A coworker of mine recently visited Germany with her husband to reunite with her father-in-law and meet the new mother-in-law. She said Germany was beautiful, but her time there was full of emotional drama.
She noticed her father-in-law taking pain pills, and she learned from her new mother-in-law that he was addicted to pain pills and had a gambling problem. Her father-in-law apparently came to work high and embarrassed his new wife.
My coworker reacted and became enraged at him. She confronted him and lectured him, in response to which he became defensive. Her husband was also upset because of how harsh and forward she was with her father-in-law. It turned their vacation into a nightmare of stress and drama.
She consistently interfered with the situation, and even when she talked about Germany at work, she went on and on about how awful her father-in-law was. How he was ruining his new wife’s life, and how bad they were in debt. She spent our whole lunchtime complaining about this man.
Emotionally reacting to someone else’s life and behavior is interfering, which Michael Brown, author of Alchemy of the Heart, likes to call going “into fear.” The person’s behavior triggers us because if frightens us.
So caught up in the drama was my coworker that it felt as though I was living the Germany nightmare with her as she played it out all over again.
In due course, my coworker realized what she was doing and expressed that she regretted making a scene and ruining their time in Germany. She had just plain overreacted. Still, despite this admission, she continued to be emotionally triggered.
I said to her, “This has really gotten to you emotionally, but in reality it has nothing to do with you.” She agreed. Then I asked her why this situation was so emotionally triggering for her. “Did you have anyone in your family who was addicted to pills or alcohol and also had a gambling problem?
Her response was, “Why, yes! My father was a drunk and had a gambling problem.”
I explained, “That is why seeing this has made you so angry. It isn’t about your father-in-law. This is about you getting over your own childhood.”
I’m not saying it is okay for the father-in-law to be in the state he is in. I’m saying that any time we react to anything, no matter what it is, it’s because we’re seeing a reflection of our own self.
No one’s behaviors can affect us unless we have something inside of us that we havn’t quite dealt with. This wasn’t about the father-in-law, but about what emotionally triggered her.
Of course, I recognize that when I told my coworker how I understood what had happened, I too might be interfering! Maybe the one difference was that I didn’t do so with any form of emotional charge. A saving grace, perhaps