Of all the lessons I learned in identifying how I created the life I found so unhappy, pinpointing this particular principle was intensely painful. That’s because it required me to look at myself with ruthless honesty, something I found particularly challenging.
I had always regarded myself as the ‘innocent bystander’ in my marriage as well as in all my other relationships. Seeing how I contributed to the very circumstances I protested so strongly I did not want, was not a deliberate act. It burst into my consciousness when I was completely unprepared and I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.
Even years after I left my marriage I continued to blame my ex for just about everything that had brought us to the point of separation – what he did or did not do and what he said or did not say; I dissected it all as evidence that he was to blame for my unhappiness and the eventual breakup of our marriage. But at that moment I also discovered that pretending to be a victim was a very convenient excuse for failing to take responsibility; for failing to take account of my own contribution to the death of my marriage.
We usually don’t realise when we treat others in hurtful ways.
Treating others non-lovingly is a habit often born out frustration and resentment yet it plays a significant role in damaging our relationships even more.
As I came to understand it, a serious manifestation of poor self-esteem is treating others contemptuously, disrespectfully, carelessly and thoughtlessly. People who like and feel good about themselves don’t need to resort to treating others badly to make themselves feel better.
In fact, this behaviour is often a habit developed over the whole of our life by having been treated non-lovingly ourselves by our parents, friends, teachers and peers. Judging and criticising is practically embedded in our culture but, just because it is wide-spread, does not make it right. And so we criticise and judge, we nag, try to control and manipulate, we make it clear they’re not good enough, make sarcastic remarks and put them down, all in an effort to feel better about ourselves.
This behaviour is a manifestation of low confidence. Another is playing the blame-game whenever something goes wrong. We do this through our internal dialogue e.g.
- It’s their fault ‘this’ happened and/or
- If only they changed, everything would be OK
Treating other people badly doesn’t only damage them and our relationship with them but it also damages us because we act cruelly and acting cruelly is against our nature.
Once we notice how we behave unkindly, we can stop it because treating others non-lovingly is usually a habit rather than a deliberate act of malice. If your behaviour is habitual, you may not even realise you’re doing it.
Changing unkind behaviour by becoming more self-aware
Think of all your relationships. Which ones are fulfilling? Which ones do you find irritating, challenging, demanding? Write them down.
How do you engage differently with those whose company you enjoy and those you find frustrating and annoying? What triggers your non-loving behaviour?
Then pick one person from your list and visualise yourself engaging with that person.
Hear your sharp or sarcastic tone of voice, watch your frown or smirk in your imagination, hear your non-loving words, notice your behaviour. How exactly are you treating them non-lovingly?
Still in your imagination
Watch the expression of that person, listen to their reaction, guess at what they might be feeling. How do they react and respond to you? Do they withdraw? Does their expression betray hurt, frustration or anger? Does the exchange escalate?
Taking responsibility for acting non-lovingly takes courage. For that alone I encourage you to acknowledge yourself. Now record your observations and insights in a notebook without censoring, editing, defending or justifying which, in the circumstances would be a very easy thing to do, as I know to my cost.
While you’re engaged in this reflection, be aware when you start beating yourself up. This is not the point of this exercise. Treating others badly and treating yourself badly is the same thing. Notice if you’re falling into that trap and stop it!
Now that you’ve become aware of your non-loving behaviours, what next?
Here are some suggestions:
- Write a letter about your insights and how you feel about it, a letter which you may or may not actually send
- Speak to the person about your insights and how you feel about it
- Make amends, if possible, for example, by apologising
- Change your behaviour
Any one of these steps will transform your relationship, not only with that person but with yourself as well because you will have gone beyond your comfort zones. That act alone deserves that you acknowledge yourself because it takes courage and a high level of integrity to do so.
Does this chime with you? If so, I would love to hear your comments.
You can also connect with me privately via my website www.sueplumtree.com or you might prefer to have a 30 min Skype session. Whatever you choose, I’d love to hear from you.