Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.
*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*
Okay, now all the warnings are in place. You can continue reading or visit another time. I’ve written about Mother’s Day and anniversaries before, so thought I’d share something different this time. You can read about how my alters are learning to use DBT and protect our system (their preferred job) to protect and defend against hostile, rude, triggering, or aggressive people.
Nice vs Kind – my/our opinions only
Growing up, my family always said 3 things about me:
smart, too nice for my own good, and extremely stubborn
That got me into all kinds of trouble with my dominant/domineering family members and other authority figures
First, I am not a nice person. Nor do I try to be one. All parts of my self learned early on that “being nice” is a way to pacify others or please them at the cost of something important – i.e. self respect, honesty, values, choice. “Nice” is also something people say when they dislike something but don’t want to hurt feelings. It feels like a lie, a polite one, but still a lie whose intent is to manipulate or control a situation.
So, while I am not “nice”, I try to temper my blunt honesty with kindness and compassion. I will not “shade the truth” or hide things, but neither will I be subtle. It’s not in me to be subtle or discreet. The more I try, the worse mess I get into with explanations. So I/we rely on kindness to help me out. I try to be kind in all interactions with myself and others.
Genuine kindness comes from a place of love, compassion, and acceptance for all beings. Kindness shows in our tone of voice, our non-verbal language and expressions, our word choice, our actions, and our intention. It is honest and straightforward without being mean or hostile. It is neutral or positive instead of negative. And it supports assertiveness without aggression.
These days, I choose to be:
kind, smart, and stubborn
And still, I get into all kinds of trouble and miscommunications with people in general now
Re-Learning How to Defend Against, Communicate With, and Interact With People
My alter personalities work hard to learn what kindness is and how it can be used in interpersonal communication too. We learned about communication and interaction from criminals, predators, abusers, and pedophiles – violence, meanness, shaming, and guilt were the tools we used to communicate with and protect ourselves from each other and the others. Useful when dealing with negative people who manipulate and control people just for fun.
They evolved as protectors, defenders, and communicators in our Internal Family System of alter personalities and took their roles seriously. Our survival depended on being able to communicate effectively with the people who owned us, controlled us, decided whether or not we lived. And so all parts of me learned how to use the following skills to survive:
- Sensory information
- Non-verbal language cues
- Facial/body expressions (or lack of them)
- Cultivating an intimidating/powerful aura or energy field to make people think twice about engaging us (i.e. charismatic people who draw others to them)
- Silence & invisibility – aka hiding in plain sight
- All kind of memory – not just cognitive – combined with curiosity, creativity, and intelligence to design effective coping strategies – i.e. alter personalities
As a teen and young woman, I did not use kindness or compassion in my interactions with anyone. My alters did not with themselves, each other, or anyone else either. We were always in survival mode, our hearts and spirits closed off to everyone. I/we hated all humans and did everything possible to push people away
It wasn’t until I started professional counseling that my attitude started to change. Then I started working at a profession and company completely different from anything in my family and met so many multi-faceted people. By that I mean people with many characteristics in their personalities – characteristics that sometimes conflicted with each other – and were not punished for being different.
That was in 2007, one year before I entered a partial program that taught me DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and explained some of the most confusing aspects of interpersonal communication that triggered anxiety and dissociation.
So my alters continued “taking over” and “switching” during times when one or more felt threatened or in danger without mentioning it to anyone else. That, as you imagine, caused many miscommunications and problems with co-workers, bosses, neighbors, and other people in our life. It also triggered shame and flashbacks and nightmares that contributed to physical pain, panic attacks, and migraines for everyone.
Since then, I learned about my alter personalities and together we started putting DBT into practice. But that wasn’t enough. It didn’t feel genuine or authentic when interacting with the predators. And it left many alter personalities feeling ashamed of themselves and inadequate to do their jobs. There was a lot of resistance because they didn’t want to “lose their value” so to speak.
