I had quite an interesting conversation with my ten-year-old friend Emilia the other day. She told me how her best friend Leslie upset her. Apparently, Leslie told Emilia that she’d rather go walk somebody else’s dog than video chat with her. “That’s so mean! Why doesn’t she care about my feelings? She should be a bit more considerate and not tell me things that may hurt me!” Emilia exclaimed.
I hugged Emilia and told her I was sorry to hear that she was so upset. I also told Emilia that it was only up to her to manage her own emotions and set boundaries. If she didn’t like something that Leslie said or did — it was her responsibility to communicate that.
“Well, I already told her that I’ve been trying to do a video call with her for the past few weeks, and she hasn’t been available”, she said. I explained that there were different ways to express our needs. There are ways to communicate our feelings and boundaries with empathy and love.
“Have you tried expressing your feelings using an “I” message? Like “I felt upset when you told me you’d rather walk the dog than talk to me. I wish we could still talk at our agreed-upon time in the future.” Or something along those lines,” I asked.
Emilia liked my suggestion and said she would try expressing her feelings using “I” language next time.
As we were talking, I noticed that my reaction to Emilia’s story would have been very different in the past. I used to be just like her. I expected others to be gentle with my emotions and tried my best to avoid hurting their feelings at all costs. I did it because I wanted to feel loved or at least liked by everyone. I was scared that if I told someone some uncomfortable truth, they would stop loving me and disappear from my life.
Margaret Paul writes: “One of our greatest challenges is to understand what, as adults, personal responsibility means regarding our own feelings and behavior. This is especially difficult when someone is behaving in a way that feels unloving to us — attacking, blaming, lying, guilting, and so on. It is so easy to believe that your misery is coming from their behavior, rather than from your own response to their behavior.”
Something changed in me over the last few years. Maybe I grew up and took responsibility for my feelings. Maybe I also started to give other people’s responsibility back to them. Worrying about perceptions, opinions, and being liked complicated things a lot. It was like walking over a minefield — step to the side and something could explode. Having to filter what to say to whom took too much effort.
Take my ex-husband, for example. He calls himself “a very private person”. What that means is he selectively withholds different pieces of information about his life from different people. The problem is, he forgets what he told whom which results in, best case, confusion. He used to ask me sometimes — “does so-and-so know about this”? Or “don’t tell my parents about that”… It was difficult for me to remember all of the various things I should and shouldn’t tell others.
Worrying about others’ opinions can alter even one’s digital behavior. For example, some friends of mine don’t clap for my polyamory-related articles on Medium, because “what if someone sees I read articles about polyamory on Medium?!” Yes, what would happen? Probably nothing. People spend 99.999% of their time worrying about their own lives, definitely not about what others read on Medium.
It’s so much easier to just say what I want to say and do what I want to do. When I do that with love and empathy, sharing the truth becomes easy. Even if it’s not comfortable.
Of course, Leslie’s truth sounded harsh to Emilia. I don’t think there was any empathy, love, or consideration. However, if I were Emilia, I would prefer to hear that truth to know where Leslie’s priorities were. I would then tell Leslie how her words made me feel and how what she did would likely affect our friendship.
Authenticity and the ability to be completely honest with the world around me mean freedom. Freedom from having to tip-toe around other people’s possible negative reactions, freedom from having to remember who is allowed to know what, and freedom to live in complete alignment with myself. If you haven’t tried it — I highly recommend it!