I’ve been putting off writing in the last few days, in part because the events were still unfolding, but mostly because it’s difficult to write about it. But—reading what I have written in the past—what has been most difficult to write has also been the most therapeutic and instructive.
Hardship is instructive in itself. As Buddhists say: pain is a given, suffering is optional. One can learn through pain and not suffer.
I’ll precede writing about my current experience by going back around a year. I got romantically involved with a woman at the yoga studio I frequented in Puebla. My first relationship in five years. Things were seemingly great during our first three months, not without some warning signs, but love has the quality of making us both more understanding and less rough around the edges.
With time, however, she grew more demanding. She would get angry over the slightest misstep, wouldn’t make any concession about future plans, etc. I tried to please her to the best of my ability, to perfect myself where I could concede personal fault, to accommodate shared plans, but it was all the same. The only place where we could leave this behind was in bed. I feel the need to clear this up because it is important in the diagnostic of the problem.
From my long time out of the game, I had forgotten an important rule: when your partner is angry all the time, you do not try to please them. This only reinforces their anger. You draw your boundaries. It is perfectly fine to say “stop behaving like a spoiled child”, which in current times will get you labelled as a gaslighter, but this is necessary to keep your frame of mind in the relationship. Doing things just to keep people happy is admitting to their reality and it will go by unappreciated. It will make you resentful in the long run.
To try to calm anger through pleasing the other person is to admit they are angry because of you. They are angry with the world, and some of your actions for reconciliation will cause distraction from this anger—say, you treat them to a nice dinner and you have a splendid evening, but the next day you will have the same problem.
Early in our relationship we had made plans of living together at a beautiful remote beach in the coast of Oaxaca for a couple of months. The date was approaching but given the state of our relationship, I knew we’d just be transporting hell to paradise, so I broke up with her.
She first responded with despondency which, as the days went by without making any move for reconciliation, transformed into the opposite pole of where she had been before: she idealized me and our relationship towards the opposite extreme, which was also an illusion. I am human and I admit to feeling vindicated by the turn of events, but deeper inside I knew the story was not “I dated an angry woman who only realized who I was when she lost me”, but “I entered an unhappy person’s reality and I didn’t know how to get us out of it”.
As I come to my current life situation, being in Montreal taking care of my grandmother, the same pattern has played out in a very short time: we experienced in initial rapport, over the days however she has become increasingly demeaning and demanding, and I feel myself repeating the same pattern again. I try to please her, but again I see it is never enough. There’s always a fault, a misstep, a lack in what I do. Pleading for my case is met with disdain. This fact is exacerbated by her dementia. She comes back to the same issues again and again, and can’t leave a wound untouched for it to heal (both in the physical and emotional realm).
Behind these difficult experiences I also experience pleasant synchronicity: my aunt Barbara—a very experienced facilitator—asked me if I wanted to chat at night. My nerves were a wreck, as the entire day had been of conflict, though not all of it directed towards me. Our chat helped tremendously, my aunt guided me through some questions which helped me articulate what happened, how I dealt with it, why I’m here, what can be done and afterwards I felt a full reset. The next day my grandmother was combative, but I parried her blows instead of taking them, and we were able to share a pleasant evening.
I see that I’m not to go at this alone, that reality is a shared environment, that I need to seek assistance from other family members so that I hold my frame of mind, as my grandmother will move into our shared apartment soon and I’ll have very few social contacts because of her caring needs and because we’re in lockdown.
In the spiritual realm, that which is left unresolved will come back to you until you learn how to resolve it. I now understand the spiritual reason for being here. What I’m going through is impossible to resolve by pleasing my grandmother. I will need to learn to stand for myself, to sustain my reality as the basis for a shared environment, to learn how to say no. All this while being patient, compassionate, and caring. It is spiritual and psychological work of the highest order.