By Susie Ekberg
Q: What do we do about those people in our life that are constantly aggravating? I love this person, they’re family, and I believe we’re together for a reason, but they’re driving me crazy!
A: No one ever said it would be easy! A favorite story of mine is a client who arranged their life to be easy – no spouse, no children, and still, they were a mess!
See – you can create difficulties even when your road is clear for NO difficulties. Why? Because they can help us grow and learn what we need to learn. And who would ever want easy, anyway? I think that would get boring after a while.
I’m learning cello, and at first it was ALL difficult (I even managed to break the rosin because I didn’t know how to use it). I sometimes get overwhelmed, but if I take it one step at a time, I can judge my progress by how far I’ve come. When something gets too easy, I know it’s time to move on, to challenge myself so I can grow.
Could that translate to your situation with your loved one? Not the moving on part, but the breaking it down into one step at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed, or like it’s all or nothing? Either it’s easy or you walk away.
There’s a great book by George Leonard called “Mastery” (I’ve spoken of it before) that talks about the different ways we learn. There’s the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker. The Dabbler loves everything new, but as soon as it becomes difficult, moves on to the next exciting new thing. The Obsessive totally throws herself into the new job, relationship or situation, and when it gets tough, redoubles his efforts to keep moving upward, not knowing the plateaus or rest periods in between growth are natural and necessary. The Hacker is content to just stay on the plateau once she reaches it. Of course I’ve oversimplified the whole book, but there is some really valuable advice in there, if you take a few minutes to think about (which we’re going to do right now).
First you might want to ask yourself how you’re approaching your relationship with this person. Are you expecting them to act a certain way, and when they don’t, you get disappointed? Do you find yourself always butting heads with them? Do they say you don’t listen to them? Do you feel they respect you?
Here’s a fun thing you might want to try, if you think you can stay open and receptive. Change places with the other person – become THEM, and have them become YOU, then… have a conversation. Let’s assume this is your adult son; your conversation could go something like this:
You (as him): “Mom – you don’t respect me. You don’t even know me. You never ask me about my life. You only criticize me when you think I’m not doing something I should be doing.”
Him (as you): “Well, you’re always messing up. I just want you to be happy and successful. I don’t know what to say to you, because no matter what I say, it seems to make you mad. Sometimes I think you hate me.”
You (as him): “I don’t hate you. I love you. I just want you to listen to me and respect that I’m making different decisions than you might think I should make. I have my own life, and I’m going to make mistakes. That’s just part of life. And that’s okay.”
Him (as you): “I just want you to know that I love you, and I’m trying the best I can to support you. If I don’t always say it enough, I AM proud of you, and I DO care about your life. I’ll try to listen more and not be so critical of you.”
Just let it fly – let it all out. Just pretend you’re channeling your son, and say what you think he’s feeling. Something amazing happens when you switch places, do a 180. You’re really able to FEEL what it feels like to be that other person. You can actually look out through their eyes and see yourself in a new light. Does that little exercise give you any valuable information as to how to proceed?
I know one thing that I really “work” with is listening. I have the tendency (hard as it is to believe) to just plow on through and not really listen to others (especially children). I think it’s that Teacher mode or something. I know best, I want to help educate you so you can have a smooth road, etc. I really DO mean it to be a loving thing, but in the end it ends up not being helpful at all.
The best thing you can do sometimes is just to shut up and listen to what the other person is saying. But it’s hard, because when you’re close to each other you know how to push each other’s buttons, and you probably have some history of behavior that’s not always respectful and helpful. It’s hard to start fresh, but that might be a really good idea. Take a step back, look at the whole situation, and see what you can do differently.
I agree that we’re with our loved ones to learn something, and our lessons certainly aren’t always easy. Any time we’re learning something new, it’s going to be difficult because we’re on foreign ground. But when we learn, we grow, we expand and are able to hold more and bigger ideas and principles and mindsets. It’s good to grow, even if it feels painful sometimes.
With immediate family I don’t think you ever want to permanently walk away. You might need a 4 or 5 year timeout, but not forever. Distance, yes. Amputation, no. I think if you do that, you’ll just get another opportunity to heal what needs to be healed with someone else. There’s no running away. So it’s convenient to keep coming back to this same person. There are plenty of opportunities for encounters, right, so you can start today, right where you are.
You might want to try being totally honest and just tell them, “I love you, but I’m having a hard time talking with you, and that makes me sad. Do you have any ideas on how we can get along better?” then… just listen to what they have to say. Listen with open ears and a closed mouth. Listen like you care. Listen like you love (because you do). Use this as an opportunity for fresh dialogue, then go from there.
I see great love between the two of you, but years of misunderstandings, miscommunications and some hurt. But it’s totally do-able and I think very important to both of you to work on coming together in a new way. Nobody’s perfect – far from it. So one of our greatest jobs down here might be not only to love ourselves unconditionally, but to love others unconditionally, as well. Not wanting to change them, not thinking they NEED change – just loving them.
That seems like it would make for a more fun journey, right? As long as we’re traveling down this road together, we might as well make it as fun as possible. You two are together – now have some fun while you’re together. It’s time, and I know you can do it.
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