(This is a rewrite of a previous post from November 2014.)
It’s the holiday season! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. Approaching these situations with understanding and compassion can help.
To begin, recognize you are never very far from hurting others. This awareness generally helps with the next valuable action to deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him. Understanding does not require that you agree.
Understanding, and its closely linked cousin, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You more easily notice the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling, and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto at least being kind to this person.
If you want to be truly free, you must let go of any attachment you have to how others respond to you. What?! Yes! If you do things in order to receive accolades, approval or acceptance, you are setting yourself up for an unhealthy bondage. You will never please others all the time. Your opinions and theirs don’t always match up. Your execution might not be what someone out there was thinking it should be. If other’s approval is your goal, you are doomed.
I’m not saying just go about your life doing whatever the hell you want without regard for how you might be affecting people around you. That’s called selfishness and I am not talking about that. I am talking about the part inside of us that is crushed when we don’t get any likes on our Facebook post, the part that gets gloomy because no one noticed the trendy outfit we’re wearing or our manicured lawn.
Many of us are motivated to do something so others will notice and that is misplaced motivation. It’s extrinsic. Healthy motivation comes from within. Sure, it feels good when others give us a compliment but that cannot be our marker for our achievement.
Set goals for yourself because it will feel good to you to achieve them. Wear the outfit because you feel awesome in it. Care for your lawn because that’s how you like it. When you notice you are doing something for the stamp of approval from others, stop. Pause for a moment. Recognize what you are doing. Remind yourself you are putting your sense of accomplishment into the hands of others. That is a place it was never meant to be. Take it back.
I’m an advocate of boundaries. Through boundaries we define who we are, what we like, what we don’t like, what we find acceptable and what we don’t. It’s important to know who you are. It’s equally important to remember we are responsible for ourselves and responsible to treat others with kindness. We must allow others to have the views they have. If you demand other people adopt your views, you’re trying to take away their boundary.
It’s fine to disagree with people. We live in a country where we actually have that right. Here are some phrases that might help with speaking your view while honoring another’s right to hold a different opinion:
- “That is how you see it. My view is…”
- “I understand you have a different opinion. My opinion is…”
- “That’s your perspective. My perspective is…”
Notice there are no “buts.” When you speak your opinion avoid using any blaming, shaming or criticizing words.
I’ve noticed, not just in the last few days but for quite some time, how vitriolic people have gotten in their disagreements. Professionals and leaders sound like mean-spirited children. Telling people their opinion is stupid is not only unkind, it does nothing to bring people to a place of seeking to understand where each side is coming from. Pick any debate right now, there are many, and look at the way people on opposite sides speak to each other.
I am a marriage coach. I help couples who are in crisis learn new ways of communicating with one another to help bridge the chasm versus pushing one another farther apart. As I look at the dialogue going on in the news and on social media, I keep thinking, “If you all would get some training on effective communication strategies and do some work healing the wounds of your past that show up today as venomous hate, the country would be a much better place.” You might not agree with me. That’s ok. You get to have your view and I get to have mine. 🙂
The further I walk down this journey of life, the more I realize life is just plain hard and people are messy. Somehow I thought life was easy, people were uncomplicated and almost everyone was nice. I remember the first time I realized people are complicated and mean, I was 23 and managing my dad’s hotel in Aspen, CO. A guest treated me horribly. It was because I was on the other side of the counter (like the other side of the tracks). The man talked to me as though I was sub-human. I was in disbelief and a tiny crack began to form in the protective layer of shellac I had poured all over the messiness of life so I wouldn’t be aware of it.
The shellac comes in the form of stories we create. We force everything that goes on around us into that story. At some point, though, the story begins to disintegrate and when it does, we melt into a puddle along with it. It’s healthy to melt. In that space, we are able to experience life as it really is instead of in some story we created. While the story might feel good, it doesn’t actually serve us well as adults. The story keeps us pouring lots and lots of shiny shellac over the pile of crap that exists in reality. It’s just polished poop.
When we take the shellac off, we can deal with the icky parts of ourselves and the world around us. We can be sad and hurt. We can grieve. We can be with others who embrace reality, too. And this is the place where healing happens: aware of our own issues, knowing others have issues and being vulnerable with each other. No more stories! No more polished poop!
Note: Sometimes when we let the shellac dissolve, it’s too much for us to bear and we feel as though we are falling apart, like the bottom has dropped out from beneath us and we’re in a free fall. If you are ever in a place like this, please seek out the help of a Mental Health Professional. You can also call the National Suicide Hotline just to talk with someone, whether you are suicidal or not: 800-273-8255
“The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. Making the world a better place can’t depend on applause. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.” ~ Kent M. Keith, author of Anyway – The Paradoxical Commandments
The Paradoxical Commandments by Keith M. Kent:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
I resonate with Kent Keith’s ideas. Our job is to leave a positive mark on this world through our actions and words. Our ripples may be small or large. The size isn’t the point. The healthiest approach is to detach from the outcome or reach of the good we do and do good anyway! 🙂
If you are like most of us, you have unhealthy relational skills. You learned them when you were little. You learned by observing others and maybe got some instruction from your parents and care givers; however, most of what you learned or figured out isn’t healthy. Think about the time your friend or spouse wouldn’t give you something you wanted. You were hurt by them, you shut down and stopped talking to them. This is the adult version of, “Fine! You can’t come to my Birthday party.” It may look different and sound different, but it’s still a five year old’s response to being disappointed or hurt by a friend.
Some things we learned are ultra damaging to ourselves and others. We may have learned to make everyone around us happy. We may have learned it’s our fault when they aren’t. As an adult you are now in relationships where you believe you can’t stand up for yourself or draw healthy boundaries because those actions will be mean to the other person. This belief is not accurate nor is it conducive to healthy relationships.
Take a look at how you function in relationships. If you’re honest, chances are you will see yourself taking some young and unhealthy actions. Get involved in a relationship skills class, read books on the subject or get help from a counselor. Life is too short to stumble along using immature skills in the most important part of life, relationships!
My favorite authors on healthy relationship skills are Drs John Townsend and Henry Cloud. They have a multitude of books, videos and workshops to help you grow up 🙂
I’m realizing more and more the hardships I face are always used to comfort another. Last week my 20 year old my son had an extremely bizarre experience which sent him to the ER. Since he goes to school just 20 minutes from home, his step-mother and I also found ourselves at the ER. One event led to a series of events all filled with questions and concerns. While the even itself is over, the aftermath is not.
As I shared my experience, my fears, my sadness with others I found comfort. The most comforting came from a mother whose son has walked a similar road as mine. As I thanked her for her sweet salve, I realized I felt a conflict about her situation. I was sad for her but thankful she knew what I might be going through. Then it struck me: when we walk hard roads we are equipped to walk with another who is on the same road. If I skip happily down the road of pain because I don’t have pain, I have no business being on that road.
While I don’t really want more pain in my life, I am learning to embrace each experience as a connection to others. I am more effective in my work with clients, I am more compassionate with friends. It’s a fascinating twist to the human experience; the more I experience the challenges, pain, sadness and disappointments of life, the more qualified I am to sit in the muck with others. If my life goes easily and always as planned, I am ill-equipped to say anything to anyone who is actually facing hardship. With that, I tentatively say, “Bring it on!”