How My Ex Taught Me to Maim

A few weeks ago, I talked about how every person we encounter in life teaches us some sort of life lesson in the post “What is Your Relationship Forecast?” I truly believe every experience we have in life — good or bad — shapes us into the people we are today. And while I’d like to believe we come out of each of those experiences learning something positive in nature, I had a very jarring reminder this week of how some of those lessons can be detrimental to our future relationships if we don’t learn from them instead of just learn them.

Four years ago, I found myself in a relationship with an alcoholic who had some really serious anger issues. I was in my early twenties with very little life experience, so I definitely learned a lot from the relationship. Some of it was actually quite useful, like not to try to reason or argue with an alcoholic when he’s drunk because you’ll just go around in circles for hours, and he probably won’t remember the conversation the next day anyway.

Unfortunately, one of the lessons I learned was exceptionally negative and quite detrimental to my future relationships. During my two-year relationship with this angry alcoholic, I found myself constantly playing defense, and at the height of our battle royales, I realized the best way to protect myself from emotional scarring was to switch sides and play offense instead. In other words, hurt him first before he could hurt me. Sadly, the me who was so well-known for being sweet and soft-spoken became quite adept at finding just the right spot that would pop open a person’s protective shell and expose their soft underbelly.

While this certainly protected my heart during my time in such an unhealthy relationship, this lesson followed me well into the years after we had broken up. I found myself constantly on the defensive with my friends and family for the littlest things, and I jumped frighteningly quickly to the offensive if my feelings felt at all threatened. I couldn’t seem to shake the mantra “hurt them before they hurt you.”

Time has done quite a bit to quell this unhealthy habit, but sometimes those habits rear their ugly heads before we even know what’s happening. And that leads me to this week’s jarring reminder: without even realizing I was doing it, I responded to feelings of fear and vulnerability by verbally attacking someone I really care about, loading up my verbal ammunition with the other person’s emotional shrapnel. It was ugly, it was shameful, and it was so wrong. I could barely look myself in the mirror the next day.

I tell this story because, unfortunately, it’s a great example of how easy it is to hold others accountable for our past hurts. Unless you’ve lived in a bubble your whole life or have just been that fortunate that you’ve never had a painful experience in a relationship, you’ve got baggage you carry with you into each new relationship. Maybe someone cheated on you, so you feel suspicious of new beaus. Maybe someone put you down a lot, so you’re extra sensitive about comments people make about you. Whatever the past hurt was, it leaves its mark on you.

But that doesn’t give anyone, myself included, the excuse to bring that baggage into a new relationship and use it to bludgeon the other person. Those painful experiences were hard, some even life-changing, but if we don’t learn from them, then all we’ve done is learn negative behaviors to bring into new relationships. That’s no way to live life.

Life can be full of wonderful things, but it can also be rife with hardship. It’s up to you to decide how you let those experiences shape who you are today. I say life is too short to let jerk-offs get the best of us.

Love and heart-shaped mines,

Mika

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~ by Mika Doyle on October 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “How My Ex Taught Me to Maim”

  1. Love it, Mika! “Sadly, the me who was so well-known for being sweet and soft-spoken became quite adept at finding just the right spot that would pop open a person’s protective shell and expose their soft underbelly…” A few years ago, I realized I had this same mean streak. If I felt threatened or inferior, I was going to bring you down a peg or two. And I hated myself for it. When I feel that coming back in me now, if I can remove myself from the situation, I do. There’s one person in my life who I can’t remove myself from, though, and it’s been a learning process how to deal with him at family functions. I’m still working on it 🙂

    • Thanks, Tricia! I have also found that removing myself from the situation is usually the best course of action, but that can be a challenge when the other party has no idea what kind of bomb they just tripped off. I’m sorry there’s still someone in your life who brings that side out of you. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d be able to handle it, so I have a lot of respect for you for making the effort!!

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