We are self-absorbed.
He wasn’t very responsive over lunch. What’s gotten into him?
I’ve been so sick. I expected her to show more concern. How insensitive.
She’s kept away from my family. I feel judged.
I won’t say what I really feel because he would think less of me.
Let’s get over our bad self, shall we?
Our life is all about us, but their lives are not. Remember, as soon as we step outside our door and start interfacing with others, we have two people talking about the same thing from their own perspective, experiences, biases. Let’s look at the way this autobiographical listening plays out when we feel slighted or offended.
He only mumbled during lunch? Maybe he had a headache. Maybe your illness is too much for her because it replays her mother’s battle with cancer. Or she’d wanted to show more support but has been sick herself. What if some bad news had come her way? Think about the things that get a rise out of you or cause you to withdraw. These triggers tap buried wounds, insecurity, or pride which often feed one another. Though I’ve attracted my share over the years, I don’t do very well around needy people, those with fragile egos. I need to be more compassionate toward those whose wounds from childhood drive them to behave in ways that exasperate me.
A few years ago, someone returned my kindness with a persistent cold shoulder. My husband saw that she felt she didn’t measure up to me. She later confessed her sense of inadequacy under my shadow. I was baffled. Who ever said she had to mother like me? We are mothers in our own way, give our child what no one else can. She was 35 and still hadn’t picked a lane on who she was. Every time we talked things out the drawn-out wrestling found me wiping the emotional vomit of her past off my face. With final words of peace and sincere well-wishing, I had to make a clean break for the sake of my health and sanity. There is probably some delusional confidence to this, but I try not to take things personally. When this woman looked at me, it was through a movie screen where I was just one character among thousands traipsing across the screen – many from her past. And the star of the film was assuredly not me, but her grand self.
To recognize we’re part of a bigger drama doesn’t justify our wrong. You well may have offended Jenny. But even though you really owe her an apology, her response will likely still trace back to dormant issues – because Terry next to her would’ve laughed off your quip. In issues that spring from abandonment or abuse, the debt remains greater than perpetrator or victim usually can handle. But understanding that the person we care for acted out of the dysfunction and poor parenting he, she inherited releases the steam valve so we don’t keep cooking in our anger. I am not talking about exonerating those who commit heinous crimes.
So, what about what people think of you? Oh, you swear they will think funny of you for what you did, said, or wore? You really have to keep in good standing with John? Do you think your classmates or coworkers will remember your project five years from now? Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less (C.S. Lewis). And trust me. You are on people’s minds a lot less than you think you are. Know why?
They’re busy worrying about what others think of them.