I have a complicated relationship with emotions. Actually, most of us probably do. We live in a culture where we are told not to pay attention to our emotions, where we are seen as weaker, as women, for having them. Emotions are regularly treated as inconvenient or wrong, opposite of logic, the secret to success. One thing abusive people do is invalidate your emotions and blame you for them – but, honestly, most of us do this to each other because that's what we're all taught to do. Clearly, this is not a healthy way to live. Emotions are hard to just ignore.
When I realized this, I began giving my emotions a voice. Too much voice. I didn't ever censor them, and I didn't ever question whether I should act on them. I almost lost my relationship with Greenhunk because of this. Then I finally came to an important realization: your emotions are valid, but they aren't necessarily anyone else's fault. That was a start in the right direction. But when you have PTSD, you have a lot of emotions that don't necessarily have any bearing on the present. That's what triggers are: something reminds you of something bad and scary from the past, so you react as though it's that bad and scary thing. So sometimes emotions aren't actually valid at all, in the sense that you shouldn't act on them. I've come to sort of this complicated understanding of my own emotions: they're always okay, I can always let myself feel them and should not feel guilty about them, but I need to question them before I can act on them. Sometimes negative emotions represent a breach of boundaries – that deserves action. But sometimes they don't represent anything. Sometimes they just are. Then I just have to wait for them to pass. This has made a big difference.
It's hard to wait for them to pass if other people say they don't matter, though. Which has led me to think, hard, about the nature of compassion. We all know how to show compassion if someone's dog dies or they lose their job. But how do you show compassion to someone who is experiencing emotions that are very real, but don't necessarily require action/have no bearing on the present? I'm thinking about this for myself, because this is a thing that's caused disagreements between me and Greenhunk, but also for the way I deal with other people. I know that despite how important I believe it is to be compassionate, I have not always been successful in situations where I don't agree that someone's emotions have valid bearing on the present circumstances, situations where I might even feel that criticism is required. (And I do think situations like that exist – you shouldn't criticize just anyone, certainly, but sometimes being a good friend or a good partner or a good coworker requires you to tell people you think they're wrong.)
Here's an example from my own life. A few weeks ago, after I got home from Scotland, I was hanging out with Greenhunk and one of our roommates, and the roommate mentioned something about one of Greenhunk's friends spending the night at our house while I was gone. This friend is female and I don't know her all that well. I asked Greenhunk, and he was like, "Oh yeah I just forgot about that, we had one too many beers and she didn't want to drive home." I was fucking furious. I tried not to take it out on him because I promised never to take my anger out on him again, but I was like, a) why would you ever let another woman, especially one I don't know very well, spend the night and b) why didn't YOU tell me? Why did I have to hear about it from the roommate? That's my side of the story, but his side is that he has a lot of friends, male and female, and he just genuinely didn't think it would be a big deal. He said he'd have let a male friend stay and would have thought nothing of it, so why would it matter if it was a woman? And, in his defense, both of our roommates are women, and single ones, and most of his female friends are also friends with me, and he never flirts with any of them and is always very appropriate. So although I still think he should have talked to me about it at least, I can understand why he didn't really get why I was upset. But what made me REALLY upset, and made me stay upset for more than a week, was how he responded. He got defensive. I tried hard not to be angry, but I was very upset and hurt and felt lied to. And he was just like, "Why are you still upset about that? We already talked about it, it won't happen again." Finally I brought it up in therapy and the therapist helped me clarify what I had been trying to figure out what to say: I didn't need him to take blame for what happened, but I did need him to understand what it felt like for me to hear that news, especially from another person. Yes, most of those feelings have more to do with the Abusive Asshole being a serial cheater than they have to do with anything Greenhunk has ever done. But that doesn't mean I didn't feel them. Finally, the next day he said to me, "I am sorry you were so hurt and scared. I love you and I care about your feelings." And you know what? Then I was fine! He didn't take blame, and I felt like my feelings mattered.
I have not always done this in the past, and a few months ago I lost a friendship over a similar issue – the difference was, the person wanted me to take blame as well as show compassion. I don't think it was a very healthy friendship and I think my life is probably better off without it, and I think the real reason I let it happen was because I'd been annoyed for a long time and wanted to be done. I'll be more careful who I choose to be friends with in the future. But I still regret that I didn't act with more compassion.
What are your thoughts, GT? How do you show compassion to others when you don't think their emotions have any bearing on the situation?