Emotions and Reactions

With the holidays over and some Amazon gift cards in my account, I decided to treat myself the other day and ordered a copy of the movie “The Queen”.  As you might guess by my screen name, I’m a wee bit fascinated with the British monarchy.  It’s entirely the legacy of my paternal grandmother, who was a huge Anglophile and handed me my first historical novel on the Tudors that launched a lifetime interest.  While I’m more into the historical monarchy, particularly the Cousins’ War and the Tudor dynasty, I’ll cop to having watched the royal wedding and having at least some idea of what the current crop of royals is up to these days. 

“The Queen” deals with a recent crisis that occurred for the monarchy, in particular Queen Elizabeth II, during the response to Princess Diana’s death.  It’s an interesting conjecture as to the inner monologue and emotions the Queen dealt with at the time, masterfully expressed by actress Helen Mirren.  What caught my attention throughout the film, though, was the exploration of the tension between how someone reacts to a tragedy or crisis and how others expect them to react – especially when the two things aren’t the same. 

In the film, the Queen’s reaction to Diana’s death reflects a mixture of concerns, both emotional and practical.  She’s an embodiment of the “stiff upper lip” and simply can’t comprehend the hysterical emotional outpouring of sorrow that she encounters.  The people feel she’s out of touch and cold, that the Queen is the one reacting inappropriately.  The Queen sees the national demand that she make a public show of her emotions, weeping and wailing, as unreasonable and almost a violation.  The movie does a great job of asking what human beings are entitled in times of difficulty to demand from each other.  Is it fair to either side to demand that the other process the pain in a certain way?  Make certain statements?  Cry or refuse to cry in public?

It’s a question near and dear to my heart these days.  When I chose to go fairly public with my issues with infertility, I received an enormous outpouring of support and love.  It was pretty inspiring and wonderful.  People I never would have guessed have made the effort to connect with me about this.  But…there was this one individual I was sure would step forward with a comforting word when I opened up.  I waited.  No comment.  No acknowledgement on the original facebook post.

Maybe, I thought, she was waiting to see me in person.  It’s a sensitive subject.  So when I saw her, I waited for a word.  A sign.  Something.  Instead, she determinedly talked about every subject except my post.  We talked extensively about work.  Life.  I wondered if she’d missed the post, but I knew she hadn’t.  She knew.  And categorically refused to acknowledge it. 

“The Queen” made me think about that delicate balance of reactions and expectations.  There’s a part of me that is baffled and hurt by her refusal to even acknowledge my struggle, my pain in the smallest way.  Then there’s the counterpart: what right do I have to demand a reaction?  I don’t know what her inner monologue looks like.  I don’t know if there’s some reason that acknowledging my struggle would bring some sort of unbearable dissonance or difficulty. 

There’s a sense in which I can view this pretty academically because I do have the benefit of a lot of other great people surrounding me.  In some ways, I’m more curious than hurt because the reaction (or lack thereof) was so unexpected based on prior experiences with this individual.    Maybe at some point I missed something I should have acknowledged.  Or maybe it’s just such an uncomfortable situation that it seems too awkward.  At this point, I’m sort of shrugging and letting it go.

But it’s a question: how do you navigate those “unexpected” responses?  Is there any recovery when people’s emotional expectations/reactions are so divergent?  Is there a way to breach the divide?  What kind of support is it appropriate to ask for? 

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5 thoughts on “Emotions and Reactions

  1. That is such a good question. First of all, I loved that film. I was so touched by her confused response — that this quality which was admired and revered became this quality that she was hated for in the moment. There was a feeling of “you can’t win.”

    That said, unless something is said directly, I always assume the other person doesn’t know. Even if I posted about it in 50 places and they COULD have read it (in fact, it would seem unlikely that they hadn’t read it). Unless I tell someone something directly, I expect no reaction or outreach. Now, when I do tell someone something directly, I do expect a reaction, support, etc. Those are the times when I’m more shocked that someone can’t step up be there.

  2. Here from the Round-Up –

    You are exceptionally well-grounded to be able to let it go. I think expectations of other people are the biggest cause of anger; yet, people are often unpredictable.

    It is a fascinating idea – what should we do when someone doesn’t react in the way we think they will? Relationships are often built on the idea that you are like-minded, so having someone do something unexpected can be really confusing.

  3. Here from Mel’s Roundup.

    Like Mel, I wouldn’t assume someone knows something after a FB post. Fb increasingly plays odd games in terms of what updates we see in our newsfeed. We all have different email settings. It’s actually surprisingly easy to miss something, and it could be she just missed that particular one. If you want someone to know something, don’t use Fb.

    Secondly, I’d say that – here in the western world at least – we are pretty awful at dealing with other peoples’ grief, loss etc. We worry if we’re going to say the wrong thing and so don’t say anything at all. And we don’t realise how much worse that is. I suspect that could be where your friend is.

    Then there’s the third thing. We are all so wrapped up in our own worlds, problems, emotions, that we don’t always lift our heads to see when others might need support. It’s not that we don’t care – it’s just that we don’t always register. And so I think asking for help when we need it – even if it is something as simple as “I’m having a tough time and could really use a chat over coffee/hug from my friend/laugh with you, etc.” And then if they don’t respond, let them know you were a bit hurt, or felt a bit lonely or left out. Because it never ceases to amaze me that people (including me) have no idea how their actions/lack of actions might be interpreted by others.

    • I definitely agree about western culture and the difficulty/discomfort in talking with people about loss and grief. So true.

      And yes, asking for help – definitely a good idea, and it’s true about things not always registering. Thanks for the perspective, it’s helpful to remember these things.

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