This piece is cross-posted at Daily Kos.
My mother has, or should I say, had a new best friend. That was until she told me that she didn’t ask a question during a class until the break because she didn’t want her new friend to tell her that it was a stupid question. Now I understand that my mother could use some new friends since she was widowed a couple of years ago and far too many of the 70- and 80-year women she knows are fearful that my mother is a white-haired, tennis-playing husband-thief, but this acceptance of hers that she needs to alter her behavior to suit her friend was just too much. I mean, was she not listening to me complain about my controlling husband and how I held my mouth so as not to aggravate him as much as I don’t listen to her talk about what she had for dinner last night?
Allowing someone to have a sort of remote control over your mouth for fear of annoying them, surely is a twisting of the golden rule that “silence is golden.” It's also called being bullied.
It’s not just my mother and me who don’t realize that watching your words around a friend or partner is wrong until it’s too late, until you’ve lost your independent-thinker status. What we were dealing with wouldn’t have a name if it was just the two of us ostensibly “walking on eggshells.” While I am in no way insinuating that said friend or anyone else has borderline personality disorder (BPD) (apparently being fearful around someone so as not to upset him or her is one of the things to look for when thinking that someone might have BPD), I am saying that once you adjust your behavior to suit someone else, you need to watch yourself—or, rather, watch that you don’t let your friend’s demands become your very own auto-pilot. Sure, you have a friend who’s a vegetarian so you don’t go to a steak house, but consideration is not the same as accommodation.
Beverly Engel notes that emotional abuse is “when someone is unrelentingly critical of you, always finds fault, and can never be pleased.” What I say is watch out because you may be on your way to being worn down until your estimation of your own worth is no longer near what it was when you so joyfully entered your new friendship.
Perhaps the line is crossed when, instead of having a friendly discussion, you make a mental calculation where the phrase “not upset her” is forefront and then you act accordingly. And that, as I instructed my mother, must not be done. In what universe is having someone to sit uncomfortably next to better than sitting alone, at peace with all of the absurd, irrelevant, inconsequential questions you may ask?
It’s upsetting, isn’t it, that it’s the concerned, caring people who forfeit too much of themselves to not make waves, and think they are, indeed, being considerate. But it’s not—not considerate of yourself. A person should not think that it’s alright to cede the self for or to anyone. And giving a pass just this once is doing no one any good—it will just make it harder next time (and there will be a next time) to stand up for yourself.
Deepak Chopra has noted that “Controlling types can be handled by acting unintimidated. At heart, controlling types fear that they are inadequate, and they defend against their own insecurity by making other people feel insecure and not good enough. Show that you are good enough.” And that, really, is the key: Silence is not golden if you’re holding a hand over your mouth.