Photo: Axel Bührmann

Photo: Axel Bührmann

It’s no accident that certain people come into your life. They arrive unannounced and proceed to tear up your preconceived ideas and patterns. Often they disrupt your life so badly that you may wish you had never met them. But you have something to learn from them. And they can change your life – if you are brave enough.

All our behaviour is responsive. We react to certain triggers based on our past relationships and life experiences. We are so busy defending our beliefs and value systems, because we automatically assume we are always right.

I have a nasty habit of always assuming the worst of people. It’s rooted in a history of being lied to, cheated on, and dealing with people so self-absorbed that they will do and say anything to ensure that they get what they want.

Living in an abusive relationship rubs off on you. It’s insidious. You become so accustomed to your every decision and thought pattern being negated and belittled that you think it is normal. So you start doing the same to other people. Often it’s your children that bear the brunt of that. You hurt so badly that you lash out at those closest to you in an effort to protect yourself against the damage you know deep down is happening.

Family plays a role too. If you are surrounded by people who lie, emotionally abuse and who do anything to make themselves feel better than you, it crushes you. These are the people that are supposed to have your back. They are the ones that are supposed to support and encourage you to be the best person you can be. But what if they are not? The problem with family is that you are supposed to love them.

In 2005 I remember saying something so cruel to my daughter that her face fell and she walked away. I lay back on the couch and felt something deep and nasty inside of me. I was so ashamed. I had done to her what other people had been doing to me. But the damage was done. There is no way you can take back those words. No way can you heal the pain you caused and remind her that she is a remarkable human being. That she should never listen to a bitter, disappointed and angry woman whose dreams have been shattered by life.

I knew deep in my heart that night, that I had become what I hated most. An abuser.

Now the good thing is that once you realise you have a problem, you can work on fixing it. And so that is what I have been doing for the last decade. I still have challenges in the way I respond to people. That’s because of the conditioning of a lifetime. Nothing I ever did was good enough. I was always being judged and criticized.

It takes a long time to overcome that kind of conditioning. It requires a consistent and diligent approach to analysing your reaction to a particular situation before you respond.

When I feel like I am being insulted or belittled, anger pours out of me like a volcano. A few times the eruption has happened and I did not stop to think about my reaction. The vitriol just exploded and burned the person who was in the line of fire.

It also results in me making assumptions about people and their behaviour. The assumptions are not based on fact, but rather on my current state of mind, my level of self-confidence and self-esteem  and the nature of the situation.

Just this last week I made three assumptions about a person while running an errand. I remember feeling my heart sink and wondering if this person would ever change.

Not an hour later I discovered that each and every one of my assumptions were totally inaccurate. I had made a judgement without having all the facts. This incident left me reeling in shock, at myself. How could I have thought that of this person? Why did I automatically assume the worst?

I spent some time thinking about it and realised that I still have major trust issues, coupled with a low self-esteem. I have so much work to still do on myself. Sigh …

This kind of growth can only happen when you allow people to enter your life and push your buttons. In the last year I have grown so much but I know that I am a long way away from being the person I know I can be.