I haven’t spent a day without at least one open wound on my person since I was nineteen, usually on my face. My work on eating disorder recovery is going well, but learning not to cut obsessively at the “imperfections” on my face is harder. [i]
A combination of things led to the pattern of behaviour that doctors and other smart people now want to call “non-suicidal self-injury” or NSSI. I love a good acronym as much as the next person, but to me, the sanitization of language is problematic. The new language makes it feel less serious, almost benign, perhaps attention-seeking. That last is what undereducated medical professionals think anyhow. Trust me when I tell you it causes harm beyond the immediate wound. The patronizing disgust from various doctors and nurses is just icing on a misery cake.
What that history means, however, is that you can trust me when I tell you I can fix sores and injuries of the open variety. I’ve had practice. I’ve had practice at the making of and the correcting of. If I was in a plane crash and the doctor was injured but could talk someone through surgery, I honestly believe I could get it done. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of things I’ve done to and in my body with sharps.
I sometimes think I should give out treatment awards: best cleansing wash, benzyl peroxide 10% (brand for this is irrelevant), best regular bandage, Elastoplast; best hydrocolloid bandage/patch, Rael; best topical antibiotic, Polysporin; and best antifungal, tea tree oil. [ii] Though I’m not sure the brands want to be associated with self-harm-related injury.
But I digress.
Dogs are bad at wound care. They lick at their wounds obsessively. The constant attention results in a big scar. I relate.
The possibility of large scars and being disqualified from the swimsuit competition is why we make dogs wear the cone of shame. The dog is only doing what its doggie brain tells it to do. Its brain says, “Wound, infection, death. Fix it.” Licking does that. So do vet trips. Unfortunately, dogs don’t remember we take them to the vet when they get hurt or need care, so cones of shame sales remain brisk. [iii]
(I didn’t try the cone with my cat. I fashioned a clothing barrier after her surgery instead. Trying to put a cone on her would result in much bleeding. Mine.)
As you see, the tendency to pick at sore spots isn’t confined to humans. Obsessive behaviour can also be found elsewhere. Perhaps obsession is what drives the annoying bird that chirps on by his lonesome after the other birds have left for the day. Maybe he’s home on disability, and bored?
I feel his pain. I’m struggling myself. My maladaptive coping mechanisms are lit and my emotional state remains unsteady, mostly l because I’m picking at the wound instead of letting things heal.
My daughter’s refusal to discuss the mystery thing I said that hurt her feeling and led to her ghosting me is a big wound that occupies much of my brain if I don’t work on thinking about other things.
I even wake up with it on my mind. This is the problem and power of passive-aggressive and emotionally abusive behaviour, which is what she’s engaging in when you peel away the “softly, softly” labelling. Emotional abuse undoes us from the inside out. I often think a smack in the face is kinder.
I’ve been thinking about ignoring the boundaries I’ve set and calling her. I think about getting in touch with her father to vent and inquire. I think about apologizing to her for I know not what, just to return to the status quo so I can spend time with her and my grandson.
On tenterhooks, because I’m often anxious around her lest I do or say the wrong thing and make her angry.
I think about demanding the house key back, and about piling the things she’s storing here on the street. I think about hoping for rain.
I think about running into them shopping and having my grandson repeat hateful lies about me I’m not sure she’s not saying.
Obsessive brains don’t have a problem coming up with content. They should hire us to take care of network programming.
Part of me really favours the “dump her stuff” scenario. I think I gravitate towards that fantasy because I know it would hurt. Who doesn’t like a good revenge fantasy to take care of the “you did me wrong” feelings?
Fortunately, I’m not fully sold on blowing up my life. I’ve blind-reacted in that way in the past and it doesn’t end well.
Don’t let hurt drive the bus.
The problem my daughter is having with the actions she’s chosen to pursue is that they’re passive-aggressive. When it comes to passive-aggressive behaviour, I’m done. I could’ve done a better job of letting people know that, I suppose, especially as it’s a behaviour I’ve rolled over for historically. It’s reasonable for people to expect the door-matting to continue. It takes people a while to adapt to new.
