April 6, 2015
Just thinking as I walked into school twenty minutes ago about ego. Yes, ego, that structure of self-esteem, identity and moving, flowing definition we live with from birth to death. Ego. It’s only words. There’s a Barry Manilow song: it’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away. And then, it’s only words and words are all I have to destroy you in any way I can without physical violence.
There are verbal abusers, of course, but there is what I might call the Verbal Abuser Spectrum. Not unlike Autism Spectrum Disorder. The are variations along the way that put us all on the spectrum and these variations are worth noticing. On the high end of this spectrum are those whose words, tone, emotional intent that are so high volume that those afflicted qualify as verbal abusers. I have never understood exactly where that line is drawn, but I have felt verbally abused myself.
That abuse is nowhere near a level of what I ordinarily consider verbal abuse, as it might stand up in divorce court. I do know this: our egos are fragile from birth to death. I do not mean fragile as in don’t ever criticize me ever, for I will wither and fall apart. I do mean that every word we say to another has some effect on the ego, which is engaged all the time, even while we sleep. Mostly, thank God, that ego-effect does not last, nor does it have any direct weight. Public statements are easy to fend off, except for those easily offended. Private critiques are another thing altogether.
I marry people (I’m a wedding officiant) and I write and read couples’ love stories as part of my service for their wedding ceremony. I find that couples disclose to me that they trust their about to be spouse as truthful, but supportive with them; that is why they feel or believe that their beloved is worth a lifelong commitment.
But I have been married almost 40 years. I know what it’s like to have supportive words coming in my direction. Sometimes I don’t believe those words. Sometimes unsupportive words also come my way, usually as a way to manipulate me to come around to his side, to his point of view, to his direction of our lives together that may be very different from my view, my direction.
Since sometime in early December, 2014, I have been lobbied to participate (with enthusiasm) on an entrepreneurial project that involves my gracious sharing of our townhouse with articles of paper, glue, tape, cardboard, photo paper and experiments in how to put together a retail business of picture framing. I have heard this lobby message through hundreds of iterations for the past four months and I have tried to run away from listening. I wanted this to go away. These words were not easy to ignore, but I know now after all these years how to add my filter to his projects that scare me: OK you have your ideas, but you will work them out, even though i know I will have to be in the game sooner or later. This is the smile, the nod, the half listening that masquerades as genuine interest.
The truth is that I am not enthusiastic. I can be dragged along, but not with wholehearted cheer. I have too many doubts, too many questions, too much history with my husband to allow myself to play the game in a way that incentivizes him to keep going all the way to the bloody end. I am sitting on a stack of grave disappointments over mismanaged projects from the past, the kind that have left me vulnerable, nervous, panicked, frightened for all but the last five years of my 40 year life with my husband.
I read just recently that if you listen to another wholeheartedly, with full unfiltered attention, they will hear the truth in themselves when they are speaking. I have heard this before, but it’s been a long time since I practiced this.
The lesson popped through unexpectedly. He once more opened up about feeling lonely in his pursuit of this new business, his way of telling me I was abandoning him when he was working hard to provide both of us with new income that I didn’t seem to care about. I said to him: “I’m terrified”. The next half hour consisted of his questioning how I could use such a word. He is masterful at slicing and dicing word choice. I understand this, but I chose that word carefully. Terror is definitely a strong word. I allowed him all the nuanced interpretations of fear, anxiety, etc. This was a fairly long but useless conversation based on semantics. Once more I came off looking like the risk averse person that I am, and he came off as the hero forging ahead with his dream, his vision, his once more stalwart initiative to making a creative leap that would produce some kind of income for us both, if only I would fund it from my meagre savings, and lend a hand when I’m not working my other two jobs. This was a fairly typical conversation for us, but the next morning surprised me when he apologized. Tomorrow: apology.