I’ve been having an experience lately where I feel that I am second guessed more often than usual. For example, if I’m asked a question, after I give my answer I will often hear a response like, “really?” or someone offering a correction to my response, as if I got it wrong. And for the last several months, as I’ve been tuned into this experience, I have noticed a strong reaction in myself. “Yes, really!” Or as Stanley from The Office might say, “Did I stutter?!”
When I brought this up with a group of women I was relieved to find that I am not alone in this experience. They generously shared their own experiences about parts of their life where it feels like people second guess them or try to correct them.
I’m going to assume that in general people do not do this on purpose. That they don’t actively seek opportunities to patronize others. And if this really is the case then I think that shedding some light on this phenomenon could actually do some good and give us all a chance to reflect on when we do it and what we could do instead that would leave people feeling our support rather than our disapproval.
I’ll use an example from my personal experience. As I mentioned these comments or questions that I get that feel frustrating are subtle. I am pregnant with my second child and I have shared a handful of times that I would like to be done have children after this one. More often than not, the responses I’ve gotten from people have been along these lines…
– How can you know for sure?
– You never know what God has in store for you.
– I bet you’ll want more!
When I hear these responses I have a “punch to the gut” feeling. I don’t feel heard and it seems like how I feel and what I want are not relevant. Which is confusing because this whole baby making experience is happening IN MY BODY.
As I’ve reflected on my reactions (and, I’m a therapist so reflecting is a pretty constant hazard!) here’s what I’ve come to. I want to be heard. I am a thoughtful person. I am not flippant about my personal life choices. You can assume that I’ve put some thought into the things I am saying, especially when it comes to my family.
I think that slowing down and actually listening to each other would go a long way. And in this example I imagine that listening would come across instead with responses like these…
– You know yourself best.
– If that’s how you feel.
And really, I don’t need a response at all. I’m not seeking validation, just expressing where I’m at. When I have gotten responses like these it feels supportive, and caring.
As we all work to listen more we will find ourselves assuming less. Which is a good thing! We will find ourselves treating people more like thinking, acting individuals. When I talked to the group of women about their similar experiences some of the themes that came up for them included their jobs, their children, their relationship status, and what they value. These topics are so broad and it makes sense that unless I know them individually I really can’t and shouldn’t assume what they want or how they feel.
Keeping an unassuming approach with people feels respectful. It also gives us a chance to learn more about each other and what drives us. As a therapist my life is truly enriched and changed as people share their very individual and personal thoughts, desires, and experiences with me.
What to do?
Since these frustrating and personal exchanges are often happening with people I care about, I have decided to try to explain my reaction to them. Like I said, I generally trust that most people mean well. When I have taken the time to do this I have been pleasantly surprised by (most) people’s willingness to hear me out.
The tough thing about living in families and communities is that we are going to frustrate each other. But the awesome thing about living in families and communities is that we get to learn from each other! We have the chance to show each other that we care, and that we’re listening.