Over the last couple of weeks I told this story to a few people and each time - probably because of the reaction I received - I felt different about my story, and each time it took me on a different emotional path. Until yesterday though, when I told my story to an elderly friend, none of those paths had taken me to this very liberating feeling that I would like to talk about today.
First, let me tell you about my story: Not long ago, a friend of mine (let’s call her Abby to make things easier) brought her darling along to a classic concert that me and two other good friends attended. (Let’s call them Jane and Kate.) Abby had been eager to introduce her fiancee (now husband) to us because she wanted the people she cared about to meet and get along with each other. Obviously, we were looking forward to finally meeting the man, who our girl had decided to get married to. We spent the whole afternoon together and all of us, except for the person, who was the center of attention, used all our social skills to create a friendly atmosphere. Unavailing! The air stayed tense. It felt like our well-meant comments hit against the wall and bounced back in our direction, smashing us in the face like fireballs in a video game.
On top of everything it was sad not to see any love between the newlyweds.
Though obviously none of us said it out loud, we were all wondering WHY?. What had drawn our friend to this kind of dry, competitive man with a lack for compassion that she decided to spend the rest of her life with him?
Two days later I met Abby in town for a shopping afternoon. When we set down for a warm-up coffee she told me with an innocent smile on her face (as if she had just thought of something funny) that her husband had said about me that I was a “negative person”.
I almost fell off my chair!
“ME?! A NEGATIVE person?!? HE said that about ME?!!??”, was about all I can remember I said in disbelief.
Her comment stayed with me like a big coffee stain on a white shirt for the rest of our shopping day. I think I was a bit in shock and that’s why I didn’t know what to say to her.
Only on my way back home, I started contemplating what had been said to me. That’s when the first feeling kicked in: Anger! I could feel how it crawled up my stomach and went up to my throat.
I needed to vent, so I called Jane. It turned out that she had just waited for a chance to go on about how she could not wrap her head around our friend’s choice.
She was the first person I told the story of having been called “negative”. And the first emotional path this took me to was feeling backed up and supported because Jane felt the same way about this man as I did.
The other friend, Kate, was the second person I shared the story with. Interestingly, with this friend the focus of the conversation was not so much how unsympathetic the guy was, but instead how she thought that - if anything at all - I stayed fairly positive, considering the fact that ON THAT DAY I lost my monthly train ticket, forgot my concert tickets at home and had to repay the amount, AND had my PMS.
With my husband the focus of the story shifted again and the conversation helped me understand the feelings this whole episode brought up in me: I felt insecure about the fact that someone, I had wanted to welcome in our group of friends, had written me off as “negative”, while being quite a negative-mood-creating fellow himself. I felt hurt that Abby obviously hadn’t defended me against her husband. And last but not least, I was extremely confused about why she had felt the need to share her husband’s comment with me. If she wanted her close pals to like her man, then that was surely not a very smart move.
Three days ago, there I was again, telling my story. This time though, when I told it to an elderly friend, who I admire for always being light and positive, something wonderful happened: I managed to turn the story from rather hurtful into something positive.
When I got to the part of how shocked I was to hear that I had been called “negative”, I added: “NEGATIVE! If he had said that he found me too SENSITIVE, I would have said ‘YES, you’re totally right! I am quite a sensitive person!’ Or if he had said ‘You think too much!’, I would have answered ‘Damn right! I DO think too much!’
But NEGATIVE?! No, I’m NOT … a negative … person!”
And there it was. That statement … that I wasn’t a negative person … THAT changed things around.
For an unimaginably long time I had hated it when people called me sensitive or told me to stop thinking too much. In most societies being sensitive is considered to be a negative personality trait because you let everything get to you, overthink things, and simply feel too much and maybe misinterpret situations or comments. Being sensitive CAN lead to drama. That’s true. But when you are sensitive you are also in-tune with your environment, you are compassionate, and you have strong intuitions.
Suddenly though, I was happy to embrace being sensitive and being an overthinker. And, for someone, who can easily drain in self-doubt, I was confident enough to push the word ‘negative’ far away from me. I wasn’t going to put that statement on. I wasn’t having it.
It took me almost a decade, an unsympathetic person, conversations with four close people of which each allowed me to focus on different aspects of the story, in order to be able to accept something about myself, embrace that, and feel good about it. Gee!
But, oh well! I’m so grateful it happened at all.