Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"I Want to Punch You in the Nose Because You Pulled My Hair in Grade 2": My Attempt at Figuring Out Why I Can't Stop Being an Ass to Some People

The lady steps into the old, abandoned mansion, and a sudden chill crawls up her spine and she senses an incredibly dark presence. She knows a horrendous murder happened in this house 55 years ago, and her powerful senses tell her the victims still haunt these grounds. She can't explain why she knows this, but it is a powerful gift she possesses. The lady is eternally locked with the otherworld, and she is connected with the dead. She knows the places that have trapped the ghosts.

Yeah, I know it's rubbish. Though it makes for some pretty fun fiction. Though I don't believe you can feel supernatural presences in ancient homes or cemeteries or any place, I do think certain places can trigger strong emotional responses in you. It isn't a supernatural experience, but it can be just as unexplainable.

I know there is a particular neighbourhood that whenever I go there that my language starts getting crasser and my behaviour is more volatile. I only went to this place a few times in my childhood, but it was populated by kids from broken homes who were used to having to fight to get through the day. I returned there about 10 years ago (which was still about 10 years after the last time I was there before), and I suddenly felt my body filled with a certain level of unexplained angst. I was less patient and more willing to speak my mind. I had not planned or even thought I would feel that way. I knew it was time to leave that place as quickly as I could, because it made me someone I didn't like. I am not sure what drove me to feel this way. The tough kids from my childhood were not there, and it did not benefit me to act tough and ornery. But my emotions were wired that way once I stepped foot in this area. It was as unexplainable as the lady who can sense the ghosts in the haunted house.

This isn't the only time my emotions have transformed my personality and demeanour. I remember stepping back into a classroom from elementary school, and having the chill run up my spine and feeling incredibly worried. It was a classroom from a grade that was particularly rough for me. The teacher wasn't a good fit for my personality and learning style, and she made me feel pretty stupid at times. Even though it was several years after I was a student in that class, I started to feel the fear and self-doubt while I was in that classroom. I could feel the nightmares brewing in my mind again. I had to leave.

It isn't all bad. My body is surged with positive energy and fills me with a sense that I could almost fly when I go to places like the zoo or Canada's Wonderland. I had amazing childhood experiences there, and they still hold a lot of power for me. There are many places that still get my creative juices flowing or will instantly lift up my spirits. They are places that house wondrous memories and experiences. I may not even go there to relive those experiences and I may even just be passing by those places, but the energy still finds its way to me and recharges my strength and emotions.

I don't think of that tough neighbourhood much. I try to forget about that classroom. I rarely reflect upon my times at Wonderland or the zoo. And there are even places I'll have long forgotten about, but somehow emotions start stirring when I return to them. These emotions don't arrive because I remember the places well or think about them constantly. They're emotions that are deeply imbedded in my mind and start to activate once I arrive to the place that once implanted them.

I don't know if this is the case for everyone. I can only say that I know it affects me. I'll arrive to a restaurant and suddenly be full of far more energy -- because it was the spot that I shared many memorable college parties. Or I'll go to a house where I suddenly become an irritable ass -- because it was a place I experience great tension. It is interesting how a place can implant powerful emotions into your mind, and activate them every time you return.

I'm not saying that my entire behaviour is dictated by emotions once I return to one these places. I can start feeling like an irritable ass, but eventually, I can make the decision to start behaving like mature adult. The emotions may instinctually drive me to behave a certain way and make me more irritable, but in the end, I am still able to overcome the emotional drive. I am not trying to blame a location for inexcusable behaviour. But a place can definitely make me feel a certain way before there are any current events that would have triggered it (everyone is nice, but I'm feeling pissy).

This might all come from me just being a moody and emotional guy. I won't deny such a thing. I've always been one prone to an outburst or one who lets his feelings drive some decisions. It is the curse of being a creative type. Or at least, that is the excuse I am using. But I can usually quell my moodiness by being a goof. My joking and laughing helps to balance things out, especially when I arrive to place that start uncovering my darker emotions.

