Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Testing A Theory

Learn to let go.....

I posted a while ago about the art of losing friendships (or letting them go) and I guess this is really a follow up to that post, having tested the whole theory unexpectedly over the last month.

I do not pretend to be perfect, far from it, I know I have faults just like everyone else and some of them I work on and some of them are, unfortunately, just the unchangable flaws which make me me. I do have a temper and will say what I think if continually pushed (although I hate confrontation), I am incredibly impatient at times and I know I can be self righteous and annoyingly over confident. I try to rein the last two in. A negative which drives some people (especially my husband) mad is my inability to say no to things and the resulting over generosity with my time which means the people that should come first sometimes don't. Professionally I am getting much better (as a manager) at saying no and prioritising effectively - but personally I am still rubbish at doing it.

Anyway, I had this last point driven home recently and it was bizarrely fascinating, totally out of the blue and tested every CBT tool I have in my kit. Believe me, the amount of times I am thankful for having these tools is astonishing but usually I just use them as a framework, on this occassion I tested them to a bells and whistles level and still they stood robust and navigated me through waters which I know full well would have sunk me a few years ago.

I think I should probably state at the outset that the lessons I have learnt from all this are that 1) maybe I should be more honest about my feelings (with myself) even when that makes for an uncomfortable realisation and 2) I still have some way to go with the whole "saying no to things" issue. A positive though is that I can clearly see that I have dealt with this set of issues in a balanced, pragmatic and rational way and could not have tried any harder to resolve them.

I have said before that all friendships are for a 'reason, season or lifetime' and this particular one was definitely originally only forged due to a reason (they lived next door). Once that reason had been removed I pretty quickly started to realise that it felt unbalanced to me but I could justify it because they have young kids and therefore surely it was fair for me to put the physical legwork into visiting them instead of vice versa.

I had actually realised way before the moving that the wife of this couple (we shall call her M) had the capacity to be quite hard work at times, quite demanding emotionally as a friend and unfortunately very inclined to what, being blunt, I would call whining. But she could also be good company, funny, intelligent and warm. She is an excellent mother and I am fond of her children. On balance there was no overwhelming reason not to carry on as before, as I stated at the top - everyone has their faults, me included.

It is only since they moved and the onus became entirely on me to sacrifice an evening here or there to visiting that the cracks seemed to become magnified and probably because instead of seeing them literally all the time I now saw them in short, scheduled bursts, I started to find it more draining than enjoyable on these occasions. This is where I should have been more honest with myself and probably just backed away slowly instead of letting it get to the stage where I said what I thought and it all went, quite frankly, nuts.

Don't get me wrong, M has not had an easy time of it in the past, but like a broken record the same 'it's not fair' attitude coupled with a seeming determination never to actually address the problem slowly wore down my patience. I guess because I have tackled my own demons and been through therapy I find it hard to empathise when people refuse to see the sense in doing the same but expect to continually be emotionally supported and reassured about it. I am not sure whether this is 'victim' or 'martyr' syndrome but either way it clearly requires more patience to deal with than I currently have.

Having had a particularly stressful few months at work which have led to various health problems and very low energy levels for me I no doubt picked the wrong week to visit and I have no doubt that the timing could not have been worse for her either. I think in terms of our relationship it was, in effect, the perfect storm, she is now enduring another crisis and whilst I sympathise, I am all out of energy and patience with people who will not help themselves.

It has been a historical issue with this person that they continually frame everything around the fact that they lost a parent 8 years ago and therefore unless you have lost one you have no right to consider your issues anywhere near as painful or awful as theirs (and on this occassion she actually said that in so many words). Don't get me wrong, I think it is truly hideous to lose a parent before you have had your own children and I sympathise with that. I do not agree, however, that problems can be ranked, or that having been through something awful entitles you to make value judgements on everyone elses problems.

I think the start of the tipping point for me actually came when this person started having problems at work - a job they had had for many many years. Never in my life have I listened to someone in so much turmoil over their job but seemingly completely incapable of doing anything about it. To anyone else I would have been brutally honest and just said (after a while of hearing the same thing) that they needed to pull their finger out and do something proactive about it. Because it was clear how entirely (and bafflingly) consuming this was for her I did not say this, I just listened and suggested alternatives and listened to the reasons why all of them were not suitable. 

