“The people who really care about you will go the extra mile for you.”
This is popular self-help dogma.
And, it’s not true.
In my twenties, I ruined at least three friendships because I believed that someone who cared about me should show up for me in a very exacting, certain way. They would essentially prove themselves as friends by “going the extra mile” for me.
As a for instance: someone didn’t come to a birthday dinner I was holding because she had new dietary restrictions and the restaurant where the dinner was being held was pasta, pasta, pasta. In what I can only, in hindsight, admit to as total manipulation, I rather sweetly called her and left a long voicemail about how the important thing was that she was there. She could eat beforehand! She could just come and make conversation!
When she didn’t come to my birthday dinner, I was distant and cold to her next time I saw her. I was punishing her.
And then, oh wow look! She no longer wanted to be my friend. Shocker.
In my mind, the people who really cared about you were people who would prove it to you. If they knew something was important to me, they’d show up for it. They’d come to all the birthdays, dinners, housewarmings, remember to call, text back right away, drop everything if I was in a crisis.
What I understand now is that none of those things are actually love.
Why We Do This
We do it because we don’t want to be wounded, again.
Vulnerability: I didn’t want to be alone on my birthday. That’s why I pushed this friend to come. If she showed up, even if it cost her something to do that, then in my mind she’d be proving to me that she cared about me and about our friendship, which would mean I wasn’t alone and I’d have my “evidence” that I was loved (she showed up! That’s my evidence!).
Consider this for yourself. Do you do this in your marriage? Does your husband only show you he loves you if he follows the exact prescription you’ve laid out for him to show you that he cares? Are your kids only showing you that they care if they always remember to call?
The concepts of what other people need to do for us in order to prove their love are really just about us. We ask this of others because we don’t want to re-experience some kind of prior wounding.
It’s a form of asking others to protect us against our own wounds.
And sorry, but…that’s not someone else’s job. It’s my job to work on my wounds. Your job to work on yours. We can only help one another if the help is authentically given.
Given that most of us want to heal from our wounds, not spend our lives avoiding, here’s an interesting question:
What if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?
I Cannot Be Contained
In the years since, I’ve experienced both sides of the dynamic. I’ve been on the receiving end of the message that “If you love me, if you care, if I matter to you, then you’ll…” and it doesn’t feel good.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s manipulation. Love can’t live in the vise grip of manipulation.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s conditional. Love is unconditional.
It doesn’t feel good because it’s dysfunction. Love doesn’t thrive within dysfunction.
I’ve come to understand that my spirit cannot be contained, and my spirit always knows when something (a lie, a circumstance) or someone is trying to contain it.
If I know that saying “no” to a request will mean incurring a consequence, then I am existing under conditions that are not free.
It’s Hard to Release Attachment
Back to that question: what if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?
It would trigger all of your stuff. It would force you to deal with it. (Good!)
When the friend in the aforementioned birthday dinner incident walked away, she forced me to release my attachment. I couldn’t attempt to control her, anymore, and then I got exactly what I had feared:
I was alone.
It was really fucking painful. I was ashamed of my behavior. I berated myself and called myself horrible things and felt straight into those deep pockets of shame, the ones that tell you that you’re the worst person on earth (shame can be a bit dramatic).
I went there, I was in it, and I came out on the other side to understand more of this part of myself that was wounded and needed compassion. I have nothing but total respect for this friend when I think of her, today. In fact, I admire her–she had enough self-respect to say “no” to dysfunctional, manipulative behavior that I was trying to pass off as love.
Even though I know these things, of course I still catch myself: tallying what someone else does versus what I do. Paying attention to whether or not they’re paying attention.
It’s a shit-ton of wasted energy, energy I’d rather spend working through what’s underneath that.
The call is always there: What wound will I need to face if they don’t do what I’m hoping they’ll do and I have to deal with what comes up?
The answer to that question is your freedom.
What you think, matters.
What you believe, matters.
What you create, matters.
What you desire, matters.
What you want, matters.
It all matters. You matter.
So many people think, “It’s all been done before. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. No one will notice.”
Here’s the thing: you will notice.
You will notice when you keep ignoring your soul’s calling. Like eating junk food, one day or a week will feel less-than-stellar, but still tolerable. Eating junk food every day for months? Could bring you (and your health) to a breaking point.
It’s not about becoming the next big internet superstar (whatever that is, anyway).
It’s not even about being paid.
Yes, earning cash or recognition for your efforts has it’s own glitzy cachet. But it holds no candle to being able to look in the mirror, meet your own eyes, and see them shine with pride.
