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Have I Got You Cornered Yet?

By Phyllis Stein
February 19, 2010

Sometimes, naming a pattern makes it really easy for us to see it in action. See if the word "cornering" identifies such a pattern for you.

I was having a conversation with my ex-husband who asked for my perspective on a conversation he had had with a friend.  He had come to him, angry and upset about something he had heard, something about unethical behavior on the part of another person.  He told me that this friend had wanted him to join in judging and condemning this person, but he refused to go there.  "Then," he said, "He cornered me, trying to get me to see his point of view."  The conversation spiraled downhill into disaster.  "You know," I said, trying to be helpful, "cornered is a feeling.  In reality, no one can really corner you."  That did not go over very well, so I tried another gambit and another, each time trying to get him to accept my point of view about what had happened.  THIS conversation was spiraling downwards too!

Suddenly, I started to laugh.  I realized that as I was trying to help him understand what had happened in the conversation with his friend, I was doing the exact same thing!  I too was trying to corner him, trying to get him to accept my point of view about what he was doing, using logic, pointing things out based on what he had already said.  Not only that, but I immediately realized that the whole time we were married, I was always trying to corner him in the same way.  More than that, I immediately realized that this was the name of what was going on the whole time I was growing up, that my mother was totally devoted to trying to corner ME into accepting her point of view about me!  Actually, I think cornering was what passed for normal conversation in my family!

I thought about all the strategies I tried to use to get my mother to stop coming at me, everything except giving up completely which is what she actually seemed to want.  I would try to corner her, which never worked because she was GOOD!  I tried to mollify her by partly agreeing, trying to find common ground, but that not enough.  I tried logic.  I tried yelling.  It always felt like a losing battle.

So back up, tune in.  What happened here?  I realized that when I said what I did, I had felt my ex-husband shut down.  And instead of tuning into what my little girl was feeling as a result, the loneliness and sadness, which I could easily have managed, I was telling myself that if only I said the right thing, the magic thing, he would open up, he would "see" the truth of what I was saying.  I was literally not acknowledging the information that my little girl was giving me that he had shut down.  Instead of going into an intent to learn, I went into an intent to corner.  It seems ludicrous now, but somehow my wounded self was convinced that if I cornered him I could get him to open up when it was obvious that all it did, all it could possibly ever do, all it did all these years, was make him shut down even more!  Amazing that I never noticed!

Several days later, I saw him in a social situation.  A conversation started, one that would have sent me into cornering mode at any time in the past.  This time I just noticed that he was not open, and I just accepted that and let it go. 

And I realized the truth of what I had tried to tell my ex-husband, that "cornered" is a feeling that comes from inner abandonment.  I know that if someone tries to corner me again, I don't really have to engage it at all.  There is nothing to be gained by doing it.  That all along, when someone did try to corner me, I reacted by trying to have control over what THEY were doing, trying to get them to stop and let me out rather than tune into my own inner child.  So I had bought into it, giving them the power to decide if I was in a corner or not which automatically made me feel cornered.

So notice when you are in a conversation with someone that is starting to go downhill.  Are you trying to corner them?  Are they trying to corner you? Either one is a wonderful clue that it is time to tune into your own inner child any say "You know what, we don't have to do this anymore."  I can assure you that hearing this will be a great relief to him or her!



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