Words by: Tamisha Ford
Photo by: Pinterest via the Saatchi Gallery: “Les Timides” by Cris Pereby
It’s been said that “the worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.”
I couldn’t agree more, but not for what seems obvious – the misunderstanding of another person.
I think the greatest misunderstanding often lies within.
I’ve experienced this to be true in almost every relationship I have had in my lifetime.
And I have to say – I’ve avoided this topic for some time because I know that it likely will “offend” someone.
However, the more I grow personally and actually go within to seek answers, the less I’m focused on external offenses.
I wonder how much time each of us spends worrying about the “offenses” of others.
Is that a fulfilling way of life? My personal answer is an outrageous resounding “no.”
No one really knows, but for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been conducting an internal experiment. That experiment included stopping the sugar-coated bullshit, both within myself and how I felt about others.
I’m so TIRED of seeing families “protect” the feelings of others and friendships fall apart for reasons that could’ve been remediated. I have an intense passion for communication and self-expression that calls me to this noticing. And I see it – all the time.
Here’s what some of the recurring tapes sound like when I talk to people (and sometimes what I just discern we’re allowing ourselves to believe):
- He lied to me
- She hurt me
- I was excluded
- They don’t understand – they’re not a parent
- She’s too critical
- He’s too hard on me
- She doesn’t understand me
In my experiment, I wanted to, for once, just say what felt genuine. Who could handle my total vulnerability and authenticity and who would choose to be offended?
The results were exactly as I imagined they would be. My friendships grew stronger, I was able to rekindle an old friendship I missed dearly and, some of my familial relationships continued to prove they are the most difficult to grow within.
Offense is something I’ve been exposed to most of my life – largely within my own family. And yes, I’ve also chosen to be offended at times. There are people in my family holding grudges on me since I was a 17-year-old kid that has prevented those relationships from blossoming or even existing. There are people in my family who consistently choose to be offended and cause others to walk on egg shells around them – I only refer to it here because it’s where I have absolutely experienced it the most. Your experience may be the opposite.
I have not however, seen this in my friendships, and I started to ask why. They say the people closest to you are the ones who can hurt you the most, but I was also very close to my friends. Why was this a consistency in my familial relationships and not my friendships? Why were my friendships growing stronger and family relationships getting weaker and/or fizzling out? It seemed I was consistently having to make the decision to withdraw from family members in order to maintain peace and energy flow in my life, and I wanted to know why.
My experiment made this quite clear to me – it was the difference in a choice, of which there are always two when difficult situations happen:
- Get offended (the work of the ego whereby we choose to run with our thoughts and believe them – never ever questioning them); OR
- Do the work (the work of love, self-inquiry and actually asking questions about what another human being is trying to say to us – maybe they came at us wrong in their humanness, but don’t you think they’re trying to say something you’re not hearing?)
What I mean by “do the work” is the self-inquiry process, not hounding or blaming the other person for the pain we’re experiencing.
So far, this work has allowed me to question myself in the deepest of ways and better classify the relationships in my life – as Brendan Burchard writes in his book “The Charge”, I have been able to better know who my growth friends are, who my maintenance friends are, and who are people I simply can care about but leave in my past.
Simply put? Growth friends for me are those who are willing to engage in this work with me – who understand it and who grow me by telling me how I can improve our relationship. You don’t like something about me? Awesome! Let’s talk about that – you’re about to grow me – I deliberately don’t choose offense because I want to know. And maybe I already know – then, that’s great. If I don’t, you hold my enlightenment – something that can make me a better person. How powerful is that? But I have to be willing to allow it.
Maintenance friends are those who aren’t really going to do the work nor are they interested – they’re right because of “blah, blah blah” and you’re wrong because “[insert reason here]”. They’re simply people I care about greatly and will check in with when I can and when time allows to ensure they know I care, but they’re clearly not dedicated to the growth process – of themselves OR me OR our relationship. They’re only interested in sweeping things under the rug, maintaining their “right-ness”, or clinging to their victim-hood. “I did _____ for you, now I deserve _______.” Ugh. Energy-zapping. Negative, not positive.
