I’ve just had an experience that’s left me whimpering and slightly bleeding from the heart.
For the past several days I’ve been feeling a little fragile – a little sad, a little isolated, flat, a little spark-less, a little unenthusiastic – for specific and non-specific reasons… a prevailing and persistent legal situation, the big full Blood Moon, Mercury retrograde, solar flares, the changing of seasons and crazy fluctuating weather, being separated from the man I love and powerless to change that … its the everything and nothing behind why we feel anything at all and its just one of those things that comes with being human.
I, for one, am a big advocate of allowing those feelings to just BE instead of trying to ‘state-change’ them away and so, I have been sitting with them and honouring the ability to just BE with the discomfort and the ebb and flow of my human-ness. In the process, I have rubbed up agains the raw edge of my human fragility and – as always – lack the poker face to pretend otherwise.
One of the people closest to me picked up on my relative lack of humour and asked me to share what was going on. My previous experience with this person is that when I share, they manage to translate my feelings as a personal assault against them – they feel I am somehow causing them to be responsible for my feelings and they rush to defend themselves (and criticise me) instead of just holding the space for me to share.
Perhaps it is the way I communicate. I have tried various ways of phrasing my acknowledgement that my issues are my issues, my response to my environment is how I choose to respond and I take full responsibility for the way I feel at all times but they still seem to hear blame and so, in an effort to keep the peace, I had on this occasion decided not to share my feelings.
Today, for the 2nd day, this beautiful person asked me to share my feelings with them. I chose to remain silent and I could hear and feel their hurt and bewilderment when we ended the conversation. I thought some more about it and decided to share my feelings because, more than anything, I don’t want anyone near me to feel I am shutting them out or not loving them and I was also really needing someone to hear and see me and offer me a soft landing pad to fall back on.
So, I shared my feelings … as cleanly and as openly as I could. I felt completely raw and vulnerable in doing so – like in one of those team-building exercises when you are asked to fall backwards into the arms of your team mates. Its a little daunting as you’re falling and wondering if they will catch you safely and gently or if something will go awry and you will fall flat on your back.
Today, I fell backwards and landed on broken glass.
The response I received to sharing my feelings was a Force 5 hurricane of intensity and a barrage of criticism and defensiveness. I felt completely naked and attacked and responded by running for cover and fleeing from the conversation. I felt ambushed and betrayed – like the invitation to share was conditional to the content being pleasing to the recipient’s ears. That kind of ‘conditional empathy’ can cause irreparable damage to someone’s trust.
Later, after some reflection, I realised I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this ‘conditional empathy’ … as a parent, I have at times asked my child to share what was happening for them and then felt guilty about what they shared – that something I said or did – or didn’t say or didn’t do – was the reason they were feeling the way they were feeling and so I rushed in to defend myself … and in the act of defending myself, I made them wrong. I didn’t realise that until today – until I was feeling like I myself had been lured into a false sense of trust and security only to be hung out on a limb.
Big lesson here … for both parties…
1) When you invite someone to share their feelings (especially a child), make sure that invitation does not come a hidden or personal agenda. If you invite someone to share their feelings, that invitation needs to be because you genuinely want to understand their feelings. Without judgment.
2) If they accept the invitation to share, make sure you have the willingness and capacity to hold the space for them – to listen, hear, see and understand them without prejudice. Your mission is simply to seek to understand their feelings and to empathise. If you feel you are unable to hear them without rushing to judgment, be truthful with both yourself and the other person. You might need some time or space until you are really willing and able to hear the other person.
3) Do not take what they share personally. Remember ‘The Four Agreements’? #2 – Don’t take anything personally. Nothing anyone ever says or does is ultimately about you.
4) If something does sound like its a personal affront, don’t assume. Remember the saying “when you assume you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Ask yourself if you are potentially making an assumption but don’t engage in any lingering internal dialog while you are listening to them. Just bookmark your concern and stay open. Your job is merely to listen and to seek to understand. You will have an opportunity later to ask clarifying questions so you can ensure you have understood the meaning that was intended. Do not violate the other person’s trust or taint the moment with justification, blame, criticism or self-defence. Remember it only takes a moment to open up a profound wound and it can take years to heal.
If you are the person choosing to share:
1) State your feelings cleanly and take 100% responsibility for them. No one makes you feel anything. Everything you feel is a choice you have made (even though it doesn’t always feel like that) – whether the choice is conscious or sub-conscious. The choice is based on the meanings you give to what you experience.
2) Do not share your feelings in order to elicit a certain response from the listener. Choosing to be vulnerable and opening up to someone is choosing to show up in your raw, gritty nakedness and authenticity. Do not use a mantle of “sharing feelings” as a fishing expedition or to manipulate a situation. It is always a bad idea to do that and almost inevitably back-fires.
3) If you are feeling ‘unsafe’ in any way, do not proceed until you have secured the perimeters – let the other person know what you need if there is any doubt, i.e you can say something like “I’m wading knee-deep in some of my ‘stuff’ and feeling a little shaky at the moment so what I need from you is just to listen and support me. Are you ok to do that?” If you feel any hesitation – either from them or if you sense in your body that now is not the right time, do not plow ahead. You are far better off letting some things remain unsaid then diving head-first into a waterless pool. It is your responsibility and yours alone to meet your needs. This is obviously different for a child. It is our responsibility as adults, guardians and parents to create safety and security for children to share their feelings. It is the child’s right to be a child and act like a child.
It’s now several hours later and I’m still feeling a bit rattled from the earlier experience. Once bitten, twice shy. But I’m also thankful that it felt as sharp and intense as it did. Sometimes, we need an exaggerated experience to learn a lesson. Or a Full Moon. Or Mercury Retrograde. Or falling on broken glass. Ouch.