It Doesn't Belong To You
Think of the last time you were around someone (or multiple someones) who made you feel small, shut down, and brushed aside in some way. Maybe they were "just playing around". Maybe they were being persistently grumpy and not caring how that affected the space they were in. Maybe they were finding creative ways to dig at you passive aggressively. Maybe they were saying hurtful things in a very bold way and not hiding it at all.
How did it make you feel?
For me, my feelings tend to roller coaster along with my thoughts when I find myself in these situations. Here's what's typically going through my mind:
- Did I do something to provoke this?
- Is this person upset with me?
- How can I fix it?
- Don't make a big deal.
- Keep your mouth shut.
- Let it go.
- Ignore your racing heart.
- Ignore your feelings of inadequacy.
- Keep trying to connect.
- Be a listener.
- Calm down.
- Don't be defensive.
- Oh shit, you just defended yourself. That was a mistake.
- Stop over-reacting.
- Stop, stop, stop...
Some of you may relate to this inner dialogue at Thanksgiving Dinner when your opinionated uncle gets on his soap box or maybe it was the last time you were in a team meeting and you felt targeted in some way by your boss or a co-worker. Maybe it's when your kid mouths back at you or your partner woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We tend to take immediate and unquestioned responsibility for their feelings.
I'm here to remind you today that suffering speaks and it doesn't speak speak kindly.
It doesn't uplift. It doesn't encourage. It doesn't love fiercely. It puts down, it undermines, it exalts itself, and it does so in no uncertain terms. When you find yourself feeling small in someone's presence it can often be linked to their suffering which is resulting in an expression of frustration or anger. They may not even be frustrated at YOU. It may have nothing to do with you actually. They are hurting in some way and that pain is projected outward in ways both big and small.
If a person is generally healthy and self-aware, then they can catch themselves in this space and own their shit. They may even be quick to apologize and shift their attitude. If a person is not in a healthy place than this behavior can become chronic and abusive as it's unchecked. The result is a vicious cycle of projected anger and hurt people in the wake of that anger who are blaming themselves.
I've learned, in my almost-36-years, that my anger has roots that need to be dealt with and that it's my responsibility to do that work. I go to therapy. I practice better ways of communicating. I call myself out as often as I'm capable of doing. I take baby steps forward to heal myself so that I don't accept suffering as an inevitability in my life.
I've also learned that when I feel small or shamed in the presence of others that there's work to be done that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to them.
When I have repetitive thoughts like, "What am I doing wrong? How do I fix this? Why me?" it is an indicator to me that I'm the receiver of someone else's suffering and that I need to create a boundary so I don't take on their pain as my own.
This is INCREDIBLY HARD TO DO. Please know that I'm aware of that. We often love those who hurt us. They aren't people we hate or there would be no dilemma. I was in a relationship for many years with someone who made me doubt myself all the time. He made me doubt my intelligence, my creativity, my drive... my everything. When I say "he made me" what I really mean is "I allowed him to" because I was aware that it was happening on some level but I made up excuses for it constantly because I loved him so much.
I was devoted to him so I felt that I had to take on the pain in order to have the love. The two were linked as one.
I had to let go of the relationship to remove the toxic shame. With distance has come (some) clarity and I now see how much it held me back from confidence and self-love.
Sometimes letting go of a relationship entirely is not an option. In those cases we must become fierce with our boundaries.
We must also get really good at speaking up. Everything within us will want to stay silent so that we don't rock the boat or cause as scene, but that is the exact opposite of what it looks like to live a healthy and healed life. We must say, "That is not okay. Please do not speak to me that way." We must say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot come to that. Thank you for the invite." We must say,
"I disagree and I would rather we talk about something else. This is hurting me." We must say all of the hard things that protect us from the suffering... or we must walk away. We must get up. We must push in the chair. We must say "That's quite enough".
Unfortunately, when we say these things we will be told, "Don't get mad! Don't take things so seriously! Don't be defensive! It's not a big deal! Don't take things so personally!" and a hundred different variations of this transfer of responsibility. Just know that will happen and be okay with it now. Make your peace with those protests. What they are really saying is, "Your boundaries and your voice are really pissing me off! I don't know what to do with all of this emotion! You telling me no is very upsetting!"
Do not take that on as your project to fix. Your project is YOU. Your project is your healing. Your project is your peace.
PS - If you struggle with healthy communication and boundaries, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a Pep Talk where we can create an action plan for you to start to overcome those hurdles and reclaim your peace. Relationships and communication can be tough but they're easier when you have a plan.