Why I Can't Tell You That I'm Mad At You (Yet)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

If I’m upset with you, I’m not going to tell you right away.  This strikes many as a form of punishment.  There I am, withdrawing my attention, talking with you as little as possible, and not sharing what I’m feeling.
It’s a pain in the ass, I admit.  Were I truly together person, I’d be able to tell you right away!  “Hey, you stepped on my feelings there, that hurt.”  And we’d clasp hands in greater friendship, right?
Sadly, no.
I suffer from a disease called Only Child Syndrome, to a horrifying degree.  I was the first grandchild in my family for six years, which meant for my entire early childhood I was lavished with presents and attention in a way that no child should ever endure.  Aunts and Uncles feted me, my every accomplishment was lauded, my every quirk tolerated lovingly.
It made me a monster.
I joke about it to this day: “Oh, ha ha, I was born on July 3rd and it took me seven years to realize the fireworks weren’t actually for me.”  But no, seriously, think about the kind of mindset it would take, even as a young child, to consistently think that the entire world would get together to hold a party for him.  That was just the way the world worked for me.  People did nice things for me all the time.
As I grew up, my OCS turned into a crippling handicap.  My family was aggressive with therapy, this being the everybody-talks-it-out 1970s, and so not only was I encouraged to have emotions – but was taught that when you had a problem, no matter how small, you should go hash it out with a nice big discussion.  This shattered my hopes of having a steady girlfriend for years, because basically I had been trained two things:
1)  I should get everything I want, ever.
2)  If I’m not getting it, I should complain until I do.
What that meant in practice is that I had zero sense of self-control.  Most people would go, “Okay, she’s just come back from an eighteen-hour shift at a job she hates, she hasn’t eaten, and her mother’s in the hospital – maybe she has a right to be a little snippy.”  But no, Mister OCS here would go, “Really, you should be nicer to me,” and wham.  Huge fight.
It took me a long time to learn that my childhood had inadvertently trained me to be butt-hurt about everything.  Hey, did you read my Entertainment Weekly before I did?  That was my Entertainment Weekly!  How dare you?  And so it went, where I’d just keep barraging everyone with the slightest discomfort I had until they got sick of me and went away.
With Gini’s love and diligent training, I have learned to blunt the edges of my OCS.  Yet I still get pissy more than I should.  I’ll still get furious whenever someone takes the seat I wanted at the movie theater – but now I go, “Okay, dude, you’re one seat over from your ideal location.  And it’s not like she thought ‘Oh, that’s the best seat, I’m stealing it just to spite him!’ even though you’re sure she must have known how badly you wanted it.  This isn’t a fucking incursion, it’s you overreacting.”
So whenever I’m hurt, I have to do an OCS compensation check – yes, you’re irritated, Ferrett, but is this really worth discussing?  And particularly if it’s a deep hurt, sometimes I have to do some internal digging and figure out whether this is just me being a whiner baby.  So I’ll withdraw for a bit while I try to intellectually dissect the problem and figure out whether this is a) a valid concern that should be discussed, or b) eight-year-old me getting pissy because his birthday cake isn’t chocolate.
That takes me a while.  And yes, it’s a pain.  I’m sorry, because it means there is often a day or two where I don’t respond well to texts or emails as I hash this out.  But it’s a workaround that winds up ultimately being better, because for every absence you notice, there’s probably ten absences where OCS-boy has thought it over and gone, “Nope, that’s just you being unreasonable.  Can it.”
It’s not my brightest side, I admit.  But as a workaround for a fundamentally-flawed psyche, it’s the best I can do.  I’ve put a lot of effort into speeding up my OCS processing power, optimizing routines so that sometimes, I’m over my internal hissy-fit before you’re finished sitting down in that theater seat I wanted.  But there are times where everything slows to a crawl and I have to wait until an hour later to finally bring it up.  Even if, in many cases, you would have cheerfully altered your behavior had I told you, and the delay means that you feel bad because you hurt me needlessly.
Trust me.  While I know it’s vexing, sadly, the alternative is currently worse.

1 Comment

  1. Kathryn Scannell
    Jul 8, 2012

    Thank you for this. It’s both disturbing and helpful how much of myself I see in this essay. And it provides a huge insight into at least half the fights I have with my wife. We deal with them and get over it, but I think we might both benefit from me trying this approach. Some days it’s easier than others to step away from that inner eight year old, and the fights usually happen when I don’t. I’d identified the inner eight year old as something I needed to back away from, but this is giving me new insights into where it came from.

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