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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: December 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Social Networking Sites, Emotional Bombs... (I am a Weary Tech Traveler Indeed)

Sigh. If you sit where I sit, you would hear all about all the problems that social networking sites cause for people. Okay....I know, social networking sites don't cause problems, people cause problems...or something like that. But still.

I am a self proclaimed social network site failure. I cannot seem to get the simple hang of it. I am not entirely un-techy. I don't text, true, but I know my way around the web. But not social networking sites. I can't seem to get my settings right, my connections going, my message out. The more I think about it, the more I think that it is my unconscious mind protesting these sites based on all the pain and problems that I hear about in the office that are site related.

I know its great. I know its great for business, for attracting attention for services, books, products. I know its connective. I know you can reconnect to your friends from grade school, your great aunt Tilly, your sisters old boyfriend who you always liked. I know you can let everyone know how you are and hear about how they are (really?). I know that you can easily feel connected and in touch with hundreds, thousands, really, if you like. Its a whole world. I know you can chat and say hey, give a good word, make a contact, get a feeling, at any time, day or night, all day, all night, with everyone or anyone you like. I know your blackberry can buzz all day with the vital little dittys from folks who are your friends. I know you can guard your privacy, and not let everyone see everything. You can erase things you put up in a fit of rage or glee. (It may be viewed first, but you can undo it). You can enjoy people that you otherwise would not have such access to without having to take up too much time or energy.

I also know that all kinds of feelings get passed around which are not so clear, which are not so simple. I know you can defriend anyone at anytime. I know this sends a message to the defriended. I know you can go see your ex-love's page if you have not been defriended, just to be with him/her, just to feel like you are where they are, when you miss them so much. You can also spy on them. (I know, its not spying if its public info.) I know you can then compare your lousy aching insides to the gorgeous picture of your ex out with friends having the time of his/her life. You can then conclude that they have forgotten all about you and have happily moved on and you are no longer even a fleck of dust on their shoe.

I know that you can pop onto your partner's page just to say hello and see a photo of the office holiday party, where he said he only stayed a minute, that his coworker put on his wall, that has him laughing with a drink in his hand and his arm around his gorgeous office mate. I know that you can tell your boyfriend that you came right home after work and were late because of traffic and that he can log on and see that your best friend left a "thanks for stopping by today" message on your wall and he can wonder whats up with that? I know that your ex girlfriend who you swear you have not spoken to in over a year can write a hey, happy birthday, on your wall and have your new girlfriend wondering what the deal is. I know that high school girls can write some pretty neat hate messages, push a button and have 400 hundred people read all about it in one second flat, on the way to lunch. Cyber bullying is on the rise. Some say too bad and boo hoo, but not if its you. Not if its your kid.

I know that as much as we think we can read emails, text messages, tweets and wall postings objectively, we often read things through our own lenses of fear, suspicion, sensitivity, insecurity, or anxiety. Even our own desire can influence how we read things or see things online. If we want to pick a fight, we can find fuel. If we are used to feeling left out, we can find more proof to keep us in our painful, though maybe familiar place.

Yes, we can find trouble off line too, but more and more its a tech eat tech world. We live an increasing amount of our lives online, on text, on email. And I am a weary tech traveler.

Social networking, while fun and easy, has an underside. It has a dark side even. When we are missing someone we lost or pinning for someone we love but don't have, or are sitting with anger, frustration, jealousy or suspicion, it is almost impossible not to look, not to "spy" or see what someone is up to, or appears to be up to. The urge can be a compulsion, even for the non compulsed among us. We can have whole relationships with someones online persona, and feed self pity, hate, worry, longing, jealousy, anger, just from looking at site pages, walls and photos. We can go looking on purpose, over and over again, or stumble upon something that sets off a series of events that leads to break ups, bad feelings and trouble.

I am not a total skeptic. But I hear more and more about how much social networking sites are part of people's emotional lives. They add a new dimension to relationships, to accidental nicks and unconscious communication. Perhaps we just need to go carefully, that's all, and not ignore the obvious, that there really is no replacement for private direct communication, and that these sites, while fun, are not that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is Saying I'm Sorry Enough?

A stiff apology is a second insult.... The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt. ~G.K. Chesterton

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. ~Paul Boese
(I have tacked on a few more quotes for thought at the bottom of this post)

Recently, a friend of mine who went through a bad ordeal a few years back got a surprising phone call from the person who had hurt her. Her old friend called up to ask forgiveness. The friend owned up to the things that she had done that had caused hurt and bad feelings, and said she was sorry.

My friend was moved. She was relieved, and happy. She felt understood and hopeful for the future. She wanted to feel relieved of her anger and resentments, and she wanted to live in forgiveness and friendship. There are enough sorrows in the world. My friend wanted peace and healing. She wanted to let it go.

Somehow, though, even though she told me she was gracious and accepting, in her heart, she was not quite there. Not quite where she wished she could be. Somehow, after the first few glowing hours of hearing her friend's acknowledgments and apology, she began to remember again, the pain her friend had caused, the betrayal she had felt for several years. She began to rethink the apology and shoot holes in it. She wondered if her friend was truly sorry, or just wanted to feel better.

