I was verbally attacked...How could I have responded? - Mothering Forums

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Old 08-13-2010, 10:54 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I agreed to act as an "observer" at a meeting for a friend who is in the midst of an incredibly acrimonious custody battle with his ex. Basically, his ex had a friend "mediating" for her at this meeting. I had asked my friend what role he wanted me to play, if I should just stay quiet. He said no, that I should speak up if I felt things were getting out of control. Anywhoo, knew it wouldn't exactly be fun; BUT...

The whole thing was just absurd. I spoke up very gently to make a comment about trust needing to be established and the "mediator" (who was the only one who had spoken the whole meeting to that point) said:

"Who the f***k is she?"

I said "you do not speak to me that way" and tried to continue what I was saying. She completely twisted my words and told me "if I was going to use a big word like trust, I'd better know what the f***k I was talking about..." I decided to get up to leave, but was stranded in the middle of nowhere; so I was heading to friend's car. As I stood up, she said "now look, the little squirrel is running away to hide in her tree."

FTR, I am known as a very gentle, soft-spoken person; though I don't think I'm a doormat. I just didn't know what to do. I called my friend over quietly and told him I was taking the bus home. He had tears in his eyes and thanked me for coming and apologized for her.

The thing is, later he told me the meeting went well; that the woman had "put his ex in her place, too." His ex has been awful, so maybe she deserved it; but I DIDN'T. I felt like I abandoned my friend, but I just couldn't see making it through what was supposed to be a 3-hour meeting. He says everyone hugged at the end and was "just blowing off steam."

I realize now I could have said "who the f***k are you?" right back, and friend says that would have gained her respect. So is this just normal in some situations? Should I learn to fight back like this? Does this mean I'm afraid of conflict? Do people really interact this way? To me, it's just toxic and something to stay away from.
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Old 08-13-2010, 11:37 PM
 
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I realize now I could have said "who the f***k are you?" right back, and friend says that would have gained her respect. So is this just normal in some situations? Should I learn to fight back like this? Does this mean I'm afraid of conflict? Do people really interact this way? To me, it's just toxic and something to stay away from.
For what it's worth I think you acted very well. You calmly and politely set a boundary for interaction with you and, when it was crossed, you calmly removed yourself from the situation.

Your friend said that everyone was just blowing off steam? The mediator shouldn't have needed to blow off steam! S/He should have been an impartial person keeping the participants focused on discussing the adgenda in a productive way. It is not the job of a mediator to be abusive.

To answer your questions, yes, I think this is normal in some situations. That doesn't make it healthy or productive though. And it is definitely *not* normal for a real mediator to behave like that. It doesn't sound, from what you wrote, that you are afraid of conflict, it sounds like you are assertive and self-protective. The situation you described sounds toxic to me too. And, if your friend thinks that you needed to stoop to the mediator's level to gain her respect then, frankly, I think you would be better off without her respect. I sincerely hope that your friend it not implying that you should have responded in kind because, in my book, that would not make him a very good friend.

ETA - and, if she was any sort of mediator, she would have known who you were becasue she should have had everyone introduce themselves and state their role in the proceedings at the start of the meeting.

Mother of two spectacular girls, born mid-2010 and late 2012  mdcblog5.gif

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Old 08-13-2010, 11:54 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks, katelove, that was the kind of feedback I was looking for. It's just strange to be in a situation that is thankfully outside my normal experience (at least as an adult). This "mediator" was nowhere near a real mediator. She was a friend of my friend's ex. They are trying to avoid going through court, but they really can't talk civilly to each other at all. The best way I can describe it is "desperate housewives meets law and order." She was obviously relishing the role.

As for my friend, he was very supportive of me. I asked him if talking back to her in kind would have made a difference and he said yes, but acknowledged that she was/is a bully. And to be fair, he said he woke up the next day reallizing it hadn't actually gone so well. He and his ex are more embattled than ever since the meeting.

