Letting People Tell Us Who They Are
Ever since I was little, I have wanted to see the best in people.
For much of my early life, I wanted it so badly that I would take on all their extra bad qualities so I could blame myself for their shortcomings.
That way, there was only one bad person on the planet – me.
In its own way, that strategy was not unlike how, when I got older, I then began to use weight – numbers on a scale – to whittle down all of the world’s unsolvable problems (or at least my own) to just one – body size.
If only I could manage to just look right, weigh the right amount, everything would just snap into place in my life. No one would be unhappy with me and everyone would like me.
All would be well.
Looking back, there has always been some ongoing attempt to simplify what can’t or won’t be simplified.
Exactly what it was I was trying to simplify didn’t really matter, although it usually seemed to be about someone else’s dissatisfaction with something about me, particularly about how I looked or my choices in life.
Needless to say, I was really upset once I finally realized there is no simplifying that sort of thing.
There is no blaming myself for someone else’s unkind words or bad behavior. There is no fixing other people’s critical natures by eradicating the things they are critical of, one after another after another.
After awhile, it actually started to seem simpler to let people have their own shortcomings back again. I was beginning to feel the full, well, weight, of the increasingly heavy burden I was carrying, and it was very heavy indeed.
I still remember the last time I tried to argue that someone in my life was other than who they were.
I was sitting with a friend one night, and we were having a conversation we had had many times before. This friend was rather fond of talking about themselves and they had been holding forth on that topic for quite some time.
All of a sudden, the friend made a joke about their own self-centeredness, announcing with a deceptively light tone, “But that is because I am an ego-maniac!”
Would you believe I actually tried to talk the friend out of their self-assessment?
Oh yes. I promptly came up with several reasons why their very reliable self-absorption was not a display of ego at all, but rather a passion for excellence and living life to the fullest.
This also wasn’t the first time I had done this with this particular friend.
But not too much later on, I realized I should have listened to my friend. They were telling me the truth about themselves and I wouldn’t accept it.
I haven’t made that mistake since then.
Today, when someone tries to tell me about themselves, I do my best to listen well and take them at their word.
I do this because, the truth is, out of all the people I’ve ever known or been friends with, most have been somewhat self-critical at times about what they do – their behaviors or attitudes or choices – but very rarely about who they are – their essence or soul.
There have only been a rare handful of occasions when someone I was friends with has repeatedly attempted to explain their true nature to me, almost as a type of warning, and I have been unwilling or unable to hear them.
On those occasions, the friendship has never ended well. It couldn’t, because it was based entirely on my lies to myself about who the other person was.
So what changed? What finally helped me stop insisting on seeing the best in others when even they themselves told me I was wrong?
In a word, I recovered. I grew up. I realized it is okay to not be all bad or all good. In fact, I realized it is impossible to be all bad or all good.
As you might imagine, this realization was a great relief.
Finally, I was able to let those around me have their own stuff back to work out at their own pace and as (or if) they saw fit.
And I was able to figure out which stuff was my stuff so I could work on that.
The overall burden got a lot more manageable. I could begin to do a really good job working on my stuff because I only had my stuff to work on instead of having everybody’s stuff to work on too.
I was also much more able to detect a problematic connection – one where the other person might be hoping to pawn their stuff off on me – from far off, so I could shut it down before it ever got to that point.
Today, this feels much kinder for all concerned than the alternative, where my frustration and resentment would build to a crescendo until – WHAM! Door closed. For good.
I also think people want to tell the truth about what makes them tick, and when they open up, regardless of what comes out, it is both kind and respectful to listen AND to believe them.
Anything else is just selfish, self-serving, and robbing them of their right to be any way they choose to be.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have any difficult friendships or connections in your past or present – ones that just don’t seem to be working and you are not sure why? What do you think is the reason for the disconnect? What do you think might help resolve the issue, at least from your end?
Cutts, S. (2017). Letting People Tell Us Who They Are. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2017/05/letting-people-tell-us-who-they-are/