For most situations in my life, I would be willing to say that I don't blame other people for things that happen to me. I've managed to survive divorce without making it all someone else's fault. I've managed to grow up without feeling I'm entitled because of something my parents did or did not do in line with my expectations.
I have been willing to go the extra mile in work or projects where I truly wanted to succeed, without expecting anyone else to tow the line for me. I have basically tried to take ownership of my life.
However, I have continually been challenged in my thinking regarding 'difficult' people in my world, due to a longstanding false belief that their impact on my life has more to do with their issues than with mine.
Since I coach and facilitate groups around creating healthier relationships and healthy boundaries, I have finally come to realize that difficult people are the sandpaper God allows into my life to smooth out my rough edges.
If I am looking at the actions or behavior of others and making excuses for the way I react to them, I am not "getting it". I have not been afforded the opportunity to order every piece of my environment so that it is perfected for my convenience. There are places inside my soul that need to be healed from expectations I've had that the world revolves around me and my comfort. Tough lesson. Much needed.
My grandmother often said "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me". Meaning that after I've observed the attitudes and reactions of a difficult, angry, controlling, irresponsible or otherwise annoying personality, and I continue to allow it to go on in my life unaddressed, this is something I am responsible for. If you are standing on my toe and I'm too "scared, embarrassed, fearful" to find my voice and tell you, is this really your problem?
I am learning that the voice that speaks for me is and should be ONLY my own. If I expect you to protect my feelings, talents, emotions, ideas etc. and I do nothing to communicate my hurt feelings when you trample them, how is this something that you can be held responsible for? If you ask for truth and I gloss it over with the "oh no, I'm fine", how are you supposed to know? If I am intent on faking 'fine', I am choosing to 'accept' the behavior and actions of someone with whom I may need to find the courage to have that difficult conversation I have been avoiding.
Often, I have witnessed people, years after a relational breakdown continue to speak about how the person did such and such to them. They recount and relive every detail as though they are still living it. All the while, holding the other party fully responsible. Never coming to the realization that if it was a continual process, they were partly responsible for enabling it to continue as long as they did. How tragic, because this behavior impacts future relationships and hinders forgiveness and the ability to move on from the wounds.
While some recognize the truth in "we have seen the enemy and it is us", many do not realize that enabling a relationship to continue without addressing issues that have hurt and wounded us is very self-destructive.
Somehow they manage to relieve the guilt by blaming the other person for being so difficult, controlling, angry, threatening yada yada yada. When in reality, all along, confrontation was necessary.
We excuse our challenges by saying that we dislike confrontations. With tongue in cheek here, I ask, which do you dislike more, confrontations or having someone trample all over the things you value and feeling powerless to do anything about it? If we are not pro-active to protect our peace and calm, who else will be?
The 'blame' game, which is me believing that my reactions are somehow someone else's fault or responsibility, only keeps the cycle of chaos going. The relationship doesn't heal and neither can I. Taking responsibility and ownership of what we choose and what we allow into our lives, goes much farther in getting us out of destructive cycles.
God gave us free will and the ability and strength to manage our lives. We must own up to the responsibility of saying, "if it's to be, it's up to me" when it comes to using our voice to establish safe limits on what we will allow into our lives and what we will eliminate from our lives. No one can do this for us.
We alone know the impact someone else's words or actions have on us and we have the right and responsibility to calmly make them aware of our feelings around their actions. This provides the greatest opportunity for the relationship to move through the painful or awkward phase and into a breakthrough where it can be restored, often to a closer, more intimate bond. Breakdowns and places where we are most resistant are often the places where we will have the greatest breakthroughs.
Even if we are unable, at this point, to get the relationship back on track, we can be free of the control we allow it to have over our lives when we choose to forgive. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. The other person may not even be aware of our choice. I've often heard it said that choosing not to forgive someone, which isn't saying that what they did was okay, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s never going to happen.
What I do know from my own experience when going through the divorce of a 19-year marriage is that not forgiving someone basically gives them free rent inside my head.
If you don't want to continue to get what you have always received, you must change the methods in which you respond to and handle the same issues.
We cannot change or control another person. I can't say to you, "you will not speak to me this way" and really expect that you will simply season your words with kindness. A better approach is to say, "if you choose to act in this manner, I will not be present. I refuse to allow myself to be treated this way".
This seems somewhat scary depending on the significance of the relationship in our lives. However, what kind of relationship is it anyway, if we are merely showing up to be treated poorly? Distancing ourselves from someone's outbursts requires them to reflect on the relationship and take responsibility for their actions, if the relationship is important to them. What if they walk away, you may ask? Well, the sooner you know the better, right?
It is okay to set limits on the way you are treated, how much time you will spend helping another person, and in the commitments you make. The important thing is that we give and serve from a cheerful heart. If we do it for any other purpose rather than out of love, we will feel obligated and resentful.
We may be thinking we are actually helping someone, but that simply isn't true if we have expectations or strings attached to the time or gifts we give. Giving from a cheerful heart requires that we do our kind deeds from a heart of love and not out of fear of the other person's reactions.
Freedom to be who we are, requires finding our voice to speak for what we can or can't do, will or won't do, what we need, or how and when we desire to give our time or resources to help another person .
It is much better to spend time with someone who wants to help than with someone who is edgy and resentful because they really do not want to do what they have signed on for. Offer your support out of a sincere desire to serve. Say no when you cannot give without stress or resentment. Enjoy the difference!
Also remember, if you decline an opportunity and find later than you can get on board, it is much easier to turn your "no" into a "yes" than the reverse. You will truly experience better and safer relationships. People don't remember what we say or do ~ they remember the way we make them feel.
Find where you can serve joyously and go spread the joy!
PS. If you have enjoyed this post, please share with other fabulous women who are ready to do Life-by-God’s-Design!
Sheri Geyer is a Relationship Coach for Christian Women*
*And women seeking to learn more about a relationship with Jesus Christ!
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