I get that she wants to be treated with a reasonable amount of respect, and I am always reasonably respectful. But sometimes, yes, I’m also a bratty brat who gets snarky and passive-aggressive and (as she likes to say) “provocative”.
I don’t enjoy being that way, but it’s all a very real part of how I still react and communicate, especially during particularly tense or scary moments.
So I brought this issue back into session on Friday. I told her that I understood her perspective, but that I also want to reiterate that sometimes the snark is part of the message. It’s important that I’m able to communicate the entire message, rather than the sanitized “nice girl” version. I told her that I do see that I tend to be provocative, but that being provocative is often times the way I communicate how I’m feeling.
Which segued our conversation back to the idea of interpretation. I explained that I often act the most bratty when I’m afraid. Putting up a wall of sarcasm allows me to stay (somewhat) engaged in the conversation while also protecting myself. She said that was interesting and helpful to hear because in those moments, the message she gets from me is that I’m disengaging and needing space from her. Which is why she tends to back off a bit (which I then interpret as a rejection and results in a rupture).
So clearly part of what happens here is that we’re completely mismatched on how we’re perceiving a shared moment. I think having the added insight I offered her might help us navigate those situations a bit better (hopefully).
I spoke to how confusing it is that she keeps returning to this idea of me having an impact on her, because she also reminds me that she I’m not responsible for her feelings or well-being. I said,
“So this is really confusing for me. Because you keep telling me that it’s not my job to take care of you…that I don’t have to make sure you’re not hurt or burned out or bored. You say that it’s your job to take care of yourself and it’s my job to show up. So I do and I try to remember that I don’t have to take care of you. Except then you keep talking about how I have an impact on you; how you react to me in certain ways because my actions have an impact on you. So which is it? Because honestly, I’ve become so anxious and preoccupied with not wanting to have the ‘wrong’ impact on you…not upsetting you or whatever else, that I’m beginning to feel paralyzed. It gets harder and harder to feel like this is a safe space and you’re safe person to talk to. Because if you’re going to respond to my nastiness by being nasty back to me, that’s not safe. And I don’t like it. And it doesn’t match what you said earlier…”
She listened carefully and then said that she really sees why this was confusing for me. She explained that the reason she brings up the impact I have on her is not because she wants me to change it, or to be different, or take care of her. She said it’s because I have so often struggled with getting what I need from people. I tend to repeat the same things, especially in my interpersonal life, and it’s her job to help me identify those patterns and see where they can be adjusted. So her goal in bringing into focus how my behavior impacts her is to allow both of us examine if that was my intention and then whether or not such behavior truly allows me to access what I need/want from people.
It’s sort of an abstract concept for me to understand or articulate here, but I feel like we got closer to understanding each other. I still maintained that I would like her to be a bit more kind and compassionate towards me when I am being a brat, and she agreed to take a gentler approach.
I suppose only time will tell, but this conversation felt promising. It seemed to open up space where we hadn’t been able to reach each other previously. And the more I’m able to assert myself in composed, mature ways, the less I will need to rely on snark and sarcasm to shield myself from potential rejections.