Very early, I knew I could see human motivations that were invisible to others.
There are a number of reasons for my powers. As the first child of Aspergers parents, I had to have the Theory Of Mind for the entire family. As a transperson, I had to negotiate between my own desires and what could be rationally expressed in the world. And as a femme, well, I saw other people like a mother sees children, revealed and working hard.
I also, though, had human needs, most especially the need for a strong defence against people who wanted to come at me, scapegoating me or trying to silence me in other ways. They didn’t want me to be who I was, with the mouth and vision I had on me, so they tried to push my emotional buttons.
My emotions weren’t really getting met, anyway. I just didn’t know how to open myself up, so my needs were strong.
All of these things lead me to a set of behaviours that weren’t particularly surprising: I was a manipulative little shit.
I knew how to push back, how to fight fire with fire, how to leverage and pressure. My emotional buttons were all strongly mediated, all buffered and controlled, because I had to learn to protect myself from unconsidered, narcissistic acting out from my earliest days. I knew, though, how to push the buttons of others, throwing them into a tailspin right after they tried to come after me.
This battlefield was the venue I grew up in, the one where I learned one of the most important things any human ever learns: how to fight. My mother always fought unfair, so I learned to counter her and in the process learned to use akido to throw back the blows of others.
I was never deliberately mean, nasty or vicious, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t strong enough to cause people distress by my techniques. Get my quills up and you could get a mouthful of your own attack.
My rationality and sense of fair play meant that if you were willing to meet me part way, I could offer useful and valuable bits, including maps of connections, useful information and effective questions to sharpen thinking.
As I grew more and more mature, I grew more and more compassionate. I realized, like any mother does, that many times, I just had to let the people around me act out, let them process their emotional angst without pushing back hard at them.
Turning the other cheek wasn’t easy, but my history of intellectual mediation allowed me to come back cool rather than hot, taking the heat out of the moment to reveal underlying truths.
This tactic, though, tended to infuriate many people. They wanted me to respond to their attempts at emotional manipulation, not to blunt it and turn it aside, showing their crass motives. They weren’t thinking, they were acting out of emotion, so when I exposed their flawed or twisted thinking, they got even more furious, more attacking.
When I came back to take care of my parents full time for the last decade of their life, one of the first things I had to teach them was that I was safe. They knew I could become sarcastic & cutting and they were ready to return that. After all, it was how they learned to defend themselves in a world full of emotions they didn’t get, full of emotional people they just never understood.
I had to be safe for them to show weakness with or they would never let me help, never bring me in as a team member. The heat that characterized my emotional teenage years would never do.
This is, of course, why I built on and strengthened my concierge mode, being of service and never making the interaction about my emotional response to their choices. I had to keep their world in context, sure that over time, we could come together and make changes that would never be possible with emotional blow ups or disgust at every stray behaviour.
Getting over your own damn self, your own gut response and emotional neediness, is hard, hard work. Learning to come back with a warm-cool reaction, acknowledging the emotions of others but not being triggered by them, allowing your own smart mediation to take the lead, is not easy, but it is immensely valuable.
If you don’t do this, you can’t be present in the moment, really listening to what people want to share and really working to find ways to address their issues, even the unspoken ones.
Humans are very much programmed to tell other people what they want to hear. We spend huge amounts of energy trying to placate and satisfy others around us, even if our responses are not grounded in our deep knowledge and understanding, not based in our authenticity.
Only when other people feel safe with you, trusting that your responses aren’t going to be about your judgment and neediness, can they tell you the truth. Instead of avoiding bits of themselves they put away as too hard or scary, they begin to share them, and then the work can begin.
When you have the power to see through peoples defences, to get them to expose themselves, you are holding their vulnerable heart in your hands. They feel safe enough to drop their walls and reveal the places inside they shy away from, the scary and tender places.
For me, the gift/curse of x-ray vision, seeing deeply, comes with ethical obligations. The golden rule applies; if you would find it hateful to you, don’t do it to others. Don’t make them show themselves and then become unsafe, your own fears and needs triggering choices that appear to kick them when they are down.
Vulnerable is vulnerable. Asking others to be vulnerable around you means, at least to me, that you respect that revelation, that trust, that sharing with dignity and your own tender compassion.
For my relationship with my parents, this was crucial. Getting older means you have less capacity to keep your defences up. Leading with protective behaviours rather than leading with trust means you can’t get the help and assistance you need. We need to reward the bravery we want to see, not punish it.
If the director doesn’t realize
what a courageous thing the actor is doing
by touching on some emotionally tender spot,
then the actor will be wary of doing that.
Arthur Penn, Director
As they aged, my parents showed me things, asked for help with things that I would have been sure were disgusting chores I could never do, from cleaning up their messes in public restrooms to negotiating their pain over the children (me!) being put first sometimes.
I learned early how to kick back, how to act out of my own emotions. As I came into my own power, though, I had to learn to put my own qualms and fears aside to do the work the relationship needed, even if that meant tenderly caring for the unhealed parts of others.
This “enlightenment burden” can often feel challenging and even unfair. Why do they get to stay broken, acting out of their own emotions, while I have to learn to turn the other cheek, let them take shots at me while I stay gracious? Why do I have to be the one who negotiates where they haven’t and won’t do the work of healing?
The parent has responsibilities that the child does not have, to be the bigger, more mature and more giving person, keeping context and letting small indignities and abrasions slide. This is an act of love.
While I would like to have been given that kind of safe & loving space when I needed it desperately, like so many other things, the way we eventually get what we need is to give what we needed. Relationships are relationships, so giving is receiving. When I give myself as kind in the world, even to those who don’t know how to be kind to me, I show the value, model the behaviour, and move everyone one tiny step towards healing.
Being able to give with grace even when you deeply feel how you are not being seen, respected and cared for with grace has been one of the most powerful choices I have ever learned. Sure, those emotions stay roiled within me, but I know that letting them out, acting against those who are stuck in their own disquiet will never lead to growth and healing.
I can see through people. My decades of analysis and struggle have given me the power to do that.
Using that power with compassion and grace, following the simple, golden rule ethics of a wounded healer seems to me to be the only way that I can continue my own quest for enlightenment in the world, the only way I can act with integrity.
This often takes putting my own stuff on the back burner, being powerfully grounded in the hard truth that everyone heals in their own time and their own way, even me. People need time and space to do the work and being safe means being gracious enough not to push them into deploying their emotional defences, from tears to anger to trying to tell us what they think we want to hear.
Respecting their vulnerability is respecting my own openness in the world, acting towards them in the way I would want someone to act towards me.
Great power comes with great responsibility. And that includes the power to see & map the tender, battered hearts & minds of others.