Happy Monday! I hope your holiday season is going splendidly, and that your Christmas was restful and lovely (if you celebrate it)!
- I am grateful to launch into Our Town rehearsals tomorrow
- I am grateful for my sister, who continues to impress me every time I see her – with her grace, wisdom, intelligence, hilarity, and general badassery
- I am grateful for lovely Christmas surprises, and one of my favorites is this incredible tote bag from http://www.litographs.com that has the entire text of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan on it – you just have to look really closely : )
Lately I’ve been thinking about the following:
- How much we complain about people
- How we can’t actually change people, but how badly we want to
- How to (attempt to) negotiate the difficult relationships in our lives with grace, and without driving ourselves insane.
Think for a moment about the person in your life who you just wish was different. Maybe because:
- they cause you pain
- they cause others pain
- they cause themselves pain
- they seem (to us) inconsiderate and selfish
- they seem (to us) uncaring
- they seem (to us) rude
- they “get your goat” in a multitude of other ways that I’ll let you list for yourself
I think about how often (the collective) we complain about each other. How reactive we are when we feel wounded. I know I get this way. We wish we could just change X, Y, or Z about a certain person in our lives. We’ve all got that person. Or people.
By nature, I think I’m a helper. (I want to be) A healer. A fixer. Let me be clear, it doesn’t work a lot of the time, and sometimes I overstep – but those three words jump out in so many circumstances when I’m with people who are struggling. Over the years I’ve also discovered how this can sometimes be unintentionally self-important – thinking that I actually CAN help. CAN heal. CAN fix. The intention might be pure, but the reality is that most of the time, the change I’m able to affect is quite small (which is not to say that I stop trying). And frankly, it may also not be my place to.
Think about the most difficult person in your life at the moment. Maybe it’s
- A family member who won’t acknowledge the growth/change that’s taken place with you, in an affirmative way
- A toxic friend
- A withholding, conditional friend
- A close-minded friend or relative who doesn’t seem to listen
- A destructive family member or friend – in whatever manner of ways
- Etc, etc etc.
There’s this idea I’ve read about in so many books, as you may have – how we can’t change people, we can only change our reaction to them. This is a really nice idea to let wash over you while paging through a beautifully crafted New York Times best-seller, but in the moment, when you want to rip your (and possibly another person’s) hair out, it can quickly feel a little simplistic. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and here’s where I’m at…
We actually can’t change people. No perfectly organized collection of heartfelt words will reach a person who isn’t ready to receive. I still believe in reaching out. I still believe in trying. But doing so with the knowledge that our ideas/whole-hearted sentiments may be rejected, and that rejection has little to do with us.
We really can control our reaction to people. In every moment of our lives we get to decide things. Let’s say that someone makes a simple comment like “Thank you for being on time.” A person could react with inner commentary like,
– “Um, were you expecting me NOT to be on time? What have I ever done to make you think I wouldn’t be on time??” Or…
– “Oh my goodness, thank you for appreciating that – I had to work really hard to get here on time, and it’s great to have that be recognized and valued!” Or…
– “This person is picking at me for that one time I wasn’t on time, and they are clearly holding a grudge. That is so unbelievably rude, I can’t even.” Or…
– “Oh my goodness this poor person has experienced a lot of people who aren’t usually on time. That would be so difficult! Maybe I should hug them….”
These are 4 totally different responses, each filtered through the lens of our own personal experiences. When a thought comes on, we always have the choice to pause, reflect on our own possible projections, and make the choice not to take anything personally. This isn’t easy work. But it’s possible. By choosing to not react in a negative way, we are also giving people the benefit of the doubt. And I think on some level, that’s something we all crave. Now sometimes there is behavior that is verbally abusive or plainly intended to maim our insides. And then we can do our best to choose thoughts like “Wow. This person is in a lot of pain. This harmful language is a reflection of their experience, and I just happen to be here in this moment. Now I’m going to go spend time with people who will value me as I value them. I’m going to go where it’s safe, and let this person work out this challenge they are experiencing, but it’s not mine to fix.”
Who are we to think that changing them would be what is best for them? For us? For their growth? For ours? This is tricky and requires a heavy injection of humility, but I’ve been trying to make myself consider this. When I have moments of “GAH, I just wish this person would see that….” I’ve been trying to stop myself and consider the possibility – what if this behavior that I see as difficult or destructive is actually part of a larger picture of growth that I just don’t have the perspective/ability to see? Just part of their path. Of my path. None of our views of anyone’s life are complete. It’s totally impossible for us to have a full picture of what another person is dealing with. We may think we know, but we just can’t. The next time we feel strongly that someone else should change – maybe see what happens if we ask ourselves why we think they should. Usually the answer is related to comfort – to making us feel more comfortable, making someone else more comfortable..but maybe this moment was never supposed to be comfortable. Again, there is also abuse, there are serious cases, and that’s when we cut our ties and do what we need to do to stay safe. But in other instances, maybe we can see what happens if we put our egos aside and accept the moment as it is, and just let it go. I think it’s possible to stand up for ourselves and also let the moment be what it is. To let go of our need to control the situation. Because we can’t, anyway.
We’re all difficult sometimes, to someone See the blog post Little Bits of Mirroring.
Love Anyway. This can be tough tough tough. But I really feel like the answer is always to love anyway. And sometimes this feels miserable and thankless. But it’s important to note the difference between loving anyway and becoming an exhausted doormat.
Sometimes the kindest way to “love anyway” back off. Protect ourselves and give them the space they need for discovery or healing. And sometimes it’s something more present and immediate than that. But I genuinely don’t believe that adding aggression to the cocktail of the moment is ever the best choice. That said, I still mess up. All the time. But at the end of the day, it’s usually the most difficult people who are the most in need of our patience. Of our acceptance. Our grace. Our forgiveness. It’s a process. But we can practice.
Want to join me? What would happen if you decide to do something really thoughtful for a “difficult person” in your life? Or consider taking on the experiment of practicing awareness when conflict arises, and making the decision to love anyway. Onward, Celebrationists – with cautious minds and open hearts : )
Have a great week, dear ones – see you in the new year!