4 Mar

The other day I found one of DynaGirl’s school papers floating around.  It’s titled “Vultures” and looks to be some kind of exercise in self-esteem, dealing with bullies and the like.  The first question is: “What are vultures?  DynaGirl answered: a bully, rude, mean, people that are being mean.  I think this is an extremely appropriate metaphor for this kind of cruel behavior.  Afterall, what is a vulture?  A scavenger, preying on the sick or injured or weak.  They pick the easiest targets, and their survival is dependent on the misery of others.  Of course, in nature, this isn’t the vulture’s fault.  Vultures aren’t evil—they’re just doing what they know how to do to survive, the circle of life and all that.  But still, a totally fitting comparison to what some of us human beings do to one another in the name of self-preservation.

Well, some would say self-preservation.  The self-preservation excuse is, of course, bogus.  Question #2 on DynaGirl’s assignment: Why do we vulture people?  DynaGirl answered, “Sometimes people get vultured by someone else so they think vulturing someone else will make them feel better.”  No one really needs to tear someone else down to feel better about themselves, but they often think they do.  But why?  I know, it’s all about control and trying to avoid the bottom of the societal totem pole, so to speak.  But still, why?  Why haven’t we figured out how to lift ourselves up without stepping all over someone else?

I’ve had a few vultures in my life disguised as friends.  These are those kind of toxic relationships.  They seem nice and fun and even supportive, but all the while they’re slipping low doses of poison.  So low you don’t even notice at first.  Maybe they plant seeds of self-doubt with an offhand remark about your appearance that you write off as the good-natured teasing that friends often dish out to each other.  Maybe when you’re upset about something or someone else this “friend’s” method of comfort is to fan the flames of your discomfort or distress—turning the proverbial molehill into a mountain.  They seem to be taking your side, but they’re really not doing you any favors.

I had a friend in high school who I thought was really cool.  So cool, in fact, that I often worried about impressing her.  Was I wearing the right clothes?  Saying the right things?  Listening to the right music?  Hanging out with the right people?  Maybe it’s not fair to put that on her, but that’s how I felt.  Very insecure.  All the time.  Whenever I had any kind of problem with anyone else, she was quick to take my side and villify the other person.  I took this as a sign of her support and affection for me, but looking back I can see that’s not what it was about.  She made me angry and bitter and sometimes even mean.  Well, not “made” me.  Obviously, we all have to take responsibility for our own choices and actions.  But our relationship became this kind of toxic environment where I soaked up the poison.  At one point, we got into a fight–a minor argument about something I can’t even remember–and she said, “Well, if we’re ever going to be friends again, you have to…”  I said, “You mean we’re not friends now?” and hung up on her.  It was very liberating.  We patched things up a bit, talked now and then and hung out very occasionally after that, but it was never the same.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to avoid these kinds of toxic people—the vultures feeding on others’ misery.  If someone spends too much time with petty concerns, complaining about other people, I move on.  If any of my friends are in situations where they’re upset with someone else or feel wronged or frustrated, I try really hard to help them see another side.  Sometimes I even make up excuses for the person that has “wronged” them just to open up the possibility that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.  That is not to say that some people aren’t just being jerks.  Some people are just jerks.  And that’s not to say that I don’t occasionally encourage a friend to step away from a situation that appears to be unhealthy or bad.  I just find myself trying not to help them by feeding their anger or hurt.  I try to build them up without tearing anyone else down.  I don’t pretend to be perfect.  I’m not always successful at avoiding the petty back-talk, but as a general rule, I think I really try.

Especially with husbands.  One thing girlfriends do for each other is listen to their marital frustrations.  Even the best marriages have issues, big or small.  I commiserate with my friends, reassure them that these are things we all deal with on some level, but then I really think I try to help them find the positive.  Yes, this is how you’re feeling about how your husband is acting.  Yes, maybe he is being a little selfish.  Yes, maybe he is even being kind of a jerk.  But why?  Maybe it’s unintentional.  Maybe he’s stressed out.  Maybe he’s just having a hard time communicating his feelings and needs.  We don’t want to poison each others’ relationships, do we?  What good does it do to try to convince someone that yeah, her husband really is a jerk?  (Obviously physical and emotional abuse are exceptions, but I think it’s possible to be a jerk without being abusive.)

Like I said, I’m not perfect.  I’ll jump into the cheerleading role and take sides and throw out a “What a jerk” or two, but I try to temper that with a little devil’s advocate.  I try to avoid flocking and joining others in the feeding frenzy.  I hope I’m successful more times than not.


