Are You Worried About This, Too?

by Annie Kaszina on July 21, 2015

anxietygirlsmallAre you someone who worries – a LOT?  If you do, it’s not helping you.  On the other hand, for anyone who’s ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship worrying goes with the territory.

In my time I could out-worry pretty well anyone on the planet – except perhaps another emotionally abused woman.  We’ve all earned our Anxiety Girl badge.

These days, I’ve noticed my life has fallen more and more into two categories:

  • Things I can’t be bothered to worry about
  • Things I worry about unnecessarily

Now, things mostly fall into the ‘things-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-worry-about category:

Cellulite? Can’t be bothered (CBB)  Weight? CBB.  Does my bum look big in this? CBB Appearance, generally? CBB What ‘People’ might think of me? CBB Mistakes I make? CBB. Next month, or next year?  CBB.

(Anything I do worry about, I worry about unnecessarily.  Because contrary to what my mother taught me, worrying is NOT an effective way of addressing problems.  Worrying is only ever a way of magnifying problems.)

Unsurprisingly, my existence is a lot calmer and happier than it used to be.  However, we all have our wobbles.  This week, I had an interesting wobble.  It resulted in one of those precious light-bulb moments we all have. Mostly, they’re about grasping something you already know – but at a deeper level.

An email came from my other brother – that is the one who is NOT the complete emotional returd.  There was something he needed to tell me that related to my mother.  It was something that left me open-mouthed at  his … well, let’s put it kindly and say  ‘thoroughly unfortunate way of dealing with a situation that affects me, too’.

My initial response was rather less charitable. It was more along the lines of “Why would anyone be that stupid?”

Once I’d dealt with that, I had to choose whether or not to express my feelings to him.

I knew I wouldn’t be liked for it, but I reckoned I owed it myself to say what I felt was worth saying. So, I sent him my polite enough  – but hardly congratulatory – email reply.

Then I had time to think yes, get anxious – about his response.  You see, my family trained me really well.  (Maybe yours did, too.)  I was trained to know exactly what would cause offence, and how awful of me it was to do so.

Sending that email was guaranteed to cause offence, no doubt  about it.  Still, I hadn’t done it with deliberate intent to cause offence. I’d done it because, as ever, nobody consulted me on a matter that affected me.  I was not prepared to just sit back and take it without saying a word.

However, I knew that my brother had been unwell and…

And that’s when  – finally – I realized..

what I already know.

You see, I’m responsible for what I say, and the way in which I say it. But I am NOT responsible for my brother’s response.

If he chooses to get angry and thoroughly hostile towards me, that is his response.  I didn’t make it happen. He’s a big boy, now. He gets to choose how he wants to behave. Sure, if he’d been in the same room as me, and I’d jumped on his toe very hard, then it would have been different. (Not that I do things like that, you understand!)  But it would have been acutely painful and triggered an appropriate  ‘knee-jerk reaction’, so to speak.

Now, I have every confidence that my email probably triggered a knee-jerk reaction, too.  But it didn’t need to.

I wasn’t too enchanted by the email  he’d sent me – in fact, I was monumentally peeved for maybe as much as 5 minutes.  Then I realized I could foul up my own day over resentment about something I am powerless to change, or I could let it go.

Either way, he couldn’t have cared less. He was never going to worry about my response to his action.

But there I was, taking responsibility for having to manage his reaction! I was doing the old emotionally abused woman thing of feeling scared and more or less paralysed over the reaction of someone who doesn’t exactly treat me with a great deal of consideration in the first place.

Why would I give myself a hard time about that?

Now, when you  are caught up in an emotionally abusive relationship you may have to exercise more caution than I did.  You always have to calculate the risk of NOT managing that other person’s reaction.

If there is a chance that your safety, or your sanity could be  at risk, then there’s everything to be said for NOT responding. But still, you don’t have to do it out of consideration for their feelings. You do it for much the same reason that you wouldn’t push your hand through the bars of a wild animal’s cage.  There is no point in taking unnecessary risks.

On the other hand, you  don’t labor under too many illusions about wild animals. You  know that they’re dangerous to be around. That’s why you tend not to hang around them.

Worrying about what an emotional abuser will or won’t do is a hiding to nothing.  Instead of worrying, the thing you need to focus on is this: what are you going to do?

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