Human beings are pretty good at giving themselves a “pass” for bad behaviour. It’s not hard, because we have VIP access to our brains to understand our intentions, perspectives, motives, and biases. We can peek inside at our own inner workings and instantly understand the why behind our actions.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you while driving, I was overwhelmed by the traffic and couldn’t focus. Next time I will tell you how I’m feeling so that doesn’t happen again.”
Having the understanding of our behaviours can lead to all sorts of interesting outcomes. It can lead us to better understand ourselves so we can make meaningful changes in our behaviours and thought processes. It can also be the gateway drug to justifying our behaviours (“That’s just how I am!!”) and shaming ourselves (“I always hurt the ones I love when I’m stressed, I’m such a bad friend.”)
Ideally we evolve past the outcomes that lead to shame and critical assessments of ourselves and move into the light of compassion that helps us identify where we’re at while also taking accountability for cultivating more effective responses. The other side of the coin is that understanding our reactions helps us to better align with people and situations that keep us safe, supported, and successful.
“Talking to Margaret leaves me feeling drained and anxious, but Sarah always leaves me feeling joyful. I’d like to take some space from Margaret and focus more on building my relationship with Sarah.”
We understand ourselves and we know what makes us feel good, or what brings our energy alllllll the way down until we’re basically a walking cloud of hatred and misery. For me personally, I can let a whole lot of bullshit roll off my back. But, if I’m dealing with trauma triggers, haven’t eaten, running on not enough sleep and lacking in the self care department I know that any difficult emotion or situation is going to make being effective that much more difficult.
So why in the fuck do we give our power away to people who aren’t even trying.
If you’re here reading this blog I already know what a badass you are. I already know you’re working hard to love your inner child, to heal ancestral trauma, and to overcome the impacts of trauma you’re currently living with. Knowing this, I can assure you that you’re already eons beyond the individuals who are still existing in a way that keeps them in a constant state of emotional reactivity.
That’s not a statement intended to shame or create some sense of superiority over others, it’s to highlight the fact that there are an incredible amount of people who are content with behaviours that regularly hurts others and have no intention of changing – and even more people who aren’t even aware that their behaviour is inherently harmful towards themselves our others.
Don’t forget the rule of Hanlon’s razor which decrees: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
So, Margaret may not intend for you to leave visits with her feeling drained and anxious, but she may be so overwhelmed by her emotional reactivity and perpetual drama that she’s ignorant to the reality of how she’s impacting others well being.
That doesn’t mean Margaret is someone who deserves more of your time and energy because she’s unintentionally harmful. In fact, the opposite remains true – your mental health and safety is always #1 and you always reserve the right to protect it however you choose.
What does come to light is that whatever Margaret is going through, it’s not your problem to manage, fix, or mentally take on as your own. Depending on how important your relationship is with someone, there may be opportunities to try an effective approach to letting someone we love know exactly how they’re affecting us.
Let’s take a crash course on the DEAR MAN acronym where we can learn to Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Stay Mindful, Appear Confident and Negotiate.
This is a skill derived from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (a modality we will explore a lot on this blog!) that helps as a powerful tool in navigating difficult relationships.
Using DEAR MAN with Margaret could look something like this:
“Margaret, when I come over I have noticed that we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about your coworker Rebecca and how frustrating she is to you. I am feeling overwhelmed by how intense the conversations have been getting and I no longer want to participate in them. I really hear that this is a difficult situation for you and I feel a lot of empathy for how hard this has been for you.
(Taking a pause to breathe – noticing anxiety in body)
I really value being your friend, but in order for me to continue spending time with you I am no longer comfortable having conversations regarding Rebecca. What are some other ways I can support you that make both of us feel better?”
If that seems a little stilted to you, that’s ok! In my own experience, using effective language can start out pretty awkward as we’re trying to make sure we get it right but over time it becomes integrated into our manner of speaking – because we’re now navigating relationships in a healthier way with solid boundaries, trust, and compassion.
In all relationships there is the inevitably of conflict. Conflict is not an indicator that anything is wrong – on the contrary actually. It means something has come up that’s important to resolve so that the relationship can remain honest and trusting. Withholding issues when they arise is a fast track to festering resentments. Using effective communication and developing healthy boundaries is a surefire way to strengthening the bonds with those we love the most (and even those we don’t!).
You will hear me say this often, but this work is not easy. It is far easier to lash out, to blame, and to attack than it is to go inside and feel the part of ourselves that is hurting and needs our attention. For this reason alone it is critical that we begin to internalize the reality that people are dealing with their own shit, and it’s not about you.
Do you struggle with taking others’ behaviour personally?
When it comes to communication, boundaries, and human behaviour in general, what would you like to know more about?
What are some of your greatest struggles and successes when it comes to navigating relationships (any kind of relationship, not just romantic!)