Have you ever let things go because you are kind and generous … but then later find yourself indignantly accusing that same person of not fully appreciating you? Then you have a horrible argument and you each withdraw to lick your wounds.
But, because you are a healthy and self-reflective person, you own up to your reactivity. You craft a well-thought out apology to express deep care for the other person and regret for your impulsive words.
You wait for them to respond back to you with softening and kindness … and then –
They respond curtly: “Whatever. I don’t really care.”
When this happened to me recently with my teenage daughter, I reeled.
(It’s a huge mark of personal progress that I didn’t launch into my habitual indignant-educator responses: I really wanted to teach her about the “right response” to an apology. But, I know better: I might get the “right words” but none of the caring that I actually want.)
I am not interested in empty words that only match the image of “rightness” or “health.”
I am not interested in compliance at any cost.
I am not interested in others’ molding themselves just for my approval.
So, I didn’t follow my ingrained blame and explain scripts. (Yay me!)
Instead, I slowed down my reactions and focused on the possible feelings and needs beneath her actual words:
“Whatever” may mean
“I’m feeling unsure and guarded … I want to disengage from further conversation. I may be wanting more space, choice, freedom or ease before I am ready to engage with an open heart again.”
“I don’t really care” may mean
“My heart isn’t open to you right now because something is hurting inside me. The fact that it hurts means I DO care, but something I haven’t figured out yet is causing pain and I want to put a buffer of self-protection up so that I can feel safe again.”
Perceiving her in this way helps me keep my heart open, and my defenses down. It empowers us both.
Marshall Rosenberg used to say that we are all open-hearted, loving beings who simply suffer from a major language problem. We just don’t know how to express what is in our hearts. I often find this to be true.
Instead of letting my defensive, indignant and hurt responses lead the way …
I watched them arise (track them so you don’t act on them)
Gave them a mental hug (they want to be seen, heard, honored)
Told them to sit their reactive selves down (they don’t get to make impulsive decisions)
Imagined what might be going on for her (imagine the best possible intentions of the other person)
Suggested that we take a pause and come back to the conversation later when we were both feeling a little better (build in space, time and self-care so we can make new choices moving forward)
When I learn to listen for what might be in someone’s heart, instead of getting stuck on their delivery, everything changes. I feel soothed, freer and more choiceful. It breeds empowerment, learning, trust and growth.
Want to know what happened when we continued our conversation? My kiddo’s response to me was wise, witty and profound. I’ll share part two of this interaction with you next week!
From Insight to Action
Do your habitual defensive reactions get you what you deeply want?
Make a list of the things that are deeply important to you in your relationships, and come up with at least 3 new possible responses to places where you usually get stuck in fear.
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