My Part, Your Part

Fights don’t usually start with only one person. This will help you recognize your part and drop the defensiveness that erodes and stagnates relationships.

Lately I’ve been noticing that many people notice what other people do wrong and get quite upset about it, without taking time to consider their participation in the perceived problem. This often takes place in arguments with loved ones, whether the loved ones are friends, family members or lovers. I’d like to take the time to help you rectify this problem if you notice it in yourself.

We love to be right. We don’t like having people point out our flaws, because we fear their rejection and negative opinion. This is perfectly human and understandable. But it we persist in seeing only what other people are doing wrong and ignore our contribution to the interaction, we miss the opportunity to take responsibility for our actions and improve the situation by acting differently. So we keep feeling like victims, put upon by the whim of other people who are totally unpredictable and unfair.

Do you want to stay in a victim role? Or would you rather feel like you can behave differently in an argument? Hopefully you want the latter, because that is the only way I see out of this mess.

Next time someone gets angry at you or has a problem with what you’re doing, try these four steps:

  1. Notice the feeling that arises in you and accept that feeling. That doesn’t mean you indulge it by acting on it. But it also means that you acknowledge, “I feel angry and like defending myself” without judging yourself for feeling that.
  2. Reflect on what happened before this person got upset with you. As if you were observing the interaction on TV or in a movie, look at the actions that preceded and came after the anger. What were you doing, what were they doing, how did you react to their actions, how did they react to yours…. you get the picture.
  3. If you can see something that you might have done to contribute to it, accept responsibility for that. Don’t conveniently block it out of your mind. Don’t pretend that you had nothing to do with it. If you’re not clear on why they’re angry, ASK, don’t assume.
  4. If they’re not ready to take responsibility for their negative behavior, give them time to cool off before writing them off. If this is new for you, asking for responsibility from yourself and others in such interactions, then try to have patience for the other person and for yourself. It’s a new skill. You’ll get better the more you do it. So will they, hopefully.

Sometimes people don’t take responsibility because to admit fault is to sink into a quicksand pit of shame. If admitting wrongdoing does that to you, it’s probably indicative of low self-esteem and probably a good idea to get professional help. If you feel really angry every time someone points out something you did wrong, it may be an indication that you are covering up your shame or over-compensating for low self-esteem.

Hopefully you can take responsibility for your part in an argument, and the other person can too. It’s really a pain when only one person routinely takes responsibility, and that can lead to resentment, which makes your relationships suffer as a result.



Dealing with Rejection

There are few situations that are harder to accept than being rejected by another person, or even organization. Even if we are mentally healthy, we are social animals and want to be liked and loved by others, or to have their approval. After all, when we were more primitive beings long ago, our very survival depended on being accepted by the people in our clan. Perhaps that need to survive is what lingers with us now, in spite of our vastly more complicated social systems and circumstances.

There is also the missed opportunity of being part of a desired activity, whether it is getting a job, hanging out with cool people, having fun, being invited to parties we’d enjoy, etc. That, combined with the sting of not being part of the “in” group, can bring us back to being kids on the school yard when the cool kids didn’t want to play with us. It can hurt even more when the rejection is at the hands of our family members. Nonetheless, rejection is still the same: someone else has determined that there just isn’t a fit between you and them.

Don’t take it personally — “duh!”

The first thing to remember is not to take this personally. Yeah right, you might say. How do I not take this personally? Good question. There are a number of ways to not take it personally. First, remember that you are the same person whether accepted or rejected by others, and that your inherent worth is unchanged. Yes, you might feel cruddy right now in the heat of the moment, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how good or bad you are. Only you can determine your worth in absolute terms.

Just as Good as Anyone Else!

Knowing, liking and accepting yourself is a subject for another post, but basically it boils down to this: you have talents, gifts and limitations like anyone else on the planet. You might shine in one area where I am really not as talented, and vice versa. The more you know and accept these areas within yourself, the easier it is to gauge that against what others are saying (or not saying) about you. Other people might have a different idea of what they want in a friend, lover, employee, etc. that doesn’t make what you have to offer subpar; it’s just not a match.

The Myth of Universal Appeal

Second on your agenda is remembering that not everyone has to like you, just as you don’t like everyone you come across. The idea that you can please everyone uniformly is not only unrealistic, it can make you subservient or angry, neither of which is socially attractive or effective. There are people you will mesh well with, and people who make your tummy turn when you get in their presence. That’s OK! It’s liberating when you think of it. You don’t have to be perfect for them and vice versa.

Who do you Love?

Finally, focus your attention on the people who you do enjoy. You might not have a large circle of close friends yet, but that can change over time. It is vital to remember that relationship-building takes time and effort. You can’t just walk into a room and have an instant friend. I don’t care what Hollywood movies try to portray at times – not very many people have that instant charisma, and if they do, I’m often a little wary of them. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing friendship with people, but don’t let your ego get mangled in the process.

