“Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.–Pema Chodron.
I was talking with a woman who was trying to make sense of her long-time boyfriend’s behavior. She was so upset aboutwhat was happening that she couldn’t sleep and was having trouble focusing on pretty much anything else.
Here’s what was going on – he called her only when he needed something from her. Whether he needed laundry done, needed to borrow her car, needed a listening ear, or was just feeling lonely – like clockwork, he’d call her.
And without missing a beat, no matter what his request was, she’d say yes!
The problem for her wasn’t that he was asking – it was that he wasn’t reciprocating.
If she wanted to get together, or wanted help with anything, more often than not he was conveniently unavailable.
But regardless of the fact that he wasn’t showing up for her, and in spite of the fact that she was feeling used and taken advantage of, she still kept saying yes to absolutely everything he asked her to do!
Even though he didn’t treat her with any kind of consistent respect, she still believed that he had potential because every now and again, she’d catch a glimpse of what a really amazing guy he could be.
He easily pulled out his charming, witty, fun-loving self whenever it suited him. He could be the life of the party; he could be upbeat and happy in social settings; he was a go-getter at work; he was always thoughtful and helpful with family and friends.
But he ever so faithfully reserved his most under-functioning, unenthusiastic, thoughtless self for her.
There were two little words that kept her trapped in this unhealthy relationship, and I knew exactly what they were because her story was not unlike mine.
Those two little words were hope and kindness.
She said yes because she hoped he’d eventually see how much she really loves him and he’d come to appreciate her and finally commit to her.
She said yes because he asked so sweetly – and she wanted to be kind.
Let’s first look at hope.
Hope is tricky because hope feels like a good thing – like it’s the right thing. Hope is hopeful.
“I’ve invested so much time in the relationship. I can’t possibly walk away now.”
“What if I’m giving up right when things are going to get better?”
“What if this time he really means it when he’s says he’ll change?”
“If I leave now and he changes, I’ll have wasted all these years with him for nothing”.
But too often, in the name of hope, we accept the unacceptable and tolerate the intolerable.
The thing is, you can’t fix an unhealthy relationship when you’re committed to hoping it will change. Seeing the relationship through the lens of hope keeps you stuck in the dream of what you hope it can be and disconnected from the truth of what it is.
We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, so it’s imperative that we see the relationship exactly as it is.
And the truth was, she had fallen in love with who she hoped he could become and not who he actually was.
Hope’s partner in crime is kindness. Hope and kindness work together beautifully. Because she loved him and wanted to be kind to him, she hoped she would be the one to help him step into his fullest potential.
She wanted to be the one who’d inspire him and not give up on him. After all, if she quit on him, then she wasn’t being very kind, right?
So let’s talk about kindness….
The thing about kindness is that we often make the grave mistake of confusing ‘kindness’ with ‘niceness’.
Niceness is almost always about people pleasing. Niceness is an attempt to keep the peace, and not rock the boat. It’s about trying to control how someone else sees us, thinks about us, and ultimately treats us. It’s about wanting people to like us and approve of us.
Niceness says ‘yes’ you can borrow my car (even though I really need it). Niceness says ‘yes ‘ I’ll do your laundry (even though I don’t have time). Niceness says ‘yes‘ I’ll lend a listening ear (even though I’m exhausted and feel taken advantage of).
Niceness says yes when you really want to say no. Niceness tolerates the intolerable, and accepts the unacceptable, in the hopes of gaining love and acceptance.
Niceness is always ‘unkindness’ to ourselves.
But real kindness never allows unkindness to continue. Kindness requires the best of us and the best of someone else.
Kindness tells the truth, honours the truth, and accepts the truth, even when it’s painful. Because it’s the truth that actually sets us free.
The truth is what allows each of us to take full responsibility for our actions and our lives, and decide whether this is enough for us – whether we are living our life to the fullest, or stuck in fear.
The truth is that if we believe that owning how we feel, and acknowledging what we really need and want is being unkind, then we need to redefine what it means to be kind.
For kindness to be complete it must include ourselves in the equation – otherwise we are just being ‘nice’.