Their needs don’t trump mine - it’s not about “trumping” anyway! Gah!
January 11, 2013 11:19 AM Subscribe
Sometimes, people will hurt me - and then get so upset about having done so, that they want me
to comfort them
. Or else they become so inconsolable that we can’t move forward without talking about their feelings. How do you handle these situations when what you need is time to process your own hurt?
posted by Someone Else's Story to human relations (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There is a thing that I have encountered in my life a bunch of times, and I never quite know how to deal with it. I can give examples if needed, but I don’t want to get bogged down in specific cases that are over & done with.
In general terms it runs thus:
I feel hurt because of something someone I care about says/does. When I'm hurt and someone close to me is involved, I often have to withdraw for a bit. It's a reaction to the fact that a person I care about enough to be vulnerable around has just done something that was painful to me. That pain makes me question whether they are who I thought they were, and remember that they might do things that are hurtful or upsetting.
I need time to process their actions and then collect myself, remind myself that this person is allowed close to me for a reason, that they actually are safe and trustworthy despite whatever has just happened. That the chances of them doing that again are small - or that I need to reassess the risk of letting my barriers down and allowing them near my soft squishy vulnerabilities.
Anyway, while I'm processing the hurt and the self-protection instinct, I'm a bit wary. I don't want to be touched by whoever just hurt me, I am willing to talk about it but can be guarded in my speech, or sometimes want a bit of time to calm myself first.
The other person feels awful that they've hurt me - and suddenly they're distraught, often crying, sometimes verbally shredding themselves over what they did, and working themselves up more and more about it... and they need me to comfort and reassure them.
I, unsurprisingly, react with compassion to their distress. I'm female-bodied, and like most people who were socialised female I was fed the message that my feelings and needs should be secondary to those I care for. I've mentioned here before that I also grew up with a physically & emotionally abusive parent, so I internalised the message that my feelings didn't matter as much as theirs. (I am in therapy, so I'm working on this.)
But I end up facing the choice between squashing down my own feelings of hurt in order to comfort the person who's caused me pain, or being the callous uncaring shite who's ignoring their distress - often with repercussions for me after my “failure” to console them. The former leads to me feeling worse; the latter leads to them feeling worse as well as me. Social Conditioning says that if I'm going to feel worse either way, I should take the path that makes them feel better rather than worse. But I'm concerned that that's a path to resentment and self-abnegation and simmering quietly until things eventually explode. I've seen that happen to older female friends; I don't want it for myself.
So how do people navigate this?
I've pruned people who would do this manipulatively out of my life, but I don't know what to do about the ones who are genuinely that upset over hurting me that it overwhelms everything else.
It's particularly hard with guys when they're crying. I mean, I hate the macho stereotype, I wish more guys were able to cry or show emotional pain without feeling like they fail at masculinity, and I don't want to discourage them from expressing their sadness. So I'm extra-hesitant to withhold the comfort they're so desperate for. But it feels like that comfort has to come at the expense of my own, and I'm not happy about that.
I've also been penalised for not offering people the compassion to which they felt entitled: I've been called selfish or heartless, given the silent treatment afterwards, that sort of thing. At its worst, an Ex-lover sat stone-faced and watched me cry over what his manipulative behaviour, telling me explicitly that he needed physical touch as comfort and that unless I let him touch/hug me so that we could "comfort each other," he “couldn't do anything at all” - not even acknowledge that I was upset. (That's a large part of why he's an Ex - his idea of compromise was "you do what I want and then we don't have to argue any more.")
So how do you deal with situations like these? When your needs are directly antithetical to someone else's, and you're both in pain, how do you proceed?