In The Swirl
Sometimes we can be offended by someone's behavior when they are in bad mood. Sometimes it seems like we're getting a cold shoulder when someone doesn't return our call. When we take things personally, it's because we focus on how it feels to us rather than considering what might be going on with them. When we focus on our feelings without any understanding of what might be going on the other side of the situation, it's easy to lose sight of what is really going on. Once we start down that path, we can get lost in conflict and defensiveness. We feel at odds with the other person. The distance grows. Meredith was a very good seamstress. She could sew just about anything and sewing has how she made her living. She was good at her job and was in high demand. She also altered many wedding dresses which obviously had strict deadlines. Sometimes her younger sister would ask for help and she would almost always accommodate her requests. However, this time she couldn't. She had too many deadlines and way too much to accomplish before she left on her family vacation. Vicki was going through a divorce. She had plans to go meet some of her high school classmates and wanted to look good. It had taken a while to find the right outfit. There wasn't much time left before her gathering and the dress needed a few adjustments. It wasn't anything complicated but it did need to be done immediately. She told her sister what was going on and to her surprise, Meredith said "Sorry, I just can't do it right now. You'll need to find someone else to do it." For Vicki, this "no" didn't land like an ordinary "no". This time she took it very personally. Perhaps it was the stress of the divorce. Maybe it was her expectations of the gathering with her friends. Maybe she was just having a bad day. Whatever the reason, this "no" meant much more than "no". Vicki's response was immediate. "What? How can you do this to me? You just don't care about me. You are always leaving me out. You were always Mom's favorite. You are jealous of me for the male attention I get and you're trying to sabotage me.... Meredith was speechless. How had this simple "no" turned into this! It was as if she was the cause of every unresolved childhood issue. She tried to defuse the situation. "Vicki, calm down, I'm really busy. You know I would do it if I could..." Vicki didn't hear a single word. She was in the swirl of her emotions. Her pain was deep and wide. It stretched from this moment back in time to when this familiar feeling began. Beneath her biting attack, Vicki was really hurting. The more Meredith tried to defend her herself, the more vicious Vicki became. It was only when Meredith resigned herself to listening that the dynamics began to change. Meredith heard how much Vicki was hurting even though she often covered her pain with anger. As Meredith tuned into Vicki's feelings, she realized Vicki was on the verge of tears. Meredith reached out to Vicki and gave her a hug. "I know this is hard. I want you to know that I love you. I can't always be there for you as a seamstress but I will always be there for you as a sister. " Tears filled Vicki's eyes and then she burst into tears. She cried and cried. She talked about how she felt embarrassed by her break up, how she hated being alone, and how she feared she would never have another relationship. Meredith was there for her, allowing her to have the emotion she so deeply needed to express. She didn't try to make her feel better. She didn't try to cheer her up. She just allowed Vicki the space to be as upset as she was. This was the support that Vicki needed. She needed someone to be present to her emotion and give her the space to express it. It wasn't easy for Meredith. Vicki wasn't being nice or vulnerable. She was actually being a real bitch. It took Meredith a moment to realize what was happening. Vicki was in the swirl of her emotion and Meredith had started to get caught up in it. It took Meredith a moment to center herself. She had to stop defending herself. She had to listen to what Vicki was really communicating rather than just what she was saying. Even as a child, Vicki was prone to express her vulnerability as anger. It is what made her relationships challenging. Vicki needed to learn that it was okay to be vulnerable and honest about her true feelings. Her tendency to express her pain through anger was usually counterproductive because it lead to fighting and auguring with the people whom she most needed support. Asking for support and showing her vulnerable side might not always get the result she wanted but her anger never did. Meredith knew Vicki was hurting the most when she was angry. She was that way as a child, and she still was. Meredith needed to avoid getting caught up in the swirl of Vicki's emotion. Meredith needed to be supportive rather than defensive. She needed to take a step back and connect with Vicki. This would allow Vicki to be in her emotion rather than in the swirl.