I made this wildly long post on Facebook today and thought, well, shoot, may as well make it a blog post too. Copying and pasting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about lasting impressions and indelible identifications that are left and want to open a discussion about it. Why some people, even though the relationship is filled with turmoil and difficulty, leave a lasting imprint of loving, warm memories. Then some, even though the relationship was filled with good times and love, leave an imprint of, well, not that. A darker memory, or maybe simply the unvarnished truth. How people get defined once all is said and done, and why?
Case in point, my stepmother who I’ve written about in my blog and done lots of contemplating about. She was in my life for over 30 years and it was filled with all kinds of peaks and valleys. It wasn’t an entirely negative relationship. For example, she was amazing around the time I planned my first wedding and we had lots of fun doing it. I had many interesting intellectually stimulating conversations with her as adult–I admired her opinions on politics and other things. I learned things from her. Yet, when all was said and done, the lasting imprint she has, lingering in my memory, is of the abuse that went on for years–both physical and emotional. I’m not talking about a trauma felt to my bones, although that was once there. I’ve worked through most, if not all of that by now. Much of my working through it came after I started telling the truth about it/her. I can speak about her and the things that happened now without shaking, without feeling angry, just recounting them with a sense of power that I survived them and her. But that’s how she is primarily remembered for me–as someone I survived.
I wrote about another person the other day who also left that kind of challenged indelible impression on my memory. I would say I loved that person much more than I ever loved my stepmother, but when I look back, now in a place of neutrality in my emotional field, the lasting shadow is of the unwarranted disrespectful behavior–I’ll just say it–abuse, that was levied at me. There are positive memories, but they aren’t dominant, I reach for those and they are in a more “in spite of…” kind of place. That relationship was also primarily filled with many positive experiences and joyful moments at the time. Still, the stamp left is of something else. Not feeling tone; memory and identification.
I have other friendships that may have gone by the wayside or challenged loved ones I’ve lost, but their indelible mark is from the happy memories, good times, warm thoughts.
So I got to thinking, how does this happen?
For me, I have two conclusions right now.
1. The severity and/or length of the abuse. And what it took to get free from it, if a person ever does.
But I think the second is more the chestnut of the lesson.
2. The other person’s willingness and ability to look at their role, apologize for any harmful behavior and be open to my point of view with a genuine desire to grow together from it.
In both cases I mentioned, I knew that second element would be impossible. Either I tried, I thought about the futility of trying, and/ or I had witnessed a lifetime of observing how that person operates in a field of conflict, knowing the inevitable. Some people move directly from an uncomfortable sharing in to full attack mode. This is their pattern. It’s effective, but not healing. You know these people and the futility. Observing them in other dynamics informs your own.
In essence, you know if that’s the person you can work something out with and you know who isn’t. You know the people who, the only way out of a conflict with them is to own 100% of your part with certainty they will agree with you and own 0% of theirs, even if theirs was inadvertent. That definitely will move you out of the acuity of the conflict or standoff, but there is no real healing in that. It’s a toxic bandaid.
I will say, a sincere apology goes a very long way with me–I melt like a pat of butter on an August Arizona sidewalk. I’ve learned a lot about apologizing from people who did it well and those who have not. This is a muscle I work on flexing as I need this medicine.
Marjorie, my stepmother, used to throw in one pat sentence in to most family conflicts “I know I’ve made mistakes too” (while pointing out our mistakes).
Cindy (my sister), once confronted that and held her feet to the fire asking repeatedly “ok,what were they?”. She kept skirting the answer and the one thing she finally could come up with was “I let you children get to me”. Even her mistake, was ours. That was the one and only time I can ever remember her looking at her part in any conflict with us, or anyone else. Again, we KNOW who will work with us and who won’t.
I turned on the TV and surfed the one and only time I saw the Queen Latifah show and Jada Pinkett Smith was being interviewed. Queen asked her why she stayed with Will Smith after years of conflict and marriage. She answered so clearly and succinctly, I paused my TV and played it back several times to hear her say, “He has a sincere desire to grow.” (I’m lucky to have one of those husbands too Jada).
For me, this is at the heart of it. Where and who to invest in and how those indelible memories are created in either direction. Another wise person once said to me “you can’t go to a dry well for a drink of water.”
And I’m ok with my indelible impressions being what they are, as long as they are REAL. I’m very invested in authenticity right now.
We know. I know. You know. We always know.
What are your thoughts?