The Heart of the Matter

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?

8 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter

  1. What a great post, Catherine! I appreciate the quote you used from the book you’re reading, as well. I think I tended to take things more personally when I was younger and more insecure. As I grew older and more confident (and also grew in my Christian walk), I became more likely to step back from a particular situation and put myself in the other person’s shoes. This has been so helpful!

    I can relate on the issues with small children as well. We are currently reading a book for our young couple’s Sunday School class at church called “How to Really Love Your Child” by D. Ross Campbell. He talks about eye contact, physical contact and focused attention (in conjunction with discipline) to really show your kids unconditional love. One thing he mentions is to watch for overly fussy, whiny or just naughty-in-general kids as you might be missing the boat when it comes to really showing them love. I find that if I give my daughter extra snuggles and focused time, she plays nicer with her brother and has fewer disobedience problems during the day.

  2. Excellent post. When I make the effort, I’m really good at figuring out people this way (it made me a FANTASTIC bartender, which was as much about dealing with people the way they wanted as it was actually pouring drinks).

    The key phrase of course in that is “when I make the effort.” What I’m not so good at is getting beyond my laziness sometimes or (more often) my dislike of certain people to make the effort; for some people I specifically don’t want to figure out their issues because then I’d have to move beyond my negative feelings for them. No, I’m not proud of this, and I don’t know why it never occurred to me to pray about it.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Wow, yes. I’ve been noticing this in my own life.

    Usually, when I notice certain responses I have towards people, particularly when they are negative responses, I’ve learned to sit back on my laurels and analyze WHY I am feeling that way. Where is my gut reaction coming from? Perhaps that is overly obvious, but as an ENFP and generally spontaneous and emotion-driven person, it didn’t come to me naturally. Honestly, reading the book, “The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships” by Harriet Lerner, left me with life-altering revelation and reflection in dealing with relationships big and small. That, and getting older and more experienced, I’m sure. But that book was a rattler in my life, in a very good way.

    And isn’t that amazing re: small children – that oft-times when my little ones are acting up it is from an imbalance stemming from ME. I have noticed that so much over the years. They are the inexperienced and vulnerable ones. They need outside controls in their life, and I am the one to do it. Those are the times I give myself a good talking to and adjust my behavior instead of spinning my wheels in angst against a beast of my own making. Hmmmm… But is can be so hard.

    Good conversation.

  4. Hi Catherine!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog! I’m fairly new to blogging but loving it- especially when someone takes the time to join the conversation 🙂

    I was perusing your blog and was struck by this post. Just yesterday, I had an extended conversation with someone about trying to see a loved one’s annoying and repetitive behavior from a more objective standpoint. Reading this post was like confirmation that I need to work on that! Thank you!

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