If you read the title of this chat and thought it sounded silly, you might want to hang just a second. Every relationship is a dance. We are dancing around energetically and someone’s energy is typically in the lead in the relationship. I was recently reminded of this in re-visiting a couple of Harriett Lerner books as I wanted to release some of my own resistance and blame I was feeling toward the behaviors of a few other people in my life. Unless you are an enlightened master, you probably think other people “should” be different somehow and if they would just change – then you could be happier. It shows up as blame, criticism, judgement, gossip... you get the idea.
“The more we get focused on the other person’s behavior, rather than our own, the more stuck we become.” When we are spending a bunch of energy ruminating on how the other person needs to be more available, or kinder, or more honest, or appreciative, or different in some way - conveniently, we have no time left to examine our own role in things. When we vilify them, we have just put our self in the role of VICTIM. Additionally, reacting to others is not exactly an empowered place to hang out, if you get my drift.
Over time, this focus on the supposed wrong-doing or what we deem wrong-mindedness of others leads pretty quickly to being reactive rather than responsive. There is a huge difference between reacting and responding. We can get so over-focused on the actions or words of the other person that we go into constant reacting based on these evaluations of others we make. The antidote to evaluating is to simply observe – without judgement. It’s simple, but far from easy.
So perhaps you have a family member who said something and you got triggered at the family dinner. You have a choice to make in that moment… imbalanced reaction? Or! Balanced response.
To be in a state that allows you to stay clear with yourself in situations that may traditionally trigger your emotions to fly into reaction instead of responding, the best thing to learn is the difference between evaluating and observing. While this sounds ridiculously simple, it is amazing how quick we are to jump to evaluation.
Let’s go back to my example above of a family member says something that triggers you at the family dinner. Check out these statements and see if you can distinguish between those that are evaluation and those that are observation…
#1 – First of all, no one makes you mad, that’s a choice you make in your reaction. To make this statement an observation it would be more like “I noticed that I felt angry when I spoke to Aunt Betty.”
#2 – The label "aggressive" is an evaluation – not an observation. An observation without evaluation on this would be: “Betty hit Bob in the face.”
#3 – “Complains” is an evaluation. To some other people Aunt Betty’s communication may not seem at all like complaining, so this is an evaluation statement.
#4 & #5 are both observations. No evaluation or judgement calls made, just the facts.
You can see that to truly observe is pretty darn tough! It’s staying completely in your own lane and observing so you can identify and express your OWN feelings. Creating a story or an evaluation of what others think, how they feel, how they will respond, and what all that means is a STORY that prevents us from actually examining what it is WE ourselves feel.
Just 2% shifts can lead to a huge change in our emotional state. If we try to observe just 2% more or evaluate just 2% less – I guarantee you will feel lighter and more empowered. If we find ourselves getting sucked into a pattern in a relationship (and we ALL do sometimes) of thinking the other person needs to change in some way, it signals that we are evaluating rather than observing. Just notice when you’re doing it, without going into any self ass kicking. It’s information, not something to shame yourself about.
What is a hard one for me to learn is that is really about noticing when I've slipped into an emotional place I don't want to be, and then just spending less time there. Recover FASTER. It's not about NEVER doing it again. You WILL slip, you WILL find yourself in old patterns emotionally. Just notice when it happens and choose again rather than believing some unrealistic notion that you will never ever slip. It's called being human.
As Marianne Williamson says… “The ego says – once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace. The Spirit says – Find your peace, and everything will fall into place.” Focusing on what someone else needs to do or how they need to be different is how we avoid feeling our own feelings and this just slows things down on our path.
The other thing that slows things way down is taking responsibility for how other people feel. We can never really know how someone else feels, and we make a ton of assumptions/evaluations in this way. Trying to manage another person's experience of us or anything it energy wasted. Replace guessing how someone else feels with questioning how you YOURSELF feel. Use that energy to name your OWN emotion, rather than taking responsibility for what you are evaluating the other person to be feeling.
My therapist Joy reminds me that sometimes we end up on the same emotional level as someone else through energetic cords and it’s not where we want to be. We can end up reacting to the other person's emotional state if we don't stay awake. If there are two people, one is happy and in a high emotional state and the other is depressed or low – someone is going to move up or someone is going to move down in how they feel, it just depends on who is the most committed to their own emotional state.
Other people don’t need to change in order for us to be happy. We know this intellectually, yet if you’re honest you will catch yourself evaluating more than observing. Letting go of how we think others “should” be is super empowering and it opens up possibilities because it gets our eyes back on our own paper – the only place we have any control.
I’ll close out with a quote Joy reminded me of this week by Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” When we look outside to others or conditions as the reason for our hurt or anger or even for our happiness – we will suffer because it gives our power away. Take your power back my friend. Decide how you want to feel and let everyone else off the hook.
Some books referenced in this Chat:
The Dance Of Anger by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.,
Non-violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg Ph.D.
Balance Your Conflict by Dr. Jody Janati
In the course of a day it’s estimated that a human makes about 35,000 decisions. Kind of a shocking number isn't it! Some of these will be made on auto-pilot or habit and all of them will be made to meet a need that we have.
Simon Sinek, author of some powerful books and a great Ted Talk, says knowing your WHY is the key to fulfillment. Quite often we don’t even stop to consider our why, but when we get honest with ourselves – in many cases we are not doing things for the reason we think. When we know our WHY, we make different and often better decisions.
Tony Robbins says the why for everything we do is based on one of six human needs. Whichever need is most important to us will drive our WHY and our decisions. Meeting the needs of the spirit lead to personal fulfillment. Those two needs are defined as: the need for growth and the need for contribution.
