When someone you care about comes to you with a problem even if they don’t ask you for advice you’re instinct is to help them and to make the problem go away. You tell them what you think they should do or what you think will fix the problem because you feel like it’s the right thing to do.
But, in doing so we fail to consider the other persons needs. Perhaps they simply wanted to vent but now you’ve bombarded them with all your thoughts and opinions.
Maybe, you’ve convinced yourself that it’s fine to give advice that wasn’t asked for because you have good intentions. You’re just trying to help, you know how to fix things or you feel like your personal experience gives you authority on the matter.
But you have to put yourself aside and consider that maybe the best thing that you can do is ask the other person what they need, then support them as best as you can.
If you get someone used to treating you a certain way or acting in a particular way towards you, the person will come to expect you to allow it.
Sometimes you allow things that you aren’t okay with because you don’t want to rock the boat, hurt the persons feelings or you’ve told yourself that being clear about what you’re not okay with is confrontational. And so instead of saying, ‘I’m not okay with you doing that’ you say, ‘No worries’ or ‘It’s okay’.
Doing this teaches the other person that you’re okay with what they’re doing. We often fall into the idealism of thinking people will automatically know what we’re thinking or feeling but it’s not true. We shouldn’t expect people to read our minds when we can use our voices.
I’m not sure who said it but there’s a quote or perhaps a tweet that goes something like ‘You have to teach people how to treat you’. Yet, we’re taught to almost just accept how we’re treated as long as a person doesn’t have bad intentions.
I find that the relationships where I am very clear, where I call things out instead of letting them slide, are the ones that I feel most comfortable in. When you put pressure on yourself to always be fine with everything even when you’re not it builds up feelings of resentment, anger or frustration and that energy has to go somewhere.
It either leads to an outburst towards the person you should have been clear with from the start or an outburst at someone totally unrelated to the situation.
Something really interesting happens when you start spending time alone.
You learn a lot about yourself. You learn what you like to do, how you like to spend your time, what brings you joy, what fulfills you and so much more outside of your relationships with other people.
So often we learn about ourselves in conjunction with other people. ‘My sister and I like to do this, when I’m with my friends I like to do that or my partner and I often do this together’. And it’s not that you don’t enjoy those things or that it’s not the real you but I think it’s important to explore yourself by yourself.
You might discover that there are a whole heap of things that you enjoy doing alone that you never previously had time for because you always prioritised spending time with other people. Or, you might find that you appreciate making time for yourself to spend doing small and simple things like bake, take a walk or read outside in a park.
Don’t offer advice
Don’t offer advice until the person asks for it. People often make the assumption that when someone is talking about an issue they want to be told what to do. However, many times a person just wants to express themselves and feel heard.
Show that your engaged verbally
Muttering a generic hmmm, every now and then is sometimes what is done to portray a false sense of engagement but often the case is you’re probably just not interested. The ‘hmmm’ can also be a sign that you want to let them know you’re listening. You can also use short phrases like ‘I can’t imagine what that’s been like’ or ‘that must be difficult’ to show you’re engaged or you could ask questions.
Show that you’re engaged physically
Looking at your phone, being turned away from the person and not making eye contact can show a lack of interest. Don’t be distracted, have your body facing them and make eye contact.
Lastly, two things to remember, if you don’t want to listen then just say so instead of doing it half heartedly. Secondly, you can’t expect someone will want to come and talk to you if you don’t show that you’re interested in what they have to say.
It might feel easier to hold on but maybe what you really need to do is let go.
Taking space is a powerful thing. When you spend time away from something you have developed an attachment to it gives you room to find clarity and to come back to yourself. So often you may find ourselves getting caught up in other people and trying to please or appease them that you forget yourself and your own values or ideas.
And sometimes when you’re not ready to let go you convince yourself that there is something for us in the attachment, something that we need. But even if it is true that the attachment offers us something it can’t possibly be placed above that which we can offer ourselves.
So go forth and take space, then when you’re ready you can return and figure out how you really feel without attachment cloud your judgement.
It’s so interesting that often in different types of relationships we hold back instead from just being ourselves and allowing things to work out the way they’re meant to be.
You make a conscious effort to be less of yourself instead of just modelling what you want from your relationships. This choice leaves you feeling unfulfilled. You may end up finding yourselves in spaces you don’t want to be in, sometimes even with people you don’t really like because you have sacrificed your true self.
I think sometimes we’re scared to be ourselves for fear of rejection and so we wait for others to go first and be open. But if you find yourself in a space where you think you’ll be rejected for simply being yourself, then deep down (or maybe even just beneath the surface), you know that you’re somewhere you don’t really want to be.
Perhaps you want people in your life that you can be vulnerable with, yet when you have the opportunity to open up you choose to resist. And if the people around you aren’t being vulnerable with you, you end up feeling frustrated. But I think it’s fair to ask yourself, if you’re not willing to open up why should anyone else?
And in the grander scheme, if you aren’t willing to show up as your truest self in your relationships, why should you expect anyone else will?
Sometimes we make plans that involve others without speaking to them first.
You get so excited and carried away that it doesn’t even occur to you to let the other person know.
Instead you just assume that of course they will share your excitement.
And it’s not that your plans are bad but when you don’t ask the other person but expect them to be involved you might end up disappointed.
There is a time to be open and there is a time to be less open.
It’s important to choose wisely.
Being open with people can be a great way to create understanding and build a connection. But it should also be appropriate to the situation. The openness required to create understanding with a romantic partner and a manager are very different.
Plus, the level of openness is also affected by the boundaries in place by others and also ourselves.
If a client asks how you’re weekend was the boundaries you have in place will ensure the openness is fairly restrictive. But if a friend asked you’re more likely to go into significantly greater detail and divulge information that you may not share with anyone else.
These thoughts about openness and boundaries are nothing new or revolutionary but I do think it’s interesting to think about. It gets even more interesting when you observe the way openness decreases and increases as relationships change. Perhaps as a colleague becomes a manager or a friend becomes a romantic partner.
Most people that you choose to have in your life are chosen because your lives or you as people align in some way.
It could be a similar taste in music, studying (or have studied) the same subjects, enjoying the same leisure activities, similar mindsets and worldviews or maybe you share the same aspirations.
Whatever it may be, when the base of your connection shifts it is likely that you may change your mind about having the person in your life.
Granted you will have built up a connection based on other things over time but when the core bits of you and a person no longer align, the relationship may no longer make sense.
This sort of thing quite commonly occurs once you begin to really figure out who you are and what you want in life. Perhaps the people you used to party with don’t really fit with the life you’re creating. Maybe your corporate aspirations clash with the aspirations of people around you to the point of causing disagreements.
Despite how it may feel, it’s a natural thing for relationships to change. It’s much better to allow things to be than to restrict your development or the development of someone else because you’d rather hold on to something that was never meant to last.
You can learn a lot from someone by simply observing them.
I recently noticed in a particular relationship that the other person had very clear boundaries. It wasn’t anything that had been explicitly stated but through this persons actions it was very clear what they were and were not open to.
Sometimes a persons boundaries can feel personal. You might feel that they’re being harsh and closed off toward you. On the other hand you might internalise it and end up thinking you need to put in more effort.
In the situation I experienced I could have taken it personally, in fact 5 years ago I would have. I’d have thought this means [insert monologue of dramatic over reaction here] and maybe this person doesn’t like me.
But I now understand that a boundary is for the person setting them, it has little to do with the people on the receiving end.