Past friends are those you can truly just let go of. Not that you don’t even still care – you just know there’s been a divergence. Your paths are truly separate even though we are all still connected. And that’s okay. There doesn’t have to be hatred, jealousy, or any other negative emotion tied to such relationships. It’s simply a knowing that our connection is no longer physical or has the need to be maintained.
This experiment for me has been incredibly liberating. Beyond what I can explain. I’m sharing it with you, so hopefully you can also engage in your own experiment with your relationships.
Some of my new mantras, as a result:
I’ve personally made a choice that I will always do the work – even if the other person doesn’t know that I have.
I will not live in “offense” toward anyone, allow my energy space to be drained by another, or try to possess another, whether I’m their parent, friend, or family member.
The world doesn’t “owe” me – “I” owe me. I owe it myself to do the work – in all things.
Just because someone else doesn’t believe what I believe doesn’t make them wrong – I can leave it at that.
Another person doesn’t get to manipulate and control me because I haven’t “been” where they’ve been – I know who I am and I’m a human being capable of empathy and understanding with anyone who wants to grow with me. It does not require me to have had the same experience.
You’ve heard me mention one of my favorite teachers of all time, Byron Katie, and this is “the work” I’m learning to do within that has catapulted my friendships in a huge way and somehow revealed the patterns I’ve consistently seen in much of my family with consistently choosing offense over growth. However, it’s also strengthened how I see some of my family members – and why I appreciate those people in particular, way more than ever.
There’s no better way for me to articulate how I’ve watched these relationships transform than to let Byron herself explain in her passionate and exquisite language how this process works and show you an example with a real person…
- My central point of this entire post is awareness. I believe that a huge stifling agent of change, creative expression, energy, and strengths identification is a clinging to thoughts. We just believe thoughts over and over and over and it keeps us in prison. Yes, if we want to deliberately choose to believe something over and over again about another person, we certainly have that right. But how many strong relationships do we have as a result of that choice? Let me ask it this way – how many “growth” friends can you say you have in your life in every sense of the word? If the answer is none, that’s concerning and revealing both. I want to encourage you to go on a quest to learn why.
- On that note, we all have the ability to start and grow relationships – if we’re willing to do the work with those people and let them grow us. If we would rather be consistently offended, we’ll be back to square one.
- Sometimes the answer to the questions of the work are a resounding “yes.” Yes he hurt me. Yes she lied to me. But we can’t stop there as you saw in the video. That digging a little deeper is what brings liberation. As Byron so eloquently says, “we believe the thoughts, we suffer – we question the thoughts, we don’t suffer.”
- I’ve begun to question people who have no one else in their life who “grows” them but me. That’s concerning. And it causes exhaustion. I want you to observe this too. If you are the only person someone calls, the only one being real with them, the only one who will tell them the truth, you need to be careful with that space. That is a responsibility you simply cannot carry as a human being long-term, and it is NOT okay. Relationship(s) – plural – are why we’re here. It’s not your sole responsibility to fill someone else’s void completely – no human is capable of this. You cannot be someone’s spouse, their only friend, their partner, their growth friend, their everything (which society loves to make us believe a spouse is supposed to be). It won’t last and/or it will ultimately ruin the relationship. It creates expectations of that person that are unable to be met.
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Ready to Hear More or Talk About It?
“Self-discovery and self-inquiry are the central nuclei of self-expression, period. That’s why this is an important conversation. It’s always the self THEN the expression. If you and I wonder why we are creatively stuck, can’t move the needle, or can’t get clarity, we need to stop and ask the right questions. There’s a thought or set of thoughts we’re believing that are inhibiting our creative expression progress. It’s time to share and expose them.”
Join coach & advisor Tami Smith and I as we both vulnerably share with you how this has shown up for us both on Tuesday, May 19th in The Art of Voice Webinar appropriately titled, “Self-Expression As A Self-Discovery Tool In Our Life and Work.”
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