This is the quote that runs through the thread of my life lately and brings sense to it all… don’t know who it is from exactly, images seem to attribute two different yogis. Either way I likes the words. I have had some intense personal reactions to people and situations and the last thing I wanted was for them to take more from that than I meant to; it will be something I’m enduringly proud of that in all those situations I was fairly able to communicate that the plentitude of my reaction was due to my own life circumstance and where I was at.
This is the thing I’m able to point out to people that other people’s reactions to them are OFTEN more about where they are in their life than about the person they’re dealing with altogether.
I’m terrible at reminding myself this because it isn’t new information for me. The true test of good information is how well it lasts overall and the potential consequences of misapplying the information.
This statement that serves to remind us that other people’s reactions might not have anything to do with us at all might serve us poorly if we were truly meant to be affected by someone’s reaction.
So lets look at misapplying this information. There’s a variety of ways to do it.
Sometimes someone’s reaction to you has EVERYTHING to do with you. This comes into a few different categories of why that I can think of off the hop. Various reactions that people can have to you are as many as a hyperbolic simile could possibly describe.
- Anger/dislike: Someone might be angry at you. Perhaps they will be confrontational with you or perpahs they may assume something about your personality incorrectly or not that they do not like. Anger can be expressed at you, or more likely at other people about you. Anger can be a response to something about you that makes someone else insecure. Anger can be a seemingly appropriate response to something that you did that was offensive. There are lots of reasons for anger. Perhaps someone wants you to change your ways, perhaps someone wants you to not be around them. Strangers express anger differently than people close to you.
- Positive reactions: There are a variety of ways people can just react positively and its important to catch those things. Laughter, wanting to be around more, and increased communication are all positive reactions people have. There are others. I keep trying to catch them because the positive shift in my thinking is good.
- Grey reactions: The confusing reactions. Someone seems to be hanging around right out of sight seemingly all the time, are they passively watching or trying to put themselves around so you might talk to them? You can’t know. The person isn’t telling you but the behaviour is noticable.
So we have a variety of reactions. Why?
- The reacting person is not able to communicate something to you coherently and is only able to react: whether this is good or bad, the issue is probably deeper than you have time or ability to address.
- They might not be aware at all of their behaviour. Their reaction might be triggered by you but it really is still to do with them. This is a hard thing to deal with and it is up to you whether you feel you have the ability to put the extra effort in with this person. Sometimes these people are working hard at trying to heal themselves and will meet your effort. It can be rewarding.
- Maybe they are expecting you to understand something from their reaction. This indicates a level of intention that is discomforting. Perhaps passive aggression or codependency. How aware this person is of their behaviour is the key in understanding what response you might give. Many people engage in this for no reason other than that they have not been shown another way. It is NOT your job to show them the other way but you can change your communicating tactics to highlight that direct communication is what you require. How they respond is up to them.
Assuming that someone’s reaction to you is ALWAYS to do with them leaves you open to entrenchment in your personality. It cuts your ability to be accountable because if someone is reacting to you they are obviously dealing with something in themself… sometimes they are reacting to us. Sometimes we need to look at our own behaviour and make adjustments and I think it is in the flavour of what is unsaid in the quote about the cost of our reaction to people’s reactions.
If we do not react to people’s reactions, but instead look inside to see if there is any truth in reality to the reaction that we have been given so that we can make adjustments…. we can improve ourselves tenfold. We only have time and extra mental space for this introspection if we do not react.
On the flip side, addressing when we are forced to react ourselves: Why is ceasing to react a bad thing? Why is it a good thing?
Sometimes we have to take other people’s behaviour personally.
If we come back to my last post where I spoke about how to deal with it when someone is saying horrible things about their experience with you to your social circle…. What if someone is telling you something horrible about another person in your social circle? Perhaps a friend or acquaintence, or a person you might like to have some form of interpersonal relationship with.
- Why are you being told these things?
- Are you being told not to make or cease contact with someone?
- Does the party telling you terrible things expect you to withdraw support from the person they are talking to you about?
- Is the person processing? How are they processing this? Are they looking for advice to reassure them or help them contextualize their experience?
- There is a rather important distinction between processing a difficult experience and trying to paint someone in a terrible light. We all have fears and demons. Sometimes the people we’re dealing with start looking a lot like our demons.
- There is a big difference between someone basically making a victim impact statement to you and someone trying to contextualize a victimizing experience.
