Your partner is unusually distant for days. A sibling snaps at you. A friend quits initiating getting together. You feel hurt and vulnerable, maybe even abandoned. Ideally you would say – to the friend, for instance – something like: I miss you. I feel sad that we haven’t been able to connect lately because I care about spending time with you. Is there something going on? Can I help in any way?
But, instead, the feelings of abandonment begin to spin stories in your mind, like: maybe they don’t really like you. Maybe other relationships have become more important, which means you are unimportant – even unlovable. Past trauma and associations continue to fuel the stories and the belief that you need to keep up a wall, armor and protect yourself. This distressed and hypervigilant mindset is a way of being for most people and causes them to react out of proportion to what is actually going on.
If you are triggered, you have work to do.
If you weren’t triggered, you would feel neutral and fully capable of setting a healthy boundary that protects you better than angry retorts. If you are triggered, counseling is helpful in order to diffuse the triggers. It takes two, and it’s likely that your feelings extend back beyond whomever is triggering you in the moment. Your feelings may have added up so that you can’t see the present moment clearly and make changes accordingly.
Instead of being vulnerable and asking for what you need – advocating for yourself – which feels too risky, you wait too long to address the feelings and situation, and then when you do address it, you say something like: I never see you anymore and it’s obvious you don’t care about this relationship or my feelings. You are rude and that’s been making me really upset.
Separation, not repair
The defense or attack causes separation rather than repair. And, the irony is that you are hoping to connect with the other person, not drive them away. The inner bully would always prefer to drive people away (and is effective at it), but the heart wants to connect.
Maybe your friend, sibling or partner are oblivious to how deeply you feel, or maybe she has not told you everything going on in her life, distracting her. Maybe you just don’t know the full story and it’s not personal at all. Or, just maybe, the other person is not capable of being in a healthy relationship. We are all in progress and in process.
Maybe you just don’t know the full story and it’s not personal at all.
Which sentence is more likely to get you what you long for?
Read them again and feel in your body how they feel to say (swapped this time):
- I never see you anymore and it’s obvious you don’t care about this relationship or my feelings. You are rude and that’s been making me really upset.
Take a breath. And, now read:
- I miss you. I feel sad that we haven’t been able to connect lately because I care about spending time with you. Is there something going on? Can I help in any way?
Naturally you don’t want to expose your belly, so to speak, with someone who is not healthy and will just bowl you over by not acknowledging your feelings. But, by and large, most people are open to communication that comes from the heart. This kind of communication gives them the opportunity to take responsibility and respond with kindness. You might not get what you want immediately (spending time with your loved one) but you will have been heard and you will have spoken your truth. Ultimately, you will feel better about it, even if the relationship changes.
Keep in mind that communication often comes from the primal brain (flight, fight or freeze). If you feel hurt, the tendency is to want to defend (or attack) rather than extend an olive branch.
No matter how much of a bully the other person feels like, it’s never a good idea for you to respond defensively. It would be better to draw a good boundary. That is, to say lovingly and not triggered by anger: “I’m going to get off the phone (or walk out of the room), and when you are ready to speak from your heart and not attack, I’m happy to have this conversation with you.”
If the other person is not willing to take responsibility for their inappropriate words and communication style or inconsistent and abusive patterns, then there is not much that you can do. But to retaliate with the same tone is not helpful to you – it makes you part of the problem and it never feels good (even if part of you tries to justify it as okay).
What You Can Do
Before you send a text, ask yourself if it is coming from your primal brain (usually “fight,” or defensive) or from your heart. Remember defending locks you in a holding pattern. If you attack or defend you are part of the “He Said/She Said” problematic cycle. Before making a call or doing anything that creates anxiety for you, it’s a good idea to do some grounding exercises or vagal maneuvers.
If you are wondering: what are vagal maneuvers? Check out my course! I teach many helpful exercises to do throughout the day and when confronted with relationships that cause you pain. Learn more by clicking HERE.