I sometimes get flashbacks to relationships that went awry, and get a sense of regret and sadness that happened enough times for me to realize that I desperately needed to do some self-reflection to both change my own ways as well as make sure to communicate and love the person who thinks they’re about to leave our friendship by the wayside. There are a few things in my life that I attribute to making me into the person I am now- flawed but with great friendships under my belt that have weathered the storm.
My mom said I came out of the womb feisty, and I remember always being a little spitfire.I unfortunately grew up learning the relationship killer that is passive aggression, and I brought that into all my relationships and my career. I had a flashback this month of our neighbor girls that we loved hanging out with in grade school. One day I guess I was offended by something one of them did, and I ended up throwing rocks at them, and that was the end of those relationships for me and my brother and sister. They say time heals all wounds, and this is somewhat true, as almost a decade later we were friendly again in high school…But it doesn’t change the fact that we had a lost opportunity to have fun playdates for a decade.
I don’t think it’s just time that heals the wounds, but over time you gain perspective and humility.
Remorse and loneliness, though perhaps selfish motivators, are at least a good kick in the pants to make amends. In my mid-20s I had my priorities all wrong. Because I had done a year of service in the inner city, and it shook what I knew about life and the world, in retrospect I see that I had become evangelical about truth and justice over grace. I’d pick apart conversations and criticize the other person’s viewpoint. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized that friendship moves mountains more than debates. If you know me now, you probably can’t imagine me being any other way than happy-go-lucky, but it took a battlefield of lost relationships to get here. I had built a friendship with a like-minded friend, _ (we’ll call her Emilia), _ and worked hard at investing in our friendship. It was a few years later that she started to “ ghost me out” for two years until I moved out of state, and then it was butterflies and roses when she started getting friendly again. When I asked her about the sudden interest, she told me that once I moved, she realized how much she missed me, but that, yes, she had harbored bitter feelings against me and was never brave enough to say anything about it. I understood because I had done this same thing to others all my life, and I knew it was no way to live. I also did this at work with my coworkers, and even had my boss at one of my first jobs tell me that I needed to try not to be so sensitive after I had had an adult tantrum. I was, unfortunately, pulling my coworkers into my self-deceiving box I had created for years. The Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box calls our self-deceiving behavior being “in the box.” When you are “in the box” you view people as objects and threats. When you are “out of the box” you see people as people, with desires and needs, and you treat them as such.
So how do we get out of the box once we realize we are in it? The book lists six things that don’t work:
- Trying to change others.
- Doing my best to “cope” with others.
- Implementing new skills or techniques
- Changing my behavior.
Getting out of the box is primarily a change of mindset more than it is a change of behavior.
That changed mindset will certainly influence my behavior, but changing my behavior will not necessarily change my mindset, and people can detect my true mindset, whatever my behavior.
After decades of sabotaging my relationships, I can confidently say that, even if I’m not the perfect friend, I try with all my might to get out of the box and value all people.
To be there for people, celebrate the ups and downs with them, and apologize and forgive often, this is the good stuff. Because what kind of life is harboring bitterness and hurt because you feel they deserve it?
If you resonate with any of this, I encourage you to take time to self reflect. I like to do this with my pen and journal in hand, and often use the Examen to help direct me, but there are a ton of tools for self reflection out there! Leave some of your favorites in the comments below.
Photos by Valerie Denise