Most if not all of us have been there before. Someone asks a probing question that throws us out of kilter, not because we don’t understand what they’re asking, but because it strikes us as incredibly brash and personal, even confrontational, the kind of question that straightens you and jerks your head back, literally.
Not long ago, a professional with a keen eye for detail asked me out of the blue, “What was you motive in writing your book, The Demon in Disguise?” What? I was no way prepared for the question. I did the requisite double-take, looking him in the eyes to gain some measure of his motive in putting the question. I have absolutely no problem talking about the book and the journey I took in getting the finish line. On the contrary. I am eager to share the entirety of my story through whatever means available.
What do you mean what was my motive?
It felt like a sucker punch. I wanted to parry and move on. Was the question a disguised assertion? Regardless, I felt it wasn’t any of his business. I was not about to give up that part of myself to someone I didn’t know that well or for that matter trust. The question insulted me.
Then I changed the monologue. Was I overreacting to a poor choice of words? Was I getting tripped up because I didn’t trust him, as I tend to do with people? It was hard to say. All I knew was that I was teetering, not a place I liked to be.
The challenge had to do with a cold reality: I am not wired to keep mum, almost to a fault, well sometimes to a fault. I am prone to quick and unvarnished responses.
What about you? Do you have the same quick trigger to answer with brutal honesty? Or do you, as I less often but sometimes do, toss out answers that sidestep the dialogue and seek to lower the temperature and pacify the situation, even though deep down you’re pissed off that a person had the audacity to ask you that question? Or are you the type of person who lets the question linger, creating that awkward silence that does no one any good?
In this instance, I thought his question called for some clarity. Remarkably, I had the presence of mind to ask for some.
“Are you asking why I wrote the book?”
“Well, yeah, I guess.”
His less than robust answer took me off the defensive. I could deliver an answer with ease.
I went on about the process, how my therapy for PTSD from the twin-homicide of my father and friend led to the decision to write the book, to help the healing process, maybe find some answers, and try to get clarity on the worse thing that has ever happened to me.
I was tired of not knowing what happened to my family. I wasted many nights ruminating on the murders, the kidnapping, the rape, and the foreboding judicial system. I needed to forgive and be forgiven. I wanted to come to my own terms with myself and establish my own truth.
I could not make peace with myself or others if I didn’t do the work. Trauma had stunted my growth and I chose to no longer allow my disturbing past to imprison me. I had the keys to freedom and I used them.
And that was that. The lesson was that I had by answering a question with a question reset the table in a way that honored the boundaries I required for myself. I didn’t fly off the handle and try to eviscerate the messenger. I know how that would have gone. Instead, I made the situation work for me. A little self-control and perspective allowed me to take full advantage of the moment. He got his answer and I kept my power and self-respect.