I was taught to stand up for myself, to fight to get ahead. (Not physically of course, unless we’re talking about my brothers. I did fight them.) I was taught that there was a winner…and that in order to win, you had to be willing to take the opportunity from someone else.
So, here’s the thing. I know that I am strong enough and, more importantly, sharp-tongued enough that I can force getting what I want with my fight.
I can make you feel bad. I can get my way. I used to use both of those on my ex-husband regularly. (If you’re reading, I’m sorry, and thanks for letting me keep at it until I got it right.)
Even though my tongue can still be sharp, and I say what I mean, I don’t hurt people intentionally anymore. I don’t need to.
Yep, I just admitted that I’ve been a mean girl.
It’s likely that in order for you to hear what I have to say here, you’re gonna need to pause and acknowledge that maybe there was a time or two in which you were mean, on purpose. Where you used your words to hurt someone.
I’m not being facetious. That’s a hard thing to admit – and you may not think you’ve been in a similar place.
What I do know is that me being hurtful to others was always justified. I wasn’t saying anything untrue.
But, intent has a part to play here. And while most of us might admit to recognizing something as hurtful in hindsight, we pretend we didn’t realize it going in – when the reality is, we probably did. We just thought of it as fighting to win…hurtful wasn’t even a filter we considered. (Realizing we were hurtful was only available to us in hindsight.)
So, if you want to get to the place where you can have what you want without making other people wrong or bad in order to get there, step one is acknowledging that you have had this experience.
How did my inner mean girl transform?
I can tell you one thing, it certainly didn’t happen from me waking up one morning all bright and cheery, sing-songing, “I’m never going to be mean again! I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings ever!” Ok good, all done!
It came from me feeling the impact of it.
From someone calling me out on how much the words I was using hurt them. And instead of naming all the reasons what I’d said was true, or claiming innocence because I didn’t realize it, I chose to listen and hear what they were telling me about how it felt.
Instead of lighting the match and walking away, I stood in the fire. And I stood in the fire with that person until we both felt reconciled. Truly reconciled, not surface it’s-ok-I’m-fine kind of shit.
That day, I learned a couple of things.
There’s always something soft and tender underneath what’s causing me to be hurtful on the outside. I didn’t want to own up to the vulnerable, gooey stuff happening below the surface, and fighting had been a way to avoid that. When I fight, I don’t have to say the thing that I really want, or what’s really on my mind.
I also learned that I am perfectly capable of standing in the fire. I learned that I could get real and raw and vulnerable in front of another person – and make it out alive. And so could the other person. And it was a beautiful experience to share. The place we got to on the other side was deeper, stronger, and more solid a relationship than before.
But the best lesson I learned that day? That I didn’t need to hurt someone else and end up in the fire with them to be able to have an honest conversation about what was really going on with me, or with them.
Have conversations that connect, instead of tear-down.
The next time you feel the conflict coming on, and the urge to fight, look for the connection, not the differences.
Ask yourself, “What’s really bothering me here? What do I want that I’m not getting? Is there something I need to say that will make this interaction more transparent?”
Ask the person you’re feeling the urge to fight with, “What’s really bothering you here? What do you want to have happen? “Is there something you want to say that will help us have a more honest conversation?”
The answers may surprise you.
- I’m jealous of your financial success.
- I always feel like you’re angry at me.
- I just wanted to feel important.
- I don’t know if I’m good enough.
- I love you.
When you get to these moments, you remember there’s no battle to be won. Just a person with feelings, a lot like you. We can find the compassion, the understanding, and often, the path out of conflict.
It’s not you against the world. Staying connected – in the fire or out of it – long enough to get to the bottom of what’s really there will reveal so much, and the fights can dissolve as fast as they showed up.