This week I’ve had a few potent opportunities to face up to some truly mean people in my life. Which has meant coping with a lot of negativity. Verbal abuse. Intimidation. Tactics designed to zap my personal power and make me question myself. It’s also meant a new revelation. Looking around at just how many other people are trying to cope with subtle or overt hostility and fears. We’re living in an atmosphere of “Us” versus “Them”, peace-making versus aggression. Calmness versus disruption; love versus hate. It’s not just about the Virus and the chaos of that. It’s the shift, over time, from “I Care”, to “I Could Care Less!”. About you.  About our relationship and existence together. Mean people can trigger primal fears, but I learned to get better at coping with both.

Everyone has their emotional triggers. One of my biggest was created when I was just a toddler. My parents and I were staying in a rustic mountain cabin and I was bitten by a spider. People say, “No way you can have memories from that young of an age!” But it’s not memory, so much as sensations. I remember sharp pain. I remember waking up terrified in a totally dark room and screaming my head off. I remember my mother explaining much later what had happened. She’d actually felt the creepy crawler and brushed it from my chubby little leg.

Back at home after our trip, my two brothers wasted no time in pestering their little sister (I was the youngest, and the only girl) over her new fear. They warned that spiders were everywhere. In my bed, particularly. When I was taking a bath they’d suddenly burst into the bathroom and throw little bits of dark fluff into the bathwater, yelling “Spider!” My screaming brought raucous laughter, and my mother, rushing in to soothe me. No surprise:  I grew up with a huge fear of spiders.

As I got older, I heard and internalized, “Boys will be boys; especially when they’re jealous of the attention ‘the new baby girl’ gets.” But over time I became more aware of the ways that these boys – now men – continued to torment me at every opportunity. Meanness, spite, and jealousy has permeated just about every contact I’ve had with them over the years. You would think that the normal hurdles of life – illness, accidents, deaths, separations and divorces – would cause biological siblings to rally around one another. Lifelines. Sanctuary. Reassurance. Not with these two. Not now, when we’re all older and facing the Second Act of Life. Not ever, it seems.

Not all meanness gets to me, causing a struggle to cope. It’s when the relationships that I expect to be safe are not. Like the priest who should be trusted but becomes the molester. The abusive spouse. People in power, in control of our safety and well-being as citizens, making hurtful choices for us. These betrayals are deeply disturbing because Trust has been implicit, and Trust has been damaged or even destroyed. How do we learn to grow past the primal fears that creep into the most tender places of our Being, triggering doubts and insecurities ?

In my Psychology studies I’ve come across a wide range of theories and methodologies from professional men and women around the globe. Eastern and Western concepts about where our fears originate from and how we can cope with them. But today, as I reflect on the fact that I’m still – despite my knowledge and experience – talking to myself about my triggers as a result of recent events, I’m looking for something new, updated and simple. With a quick search, I found the reminder I needed in one short sentence:

Fear holds an important message about the way we perceive ourselves and the rest of the world.” (The Karma Coach)

Mean people trigger me when I give them too much authority. More authority, as I had to admit recently, than a mature, rational and intelligent person should allow. So, I had to ask myself:  is it a mistake to assume that those who should be trusted can be ? As I get older, and in these strangest of times, I remember the old phrase attributed to a U.S. president (but was originally a Russian proverb!), “Trust, but verify”.

I’m not going to stop believing in the power of love, light and unity (my family, or humankind), but I need to invest in an Upgrade in the way that I perceive myself as I move through the world. Less, “Everything’s going to be ok because I need it to be”, and more “Everything’s going to be ok because that’s my Intention.” It’s A Work in Progress, this “art of living bravely”.

To read more on similar topics….Changing our Emotional DNA;

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