It amazes me how fast we can get stuck in an unhealthy cycle of dysfunction. Life’s circumstances and daily stresses can become overwhelming and we just want someone to listen as we work through the pain, emotions, challenges, etc, that each day brings. Unfortunately, because we all have these pains, emotions, challenges, etc, we get too wrapped up in our own to listen to those of others. We want others to listen but they are so wrapped up in their own crap, they can’t listen to ours. It can be an endless painful and hurtful cycle.
Let me give you an example…
Meet Lynn, a 51-year-old woman with three daughters and a granddaughter. Lynn’s middle daughter, Steph, is 27 and her baby is one. They just moved in with Lynn due to a major surgery Steph just recently went through and she needs help while she recovers. Lynn’s youngest daughter, Pat, is 16 and is struggling with just being a teenager in this day and age. Each of them is dealing with a lot of stress and emotions.
Lynn feels like she has to do everything for her daughters and she is drowning in a sea of overwhelm. She feels like she can’t do anything right for them. Steph is angry because her boyfriend (and father of her baby) has not helped her physically or financially which is why she had to move in with her mother. Pat is resentful because since Steph and the baby moved in, she feels like her mother does not pay any attention to her. Their communication style is to yell at one another at the slightest inkling of dissatisfaction or irritation which only leads to more anger, frustration and dysfunction. Everyone is stressed out with their own issues and everyone is taking it out on everyone else.
I’ve been here before. I’m sure we all have. It’s a frustrating cycle and does not end unless we make a conscious decision to do things differently. That means we have to take a step back and look at our own behavior and think about what is really going on inside of us. It’s easier to blame the other person but the truth is our own behavior plays a part in feeding the dysfunction.
Here are the tools I use when I feel this cycle is engulfing me:
- I take a time-out to regain my composure. It may be a few minutes or I may leave for hours. I take the time I need to take care of me. I may retreat to my room and lock the door. I may go have a mocha at Starbucks or shopping. I may just sit in a park and watch the world around me. Whatever I need to do at that time to bring some peace back into my life is what I do.
- I reflect on what I am feeling and why. I think about what the other person may have said that upset me or what I may have done to upset them. Once I am in a more peaceful place, I am able to really dig and see if there is any truth to their words. If there is, I own it. I admit if I am wrong or if what I did was hurtful in any way. If there is no truth to what they have said, I try to think of what is going on with them to make them feel the way they are feeling or act the way they are acting.
- I ask them to sit with me and have a discussion. If I was wrong or hurtful, I apologize. I do not make excuses for what I did or said – that is extremely important. If I wasn’t the one that was wrong or hurtful, I ask questions to encourage them to open up about what is really bothering them. If they are not willing to talk at that time, I let them know that I will be willing to listen whenever they are ready to talk.
- I set the boundaries as to how someone will treat me when we do talk. I use to tell my children, “You can tell me anything. If you think I’m wrong or unfair, you are free to tell me so. If you are angry with me or anyone else, you can tell me. You can tell me anything you want, but you will not raise your voice to me and you will speak to me with respect.” I am better these days and cutting people off and detaching from them until they can speak to me in a respectful tone.
- I make time to show that I am interested in what is going on in their lives. I don’t have to fix or give advice, I just need to listen. If they ask, I will give my opinion/advise but I do not expect that what I have to say is the golden rule for their life. Sometimes my friends and loved ones just need to vent and that’s okay. Other times they are looking for guidance and that’s okay too. The important part is that I am listening and I am hearing. I am showing that I care and love them.
If everyone would focus on themselves and really dig to find out what is going on inside themselves they would be able to come together and work together for a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with each other. It takes practice; a lot of practice to change our old habits, but if we truly want it, we have the ability to obtain it!