Equally Gifted, Equally Flawed

Here I am borrowing a phrase that my husband likes to use frequently. I like this phrase because it brings attention to the fact that we all have struggles, and things that we don’t like about ourselves, as well as areas where we truly shine and are gifted. We all suffer to some degree from judgment, whether it’s about ourselves or others. I think there’s a healthy balance between caring what other people think about us, and living our lives freely and joyfully without concern of others’ judgment.

In my practice I see a lot of people who have a great deal of anxiety about others’ opinion of them. Some people have panic attacks, others have social anxiety where their throat gets dry, they sweat, and the seal their heart palpitations in their chest. Others still have negative judgments that they assume others think about them, running through their heads. I understand that through evolution, we needed to belong to a herd or a pack in order to survive. There was a certain amount of conformity that needed to develop in order to promote cohesiveness. That part of our brains does not seem to have heard about appreciation of diversity, equal rights, or many of the newer social developments that have occurred in the world. People who are different or are seen as different from the majority are still regarded with distrust and in some cases, disgust. Some of us are more sensitive to the pressure of what other people think of us than others. Our brains haven’t adapted very well to the changes in society, where we embrace people who are different as innovators and creative thinkers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace our own selves and our differences as things that make us unique and special.

Something we can do for ourselves is check in periodically about how we feel about ourselves. They can do this through meditation, prayer, or just noticing what we say to ourselves about ourselves. But we noticed that others seem to disapprove of us, we can first asked if our perception is based in reality. For example, has the person actually said or done something disrespectful to us, or are we assuming that we know what they’re thinking? If they are saying or doing something disrespectful, is it hurting us? If it is, how badly is it hurting us? If you want you can rated on a scale of 1 to 10. If the pain is less than five, we can choose to let it go and just think that the other person doesn’t know what they’re missing by disregarding us. If it’s more serious, and it really causes us a lot of distress, we can assertively respond to it. However, depending on the relationship to that person, this requires a certain amount of finance and practice in order to avoid getting enough physical or verbal fight with the person.

Overall, I hope that we can become less sensitive to what other people think of us and more affirming of our own selves. This does not mean we have to become arrogant and insensitive to all feedback from other people. We don’t want to be conceited or obnoxious. The healthiest, happiest people I know have a blend of humility and confidence in their character and what they know they do well. Some people seem to be lucky and bored with that confidence; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be developed. I encourage you to work on that if you feel vulnerable to what other people think and say about you. You may have some gifts and talents that you could share with the world, that may not be readily apparent on the surface. Let your Shine and your flaws be invitations for personal growth.

The little green monster in the bedroom

Even though very few people like to admit it, we all feel jealousy from time to time. Whether it’s over a quality that another person has that we wished we possessed, or coveting precious time that we wish to spend with a person that another person is “hogging”, it’s fairly common and natural. It seems troubling, however, when it predominates in our thinking and sours our relationship with others. This is especially true with our spouses and lovers.

A common problem I see in couples and individuals in my practice stems from people feeling insecure with their mates because of real or imagined indiscretions that a person’s mate has engaged in. Sometimes both spouses have “cheated”, whether in person with another person or over social media or “sexting.” The question of trust arises, of course, but the deeper and more penetrating issue is the insecurity itself. How did this insecurity find its way into the relationship, and what to do about it once it’s there?

While there’s no magic pill or easy answer to this, I think there are some general ideas I can share that might help with this problem.

First and foremost, working through childhood wounds of feeling unloved or unworthy is crucial to feeling secure and not succumbing to jealousy, at least on a grand scale and to the extent that it hurts your relationships. This takes a while, I know, and it can be pretty painful. But trust me: it’s worth it!

Second, strengthen your relationship with the person by focusing on what you like and appreciate about the person you’ve chosen as your spouse or lover. It’s easy to find fault with other people, especially when you think they have let you down. Yet the real challenge, and the real sign of love, is acknowledging and finding the good in them. What are you grateful for in this person? What do you find attractive/sexy/compelling about him or her? What would your life be like without this person? Tell the person that. Even if you’re fighting. ESPECIALLY if you’re fighting! Keep doing it. You are “winning” not by hurling insults (the easy, obvious choice), but by softening the walls between you and that person.

Third, strengthen your self esteem by acknowledging and appreciating your own gifts and attributes. If someone else has an ability or quality you like, ask yourself two things. Is that a quality that I can aspire to have myself? If I worked on it, could I be congenial and sociable like Bill over there? Or is it something, like being 6’7″ tall and a pro athlete, that I’m not likely to accomplish in this lifetime? If it’s the former, then you can put your energy into developing that skill or ability. If it’s the latter, you can accept that you’re not a pro basketball player and appreciate the skills and size of your favorite NBA star. Which brings me to my forth idea.

Fourth, be happy — yes, genuinely HAPPY — for people you envy. Wish them well. Enjoy their success vicariously. Believe it or not, it makes you happier and more attractive. You’re not always resenting other people for what they have and you don’t. Instead, you are gracious and generous with your joy. What a concept!