Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
How do you reverse an event that you had no control over but which had devastating consequences? Let me explain: the last time my family was invited to my in-law’s house was four years ago. It was a big deal- my grandfather-in-law’s eightieth birthday, as well as Thanksgiving. Their whole side of the family was there. They’d had a very expensive chocolate statue cake made for the occasion. At the moment of the toast, I suddenly gagged, spewing champagne all over the table, cake and party goers. I was mortified. They were disgusted… but they ate the cake!!! The family had gone to great expense and effort to get it. It was delicious despite the spew but I think their disgust was burned into their memory and “swallowed.” Their politeness sealed my fate and excommunication from all future events.
I do not know what to do. It wasn’t my fault. I did not do it on purpose.
Disgust can be visceral and you have been linked with this awful sensation. Intellectually everyone knows it wasn’t your fault and they probably forgive you; yet the sight of you probably turns their stomach and makes them want to vomit. This is a classic conditioning response.
In order to change this you have to use Pavlov conditioning to your advantage. You need to invite them to something simple and pleasurable and not sneeze, vomit or fart on them! After a few times the old conditioned response will be broken. If they refuse to go you will need to get creative. You may need to arrange something elaborate at your own expense. I wouldn’t bring up the disastrous event for many years. Some day in time it will be funny. Embarrassments work that way.
Good luck, maybe Granny has some ideas for you to try?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: OMG. If it had been me at the table, I probably would feel the same way. For the first time in many years, Granny is almost at a loss for an answer, probably because she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and she knows how relentless bad memories can be. However, perhaps I can give some practical advice from this very perspective. My first thought is- don’t provide them with any triggers! This would be anything that was present at the time of the incident. If you ever get these people in the same house with you again, don’t have it be for Thanksgiving, don’t have any similar decorations, and make sure nothing you are serving smells like anything they might remember from the fateful Spew Day, because smells can trigger buried responses and PTSD more than anything else. Above all DO NOT SERVE CAKE. In fact, you might want to arrange a get together at a basketball game or the beach…some sort of atmosphere that is the bipolar opposite of a Thanksgiving Day celebration.
But if these people resist all of your efforts, don’t push it. You’ve survived the last four years without being invited to the in-law’s. You can survive many more.