“You gotta put on your teflon,” Matthew, my coach/guru would say to me, sometimes.
What he meant was that when someone in front of me was spinning, venting, angry, taking their shit out on me, the most loving thing to do was to:
- a.) stay present, and
- b.) not attack back, and
- c.) lovingly protect myself by mentally putting on my “teflon” (more formally known as Polytetrafluoroethylene, of course–say that ten times fast!) and letting their words slide right off of me.
That is to say–no stick.
It reminded me of when I was a child and my younger sister and I would get into fights. We’d go to our mother, wanting her to settle it. She told us to be like ducks, letting the water roll right off our backs.
“But she–!” one of us would protest, only to be met with our mother chanting,
“Be a duck, be a duck, be a duck!”
It was infuriating at the time, of course, but this is now one of my fondest and funniest childhood memories–my mother chanting at us, refusing to play referee. I fully intend to pull that out of my bag o’ parenting tricks, someday.
And then that reminds me of the year I spent going to Al-Anon meetings.
Al-Anon is the (immensely powerful!) 12-step group for friends and family members of alcoholics. Many people start attending Al-Anon thinking they’ll learn something about how to stop someone else from using or abusing alcohol. After a few meetings, though, the message is clear–it’s not about controlling someone else’s behavior.
It’s about coping with their behavior–about not letting their behavior “stick.”
Be a Duck…Dammit
Recently, I had an experience where I was bullied, “Mean Girls” style.
I shit you not.
The details aren’t even important–it was a situation that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and a sadness that a few people were choosing an experience of me that I know is so different than the friendship, support, and loyalty that I wanted to offer.
I spent a good 24-hours debating about what to do, turning the events over in my head–then I was irritated at myself for even giving the situation that much power.
Putting on the teflon
Because God/spirit/The Universe has been granted an open invitation to hang out in my life, of course–of course!–the very day I had this conflicted encounter, I had tweeted,
“I’ll commit to seeing that if you show up unkindly, it’s not who you really are.”
Of course I had done that–of course.
So I was steamed about this experience, running my Stories, all of that. I talked to people in my tribe, checking in.
–then I thought about what I’d tweeted, and that eventually had me thinking about teflon, ducks, and 12-step groups.
Particularly, I thought about Al-Anon, and how many a-ha moments I’d witnessed.
Shares sounded something like this: “He had been drinking, and he started his same routine, telling me what a fuck up I was. But then I realized–it wasn’t him talking, it was the alcohol talking. I could differentiate between who he really was, and how he acted when he drank.”
In those a-ha moments, that person was putting up their psychological teflon. They were witnessing, not attacking back, and simply letting it roll away–like water rolling off of a duck’s back.
Everyone’s Under The Influence
The thing is, everyone’s under the influence of something.
Bad parenting. A health problem. A fight with their best friend. No sleep. Pregnancy scares. A drug habit. Workaholism. Jealousy and envy. TV coma. An essential lack of connection to oneself, to meaning, to fulfillment. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear.
If everyone’s under the influence of something, then perhaps we would do ourselves a favor by taking the detached view–taking their fear masquerading as bitchiness about as seriously as we would take someone who was falling down drunk and spewing expletives.
I find that point of view a bit easier to digest than “just don’t take it personally.” I can see clearly that when some drunk dude on the street calls me a name, he’s just drunk, and thus, suffering. I don’t like the behavior, but it’s easier to get over it, not to mention have a little compassion along the way.
It’s harder when our friends, family members, co-workers, or the people you’d least expect it from–people planning to go into a counseling-related profession, for instance–but still helpful. After all, other people get to choose their experience of me.
The truth is, we don’t know what anyone else is under the influence of. We couldn’t possibly know.
I can only know that everyone is under the influence of something, because everyone has their areas where they’re stunted, myself included (of course).
In these situations, I know I am committed to: the belief that if you show up unkindly, it’s not who you really are.
We don’t really need more answers than that.