Sometimes I fall into the trap of being too nice. It’s an old pattern driven by family and social conditioning and expectations: keep everything nice, be polite and don’t make a fuss. It’s a habit that says it’s better to keep the peace than to express emotions such as anger and frustration, for example. But it comes at a price; people who smile and bite back anger tend to be of the teeth-clenching variety. And I would know. I’ve chomped my way through a fair few dental splints in my time. Excessive grinding of the teeth goes by the fancy name of bruxism and affects up to 30% of the population. It is also sometimes referred to as TMJ disorder as in temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Perhaps one way to avoid grinding your teeth into oblivion is to maintain good boundaries in your personal relationships. I reckon I’ve got better at recognising boundary breakers – you know, the type that take more than they give, that pour out all their problems, talk AT you rather than to you and see you as their new best friend on first acquaintance.
A recent situation put my boundary skills to the test. I was walking my dog Bertie in a small local park. A young boy was playing with his football and Bertie joined in – or rather took over and stole the ball. He’s no fool, my boy. Keen not to miss a classic Kodak moment, I got my camera out. “You should video it,” said a loud-voiced, larger-than-life woman rounding the corner with her two fluffy white dogs. I confessed I had no storage space left on my phone and was therefore using my camera. She professed to know the type of camera and assured me it had a video function. She grabbed it and started fiddling around with the settings. Seeing some numbers come up on the screen and some kind of symbol, I started filming. But a few minutes later, when I went to admire my handiwork there was nothing there. So she grabbed the camera again and this time – God knows how – as the camera beeps if you are about to erase all the pictures – managed to delete every picture on the memory card. OUCH! Three weeks of precious, irreplaceable puppy pictures gone in a flash.
The woman – the closest thing to a bull in a china shop – said I’d be able to retrieve them from the camera’s delete bin. Well, hello, cameras don’t function like computers. There is no second chance. Gutted, cross, disappointed and jaw seriously in clench mode by now, I put Bertie on the leash and we stormed off, me muttering: “Sorry, I’ve had it. I’ve got to go.” “I said sorry,” said the woman. “I know,” I replied, “and I am expressing my deep disappointment at losing some treasured photos. I’ll probably get over it tomorrow but right now…”
I didn’t bump into her again for a few weeks. Phew! And when I did, I decided to let bygones be bygones and uttered a cheery hello. Weirdly, she seemed to have no recollection of me or my dog, let alone the camera fiasco. But she did announce in her strange, over-familiar way that she’d bought a new belt at the market that day and couldn’t undo it. Could I help? Now, I should tell you that she is about three times my size and I didn’t fancy tussling with her fleshy waist. And just to complicate matters, Bertie decided to hump her dog at this point. So here I was confronted with my angel turned into a hip-thrusting Romeo while the woman, clearly a few-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic, remained imprisoned in her jeans. What choice did I really have but to offer to liberate her? Summoning my inner Good Samaritan, I pulled and pulled… and pulled – her belt truly was stuck; this was no ploy to entice me to touch her – until, ping, the pin finally released. She was now free but I could feel myself gritting my teeth with the effort of it all, not to mention the weirdness.
I’ve since read an article about beating bruxism by having Botox injections into the masseter (chewing) muscles around the jaw. You’d think it might do the opposite and freeze the jaw into a permanent grimace, but apparently not as it relaxes and softens the muscles. I haven’t investigated it yet but I’m tempted. At least if I bump into the woman and her pooches, I can smile with a nice, loose jaw and then get the hell out…