It went on for months and months until finally redundancy loomed. Unfortunately however this led to further "drama into crisis" reaction and almost hysteria over how they would possibly cope. I know many people who have been made redundant and I have also been made redundant myself - I appreciate it is not easy or nice but neither should it be entirely consuming of one's life (in my opinion). Personally change does not scare me, in fact I am more bothered by things being stagnant, everything happens for a reason and god forbid I lost my job tomorrow but if I did then I would view it as an opportunity for a new path.

M's reaction seemed disproportionate to me but apparently this is also related to the loss of a parent and a need for stability (which was substituted by the job). To my mind if you are so incabable of dealing with a situation which is not exactly unusual, because of a completely unrelated loss from many years previously, then the writing on the wall is that you need to address the loss because it is massively and disproportionately affecting your life. I had in fact previously suggested this and she had agreed with me - but predictably had never done anything about it.

I ummed and aahhed about whether to write a blog post about this situation because the harsh reality is that she is now going through another crisis and a pretty nasty one at that. I genuinely feel sorry for her and made this clear when everything kicked off. What actually happened was that in the middle of a very tiring week when I was particularly stressed I visited for tea, we spent a while discussing the current situation and how she will cope as things progress (which was entirely led by me out of recognition of the fact that its an awful situation) and then we moved on to other things.

For some reason which I absolutely cannot remember now, M made a comment that myself and her husband can never compare any of our problems to hers until we have lost a parent. I responded that I was mystified by the fact that although she now has two beautiful children of her own she still defines herself as the 'child who has lost a parent' - and for once instead of just backing down I just carried on and said that I think she needs to deal with the situation, she is always framing everything against this problem and effectively she has 'poor me' syndrome. Interestingly her husband agreed with me but I think this probably made things worse.

Harsh? Yes. And the timing was awful. I made my apologies and left thinking 'well we are all adults here' and figuring it would be sorted in the cold light of day.

The upshot was that the next day I received a slightly hysterical email effectively saying I had made everything worse. Ironically it sort of proved my point but I didnt say that, despite initial anger I parked it then (on a day where I literally had back to back meetings) I sacrificed my lunch hour to drafting a calm response which apologised for the timing and reiterated why I felt the way I did (which I stand by). I pointed out that this did not need to be turned into a massive drama. I then received an even more hysterical and less cohesive response which seemingly bore no tangible correlation to my email - at this point I threw my hands up in the air and figured this was a complete waste of time.

I then set my stopwatch to see how long before the inevitable (and amusing) formal 'defriending' would occur (you know, the 'unfriend' on Facebook, that bastion of friendships), it took around 24 hours which was actully slower than I was banking on.

My other half's view on it from the moment I got home and explained what had happened was 'well done - you can walk away now' and although I thought this was pretty cold (he always is) I had a sneaking instinctual feeling that he was right. If only I had had the balls to do this ages ago I could have saved us all the awkwardness.

So - I guess the lesson for me is that I STILL need to realise when to walk away from something, friendships sometimes sink without trace and sometimes they will hit massive rocks and be capsized, the third option - and the one which I absolutely need to work on being able to do, is to jump ship of my own violation when it is absolutely clear that it is the right thing to do.

The reason why I believe that CBT has been incredibly useful is that even from the day after the event I was surprisingly calm and pragmatic about the whole thing and I have not lost any sleep over it. Strangely (successfully?) the notion of being disliked by this person has not actually been upsetting because I have been able to rationalise it and also I know now (as a more balanced human being) that it is entirely normal for some people not to like you - it is a fact of life. Over the past month I have kept expecting to feel some kind of negative, delayed emotional reaction but it has not arrived. I feel quite proud of having processed the event and the emotion around it rather calmly.

Anyway, I feel much better for having put this into a blog (amazing how cathartic reasoning it out in writing can be) - this particular post has sat on my desktop for an entire month being crafted and redrafted before I felt happy enough to post it. In part I am expecting a histrionic outburst from the 'injured party' but then I imagine my blog is of no interest whatsoever to them at this point in time. In any event I stand by what I have said.