If you’ve been feeling weary or disheartened and stuck in sticky emotional dynamics, I have a story for you this week.
Last weekend, I found myself growing increasingly judgmental toward a particular family member, who I happen to love very much.
She was irritating the bejeezus out of me. I was annoyed with her “moodiness,” tired of her “selfishness,” and fed up with her “laziness.”
Noticing myself spiraling downward, I took a deep breath and settled in.
I noticed that I was picking up on her emotional field and it felt anxious, heavy, and bristly to me: all feelings that *I* didn’t want to be feeling. I was also taking these things personally and responding by feeling indignant and bracing myself against her.
Many years ago, my next move would have been to switch into my “educate and correct” mode, ask her “what’s wrong (with her)?” and then to try to fix her and change her emotional state so that I could feel better.
I don’t rush in with that anymore.
Instead, here are some new moves that I’ve found much more helpful:
- Notice the emotional merging, and unmerge. I stop taking it so personally. I remind myself that this isn’t about me, and she doesn’t exist in life to make me happy and comfortable. Noticing that she is experiencing something unpleasant and doesn’t yet have the words or willingness to talk about it, I soften around the situation.
- I drop my resistance to feeling unpleasant things that I don’t want to feel and lean in with more resilience and curiosity.
- I take some time to make peace with my own judgment states of “moody” and “lazy” and “selfish” and remind myself that everything can be welcomed. Everything has a deeper message. Everything just wants to be accepted, acknowledged, and embraced.
- From this mindset, I get more curious about her upset, her distress, her stress, and her pain, and I feel more openhearted toward her.
I started a new conversation, and it began something like this:
- “Hey, I’ve been noticing that you’ve been short with me, abrupt in your answers to me and rolling your eyes when I ask to talk. I’m sensing something may be going with you and want to connect. Can we talk?” (Share neutral observations, intention and request)
- “Ugh, fine. What?” (Resistance, possible submission)
- “I’m wondering if you’ve been feeling more stressed out than usual lately?” (Empathy guess)
- “Yes, and this conversation is stressing me out even more.” (Tiny point of connection, and resistance/wariness)
- “Got it … I just wanted to check-in because it seems like you’re struggling with something and that something isn’t feeling good to you and I wanted to understand and see if I can help in any way?” (Affirm intention for connection and desire to help)
- “Not really.” (Resistance)
- “It’s totally fine if you don’t want to share with me; I just wanted you to know that I was beginning to feel a bit hurt and upset and then realized this isn’t like you, so I thought I’d touch base with you and let you know I care and you matter and I’m here if you want to talk.” (Validate choice and reveal impact on me coupled with my care with no force or demand for a particular outcome)
At that point, she began to tell me about the things that were stressing her out in life, and all her inner conflicts, and 15 minutes later, after much more empathic listening and sharing, tears and hugs, we both felt much better.
I had a better understanding of all the things driving her emotional states and how she was holding them, and she had deeper insight into how she had been affecting and impacting me and how she might hold things differently to get more of what she’s actually needing next time.
No problems were solved during this conversation. She was facing the exact same stressors as before, and she was still upset about them. But the emotional space within and between each of us felt lighter, more playful, and more open.
Every time that I take my time, that I slow down, that I work on myself first, that I wake up and open my heart before engaging further, magic happens.
So if you’ve been wondering if things will ever change? Yes, yes they do.
Keep at it.
Connect. Connect. Connect.
Make room for all feelings.
Nothing is personal.
Nothing needs to be fixed.
Everything just wants our love and attention – as Rilke famously wrote:
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”