Let’s Accentuate the Positive

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is,” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.” — A. A. Milne

I once had a friend who called me every evening to complain about her boyfriend who had left her, her boss who had fired her, her other “friends”, her co-workers, her neighbors, her ex-boyfriend’s dog and Dr. Phil’s threats to drag someone off the sidelines and into the fray of life.

At first I was compassionate, kind, and understanding — we all go through bad times and she had sided with me through one of mine. I tried to cheer her up, get her to see the positive side of things. Thank goodness this horrible boyfriend was out of her life. Yes, her ex-boss was obviously dragging the company down and it would serve him right if the company went bankrupt without her. No, I didn’t think it was right for the boyfriend to let the dog sleep between them. I thought of Winston then, who sleeps with me. On the other side, perhaps, I said, but not in the middle. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

Not only did she call me every night but if I was online she IM-ed me, even if she had just talked to me for two hours. I finally blocked her so she couldn’t see when I was online. A mutual friend, who also received frequent calls from her suggested I do what she did, screen my phone calls. Don’t answer, she said, let it go to voicemail so you can see who it is. But sometimes people hung up without leaving a message and I would stew about it, wondering whose call I had missed. When another friend told me she had called earlier I said why didn’t you leave a message? It wasn’t that important, she said. Next time, I said, leave a message – please?

And, what if it was one of my children or a sibling who had called, needing help, but thought I wasn’t home? Not leaving a message for fear of worrying me. So I told them I was screening my calls–say something so I’ll know it ‘s you.

In the meantime I tried to cheer my friend up. Every time she said something negative, I said something positive. I refused to support her poor me act. I pointed out how gifted she was in so many ways but for some reason she didn’t want to hear that. She became very derisive towards me. Now I was the enemy with my stupid talks about taking a stupid walk in nature and smelling the stupid flowers, when she could buy them at the store and put them in vases in her apartment and smell them all day without doing all that stupid walking. I think her favorite word was stupid. By implication I was also stupid–well, she didn’t exactly say it but her tone of voice did.

One day I finally realized how toxic this person was to me. And also that I had been letting her bully me. After one harrowing conversation I sent her an email. Evidently, I said, the only thing the two of us have in common is we’re the same age. I really could think of nothing else to say, but she got the message and ended our communication.

Thank goodness! By that time I was all talked out, and drained of every compassionate feeling I’d ever had in my life.

But I have this stubborn belief that everything happens for a reason and that I was supposed to learn something from this experience. But what? I was reminded of a book I read years ago about games people play. One game mentioned in the book seemed familiar. In this “game” a person comes to you with a problem and you respond by trying to help him/her solve it. But everything you suggest is shot down by the other person as unworkable (stupid?) until you finally give up. Therefore, in this game, you are the loser, since the person who walks away still has the problem you were unable to solve.

Well, my friend had a plethora of problems, all resulting from a bad attitude, and perhaps like the foregoing she had made me an opponent in her game, but one thing I have learned from this experience is to protect my own boundaries, not allowing them to be encroached upon. I hadn’t realized before that this was a weakness of mine.

I’m reminded of the words of Carl Jung. The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.

Once I understood what the lesson was, I knew what to do, so I worked first on shoring up my walls before I lowered my drawbridge. Perhaps my former friend will cultivate a more positive attitude towards life, and perhaps one day we will even meet again. If so, I hope that she will respect my boundaries, but if not, I will be certain to keep them intact.

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