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 Post subject: Upon reflection...
PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 6:42 am 
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Location: Paris, France
I'm not sure this insight I've had into the event that brought me to BPDR is necessarily a "positive" thought. It could be self-delusion. But it bears putting out there to see if these things are possible...

Is it possible that sometimes we really are charged with the responsibility, by the fact that we ARE adults, to stick-up for ourselves when we're being bullied? After mulling over the event a week or so ago that sent me looking for "what's wrong with me," I've stumbled across the idea that maybe I wasn't a raging lunatic during the event, but rather was setting a boundary in a VERY firm way with someone who, in all my and other people's interactions, has consistently been verbally abusive to get her way.

My husband and I live in a little suburb of Paris, France and we're in the middle of renovating and moving into a "new" apartment. The building has a "guardian", which is a position similar to an apartment manager. She's in her 70's or 80's and is about 4 foot tall and built like a bird. But she's as hair-trigger and agressive as a wet banty hen! Every interaction I've had to have with her she's been gruff and extremely severe. She's even lied (saying she witnessed it from her window) to accuse my little lapdog of pooping on the grounds (not possible -- I carry him to the street JUST FOR THAT VERY REASON! And even still, I ALWAYS scoop up after him.)

Anyway, my workmen were right in the middle of demolishing the old bathroom -- tearing out the old tile and such -- and were removing the debris, when I heard shouting out in the stairwell emanating all the way up from the first floor (we're on the 5th). Then my door intercom phone rang and when I picked it up, it was her, screaming at me in French. I handed the phone to one of the workmen because I couldn't understand a word she was "saying" and he got all worried looking and ran out of the apartment. A few seconds later, I hear her on my floor screaming again. My cell phone rang at that instant and it was my husband. And just as I started to explain to him what was happening, there was a terrific pounding on my front door. At this point, I'm shaking with fearful rage, terribly triggered by my history with my abusive mother and a battering former BF, both of whom use(d) screaming and slamming doors, banging walls, breaking things, etc as threat tactics. I opened the door. Her face was bright red, her veins were poking out at her temples and she had her hands on her hips. She leaned into me and started screaming and gesturing at the floor. I handed her my cell, just barely able to mutter, "Mon mari," or, "my husband." So then she raged at him at the top of her lungs. I should mention that the stairwell is an intense echo chamber so even normal voices carry way too well and we tend to whisper in the hall as not to disturb our neighbors. She finished up with my husband and I took my phone back and asked him, "Well?" and he told me that she was freaking out because the workmen were tracking plaster dust on "her" floor and elevator. He tried to reassure her that we'd make sure everything was cleaned up afterwards. She told him that that was unacceptable and that she wanted the work to stop RIGHT NOW! After hearing that, my head spun and I seemed to fall off an imaginary cliff. I snapped. In the memory I have of what happened next, I loomed over this b*tch and in my best French screamed at the top of MY lungs, that she was NEVER, NEVER TO SCREAM AT ME AGAIN!!! I remember she looked startled and scared and became even smaller, turned tail and scooted off to the elevator, looking over her shoulder and trying to tell me there was nothing to worry about, go ahead with the work, it's no big deal, etc. I turned on my heels, stomped back into my apt and SLAMMED the door as hard as I could. It sounded like a bomb went off in that cavernous stairwell!! Hearing it even shattered my insides, and I had pre-knowledge that the door was being slammed! So then, inside the apt, I "went off": At the top of my own lungs, I screamed every profanity I could think of at that door, knowing full well that EVERYONE in the building could hear. Ugh. As soon as I calmed down, I felt horrendously guilty and ashamed and really sure that I'd finally lost my mind and have become my mother, who shouts and acts out ALL THE TIME. I can't remember the last time I heard her normal voice.

So I felt like a piece of sh*t afterwards -- really ashamed and disgusted with myself and came to BPDR looking for answers for why I'm such a "rage-aholic". I really thought I'd gone over the edge this time. But some people have come to me since then with different perspectives to look at, perspectives in which I may not have been perfect but maybe I wasn't completely in the wrong or such a terrible person. The first was with our general contractor -- the boss of the guys who were working that day -- he wasn't there that day but the next time I saw him, he told me that the "guardian" had approached him and told him about what had happened. He said that she was very contrite and apologetic and asked him if he could get a message to me that she was sorry and could she and I "be friends". Hmmm... Also, my 19 yr old son who witnessed the whole thing over my shoulder (I didn't see him there but he came out of his room "to back me up" when he heard the banging on the door) just explained to me last night that when I was looming over the little old lady, I didn't yell but rather just kind of growled very firmly at her. It wasn't until after I slammed the door that I actually started screaming. Not that that makes it much better, but at least I can see now that I didn't "act out" all over a defenseless little old lady and didn't lose it until I got back into my private space.

I'm not looking for an out here. Really. I know I was inappropriate when I lost it inside the apt. But with the insight of others who are here to act as real-world witnesses, I'm seeing some things about myself that I don't think I allowed myself to see before. I've spent most of my life buying into my mother's clap-trap that I'm always the unreasonable one, I'm the chaos junkie, I'm to blame for all those ugly scenarios with her. I am, in a way, but not the way she means. I am at least 50% to blame because I signed-on as the victim with her when I acted out like I used to when I let her in that deep. Well, I don't remember feeling a need to be understood by this guardian lady like I used to feel with my mom and my x-BF. I honestly didn't give two hoots whether she ended up liking me, or approving of me, etc. What I think I see now is that I set a boundary in the midst of an extremely aggressive agitated situation in which I was being attacked verbally, which triggers me BAD. The result seems to be that this lady found out that not everyone will opt for being a wimp in the face of her monster just for the sake of "harmony" in the building. As a culture, the French tend like to be martyrs -- helps them get into heaven or something. She's met her first take-no-nonsense American now I guess. She now has only her own behavior to watch and she knows that abusing me won't get her the results she was going for. The bullying stops here! I don't think I have to take abuse anymore. But the part I need to work on is how to deal with the residual angst and terror I feel after someone treats me like something stuck to the bottom of their shoe. The slamming door and screaming at the top of my lungs has got to go. I need coping skills around that.

