My husband used to have an intermittent tendency to call me “sensitive”, which I disliked because I took it as a suggestion that I was acting unduly hurt. He’s mostly stopped, but that’s not my topic.
I’ve read in social media and newspapers accounts of people deciding to get rid of associates they felt weren’t worth keeping. These pronouncements seemed sort of obnoxious to me. People are important, and their bullshit is part of the package of having them around in your life.
But I’m taking a new approach. I don’t think I’m simply accepting the directives that you dump unwanted friends, relatives and acquaintances. However, I’m getting the point. I have always been attuned to the underlying opinion missives that come with close relationships, specifically leaks suggesting what another person thinks of me. It seeps into my self-image, even though I generally partition these judgments as belonging to the source more than me. At the very least, exposure to loosely embedded critiques has generally had me jump to counteract them with extra niceness or to amp up impression management strategies that I have trouble even pulling together for networking events. I now want out of these deals.
Here are some examples. I have a close relative who has always been quietly competitive. This goes back to when we met when we were children. I have generally ignored this, but I’m finally at the point where it’s not worth it. This decision was prompted by texts from her that had the repeated typo “seething.” She said “I hope you have a seething vacation.” When I pointed this out she responded, “Oh that means nothing.” But it did to me, because it was consistent with a pattern of cheerfully expressed tamped down rage, anger, and boundary violations. It had always been there, but more subtly. And that was it. I could no longer engage in text gossip or the other pleasures of our relationship because I was struck by the disowned hostility.
Alternately, another close relative and I had a falling out about seven years ago. I was not invited to a family dinner after I asked the same group to eat with me. We had a phone call following my exclusion, upheld even after it was clear I might go, and it was very unpleasant. And our relationship, never close, ground to a halt for several years. But since then, even though we never discussed the argument, she began to reach out and make an effort to be in touch with me. Nothing huge or deep, but consistent and kind. This repaired my bad feelings because the balance of our relationship shifted. No longer was I expected to be treated badly and not mention it.
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules for dealing with people who aren’t really nice to you, or who are nice with a twist. Life is long, and there is a lot of time for finding new ways to interact. But I know that in addition to the relatively stable way we see ourselves, our self-image is drawn from how we look in other people’s eyes. And I don’t want to see myself in ways which don’t comport with my own vision, which is not static, but requires beauty and dignity in the mix.