When you put your unique self-expression out into the world, the world changes–your world changes.
You’ve got to stop making it about some higher calling, or getting noticed, or projecting ten steps into the future and then defeating yourself before you’ve even started.
You’ve got to do it because something within you says to pick up the brush, tap at the keys, go make the call, stretch into the pose.
You’ve got to do it because you matter–you matter, to you.
I used to think that to “stand up for myself,” I had to do something. Say something. Make a declaration.
But here’s the thing–my fierce factor is lightning fast. I grew up in a neighborhood and went to schools where it was imperative to stand up to a bully immediately, showing them you weren’t taking shit, so that they’d leave you alone.
Then somewhere towards the end of my twenties, it began to really dawn on me that even when someone was being a fucking jackass (or, as my more evolved self might phrase it, “someone lacking integrity”), I didn’t feel so good when I thought or said words like “fucking jackass.”
I could say those things and “stand up for myself,” but I didn’t like who I was, saying them. Or thinking them. Also, I was coming to a greater realization that the stuff happening “out there” was really happening “in here,” as in within me, too. We’re all one, we’re all swimming in the same soup.
My unkind words were like pollution.
Some people fantasize about how great life would be if they could offer that perfect comeback to all the jerks in their lives–they’d shut ‘em up, stop them from being such bullies. Movies abound where someone shy and afraid finds her voice and delivers such a verbal tongue lashing that she is never bothered, again.
I’m here to tell you, it might look good, but it doesn’t feel good.
How to Stand Up For Yourself
- Before you confront anyone, know what it is that you want from the situation. Do you want them to stop speaking to you disrespectfully? Do you want to stop being in relationship with them? What’s the specific behavior? Knowing what you want from the situation helps to clarify what you might or will speak into.
- Before you confront anyone, get clear on your reasons why the behavior needs to change. Note that your reasons come from your experience, your filter, and they might not jive with them, but you need to know–for you–why you want something to be different. Some people who take the time for this step might come to understand that actually, they don’t “need” anyone else to change, and this might be enough to free them up from feeling intimidated by someone else’s behavior. Others will hopefully arrive at this exercise’s intended place: really grounding in your values, your desires for the relationship, and being crystal clear about why your desired changes are worthy.
- Before you confront anyone, release attachment. In the last step, you examined why you wanted something to change and gave that desire some validity. In this step, you understand that you can’t make anyone change, and that setting up your happiness to depend on them changing is futile. Wanting an unhealthy situation to shift is a normal human desire. Feeling like unless they change, you won’t release resentment about what they have done/are doing, is dysfunctional.
- Write it out. Simple. Direct. Clear. If you’re angry when you write it out, write it out and then throw it all away. When you’re not fueled by anger, write it all out, again. “The truth doesn’t attack.” –Danielle LaPorte
- Set up a time to talk. While it’s the stuff of movies for someone to arrive at their epiphany and then deliver an eloquent monologue that forever puts a bully in her place, that’s the stuff of petty tit-for-tat. If you actually desire seeing a shift in your relationship with someone, make it a conversation, not a verbal take-down. You’ll feel prouder when you look in the mirror.
- As long as it’s not avoidance–avoidance solves nothing–then just stop talking. Sometimes, the most courageous thing you can do in a relationship is not to lay out your position, but instead to just stop. Stop trying to get someone who has no interest in changing, interested in changing. Understand that they have no interest in changing, and it’s a waste of your time trying to get them interested. Unless a serious moral code is being violated that requires you saying “No, I will not allow this to continue,” let people be miserable if that’s what they’re hell-bent on being. Remove yourself from their space. Let someone who shit-talks about everyone go shit talk about everyone to her other friends; let the person who makes jokes at your expense make them when you’re not around.
The thing is, we aren’t in high-school, anymore. The Mean Girls of the world can stay there, emotionally, if they wish. You don’t have to join them there.
When You Stop Talking
Stop talking? Really?
Not talking–really, not engaging–is seen as the way of the weak. I’m championing it as the way of the strong, the way of the person who is so grounded in who she is and what she knows to be true that she doesn’t need even the validation of letting someone else know that they done wrong.
To just stop engaging with the people who aren’t invested in change is, in many ways, the greatest stand that you can take for yourself. It’s a ninja move that can only be born when you’re grounded in who you are, knowing what’s important to you, and knowing how you want to spend your time.
You want to spend your time only in those places and spaces where all of who you are can be honored. Anything and anyone else who isn’t invested in the same agenda, is too small for you. Taking them down won’t make you feel better. Walking away, and creating more space in your life for the people who would honor you, is the path of the courage warrior.