As we navigate life’s passages we are bound to come across interactions with others that turn out, shall we say, less than ideal. Misunderstandings, triggered hurt feelings, and surfacing resentments can all be part of the soup involved in navigating relationships.
Past wounds can cause us to lash out in defensiveness or to withdraw, protecting our tender spots. Often we may do both. We may admonish others (or be admonished) to be more thoughtful, to choose better words, or adjust our tone–to be civil. Sometimes, however, this admonishment is simply a tool used to protect wounds, to keep us safe.
Last week I got my feelings hurt–twice, in two days. Hurt feelings are not a new experience for me, by any means, but the intensity of my upset seemed out of proportion compared to the actual events that triggered them. Over-reaction (or under-reaction) is always a signal to me that something bears a deeper exploration.
On the surface the two instances seemed very different. The first one was in-person and with someone I have been in relationship with for many years, and the second was with a more casual friend on social media. Stepping back from these two experiences a bit I realized there were some similarities. First, though the event itself was fairly minor, I realized that I had inadvertently triggered a huge amount of defensiveness in both people. Secondly, in both cases I felt that I had been misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. I also noted that in both instances, the other parties had used anger followed by cutting me off verbally as defensive coping mechanisms.
In that past, one of my go-to coping tools when confronted with conflict was making nice. Growing up, I was assigned the role of family peacemaker. It was certainly a needed role as family life during my childhood was rarely peaceful. When you are the peacemaker, however, your emotions and needs are often not part of the equation, So, while I became proficient in speaking up on another’s behalf, I was unaccustomed to speaking up for myself.
Although I have never been shy about stating my opinion, learning to speak up on my own behalf has been an adventure awash with discomfort. Speaking up meant I would have to invest enough value in who I am to stand up for myself. It meant I would have to believe in me. It also meant I would have to risk being the target for another’s misplaced hurt and pain.
Growth, by its very nature, demands a break from the status quo. An acorn will never become the mighty oak if it refuses to burst out of its shell. Breaking free of the protective shell we’ve constructed around our past wounds is guaranteed recipe for discomfort. It’s messy and comes in fits and starts. It also requires vulnerability and tenacity…and rigorous self-honesty. But it is so worth our effort.
In my case, suppressing my feelings in favor of peace, however, has only led to despair and burning resentment. Long ago I made a commitment to forgo any temporary emotional discomfort I might have in favor of dealing with the hard stuff. To me this felt more honest, more authentic–even at the risk of being misunderstood. This process, of course, is always a work in progress. And I need to remember that bot everyone is ready to take the same step of breaking out of their protective shell, just because I am.
Neither instance from last week turned out the way I would have wished.
Being understood is important to me. In both circumstances I felt misunderstood and rejected. It hurts when others don’t seem to want to take the time or effort to hear me out. One party claimed my “tone” was the cause of their disrespectful response and the other decided to end the conversation abruptly–part of their go-to coping tools, I suspect. And even though, due to old conditioning, my first instinct was to soothe their discomfort and then go to great lengths to be understood, in both instances I spoke up on my own behalf, made several attempts to resolve the issue, and then released the other parties to their own choices. To me, the comfort of choosing behaviors that felt grounded in integrity and honesty far outweighed any discomfort over feeling rejected and misunderstood.
Seasons of Reflection: Emotional discomfort is a signal, an alert to the need for growth. How do you deal with emotional discomfort? What is your go-to when someone pushes your buttons or challenges your favored coping mechanisms? It may be time to reassess your coping tools. How can you welcome the growth you desire?