The real problem is when the emotional implanting is done by interaction with specific people rather than a place. I encounter a person and I suddenly feel a certain way. It comes from a past experience with them, but they aren't doing anything that would justify my current feeling towards them. I don't want to feel that way or even planned to feel this emotion, but they become uncovered the instant the person interacts with me.

I knew this guy in college that I never got along with. We disagreed on almost everything. We argued a lot. I viewed him as a pompous ass. He probably saw me as the same. It seemed like every time we talked, it turned into a ferocious argument -- so, we limited the times we saw each other. It was almost four years before I saw him again. We were at bar with a bunch of friends, and just having a great time talking about sports, movies, and old times. In the four years that passed, I had changed a great deal and had grown in many ways. Since this happened to me, it is just as likely he'd changed a lot since his time in college as well. Despite this time apart, I instantly felt disdain for him. He was talking about a movie that I loved, but my emotions were telling me to disagree with him and call him an ass. Everything he said annoyed me, even though he was saying all the same things my other friends were. He was making the same kind of jokes and partaking in the same type of fun, but everything he did annoyed me. There wasn't any reason for it. It was if all those years of college had downloaded a hate program that would activate the moment I came in contact with him. I still had a fun night, but I remember going home feeling guilty over the unexplained animosity I had for this innocent guy.

I knew this other guy from high school that was about 6 or so years older than me. He seemed like genius back then. He knew so much about science and religion and philosophy. I really respected him a lot. He was a confidant back in high school, and he helped me work through a lot of teenage angst. I had not seen him for over a decade until we ended up going for drinks right before I got married back in 2008. It was a great time together, but then he started giving some "advice" about marriage and some of his thoughts on politics. It was complete bullshit that I disagreed with, but somehow I couldn't boil up the rage to voice my disagreement with him. I just sat there like a mannequin and lapped up his nonsense. I was intimidated by him, even though it was clear I knew more about subject than he did. I knew he was wrong, and I had the evidence to disprove him. I probably was even justified in giving a small dose of diplomatic styled rage (I didn't want to harm our friendship after all). Instead, I felt like he still my mentor and someone with this vast knowledge, even though his words continued to prove that in this particular subject he was pretty oblivious. I couldn't speak up, and I allowed him to pretend to be the expert. My emotional implant caused me to still treat him like a leader. I ended up going home wishing I had the courage to speak up.

I am not a psychologist. I am not going to claim that anyone else faces these same types of scenarios. I have had experiences where I've seen individuals behave a certain way towards another because of their shared history.

For example, I know at least three married couples with a painful history who will start fighting over the most ridiculous problems. You know the fight has nothing to do with that issue. The wife reprimands her husband over saying something that any other dinner guest would have easily got away with. It is that emotional history that made the wife think her husband was a fool. The benefit of the doubt has been completely removed. It is that emotional history that causes a husband to unleash an emotional outburst on to his innocent wife over a simple request, because he assumed it was something unfair or laced with venom. I've viewed arguments that look absolutely ludicrous on the surface, but I then learn there is an emotional history that has caused this couple to be less patient and more likely to erupt into arguments.

It is easy for me to judge that couple. It is easy for me to condemn them. But then I remember those times were I felt hostility towards a guy who didn't deserve it or took advice from a guy who was peddling poison. I did those things because of an emotional history. I know that I've thrown jabs or demonstrated rage over the smallest infraction, because it was committed against someone who has a history of pissing me off. It is pretty scary how somebody can firmly implant certain emotions in you, and they will stay there for years and years -- maybe forever. People can change. I know this. I've changed a lot over the last several years. My world view has altered. My opinions have adapted. I probably would get along a lot better with some people that I once disliked for petty reasons. These "emotional implants" get in the way.

Is it all an excuse? Is emotional history something I use to justify my "pissy face"? Is it an attempt to disown accountability?

