The benefit of sharing vexations with others

You can find yourself in a perplexing emotional cul-de-sac, very, very hard to see any way out. You can ruminate, follow theories, compare your situation to others, but the limitation in your point of view is partly that it is only your point of view, uninformed by the views of others.

As soon as you share a perplexing riddle with somebody you trust, you open the door to an insight that might seem obvious once it is expressed out loud but would never otherwise occur to you.

For example, I had an embattled friend who lived in a war zone, who could not help provoking me whenever we got into a conversation. No matter how angry I became, I always restrained myself from bashing this annoying guy in the face, because he was my childhood friend, because I try to conduct myself peacefully, because I don’t bash people in the face. This aggravating cycle continued for several years, until, unable to get him to even acknowledge that he was provoking the shit out of me regularly, I had to walk away from our long friendship.

Recently, I entered a vexatious revolving door dispute with my closest friend. No matter what progress we seemed to make in our peace talks, he regularly became indignant and angry. Each time I exerted myself to reassure him of my friendship and calmed him down. This happened more times than I can recall. He recalls this pattern too.

Talking to an old friend who also knew this guy very well, and has lost contact with him, I described the maddening dynamic. My friend becoming instantly angry, me calming him down. As I described this my friend emitted a knowing chuckle.

Every every time he got mad and you reacted not with anger but with compassion, you were giving him exactly what he’s been looking for, and never received, for his entire life. And you wonder why he couldn’t stop doing it?!”

And it is kind of funny, how easy it is to see, when somebody else points it out. In both of the cases described above, these are people locked in war who lack good impulse control and basic conflict resolution skills. They are both required to hold in enormous amounts of frustration. In each case, when they vent their anger, which they are not generally allowed to do without severe consequences, they were met, in my case, with the mildness of friendship and understanding. Why would either one of them stop doing it? They wouldn’t, they can’t. Until they succeed in killing the thing that is sustaining their belief that they are worthy of love.

Being so patient in a one-sided arrangement like this is not a long-term strategy for friendship or life. Without mutuality, what’s the point of a relationship?

You can ask this question of people who care about you, and you may be surprised by the obvious insights they may have for you.

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