Why is it that some people choose to be defined by their negative experience and some choose to rise above it and learn from it and move on? Why do I say ‘choose’? Simply, it is a choice. The difficult part is in achieving it. Some people seem to be able to just ‘do it’ – they say ‘ah don’t let it bother you so much, just let it go’.
In my life and business, I have been exposed to difficult and challenging experiences. I’m sure you have too. They have shaped me. Have I allowed them to define me? I don’t think so. It’s required constant work though, it takes effort. I am a sensitive soul and I’m not always able to ‘shrug it off’ whether I have been the receiver or giver of the challenge or hurt.
A significant moment came when I realised that the excuse given to me by another for treating me badly was ‘”You have to understand that I am in a difficult position here”. After hearing those words many times it no longer salved my hurt. I could no longer give my understanding. I was done. I had no more to give. I realised the ‘explanation’ for hurting me was an excuse, a crutch to lean on. The justification for not taking responsibility for their behaviour. For not saying ‘You are feeling hurt and I’m sorry.’ but rather “You shouldn’t take it so personally”.
Not meaning to inflict harm emotionally or otherwise on another can be understood though. We can all do things that later we regret or find ourselves in a situation where we know taking an action is going to cause upset and we feel we have no other course available to us. Our intention was not to harm another and, despite that, it was the result of what we did. It’s appropriate to say ‘I’m sorry you feel hurt, it wasn’t my intention’. To acknowledge your intention but to also give the other the recognition of their feelings and take responsibility for our actions.
Blame is a very effective tool for not taking responsibility. To avoid it, we can blame the system, the company structure, the tax system, the Government, the rules we don’t make, the economic climate, the action of the other person etc. “I said that to you because you…” “I did that because you…” “I thought that because you…”
In order to not be defined by our experience, we need to take responsibility for our own feelings – and here lies the ‘choice’ I mentioned earlier. When we take responsibility for our response to being on the receiving end of someone’s behaviour, we feel more able, more in control. “I felt hurt when you…” means that you can name the behaviour and own your feelings.
You decide whether to be hurt or not. What hurts my feelings may be water off a duck’s back to another. It’s how I react to the behaviour which is key to who I am. My reaction is totally in my control. No one can make me feel anything I don’t want to feel. Good or bad.
So this is a two-way street. I can choose to be defined by my experience, blame and not take responsibility or I can choose to own my feelings and learn from them.
This requires us to be vulnerable. We have to be prepared to show ourselves to another, in that we have to be honest about who we are, to be authentic and to not hide. We show ourselves partly by taking responsibility for both our own feelings and how we behave towards another.
A great many people struggle with not letting outside forces define them. Not allowing this, choosing a different way is self-confidence, mental toughness. Having the courage and ability to do things for yourself and doing things when and how you want to. We have a responsibility to own the knowledge of our impact on another rather than feel responsible for it and to own our part in the impact of others on us.
Sometimes it means tough choices. Being authentic is hard, it takes work and perseverance even when the odds are against you. In the end, we are mentally and physically healthier and will cope better. “We can respond by treating it like water off a duck’s back”.
Mainly I am talking here about who we are in our personal circumstances. In the business environment, the implications are different. In your personal life, you can choose to not spend your time with a particular person. In your business or work the dynamic is different and avoiding that person may not be possible or require you to leave your job. The kind of conversations I have talked about in this blog are not always possible at work – I believe they should be.