Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories. – Elie Wiesel
Have you written or said something and been surprised by how others reacted? Maybe they took offense or took defense, maybe they were hurt or angered.
Or maybe something you read or heard felt like a slap to the face. Maybe it was about you and maybe it wasn’t, but you responded quickly and strongly.
I think we’ve all seen this happen. Dealing with emotions and reactions is a fact of life. We all have opinions and beliefs and that’s usually a good thing. But sometimes the shit hits the fan and those emotions begin flying all over the place. Feelings are hurt or arguments start because we can’t see two simple facts through all the drama.
- The fanned shit isn’t based on reality; it’s based on our stories, shadows of our perspectives. Stories are the things we’ve come to believe based on our experiences or the experiences of others. They aren’t 100% real because other people don’t always experience them, but they are real to us.
- It’s not always about you.
It’s Not You, It’s Me (Except When It’s Not Me and Is You)
I live a life based on my own beliefs. These beliefs have been shaped by my experiences and the stories I’ve developed. I speak from what I know, from my own understanding and from my own authenticity, moment to moment. I live, act and react in ways that make sense to me.
It’s about me.
Likewise, I know anything I feel about or however I react to someone else is also about me. It’s based on my own stories, my own beliefs, my own perspective. Even when I feel snappy or defensive or offended, I know it’s about me.
It’s not about you.
Moving from a place of authenticity about our own stories irons out most of the wrinkles in our messier interactions.
But even when we move from our own authenticity, we’re still bound to hurt someone’s feelings at some point, we’re likely to find ourselves within misunderstandings and despite our best intentions, and especially when we’re at our most authentic, we are going to offend others.
This doesn’t mean what you said was about them. It means how they responded isn’t about you.
Reactions are always about the reactor. Even when someone is intentionally trying to hurt or offend us, our feelings speak more about our stories than the facts of the situation. And this is true in regards to every single emotion: love, jealousy, anger, loneliness, excitement.
Beneath every reaction is a story.
Stories aren’t bad until they hold back, keep down or hurt you or others. As soon as someone feels hindered or hurt, it’s time to recognize the stories so that we can overcome them.
I’m constantly overcoming my stories. In fact the more you move toward living an organic life, the more inorganic stories you’ll be challenged to remove. (Seriously. I feel like I’m recognizing and overcoming my stories Every. Freaking. Day.)
Mine is a process with two parts:
1. Recognize Who Owns It
Every time the emotions start flying, the very first step I take is back. Before I can do anything I have to sort out my response from the other components. Walking away or holding onto my response gives me space to understand it.
Then I have to admit that my reaction is mine to own. I can’t blame or point fingers. I can’t play the victim role. I have to own it.
The same applies if someone responds to me with an exaggerated response: I have to recognize it’s not always about me, own my own reaction and allow the other person to have whatever experience they choose (by allowing them to own it or not).
Note to Self: You can’t make them own it. That’s their business. Meaning it’s not about you so butt out!
2. Dig Into It
When something virtually unrelated to me (or maybe totally related to me) rubs me the wrong way I know it’s time to question it and listen to the answers.
I know, even if I’m not ready to admit it, that it’s speaking to me (not about me) and with some truth I’m apparently resisting. Asking myself a few questions always opens me up to what is really going on:
- Why does this bother me?
- What other emotions is this triggering for me?
- What is this reminding me of or what memories are associated with this?
- What do I need to acknowledge in myself here?
Something similar can be done for others: Without judgment or assumptions we can try to understand their perspective and what shapes it. With compassion we can acknowledge where they are, have empathy for their experience and validate their reaction…all without owning it and without allowing it to own us.
Yes, owning our own stuff is uncomfortable. Digging into it can be downright excruciating. It can be a long, sometimes frustrating, process.
But knowing what makes us tick – knowing who we are and why – is crucial to liberating ourselves from the drama that surrounds us.
Keep this in mind the next time you get frustrated by your child’s words or hurt by your partner’s actions or when you read something you perceive as offensive or rude:
Only after we judge our emotions can we judge a situation.
Once you know who owns it, once you have some understanding or empathy for why it exists, only then can you move forward into finding the best way to handle it. (And that’s a process too.)