I heard this statement recently, beautiful in its simplicity:
When healthy people have something to say, they say it to you. When an unhealthy person has a problem with you, they tell someone else!
Confession time! Ever been an ‘unhealthy person’? I never have of course…much! Just as we are all guilty of the odd junk food fix, most of us have to confess to the occasional interpersonal habits that are rubbish for the soul as well.
We will complain to partners for endless hours about a painful or petty person, all the while denying through gritted teeth that any problem exists when queried by said obnoxious sod.
It’s a very toxic pattern that gets ugly results for all three parties involved:
- Self-proclaimed victim: never resolves the problem; stews and dwells for hours on end over someone they don’t even like. Grievances build, until eventually an ugly explosion occurs. This can be silent or noisy.
- Innocent bystander/sounding board: endures the same story (with vaguely different twists) over and over and yes, over again, becoming progressively more drained until starts to lose interest in hanging with ‘the victim’.
- Painful person: never has an opportunity to change or correct their misdeeds; gets damaged by passive-aggressive behaviour from the victim; starts to really dislike the victim and either becomes more punishing, avoids them, or explodes.
So why do we do this? Simple answer? Fear, I guess.
Fear of retaliation of the physical, social, economic or occupational kind. These can be absolutely real concerns. If dealing with a potentially violent person, a direct approach may be very much contraindicated and I would strongly advise seeking the help of a therapist or organisation experienced in this area before making any changes.
On the other hand, there is also fear of being wrong, of speaking up for ourselves, fear of consequences that may not be anywhere near likely. Fear of…hey? What am I afraid of? What actual power does this person have over me? It is worth giving this question some heavy thought. Otherwise we are trading pity for self-respect.
To jump out of the victim role, tell the person who cares! Tell them assertively, in a non-blaming way.
The good old ‘I feel (insert feeling here) because (insert your grievance here) and ideally I would like you to (insert longed for action here)’ is a great start to a solution-focused, non-blaming conversation.
Which of course will get you waaahay more results that a name-calling, shouting match or a silent stomp around the room sporting a fake smile.
P: Why the long face?
V: I am upset that you stole my song. Now I feel that my trust in you is shaken. Please do not do it again.
P: I didn’t realise you cared about your stupid songs. Stop making it such a big deal.
V: For me it is a big deal. I’m asking you not to do it again.
P: (eyerolling) Ok. Fine!
V: Great. I’m glad that we are both on the same page now. See ya.
Of course, we are not expecting miracles, but by being indirect we can be pretty much assured of misery in the long run.
Whether someone joins with you with interest and kindness to solve the difficulty you raise or alternatively presents an angry, denying or rejecting front may tell you a lot about how much time you want to spend with them in future. Give them time to cool off of course. Also check that you remain open and non-blaming.
And then leave it. Do not prolong the conversation into a hand-wringing saga.
Right! Should have all of that done by lunchtime tomorrow!
Kidding! Communication skills sound so simple and yet can be surprisingly difficult to implement. We hold them as ideals and so don’t beat ourselves up too much when we don’t quite measure up to the bar. Nevertheless, striving for this level of integrity tends to bring one a happy life.