This was the title of one of my earliest blogs. It was about the mental torment I went through when nearly overnight a dear friend (so I thought) turned into a despised enemy when we found he was stealing large sums of money from the charity we volunteered with. We quickly found that no one loves a whistleblower.
I described how, two years on, I was still unable to draw a line under what had happened. Unlike a satisfying film or book, where the bad guy gets his comeuppance, this bad guy walked off into the sunset with a big promotion and pay rise from the same charity. I am not as drained by it now, eight years on, but the bitterness and sense of injustice is never far beneath the surface. If I had a call tomorrow asking me to give evidence against him I would be there.
Back in the 80’s I underwent some Gestalt therapy. It was emphasised, other people can only hurt you if you allow it. It was wrong for example to say “You have really hurt me”. The correct way to express that is “When you say that, I have feelings of hurt”. Sounds very pat, doesn’t it? I get it, I know that in many ways we must take responsibility for our own feelings.
However that is all very well, expressed in a therapy setting. It’s a different matter when exposed to the realities of life, rawness of human nature. At the time I wrote of earlier, I was physically low, having had a bad accident. However, I was learning to walk again, and for once I felt my partner was trying his best to be caring, I was not badly depressed or unduly anxious. All that changed. I know it is not the “correct “ way to express this, but even allowing for my underlying vulnerabilities, that one man made me very ill. It took my mental problems to a more serious level, and some of the damage stayed. Any ideas I had about people behaving according to their avowed principles went right out the window. People I had gone out on a limb for in the past became mute. Was I bitter? You bet!
We hear a lot about the things we can do to protect our health, both mental and physical, but the damage that can be done by other people - often friends and family - is rarely acknowledged.This does not have to be anything too dramatic either. I walk my dogs, say a pleasant good morning to someone who scowls back at me, deal with some “computer says no” official, walk down a lovely path where someone has dumped a mattress. All these little things add up. Some psychotherapy puts the emphasis on childhood influences. I think the experiences and people we encounter in adult life are important too.
Of course, the majority of people are not toxic.The trick is learning to recognise the ones that are, and if possible avoiding them. They don’t come with a health warning stamped on their forehead, “Beware, contact with this person may make you ill” but there will be clues. With hindsight I saw warnings of our so-called friend’s dishonesty, and chose to ignore them.
But here’s the really sad thing, very occasionally I still miss him, or rather I miss the person I thought he was. He was gay, and for a woman that can make a great friendship. We spoke and laughed together daily, I mothered him, worried about him. Hearing later that he called me “one of his bitches” behind my back really gutted me. Sorry, what I must say is “made me experience feelings of hurt and anger!”