(Note: If you prefer listening over reading, scroll to the bottom and listen to this post on SoundCloud. It’s nice having options, eh?!)
Yesterday I was attacked. Blindsided by a ten-ton emotional bomb, which I never saw coming.
I had messaged a friend about the possibility of staying at her place for a few days. I was excited about the possibility of catching up, since we had fallen out of closer contact with each other over the last several years. I was excited also about having the opportunity to explore an unfamiliar area in the company of a friend.
The message I received in return was full of anger, outlining a long list of instances in which she had felt used by me over the past 7 years and letting me know that she had had enough and did not wish to have further contact with me.
Blindsided. Attacked. Shocked…all things I felt after reading her message. But mostly, I felt deeply saddened that my actions left her feeling that way. Then angered…wondering why she hadn’t spoken to me about this before, thinking how unfair it was to blindside me like that with years of pent up hurts. I had NO idea she ever felt like that. I never had the opportunity to understand how she was feeling and change my behavior.
After the initial shock wore off, I was reminded of a concept I learned years ago in an interpersonal relations class called ‘collecting stamps.’ It seems to fit perfectly with what occurred. When we collect stamps, we store up hurts and then cash them in at a later time for a ‘prize.’ It’s a form of game playing that comes from our wounding and leaves both parties hurting in the aftermath.
Before I proceed, it’s important that everyone understands the following…. NONE of what I write is intended to assign blame or to make my friend the bad guy in this situation. Her feelings are real and valid. She’s feeling used and hurt by me, and she will never be bad or wrong for feeling the way she does. Her reaction to my request, while it shocked, saddened and angered me, gave me a window into a deeper understanding of her and her shadow. I feel compassion for my friend who is, I believe, reacting out of a deep wound. Sadly, my behavior (intentional or not) scratched open that wound.
This incident has also given ME the opportunity to take an honest look at my own behavior. This is where my work begins. I need to ask myself if I was indeed intentionally or unintentionally using her. In what ways was I complicit in this game? Where does my responsibility lie in this? Am I generally a user of people? Are there things I need to start or stop doing in my relationships with others? Is this a pattern I’m unaware of? And then the broader questions…what does it mean to use someone? When does asking for help or a favor cross a line into using someone? What role does intention play in whether or not it’s a ‘using’ behavior? Is there an expiration date on asking for help when two people are not as close as they once were?
And just as I am not judging or blaming my friend, I am also not judging or blaming myself no matter what the answers are to the questions I’m asking of myself. This is the gorgeous stuff of being human. This is the stuff from which we can source a deeper understanding or ourselves and others. This is the stuff we can use to connect us in our common human ‘flawesomeness’ (flawed awesomeness) rather than separate us through judgment and blame.
My friend and I BOTH have the opportunity to learn and grow from this. This is the beautiful opportunity present in every interpersonal relationship ‘glitch.’ The question is “Can we eventually arrive at allowing ourselves to be hurt, angry etc. AND remain open and compassionate with a willingness to understand and connect?” Depending on the depth of hurt and anger, we can arrive quickly at compassion and understanding. Sometimes, we can never arrive at this point. Both are ok.
I write all this for two reasons. First, I am being completely selfish. I’m writing this as a plea to anyone else who I have unintentionally hurt to come forward and talk with me about it. You will be met with kindness and a genuine willingness to listen and understand. Please do not walk around with unspoken hurts. Give us the opportunity to understand each other and connect.
Two, this is meant to encourage others and to remind myself to look at our behavior in relationships. How do we handle situations in which we feel we’ve been wronged? Do we collect stamps? Do we react from old wounds or choose a response that protects the relationship? Are we holding on to hurts, grudges, or perceived slights? Why have we not expressed them? Do we jump to judgment and blame when we’ve been ‘wronged’ or do we seek to understand? What choices can we make today that will lead to greater connection and understanding rather than judgment and blame? Can we allow ourselves to feel our feelings while also remaining open and compassionate with others and ourselves too?
As for me, I’m going to continue practicing feeling my feelings while remaining open and compassionate. I’m going to continue practicing choosing nourishing responses rather than blindly reacting. But here’s the reality… sometimes I handle situations very well and other times I fuck them up completely. Just ask my daughter, my parents and any of my exes. 🙂 Sometimes I’m able to go back and clean up a mess I’ve made. Sometimes I’m not. But I just keep practicing. I just keep practicing from a position of non-judgment and love. Welcome to being human.
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