As a young girl I believed everybody else’s happiness and moods to be my responsibility. I was a people-pleasing nervous child and at times could only relax if I was certain that everybody around me was feeling OK – that nobody was arguing, upset or cranky. I was expert at reading my mother’s moods and would do whatever I felt needed to be done at the first sign of unhappiness or crankiness.
I honestly felt that it was my responsibility to make people feel better. Conflict of any sort was akin to torture for me. I couldn’t stand the uncomfortable and desperate feeling that took over my senses – my being – when all was not ‘right’ with and amongst the people I loved. It felt frightening and wrong. Believe it or not, these feelings have only quite recently left me.
Now while this may seem a very selfless, caring and noble way to be (doing everything in my power to prevent others being miserable and hating on each other) there is a selfish element to this way of being.
Truth is, I couldn’t stand the way I felt when the people close to me were in a bad mood or arguing – regardless of whether it had anything to do with me, or not. It made me uncomfortable. I felt unloved. And I didn’t want to feel this way - I wanted to feel better.
So, with zero knowledge of the need of some people (all people?) to have time-out, to be angry, to work through their issues and to process their feelings, I would do what I could to manipulate the situation. To make people stop arguing. To make people talk to me. To make people and myself – in my mind’s eye at least – BETTER.
This may be completely acceptable behaviour for a small, scared child, but not for a grown woman, which is what I well and truly was by the time I addressed it. It was in fact a very superficial way of being. A way of being in which I wasn’t being true to either myself or the people around me… all for a fear of being unloved.
So why did I address this behaviour? In short, I began to realise that I was annoying the hell out of people. I realised that I was denying other people their feelings… all to appease mine. I realised that conflict is part of life.
I remember one incident in particular in which my then-husband and I had had an argument. He retreated to the bedroom for some time-out to deal with his anger. I followed him into the room, crying and pestering and demanding to know when he would be out of his mood… and if he hated me and wanted to break-up because of what had just transpired.
He looked at me, uncomprehending and speechless, unsure of what had just caused this dramatic scene. Now, I’m not taking complete blame for this argument – it was his fault as much as it was mine. But that is irrelevant. The point is that we had a misunderstanding – as humans have done and will continue to do for millennia – and I refused to let both him and the situation diffuse of its own accord because of my childhood wounds.
There were other similar incidents over the years – with him and with others. That is, until I gradually realised that I was not doing myself - or anybody else - any favours with this so-called ‘pacifist’ attitude of mine. What I was doing was sweeping issues under the rug, forcing things left unsaid, forcing people to behave in an ‘acceptable’ way. Living, to a certain extent, superficially.
Getting vulnerable with myself and others in times of conflict and stress has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Admitting to myself that I am pissed off, unhappy and need time-out. Giving myself and others space – mentally, physically and emotionally - to GET OVER THINGS. Not forcing myself to ignore important issues just so I – and others – don’t feel uncomfortable. Acknowledging that sometimes people need to feel uncomfortable.
I now understand that conflict is sometimes unavoidable. But I also understand that there is an effective way of dealing with it when it happens, which includes giving people including myself ample time and space to move through the issues and the pain. That in fact, there HAS to be pain and shitty feelings before there can be good and better feelings. And that in some cases some people won’t ever move past the conflict. And sad as it is… that is their issue to deal with.
These days, if I believe I have made an error in judgment and upset somebody, I apologise. Then, I move forward. I remind myself that I am only human and will sometimes upset people. That this is true for every human on this planet. Now, I give people the time they need to work through their hurt and come to a place of forgiveness. In the same way, I don’t force forgiveness on myself. I acknowledge my hurt and my pain, and allow myself the time and space to move through it.
I understand that it is not my sole responsibility to make people feel better. Just as it isn’t yours. What a valuable and refreshing life epiphany this has been.
Do you - or did you ever - feel that it was your sole responsibility to make people feel better? Share in the comments!
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