I learned it the hard way.
I experienced it firsthand when I got in-between relatives and friends who ran a business together. While I share from the perspective of a business partnership, I think this can extend to any connection in our life: Teams. Colleagues. Lovers. Family. Friends. Clients. Anyone.
I was once introduced to two friends through my relatives. They were the business partners of my relatives and people who I eventually became close with.
In the beginning, everything was great. We were in our honeymoon phase. We all got along and had fun together. Everyone tried to find their flow and where they fit within our dynamic. We were eager to explore. Eager to learn. Eager to share. I volunteered my time to help anywhere I could, excited to witness the creation of a company from scratch.
But at some point, the reality of disagreements arose between my relatives and friends. I got myself involved, far too attached to what would happen to the people I loved and cared about. And over time, the disagreements escalated into conflicts and reached a point where the partnership was no longer salvageable.
Some highly destructive finger-pointing had happened, which brought far more pain to everyone and further worsened the situation. It changed the dynamic to one of “us versus them,” and we became at odds with each other. We struggled to find common ground and respect. Struggled to find a sense of peace for all. There was no longer a “we” to uphold what we shared. Some of us said or did things we regretted. Other times, we were in denial.
While my relatives and friends disconnected from each other, I disconnected from myself, torn between both sides, and refused to accept the end of my connection with any of them. Whenever someone pointed at me, I replied, “Don’t use me as your punching bag.” All of us grieved. All of us were consumed with some dose of bitterness, rage, anger, hate, sadness, betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness. Consumed by the loss of something meaningful.
When my relatives stepped out of the business, my friends and I kept going. I struggled to hold on to all these connections, wondering how to turn things around. How could we make this a win for us all?
But no matter how much I pushed for one, a win couldn’t happen when we couldn’t get everyone on board. And it broke me for some time. I’d gotten too attached to things that were far beyond my control.
For me to move forward, I had to reconnect with myself and have my space held by others. To witness where I was, feel the pain that I was in, and let it all go. Over time, I eventually shifted toward practicing mutual respect, forgiveness, kindness, empathy, and awareness to both myself and others.
It wasn’t just about seeing the good in everyone and everything, but also seeing where it wasn’t present. I didn’t want to walk in with blind positivity, but meet it straight on and pragmatically. To see people for who they are as a whole.
And you know what mattered in all this?
The honoring of these connections. The way we honored ourselves, our values, and our journey, and also the way we honored our partners, their values, and their journey. When we failed to uphold both ends, we all suffered. Tough lessons were learned during the separation of the partnership and eventual dissolution of the business. The relationships I had with each person significantly changed—we became estranged in ways that only time would heal.
Whether we are in each other’s lives today or not, we connected with each other at some point because it mattered. Whether our journey together was pleasing or devastating, it had so much to teach us.
A wise leader once said, “Partnership means no finger-pointing.”
When finger-pointing is present, it doesn’t do anyone good. It divides us. It’s a convenient way of displacing one’s responsibility onto another. To find the fault in each other or lay blame not only distracts us from reaching solutions, but it often costs us our peace and our connections. This isn’t to minimize or dismiss abusive behaviors and mistakes, but to raise awareness of the vicious cycle of finger-pointing.
Finger-pointing is much like Stephen Karpman’s “drama triangle” in disguise when it gets out of hand. There are three roles that trigger the triangle: the persecutor, victim, and rescuer. Those who play these personas get caught up in the triangle and the real issues become obscured by heightened states of confusion and upset, causing them to lose sight of solving the real issues at hand.
>> The victim persona describes one who acts or feels like a victim, typically feeling oppressed, helpless, powerless, ashamed, indecisive, and victimized. There’s a sense of “poor me” in this persona.
>> The persecutor persona is one who tends to finger-point, and is often controlling, oppressive, blaming, and authoritative.
>> The rescuer persona is indicative of one who comes in to help the victim. They enable the triangle by keeping the victim dependent on them and giving the victim permission to fail. This is what makes it difficult for the victim to take responsibility, since the rescuer has become the victim’s crutch. The rescuer’s focus shifts away from their own problems and onto someone else’s problems.
It’s no surprise that many of us have experienced something like this. How often does the finger-pointing happen? Or how many drama triangles do we have in our lives?
Sometimes, we come in as the rescuer, only to find ourselves becoming persecuted by the victim we wanted to help. Other times, we feel bullied by someone and reach out for someone else to intervene, realizing that we exacerbated the situation. When the finger-pointing continues, we know the situation has gotten obscured. Those three personas rotate across the involved parties. Emotions may run high while some form of abuse may be taking place.