I hope not.

I admit when I'm ass. I eventually fess up to it. I give out my necessary apologies. I try to mend fences. I try to create friendships out of relationships that once were defined as "enemies." But I still find myself having problems and issues with people that haven't done anything wrong in the last year, but I've had history of disagreement or been bullied by or been mistreated. I want to let go. I tell myself to let go. Sometimes that emotional implant tries to steer me into hostile territory.

In my case, I am one very lucky person that I have someone like my wife. She isn't scared to call me an ass when I am an ass. She isn't scared to say, "Why the hell aren't you standing up to that guy when he is totally saying things you disagree with him?" She knows when I'm moody or acting out of character. Or in the case of the scenarios created here, when I'm overreacting or responding oddly to the actual situation. Then I give myself a few minutes to think through things, and analyze how things really are rather than what my emotions tricked me into thinking.

I am really not trying to cop out here. I know certain histories can cloud how I see a person. It can make me feel a certain way towards a person that is no longer justified. But how do I fix that without relying on my wife to correct my behaviour every time? Or how can I offer up advice to others that isn't "cart my wife everywhere you go" (which is pretty bad advice for anyone -- even me).

The best strategy I've got is making it an exercise to remind myself I've changed a lot over the years. Then remind myself I don't have magical powers that allow me to mature and grow, but rather it is the natural process in all humans. We grow up; we learn; we develop; we evolve. It is what we do. People I have had problems with or I once was scared of have also done all those things too. It doesn't mean my emotional implant doesn't act up, but it does mean I've reminded myself that sometimes my emotional implant is wrong. I need to give the person a fresh start every time I meet them. Because I'd like the benefit of the doubt too.

Yes. I'm boiling it down to the golden rule. But hey, it is called golden for a reason. I find it helps to keep me in check most times.

I know that just knowing people change isn't really enough to quell the fury of my emotions. As I've already established, I'm an emotional guy. So, I can let the emotion dictate some of my actions and usually it turns into something that I regret. Apparently, regret isn't enough to stifle the next time my emotions come knocking. So, instead, I've come up with another strategy to help counteract my occasional moodiness. It is being a goof. I try to make sure I'm laughing and keeping the mood light. It usually puts me in a place where I'm more willing to be less fiery and furious when more serious subjects come up. Even if things get heated, I try to use a joke or a snarky remark before getting too serious. In most cases, it at least leaves me in a better emotional place, and also throws the other person off enough that things don't get volatile.

Of course, I am not really trying to offer up advice here. I don't even know how many of you find they suffer from "emotional implants" when it comes to encountering people you have a rough past with. I know it isn't just me, but I don't know if it happens to me more than the average bear. I do think it is an interesting thing to think about. I wonder if this is the cause of much of the tension and issues that tend to surface in relationships. We assume the negative when it would have been more beneficial to assume the positive.

Maybe that is my big advice. Try to assume the positive. It'll likely disarm a possible dangerous situation or prevent you being the cause of a problem. Misinterpreting a person's intentions is a nasty business, and probably happens way too often. Maybe the person has a habit of making ridiculous demands or being the town idiot, but it doesn't mean this is what they're doing this time around. It's better to just believe your arch enemy is trying to be your buddy this time, and deal with the disaster after your emotional implant proves to be correct. This is also advice I try to use when encountering people who've rubbed me the wrong way in the past, and I admit I am pretty sucky at following the advice. But I try. Sometimes it even works.

Like I said, I'm not really trying to give advice. I'm just making a personal observation and taking a gamble a few people can relate. But it wouldn't be the first time I'm the lone nutjob. I still try my best to spread my crazy as much as possible, because my mom always said it nice to be inclusive.

What do you think? You can throw out your thoughts or you can just pretend you didn't waste ten minutes reading this. Or you can pass it on to others and say, "This guy is a nut. Stay away from him." Or you know, say that I'm actually on to something too. I'll take it either. I'm just happy to get attention.

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