This week I’ve been inspired by another motivational quote that I hadn’t seen for a while:
”What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
And it got me thinking. Looking back over my own experiences of abusive people, I realize that I believed words over actions. That because the things they were doing were so divorced from the story I was being told, I decided that I must have misunderstood. It must be me who is misinterpreting the situation. It must be because I’m giving out mixed messages. Heck, perhaps it’s just that I’m asking too much – perhaps I just need to be grateful for what I have and be more understanding of the other person’s point of view?
When I was wrapped-up and trapped in the warped relationship that I believed was real love, I hadn’t realized quite how much I was enabling the situation by my own excuses or blinkered outlook. I sometimes wonder how much earlier I might have broken free if I’d actually given myself more credit and prodded harder at the smiling façade that masked the bitter truth.
Who Am I To Judge…?
By the way, I’m not saying that I blame myself, nor am I saying that I think I was wrong. Far from it, in actual fact. As I said in a previous post, we can only judge situations and people by what we already know – we see things not as they are but as we are. That’s why, in my opinion, we excuse and brush aside negative behaviours and situations that from a realistic perspective are absolutely not ok.
For me, I know that I would regularly dismiss warning signs that something was wrong. “It’s alright” I’d say to myself, ”s/he didn’t mean to upset me. S/he doesn’t know any better – and anyway, nobody’s perfect, right? Who am I to judge?” I’d then pour more love and compassion on the situation, and inadvertently play right in to the path of more damage.
Yes, like so many of us, I hold my hand up, because now I understand that I was a willing victim. I played my part to perfection “Bravo Mel, compelling performance, encore!” And I’d continue to perfect my role of blissfully happy and in-love, whilst at the same time unknowingly building my own façade and continuing to lose myself along the way.
In the early days after the truth came to light, I blamed myself for so many things – veering from broken-hearted disbelief “What happened? When did I lose him? How could I have shown more love?” to the coldly self-critical “Why couldn’t I see what was going on right under my nose? I must be stupid!”
It’s taken a long time, and a huge amount of determination to work through the questions and re-connect with myself. And it’s been worth it. Because now I understand what was happening. I understand that in healthy relationships, other people’s actions do indeed speak louder than words. I also understand that a sociopath on the other hand can use such a barrage of flowery and compelling arguments, that it becomes nigh on impossible to see the wood for the trees!
Listen And Feel
And at the same time, with the benefit of hindsight and distance, I now recognize that I had another action-related guidance system I could have consulted that would always have told me the truth of the situation. And that was the feelings that were within me. The shivers down my spine when I saw his flashes of anger. The twist in my stomach when plans suddenly changed at the last moment. The tiredness behind my eyes when once again I couldn’t make sense of a situation. Those clues, those ‘actions’ were all there. But, instead of going within for answers, instead I’d check outside of myself to understand what was happening. Each time I’d voice my concerns, or ask questions – and each time the confident responses would flow out. Easily, effortlessly, and with what seemed like a perfectly logical situation. Each time those responses would be sealed with a Judas-kiss, or a squeeze on the shoulders, or those well-used words “Come on, you know I love you, it’s you and me against the world!” and the accompanying look of pity that made me feel I must be stupid.
I remember searching for physical signs that I was being told the truth – after all, I worked in the field of human behaviours, so accurately reading the non-verbal clues that show themselves in any communication was my profession, right? Hmmmm…. wrong. Because now, of course, I realise that the sociopath is a pathological liar. They can reason with any number of untruths – no matter how far fetched – and make the story so compelling that they are believed. And, because they demonstrate none of the usual non-verbal signs of a liar, there is no way of gauging the truth behind the words that are being spoken. So in the case of dealing with a sociopath, there will be no supporting ‘actions’ to determine whether the story is a true fact or a deliberate web of lies. And that was where I allowed myself to be scuppered – time and time again. I was looking for the physical responses (nervousness, sweating, tiny changes of expression, eye movements – all the things I’d studied for years and knew so well) and when none were apparent, I concluded that I’d made a mistake. And so would start, once again, my internal criticism and determination to be more loving and less judgmental.
Let’s just get clear here. The truth was there all along. Because the actions I could have been taking notice of were my own internal responses. Those were the actions that spoke louder than words. Those were the signs I could have believed. But at the time I had no comprehension that anyone could possibly tell bare-faced lies without displaying some kind of unconscious signal associated with lying. Equally, of course, I had no comprehension of psychopaths.
I said that one of my automatic responses used to be “Who am I to judge?” Well, in actual fact, who am I NOT to judge? What gave me the right to put myself down, to banish my intuition, to shut up and put up when, as I now know, there were so many things I could have done when faced with an unhealthy situation! But at the time, well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know – so like all of us, I did the very best I could.
Yes, hindsight and distance has brought me a wisdom I didn’t possess when I most needed it. I guess my intention in this post is to pass on what I’ve learned – because had I known then what I know now, I’m convinced that I would have paid far more attention to the warning signals that showed themselves time and time again through my own senses. I would have known, beyond question, that what was happening was not ok. I would also have realised that I was dealing with something that was totally alien, and that I’d be wise to seek out and learn as much as I could from others who ‘knew’ before planning my next moves.
I now believe that it was my naivety that played a big part in keeping me trapped. Because these days, even the slightest flutter within alerts me to the fact that something is not right. These days I take action to support my internal guidance. These days I pay much more attention to the non-verbal messages that my body transmits any time I choose to tune in. These days I’ve learned that they are always right, even though they may seem at first to be misplaced. As a result I’m delighted to be surrounded by a set of healthier relationships than I’ve ever experienced before.
And the bottom line is that the buck stops here. With me. Because, if I don’t learn to listen to and look after myself, well nobody else is going to do it for me – because if I don’t practice self-compassion, I won’t even be able to notice it in others, let alone accept it!
It’s taken time, patience, and a whole heap of gently saying “ssshhh!” when words have threatened to create too much distraction – my own or those of other people. As a result I’m now convinced more than ever that actions really do speak louder than words. I’d believed it to be true for many years – but now, though, there’s a small but critical difference in my understanding. That difference is my focus on which actions to believe; only those of others, or also those of myself? Those tiny internal responses that always speak the truth above anything else…
And you know what? The warm happy feeling that’s rising inside me right now as I finish this post, tells me that I’m indeed on the right track 🙂