How silence, not explanation, was the answer to all my relationship nonsense
Originally published on Medium.
I got a private message today from the father of a friend of my almost full grown daughter. After a brief “Hello, how are you?” he launched into a full blown expose about the potential reasons my kid wasn’t returning her daughter’s texts and emails. The deductions he came up with for my kid’s silence were quite impressive. If it were a soap opera script, the dialogue could have won an Emmy.
The old Andrea would have freaked out about this person’s discomfort. After all, that Andrea’s only happiness rested on someone’s opinion about me. If someone was happy with me, I was happy. If someone was upset, it was my job… my duty… to make it right so they could feel better. And, better put, so I could feel better. Today my response to such insanity is super simple: silence.
Strong Silence vs. Punishing Silence
I’m not a fan of giving someone the quiet treatment just to be cruel. That kind of act is manipulation at its finest and not kind.
But when someone sets me up for a game I can’t possibly win, I am a fan of the quiet that says what words cannot ever express: “I am not playing this game.”
In a perfect world, having dodged their emotional overhand, the ball ricochets back from the wall and hits them upside the head, forcing them to bellow, “Ouch! That hurt!” followed by a quick, “Golly, gee, maybe I should look at my asinine behavior!”
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world full of people who put their soul over their ego and give people the benefit of the doubt. We live in a very real world full of very real, hurting, dysfunctional people… people who are not willing to take the time to heal from their past hurts. And that’s a problem.
If we don’t heal our wounds from the past we will bleed all over people who never cut us.
I should know. I used to be that person. It was much easier (and low brow) to blame and shame others than it was to stop, look my actions squarely in the eye, and change. But, as they say in many a 12-step programs, “Grow or Die.” Me? I didn’t want to physically die. The only death I wanted was death of my old behavior to become a better Andrea. So I took the ball in the face a few times.
Okay, a few thousand times.
But I don’t regret a thing.
The Gift of Pain
Pain is no fun. It would be so much easier to drink, drug or deflect. This kind of emotional escape is akin to a ball hitting a catcher’s mask. The catcher might get klunked on occasion. They might get shook up. But it doesn’t hurt them. They don’t truly change from the experience. They just take off their mask and go home.
But what if the mask wasn’t there? What if, without thinking of the consequences, the masked man, “Protection be gone! I’d rather chew gum and look at my phone?” Then what?
We all know the answer. They’d get socked in the face. Hard. That would suuuuck. It would require potential surgery and loads of therapy and recovery, but eventually, if they were lucky, they would not go blind from the injury. They would heal and they wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Now I’m no masochist, but sometimes we need a little hurt as a wake up call to ask the right questions and transform. I know I did, especially when it came to raising kids, marriage and friendship. After at first not even being aware of my transgressions, I eventually caught on and started asking myself, “Hey, is my behavior helping or hurting a relationship?”
When I learned to ask the right questions my life shifted. The fact finding process of truly seeing my part was not unlike being hit in the face by a ball. Except for one difference: I wasn’t alone. I had begun to bring God into the batting cage with me. I had someone reminding me when to duck, when to dodge and when to sit still.
“But what about other people’s part?” you might ask. The answer, with all due respect, none of our business. If we want peace we must stay in our own lane. (Or batting cage as this analogy calls for.) I didn’t get sober five years ago to take the bait from people anymore.
I’ve done the hard work to figure out what my defects are. If someone else doesn’t want to grow, and would rather concoct a story and project their insecurities on me, that’s on them. But I’m not losing sleep over the drama any longer.
Here are just a few tips I’ve learned when it comes to engaging with drama queens and stop defending myself.
5 Ways to Stop Defending Yourself and Be Free of Insanity
- Nature of the Friendship: I have learned to ask myself, “Is this person a friend or an acquaintance?” If they are just an acquaintance, I don’t explain. I don’t engage. I stay silent. If they are a true friend who maybe crossed a line, I either let it go or, if it’s really really bugging me, I will make an appointment to talk to them. But… and this is a big “but”, if I can’t talk to them without being mad, I wait.
- No Texts: I don’t engage in long, spirited texts anymore. It’s too easy to have my words misunderstood. I, too, can’t always read the emotional nuances behind other’s words. It’s a set-up for more anger and hurt.
- Detach With Love: When I remember that people who cause drama are often just hurt people, I’m able to disengage with love instead of anger. I can pray for them because they, like me, are sometimes spiritually sick.
- Forgive: This has been, and still proves to be, the hardest act for me. But it’s a fact that everyone makes mistakes. If I want to be forgiven for my past mistakes, I must remember that one wave does not define the whole ocean. I can forgive someone for dumping on me and let go.
- Let Go: When I remember I’m not King of the Universe, I can let stuff go. When I think everything has to go my way, and people need to behave in a certain way for me to function, I am miserable.
- Trust God: When I trust God, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, says or writes. I can stay calm. On the flipside, if I have forgotten to meditate or pray that day, I take everything personally.
God’s Doesn’t Explain Himself (or Herself) so Why Should I?
The truth is that I’m here to God’s work, not explain myself. The quicker I get out of someone else’s way, the quicker they can potentially look at their behavior and have a spiritual awakening also. (It’s been my experience that 99 times out of 100 they ain’t gonna be lookin’ to change themselves. But I changed, and that’s good enough.)
When people get crazy on me, I remember that I owe them nothing. Happiness is an inside job.
I love the picture above, because the street is not lined with defensive statements. It’s not littered with “If only you would stop talking” notices. It’s just quiet… a path leading toward some new and exciting destination.
If you’re ready to go some place new, far away from the old mindset that tells you to fight insane people, places and things, I encourage you to keep your ego in check and let go. I encourage you, when tempted to retaliate, to sit in silence and ask God what he would have you do.
These days life is simpler and peace flows where negativity and hurt used to live. And while I don’t live in Serenityville all the time, I’m happy to say it’s a solid summer home for me. As long as I keep trusting God I’ll be there year round soon enough.
And, with practice, you can be, too.
I’m a published TV, blog, magazine and book writer who also coaches moms and grandmoms to write books rooted in wisdom, spirituality and humor.
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