- Is this for your information only so that you can make the best educated decisions you can in any given situation you might find yourself in? People who care about you are going to hope that you have all the information they do. There is a time and place for hoping to give a friend the best chance to not be hurt by having all the available information and warning signs to look for in case their interaction with a person becomes problematic.
When someone is processing to you, reacting becomes very dangerous because you can influence how someone processes something. Are you angry on behalf of your friend? You could influence them to behave angrily and perhaps that’s valid but it seems so rarely effective to urge someone towards anger. Trying to help your friend feel better about having dealt with something big and traumatic? You could influence them towards viewing themselves as a victim, maybe they need that extra understanding. Maybe they don’t. Your specific situations will really dictate how you respond but I urge almost all humans towards fewer reactions and more personal acknowledgement and empathy.
I’ve had to learn that there are people I can process my problems to who will help me suss out where the boundaries of reality are and who understand their emotional reaction to my issues is not helpful to me. I’ve learned that there are people who cannot remove my life from their own and react personally to the issues I have with life or with other people. They are not good to talk to when I’m reeling because the instant taking on of my issue isn’t helpful. It clouds my issues with the issues of the person I’m talking to.
But all this comes around into another concept that I had some friends remind me that underpins all of this: WHY ARE THEY TELLING ME THIS?!
Because they want you to know about a potential missing stair. The missing stair is a concept that identifies a behaviour in communities that is generally problematic. Community member Omega has a general issue with accepting and establishing consent before certain behaviours. Most members of the community know either having known someone whose consent was violated: most community members will warn someone new against this character. But the community member is still a member of the community. No one fixes the issue by either talking to the community member about their problematic behaviour or finding a way to rearrange the community so that member is not present.
The people taking action to warn someone about a problematic community member are actively participating in a harm reduction tactic that gives power to the community member with the problematic behaviour. By not involving the problematic behaver in the solution (warn people away from them) the individual giving the warning is not participating in a healthy community. I argue this is about the same as someone that is talking about their very negative experience with someone with attempt to change the way that person is perceivced.
The act of the private warning is; to me, a powerless act, made by a person that feels powerless as they try to reclaim their power. It isn’t processing because the warner has already made their process and will broach no attempts to recontextualize or change understanding of the situation. This might be a very integral and critical part of their recovery. This might be a place they find themselves mired in, feeling like they have few options to connect with others. Its important to address this person kindly and help them in whatever way they can be helped. They are in pain.
My experience entering a kink community in a larger town than I live currently and immediately being warned away from people who I became somewhat close with… was an educational experience.
Other people are learning on their journeys too. Sometimes the situations we get involved in hurt ourselves and others in the process too. There are people that get mired there and forget that they are on a learning process the same as everyone else. Sometimes warning others away from someone that hurt us seems like a good process to get through an interpersonal experience gone wrong… I’ve thought that before in my life and might think so again. But when someone is warning anyone they can to stay away from someone else… this implies that the other person we are warned to stay away from is not on their own learning journey.
Or that someone thinks they are on their learning journey to be terrible all the time.
This implies a disconnect with reality. Because very very very very very few people are trying to be terrible all the time.
If someone is telling you their terrible experience with someone else as a way to try and inform you so that you can either avoid that experience entirely by avoiding the person … they might be trying to contextualize their experience. Thinking someone intended to be terrible to you is a very … young portion of the processing process for terrible experiences. People get mired there. It can be a trap.
Very very rarely does anyone intend to be terrible to you on purpose. They get there for a variety of reasons and justifications and miscommunications through thinking they are totally entitled or justified in behaving in whatever way they behave.
Whatever their justifications or entitlements for behaving the way they do. EVERYONE HAS THEM. Because almost everyone thinks of themselves as a reasonable, sensible and humane person.
I say this pretty universally because even people with poor self confidence, poor self image and negatory self worth tend to think of themselves as reasonable people.
There are only a few people I’ve met who do not classify themselves as reasonable, or who know their reactions are sometimes out of line and verge into the ‘not ok’ realm of behaviour. All of them were actively trying to learn and grow and were doing a really good job.
We have our own experiences of people, knowing how a person has treated others does not necessarily mean that they will treat us this way-because we are our own people who react differently than other humans a person will have interacted with. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t patterns that we can observe about the way people in our communities behave.
My best practies approach to almost anything is to give benefit of the doubt, let people prove themselves to you what they are about and to watch and first and foremost be KIND.
When someone is telling you of the rotten experience they had with someone, you can tell both parties are having a rough time.
Acknowledge, apologize, empathize and be kind.