The flipside of DynaGirl’s “Vultures” paper is “Self-vultures”.  I think maybe we’ll talk about that tomorrow.


22 Responses to “Vultures”

  1. cheryl March 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    I know I’ve told you this before, but this is why I love you so much. In fact, you are my favorite person to talk to when I need to think things through because I know you will support my feelings, but you won’t let me wallow. And this is exactly what I need as a person –and to keep me healthy emotionally, mentally, etc. and so forth. In fact, I think I owe the improvement of my marriage partially to you! Not that I want to feel any pressure! Doh! I just want you to know that I’m glad you’ve figured out this vulture thing, and that you encourage your friends in their other relationships.

    The funniest part is that my husband is the same way. It used to really tick me off, but then you (and some other friends –and my therapist!) came into my life and did the same thing –it made me realize that perhaps my self-pity/wallowing/anger/bitterness was of my own making.

    It has seriously rocked my world. And I haven’t been happier in years!

    So, I know it will embarrass you (and maybe I shouldn’t have put it out here online like this), but take some credit for my happiness. I hope I can me more like you in this way!

    And I think this was the most serious comment I have ever left on your blog. Crazy! 🙂

  2. cheryl March 4, 2009 at 12:20 pm #

    Oops: Not that I want YOU to feel any pressure. That’s what I meant!

  3. cheryl March 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm #

    And “be” not “me”.

    Maybe I should learn to proofread or something…

  4. Susan M March 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    You are like Mystical Bat Woman and Powerful Shaman all rolled into one.

  5. Julie March 4, 2009 at 12:56 pm #

    So, on the flip side, though…

    Sometimes isn’t it nice to be validated in your feelings? Like when Brig was diagnosed with his heart defect…it sucked. I cried a lot and when I called my dad to tell him, I just wanted him to cry with me. Instead, he said, “There’s no reason to cry. Everything will be okay. Just have faith.” Things like that. They really upset me. I knew everything would be okay (whatever “okay” means). I knew with faith miracles could happen. I didn’t need him to tell me that. What I needed was for him to understand, empathize, cry with me.
    My bro and sis in law came over a few nights later and just said, “This really sucks.” We cried together and looked at pictures and when they left, I felt better than I had since finding out.

    I agree with your thoughts, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes I think there’s a place for not taking the opposite side or helping someone see the bright side….because often times people already know the bright side and just need a moment in the darkness to really deal with the sorrow.

    Am I making any sense?

  6. E March 4, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    I knew I liked you.

  7. Janelle March 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Great post. I’ve had some vultures in my life but for me they felt more like leaches. People who wanted to draw upon my happiness and were upset when at times they came to draw and found the well dry.

  8. madhousewife March 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    I had a friend like your high school friend, only subtler. I just stopped talking to her. Since she was mostly ignoring me anyway, I think it took her a while to catch on. She finally contacted me after two years and said, “I realize I was being a jerk and I’m sorry and I’d like us to be friends again.” So we’re friends again, but it’s kind of awkward because I moved on emotionally without her and it’s hard to feel close to her now. I wish I’d been more direct with her, and maybe our friendship might have been salvaged without all the passive-aggressive business (on my part).

    To speak to what Julie said, there’s a difference between complaining and venting about stuff going on in your life–actual problems–and just complaining about other people. Expressing your feelings about a loved one being diagnosed with a heart defect is not vulture behavior. I agree that it’s not helpful to tell people who are going through a truly dark period that they ought to look on the bright side. But it’s often helpful to be reminded that people you’re complaining about might deserve the benefit of the doubt. Those are completely different situations, I think.

  9. flip flop mama March 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    What a great post. Husband-bashing is something I absolutely despise. Commiserating with someone is one thing, but tearing down other people so we can feel better should never be done. I love that you can see the positive in people and help others to see that too.

  10. E March 4, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    Julie, I think there is a difference between empathizing and fanning the flames just so you can be a part of the drama. What your bro and sis in law did was probably very good since it helped you to feel better. If they had encouraged you down a road of self-pity and anger; “why does everything bad always happen to me, the Lord must hate me,” you would have felt worse afterward. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would really be that destructive in so serious a situation. But when it comes to friend or husband issues many people are.

