There is a person who from time to time verbally, publicly, and unexpectedly attacks me.
As far as I have been able to determine, I haven’t actually ever done anything wrong to this person. In fact, I barely know this person. We are both involved in an organization that brings us into occasional contact. We have a mutual, good friend. But I don’t have any other occasion to interact with this person, and we have no direct dealings. I see this person and am met with effusive affection wholly beyond our actual standing toward one another; I respond with a milder version but pleasantly.
When this person lashes out at me, it’s usually done in the context of an online forum which serves the group of which we are both members. The attacks consist of castigations of a presumed interpretation of my efforts to help other members of the group. As an example, I suggested we adopt two members (who are married) for Christmas, and that anyone who was able, could donate small gifts or food items. The family had serious financial issues and needed someone’s help.
The response of the person who takes issue with me took the form of stating that I was implying that this person, my attacker, wasn’t helping or wouldn’t help. I went back to review the email that I had sent, and no mention was made of anyone helping or not helping; just “Our friends need help; if you can help, I’ll pick up donations at X time at Y location”, followed by thanks for any who could, mentioning no one, saying nothing about if one could not.
On that occasion, I privately messaged the person (whose number I don’t have, since I barely know this person) and apologized for offending. Came the swift reply, “Oh that’s all right love, I’m just in a bad mood!”
It’s happened again, and again. Most recently, I publicized one of the group member’s upcoming event, and encouraged all to attend. My tone carried no reproach. Nonetheless, a vicious attack, publicly levied within the group correspondence, followed from the same person.
This time, I did not reply. I did, however, contact the group coordinator and indicate that I had no further interest in being subjected to such treatment, and that if necessary, I would leave the group. I indicated that I have no interest in being attacked by anyone, and have a very high need to be within groups of people who have a healthy relationship and refrain from such activity.
After I made the statement, I realized: Oh, wow. Did I just complain???? I am very much afraid that could be interpreted as such! I clearly stated that I felt the attack was vicious, unwarranted, and disturbing. Those labels bring my statement clearly into the category of complaint. I struggle to recall what I’ve learned in Nonviolent commnication: I cannot begin to reach out to understand this person’s feelings, to undertake empathetic listening and response. But I can understand my own, and express my need, and make a request.
I have a need to feel safe and calm within any group (or relationship) of which I am a part. To meet that need, I can ask of people that they express their own feelings to me in nonviolent ways, specifically explaining to them what behavior of theirs I would like them to change. Alternatively, I could “scream nonviolently”, which In this case might take the form of advising the coordinator of my desire to avoid these exchanges, and asking the coordinator to assist me in finding ways to communicate with the group that meets my need for safety and calm.
It’s a learning experience. This undertaking is a journey, and from time to time, I will falter. But I always stand again, and move forward. That’s all I can do. I believe it is enough.