When we withdraw and fail to communicate our true feelings, we foster misperceptions about ourselves. So let’s keep trying. Let’s “lovingly confront.”
As soon as we first realize that we feel hurt and misunderstood, instead of being silent and physically withdrawing, we can “lovingly confront” and correct the misperceptions. We can gently, in a soft voice, “check out” our feelings and ideas about what the other person is feeling and thinking. With direct questions and statements we can prevent many misunderstandings.
“When you turn away from me, I wonder if you don’t care about me. And, I wonder, are you angry with me?”
Indeed, the other person may be angry, but really angry with self. He may be angry for being unable to express feelings in a satisfying way, or for being “weak” by having those feelings at all. He may not know what he feels. And, he may be unable to say so.
Instead of “assuming,” “jumping to conclusions,” or “automatically knowing” what others think or feel, we ask what they think and feel. When we learn what each other really thinks and feels, we can begin to deal with each other in reality rather than fantasy.
“Checking it out first” gives us better information for building better relationships. Doors open to greater understanding and appreciation of each other. Do be careful to check it out early, when first feeling bothered or hurt. Check it out before you mull over the worst interpretation, become angry and turn your voice and facial expressions into sharp, critical, harsh tones and contours. Report what bothers you in as low a tone of voice as you can manage. When even a little bit angry, you may as well admit it! Anger is difficult to mask.
When we fail to “check-out” impressions, we often “err” in our “assessments” of others. If we are to err in assessing others’ motives, it is better to err on the positive note. Erring on the positive side, we may evoke a favorable change in the other person’s attitudes, feelings, thoughts, motives, and behavior.
My motives to be kind, direct, loving, and honest are altered by my interpretations of the other, and by the ways I defend myself from being hurt. Having “checked out” impressions, I need to shoulder my share of responsibility for the situation and a solution.
“I’m really sorry we both ended up with obligations on Jamie’s birthday. How can we keep that from happening? I didn’t know you had a big deal pending. I didn’t want to spend his birthday alone. And he was looking forward so much to having you all to himself!
…Would it have been better for you if I had called the office before accepting the bridge invitation?”
“You are right. I have problems with your being late to dinner. I try to have it ready at the time you said you wanted the family to eat. But we all want to eat with you! And so we wait, and things dry out…I know it is important for you to get everything finished at the office and feel sure you have done it all the best you can. Promotions depend on you doing a good job…If we wait too long we all get crabby! And that is not how we want to greet you at dinner! Hmmm…I could call you if you aren’t home by 6 and you could tell me if you are ready to leave or not. Then we could decide whether or not to go ahead and eat.”
We protect and defend ourselves and our loved ones in many ways: using denial and anger, blaming others, hiding our feelings, and a myriad of methods to try to keep things the same, if not better. And yet, for the most part, each of us is doing the best we can do at the time.
“Jamie’s principal called today. He was in a fight for some reason. I don’t know why they can’t handle the kids on the playground! You would think they would step in when they see something brewing. Jamie is so good-natured, he wouldn’t hurt anyone!”
“It’s that bunch of boys he plays with! Don’t their parents ever teach them what’s right? **!!@#@*!”
Often, families find nothing they want to change in their interactions. Then, they blame “peer pressure” for the children’s “problems.”
Most of us like to be accepted. We don’t always resist peer influence that is unhealthy for us. Sometimes, we do not realize that their influence is detrimental.
“Oh, come on, this one time won’t hurt anything!”
The desire to be accepted and liked by my peers, my gang, my co-workers, my relatives, or my neighbors can lead me to ignore “my better judgment.”
Whether I am a person with a desire for growth or one with a problem, a family member or a peer, I need to accept responsibility for my own self, for my own growth. I, myself, can look for better ways for me to relate to others. Until I do, it is hard to get better and to feel better. When I refuse my part of the responsibility, I often look for someone, or something else, to blame.
A note from Grace Ketterman, M.D., a specialist in adolescent psychiatry and popular author who reviewed this section, suggested that I discuss the relationship of blame and shame at this point.
The next post will deal with blame and anger and the one following that will be on guilt and shame.