We humans are complicated interdependent creatures!
There are so many factors that go into how we communicate, invest and trust that builds, holds constant or destroys relationships - friendship, intimate, family and work.
How many times have you misread or misunderstood someone else’s mood? Especially in this era of texts and emails! How often do we assume that if someone isn’t acting like “themselves” it’s because of us or something we’ve done? And of course, we often act in kind by pulling away or fighting in order to protect ourselves. It seems foreign in the moment to check out the story… Or perhaps we do check out the story but the other person can’t yet articulate what’s going on with them and they don’t know how to ask for your patience, so you end up in a stalemate.
I recall a time when my closest friend was going through a difficult time and while I did my best to understand, when she wasn’t responding in way that would have felt comfortable to me, I did the worst thing I could have and walked away. That rift lasted for more than a year and then I finally contacted her once again to begin the process of rebuilding the relationship. We’ve never talked about our unfortunate misunderstanding, knowing we both played a part. We can’t, however, get that time back and we were not there for each other during times it really would have mattered. From this experience, I’ve spent time trying to learn from my errors and create healthier connections with the people I’m fortunate enough to have in my life. Which brings me to exploring it here…
As I think back on that time, and on opportunities I currently have to reflect on all of the differences each of us carries into relationship, I don’t think our needs are so different. I think our learned ways of protecting ourselves when our needs aren’t being met is what gets in the way of relational thriving.
Recently, I felt as though someone very important to me was pulling away. In the moment, I had a very difficult time stepping back to consider what might be stressing this person other than me (because of course, I’m the center of the universe… Aren’t we all?!) Instead, my assumption was that their withdrawal was a deliberate way of telling me I’m not wanted. I, in kind, withdrew to protect myself.
Because I’m fortunate enough to have had, and continue to have, training on these specific interpersonal tendencies and am working hard to incorporate my education into my own life (what kind of a coach would I be if I didn’t?), I put considerable time into determining what need of mine was underlying my self protective withdrawal. I then did my best to empathize with their potential underlying need as well.
What I found was a lot of assumptions, and reacting to those assumptions. The underlying needs are hard to name, they cause vulnerability, which is about the scariest thing in the world for me. In each and every case that I can remember self protection showing up in me, it was in reaction to feeling valueless to the person I have placed great value in. It hurts to think you’re the only one invested in a relationship and most of the time, that thought (feeling) probably is not accurate.
So my seemingly unfulfilled need is feeling valued… We all have that need! And if we all have that need, is it not possible the other person involved in this misunderstanding is feeling the same way because I have withdrawn from them? Hmm… Now there’s a thought!
At this juncture, I have to decide what’s important: To stand my ground and risk losing a relationship yet again, or to keep this person that means so much to me in my life by taking risks that feel vulnerable? Of course, there’s really no choice; I’ll be brave and “walk the talk” by being vulnerable.
What was my final action? Showing them that I valued them in the ways I would want to experience it from them. Rather than hoping and waiting for the other person to show me that I’m valuable, I did things to show them that they are valuable to me.
What do you suppose happened? I receiving everything I needed and more because they returned my validation twofold. Success!
Experiment takeaway: When feeling uncertain or insecure about a relationship, rather than waiting for the other person to make you feel secure, do for them what you would like from them. Be brave! Everybody wins!
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian