Thursday, February 25, 2016

How Do I Overcome My Hurt Feelings?

Dear Cyndie,

I’m having a problem with a person in my ward. This person has said cruel, manipulative and insulting things to me, lied to me, gone out of her way to exclude me from people and activities I enjoy, and been generally awful, all the while acting like I was the problem. It has been horrible. I don’t even want to go to church because I dread seeing her. 

I try to avoid this person, but she seems to be everywhere. I don’t know how to act around her or how to stop re-hashing in my head all the things she has done to me. For months, I tried being extra nice to her, in case there had been a misunderstanding, but that only made things worse. It doesn’t help, either, that she seems like a totally normal person on the surface.

I have never had a problem like this before, and it is consuming me. 

What should I do?

Dear Friend,

Your question is a good reminder that intense personal dramas and hurt feelings are not the sole province of overly-emotional teenagers. Adults are just as capable of cruelty, manipulation, selfishness, lies and unkindness. And although adults should, generally speaking, be able to roll with the hurly burly of life, in which potential offenses are legion, even reasonable adults can suffer offense and hurt feelings when people are cruel to them.

Your question is also a good reminder that not all hurt feelings arise from simple misunderstandings or personality clashes. Some hurt feelings arise when one person actually mistreats another person in a way that goes beyond the normal ebb and flow of human interaction. 

Interestingly, your experience also shows that approaching a person to resolve differences is not always effective. If one party is, in effect, abusing the other, no amount of talk is going to resolve the situation. As you found, treating this person with extra kindness only made the problem worse. Instead of bringing you together, it showed her that the worse she treated you, the more compliant and solicitous you were towards her. Ironically, your mature approach to a personal conflict actually made it easier for her to mistreat you further.

Fortunately, you have already taken steps to remove this person from your life. But the only way I know to feel permanently better is to forgive this person. That’s a tall order when she was horrible and your feelings are raw. So file it away in your mind as a long-term goal, which you someday hope to achieve. 

For the short term, I suggest you disengage entirely from this person. You need to get her out of your head and out of your life. As you are in the same ward, complete avoidance will indeed be impossible, but there are things you can do to put physical, mental and emotional distance between you.  

Here are four suggestions.

One, avoid and ignore this person as much as possible. Delete her from your social media and don’t read her posts. Develop friendships in social circles that do not include her. Skip book club when it’s at her house. When milling about the church lobby, stand so that you cannot see her.

Two, be scrupulously polite. Behaving well will always make you feel better than behaving badly. In the long run, anyway. So stow your temper and do not attempt to guilt trip her or tell her off. Why? Because (1) pointing out the bad behavior of others is bad behavior and (2) it won’t work. Anything you do will only cause a kerfuffle in which she will look persecuted and you will look unhinged. If she has lied to and manipulated you, she will lie about you in order to manipulate others. Don’t give her any ammunition.

Remember that polite behavior is not necessarily friendly or familiar. There is nothing rude about deciding not to socialize with a person who treated you badly. You don’t have to treat her the same nice way you treat your friends, or even with the normal warmth you show acquaintances and strangers.

But you should observe social norms. For example, “Excuse me,” and “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to come.”

Three, if you think you will be attending the same function as this person, plan in advance what you will say and do if you encounter her. This might seem like overkill, but having something polite and bland to say will take some of the dread out of seeing her at social and church events.

“Hello, Jezebel,” delivered in a bland tone with the minimal length of polite eye contact as you walk past her would be a good phrase to practice. You might also plan to sit in a different part of the room, to talk to people who are not talking with her and to get up and refill your plate if she sits down near you.

Four, if you catch yourself thinking about her, telling her off in your mind or mentally re-hashing what happened between you, replace the negative thoughts with something else. An uplifting hymn is a traditional choice, but you could also recite the Gettysburg Address, the periodic table of elements or irregular French verbs. Discipline yourself to switch gears immediately to your safe, replacement topic any time this person enters your thoughts.

In many ways, this is the hardest part of disengaging from this person, because letting go of your negative thoughts requires you to want to forgive her. It requires you to not indulge your anger or revel in your aggrieved party status. But if and when you can manage it, you will, in fact, start to feel better as you spend less and less of your mental and emotional capacity thinking about this person.

Finally, three thoughts. First, the next time you hurt someone’s feelings, even inadvertently, go and apologize to that person. Apologizing will salve hurt feelings and show people that you care about them.

Second, if this person has treated you this badly, it is likely that she has treated, is now treating or will in the future treat other people just as badly. If you see a situation unfolding in which you can tell that she is persecuting someone else, you should take steps to protect that person. Confronting this woman is unlikely to be effective, but you may be able to have a discreet but direct and helpful conversation with her new victim in which you can provide comfort, validation and advice.

Third, think of this experience the next time you hear that a person in your ward stopped attending church because his feelings were hurt, or because he was offended. We too often dismiss as immature the people who stopped coming to church because their feelings were hurt.

