  my mother did change her domicile, according to general legal principles (I don’t know whether NJ’s statutes replace those rules with something else — my lawyer, who thought everything was in order before she went on vacation this week, gets back next week), and the bank personnel did inform me the paperwork had been completed and the money was in the process of being transferred.  In personal relationships, on the other hand, for example, we are rarely so precise about things, and when we are, it is usually an indication that relationship is not working.

So what have I learned?  That some people really do mislead a person in a way that the person misled cannot see until the damage has been done.  Whether the situation can be cleaned up to an “all’s well that end’s well” conclusion probably depends on particular details of the situation.  Such a conclusion would probably heal the damage.  In its absence, there is always acceptance that people are limited, there is always the choice to take the experience as a challenge to find compassion for people when they behave in this way and to see people as they are, not as they tell us they are or as we wish them to be.


Post Script:  As I was editing this, I got a call from the bank that the rest of the funds are being transferred, and I can see online that they are.


Taken in

December 15, 2014

Years ago I had a huge personal loss, and someone I was friends with at the time was very unsympathetic:  “You have a husband,” she said, “So you can’t have anything to complain about.”  At the time she was single.  She said it to end a conversation.  And I truly hadn’t thought about my need to talk about the loss in terms of complaining, I thought I was trying to get my mind around the loss, and my need to “tell the story” extended beyond discussing it with my spouse.  I learned later that when a baby dies, many people are apt to say something memorably unhelpful to you, and you just “make a list.”

We ran into each other recently, and I mentioned in the course of explaining something else, in response to a question of hers, that my husband had died.  That stopped that conversation.  I am pretty sure she is currently married.

I used to take people more literally.  I used to think that this person would be sympathetic now that I am not married, but no, I suppose it’s just that the person does not offer sympathy for losses due to death.  That’s about them, not about the details of the situation.


Damage and intention

July 26, 2014

Maybe it’s a result having gone to law school, but I can easily distinguish the issue of a person’s intent from the issue of the impact of their behavior on others.  In tort law, as I recall it, we talked about the different standards that might be used when deciding whether to hold a person legally responsible — there were standards such as strict liability and negligence, not to mention a standard with regard to when someone intentionally causes damage.  There was also the issue I heard called “weak intentionality,” when we talk about how some consequences, say, of flailing your arm in a crowded subway car, are reasonably foreseeable and we deem them foreseen.

So I get kind of frustrated with people who say, “I could not have caused damage because I harbored no ill-intent.”  I am not talking about whether I can forgive a specific instance, I am talking about trying to improve a chronic pattern of behavior within a relationship so that I do not feel that I am hurting myself by participating in the relationship.

What interests me is my sense that the other person cannot tolerate the idea that their behavior has an impact beyond or different from the one they intend.  That’s what seems to me to be behind what can come across as callousness — the denial allows them to keep their sense of self as never causing damage and hence never having to _______  —  I don’t actually know what it is they don’t want to do, but I sense that they predicate something on their sense of a self who doesn’t cause damage — maybe what they don’t want is having to do something they don’t want to do or that helps the other person but not themselves directly.

I’ve wondered if something like this pattern is going on when a person is confronted by a situation in which they really are helpless to help another.  Then, I am thinking, maybe, to tolerate that pain, they extend the idea of helplessness in that particular context, under an umbrella of “my behavior doesn’t negatively impact others so long as I am well-intentioned,” to many other situations in which they actually could do something more helpful.

But, if you forget to pick up the baby formula on the way home, the baby goes hungry, regardless of whether the intent was good, bad, or indifferent, or medically explicable (in which case you should not have signed up for the task).  That’s my point.

Don’t know, I am not a psychologist, but I do get the sense of trying to teach people the difference between intention and damage.


Forced visitation

June 8, 2014

Years ago we encountered this notion among social workers charged with the care and protection of children:  if one had molested another, the social workers might still insist on visitation between the perpetrator and victim, if the workers had any reason to believe the children might be biologically related, even if the victim and their parents did not want the contact.  It was an eye-opener for me, the idea of forced social intercourse.

There’s another context in which I’ve seen this:  someone who insists on contact with another even though it’s pretty clear to the other that the person who wants the contact doesn’t like them;  why would I want to have social intercourse with someone who doesn’t like me?  I wouldn’t.  That situation I can simply leave behind and move on.  What makes it tricky, in my experience, is when the other person insists that they like you when they clearly don’t.  Then it’s more difficult, especially because when this happens, it seems to happen with a person who is so disconnected from their true self that they may not even perceive that they don’t like the other person.  And if they’re structured within themselves in a way that we commonly label as narcissistic, they may even see the other person as not liking them instead.

