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Thinking Out
Loud...

Marissa Alexander

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

I ended a relationship because my ex wouldn't keep his word, and he was a bully. After the breakup, he continued to call until I blocked his numbers. At that point, he started emailing me. When I blocked his email address, he sent messages from different accounts. I was frustrated by his persistent disregard for my wishes and I was annoyed by his entitlement.


I knew only one way to get rid of bullies - attack their character and exploit their insecurities; or use some passive-aggressive form of retaliation. I decided I would send an email starting with letting him know that all of his emails were unread, recapping all the reasons we broke up, and ending with criticizing and condemning him for refusing to respect boundaries. I intended to offend and humiliate his core; not because I wanted to hurt him, but because I was desperate to be rid of his toxic energy.


As all kinds of caustic language flooded my mind and demanded to make their way onto my screen, my empathetic nature threatened to overrule the decision my emotions had fully committed to. I remember feeling like my compassion for others is both a blessing and a curse. I weighed my options and decided that I needed to be clear. I wouldn’t tolerate the bullying. I’d write the email and deal with my feelings about it later.



As I began to type, I heard my mother’s voice whisper, “pick your battles”. I paused and decided to give myself some time to feel what I felt, and try to gain some insight and maybe a different perspective. I asked myself, what is this really about? You’re not even reading his emails. Why is this disturbing your peace? Those two questions led me down a path of self-discovery.


When I was a little girl, I was bullied a lot - mostly by the boys in our neighborhood and at school. I always stood up for myself and the people I cared about. I didn’t like confrontation or ongoing conflict. So, I would retaliate with a rapid-fire verbal attack to halt their aggression in its tracks. That was the answer! The why beneath the what. My ex's persistent and unwarranted contact felt like harassment and evoked feelings of powerlessness.


I needed to regain control of my life. I consider myself to be an evolving and emotionally intelligent person. So, I knew I could find a way to prioritize my wellbeing and treat my ex with dignity. After some reflection, I recognized several truths.


First, I acknowledged that the process of healing after a breakup is a personal journey. I had to admit that I was trying to control how my ex was dealing with his emotions; and I couldn’t dictate the process or impose a timeline. Second, a negative reaction from me wouldn’t add value to either of our lives. Finally and most importantly, I had the power to choose my reaction.


I realized that, by responding to his email, I would be giving time and energy to an issue that was no longer relevant. I realized that my real strength lay in my ability to reinforce the boundaries that I’d set by simply remaining silent. I added his email addresses to my spam filter and closed the chapter.


The next time you find yourself drawn into an unresolvable conflict or debate, pick your battles. Save your energy for the things that matter. You are under no obligation to respond. You have the right to remain silent. Even when you’re right, sometimes it’s you who has to accept what you can and cannot influence or change.


Marissa


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