If our minds were pressure cookers, opening up about our frustrations would be the quick-release.
Despite this, we are expected to keep the peace in our professional lives. If something upsets us, we are often expected to let it go, and our only option is to raise the issue with a superior and to do so sparingly.
But in our personal relationships, there’s no mediator. We can only discuss the problem with the person we have the problem with. We know that if we voice those feelings, we may be headed for an argument or hurt feelings.
Because of this, there will be times when we feel the need to restrain ourselves, to keep our resentments and frustrations inside, not only in our professional relationships—but also in our personal lives.
It’s sometimes possible to resolve these conflicts on our own. Sometimes, we know that we can’t have everything we want without hurting others. Although our needs may be sincere and legitimate, we still have to find a way to make them coexist with the needs of others.
If we can persuade ourselves of this, we can avoid burdening others with complaints that leave them feeling insecure and vulnerable. We must especially avoid criticizing people in a way that is unkind or unfair.
The challenge is in deciding whether our concerns really are unfair or unkind.
We will always be able to persuade ourselves that these needs are fair or not fair; this is where we need to ask for help. Getting another viewpoint will help us validate some concerns while putting other ones in perspective.
Though we may be tempted to avoid conflict by keeping the problem to ourselves, we should remember that we are already experiencing conflict. Though this conflict may only be internal, it is still very real, and we can’t expect it to simply go away.
If we refuse to externalize this conflict by discussing it, we’re left to contend with our feelings on our own. If we have any doubt whether we’re being treated fairly, then our feelings will persist.
This leaves us with two possibilities: either we lower our expectations, or we let our frustration build up until we can’t hold it in anymore.
Changing our expectations is a bad option; if our expectations are legitimate, they shouldn’t be changed just because they’re not being met. I can think of many times when I let go of what I thought was fair. This is a slippery slope; it sets a precedent in which we get taken advantage of more and more.
Obviously, this works out badly for the person who is left to pick up everybody else’s slack. But even though it might sound like smooth sailing for those who are being taken care of, it’s not. It leads to dependency—and potentially—a loss of self-respect.
On the other hand, if we suppress our feelings, our frustration will pile up. When that frustration comes loose, it’ll come out suddenly and traumatically.
I’ve made this mistake as well. There were times when I didn’t let go of what I really wanted, but I was also too afraid to say. Maybe I was feeling insecure about my feelings, or maybe I didn’t want to start a fight.
This is like being caught in limbo. The bad feelings don’t go away; they accumulate. Eventually, something had to break, and I blew up at somebody I cared for.
Putting my friends and family through this sudden trauma was not fair to them. If they have done their part to earn my trust, it is my responsibility to offer that trust.
We need to communicate before we get to that breaking point so that our loved ones have a fair opportunity to show that they care about us and that they are willing to change.
This may cause conflict. If we have taken the initiative and made ourselves vulnerable, we should not apologize if it does. There comes the point when it’s the responsibility of others not to be offended by our honest feelings.
Even so, it still helps to express ourselves in the most civilized way possible. We should ask for the opinions of others rather than asserting our own. This shows concern for their perspective. After all, we may learn something, and our idea of what’s considered fair may change.
But people are not perfect, and real relationships are messy—even if we communicate effectively, there may be some argument before everyone comes to an understanding.
That is the cost; the reward is that our troubles are brought out of us, so they can actually be addressed. Our needs can’t be met unless they are understood.
In our efforts to work together and help each other, trust begins to flourish; our instinct to remain silent fades away.