As humans, we try to exploit anything that can give us an edge over others. Someone’s heritage, skin color, finances, looks and unique features-such a birthmarks. I have a birthmark on my left leg. I can’t explain why, but it’s always been a source of pride and joy. You would think a dark spot situated in the middle of my inner calf would be seen as a blemish. Marring an otherwise perfect limb. But I always marveled at it’s perfect symmetry, feeling it helped to define me. Made me…. Unique.
When I was little, there were times when someone would point, make jokes how it looked and laugh, thinking it would bother me. Instead, the more they tried to make me feel embarrassed, the more they tried to get a negative reaction, all they saw was the obvious pride I felt regarding my “beauty mark.” When the realization hit- I was never going to be cowed by their comments, they stopped. That’s when it clicked- you can’t belittle, make fun of, or demean someone who isn’t buying into the game. Who either doesn’t react as intended or doesn’t react at all.
It always takes two.
We all have those people or relationships in our lives that create stress and frustration. Whether from a loved one, friend, co-worker, or neighbor. . .tension and friction grow, eventually infiltrating all aspects of our lives. You know who I’m talking about.
That annoying cousin who always tries to one up you at family gatherings.
A sibling that can’t stop bringing up what you did when you were ten, even though you’re thirty now.
The co-worker who takes credit for everything.
Friends who never honor your time and are always late.
Family members who only call when they want something.
The more insidious games are the ones played by those who, on the surface, appear to be thoughtful and kind but make you feel unsettled and uncomfortable inside. The ones who like to present a great picture to the world by spouting pretty words but rarely follow through with actions. “I’m here anytime you need something.” But then have an excuse why they can’t show up.Or send occasional texts that read,“I love and miss you so much.” But can’t be bothered to get in touch. Or those who follow through only when it suits their schedule.
One patient told me her son schedules a call with her every Wednesday, “unless something comes up of course,” she added. But never calls on her birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years. Initially she was thrilled he’d set aside time weekly. But in the middle of a pandemic, isolated and alone, it felt more like a way to soothe his guilt and say, “See! I’m there for my mom”, than for her or their relationship.
We all have our stories.
All upsetting. All disruptive. Many are desperate for any type of attention. Others want everyone to be happy and at peace so they do whatever is necessary to make it so, often ignoring their feelings and continuing to engage. Even if it’s just a forced smile. But the problem persists. With those you can, explain your concerns, voice your needs.
When nothing impacts their behavior. . .
Just. Stop. Playing.
People do what they do for a reason. Some to get a reaction, soothe their guilty conscious or get noticed. When they don’t get the reaction they’re seeking, they tend to move on. It’s no fun pursuing a behavior that doesn’t illicit the desired responses. Too often we can’t just walk away.That’s the thing about bullies or even those we love- they know that. And once they find a sensitive issue, they think they have us at their mercy. They are wrong. When we stop playing, we stop giving them control, and take it back.