It's funny, because I actually am very good at removing myself from situations I don't like. I'm willing to engage with people, but not once name-callling starts or voices get raised past the "impassioned debate" level. I know it will impact me adversely and I don't need the drama. But it crossed my mind that maybe I'm a little TOO good at walking away. I think I'm still glad I did.

So thanks.
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Old 08-14-2010, 01:54 AM
 
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Your response was totally appropriate and perfect. Yes, that behavior is "normal" but that doesn't make it good or healthy. You acted with grace and self-respect and that can and will drive some people batty, especially in the heat of the moment.
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Old 08-14-2010, 02:51 AM
 
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i'd say: run -- don't walk -- away from this toxic drama. i think it's really sad when people who are married but divorcing can't find a way to just plain communicate with each other. why they have to bring in third parties just to sit down and have a conversation, is beyond me. and yes, i know divorce is hard. i've been divorced.

please don't let yourself get sucked into this scene again. i agree with PP who said all people there should have been introduced, etc. it's crazy that the man who asked you to be there didn't stand up for you himself.

quit going.

save yourself a lot of grief.

and by all means, don't change who you already are because of the way people reacted to you in this incredibly dysunctional dynamic.

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Old 08-14-2010, 09:07 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks. The whole thing has been pretty thought-provoking. I can understand that there is almost never a neutral word spoken between the two parents, but I was caught off-guard when the "saner heads" were worse. Friend has since commented to his girlfriend that "the only friend he had at that meeting got bullied out." It's hard to stay out of it, because this is my goddaughter and I feel helpless to protect her from any of this. Friend actually did try to ask her to let me finish, but it was far beyond that. I have a new-found respect for him, though; I saw first-hand what he's up against and he's trying to navigate through this without setting off his ex. I wish I could help. I've told friend that I will always be happy to advocate for him in court or speak to any child-welfare people or lawyers on his behalf, but I can never speak to those people again. I also asked him to never give any contact information to them.
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Old 08-14-2010, 02:24 PM
 
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Have you known your friend for very long? At least a few years from before this divorce? I had a loonngg post written out telling you why but erased it because it could lead away from the point, which is......there are people out there that are soooooo nice in public and to people around them day to day, but when you live with them you find out that isn't how they really are.

After you realize what they are, then anyone who defends them as 'such a nice guy' makes you want to vomit. or possibly get in the face of their defenders and supporters. Especially when this kind of person will not, in any way, have a conversation with you without one of their defenders next to them so they can put on their EXTREME oh so nice, oh so reasonable act. They also know to hand pick friends that will serve a purpose for themselves in different situations. So say, if they smell a divorce coming they would befriend the kindest, most empathic person they could to support them (it makes them look good to be associated with an actual good person). These types also know the little things that could set off there ex (sometimes their ex is on to them though ) so that, they hope anyways, their ex will react in a bad way in front of their character witness.

My advice, even if I hadn't known anyone like I described above is; step out of this one. There may be something going on under the surface of this relationship that your not being made aware of.


* I'll save the loonngg post for the book, which should be out in about 10 years. I have to find out how it all ends myself yet.....I'm still waiting for that part.......
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Old 08-14-2010, 02:36 PM
 
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Is it possible that the mediator, unaware of who you were, thought he'd brought his new girlfriend with him?

I know, that's a bit icky, but TBH if my ex had brought another girl with him to a custody thing i would have been spitting mad, especially if we were meeting with a mediator - did the XP also have a friend (male or female) who got to stay?

Ultimately this is, HAS TO BE, between him and his ex, and not any third parties. I'm positive that the mediator handled it very poorly indeed, but i think it might well be her job to challenge the parents on who they brought and why. This does NOT excuse the swearing or abusiveness!
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Old 08-14-2010, 04:09 PM
 
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First off, this sounds like a disaster as even a quasi-mediation. No one suggested everyone introduce themselves and identify their roles when it began? That's just bizarre.

Secondly, as someone who almost never walks away when I'm attacked, I still think that friend of your friend's ex was totally out of line. Yes it happens, but it's still never "appropriate" or productive to respond to someone who spoke respectfully with "Who the F are you?"

