When people express their honest feelings, they are filtering them through their past scars, their current hurts, their limited knowledge of the facts, and their bent toward self-protection.
~Tim Kimmel in Grace Based Parenting
The above quote from Tim Kimmel struck me as true, although it’s easy to overlook. When someone says or does something hurtful, I’m tempted to see it in light of my issues, not theirs. “Why is she mad at me? What did I do to him? She’s so annoying, why is she always bothering me?” The answer, as my husband likes to remind me in his best Dr. Phil impersonation, is “It’s nawt abayowt yeeeeeew.” (For those readers unfamiliar with my husband’s deft impersonation talents, the actual quote is “It’s not about you.”)
Back in 2002 I heard a speaker (wish I could remember her name) suggest that when someone is annoying you or making you mad or making your life difficult in some way you should pray for God to show you that person’s heart so you can react with love and understanding, and maybe ameliorate the problem by meeting some other need that is causing the person to act that way. Now certainly you don’t want to get caught up in overanalyzing everything people say or do to you, but I think when you’re faced with a recurrent response that you don’t understand, it’s wise to look for insight.
I found this to be effective in my pre-kids professional life. At the office, instead of hating on someone who always overreacted, I noticed that person was under a lot of stress and looked for ways to avoid adding to that stress, like making sure my part of projects were done quickly and thoroughly. In another instance, I stopped avoiding a person I felt was always pestering me after noticing that everyone seemed to ignore her – once I started paying her a little respectful attention, she stopped needing to nag me for everything. It was helpful for me to know that people weren’t out to get me, they were just dealing with their own issues, and if I could understand those issues, I could either help the situation or at least avoid making it worse.
Now that I’m home with small kids, I find that looking for my child’s heart when they are acting up or getting on my nerves helps me to have a more balanced and understanding response. Often solving an underlying issue will also help a surface problem. Sometimes the answer is pretty obvious – kids fuss more when they are tired or hungry, for example – and sometimes I have to dig a little deeper. Recently, for example, I noticed that when my son doesn’t get enough hugs and cuddling he tends to act up and be mean to his sisters. I’m not sure why he does that, but it’s so much easier to make sure he’s loaded up with hugs at the beginning than to have to discipline him all day for doing bad things.
I struggle with caring too much about what others think of me, so I’m trying to remember to look for the other person’s heart before leaping to the conclusion that his or her response is about me. How do you keep perspective in dealing with other people’s responses?