“Just because someone has abnormal reactions to a normal thing doesn’t mean its the wrong thing to do”–Michael
One of my client’s partners came up with that quote recently (shared with permission) and as soon as my client said it to me I had to write it down. “That is genius”, I cried–‘so well said and so true”.
How often do you decide to do something totally ‘normal’ totally within reason and someone close to you has a strong reaction that takes you by surprise so you change your mind. It is hard to Trust Yourself. It is challenging to stand in your own strength and recognize that they are the one’s who are having an unusual reaction it isn’t that your behavior is bad.
These incidents happen all the time:
You decide you want to stop eating red meat for your health, for the environment for whatever reason you want. Out to dinner you share this news with a good friend who immediately starts firing off, “why?” “How are you going to get your protein?” “Red meat isn’t bad for you.” “Don’t you think that is a little extreme?”
Your son loves to paint and he asks if he can take an art class. You wholeheartedly agree. Later as you are sharing this news with your sister she says, “Art..that is totally useless” “It is your job to help him learn useful things—not art” “Why don’t you enroll him in sports or a computer class, at least that stuff is productive”.
You and your partner decide to do cell phone free Saturdays. So you collect all the cell phones in the house and put them in a drawer to facilitate better family time. As you mention this to your mom she says, “Well what if I need to get a hold of you?” “I think that is an extreme reaction don’t you?”
In each of these stories, three things happen:
You feel good about your decisions. (YOUR STUFF–“Normal” decision)
When you share your decisions with others they immediately go into shame, belittling and judgment. (THEIR STUFF–“Abnormal” reaction)
You start questioning your decisions (YOU TAKING ON THEIR STUFF–feel like it is the wrong thing to do)
See how that happened? Call it boundaries, call it shame work, call it whatever you want. Bottom line–you took on their stuff. Their stuff could be based on 1000 things that have nothing to do with you.
Maybe your friend grew up on a farm and is passionate about red meat. Maybe she is feeling guilty about her own red meat consumption.
Maybe your sister secretly wishes someone would have encouraged her art as a child but it got belittled out of her so she continues that trend.
Maybe your mom is really lonely and feels more safe knowing she can call you anytime. Maybe she feels guilty for not having more quality time with you when you were a child.
Honestly, the maybes don’t matter because that is THEIR STUFF or, as Michael would say that is their abnormal reaction. The goal is for you not to pick up their stuff and run with it. The goal is for you to sit proudly in your decisions and recognize that even if they don’t agree–this decision works for you. It doesn’t have to work for them.
Amazingly freeing? Totally
So start paying attention to how much you pick up other people’s stuff and how much their stuff influences your decisions.
When you notice this happening remind yourself that your stuff is your stuff and their stuff is their stuff–stand strong, trust yourself, be compassionate.
I would love to hear from you: Can you relate? How often do you pick up other people’s stuff?
I think as humans, generally we value empathy and compassion, and we rely on the reactions of others to help find our moral center. I remember when I was very little I threw a rock at another kid on the playground. I didn’t know what I’d done until I saw him start to cry. (I think I started to cry too.) I don’t remember what I thought I would accomplish by throwing a rock at him (I was very little!) but I didn’t mean to hurt him. When I saw the outer signal of hurt, I was immediately remorseful.
What I struggle with now as an adult, is when the person having the abnormal or inappropriate reaction masks ‘their stuff’ as hurt. When that happens, it’s VERY hard for me remember that they’re giving me a signal that doesn’t match what I’ve done. It’s confusing when someone reacts as if you’ve hurt them because generally speaking we don’t want to hurt others.
I love the point you made about the maybes not mattering as much. I can spend all day on the maybes–the whys to explain inappropriate behavior.
I think it’s so important to reach out to others when these things come up–people we trust who will “get it.” Sometimes I have to hear “that reaction doesn’t fit” several times before I can accept that it’s not my fault someone else is hurt!
Great point!! Empathy is so important to being a compassionate person in the world. And when we do something that hurts someone we should apologize and take responsibility. However, too often for empathetic souls we confuse empathy with responsibility. So in the example above I might feel badly that my mom is lonely and wants to be able to get a hold of me at any time AND want to spend time with my family without phones. It is not my responsibility to make sure my mom is entertained. It is my responsibility to be a kind loving daughter which might mean I make an extra effort to call her throughout the week when I have time.
I agree it is a very fine line between being responsible for someone else’s stuff and being kind!! Which is why as you said it is so important to have the people in our lives giving us a fresh perspective!
I resist labeling anyone else’s stuff “abnormal” because it is probably normal for them. I do get that it may not match in proportion of expectation to what I said to them.
True good point Beth. I agree ‘abnormal’ is a harsh word (and somewhat judgmental) and it is helpful to remember that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have at the time. Like you said for sake of this conversation abnormal is meant as less of a judgment but more that their reaction is disproportionate to the original action. But still good to remember that is all goes back to kindness 🙂
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