Choice of Words

Jesse and I started watching a new Disney movie of Cinderella. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t take it, said I wan’t interested in watching the rest.

“But it’s Rogers and Hammerstein,” said Jesse, “how can you resist it?”

“I’m not the girl who loved their stuff — she’s long gone.” I said happily.

And then what did he say? I can’t remember. Something about how what I had become instead was… [nasty, vituperative description of me].

He stomped out of the room; then came back: “Let me try to rephrase that. You need some compassion now.”

What? I lacked compassion because I laughed at his abuse?

It was such a ridiculous accusation, and such a ridiculous performance, I felt I could laugh it off, let it roll off my back. I didn’t take it to heart, didn’t introject it — or so I thought: anyway I didn’t feel it was worth trying to examine it for a grain of truth, much less replying to.

He quickly saw there was something off in his accusations, even the “rephrased” one. And apologized, saying he had “only wanted to help.” I said I believed he believed he only wanted to help. “Well,” he admitted, “There was some of my own agenda in there.”

Although I kept some equanimity in the moment, later I felt blue. It did still hurt, to be hated so. Whether or not I believed his description of me. And it was discouraging to have so much distress, my own and his, still around this issue. I felt incompetent, longing for the strength and courage and compassion to heal myself, to help him heal. Did a lot of tonglen from 4 to 5 am.

Then I thought about his confessing to some “agenda.” Interesting choice of word. Gets my dander up, as “distress” would not. “Agenda” implies action, implies wanting something to happen: i.e. wanting me to change, wanting me to be like his image/expectation. “Distress” would just talk about his feelings.

But that’s the point. He lacks the language to talk about feelings. He once told me it was a “foreign language.” Can I teach him? Coach him?

The next day, I wrote in my journal:

Maybe today I still can ask about last night’s feelings? I could say…

“Jesse, thank you for apologizing for what you said last night. That means a lot to me. At the same time, I’m troubled by the words you used, when you called yourself “a bad guy.” According to my understanding of how the mind works, it’s important to distinguish between behavior, which may be bad, and the person, who is not. You are not a bad guy. You acted from some crazy place, it was your distress talking when you described me so negatively.

And as I understand it, the way to heal that problem is not to shove down the distress and not to act it out, simply to be aware of it, in a way that lets you gain some perspective on it — as well as compassion for yourself.

How were you feeling when you said those things? Can you try to use words that describe the emotions? Not what you thought, but felt: happy, sad, disturbed, angry, scared, resentful, jealous, needy….?”

Nice fantasy. Didn’t do it. And looking back on this from much later, I think it’s just as well. I wonder if I can use his language. What if I had asked him to tell me about his agenda?

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