“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
– Anais Nin
The other night I stepped outside my body and observed myself having a conversation with a loved one I have had many times before. In fact, in many ways it was the exact same conversation – same words, same body stance, same anger, same frustration, same result. Or more correctly, the same lack-of-result.
Unfortunately, this can happen more often than I care to admit. The topic of the argument doesn’t much matter. Throw in a catalyst of some sort (stressful work day, missed expectations, lack of sleep), and I can pull the old stagnant words right up for replay.
Why do we do this? Why do we repeat ourselves and expect different results? Why do we throw back the same old arrows at each other hoping this time it will hit the mark?
There is a profound reason I find myself too often in these replays. I think I am really just arguing with myself. I am talking, talking, talking – at someone – in order to avoid owning my own truth. The truths that drive these conversations lay under the surface, and are ones that I own. They are my own monkeys coming out to joust with me.
I read somewhere that if we truly examine what we distain in others, we find that it is, at heart, what we distain in ourselves. If we experience a particularly strong negative reaction to a behavior or characteristic of others, somewhere deep down it is probably something we fear – and fight – in ourselves.
If I am arguing with my husband about our less-than-rigid approach to budgeting, beneath the lecturing economics professor I am channeling, there is a seed of guilt and complicity that I am trying to bury (along with that new pair of shoes hidden under the bed!).
If I am haranguing one of my sons about not studying enough or partying too much, my inner taskmaster critic is surely present, whispering in my ear. “Have YOU worked hard enough today?” “What makes YOU think you deserve a break?” “Have YOU been lazy today?”
So what is to be done about this? Given that I can rarely see what’s beneath the surface for others, it’s probably not too productive to try to psychoanalyze my counterparty. I cannot pretend to know what fear is sitting on their shoulder, whispering in their ear. I can only be aware of and acknowledge my own, before I pull back to let another arrow fly.
Thinking about the hidden and very personal fears that may lay behind my own and others’ words, and how they make us say and do strange things, is complex. It makes my head hurt. But progress is found in the awareness – if we can learn to see or hear differently, then we can choose another path, change the story. So next time I recognize the beginnings of a replay conversation, I hope I can just remember to push the STOP button, and ask myself – “What do I need to own here?” “What fear is coming out to play with me?”