All that said, given that you didn't sign on to be attacked, I think you were justified in walking away in this situation. I do wonder though, since you said you're very good at walking away, what if it was your mediation and the issue being discussed was of great importance to you? While I don't think anyone should put up with being spoken to in such a hostile way, the reality is we don't always get to pick the forums in which important issues are getting decided, and if it was your mtg (which I know it wasn't), would you have been able to stand your ground and continue to seek a solution even with someone being hostile?

Again, I think you handled this situation just fine. I'm just responding to the rest of what you said, re: possibly walking away too easily, and I wondered how you handle it when the consequence of walking away might be harder on you...?
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Old 08-14-2010, 05:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Good questions. To answer wednesday2004, you're actually describing friend's ex pretty well. I have never met anyone so toxic. I have known her and him since we were both pregnant--7 years ago. We spent entire days together on a regular basis for a long time. Things were always rocky between her and her ex--who is now the one who is my friend. Basically, she did not want me to continue to be friends with him when they broke up. I was unwilling to cut off contact, somewhat because our daughters have always been incredibly close and she was making no effort to get them together. Her ex was. So, we continued to see him and she cut off contact with us.

This mediation thing has been bizarre. She actually DID know who I was, because I introduced myself. So "who the f**k is she was a rhetorical question. My friend had told me and his girlfriend that he was going to this meeting with a "mediator." When it became clear this mediator was not impartial, but a friend of the ex, we all agreed he'd be better off having someone there with him, too. The stakes for these current negotiations are really high...his ex wants to move with their kid 1000 miles away very soon, without a signed custody agreement.

As far as me walking away easily, I guess I meant from situations that feel volatile or threatening. It's hard to describe what the attack was like, she was just brutal. The examples I gave were just a little snippet of what happened. I think I'm a pretty loyal friend usually, but I just won't engage with people when they speak like that. I'm wondering if I should look at that in myself; because you're right, LROM, I potentially did leave my friend to deal with a situation I couldn't deal with myself. I still wonder if I should have done that. I kind of feel like a wimp and that maybe I need to learn how to hold my own in difficult situations a bit more, instead of just saying "later."
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Old 08-14-2010, 08:38 PM
 
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I probably would have just said that I was his friend and that I was there to help him.

If she was rude after that I probably would have told her to F*** off herself.

Also it would depend what kind of mood I'm in. Right now I'm PMSing like crazy so I probably would have asked who the f*** she was right back and why she thought she could f***ing talk to me that way. Then again, I do curse like a sailor

It's complicated.
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Old 08-15-2010, 01:22 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Well, they're leaving, for better or for worse. It's hard to imagine being without my goddaughter. Dd will miss her terribly and I will worry. I don't think I could have accomplished much more by staying. I guess at the time, I thought I might even make things worse; since I obviously wasn't clicking with this woman, to say the least. Learning mom, that's exactly the kind of thing I meant. I don't think I've EVER told anyone to f**k off. I just disengage. In this situation, I think I did the best I could; but it's so much my default position. I don't stay to do battle. I'm not like that with dh at all; I never leave a room or shut down. I'm always willing to stay and hash it out, no matter how uncomfortable. I think what's nagging me is that I feel like I'm maybe easily intimidated by forceful or bullying people. I'm not sure if that's something I can really change, though. I'm very much a pacifist at heart.
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Old 08-15-2010, 01:29 AM
 
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Why hasn't your friend gone to court to prevent the move? That seems like the easiest solution. Why is he trying to resolve it without the court's involvement?


ETA: I know that's totally off topic - it'sjust what struck me from the last post. When it was clear that the "mediator" was not-unbiased and actually abusive, your friend should have ended the discussion. If he made agreements at that meeting to allow his ex to move away, I doubt they're in any way binding legally. He needs to file for custody.

