“To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.” -Unknown
For many years I maintained a relationship that I was not happy with. I’m sure a lot of people have been there, or are there right now. I didn’t feel there was equality in the relationship; I always seemed to be the one giving, yet I consistently felt I was getting nothing out of it.
A close friend of mine asked me why I tolerated the behavior of the person in question.
As usual, a few excuses passed through my mind: the other person was going through a rough time; I felt I should be there for them; they probably wouldn’t respond to how I was feeling anyway, so I should strive to be the “better person.”
I let these excuses wear on for over a decade, until one day I realized I needed to make a change.
There was no point in silently wishing this person would be better, or hoping they would eventually acknowledge I deserved the same respect and support I gave them.
After more than ten years without change, I wondered what on earth I was expecting. Did I think this person would suddenly have an epiphany, maybe another ten years later? Gently, slowly, I started to realize that I had to do something I had never done.
I decided to confront them about it, without aggression or anger. The next time they treated me in a way that I thought was unacceptable, I would say something. I would let them know that they were being unfair or unkind. I wouldn’t try to sugar coat it—I would just be honest about how I felt.
The moment came and I said what I needed to say. I was willing to accept that they may never agree with me or apologize, but I had to be true to myself. I had to say something, with no expectations—just a commitment to stand up for myself when it was necessary.
“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” ~Spencer Johnson
To my great surprise, I received an apology. I would have been okay without it—having come to the conclusion that purely standing up for my beliefs was enough for me—but the heartfelt apology made me realize how unnecessarily I had sacrificed myself and my needs. Since then, my relationship with this person has greatly improved.
I’m not suggesting that we go around telling everybody exactly what we think of them all the time, nor am I advocating generating negativity in your relationships over minor events.
What I’m saying is that if you genuinely feel wronged by somebody else, you are the person responsible for making them aware. It helps us all when we’re willing to teach each other to be better, and not shy away from it because it is painful or embarrassing.
The next time you feel you have been unfairly treated by another, take these steps to address it:
1. Think on it.
Before you confront this person, think about the situation. Have you truly been treated badly? Is there anything else that may be contributing to your emotions? Bounce the situation off a trusted friend, with no agenda other than to explore it. Take some time to understand your feelings. If you still feel the same, you are probably onto something.
2. Consider the triggers.
If you decide that you are being wronged and you wish to speak up, think about the situations and encounters with this person that tend to upset you.
What usually triggers you? How do you feel when they upset you? Do you get a sensation of feeling hot or tight in the chest? It’s important to explore this, because when you confront them you need to be prepared to do so calmly and rationally.
If you choose to speak up when you are feeling emotional, you may undermine your point. Be aware of the triggers within yourself so that you can feel them without letting them control you. The calmer you are, the less likely you are to appear irrational or melodramatic.
3. Set reasonable expectations.
Before you approach the individual, be prepared for the possibility that you will say your piece and they will disagree with you.
If you go into this with an expectation of an apology or acknowledgement of being in the wrong, you may feel like speaking your mind didn’t “work.” Remember, you are standing up for yourself to be true to yourself. That’s the important part—which means you need to be open to the potential consequences. And you need to know how you will respond if this doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped.
Be prepared, also, for new information that may make you re-consider your position. Enter the situation with an open-heart, a desire to communicate clearly, and a willingness to find a resolution, if possible.
4. Choose your words carefully.
Know what you are going to say in advance. Be honest and straightforward. There’s no need to drag up previous incidents; they’re not relevant here. Focus on precisely what has happened that has upset you and explain your reasoning.
Listen to their response. If they are willing to engage you on it, be open to this. Perhaps there is something for you to learn. If they respond with anger or aggression, be gentle but firm in your position. Remember, this is an opportunity to stand up for your truth. You will feel proud of yourself if you can be clear and honest, even if the outcome isn’t what you hope it will be.
Relationships can be difficult. I empathize with the pain, worry, and anxiety you may feel when communicating your needs to someone you care about. It might feel like an impossible challenge, but remember:
“Each time we face a fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” ~Anonymous