So, the positive thing here is that I'm ok with sticking up for myself in appropriate ways (do you think I did in that instance?) and am coming to realize that not all situations require that I suck up and take it just because I'm afraid of sounding/acting like my crazy mother. Am I self-deluding here, do you think?


Being brave doesn't mean being fearless -- it means doing the right thing even when we ARE afraid.

"They denounce me as mad. But, is it mad to take the beak of a penguin and grind it into a powder and mix it with a chocolate phosphate? Is is mad to take the inner pieces of a concertina and sautee it with an artichoke? Is it mad to squeeze all the juice out of a venetian blind and mix it with parts of the San Bernadino freeway? Is that mad? A little goofy maybe... but not mad. Why am I so misunderstood?
-- Harvey Korman as Dr. Jekyll, The Carol Burnett Show

 Post subject: Re: Upon reflection...
PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 9:56 am 
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Hi Lea. Just some thoughts here, okay?

No, I don't think you are self-deluding. I do think a person should stand up for themselves when they are bullied. But I do think that maybe this whole thing could have been managed differently, maybe even avoided.

You knew the workmen were coming? You knew the noise would carry? You knew that she was particular and fussy, right? Did you inform her of the work beforehand? Did you in any way try to mitigate her fears before they came to the yelling, abusive phase? She is a landlord of sorts, right?--does she not deserve to be notified? Not to ask permission, but to acknowledge the obvious inconvenience to her and other tenants (noise, dust)? IMO, although you know you and your man to be people that would of course clean up after yourselves--she can't possibly be expected to Assume that. For all she knows, you would have left her to do that work, or were doing some drastic remodeling that would take months and months.

My point here is communication before it gets out of hand might have prevented some of her reaction. Maybe not, I don't know her, but at least it is proactive and unassuming.

Also, yea for you on boundary-setting!! I think it's a good thing to not allow anyone to walk all over you. However--this can be taken too far to the point where now you are the bully. In my experience, it is better to set boundaries like "I will not allow you to yell at me" during the calm times rather than in the heat of the moment. Remember, boundaries protect US--the other party doesn't even necessarily have to be notified of them. You could simply walk away when ever her voice hits a certain level, maybe telling her "when you can speak to me calmly, I will be happy to listen". But you have to be happy to listen when she is willing to not yell.

Quiet conversations work, usually without placing either party on the defensive. Maybe that could begin with your dog poop issue--having a discussion over tea about it or something. Maybe I'm idealistic, I dunno. I'm more on the side of kill 'em with kindness. She doesn't know that you are the type of person to carry your dog past the yard and always scoop. How could she? You will have to adjust your perspective of her enough to get to know her and allow her to get to know you for that to be a given. I'm sure it is difficult with the language barrier, but maybe she has a lot of time on her hands (sounds like it) and would love to help someone learn French. In doing so, you will each get to know more about the other. Maybe she is just been taken advantage of often, maybe she has a complex about her short stature that she needs an aggressive personality to make up for, maybe she's not really a 'wet banty hen', she just has to come across that way to get her rent dues from her tenants and keep her building running. Whatever, it just sounds like you have painted her black without knowing anything more than her gruff exterior--which, in my experience means a really tender underbelly or inside. Assumptions go both ways, not good for anyone.

Now is the time, IMO. You both (the guardian and yourself) have now crossed lines with one another, even if it did achieve the semblance of the result you wanted. She may resent you for taking that action--who knows? Didn't you resent her for acting in a similar way towards you (although unprovoked in that case)? My point is....maybe now you can began an adult dialog (which may require a third party or some fancy hand gestures because of the language, but you might be surprised--I picked up Spanish while I was in Mexico for only a month because the locals were willing to help). Over 80% of communication is non-verbal anyway, just see what happens and maybe have a translating book handy. Or, maybe that's way too much and you could just find a way to live in the same building without killing each other, lol. The point is trying to co-exist. I find that easier if I can get to know someone.

It's possible now you can not be enemies. It doesn't have to be one afraid of the other, one meek and the other strong. It's no better with you as the strong one, if she is meek, IMO. You are both adults, make peace, come to an understanding that suits you both on all your issues. You have to share a building, wouldn't it be nice to eliminate this drama all together and both live in peace? You don't have to become friends, but this whole power-struggle thing has got to be draining for both of you!

Last thought--our past doesn't have to define who we are now. I know you have heard that, but make it true for you. I see you accepting responsibility for issues in this case (Fantastic!!!!), but the question for me would become--what now? She is not your mother, just some cranky old lady who is maybe lonely and scared too. Being a no-nonsense American is great--I'm one too--but if you're truly looking for 'harmony' in the building, you might need to look at the big picture. Two people make up any argument or altercation, IMO.

And Lea, from what little I know of you, you are in no danger of sounding/acting like your 'crazy' mother. You are your own, unique person. Please remember that!!! You don't have to suck it up and take abuse, ever. But there is tact, which can be learned. :)

Temet Nosce-- The Oracle
"Pain is resistance to change."
--Ida Rolf

BRING IT ON!! -- personal mantra

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