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Heartless

Mel O'Sullivan - January 18, 2021

Military personnel are trained to make decisions in a logical, structured, objective and timely fashion - removing emotion wherever possible from the process. On average we identify and assess risk, balance the relative merits of alternatives and reach conclusions much faster than our civilian counterparts. We are also unlikely to second guess, or revisit an issue after a course of action has been decided. We will change direction when a plan proves unfeasible and act on weak points and failures but our focus is on fixing problems - not holding hands and making people feel good about what has to be done.

Often, that tendency completely fails to translate in situations where consideration of the emotions and feelings of other people needs to come first. Particularly in highly emotionally charged family situations. I'm no expert, but I think that tendency is the root cause of accusations of lack of emotional intelligence. We are aware of the emotions - but we do not make sentimental decisions based on them.

My transition wasn't voluntary and it wasn't easy. Single at the time, most of the burden of my emotional support fell on my family - particularly my mother. My Mum is a deeply caring person and a fixer - like any good mother she wants to protect her children from all the bad things in life (even when her youngest child is 40 mumble something years of age). She just wants to kiss everything better and make it right.

I can understand why many families simply run out of energy to deal with the amount of conflict and emotional hardship that comes with living with a family member who is by turns depressed, anxious, manic, aggressive and (thankfully not me) violent. I can understand why many veterans (mistakenly) make the decision that their families would be better off without them. Even experienced, long term carers who take good care of their own wellbeing eventually reach the point of exhaustion. Tempers fray and people snap. In those kinds of situations (like it or not) my tendency is to act first and deal with the emotions later (just as I was trained to do).

My family usually solves problems by consensus over a cup of tea at the kitchen table. We always have. My parents have reached a time in their lives where they are facing some very large and mostly unwanted life changes. The family farm they have invested their whole hearts into for the last 40 years is now proving challenging to run. It is the place where they raised all of their children, faced and overcame challenges of their own. Every pathway, place and object holds a treasured memory. The decisions they are facing are charged with emotion, and change is not easy at their age. In many ways their farm is who they are - its is as much their identity as it is their location and their business.

A lot like transition from the military I guess.

For a person a person trained to assess, decide and act, the process of dealing with the emotions of my parents in this situation is somewhat frustrating. When my parents ask for my viewpoint on the situation my military trained habit of assessing the situation objectively and laying out their options for them in a straight and clear cut path is not helpful. My tendency towards frustration when the same issue gets brought up around 25 times and talked around endlessly is not helpful either. To me the path ahead for them is clearly one of two options - they simply need to decide what they want to do and make it happen in an organised and military fashion. For them - they are being faced with giving up everything they have invested themselves into for the last fifty plus years.

It is a culture clash on a very fundamental emotional level.

It cuts to the bone to be told I am being heartless - but I these days I let it slide.

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