Aside from that - I'm sorry you went through this. I think you did the right thing. The only other thing I probably would have done was to tell your friend that the meeting should end then and there.
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Old 08-15-2010, 02:02 AM
 
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Originally Posted by carfreemama View Post
I agreed to act as an "observer" at a meeting for a friend who is in the midst of an incredibly acrimonious custody battle with his ex. Basically, his ex had a friend "mediating" for her at this meeting. I had asked my friend what role he wanted me to play, if I should just stay quiet. He said no, that I should speak up if I felt things were getting out of control. Anywhoo, knew it wouldn't exactly be fun; BUT...

The whole thing was just absurd. I spoke up very gently to make a comment about trust needing to be established and the "mediator" (who was the only one who had spoken the whole meeting to that point) said:

"Who the f***k is she?"

I said "you do not speak to me that way" and tried to continue what I was saying. She completely twisted my words and told me "if I was going to use a big word like trust, I'd better know what the f***k I was talking about..." I decided to get up to leave, but was stranded in the middle of nowhere; so I was heading to friend's car. As I stood up, she said "now look, the little squirrel is running away to hide in her tree.".
Wow. That is just a nasty thing to say. I am sorry you had to deal with that. Divorce can be so ugly.
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Old 08-15-2010, 02:07 AM
 
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I said "you do not speak to me that way" and tried to continue what I was saying. She completely twisted my words and told me "if I was going to use a big word like trust, I'd better know what the f***k I was talking about..." I decided to get up to leave, but was stranded in the middle of nowhere; so I was heading to friend's car. As I stood up, she said "now look, the little squirrel is running away to hide in her tree."

FTR, I am known as a very gentle, soft-spoken person; though I don't think I'm a doormat. I just didn't know what to do. I called my friend over quietly and told him I was taking the bus home. He had tears in his eyes and thanked me for coming and apologized for her.

The thing is, later he told me the meeting went well; that the woman had "put his ex in her place, too." His ex has been awful, so maybe she deserved it; but I DIDN'T. I felt like I abandoned my friend, but I just couldn't see making it through what was supposed to be a 3-hour meeting. He says everyone hugged at the end and was "just blowing off steam."

I realize now I could have said "who the f***k are you?" right back, and friend says that would have gained her respect. So is this just normal in some situations? Should I learn to fight back like this? Does this mean I'm afraid of conflict? Do people really interact this way? To me, it's just toxic and something to stay away from.
You know, I think you handled it honestly and wisely. I do not think you should be anything but yourself. I would not have said "who the F**K are you?" as that is not my style. I think it is harsh and brash to be like that.

I have a neighbor who is intent on trying to pick some fight with me. I am not going to fight with her so I just walk away. A lot of women project their own issues with their mothers or from their life in general onto others...esp those who are quiet and/or kind. Just walk away from mean, bullying, and/or deceptive people. It really is quite honest to do so.
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Old 08-16-2010, 04:46 AM
 
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Well, they're leaving, for better or for worse. It's hard to imagine being without my goddaughter. Dd will miss her terribly and I will worry. I don't think I could have accomplished much more by staying. I guess at the time, I thought I might even make things worse; since I obviously wasn't clicking with this woman, to say the least. Learning mom, that's exactly the kind of thing I meant. I don't think I've EVER told anyone to f**k off. I just disengage. In this situation, I think I did the best I could; but it's so much my default position. I don't stay to do battle. I'm not like that with dh at all; I never leave a room or shut down. I'm always willing to stay and hash it out, no matter how uncomfortable. I think what's nagging me is that I feel like I'm maybe easily intimidated by forceful or bullying people. I'm not sure if that's something I can really change, though. I'm very much a pacifist at heart.
I don't think that being a pacifist and standing up for yourself are mutually exclusive. It is definitely something that you can change. It can be uncomfortable or even scary to stand up for yourself but it really comes down to just sucking up those feelings and doing it. I don't think you need to be rude or aggressive but it is possible to be firm and not let someone walk all over you. I think it's a good skill to learn. Thankfully, it's also that one doesn't get used very often.

