In all kinds of relationships between equals, there will be times where the “right” choice, or the “best” choice is not so clear-cut. But I will always have the choice to either grow or not grow.
Relationships often present opportunities where the grey area becomes fertile soil for exploring what feels right – in the moment. And when you’re not certain if this choice will result in an outcome you desire or not, there is the opportunity to grow – either way.
One of the choices that may present in a relational conflict is how to use your voice – either through speaking up and engaging, or refraining through conscious silence or having minimal engagement. When I am being mirrored back by another through their words describing me, to me, which involves assigning motives and a story-line depicting me in a way that feels utterly foreign to my soul, I often feel compelled to speak up and defend myself. Yet, I am learning this is not always the most helpful action to take.
By making the choice to grow through this relational ambiguity, I am realizing that in relationships there may come a time when it is determined that it’s definitely time to walk away and conversely, when it is definitely time to stay in the mess and try to mend things. But sometimes, it is not so clear up-front.
The way to determine this difficult decision is to dial inward first. Starting with asking myself some important questions – Is there room for the real me in this relationship? Is my voice given respect and being sought out with receptivity, or am I being disregarded and spoken for on behalf of another who is defining me in ways I do not identify with? If I am drowning in another person’s definition of my reality and of my character to the point where I feel the need to speak up in order to breathe, that is a big red flag.
In times past, I would often speak up loud and clear, with gusto and often with aggression. It felt like there was so much at stake for me – like the very ground I stood on was being tampered with, tied in with my sense of self. But as I take the time to reflect I notice a gradual shift taking place. I find myself peacefully pausing first and feeling a lesser degree of urgency to speak up. I am more mindful and self-aware now, and in that place I’m noticing more. I allow and welcome this new feeling – a feeling of hesitation to engage. I used to think that was a sign of weakness, I feared that if I didn’t speak up immediately I was giving away my power – it felt threatening to not speak up. I now see an alternative way to experience this. Though I notice I’m being defined by another in ways that clearly feel misaligned with who I know myself to be, I can pause and am not so reactive, albeit this is a work in progress depending on the relationship.
My sensitivity and focus is pointed internally and I feel more grounded. Before, my sensitivity and focus were pointed externally, towards the other person’s perception of me. No wonder I didn’t feel grounded. When I recently I experienced this, I noticed I felt intruded upon by the other who presented with such an air of definitiveness about my character, all without me having say in how I was being defined. Yet – I saw I had choices in how to respond – before I responded. Hello growth!
Engaging, by explaining and defending myself is one choice — but not the only choice. This feels very freeing and empowering. Although the struggle to resist being reeled in towards engaging defensively is present, I also notice it is gradually losing its grip on me. I can pause and find myself being inwardly curious and wondering – Is this battle for me to vindicate myself worth the investment of my time and emotional/mental energy? I do not have a limitless supply of those resources, so I want to invest them in ways that will most likely add value to my life and relationships even though there is likely some risk, is it worth it?
When I become mindful of these probing questions within, I’m less occupied by the external perceptions of me. I may still choose to address those perceptions externally with the other person(s), but it comes from a different place within. The subtle difference is noticed by the feeling that there is less at stake in trying to adjust someone else’s perception of me – something I have little, if any control over. I can afford to take a more mindful and conscious approach, my ego’s survival doesn’t seem to be driving this – big difference.
Respect is a huge thing for me. Not superficial respect where someone is being “nice” or “polite” while I’m being dismissed and minimized as I share my inner reality with someone or while I seek to mend a relational injury. Real respect for me is being treated as though my experiences, thoughts, feelings, and words truly matter. When I feel as though I’m being diminished by how another is treating me – I take notice. If this persists after I’ve tried to assert myself, the relationship then becomes an unsafe place for me and I will at minimum – need to take a temporary break. I can walk away and set my boundary in a respectful but straight-forward manner. If I am further diminished as a result – again, I take notice. It becomes evidence straight from the horse’s mouth confirming that this relationship indeed needs to end for now – leaving me at more peace with my choice to walk away.
Ending a relationship well, on my end is important. I don’t need to feel justified in ending a relationship by identifying myself as the victim and pointing the finger at some “perpetrator”. I can forego the witch-hunt – there really doesn’t need to be a “victim” and “perpetrator” identified in order to justify ending a relationship unless someone truly had no power or choice in what contributed to injuring the relationship in some way. In many situations, the need to identify as a victim at this point often backfires for years to come because it leads to blame shifting with feeling entitled to vindictive behavior when a relationship is ending or down-shifting. Unfortunately, this happens way too often and it burns bridges. Bridges that otherwise could have opened the door for a relationship to be healed and rebuilt in the future.
People can always choose to grow and change. By leaving relationships through blaming and self-righteously lashing out, it flicks off any hope for the relationship to possibly be recovered. I specifically have family relationships in mind here – it is especially bad news when things implode at the end of a relationship where there are also family ties. The impact is far-reaching, especially when there are children and other family members touched by this. There is often unforeseen collateral damage when this happens between family members -it’s really sad.
In the midst of the passing storm, I am awakening to the amazing truth that I have choices! I make peace with them by being more mindful and less reactive as I learn to discern whether this is a time to tear away or a time to mend, a time to be quiet or a time to speak up, or a time to just reflect more. I make that choice the best I can, and I’ll make peace with it better when I do take the time to pause and don’t impulsively react.
Bottom-line: It’s my choice – whether I can say I made the “right” choice or not matters, but is secondary to the fact that regardless of the end result, I made the choice to grow while trying my best to make the best choice.