So, this isn’t really an art related post, but is living life not an art itself? I love to pass on anything I come across that has helped me, be it creative techniques or like today, otherwise techniques because why needlessly struggle?
People are complicated, we know this. They often don’t say what they mean, or when they do say what they mean they don’t direct it at the person who really needs to hear it. As someone who is not only one of those “highly sensitive people” but also tends to take others’ words at literal face value – it’s just the way my brain works – this leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety, hurt feelings, and me scrambling around trying to fix things I was never meant to fix. I really like to fix and bring order, at least I think I do until it causes a total internal meltdown or burnout. Perhaps that is why I loved the Sims games so much in high school and college … Hm…
I unfortunately can’t be a Sims overlord and control people’s interactions and behaviors in real life, so I had to change my own mindset. One day, in the midst of a heated conversation, this sentence just popped into my head and out of my mouth, “I’m not really the one you’re mad at right now“… and everything changed.
Now, this doesn’t mean we abdicate all responsibility for how others are feeling. There are times we will accidentally hurt someone and need to accept what we’ve done and make amends. I’m talking about the times when we are taking the heat just because we are there, and the other person is struggling through things we may know nothing about. Especially those of us who come across as a “safe presence” can catch a lot of explosions. It may be because the other person doesn’t know why they are feeling the way they do, and needs to get back a sense of control so being able to point at someone nearby and say “This is the cause of why I feel this way right now” or “This is the reason why instance x went wrong today” makes them feel like they are making headway in figuring out why things are the way they are. It could be that the other person knows that if they blew up at the person in their life who actually upset them, this other person wouldn’t take it sitting down and would throw it right back, or gaslight them, or react violently and so it’s just easier to unload on someone they know won’t fight back as much. It could be that they are really upset with themselves, but aren’t ready to take the weight of that responsibility, it’s just too painful right now. Then of course, some people just aren’t rational and we may never know the reason. It took me a long time to learn that the reason doesn’t matter as much as our response. Because in the end, does knowing the reason why someone just tore us a new one when all we did was ask them how their day is going really help us feel any better?
A test that helps me is responding to accusing statements with questions. For example, if a loved one, coworker, whatever says, “You’re always holding me back!” (I did a whole other post on this one) or “All you ever do is discourage me!” I would respond with, “That’s not what I want to do, as your friend I truly want you to be successful and have your best life. Can you tell me how I’m standing in your way so I don’t continue to be unhelpful?” or “I’m sorry, that was definitely not my intent. What did I say that made you feel that way so I can be more mindful of my words in the future?” Sometimes, they will have an answer and guess what? That means I get to learn and do better next time. Oftentimes, however, they will have no idea and cannot even come up with a specific example of why they have said what they just said. This runs along the same lines of filtering out constructive criticism versus not so much. If someone at work or home says, “I’m so frustrated, you really made a mess of x!” and you respond with, “I’m sorry, I truly felt I was doing my best. What could I have done differently?” and they do not have an answer … I’m not the one you’re mad at.
The last thing to keep in mind is that this simple statement is for you. Sometimes when you speak it out loud it may make a lightbulb go off in the other person, but there’s also a chance it may not. You’re not saying it to correct someone else, you’re saying it to correct your mindset so you don’t continue going through life a stressed out mess because you are blaming yourself for things that were never in your control to begin with. Sometimes it won’t even be constructive or appropriate in the moment to speak those words to the other person – say it to yourself in your head anyway. I’m not the one they’re really mad at.
It seems simple, but the weight it lifts is immense.