Do you ever scratch your head in confusion and say, “Is it you or is it me?” Of course! We all do. But how do you figure out the answer? Here are some steps that can help.
If you want to see a situation clearly, you have to remove the things that make it confusing. Getting into a mindful space does that. When you are mindful, you remove all judgments and anything else that you cannot verify. For example, if someone is calling you names, you could notice what labels they are using, what happened before the situations, what occurred, and your feelings about the overall situation. So let’s break this down.
“Sheila” and “Guy” are driving together in the car talking about travel. Guy says the waterfalls in Scotland are the best. Sheila then talks about the spectacular waterfalls in the USA, Canada, and Africa, none of which Guy has seen.
Sheila changes the subject and asks, “How do I make a bank deposit in the teller line?”
Guy replies, “You’re an idiot. Nobody makes a bank deposit in the teller line. Why don’t you get in the twenty first century?” (this is the unclear event).
Sheila feels hurt and confused.
Take Responsibility For What Belongs To You
The next step is about taking personal responsibility. You may not know what is going on in the other person’s head, but you certainly know yourself. Sheila looks at the conversation for her tone and body language. She knows that she didn’t intend to offend, yet she also knows that giving offense is not always intentional. So she supposes that could be a possibility.
She then looks at the words themselves. Her words were her honest opinions. Opinions are never wrong. She didn’t violate any boundaries. Sheila knows that insults are never appropriate. She knows that banking is mainly done virtually now, but tellers still exist, so that’s not wrong either. Her feelings, like anyone’s feelings, are valid. So, she finds no intentional error in her behavior.
Ask for Feedback
The next step is to validate your perception. We can be blind to our issues, so if another person is involved, it’s best to ask them directly about what they perceived to get more information.
Sheila says to Guy, “You seem to be upset with me. Can you tell me what is going on?” Guy says, “I am not upset.”
This is a common scenario. When you can’t get any additional information, all you can do is go with the data that you have. In this case, Sheila doesn’t see anything that she needs to repair in her behavior, so for now her answer is “It’s you.” This could change if more information becomes available, but for now it’s all that Sheila has to work with so the most effective thing to do is to let it go.
But let’s say that Guy’s reply is, “You’re so judgmental and high and mighty. You’re always trying to one up people and show off. That’s why I hate talking to you. We can’t just have a normal conversation without you show boating.”
Okay, now we’ve got loads of feedback! Guy is perceiving Sheila to be a judgmental show off.
Evaluate the Feedback
Guy is clearly blaming Sheila for making him feel something that is uncomfortable. That’s Guy’s issue. But what is Sheila contributing to that? Let’s take a look.
Sheila stays in her wise mind and removes the judgments from Guy’s statements. She sees that Guy feels Sheila is elevating herself above him. She perceives that Guy finds their conversations disturbing. So she takes a look at that for veracity.
Sheila asks herself, “Is this true?” No, these are opinions, not facts.
Sheila puts herself on the receiving end of the things she says and doesn’t feel any sting. She puts herself in Guy’s shoes (because her perceptions and Guy’s are not the same) and can now see how he might feel this way.
Now that Sheila has some more information it’s time to decide what to do with it. Sheila can now see that this is stuff that Guy is projecting on her. In other words, it’s his stuff. If Sheila wants to maintain healthy boundaries and keep the power equal, one way to do that is to do nothing. It’s Guy’s work. Let Guy have it.
The other thing Sheila could do is to be compassionate and realize that while Guy’s perceptions are not her problem, there are things that she can do to make it easier on Guy. If this is a meaningful relationship that Sheila wants to keep, this is probably the best option. This is a tricky one though because if you make a lot of accommodations for other people’s feelings, you could end up people pleasing and being self deprecating. That’s not healthy. On the other hand, if you make no accommodations, it may limit the number of people in your circle because we all want to feel safe.
What accommodations? That depends on the situation. The most effective thing to do would be to ask Guy what would make things easier for him. Assuming that he gives a reasonable reply, Sheila could do as he asks.
In a perfect world, Guy would just say something like, “When you talk about places I haven’t seen, I start to feel inferior. I want to see the world and know things and am impatient to get there.” This would honestly communicate the issue without all the destructive judgment and projection. Honesty is the bridge to intimacy and connection. Sometimes we just aren’t that self aware and don’t feel safe enough to be there.
What Not to Do
Notice that Guy spoke with insults, blame, and judgment. Don’t follow that pattern. It will remove mindfulness from the situation and make it cloudy again.
Notice that when Guy says, “I hate talking to you” he turned his feelings of discomfort into something that Sheila was doing to him. Avoid making other people responsible for your feelings. They may be doing something, but they don’t cause you to do or feel anything. You do that.
Don’t assume. Guy assumes that Sheila talking about the waterfalls that she likes is a way to one up Guy. In Sheila’s mind, she was just sharing her joy. If you are not sure what’s happening, ask. The view always depends upon where you are standing. Even if what you think has been the pattern five times before, today could be different. When you stay present in this moment, you create opportunity for it to be different.
Be flexible, but don’t be pressured into accepting compromising your values, integrity, or desires. When Guy says Sheila is an idiot for wanting to make an in-person bank deposit, there is lots of evidence to support that people really don’t do that anymore. Times change. Still this doesn’t make Sheila an idiot for wanting to do that. (See bandwagon fallacy). Doing something different is just a preference. It really doesn’t say anything about Sheila at all. If we were talking about values or integrity, it would be really important to Sheila’s self esteem to keep those things however.
When something happens that leaves you feeling confused, it’s always useful to ask, “Is it me?” Life is always giving us opportunities to grow. If you never ask the question, you will limit yourself. So ask the question. Then use the information to move from confusion to clarity.