Thursday, August 05, 2010

climbing out of the victim rut

This post has been bouncing around in my head on and off for months now.  I haven't written it yet because there are so many things to say that I just don't even know where to start.  But a couple of nights ago I stood in line at Baskin Robbins behind a woman who was picking up a birthday cake and I watched her react in the classic victim mode, so I thought that would at least be a place to start.

I've been in therapy for many years, but other than a "checkup" appointment last fall, I haven't really been in therapy for years now--probably at least five or six, and if you don't count marriage counseling, it's been more like ten.  But I've had several wonderful, wise therapists over the years and their words bounce around in my head all the time.  One therapist years ago pointed out to me that I often react like a victim in situations where I really am not a victim.  So, something happens that I perceive as negative or not in my favor, and instead of doing something about it, I (essentially) pout.  I go into Mute Outrage mode.  Inside I'm thinking, "You shouldn't treat me like that, that's not fair, that's not right, you are a mean person," but on the outside I'm doing nothing and saying nothing.  I'm not proud of this, believe me.  But I'm not going to be able to say what I want to say if I don't 'fess up here.

So this woman right in front of me in line is picking up a birthday cake.  It was kinda late, about 8:30 or 9 p.m., and I was there with six kids who just wanted ice cream cones.  It was busy, as Baskin Robbins always is on summer nights, and we'd been standing in line for about 10 minutes-- not a terribly long time, but long enough that no one was anxious to prolong the experience.  So she asks for her birthday cake, and the guy at the counter, who turns out to be the manager on duty although he couldn't have been any older than 25, goes back to get it.  The cake had been made, but it hadn't been decorated.  The woman purses her lips, and says, "Well, I need to have it decorated," and the guy apologizes but explains that the person who does the decorating has already left for the day and there was no one there to decorate it.  The woman purses her lips again and does a sort of silent fume thing.  The guy tries to make a joke about how there is no way she would want him to decorate it since it would be a disaster.  Then the woman turns to me, and says furiously, "It was supposed to be ready. I called them yesterday and ordered a decorated cake."  I kind of half-smiled at her helplessly, because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, and I wasn't sure exactly how she expected me to respond.  The manager is still standing there with the cake in his hand, waiting for her to decide what to do.  She kind of huffs and says something again about how it was supposed to be decorated, and then turns back to me again.  I wondered what she expected me to do?  Was I supposed to take up the fight for her?  join her in her outrage?  There was no way I was going to walk out of there in support of her when I have six kids with me who still want their ice cream and I don't know her from Adam.  So she gets this really disgusted look on her face, and spits out, "It's not much of a birthday cake if it's not decorated!" but she gets out her credit card and pays, muttering under her breath the whole time, then takes the cake and practically stomps out the door.

So in my head I'm thinking, OK, this is great practice.  She went right into Mute Outrage mode, but it's not me, so I can think about what I could have done differently without being emotionally involved in it.  The therapist in my head says what you should do is calmly and clearly state what you want/need, without backing off.  Calmly and clearly is the key-- so you're not being a bitch, you're just stating the way you see the situation and what would make it OK for you.  So, she could have said (politely), "I ordered a decorated cake.  This cake is not decorated.  I expect a discount."  Or she could have said (politely), "This is not what I ordered, so I'm not going to buy it," and left without it.  If she was experienced at this, of course, or if it never occurred to her to go into victim mode, she could have taken advantage of the situation and demanded the cake for free, but I'm never going to be able to pull that off--that would have involved making a huge fuss and holding up the line for another ten minutes while she argued it out with the manager.  I'm not interested in that kind of response, although I can understand why some people go there.

But it wasn't until I was driving around today that another possibility occurred to me, which is the one that immediately made the most sense.  She could have just let it go.  She could have realized that getting your cake decorated is a small thing, paid for the cake, picked up a tube of decorator frosting at the grocery store and done it herself.  Or if she needed it right then, she could have chopped up a couple of candy bars and sprinkled them over, or some M&Ms, or crushed up Oreos.  Or she could have just showed up with an undecorated cake.  The thing is, when you are habituated to respond as a victim as I seem to be, you get a little paranoid.  If something happens that doesn't go your way, you think you're being mistreated.  But sometimes there's not a problem.  Sometimes it's just life and it's no big deal.

I think it's a little embarrassing that I'm only learning this at age 49 (because yes I did turn 49 a couple of weeks ago). But you know, I'm pretty sure that the woman with the birthday cake was at least a year or two older than me, so at least I'm not alone.  There's more to say about this topic, but that's all for now.

p.s. obviously the manager could have responded differently (and more helpfully), but that's besides the point for this discussion-- you can't change the other person, right?  you can only change how you respond.  and just for the record-- he couldn't discount the amount of the decorations because apparently if you buy the cake, having birthday greetings written on it is free.

1 comment:

  1. Aunt BEAN,
    Not all of us read the blogs over at that other community, though I did follow the link.

    Whatever they are talking about (and it is lots of different stuff), may be interesting. However, much of what they write about is not particularly relevant to me. AND it isn't the subject matter, it is the slant, the perspective.

    Maybe I'm missing the goodstuff. I'd love to have your site linked to the entries you find stimulating.

    Nevertheless, the insights you bring to blogspot always strike a chord with me.

    Please don't quit.