I’ll start with something firm and tangible.
I had an interview on Friday. If you might remember, this was rescheduled from Wednesday, because it was a Skype interview and we could not get it working. Or they couldn’t. Or the network just sucked.
This meant it took over my life for a much longer than it might have, because there was the anticipation for the Wednesday interview already and then it stretched on for 2 days. Then the recovery.
It seems somewhat ridiculous to have my life so disrupted over an even that took less than an hour, but then I realize that it is an interview about living in another country and maintaining a relationship with a child who is not actually mine.
It’s kind of a big deal.
So I am glad it’s done and over with, while recognizing that at each step of the way, I am going to be thrown off balance. These are just hard things.
Meanwhile, I feel like I am able to process better and to understand what is going on within social interactions better. I feel like I can understand the information I am taking in about the other person better, and I am also able to understand information I am getting about myself better. I know somewhat more what it all means and it makes me more able to navigate it.
One piece of this is simply about what I know: that I didn’t know how some people cope with shame in some situations. This might be how I have coped with shame in some situations: it isn’t about judgment. It’s just about having a comprehensible world.
People feel ashamed sometimes and attack. Shame is about hierarchy and about being faced with aggression. It may not seem like it ought to be so, but at some basic, animal way it is. Feelings of shame are feelings of submission and they are instinctive responses to perceptions that one has violated social hierarchies.
So some people feel shame, perceive the threat, and instead of engaging in a submissive display, launch some kind of aggressive attack. It seems to happen suddenly and often doesn’t quite make sense, and the recipient is left feeling very confused about what happened and why. Why was I just criticized or belittled or blamed?
Or even why do I suddenly feel I did something wrong when I can’t actually point to any wrongdoing. There is this emotional sleight-of-hand about it, where it has all occurred so far out of everyone’s awareness that neither the attacker or the recipient know what is going on or why they feel the way they do.
This happens sometimes with my friend, and I wish I could remember. But this morning there was this situation with one of the dogs. There are two dogs–these are her daughter’s dogs and her dog has gone on a vacation to Europe for several weeks.
My friend does not particularly like dogs and she feels periodically resentful about having them in her house for so long.
That said, one of the dogs has a habit of wanting to go out and then barking as if to be let in but not coming in. I have come to the conclusion that she wants someone to come out at these times. She is not a big barker. It’s just one bark. Pause for two or three minutes. Another single bark if no one comes. The third time, she is likely to scratch at the door, and that’s not good because it’s a somewhat historic house and the back door is old and beautiful.
The dog was doing that this morning. Repeatedly. And my friend was getting annoyed about it. It is kind of an annoying thing for her to be doing. However, it’s a two-story house. My friend’s bedroom and study are upstairs. My bedroom is downstairs, and quite close to the door. I actually have a door to the backyard in my room.
It’s not really a big deal for me to keep going to the door to see what this weird dog wants. But my friend kept coming downstairs to attend to the dog. She does not actually need to do anything, but it’s unbearable for her to hear the dog bark.
I tried to explain that she does not need to come downstairs in a rather round-about way, by explaining that actually my door is open and the dog is free to come and go as she pleases. Her bark at a different door does not indicate any great need.
So the last time my friend came down she said something about closing the door to my room so that the dog could not come out. I asked, quite directly, “Why would you want to do that?”
“Because she goes out through your door and then barks at the door to be let in.”
I did not say, “If she wants to go out, and the door is closed, she will bark both to be let out and to be let in.” But I thought that.
I just went quiet and reflected that my friend cannot stand the sound of the dog barking–it is probably all of that doggy longing and need that is so unbearable to hear and not the fact that it is an annoying noise. She is responding to her shame about not being able to bear it by indirectly blaming me–the dog is barking to be let in, because I let her out. Her discomfort about the dog must be my fault. She is responding to an attack on her and a judgment about being unable to bear the sound of the dog barking that has not actually come. All my friend knows is she feels she has to make the dog stop barking somehow. And it turns out that this isn’t possible.
Three months ago, I don’t think I could have processed all of that. I couldn’t have slowed things down in my mind enough to recognize I suddenly feel bad, wonder why I feel bad, understand what the person next to me might be feeling that relates to my bad feelings.
I wouldn’t have walked away feeling angry, knowing why I felt angry, and also able to decide to let it go and know why I was making that decision.
So I guess I feel glad to see some progress in myself. It’s not the progress I necessarily expected. But it’s something.