It's complicated.
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Old 08-16-2010, 07:20 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I think you might be right, Learning Mum. I do think walking away was okay in this situation, as it turned out. I wasn't going to get anywhere with this woman and I really thought a 3-hour meeting full of this woudl be damaging to me. My friend told me that during the meeting, voices were raised and harsh words were spoken. I guess with the intensity of the situation, that might have made some sense. She was just so over-the-top, I decided I'd be no help to anyone to stick it out. I had the freedom to leave, so I did.

However, the situation really stirred up some stuff for me about letting people treat me like this and not standing my ground. Maybe not as extreme situations; but that feeling that something's not right, that I'm being railroaded or disrespected and I don't trust myself enough to speak up. I did tell the woman not to speak to me that way and she responded that I was rude. Even with friends, there have been times when someone has said or done something that really hurts or makes me angry and I haven't said anything. Then I come home and feel really bad, but I don't say anything. I'm not sure why. I get confused when someone is being mean to me. There was a ton of verbal and other abuse growing up, so I'm sure I'm afraid partly because of that. My dad would fly off like that a lot. I hated him for it and there were consequences to standing up to him.
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Old 08-16-2010, 01:45 PM
 
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Well there ya go honey, if you grew up with verbal abuse and consequences for standing up to being unjustly attacked, then it's no suprise it's hard for you to do now!

The great news is, as PP said, you can change that dynamic. It's often a slow, challenging change, but it's so doable.

What have you done to process your childhood environment of verbal abuse? That can be a great first step in figuring out what it will take to feel more secure in standing up for yourself (even in a quiet way) now.

Mostly though it just takes little experiements combined with knowing and *truly believing* in your heart that the people who you most want in your life will not withdraw their love for you or inflict pain on you just because you were honest with them and told them they were being mean or inappropriate. The little experiments mean taking small steps - next time someone hurts your feelings or says something mean it can be as simple as just saying SOMETHING, anything small, like "Even though I'm hurt by how you said that, I'll think about what you've said" or something that in some small way lets them know their message was not felt positively.

I'm amazed in my life how rarely it is that I tell someone honestly what I think of something they said or did and that they respond really negatively. Mostly I think its because I've learned how to do my best at not responding out of anger or hurt, but as much as possible out of reason and trying to hear what the person was really trying to say and responding to that too. Sometimes it gets heated, sure... but I feel as long as I treat others with respect and with the best intentions, I'm not responsible if it turns out badly anyway. At least I tried my best.

You'll figure out what works for you, but the best is that you're willing to look at yourself and work on it. Best of luck to you! And to your friend and his daughter - I feel for a little girl who is being taken so far from what's familiar by a mean mom.
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Old 08-16-2010, 05:31 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks, LROM. Lots of food for thought, everyone! I think it was the fact that this woman's behaviour was so extreme that I was even able to say "please don't speak to me that way." I was kind of shocked into it. Thankfully, most of what I realized from this incident is that I've learned to surround myself with loving, gentle people. That's a large part of why this is so far outside my comfort zone. However, on the occasions where submission isn't the best option, or even necessarily safe, I am mostly at a loss. It would be good to know I could stand my ground when I have to. I've actually come a long way, in that I've learned to surround myself with trustworthy, supportive people. But even they can need to be given negative feeback. And if I learn to give it, maybe I can accept it better, too.

I have a counselor who's really great, which is probably why I even clued in that this deserved some self-reflection. There was lots of abuse on every level and I'm slowly getting there. It'll be useful to process this event with her. It's not that I'm really traumatized by this incident, just shocked.

As for my goddaughter, I am pretty panicked for her and her situation. So far, she is incredibly well adjusted; but I worry so much about her being taken so far away, away from every stabilizing influence in her life. Thankfully, she is moving to a place we go to at least a couple of times a year and her dad is committed to maintaining communication; but who knows? I hope she doesn't poison her daughter against us, too. I think the dad is really doing the best thing he can by moving with them. It's the only way he can really be there for his daughter and he's being very insistent on that.
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