A child trips and falls. She raises her voice in a cry, but there is no one in the play area to take notice. Upon further inspection, she realizes that no real harm was done; her cry subsides. Sometime later, her mother is back. The child starts crying again, as if experiencing the fall anew. Is it her way of informing her mother of events prior, or is she manipulatively seeking the sympathy she hard-earned, but did not yet cash?
Turns out that while most of us may have, consciously or not, used the “store for later sharing” strategy as children, we still apply that very same tactic as adults. Maybe not as obvious, but, nonetheless, precisely the same psychology seems to be at play.
Case at hand: yesterday evening I called a family relative whom, earlier that day, undergone a medical procedure. When picking up the phone, she mistook the call to be from some friend of hers. Her voice on the other side of the line was vibrant, almost cheerful. Yet, as soon as she recognized it was me, it changed to a barely audible, broken speech. She was seeking my sympathy.
Unusual? Not at all. How many times have I used that very same technique? I would have some dreadful event wreck my nerves in the morning. Hours later, when the incident is all but forgotten and my mood much improved, I would speak with my wife and suddenly all that crap from earlier on comes flooding back. I vent out to her, seeking understanding and sympathy. If I am lucky, she will be in good spirits and validate my case; making me feel just. If she herself is in a bad mood, the call may end up badly.
Several thoughts and observations related to this phenomenon:
When I store my miseries for later use, it means that I still have ways to go in learning how to really let go. It also means that I don’t truly experience the moment. While it is okay to feel angry, sad or hurtful when an event occurs that evokes such a response, if I later re-live it, I am missing on what is actually taking place at that future moment. On top of that, rather than taking that negative energy that the incident created and rid of it, I hold on to the darkness, and then pass it along to no one less than a loved one; a person close enough that can truly “understand” me. Why should I handle that person so poorly? I am reminded of how upset I can get when my wife calls me on the phone, out of nowhere, in the middle of my workday, describing a difficult situation she just faced. It may have taken place at her work, or at home with the kids, or on the phone with her parents; wherever it was, I cannot remotely assist her, which causes me tremendous frustration. When I tell my wife so, she defensively explains she needed to share, and that all she wanted was for me to listen. It upsets her that I cannot provide that simple form of support; one that is so obvious to her.
This actually touches upon another aspect of the subject matter: individual personalities respond invariably different to such “store and share” calls. While a person with support attributes (called “Supporter” in one definitions system, “Earth” in another, etc.) will understand and be able to respond as expected (my wife is much more understanding to my vent-out calls than I am to hers,) a person with a composure that dictates action (yeah, that would be me, “Controller,” partial “Wood,”) would feel irritated. This is because my type does not understand cues for “just shut up and listen.” What my sort hears is “I practically need your help right now,” and since I am built for action, not physically being there to lend a hand, I feel blocked with no hands-on options. That makes me respond as the Wood personalities do – get angry; exactly the opposite of what my wife wished for and needed. I should also add that recognizing and understanding this process, I am still uncomfortable receiving such request for support calls. My preconditioned mind refuses to recognize the need to switch to the supporter role.
Finally, I also realize that there is a flip side to the above discussion. What if this “storing and sharing” mechanism is used for positive events; say, my wife calling me to share she found an empty parking spot at an impossible location, report enjoyment of good time with friends, and anything else that happened in the earlier part of the day, and the person that experienced it stores the joy for either sharing, or simply for self-replenishment? I have no clear answer. For me the jury is still out. On one hand, sharing something positive seems, well… positive. Yet, wouldn’t that too be holding on? Not letting go? Not fully experiencing the moment in favor of re-living the past?
What do you think?
Learned from: a phone call yesterday evening and a chat with a close friend this morning.