When you are under stress, or fearful, do you tend to make yourself smaller and matter less than others, or do you make yourself bigger and matter more than those around you?
Do you tend to increase the volume? Up the intensity?
Or do you tend to concede too easily and bail on the conversation?
Perhaps you swing between these?
Whenever I’ve felt triggered or hurt, I’ve often struggled with whether I am saying too much, or too little? Whether I’m advocating for something too strongly, or not strongly enough.
Finding the balance between unbridled, hurtful self-expression and self-silencing or avoiding conflict is an ongoing dilemma for many of us.
So how do we find that sweet spot in conversations, where we don’t avoid the hard stuff, but we also don’t rant and rave, doing more damage than good? How do we know if and when we are ready to have a conversation that might actually lead to growth, closeness and healing?
For me, there have been 3 distinct steps on the path:
I interrupt my judgments.
The two adages, “Don’t believe everything you think” combined with “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you believe it,” have been life-savers for me here.
When I am judging myself, I am more likely to go “one-down” and to give up on what I actually want. When I go “smaller” like this, I feel more like a victim, a child, someone dependent on and at the mercy of forces larger than myself, and I lose touch with my power and choice.
When my focus moves to judging others, I am more likely to go “one-up” and to manipulate and coerce others to change in order to meet my own needs, with less awareness or regards for them. In fact, I actually rely on increasing fear in others in order to get them to do what I want. (Cringe.) You know, like when you say things like, “If you don’t tell me what you talked about over that lunch, then I’ll simply stop trusting you altogether.”
While we may get our way in the short term, our relationships see an increase in fear and a decrease in trust, growth, connectedness, collaboration and closeness.
(You can read more about how to work with judgments here and here)
2. I stay grounded and connected to other aspects of my subjective reality.
What am I noticing?
What am I sensing and feeling?
What is deeply important to me?
What “ideal things” would make things better for me?
If those things happened, what needs of mine would be addressed?
Why is this important?
One of the ways that domination systems keep their stronghold on us, is by putting us at war with ourselves. People stuck in inner conflict are more compliant and easier to control. If you are spending a lot of time and energy fighting with yourself, you have very little energy left to create meaningful change in the world.
When we are at war with ourselves, we are more likely to bring combat energy into our next conversation – and we all know how badly that usually turns out.
Talk to empathic friends and wait until you have more inner peace and clarity before engaging in conversation. Engage in emotional strength training.
You will know you are ready for the next step when your body relaxes and settles.
3. I take time to deeply consider the different experience of the other person.
What have they been noticing?
What might this have (possibly inaccurately) meant to them?
What might they be feeling?
What might be deeply important to them?
In their ideal world, what might they want from you?
If this is challenging, ask a friend to argue the other person’s point of view and to explain the good reasons why someone else might be feeling or acting in a particular way. Get others to weigh in and rehumanize the other person if you need some help with that.
Remind yourself that
You may have stimulated their pain, but you didn’t cause their pain.
You care about them, but aren’t responsible for the meaning that they made of whatever happened.
You also care about the meaning that they are making, and can hold that as separate from how you intended it. (Read more about working with intention and impact here)
95% of the time their pain is not actually about you. It’s about their unmet needs and the legacy of unmet needs in their past. Care about that.
Work with yourself until you can “right size” yourself:
Both of us matter.
Both of us are doing the best we can.
Both of us are imperfect.
We are not that bad.
Don’t submit, concede or accommodate out of people-pleasing habits that put yourself second. Stay out of the one-down position.
We are also not that great.
What is true for you, is not necessarily true for others. Don’t bully, manipulate or control others, or put yourself first at the expense of other people. Stop one-upping others.
Once you’ve done the inner work of getting grounded and present to yourself, and of imagining other possible perspectives about the same experience, you may finally be ready to open up a new conversation.
I like to call this practice of being fully with yourself, and also fully present and caring about the other person, the practice of being One-With …
One with yourself.
One with others.
One with sensations.
One with feelings.
One with desires.
One with longings.
One with requests.
One with transcendence.
One with humanity.
One with a vision of a better relationship, a better world, a better way of being.
When I stop making myself smaller or larger than I am, I am more able to simply join the human race and be another well-intended, hurt and limited person trying to live a meaningful life with an open-heart.
When I stop needing to be special, to be bigger than life, to be invisible, to be safe … when I drop all those old ways of being, I find myself in a place of grace, of curiosity, of gentleness and of deep freedom and clarity.
I’d love to hear from you …
What gets in the way of your being ready and able to have more open-hearted and collaborative conversations?
What keeps you stuck in shame or grandiosity?
How do you get out of it?
Leave a comment below
Belittling ourselves to others and our own inner-passivity I believe can be a narcissistic-masochistic dynamic explained well by A.M.Cooper in this article below. E.Bergler understood the importance of self defeating inner conflict, a topic covered in some of P.Michaelson’s books.
The character Mr.A in the article’s vignette has a tendency to self pity but his emotional response to an event with his wife is at first passive and later angry after he reconstructs what happened in his mind. This outwardly passive-aggressive event plays out over a whole day and there is clearly more going on with Mr.A than is apparent on the surface. He gets smaller or bigger throughout the day as a consequence of a single event!