When finger-pointing is present, it divides us. It has the potential to destroy the humane qualities between us and our partners.
But killing our partnerships with kindness brings in a different kind of energy. One that makes it possible for us to focus on solutions rather than destruction. To stop trying to “fix” each other and, instead, honor each other. It’s when we meet each other with the best intentions, whether we choose to continue together or part ways.
If we find ourselves heavily involved, notice where the finger-pointing is taking place.
>> Call out the finger-pointing and encourage the persecutor to reframe how the experience happened. How did the experience make them feel? No one wants to be a scapegoat or punching bag.
>> Do the best we can to stop contributing to the triangle. The cycle keeps going until we stop feeding it.
>> Remind ourselves about the humane qualities of every person in the room. We all experience our lives differently and carry different perceptions. We all may be suffering in our own way, eager to move forward—and yet have different views on how we want to solve our shared problem. The key is upholding constructive communication. That means we keep it respectful and do the best we can to set our egos aside. Lead with kindness, seek out commonalities, and acknowledge our differences.
>> Accept that we cannot control anything beyond ourselves. It’s no one’s job to fix someone else. We’re not machines. If reaching common ground is difficult, consider a professional to help mediate the situation so people can safely express themselves and have their space held.
>> Trust the process of letting go and know that we will all move forward in our own way. We are not responsible for other people’s feelings. They own that themselves.
If we aren’t involved in a conflict but wish to help someone, honor them and their journey.
Do an act of kindness for them. This could mean referring them to a professional therapist, coach, mediator, or counselor who can hold their space and support them in a more objective way. This becomes even more critical if we are too close to the person or situation and find ourselves getting triggered when we attempt to hold their space.
Holding space means to:
>> Establish a safe space for another with our undivided attention and without judgement. A space that another can trust so they can let down their defenses and open up or be vulnerable when they feel comfortable to do so.
>> Check our ego at the door. To suspend our sense of self-importance as the situation is about them and not about us. Acting as a container, we are holding their fears, suffering, or grief as they share.
>> Accept. Allow this person to experience what they are going through and don’t control it in any way. That experience is for them and not for us.
>> Play the role of the witness. Notice the triggers that come up for someone rather than becoming involved in the actions.
Partnership puts our entire being to the test.
It comes down to our values and the connection we share. Our morals and belief systems. Our sense of right and wrong. Is there such thing as good and bad? By whose measure? As an individual, our character and roles can affect the way we stand with each other in relation to ourselves and the people around us. The way we pace with each other. The way we perceive each other. The way we connect with each other. Let’s remind ourselves to witness the beings who are experiencing all the changes that we go through.
Take a moment to sit with these questions:
>> What’s changing about us and our partners? What do each of us value? How does the give-and-take feel with each other?
>> Who are we, independent of our roles and reputation? And why do we strive to make our partnership work?
>> How do we balance the growth and harmony of ourselves with the growth and harmony of our partnerships?
>> How much does choosing ourselves mean more distancing from another connection? And how much does meeting a connection feel like we’re abandoning ourselves?
>> What boundaries do we have in place to protect our connections so that they are in alignment with our values?
We all come and go, including the attachments and efforts we choose to pursue. We grow and break. Learn or repeat. Get stuck and be with it until we explore what we don’t know. Some of us love this. Some hate it. Some feel jaded. Some feel kindness. But no matter how many changes we go through, the partners in our lives are witnessing us as we witness ourselves.
While partnership can be a huge commitment, it can provide a highly invaluable experience. Each of us can be on different planes from each other. If some connection was left, there would be some overlap on where we mutually resonated with each other. On one end, there’s conflicts. There could be arguments, consequences, losses, and regrets. On another end, there’s opportunities to heal and grow. To remind ourselves that each of us are worthy of mutual respect for not just what we agree on but more importantly, for our differences. To honor our unique journeys.
It doesn’t matter if we’re blood related or coming from different origins. It’s about seeing the one who stands across us, witnessing the being within them. The one behind the roles. Behind the reputations. Behind the experiences. That soul is a partner. One who may stay. One who may go.
Learn from the impression our partners leave in our life and keep killing those partnerships with kindness. Kindness empowers us to rise above the finger-pointing so we can align or part ways out of good faith and do so in peaceful ways.
If there was a final lesson to be learned, it was and is this:
Be the witness and not the rescuer. That’s where we can influence change, supersede finger-pointing, and serve out of kindness for the benefit of others.