One of the memories that has been indelibly etched within me is a fight I had with my father. I had come home from college and found our old family cat Sissy with a huge abscess on her stomach. She was clearly very sick and going down hill fast. I talked my mom into taking her to the vet. As we got ready to leave, my father walked into the house and asked what was going on. I told him. All of a sudden he was screaming at the top of his lungs. How dare I do this without asking him first? How dare I not consider him? I screamed back (unusual for me), calling him a murderer. He stormed out of the house. We went to the vet anyway.
What I most take away from this event is how wronged both of us felt. My father had been horribly abused as a child. He had a chip on his shoulder that was huge. He absolutely could not see anything except that he wasn’t considered. He couldn’t see that I was trying to care for our cat. He couldn’t see what Sissy needed. He could only see the huge gaping wound of not having been considered. His internal reality was completely different than mine. And at the time, I didn’t have the skill (who knows if it would even have been possible) to talk to him and help him see the bigger picture, help him not feel so unconsidered.
One of the things that I have always been good at is seeing both sides of a situation and being able to step into somebody else’s shoes. This has been invaluable in my career as a therapist. It has made my life incredibly difficult in other ways. In the past, I have often been unable to hold onto my own point of view. I step into someone else’s vision of reality so easily and mine slips away. As a result of this, and the volatility that I grew up with, my history is such that have I bent too far for the other person’s needs and tried to make mine small or even go away. I have been a master of self-sacrifice. I am not that person anymore. And I am thankful for this.
I’ve recently parted with a good friend: a friend with whom I have shared a lot, somebody who I’ve at times spent nights up worrying about, someone who I have always wished the best for. That hasn’t changed. The underlying feelings are the same. It is just the outer connection that has been released. It is like a death where you carry the person in your heart, but no longer see them in your life, because they don’t work in your life anymore.
I’ve parted with an occasional friend over the years. It is never easy and always brings up both self-questioning and grief for me. It is hard to leave behind someone you love – or be left behind. Sometimes the split occurred because my actions hurt the other person – even though my actions were unintentional and I was unaware. In those situations those friends ended the friendship rather than discuss what had occurred to hurt them. They waited too long before they found their voice. Unspoken, too many hurt feelings built up and without the ability or understanding of how to work through these differences, it cost the friendship. Other times I did my best to let the other person know what I was struggling with, and the changes I needed made if I were to be able to continue. They were unable to address my needs.
How is it that we cannot speak our truth or hear another’s? Why is it that we cannot tell those we love what we are experiencing or listen to each other? If my father had only been able to talk about his feelings instead of screaming, his 200 lb 6’4” frame looming over me, we might have come to some kind of understanding.
We aren’t used to working out the hard stuff. We aren’t use to looking at ourselves and finding our own flaws. Doing so is a type of emotional courage that has not been well developed in our culture. We don’t want to look at our failings. Instead, the other person’s difficulty with us is perceived as a judgment.
As I think back, I can see that these friends felt entirely right in their position and so there was no way to bridge the gap, or to have my needs responded to. And for me, their actions were causing debris to spill into my life. While I did care about them, I also care about myself and so will step far enough back that I not impacted.
The problems I have in this relationship I cannot talk about with my now ex-friend. There is no place for that dialogue. There is no place for me to speak. If I see a pattern going on, actions that are impacting me, and there is no place for me to speak about it, then I will have to leave. This isn’t about right and wrong. This isn’t about judgment. This is about my need to have a voice, to be considered, to be part of a living breathing connection that honors who I am, my experience and what I see.
Sometimes each of us has to walk our own path. My path at this time is about honoring what I need. Perhaps for this friend, she too has to walk her own path – to answer the questions of her life by the process of living it. Somehow what I need and what she needs clash. Each of us sees the situation from our own perspective, in line with our own evolution. Each of us is doing what is necessary for ourselves. So this break is organic and part of the path we are both on. I can trust that and I do.
I find it important to be able to talk about how I feel. I find it important to listen to how the other feels. I find it important to be able to speak honestly how he or she is impacting me, in both the negative and the positive and vice versa. And having the space to do this is necessary in any long-term relationship. It takes the eyes of others, of our friends, to see our own failings. Isn’t that part of why we are here, to take the rough diamond of ourselves and cooperate with the polishing of life, increasing our beauty and our brilliance?
My life’s work is about dialogue. It is about creating the space between two different vantage points and bridging that. It is about allowing space for feelings to be expressed and seeing if there is a way to honor both of us or even both aspects of oneself.