Robbins says that if something meets three of the six needs, we will become addicted to it. One of the things we often get addicted to is actually our problems. Having problems can meet the need for certainty because it's a known pattern, Variety - we can have a new problem endlessly. Significance - having a problem can give us significance and attention for sure. Connection and love - because we can use our problem to hot wire a connection with others who will feel love or pity for us.
So back to understanding our WHY... it can sometimes be camouflaged. Let’s try an example…
Someone asks you out to lunch. You don’t really want to go because you are swamped and you are feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list. You now have a decision to make and you will make it depending on the need you most feel driven by: some of the possibilities include... (a)Say yes to meet the need to be liked and accepted by your friend, or (b) Say no to meet the need to complete your tasks and stay home. (c) Say yes to meet the need to connect with another person, or (d) say yes to meet the need to avoid the conflict or guilt your friend will toss your way if you say no. When we combine not being aware of our WHY with not having boundaries, we will do a lot of things because the think we "should".
When we do something because we “should” versus because we want to, the outcome will be very different. The intention will be “pure” when it’s what we want to do, and a bit cluttered if we do it out of guilt, shame or fear. Long-term, saying yes when it’s not what you want to do, leads to blame and resentment. Both of which indicates we are making someone else responsible for our feelings.
This is exactly why Pema Chodron and Brene’ Brown both say that the most boundaried people are the most compassionate. Because when we know our WHY, we stay out of resentment by saying yes only when we really want to.
If you hit a patch where it seems many people are wanting something from you; a decision, an answer, and action, a favor – it’s time to ask yourself “how am I creating this?” Typically, when you are feeling pulled and tugged on by the wants and needs of others who are old enough to care for themselves, YOU have trained them that YOU will take care of their needs.
A lack of boundaries or the ability to say what you want for fear of being disliked or disapproved of, will train others to depend on you to get THEIR needs met. And when you finally get to the point that you no longer wish to be in charge of making things okay for others – they are going to push back. Hard. Heck, I have taken push-back for answering “maybe” instead of yes to something someone wanted me to do! Those who want us to be what is best for them are not going to like it when we say no. Don’t expect them to approve of your decision to make yourself a priority. Not. Gonna. Happen.
But it’s not their expectations that are the cause of our feeling pulled to supply or soothe their emotional needs, it’s our own lack of willingness to say “No, I’m not able to do that for you.” Or "I don't know what you should do - you've been dealing this for a while now, what ideas do you have to solve it?" When we start to feel resentment about what others want from us – it’s a good chance that our WHY is the need to please, to be accepted, to be liked or appreciated and that our boundaries are weak or non-existent. The giving we are doing isn’t a “clean” contribution, but instead motivated by our own need for love and connection or significance.
Here is something to consider… everyone in our lives are either adding to or subtracting from who we want to be. We too, are doing the same for other people in their lives. If we have fallen into a pattern or habit of over-giving or taking on the responsibility for how other people feel (which is impossible btw), we fear we’ll be seen as selfish if we stop doing that. Here’s the deal… a truly selfish person would not feel guilt for saying no to others. They would be too self-focused to bother with feeling guilty.
Guilt – re-framed – is just an indication that you care. Thank you to my therapist Joy for that insight!
When you first start to give yourself permission to listen to your own WHY, to what you need versus putting everyone else’s’ needs at the front of the line, it may seem that many people are wanting you to be different than you are, want you to change back and give them what they’ve come to expect from you – putting them first and abandoning yourself. You just gotta ride that storm out.
And at first it may sound silly, but you may not even KNOW what you want if you have been over-giving or codependent. You've been so busy trying to anticipate the needs and wants of others that you may not even have clarity on what it is you want. This is normal, don't panic.
An important thing to consider... is the person who is giving you push-back adding to or subtracting from who you want to be? Here’s a great way to tell; are they adding to THEMSELVES, or are they simply waiting for you to care for and add to them? Are they adding to who THEY want to be or become? If they are, they have something to offer and give to add to you as well. If not, there’s a very good chance they are diminishing your best self.
When we are only looking for what we can GET in a relationship, it's probably because we don't have much to GIVE. Adding value to others is only possible if you first add to yourself. Doing things like personal growth, loving yourself, learning to have self-compassion all lead to having something to GIVE in a relationship. What do YOU bring to the relationship? You can only bring what you first give to yourself because you can't give what you don't have.
Of course, there is always a certain degree of compromise we all must make in any relationship – that’s a given. When it starts to feel like you are over doing it on this, it’s time to check your boundaries and very importantly – your WHY. Is your compromise out of love or out of fear?
Terri Cole put it this way in her Boundary Bootcamp…”You have to learn that you don’t owe everyone everything. You DO owe yourself consideration first.” This is a hard thing to get used to if you have some codependent tendencies (we all do, just to what degree is different)… You are not responsible for other people’s feelings. You actually have zero control over how anyone will experience you and your decisions. You could shower someone with appreciation and if they are not in a receptive mode, they won’t hear a bit of it. You have no control over how anyone processes you or your decisions because they have their own story line going before you ever arrived on the scene.
You ARE, however, responsible for YOUR feelings. If your WHY has been people pleasing or avoiding conflict, it’s going to be super challenging for you when others don’t like or approve of your choices. Hang in there because this is a beautiful opportunity to stand solid in yourself, trust yourself, and be there for yourself. It’s hard, no doubt about it, and yet… that’s what brings about true healing and growth. When you love yourself and everyone in your life enough to take responsibility for your own feelings, then, you are free.
Sandy Edie Hansen
I use this space to "Chat" about things I am working through and learning in my life currently. Join me!