I’m having coffee with someone (let’s call her Person A) when she informs me that someone else (the imaginatively named Person B) said certain things that Person A took to be jabs at her and at me. I feel hurt and angry. Person A must sense this because she tries to change the subject and make small talk. I find it difficult to talk about trivial things at times like these. After a few moments, she asks if I’m okay. I tell her how I feel and say that I just need a bit of time and space and that I’ll probably be fine in an hour.
Afterwards I get into the car, put on the new Daft Punk album and take myself off for a drive. I am fuming and tears threaten an onslaught. I park in a quiet spot and sit with what has just happened. The only thing that would make me feel better would be to understand why Person B said those things and also why Person A decided to tell me. I take out a pen and paper.
I make three lists. The first list has the title: “Why Person B said what they said.” The second is called: “Why Person A told me.” I am fully aware that I am engaging in guesswork and mind-reading but understanding where these people may have been coming from helps me realise why they said what they said, which, in turn, makes me feel better. Some of the reasons include jealousy, worry, resentment, hurt, control, and even speaking openly without thinking of the consequences. Already, I feel better about the whole thing.
The third list I make is: “The benefits of this happening.” I manage to come up with eight of them. But what is most revealing of all is when I question what has actually been said. All I heard was what Person A had heard and internalised and then repackaged in her own fears and projections. Not only that, but then I had internalised all of that and sifted it alongside my own insecurities and sensitivities.
Fact looks very different from imagination. What had Person B actually said? Who knows if this person meant to cause any pain? And even if they did, that’s saying a lot about how they’re feeling. If it is important enough to me to find out, I can go straight to the proverbial horse and poke around in its mouth but, for now, this exercise has been sufficient.
This whole process has highlighted to me that I still have a bit of work to do on myself, especially when it comes to caring what my nearest and dearest think of me. I recognise that this area is usually quite challenging for most people. I give myself permission to have human emotions and reactions. I also understand myself more now and I realise that having a time-out is essential for me to process how I’m feeling, thus enabling me to learn and grow and have healthier relationships.
I close the notepad and, without even trying, I remember something that Person B did for me recently that was extremely thoughtful. Oftentimes, we’re so blindsided by something somebody just did that we obliterate his or her positive attributes. Or we fail to understand that sometimes people do things out of fear or insecurity or because they’re feeling so bad that they want someone else to hurt too. Other times, they are unaware that what they say or do can have a huge impact on another person.
I’m not suggesting that you should accept abusive behaviour but, in many cases, understanding where the other person is coming from and distinguishing fact from emotional hearsay can help make you feel better. Because they only thing you need to do is look after how you’re feeling. And everything else will come right in time.