Her friend's behavior had caused a great deal of embarrassment, loss of money and opportunity. Not to mention the loss of the friendship, which was so precious to her. Her friend's apology did not include any plans for reparation, or compensation. Suddenly, it seemed like a ruse.

In my office, when I work with emotional pain and suffering, with couples who have betrayed each other in some way and it comes to apologies, it can often feel like the words are just not enough.

Even after many years, and many I'm Sorrys, old hurts can crop back up and poke holes in the present, and threaten to side track the future. Often, the person who was hurt experiences a retruama on occasion. Or a flash back to all the bad feelings of shame, frustration, pain and anger. The I'm Sorrys seem all at once contrived, self serving or insincere. The temptation to demand more, to drag up the past and rehash it yet again can loom large, but often rehashing can cause problems in the here and now.

Sometimes when the urge to rehash and demand more surges, we have to ask why now? What is going on in the present, what feeling or situation in the moment is causing a repeat of old stuff. Why are things suddenly (or not so suddenly) not enough. Why is the past not left to the past? If the hurt pair want to stay resolved, but one somehow feels like the restitution was not complete, old pain can pop back up and bite at any time. Sometimes, the hurt party feels that money needs to be repaid, or public statements need to be made, or rescinded, or property returned or repaired. And sometimes, there may be not be any amount of restitution that would seem adequate.

Perhaps more admissions of wrong doing and regret are needed, more reassurance. At a certain point, the apologizer does not feel so bad anymore, and is happy to have put things behind him/her. What then? Or what if the recipient filters the apology through his or her own insecurity, doubt or unconscious positioning of victim hood? What if the recipient needs to hold onto the resentment for reasons not readily understood. Sometimes, even, we may wish we could let go, but find ourselves feeling the bad feelings anyway. What then?

How do we decide when to stop punishing those who have hurt us? We do tend to want to punish those who frustrate us. How much suffering is enough? And surely, some of the worst emotional pain is feeling anger or hate, especially toward someone who is loved, or once was. Letting go of anger is no easy task of course. Apologies can go a long way, but sometimes they don't fix the ache quite right. What's there to do, then?

Well, this, I think: At some point we make and remake a decision to either be right or be married. To be angry or be friends. To drag up the past or to stay in the present and keep a future possible. Of course we can have many feelings, but if we live in the bad ones, or insist on them coming up too often, we risk pushing away that which we really do wish to keep close. We don't have to put ourselves or others in vulnerable situations again. Perhaps we will never really trust completely. Or get rid of the nick in our heart. Perhaps what was lost is lost. The friendship will never be exactly the same again. We will not lend ourselves out quite the same way as we once would have, or would like to. The feeling won't be what is was. Sometimes, the damage that was done cannot be wholly repaired. The relationship can be mended. Pleasantries can resume. Social graces, sexual relationships, and good wishes can return. But there may have to be a newness to things, since the old is not the same as it was.

The couples I work with who are inching their way back from infidelity face this issue all the time. Where is the restitution? There is no money value, no property to replace or repair. For some emotional wrongs, when more than an I'm sorry is needed, how can you back an apology with something concrete? What would count as payback?

One possible answer is this: self study. A sincere and honest willingness on the part of the apologizer to learn about why they did what they did. For some hurt spouses, this goes a long way. It seems to scratch the itch for compensation at least a little. It may not be as gratifying as revenge or punishment, but its the higher road for sure. And it can bring a true and lasting relief. It can make an apology really hold.
Of course, in many if not most hurts, the hurtee does have some role in what happened. Taking a look at one's own role and owning up to any contributions, conscious or un, that may have contributed to the problem can pave the way towards hearing and accepting apologies.
Another answer is time. Time and new memories. New experiences that overshadow the old ones. Good feelings that trump the bad ones. Days and weeks and years that go by and smooth over the pointy edges of pain. When the hurt partner can hold his/her demands for more, just a bit, and the apologizer can continue to show up, and show effort, there is hope upon hope.

Some folks are loyal to their pain and suffering, and rightfully protective of getting hurt again or falling into the same old patterns or problems. Character does not change that easily after all, even if behavior can and does.

Sometimes, on this subject I am sad and cautious. Hopeful and forward looking, but honest. We cannot take an eraser to the past. We can only look to draw a new future. Hanging on to resentment does not protect us from getting hurt again. Saying I'm sorry does not wipe out memories, even if it goes a long way toward healing pain and moving forward.

Good discussions to the right ears can go far toward sorting through what we need and why, and toward learning more about our own personal patterns and the fears that may be contributing to the mix. Good discussions can help sort through the waters of feelings new and old, and help with figuring out when to rehash and when to refrain, when to overlook and when to look back, and when to ask for more and when to appreciate and accept what is. We have to bear unbearable feelings sometimes in order to live through them and move forward. Some relationships are worth the struggle, worth accepting a sincere apology and putting the past to rest. It may not be easy, but we can choose, sometimes a thousand times in the same hour, to do it.

Some quotes for thought:

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. ~William Blake

True friends stab you in the front. ~Oscar Wilde

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway. ~Henry Boye

You can make up a quarrel, but it will always show where it was patched. ~Edgar Watson Howe, Country Town Sayings, 1911

Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge. ~Isaac Friedmann

I think its about forgiveness. Forgiveness. Even if you don't love me anymore ~ Don Henley