That is about the time all of us started working with a trauma-informed specialist who explained that all of our reactions and “strange” or “crazy” behaviors were actually effective coping strategies we learned to cope with our past experiences.
Our existing communication practices weren’t effective now in their current incarnation, but can be adapted and customized to support our current recovery goals and lifestyle with a lot of persistence and hard work.
We needed to learn how to work together, communicate effectively with each other instead of fighting and shaming each other and ourselves, and become an integrated team to makes choices and decisions together.
Self Acceptance + Unconditional Love + Humor x (Kindness + Honesty + Stubborn) – Scary Aura = Protection From Hostile/Rude/Aggressive People
Once I and many others with less trauma realized the triggers and fears associated with communication and protection, we started practicing effective communication techniques every day or evening together. Then we added lessons about unconditional love, acceptance, compassion, kindness, and laughter to the lessons.
We learned to laugh with and at ourselves/each other from a place of fun and kindness.
We learned to be vulnerable with each other. From there we learned to express our other feelings safely too.
The small successes built on each other so that we felt confident using these communication techniques in real life. We made mistakes, learned from those mistakes, and tried again.
Eventually, we succeeded. We continued to experiment and build on the communication lessons. We practiced asking for, giving, and receiving help. We shared our triggers and nightmares; then worked together to cope with them.
Then came a beautiful turning point: when the alters who took over to protect and defend us in dangerous-feeling situations started sharing what happened with everyone else.
That allowed all of us to analyze, tailor and incorporate everything we learned from the past into our new communication styles with confidence and a lot less shame.
When Honesty tempered with Kindness is Considered Mean and Aggressive
This is a concept all parts of me still struggle with. It’s one of the reasons why all of us are grateful for the 24-hour volunteer hotline for survivors of sexual assault (BARCC). The volunteers return a call to the call center and offer non-judgmental, compassionate support however we need it.
Sometimes coping strategies and techniques, sometimes help with processing experiences, sometimes just talking out a triggering problem – they always help me in some way.
But remember back when people always said I was too nice? Well that was until I lost my temper and spoke my mind. Then I was mean and rude and insulting and negative and all the other related words.
All my counselors have taught me that my way of expressing anger at others is not exactly “mean” or those other words. It’s blunt and direct and honest in a way that violates many social standards so is unacceptable behavior.
But, in analyzing Saturday’s verbal interaction with hostile, racist neighbors with someone on the Hotline that evening, I realized the following:
- In all the time that woman and other neighbors asked intrusive questions with the hope of shaming and humiliating me, all parts of me stayed calm and retained a sense of humor while different alters took turns answering questions
- When we got tired of answering the questions, we defended ourselves with a few well-placed sentences that also taught the audience that I am not what they assume and not a pushover
- Every question was answered with honesty tempered by kindness and a stubbornness that frustrated the other people because none of us backed down
- In the end, many people turned away in shame or because they refused to acknowledge me after “losing” the fight so to speak. They also didn’t get in my way as I walked to through the lobby to the stairwell and my apartment.
Simple Phrases (also honest truths for me) I used to defend myself
If these phrases work for you, please use them. If not, thanks for reading.
I am not ashamed of my past or who I am now.AlterXpressions
You are you, and I am me. Our opinions are different, yet valid, so you be you. And I’ll be me.AlterXpressions
That’s your choice, not mine. I accept you and your choices, so please respect mine even if you can’t accept them. And if you can’t, that’s okay too.AlterXpressions
Your words and actions reflect on you, the same mine reflect on me. Stop, think, and consider who is embarrassing or being embarrassed.AlterXpressions
I prefer to be honest and authentic in all interactions.AlterXpressions
I choose to treat all beings with acceptance and kindness no matter how they treat me. The exceptions being a) when I have to defend myself; and b) when someone crosses my boundaries despite gentle reminders.AlterXpressions
Unconditional love is real and different from romantic love. I choose to communicate from a place of unconditional love instead of hate or fear.AlterXpressions
Thanks for reading