I had a revelation last night:
I allow myself to be manipulated by people’s emotional reactions.
Let me back track.
For the past few months I’ve been replaying certain conversations over and over again in my head. These conversations upset me deeply but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I just knew I felt extremely resentful of the people I’d interacted with and guilty about feeling resentful–double whammy.
But as the title of this blog states, feelings weren’t the point. They never are.
Emotions are messengers. Much like your local UPS carrier, they often show up at inopportune times. Their messages may be poorly packaged. Regardless of when or how they show up, we owe it to ourselves to stop and pay attention to what our emotions are telling us.
But here’s the problem: we often allow ourselves to get stuck on how the emotion feels rather than what it’s saying. And because those feelings are powerful and consuming, we waste time doing one of 2 things:
- Justifying/validating the emotional response, e.g. stewing for days, weeks, months or even years at a time. E.g. “I’m so angry right now, I can’t believe she said that in front of everyone. She should have known better, she knows how I feel about them. How could she?”
- Rationalizing the emotional response, e.g. brushing over feelings with heavy coats of logic. E.g. “Maybe he was tired, he didn’t mean to snap at me. I’m being sensitive. It’s not a big deal in the big picture scheme of things. I just need to let it go.”
I was cycling between these two thought processes. I’d justify my resentment by bringing up (to myself) all the times they’d caused me to feel bad in the past, and why it was right for me to shut down in response. This thought pattern brought about a wave of guilt which I tried to deal with by trying to talk myself out of the resentment. I started to apologize for them, make excuses, and blame myself for reading too deeply into things. The minute I started to rationalize my resentment, it began to grow, which triggered an even bigger guilt response, inspiring more rationalization, and on and on and on…
The cycle was draining me of emotional and physical energy and I began to feel a profound sadness. The resentment was nagging me.
Eventually I set the intention to receive clarity and freedom. I said out loud to the Universe/Source/God/my Inner Being or Higher Self, “What am I missing here? Please show me what I’m refusing to see. I open myself up to receiving the truth.”
“Ask and you shall receive.”
Once I opened myself up to understanding the message behind my feelings, I realized the person I was really feeling resentful towards was ME.
Let’s go back to those conversations which had triggered all this mess to begin with.
In those specific instances, I was in the process of sharing my truth or experience about something that was bothering me, either about our relationship or another situation, and each time these people hijacked the conversation and used what I was sharing as an opportunity to “dump” their long-held resentments towards me.
This is called “redefining the conversation.”
It’s when someone asks a question or mentions something, and the person they’re speaking to counters with some unresolved anger or hurt they feel towards you.
Person A: “Did you see that I called yesterday? I really needed to talk.”
Person B: “Well I’m not always on my phone like you are, so I didn’t see it.”
Person A: “Did you mean to leave the door unlocked?”
Person B: “I don’t know, did you mean to come home late on Monday?”
In both scenarios, Person B is harboring some hurt or resentment, but instead of addressing it, he/she waits for an opportunity to deflect and unload. While it’s not always malicious, it is absolutely on purpose, it’s manipulative, it’s unfair and in extreme cases, it’s abusive.
This “redefining” response was a pattern in our conversations, one I rationalized despite the ping of discomfort it always made me feel (MESSAGE!).
That’s definitely a pattern of mine. Ignoring things that make me feel bad to keep the peace. Eventually what happens though is self-preservation kicks in and I gradually create a wedge in the relationship (avoidant behavior), and that creates a strain on everyone involved. They feel the distance, I feel guilty, I’m angry about feeling guilty, I blame them, I create more distance, blah blah blah…
In each of my most recent interactions with these people the pattern re-emerged. They began to redefine the conversation, and I went into apology mode. I went into self-questioning mode. And in the midst of trying to validate their experience, I invalidated my own.
Looking back, what I should have done is be clear about my boundaries and say, “Okay, I want to talk about that. I want to address what you’re saying…AND I also get to finish what I am saying, too. We both deserve a voice in this relationship/conversation, and we both deserve to be heard. What’s the best way to move forward so that we are both holding space for one another in love and responsibility?” Or some messy variation of that!
I should have spoken up for myself even if I assumed my response wasn’t going to be well-received. Because it’s clear to me how important it is for BOTH people to have equal space for their voices in every relationship. And one doesn’t hold more weight or validity than the other. It’s not either/or, or right/wrong, it’s BOTH/AND: we’re both having our experiences AND they both matter AND they both deserve the same consideration.
And this is what my resentment was trying to tell me. When I was looking for who to blame for it I was missing the point. When I tried to ignore or rationalize it I was missing the point. When I succumbed to guilt for acknowledging it, I was missing the point. The point wasn’t the feeling. Feelings are just pointing to spaces asking (and sometimes begging) for attention.
In my case, it brought to my attention my lack of boundaries around other people’s emotional reactions. It showed me how easily I allow myself to get caught up in other people’s experiences and how that robs me of precious energy. It revealed a pattern of allowing myself to be manipulated. It pointed to my in-authenticity with myself. It showed me that withdrawal as a form of self-preservation is not the actual remedy, it’s avoiding the remedy. It showed me that I need and GET TO use my voice, to honor my own experiences, and to trust myself when things don’t feel right, because my intuition has never led me astray; dishonoring my feelings has.