Something that we often forget is that we all play a role in the creation of the pain we experience, even if someone else is involved. We don't recognize that we volunteer for that pain. We show up for it. We tolerate it. Once we acknowledge our own contribution, the healing can begin. Here's a four-step plan that can help you stop nurturing the very things that hurt you.
1. End the BPs
One of the ways that people avoid taking responsibility for their role in their own pain is what I call the BPs—blame and projection. Blame is straightforward: Somebody hurts us, and we say things like, "They did this to me. Look what they did!" Projection is slightly different and happens when we blame other people for our problems, even if they didn't do anything to us (in other words, we just don't want to look at what we did).
As long as we're blaming and projecting, we don't become accountable to ourselves for how we accommodate, excuse and tolerate behavior that causes pain—whether it's our own behavior or someone else's. Let's say you stay on a job for 15 years, miserable and complaining. Then you get fired and you're upset. But you didn't want to be there! How many times did you say "I gotta get out of here"?
Well now you're out! Why are you upset with your boss? Because she moved first? You accommodated the discomfort. You went every day. The work wasn't challenging you. But you kept on showing up. How is your boss or company supposed to know you're unhappy? What steps had you taken to either remedy the situation or get another job?
2. Understand Your Whats and Whys
One way to understand your own role is to review what happened: why we did what we did, and what we got as a result. Say you have a friend and you always show up to help her, but when you need her, she never shows up for you. So you end up being angry with your friend.
That's the exact time to do some self-reflection. Did your friend ask for the help you offered? Or did you volunteer? There is a difference—but if the friend did ask for assistance, why did you say yes? What is it that you desired, expected or wanted to get out of the situation? To feel needed or useful? To get her to feel as if she owed you something? Maybe you were afraid she wouldn't love you anymore if you said no. In any of these cases, you extended yourself for you, not her.
So many of us don't ask for what we want. To go back to the example of a friend who doesn't help, maybe you never asked for favors but only hoped she'd offer to do what you clearly needed (as you've done for her). Most of us put up with or ignore or excuse whatever it is that shows up.
I experienced this in my own marriage. It was a 40-year-long relationship, and I didn't ask for what I wanted. I accepted what I thought my husband was capable of giving me. I avoided what I thought would upset him. I allowed myself to believe that his needs were more important than mine. That doesn't make him a bad person, and it doesn't make me an idiot. It just means that I needed to learn how to ask.
But to do that, you've got to be willing to hear "no." Just because you ask for what you want doesn't mean that you're going to get it. Take money. Sometimes people will ask for it, and then, when they don't get it, they add on another level of pain because the no feels like rejection to them. They may even wonder if they're not smart or good or cared for enough to deserve the money. They're not ready for the possibility of a negative response, so they stop, paralyzed. But if you are prepared for it, you'll know what your next steps are going to be, and you'll get busy taking those steps instead of getting hurt.
4. Learn the Uncle Boo-Boo Lesson
The way you ask for what you want or need is also crucial. Say you have an uncle, and whenever the family gets together, he gives you a long, unsolicited and unnecessary critique about how you look and what you do. You don't go up to him and say, "Uncle Boo-Boo, I wish you wouldn't make fun of my hair and job at the dinner table."
No! Wishes may or not be granted. First you ask for what you want, and then you inform Uncle Boo-Boo of a specific, clear consequence. You say to him: "I'm no longer giving you permission to speak to me in that manner. And if it continues to happen, I will no longer be a part of these gatherings, and I'm going to let everyone else in the family know why."
People often engage in behavior that causes pain because there's no consequence. You have to create that consequence; otherwise, the asking is just wind in the air. But I want you to remember: You're creating a boundary—not a wall that isolates you, just a boundary, one that can be communicated with compassion. So when I get ready to speak to Uncle Boo-Boo, I'm not going to yell at him in front of the whole table. I'm going to say, "Uncle Boo-Boo, can I speak to you for a moment?" Then I'm going to take him on the porch, in the hall or in the living room where there's no one else and discuss my need, because this is between him and me. If I am feeling pain, I'm no longer going to permit, facilitate or deny it. I'm going to own it and deal with it, and then, no matter what he says in response, I can begin to heal. This is a natural process. Over time, you'll have more awareness. You learn to accept more of who people are, and, most importantly, you learn to accept more of who you are.