As your experience shows, it is possible for a reasonable adult to have his or her feelings hurt by genuinely bad treatment to such a degree that the experience feels all-consuming, and coming to church becomes difficult.

Further, to treat someone badly and then insist that that person is wrong to be so easily offended is manipulative and hypocritical.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Creative Baby Name Train Wreck

Dear Cyndie,
A young relative of mine has just welcomed a new baby girl into her family. She and her husband are planning to give the baby an unusual name with a creative spelling. 

Unfortunately, when you pronounce the name according to their spelling, you get a recognizable word that produces surprise and then laughter, and not in a good way. I have noted this reaction to the baby’s printed name several times, so I know I am not the only one making this connection. 

Do I say something, or not?

Dear Friend,

Do you ever wonder what leads parents to give a child a name with an ill-conceived creative spelling that, when pronounced, produces unflattering surprise and laughter?

I do. I wonder why they are not thinking ahead to every time that name is read aloud, said aloud, printed on a resume or listed in a company directory. Why they are not thinking about how it would feel to live with that spelling. And, most of all, why they did not listen when the unflatteringly humorous pronunciation was pointed out to them by their own parents, friends and loved ones.

Surely, at some point in the naming process, someone close to these parents said something like, “Sayid is a wonderful name. But why did you spell it “sighed?” Or, “I received your baby’s birth announcement. She’s darling, and her name is “Analyze?” 

Or even, from their blunt uncle, “You’re not really going to name her “Medusa” just so you can call her Maddy, are you? You know that Medusa is mythical Greek monster with a hideous face and snakes for hair who will turn you to stone if you look at her. Here, check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me.”

All of these statements, of course, are potentially hurtful. They unmistakably imply that the parents are ignorant and lacking in judgement.

These statements are also intrusive. Naming a child is his parents’ prerogative, in every sense of the word, and parents are entitled to great deference on the matter.

Even so, if a baby’s parents really were contemplating “Medusa” as a baby name, I think it’s safe to say that intervention would be warranted. Not because the intervenor has any kind of right to name the baby or to criticize the parents, but because there are some times in life when the duty to mind one’s own business takes a back seat to the duty to provide information to a person who is making a decision.

The trick, of course, is knowing when to speak up and when to keep your thoughts to yourself. I suggest you ask yourself four questions.

One, is your concern over a preference (a name you don’t care for) or a problem (Medusa)? If you simply don’t care for a name, you should welcome the opportunity to learn to love it. But if there is an articulable problem with the name, you might consider saying something.

Two, do you have the kind of relationship with these young parents that allows you to bring up a sensitive topic? If you are close, your relative might expect you to bring such facts to her attention. I, for example, would be shocked if my sisters and close friends did not tell me important information they knew I lacked. Such a conversation would begin, “Okay, but have you thought about . . . .”

However, if you know that any comment from you will be taken the wrong way (i.e. they will think you’re trying to criticize and control them no matter how objectively reasonable your point), you might decide to keep mum. Hopefully, though, your affection is so steady, so sure, that a potentially offensive and hurtful comment can be taken as information instead of insult.

Three, is the information you wish to convey important enough to risk hurting their feelings? Is it important enough that you will feel peace about any rift that develops between you because of your actions.

Four, would your information be novel, or would you be the eleventy-millionth person to pile on? If you are the sole source of the information,  you should be more willing to risk a rift than if you know that many other people have already expressed the same concern.

So, how do these factors shake out in your case? It seems like you have a legitimate (rather than preference-based) concern, and a baby’s name is at stake. Names are a big deal. They last a long time. You will have to evaluate for yourself whether your relationship can bear the weight; or, conversely, whether your relationship is close enough that your young relative would expect you to bring such a fact to her attention.

I think your claim is most likely to fail on the fourth question: Is seems unlikely that no one has brought this ill-fated pronunciation to these young parents’ attention. Surely someone—a friend, a relative, a co-worker—has said, “I like the name Annalise, but do you realize that spelling reads “analyze” because you used ‘es’ instead of ‘se’ at the end? Hey—it also reads ‘Anna lies!’”

In fact, I suspect that if you call this young relative’s mother and, in a pleasant tone, mention the baby’s name, she’ll let you know that, Yes, she is aware of the ill-conceived spelling, and Yes, the problem has been brought to new parents’ attention. And Yes, they are sticking with it. If that is the case, you are better off saving your breath and your personal capital.

Finally, before you talk to anyone, I suggest you do some research. It is possible that the objectionably word has a historically negative connotation that has faded or even reversed in recent years. The name and spelling could be a family name, a reference to popular culture, or common in a language other than English. 

Whether those considerations should overpower the unflattering creative spelling is a matter for debate, but they would indicate that the spelling was chosen purposefully, despite its defects, which would weigh against your interference.