It's all too easy to point fingers and feel frustrated at those people in our lives who don't live up to our expectations. After all, they are our friends who are supposed to "do anything for me" and "if I can't count on them, then who can I trust?" and "I'm tired of being the one who always gives and never gets" and "I don't have to put up with this unacceptable behavior." We feel incredibly justified that we aren't asking for too much and that we deserve to have our needs met by those around us. I'm Not a Fan of This Trend in Blaming Everyone Else....
But I'm going to take an incredibly unpopular stance today and put myself in the shoes of the friends who are disappointing and annoying you.
What has become more clear to me in recent weeks as I've been listening to everyone around me is that this "kicking the toxic people to the curb" and "saying no to people who drain me" is all the rage. It's like a diet trend where everyone seems to be popping the same pill.
Everyone is pointing to someone else as annoying, toxic, or draining; as though we're the only healthy and sane person left. We go around and tell the stories of these "crazy" people so that our ego has a chance to relive all the evidence we are collecting that ultimately will assure us that the problem is them, not us.
Let's start with a few real life scenarios:
1) Last week, one of my girlfriends was telling a story about her boss who does something that annoys her. And I thought to myself... "Eeeks, if I were your boss I could see myself doing that too!" (I mean, it wasn't an awful thing he was doing, it just wasn't what she wanted at the time.) Which got me thinking how much, if I were him, I'd want to know that my response was upsetting someone when my intentions were the exact opposite. But, like most of us, we'd rather chalk that up to one more piece of evidence that our boss sucks and go complain on the couch with girlfriends, as opposed to telling the boss that when he does x it feels like x.
2) I recently read a column about a woman complaining about one of her friends who annoyed her because she seemed to always want more time with her (which, mind you, was fine with her when she as single, but less acceptable now that she was dating someone) and then the last straw was she hadn't offered to come help pack up boxes when she was moving. These actions were disappointing and unacceptable to her. I immediately thought "Yes in an ideal world, I'd be packing up boxes next to you, but if I had sensed that you weren't wanting to be around me as much, had a new relationship to help you, and you hadn't expressed a need to have help packing, I may not have thought to call and take a day off work to do that with you. Especially if I have my own feelings hurt." It's a classic misunderstanding where they are both hurting and experiencing transition in their friendship-- no one is actively trying to wound the other, they simply both want more from the other. Rather than talk about it, here is the woman saying this is ending their relationship, it's the "last straw" that proves what a horrible friend this woman really is.
3) Yesterday I was coaching a client who shared with me a story of how upset he was with the actions of someone in his life. In the sharing of the story I realized that this other person undoubtedly doesn't even know how upset or hurt my client is. The mistake wasn't some huge grievance that we'd all agree was wrong, as much as it was more an issue of my client not feeling needed, validated and appreciated. And yet his anger is palpable.
Not Major Infractions, Just Miscommunications!
In all three cases, there is no doubt in the minds of the people relaying the story that the problem is with the other person. Every single one of them devalued the subject of their dramas as being selfish, mean, toxic, annoying, or unhealthy.
In all three cases, I only know the side of the story of the one who is frustrated. And, I validate all their frustrations. They do deserve to have people who make them feel known, heard, loved, and appreciated. I want that for all of them. I want them to have friends and colleagues who offer, give, and meet their needs.
However, in none of these cases are we talking about someone sleeping with your boyfriend, hitting your child, stealing your money, talking bad about you behind your back, or anything else we'd all agree was morally wrong. I purposely left the sins vague to ensure privacy, but none of these were examples of people trying to hurt the other.We're talking about unmet expectations.
And in all cases-- not just unmet, but also, unknown.
I could easily be the person that all three of the tellers of those stories hate. :(
Does Disappointment Stem from Their Actions? Or Your Expectations?
Think about the situation right now that frustrates you the most. Is it a clear-cut "they did wrong" situation, or is it possible they just didn't do it the way you wanted?
Expectations. Also known as the Devil. Especially if you're the only one who knows what they are.
I'm becoming more aware of how frequently we get our feelings hurt due to the meaning we assign to someone's behavior more than to their actual behavior. We are tempted to think that their actions, of lack of them, means those people don't care, are selfish, or aren't good friends. Which could potentially be a bit of a jump?
With my people-pleasing tendencies, the only thing worse than disappointing you, is disappointing you without knowing I did. To think of me doing something with good intentions and having it misconstrued (as is the case in #1) or to not know what your needs were and what would have most mattered to you (as could be the case in #2) or to simply not be reaching out to you in the ways that make you feel most validated (as is the case in #3)-- I could most certainly be guilty on all counts.
So much of what's upsetting us isn't actual wrong-doing, it's feeling like people should just be like us and do things the way we think is best. We're getting our panties all twisted because people aren't living up to our unknown expectations....
Which leaves me wondering if the greater problem isn't on us for better clarifying our needs rather then on them for not just guessing them?
What could happen if we said "How can I show up differently in this relationship to possibly get a different result?" What would happen if we sweetly reminded ourselves that there might be other interpretations to their actions? And is it possible that they actually feel the same way, disappointed by you? Would it have helped if you had made a request of them rather than felt hurt that they didn't read your mind?
I know it's not popular for me to defend the ones you're trying to vilify. I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that most people aren't trying to disappoint you. And most of them don't even know they are.
Show some love and grace and honest conversation, my friends!
Want More Reading?
Two articles I wrote for Huffington Post last year on a similar subject: Four Consequences to Labeling a Friend Toxic and then Toxic Friendship? Or Can You Work Toward Frientimacy?