Take my mother. I was driving mom and dad home from the airport the other day. We’d taken my brother in – he’s flying back home to New Zealand. He drove in, and before we left the airport, I told them explicitly but nicely, no backseat driving. It’s a problem with them, especially with my mother.
I counted ten comments before I responded the first time. It was also before we’d left the airport proper.
Watch out for that car. I think you want to change lanes here. I think you want to put on your turn signal. You should drive closer to the centre of the lane. You need to turn at the arrow up ahead. The speed limit is 50 km. There’s a light up ahead. There’s a stop sign up ahead.
I would like to take this moment to point out that I’ve been driving for thirty-seven years and have never, knock on wood, caused an accident.
Hey. Remember when I asked for no backseat driving? You’ve made ten comments so far.
I don’t think so. What comments? I guess we’re not allowed to speak?
I ignored it and initiated a conversation about deep-fried pickles. I had my first order a few months ago and I’m obsessed. Thousand Island dressing is a better dip than ranch.
The problem with the backseat driving is me. I get irritated and testy. However, fifteen minutes on, once we’d merged onto the Alex Fraser bridge with comments and direction aplenty, I started to laugh. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?” I said to my mother as I pulled forward and changed lanes. My dad laughed. Then there was my mother.
I guess I won’t say anything then. I’ll just shut up.
This is passive-aggressive, in case you were wondering, and I’ve experienced my fill. It makes you feel small, awful, and attacked, and you aren’t even sure where the blows are coming from.
When I mention passive-aggressive behaviour to my mother, she points out that her mother was worse. That’s true. My grandmother was often very abusive. That doesn’t make my mother’s passive-aggressive behaviour better or valid.
When facing passive aggression, most people react badly. Flight, freeze, or fight. My first impulse is still a nasty response. That’s mostly their goal, however, albeit a subconscious one. If we follow that impulse, however, we quickly find ourselves wrong-footed, apologizing for reasons we don’t understand and seeking to make things right.
I’m tired of the game, so I went in a different direction this time.
You’re not allowed to do this to me. You’re not allowed to talk to me this way. I didn’t tell you to shut up. I didn’t speak to you rudely. I’ve asked you both to not make comments about my driving and you’re ignoring that. You’re not allowed to make me feel bad about enforcing a boundary, especially when I was nothing but polite.
I kept driving and listening to the music. She started talking again after a few minutes, though not about anything that had gone before, which was fine with me. I’m happy to carry on in a forward direction.
My dad slept.
Open challenge works well when dealing with passive-aggressive people and behaviours. Passive aggression is designed to be sneaky. It’s designed to stay in the shadows. Deny it. Open the curtains. Let the sun shine in. Speak truth to the nasty sotto vocce. I’m overt with my response to passive-aggressive behaviours these days, and I sprinkle my favourite question on everything. [iv]
What did you mean by that?
You can add additional information if you want – because it sounds like you’re saying I was mean to you, and I don’t think that’s the case – but it’s not required. You’re allowed to ask a direct question without qualification.
When it comes to passive-aggressive, open up. Be direct. Because passive-aggressive behaviour wounds and wounds don’t heal well if they remain hidden and covered up.
[i] When I first started cutting, I did it in the “traditional” places. Tattoos cover my forearms now, hiding many of the scars there. Tattoos would be a weird option for my face, especially since the scaring is extensive when you start looking to cover it up.
[ii] Sometimes, wounds refuse to give up on being infected. When that’s the case, I add tea tree to the antibiotic cream. Fungus can colonize open wounds, impairing recovery.
[iii] Certain proteins in dog saliva, called histatins, can protect the body from infection. Dogs heal faster with licking than without. Licking doesn’t fix ice cream cones. It destroys them.
[iv] My favourite, call out the passive-aggressive snark question.