    I think my sisters and I do a pretty good job of understanding each other’s issues without being destructive. If you want to complain about how annoying it is to have your husband home sick from work because it throws off your whole schedule for the day, you’re going to get sympathy and understanding. But if you want to say that your husband is a lazy looser who should get off his butt and do something productive, you will likely be reminded that he is an imperfect person who deserves your love and compassion. Just like you are an imperfect person and aren’t you glad we love you anyway?

    I think that’s what bythelbs was saying, anyway.

  11. cheryl March 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Absolutely. And what E said. And madhousewife. And Jamie. There is definitely a difference between empathy/sympathy and encouraging gossip/insults/anger/bitterness, etc.

    And Janelle, I can see that happening –because you are genuinely a happy person. I wish I could keep the vultures away from you, though.

    Man, I love you people…

  12. Julie March 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    All excellent points. And thanks for letting me share my feelings in a dramaless environment.

    And I concur. Completely.

  13. bythelbs March 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Cheryl—Wow, what a compliment. You are a definite blessing in my life. I hope you know that.

    Susan—Yessss! Mystical Bat Woman! I wish I felt more powerful.

    Julie—I know exactly what you are saying and I completely agree with you. In those kinds of situations, we don’t really want or need the cheerleaders or someone to remind us of the bright side, we just need a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Everyone else has seemed to already address that with it being a different situation so I’ll just say “What they said” and then reemphasize that I completely agree with you on that.

    Janelle—Yes, leeches, sucking the life out of you and using up all your reserves. What we all need are friends that will fill our wells up when we’re dry—they need something in their own wells to do that, though. And the so-called vultures are mostly dry all the time, I think!

    Mad—Yeah, sometimes I wonder if I had handled situations differently could I have salvaged more from them. Sure, maybe so. But at the same time, sometimes I think we’re right to get out of it as quickly as we can. Maybe sometimes it’s a little more important to salvage more of ourselves than the relationship. And you got what I was trying to say. Thanks for clarifying for me.

    Flip—Whenever I find myself husband “complaining” with my friends we are all quick to point out the good things too, and how we recognize how blessed we are, blah, blah, blah. (Those blahs make me sound less sincere, but hopefully you know what I mean!) Sometimes it’s helpful to compare notes, so we know “it’s not just us” so long as it’s done in a way that makes us feel better about ourselves AND our husbands.

    E—I like you too. And yeah, that’s what I was saying. I think you said it better. Have you ever considered starting a blog?

    And Julie, I hope you know this will always be a dramaless environment with open arms and virtual hugs and a whole lot of mutual admiration. I appreciate you making your point because it’s an important one. Not everyone knows how to be a good commiserator, and it’s a very valuable trait.

  14. tawnya March 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    ugh. I had to break up with a vulture friend before we moved. Seriously the drama from here could have powered a small country…

  15. tawnya March 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Oh! And the one rule we’ve tried hard to stick to since we’ve been married is the “no degrading one another to outsiders”. Sometimes it’s hard, but we’ve done ok in the 10 years it’s been. It really does force you to talk to each other about what’s bothering you instead of getting validation elsewhere.

  16. bythelbs March 4, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Tawnya—Doesn’t it feel good to have that distance now?

    Also, my thing with the husbands is why would I want my friends to think I’m married to a jerk? If anything, I would lie to make him come off better. Lucky for me, my husband is great and there is no need for lying.

  17. tawnya March 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    So good. I could tell stories that would make your toes curl! She’s now, simply, a cautionary tale in our house.

    Same. I always make Isaac look better! Not a hard sell, but still…

  18. tawnya March 4, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Hard sell? Seriously? Hard sale. Wait. Now I’m all flustered. “Supposubly? Supposubly”…Ah, Joey…

  19. bythelbs March 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Ha, Tawnya! You shouldn’t second guess yourself. You were right with the hard sell. Whenever someone says supposubly, I have a really hard time suppressing a chuckle. And it happens a lot.

  20. tawnya March 4, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Man. That was clearly a brain cramp moment! Remind me not to post about grammatical errors anytime soon…

  21. bythelbs March 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    No worries, man. I do that kind of stuff all the time. ALL the time.

  22. Alison Wonderland March 4, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    I have a friend who never EVER joins in to husband mocking. (You know, we’re not saying thast they’re losers just laughing about the funny things they do while watching sports or buying posters for their favorite bands at the age of thirty or…) I really admired her so I tried to do that myself and “coincidentaly” in the year or so since I’ve made a conscious effort to be better I’ve been a lot happier in my marriage.

    Funny how better behaviour on our part makes us happier.

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