Friday, 26 December 2014

Bite your tongue

Before I left home to go to the family gathering, one of my sisters rang for a chat. We were discussing current politics. She suddenly blew up at me.  It was extremely vitriolic, and she accused me of being patronising, and a know it all. She dragged up things I had said and done, some from forty years ago, citing opinions and  attitudes of mine, which she had obviously deeply resented, not just then, but to this very day. When she had finished, I asked if I could reply, and did my best to put it into context, and to say that I had changed in many ways, that many of my attitudes and opinions had changed as I had matured, and that I had thought we had developed a better , more positive, and affectionate relationship.

I went to bed, but not to sleep.  The conversation repeated itself in my brain endlessly, and  my emotions churned into a sticky, unpleasantly textured mass, never resolving. And I did not lnow what to do. I did my best, at the time, to answer, explain and justify, thinking all the while that she really must dislike me, and had always disliked me. And that seems dreadful to me.

I cannot do conflict very well. I tend to brood. I cannot remember all the details of past conversations, and who said what to whom, and when and why.  I do not act with malice. I do my best. My best may not be good enough. But I do not seek to hurt, injure, disrupt, act with malice. I want to get on with people, especially family.  I am not always tactful, try as I may. But I have bitten my tongue many a time. When I was young, any sort of female aggressiveness, or outspokenness was very much frowned upon. I do not think that I have ever spoken like that to any of my siblings. It was, quite simply, awful. How to recover, how to get on an even keel?

I do not want to offend people, even when it seems to me that they feel free to dish it out to me. But it strikes me that I often come back from visiting family feeling rather battered. And I feel that I am losing my authentic and real voice, for fear of offending others. I cannot cope with the inevitable conflict, and avoidance seems the easiest, perhaps the best  strategy. I am alone.

Where is my real voice, and how can I find and express my true self? Truth is fundamentally necessary for me.  I cannot lie. But nor can I always tell the whole truth. Where does the balance lie?

My sister rang me the next morning, apologising, and it was sorted out and smoothed over as much as possible. But recovering from this is difficult, as it is hard to avoid the feeling that there has been and is a lot of dislike and resentment. On the Sunday we were both at the family gathering, but did not talk until later in the gathering. We have talked since, but it seems to be a situation in which you do not mention the war. I feel battered, and injured. And I feel that I am retreating, and not engaging in life. Irrelevant in all ways.


VioletSky said...

Oh dear. Yes indeed, bit your tongue, sister! What is said can never be unsaid, no matter how many times one apologizes. I also feel that I have changed - for the better - as I've grown older. But, that thing of brooding over confrontations and retreating into myself when it happens is still very much there for me. What is also difficult, is that often these people who hurt and offend us the most care little for our feelings and tend to dismiss them.
I don't have a sister and I'm always sorry when I hear of sisters who suffer some sort of enduring jealousy or dislike.

Elephant's Child said...

This resonates with me.
A litte while ago I got a message from a friend to say that our friendship (over thirty years) had become threadbare.
When I rang her to talk she launched into a litany of the cruel and unfeeling things I have apparently done to her over the last year. Some of them are simply untrue. And certainly none of them were intended the way she took them.
Our friendship has been patched, and she seems to be happy. And I am very, very wary and watching everything I say. And suppressing how I feel...

Pam said...

Oh dear. Poor you.

Karen said...

Oh gosh, I feel for you.
And I can't offer anything helpful, either. I struggle to forgive my sister for a mean-spirited thing she said about my son years ago - which she apologised for, but which I can't help knowing revealed her true feelings about him. And on the other side, some reminiscences I expressed about long-dead family members upset an aunt, who chastised me, and in the next breath, said some pretty rude things about my mother!
I don't know where the balance is between tact and truth, honouring one's self and not wounding others' feelings. Your experience confirms that finding one's identity is not just the concern of young people, but a lifelong task - or chore!

Relatively Retiring said...

So true, that one can never unsay things, just as one can never unread painful things written.
The people who deal out this sort of treatment probably have little idea of the damage they can do.

molly said...

It is a treacherous line to walk, trying to be kind to everyone but also truthful. Sometimes the truth, as we see it, is not the truth as seen from another's perspective. I have been known to "open mouth, insert foot," too many times. And, among family especially, there are some subjects I do not touch, even with a ten foot pole! Good luck sorting out your feelings. That's why I like yoga!

Frances said...

in my experience, limited, your sister's words reflect her own unhappiness.
Nothing to do with you. her life has gone wrong, she is looking for reasons and you are convenient.
She is unhappy.