On a recent Sunday morning, I called a meeting to have a challenging conversation, in a relationship where my stellar communication skills pretty much always fail me.
I wonder if talking to your parents when they think you’ve f*cked up gets easier after 27. Stay tuned.
Our relationship of late has been pretty tense, wrought with layers of deep hurt from words that can’t be unsaid, actions that can’t be undone, energies that can’t be un-felt. The dialogue on that humid Sunday morning across our family table had been a long time coming—overdue, in fact. In many ways, I had been preparing for it for close to two years. That’s two years too long, but hey, I’m human—guilty. Work in progress—also guilty.
As I sat across the table from the two people who brought me into the world, I asked what they wanted to get out of our conversation that morning. With a shrug of their shoulders, they more or less both expressed the same desire: a solution. What I know about us is that even with the best of intentions, we can be defensive and stubborn with each other, and from there, total shutdown occurs pretty rapidly. In wanting to alleviate suffering for all of us, I knew that there was only one way to move forward if we were going to land without crashing…
And so I softened into listening. I received all of the ways I’d caused them pain. They were angry, and it was essential that there was space for that—for them to feel it, and for me to hear it.
The first step toward healing is acknowledging the sensation as it rises and giving it a name. I’m inclined to think that the second step is being able to share that narrative with the trigger point for that sensation. In this exchange, I showed up having already committed to a place of neutrality so that the space I was agreeing to hold for them was as safe as it could be—with room for humanity, too. I had taken the time to process my own feelings around the situation, and explored the different tributaries of responsibility off the main river of “relationship.” I asked if I could share my narrative too, and allow myself to be fully “in the feels” as they say (crying instead of eating the everything bagel in front of me, which should clearly express to you that I was in the aforementioned feels…because a Jew doesn’t pass up a bagel on a Sunday morning).
In listening to these tales that form their individual and collective realities, I was inspired to share with my parents a thought that had brought a cool breeze to the fiery temperatures that often rise up in my own heart when I feel hurt by someone. Watching my mom’s rigid and combative body language, her face contorted in anger and assertion, I saw her in a way so essential to the formula of true healing: as a human being who is having the experience of a primary, unmet need.
Let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way: I’m not perfect. But you knew that already, because you’ve been doing this human-ing thing for a while and have definitely figured out by now that “perfect” and “human” aren’t exactly in the same realm as “peanut butter” and “jelly” as far as two things that go together. Anyway, I’m super flawed, but, in the process of unlearning years of faulty programming and discovering where there is healing to be done, I’ve taken note of a few lessons that invite more love in, to let more sweetness round out the times that hit my tongue with bitterness.
One of those noteworthy lessons is to let compassion be the filter through which I view others who are the catalyst for discomfort, or who are perceiving me as the cause of their strife.
When we break down the scenario and seek to understand what basic need isn’t being met, we instantly shift into compassion. Through this lens, we get to remain whole.
If I can put my own ego aside for a second and hear the person I’m relating to from a neutral place (as in, not making anything they’re saying good or bad, right or wrong, and just receive it as information that supports me in being able to relate), then I can find a way to meet them, right there. Because of the fact that I am a human with basic needs, I can understand what not having a basic need met feels like. Needs like feeling loved, feeling seen and heard, feeling safe and secure. Essentially, all gaps in our ability to experience another as our ally, rather than our enemy, can be boiled down to these basic pieces of our humanity that are going unserved in some way.
There’s no doubt that I too, was moving through layers of hurt as I showed up to this conversation with Momma and Poppa bear. But when we’re rooted in the desire to continue to relate and invite healing into the environment, equipped with sympathetic consciousness, we’re able to shift out of the “enemy” mindset that automatically triggers from our conditioning, particularly when dealing with family.
What I ask myself in these moments of tension between myself and another sounds something like this:
What are my feelings, and what are theirs? It’s important to make a clear distinction between the two.
Where is my story interfering with my ability to hear them?
How can I communicate what I’m hearing them express?
If I were them, what would I need to experience me as being a safe confidante?
What need does this person have that isn’t being nourished by this moment?
From there, we come to a meeting place that looks something like eye-level. It is only from this place that we can truly see each other.
However, this strategy requires bravery, as it demands that we choose to take responsibility for each other, even when we’re identifying with hurt. It’s not an easy choice, but it is one that moves us closer to the heart-forward world we all probably would like to inhabit. Consciously stepping into neutrality in the effort to alleviate one another’s suffering is an essential movement along that path.
In the scope of our humanity, there are endless possibilities in how we choose to relate to each other.
But first, compassion.
Author: Stef Osofsky
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron