I have had occasion because of an unpleasant experience with someone close to me to think of something I learned once.
In the interests of confidentiality, let’s just say that the situation from my past, the “lesson” (with a different person than the one mentioned in the above paragraph), involved me and a “significant other.” It was a long time ago. It involved a relationship which began auspiciously and which endured.
I had previously had a horrible relationship with someone else which caused me great pain. It took me a long time to get over it; caused lasting damage to me emotionally; and prevented me for quite a while from being able to trust someone and get involved in a new relationship.
But then I met Miss Right. I learned from this newfound relationship something that I had hitherto not been able to see or recognize for myself, even dimly: namely, a sixth sense which she had about how to avoid emotional damage to oneself and how to protect oneself from it; an awareness of when it is advisable to step aside, get out of the way, and extricate oneself; an ability to know when conditions warrant this.
I learned, quickly, from my new partner that one doesn’t have submit to being dumped on and abused.
Prior to this, my habitual way of dealing with emotional abuse — abuse of any kind — was to stand there, so to speak, and submit to it.
From my new significant other, I learned that there was another way.
If she felt (this was, as I said, early in our relationship) that our relationship was starting, in the least, to becoming abusive emotionally, or “trending” in that direction, if she got a hint that I was going to be mean to her, she was quite prepared to leave, to exit, right then and there. With no further discussion. Without having to plead with me to change my behavior. She had apparently done this in the past.
Her approach and instincts were that no relationship was worth the trouble of being disrespected and abused. Better to have no relationship than to have an abusive one.
I quickly picked up on this, and it cured me of any misogynist instincts or tendencies I may have had. I knew that if I mistreated her, froze her out emotionally, it would be sayonara. She would be gone fast.
A valuable lesson she taught me. It was a lesson that worked both ways. I learned not only the strategy of beating a fast exit whenever I got an inkling that someone was having fun being nasty at my expense. I learned that it works both ways, and that no one should have to put up with abusive behavior from me.
Please note: I don’t intend to imply that at the slightest hint of a disagreement, it is advisable to terminate a relationship. People in intimate relationships (e.g., married couples) or in close quarters quarrel all the time.
What I am thinking about in this post are situations where there is an ongoing pattern of hatred or emotional cruelty, or perhaps an intermittent pattern, but where, when it rears its head, one knows instinctively that it’s more than just a disagreement. It could be a situation where what seemed at first like a mere disagreement has led to festering anger, causing the other person to wish to hurt and degrade you. When you can sense hatred or vindictiveness, chronic surliness, and the like, then, it seems, it’s time to exit, so to speak, in order to protect oneself. This can happen with friends, lovers, and close relatives. I have experienced it.
To me, a good yardstick might be: are you and the other person inclined to bicker? Well, so what? It may or may not be serious; perhaps one or both you are crotchety. But, be alert for cases when a person whom you were once close to and on good terms with (and more) — so you thought — suddenly seems to be looking constantly for ways to undermine you. That’s a bad sign. You seemed to be in their good graces. Now they are constantly finding fault and won’t cut you any slack. Their face is set in a continual glower, their demeanor towards you is one of outright anger, or barely concealed anger — chronic anger, that is — which consumes them.
You can see this in people who are constantly looking for opportunities to attack. You make what seems to be an innocuous remark; they pounce on it. They enjoy finding fault with you in matters and using standards of measure large and small. (For example, they may say they find you obnoxious, a “big” measure; or, they noticed that your tie isn’t knotted properly or your shoelaces have come undone, a “small bore” measure.)
These are the kinds of situations I’m talking about.
— Roger W. Smith