I want to share someone’s story with you and I hope it connects with you on some level. Please share your thoughts if it does.
Today I spoke to someone who never dares to speak up when she disagrees with someone’s take on things. She suppresses her feelings and says nothing, but makes careful effort to listen to the other person’s point of view and tries to see things from their perspective. She submits to other people’s feelings and understands this to be empathy.
Yet she is not happy.
When she shares feelings of suffering or distress in her personal life, the very same people dismiss or ignore what she is saying, not taking the time to listen or see things from her perspective. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t offer her what she offered them. She has grown resentful but can’t see a way out, because she wants to respect other people’s opinions.
Because she is not happy, she feels guilty. She feels like she’s a selfish person for wanting her own feelings to be heard. She believes God’s love is about sacrificing what you need so that other people get everything they want.
But she told me that she recently did something spontaneous and different. During a disagreement with a close friend, instead of keeping quiet in order to avoid a conflict, she allowed herself to get angry. It was a startling reaction in this quiet woman of few words.
She wasn’t angry about the matter at hand. She was angry that every time she tried to say how she felt, her friend would brush it aside as if it was nothing. She was angry that when she offered her friend space to express their views, her friend wouldn’t extend the same courtesy in return. She was angry that she was the only one in the relationship making the effort and sacrifice to listen.
This time, instead of staying quiet, this quiet woman spoke up. She remained calm but somehow was able to say, in a faltering and stumbling way, “I don’t appreciate how you’re dismissing my feelings. My problem may feel unimportant to you but to me, it’s huge. I’m not asking you to understand. I’m asking you to let me feel what I feel.”
What was her friend’s reaction? What would you do?
The friend continued to press her point because this is the way she’s used to communicating in that relationship. For too long, this quiet woman had swallowed her feelings and nodded in resentful agreement. It was the role that her friend had come to expect from her. To expect her friend to suddenly change would be unrealistic.
What matters here is not that the friend didn’t change, but that the woman with resentment in her heart changed.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
This quiet woman humbly took responsibility for herself, changed her own way of communicating and that was brave. She stepped out of her comfort zone, took the risk of jeopardising a long friendship and finally voiced how she really felt. It takes guts to change your old, familiar patterns. It’s easier to expect others to change for you. (Click to tweet)
There may come a time, this woman said to me, when she will pull back from that friendship and make room for friends who genuinely value her. She hopes it won’t happen because there is a lot of love and history between them. But she tells me that she has trouble valuing herself and she doesn’t need friends who also cannot see her value.
Her story challenges me to consider the expectations I place on others to change for me, and the changes I need to make within myself.
Do you see the value in your friends? Do you spur them on, building them up and encouraging them to share their vulnerability with you? If I was to ask you what their fears and insecurities are, or how they feel about themselves, would you know?