Many times in our day to day lives we face things that are hard to do. And when we’re in that position it’s really understandable that the way we talk to ourselves (and others) is similar to those voices we heard when we were growing up – even when those voices were less than kind. As James Baldwin said in A Dialogue with Nikki Giovanni, “It’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”
So when faced with challenging situations, many of us goad ourselves into action with the harsh or manipulative voices we’ve embodied.
An iconic image from my childhood – formal Christmas dinner with
my great grandmother, the family matriarch, the year I was born
But practically, what does being “irritatingly reasonable” look like?!
- Notice and affirm the upset – acknowledge this situation sucks, or is a pain, or whatever the words the upset person is using … there’s no minimization here! Whether or not this is true for an external observer, whatever it is you/the other upset person are feeling is valid, and this MUST be acknowledged before there’s any hope of truly moving on to Step 2
- Expand the frame of reference to discover the big “Yes” – if we’re going to expend our life force energy in doing something that’s hard, we’ve got to find some compelling reason to do so … something that’s deeply true to the core of who we are. No should or ought to will do. Without this, the upset parts of us will rightly continue to be upset! This is where the “irritatingly reasonable” part comes in … when we name our big “Yes”, even though there may be many other things we’d enjoy doing more, all parts of us are clear that doing the task at hand IS in integrity with who we are, and so will be more willing to step back from fighting against us.
- Baby steps, acknowledgement and rewards – remember, whatever your/their current chronological age, this is a new pattern you’re developing here/or inviting the other person into, and the old pattern has likely been in place from the time you/they were quite young! So the upset may be not far from the surface, and the need for feelings to be heard, honoured and compassionately understood, and efforts to be warmly appreciated and appropriately rewarded are all important parts of establishing this new way of being in relationship doing hard things. And depending on how big the hard thing feels, how frequently it needs to be done, and/or how long it takes to do it, these 3 Steps may need to be repeated – as often as necessary – especially when we’re first beginning to nurture a more empathetic and compassionate listening presence with ourselves.
This was definitely the case in the first of the examples I said I’d share. This was many years ago when I was just beginning to develop this kind of empathetic listening presence with myself. This was a shift from my driving myself as a result of an enormous sense of responsibility and many internalized shoulds.
One Fall, I’d bought a bunch of bulbs to plant in the rock garden outside our front door. It had seemed like a lovely idea, but I hadn’t realized how hard it was going to be – the soil was clay-like, and there were lots of tree roots just under the surface. I quickly realized this was going to take much more effort that I’d imagined, and there were parts of me already tired from all the other things that had been on my agenda earlier in the day.
So Step 1 – noticing and affirming the parts of me that were upset was crucial! “Yes this is SO hard, much harder than we’d thought! And you’re tired, it’s true.” The inner conversation went on until it was clear those parts felt heard before I moved on to Step 2 – discovering the big “Yes” in this for me. The task at hand was planting the bulbs, but the deeper desire the wise part of me recognized was creating beauty. Granted it wouldn’t be visible until Spring, but every part of me loved the idea of the splashes of colour that would magically appear after, the snow melted – and not just once, this would continue for years! I kept reminding myself of this image as the digging and planting continued. And I did that right alongside the Step 3 moves. Those “woohoo, another done!”, and eventually a combination of “OK, so I know you’re really tired, and the idea of 20 more bulbs feels like way too much. So how about we make a deal – let’s do 3 more for sure, and if you really can’t do any more, then we’ll stop for today and come back to this tomorrow. And whenever we get them all planted, there’ll be a special treat!” I can’t now actually remember what the treat was, but it was an important piece of the process – that along with more cheers for each 3 that were completed, and special markings for those few holes that were easy to dig! Every Step fed into the external success – all the bulbs were planted that day. They also nurtured the internal sense of success – the “I did it!”, right alongside the deepening of the relationship with myself.