It’s me, not you – improve your relationships by looking at your own behaviour

Could it be that every time you are upset with someone, their behaviour is a direct reflection of what you hate about yourself? Tania O’Donnell looks into this radical way of looking at conflict.

You know the story. You’re really wound up about an aspect of your partner, your child or your work colleague’s behaviour and so you voice what is upsetting you. I once went for quite a radical session of psychological work in which every time I tried to have a moan about my partner at that time’s behaviour, the therapist replied “so that’s what you don’t like about yourself?” Initially I was livid and thought the whole thing a massive scam. I wasn’t the one refusing to commit to a proper relationship. I wasn’t the one insisting that things went my way all the time. I wasn’t the one who would regularly ignore my feelings to do whatever the hell I wanted.

However, despite my reservations, I took the therapist’s words on board. What if I looked for that behaviour in myself? It was true that my definition of a proper relationship was the way that I wanted it to be rather than the sort of thing he had in mind. Also, I was far more concerned with my own feelings than with his. It was extremely distressing to discover that in pointing the finger at him, I’d actually been highlighting things that I found problematic in my own behaviour.

I’ve since really used this technique to stop me flying off the handle about things. Whenever someone is acting unreasonably or I’m annoyed with them, I think about where and how I might be acting in the same way in my own life. It is almost surreal how quickly you can get to identify what you need to change in yourself. It is almost as if these problems arise to highlight or draw your attention to that sort of behaviour in yourself.

For example, a friend has been really keen to point out idiocy in a lot of the people around her right now and it was starting to get me down as she’s not normally so negative. Before broaching it with her, I sat down and thought about whether I was doing something similar and, indeed, I found that I referred to some of the paperwork I have to do as part of life as a self-employed person as being ‘idiotic’. I was unable to see that negativity and exasperation in myself, but could readily see it in my friend. If I didn’t feel that this attitude was going to help her, why did I think it was going to serve me?

Once you get into this way of thinking, it can become much easier to deflect rows. You might still find, after examining your own behaviour, attitude or values, that you’re still upset about your partner’s views or your friend’s behaviour. In that case, of course, you should talk about it, but just remember sometimes the really big lesson is one for YOU to learn rather than to teach others.

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