It’s tough, because people who are incapable of treating others reasonably may themselves incur great hurt from the responses they get from the people they unreasonably treat.

In any event, in these cases, I react to my sense from the behavior and underlying self, not the person’s words, about whether they like me, and I don’t want forced social intercourse in those contexts either.  Whether the person doesn’t like me because they feel intimidated by me or because they see me as intolerable competition or they just don’t happen to like the person I happen to be, or for any other reason, I don’t want an interaction that is predicated on pretending that something is the case when it isn’t.

In the context of social intercourse with people who claim to but don’t actually like me, they are usually wanting something from me (and too much from me, as it turns out), whether or not they are aware of it, and what comes across to me is that I am being asked to enter into their distorted view in order for them to draw a benefit to themselves from me, at my expense.  In a word, as my younger son puts it, they are needy, and they want me to meet their extremely large needs.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t, whether or not I want to try, and I would harm myself if I did what they want.  And I’ve learned that by having tried.


June 7, 2014

I spent a lot of time with another family while I was growing up, and after we adopted children, that relationship fell apart.

Years later, one of family members got in touch with me on the occasion of their marriage.  It seemed as if nothing had really changed, so I wished them well, declined the invitation (which I don’t think included our children), and sent a gift.

I included a family photo with the personal note I sent.

I got a note back sometime after the wedding that mentioned how they had used the photo in a presentation they had made during the festivities.

My kids are adopted, one through a closed domestic adoption, they were young when this use of the photo occurred, and I was accustomed to schools and extracurricular organizations asking permission to use photos of children.

I was taken aback by the use of the photo at the wedding.

I felt that my privacy had been invaded and I felt that the prevailing cultural norms had not been followed.  I felt that while our relationship had changed for the worse over our children (at the outset, when the children were newly adopted infants and toddlers), the wedding person was happy to use a photo of them, even against the children’s best interests, if it helped the wedding person with what they wanted to do.

On the other hand, I could see that the person probably had no clue about how it would feel to me, and that that was part and parcel of why there is no longer a close relationship.

For me, a big challenge in life is letting go of my apparently airbrushed versions of people, and to see them as they are.  It’s not that I condemn them for how they turn out to be, but on the other hand, I don’t owe people a relationship if I find it doesn’t work for me, especially if it causes me harm.

In this case, the issue falls under the heading, “I don’t know how to accept you in my life if you don’t accept my relationship with my children, if not the children themselves.”  In many cases it has felt as if I were being asked to collude with the relative or person I was friends with or teacher or neighbor against my child, to gang up with someone else against my child.  The answer is no.

I found myself discussing this issue with my internist at my annual check-up this spring, and he said he couldn’t do it either.  He’s a brisk and upbeat person, and had never experienced this himself, but he allowed himself to enter into what I was saying my world can be, and he could see why I handle things as I do.  That kind of acknowledgment I find helpful, not only because then the person isn’t asking me to do something I feel is harmful (and would require me to try to twist myself into some kind of emotional pretzel), but also because it allows me to move on more easily.  It’s not that I haven’t shared this experience before, and learned from others that it has happened to them, over adoption, interracial issues, etc., but somehow getting a little understanding from someone on the outside felt noteworthy.

Of course, it doesn’t provide a road map for going forward, but I try not to expect that from other human beings at this point in my life.


May 25, 2014

Gita has told me that learning to discern is an issue in my life, but the context of discernment she has had in mind has never rung a bell for me — I see what she’s talking about, but I have a fairly strong understanding that I’m not supposed to practice what she’s calling “discernment” there, that instead part of my portfolio is not to discern in that way in that context — to not discern in the context she has in mind is part of allowing anonymity, and that can be something that serves.

So today I read Richard Rohr on discernment (it, too, about “‘discern[ing] the spirits'”) and he’s got something else entirely in mind — something about distinguishing what is our false self from our illusions.  Again, I think I see the point, but while I am sure I struggle with what he’s talking about, I don’t think that’s my discernment issue either.

But the compare-and-contrast of Gita’s and Father Rohr’s respective versions of the discernment issue precipitated in me the thought that my real weakness in discernment comes in the very mundane context of discerning between people who take advantage of me and people who don’t.

I think it was Ann Landers who said something about how people can only take advantage of us when allow it.

I suspect my challenge is something related, namely, to find a voice and a posture to deal with people whose behavior, whether intentionally or not, asks too much of me.