Sunday, 30 November 2008

Who's a Big Sook, Then?

There is a Problem Person in my life. Fortunately this PP does not visit very often, as I do not cope at all well. At present I am trying to change the interaction, but with no success so far. We were to have talked recently, but it just did not happen. In part this was because I was too nervous to  say to the PP let's do it now. I just waited, and it never happened. Then I was away for several days, and in fact PP left the country early. So now I am having to try and do it by letter. Even doing this makes my blood pressure plummet, gives me sleepless nights, and the shakes. I have taken advice from lots of people on how to do it and what to say, and while they have all been supportive and helpful, I am sure that inside they think I am really hopeless. This is  because firstly, these friends and family are not sooks, and secondly, it is not THEIR problem. Other people's problems are always easier to solve. It is a bit like how easy it is or would be to bring up other people's children (especially teenagers).

I WILL send off this letter, and having done that I will probably shake non-stop waiting for a reply. I think basically PP and I just don't like each other, and because PP is a step-relation, we are stuck with each other. PP thinks I am frosty, I think PP is extremely rude to me, but in ways which could only be countered by my making a protest. I feel this puts me on the back foot. Being assertive is what I am not very good at, and while it would be wonderful if I could change this, I wonder whether this would be possible so relatively late in life. Can the grandmother change her spots? I do so envy those with the capacity to put their position frankly and to insist that notice be taken of  what is said. I'd like to get out of victim mode: it is not a good place to be.

While I did the grocery shopping this morning, my mind harped relentlessly on the issue. When I recollected my childhood, my upbringing and my schooling, I realised (anew) the enormous emphasis on obedience to legitimate authority - parents, priests and nuns, teachers, older people, submission, politeness, never contradicting and never answering back. If these rules were breached, retribution swiftly followed. You certainly did not answer your parents back. We were taught to consider other people, and to do unto others as you would be done by. This developed a very strong social conscience, and emphasised justice, fairness and equality as important values in our society.

But learning how to resolve conflict was not considered important. Girls especially were expected to be submissive in their relations with men. I remember my father saying to me that if there were quarrels in a marriage, it was the role of the wife to give in and to heal the quarrel. It might not be fair, he said, but it was a fact of life. And of course religious teaching insisted that wives be subject to their husbands. At university I read a lot of sociology and psychology books to give me more understanding of 'the nature of women'. Pretty soon I reached the conclusion that these books and their authors were fundamentally mistaken. Their views of women were based on their own fantasies. I did not recognise their description as matching the reality of women, and when I discovered the writings of Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, it was as though at last someone was speaking the truth - describing things as they really were. My friends and I discovered women's liberation, through which so many reforms for women have been achieved.

But in the personal life, becoming assertive remained very difficult. In the problems in my first marriage, there appeared to be no solutions. Assertiveness, pretending the problems did not exist, quarrelling, being very loving, or whatever - nothing made any real difference. And in the second marriage, the spouse has what often appears to be a sublime indifference to any needs but his own. Steering an independent course, and meeting my own rights and needs, is generally not easy - but often manageable. But coping with conflict and being assertive remain for me incredibly difficult. But how did I come to put myself in these positions, not just once, but twice?

I hope that by finally sending this letter, and by taking a few other tactical steps, things might change. Then I might finally get some sleep.


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