Elaine Flook published this excellent blog on Linkedin, and I thought I’d share it here
Are we defined or shaped by our experience?
Why is it that some people choose to be defined by their negative experience and some choose to rise above it and learn from it? Why do I say ‘choose’?
In my life, I have been exposed to difficult and challenging experiences. I’m sure you have too. They have shaped me. Have I allowed them to define me? Not allowing that my friend is constant work, it takes effort.
A significant moment came when I realised that the excuse given to me by another for treating me badly was ‘You have to understand that I have a difficult background’. After hearing those words many times it no longer salved my hurt. I could no longer give my understanding. I was spent. I had no more to give. I realised the ‘explanation’ for hurting me was an excuse, a crutch to lean on. The justification for not taking responsibility for their behaviour. For not saying ‘You are feeling hurt and I’m sorry.’ but rather ‘You should forgive me because I didn’t mean it’.
Not meaning to inflict harm emotionally or otherwise on another can be understood though. We can all do things which later we regret. Our intention was not to harm another but it was the result of what we did. It’s appropriate to say ‘I’m sorry you feel hurt, it wasn’t my intention’. To acknowledge your intention but to also give the other the recognition of their feelings.
Blame is a very effective tool for not taking responsibility. I said that to you because you… I did that because you… I thought that because you…
The same applies to our feeling hurt ‘by another’, being on the receiving end of someone’s behaviour. I felt hurt when you… means that you can name the behaviour and own your feelings. You decide whether to be hurt or not. What hurts my feelings may be water off a duck’s back to another. It’s how I react to the behaviour which is key to who I am. My reaction is totally in my control. No one can make me feel anything I don’t want to feel. Good or bad.
So this is a two-way street. I can choose to be defined by my experience, blame and not take responsibility or I can choose to own my feelings and learn from them.
Virginia Satir, a renowned family psychotherapist said that loving someone is teaching them who you are. There is a vulnerability in that. We have to be prepared to show ourselves to another, in that we have to be honest about who we are, to be authentic and to not hide. We show ourselves partly by taking responsibility for both our own feelings and how we behave towards another.
My lovely sister, no longer with us, said to me once ‘You know we teach people how to treat us.’ I think this is the other side of the same coin. I allowed someone to treat me without respect or consideration. I played a part in that. Why? Well, that’s the subject for another blog. Why do we allow others to treat us badly?
I shaped myself when I ended the relationship. I gave the person the respect in knowing they could deal with it and I own my behaviour and my impact in the way I ended it. I don’t blame them for my feelings, I do call them on their behaviour. If we blame then we give away our own power and energy to heal we allow the experience to define us and how we think of others. Holding on to blame, not forgiving, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
A great many people struggle with not letting outside forces define them. Not allowing this, choosing a different way is self-confidence, mental toughness. Having the courage and ability to do things for yourself and doing things when and how you want to. We have a responsibility to own the knowledge of our impact on another rather than feel responsible for it and to own our part in the impact of others on us.
Sometimes it means tough choices. Being authentic is hard, it takes work and perseverance even when the odds are against you. In the end, we are mentally and physically healthier and will cope better.
If you would like to talk to me about anything this article brings up for you then please book a free Discovery Session.
As always, if you’d like to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts.