"She said I don't know if I've ever been good enough
I'm a little bit rusty
And I think my head is caving in
And I don't know if I've ever been really loved
By a hand that's touched me, well I feel like something's
And I'm a little bit angry"
-Matchbox 20, Push
I always thought I was an argumentative, fiery tempered person. I thought it was just in my nature, something I couldn't really help but could only manage. A lot of my time was spent trying to avoid saying something really mean, because I was very good at finding someone's buttons and pressing them in just the right way when I wanted a reaction. I did a lot of anger management work, and quickly found myself redirecting much of it away from individuals and more at systems, which was slightly more futile but also less volatile in the day to day.
Now I'm in relationships where we don't really yell at each other at all and it's kind of weird, if I'm honest. I haven't slammed a door in a long, long time. I think today was the first time I had ever sworn vaguely at one particular partner during an intense discussion. Most of the time, our conversations that might lead to argument happen via text, email and chat. I think this helps me somewhat, because writing is a communication skillset I get on well with, and the distance of not being right in front of each other is also safer feeling. It's a lot easier for me to take some time to find compassion when I can be away from the keyboard for a few minutes before I respond!
I've realized that I'm sad and hurt more than I'm angry, and that I am at a stage in my life where I'm more of a flight person than a fight person. It takes a lot of my energy to not say something passive aggressive and just flounce away. It is really, really hard to delve into those areas of hurt while they're hurting and say "here's what I need or want from you". I'm so scared my needs are too overwhelming, that stating them is to draw lines in sand that no one will ever want to cross. I worry that by stating my boundaries I'm trampling other people's, because I've been told that in the past (particularly by my ex.) And more than anything else, I'm scared of being too intense, too much, that I am not meant to be a girlfriend or a friend but free therapy and life coaching.
I can't count the number of lovers who have gone on to meet their perfect soulmate after me. And it's hard when I see so many people around me getting fan art, notes of encouragement, writing offers, indicators of worthiness. It's disheartening to always be the girl who gets called to do the pragmatic stuff.
But I'm trying to practice being radically vulnerable in spite of all that, letting those walls come down. By saying where I'm actually at, even when it's illogical or feels embarrassing to admit, and offering what action points I want to see that might relieve some of the pain, I've actually been able to silence some of my anxiety. I've gotten what I've advocated to get, which has led me to move away from passive aggressive statements as I'll likely get what I ask for. I've learned to accept there will be a period of defensiveness as our fur raises, but after some time, if we haven't stormed away from each other and practice patience, more often than not a resolution happens that makes us feel better.
I still feel hypervigilant. I worry that if I don't maintain near constant control over my emotions and communication, I will end up sabotaging my relationships in times of duress. It may surprise you all (not really) to know that I am a control freak about things like schedules and plans and things fitting neatly as much as possible. And I work hard at compartmentalizing my feelings into easily digestible chunks. As I grow to trust people, I'm sure I'll not feel this weight in my gut like I'm about to be stabbed constantly while I'm awake... maybe I'll learn how to relax a little. I think trying to remind myself that people are typically not trying to hurt me, and those who are generally make it really obvious, has been useful in this process. It reminds me to keep my defenses lowered, because I want diplomacy, not war.
As each argument comes and goes, and as I abandon feeling angry all the time to accepting my wounded self and communicate that tenderness rather than protective rage, I feel a little more honest and a little more relieved. I still have a long way to go but for now, just practicing compassion even when I'm upset is a huge step.
Some things I've read about arguing compassionately/dealing with feelings that have been helpful:
Captain Awkward- How do I fight with my partner without ruining everything?