A friend of mine told me about her very frustrating day last week. She had volunteered to watch a neighbor’s children while the neighbor went to an appointment. She did this willingly, and wanted to help her friend.
However, the neighbor was late getting back. After the appointment, she had stopped to do some other things. She arrived home more than two hours after my friend had expected her.
My friend was upset about this. She wanted to know what she should have done.
I asked her if she could label her specific feelings.
“I felt used,” she said.
Well, unfortunately, “used” is not a feeling. It indicates what we believe what someone did to us. The problem with that is that it puts us on a different path to solve the problem. If we have been “used,” then we will focus on how not to be “used” again, or how to make someone know that they did something wrong.
That wouldn’t necessarily create peace. The goal of solving any situation should be peace. The only place we can have peace - always and unconditionally - is in our heart. So, we have to focus on the heart first.
And - to know our heart - we have to figure out our exact feeling.
So she tried again. “I felt mad,” she said. Now that’s a feeling.
Now that we know the feeling, we look for the need.
This does not mean that we look for the “solution” to fix the problem. The problem really can’t be fixed, because the problem has happened already. The neighbor was already late - my friend had already lost those two hours to be with her family. (Stay with me here. This can be a challenge, because it does not seem to be addressing the real problem. That will become clear in a moment.)
The problem still exists, though, in terms of energy, and of feelings. That is what we need to address.
“So, what would you have liked to have happen in the situation?” I asked her.
“I wanted her to come home on time, because I wanted to be able to get home and spend time with my family. I had planned on two hours - but not on four.”
Oh. Now we see the problem clearly. My friend had given something willingly (her time to babysit), but she wanted to have consideration also, in relationship to her gift of time. She wanted to have her friend consider that she have other needs, in addition to helping her. She wished that her friend had considered her schedule too.
So now, I could help my friend see possible ways to respond. I encouraged her to go to her neighbor and say something like this, “When you didn’t get back on time, I felt mad. I wanted to have time to spend with my family, and that couldn’t happen. Would you be willing to be home when you say you will be home next time?”
My friend did not want to go back to her neighbor and say that, but at last she felt more peace. She knew what her need had been, and she could now “mourn” because that need had not been met. She also knew how to respond to her neighbor if her neighbor asked her again to babysit. She could say, “When I babysat for you last time, you were gone two hours more than I had expected. I was mad and frustrated, because I had planned on spending that two hours with my own family. Would you be willing to let me know a specific time you’ll be home if I tend for you again?”
It’s not easy to communicate this way, but it’s important, and it’s really the only way to be honest.
If my friend did not acknowledge her own feelings and needs, she would be likely instead to think negative thoughts of her neighbor all the time. “She’s insensitive,” or “she’s inconsiderate,” or “she can’t be trusted to keep her word,” would be constant judgments. How much better it is to figure out what we feel, and see what we need in the situation. Then we can choose our response in the present moment and in the future.
In our communications classes, we talk about principled ways to answer these questions:
Why is it that sometimes we can “give from the heart” -- but other times, we can’t?
What do I do when someone does something that hurts me?
How can I be sure that I stand up for my own “rights?”
Why, and when, should I stand up for my own rights?
How can I decide how to deal with a difficult relationship?
What on earth are feelings for, anyway? Do they matter?
Sometimes things can’t be fixed. Perhaps a difficult situation just can’t get better. Perhaps someone is not going to alter their position or their values. What do we do then? We learn about the concept of “mourning.” Sure - sometimes we can’t have things our way. Our way may be the best way for us to follow, but it can still be difficult. The solution? Mourning. Mourning is a very cleansing, healing process. It literally changes us, and connects us back to our natural sense of contentment in our heart.
Remember - what we want in any situation is peace. The only way we can feel peace is in our heart. So that’s where we focus. Once we have that peace, then if the problem can be solved, we will be able to solve it with strength that comes from clarity and peace in our heart. We will not try to solve it out of anger, fear, frustration or confusion. We will be at peace, no matter what.