*trigger warning – aggressive relationship experiences
I can see their anger building. I know the explosion is coming.
My heart races.
My brain goes into autopilot.
I can stop this. I must stop this.
I tried to walk on eggshells. To keep the peace.
It didn’t work.
I’m so used to being here. I react without thinking.
I must prevent the yelling. I can’t handle the yelling. I don’t like taking the blame, but it’s better than the yelling.
I give in to the conflict. I own the situation. I own the feelings. I take them on. I bottle them up.
I’m the stronger one. I’m the older one. I’m resilient. I’m kind. I’m caring. I’m a problem solver.
I’m a fixer.
I can fix this. I can always fix this.
Until I can’t.
Because I’m drained. I’m anxious. I’m exhausted.
I can’t do this anymore.
Our childhood experiences shape who we are. Childhood is the space and time where we develop our sense of self. Our parents, institutions, and other influencers do the best they can to help us become “successful adults,” but they can only guide our journey to the best of their awareness and abilities.
Children are smart and learn to cope and adapt, developing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that give them the best chance of survival. For example, we may learn to “put our shields up” and adopt aggressive protective behaviours like hitting, yelling, blaming, shaming, lying, and avoiding. On the other hand, we may learn to “take our shields down” and adopt passive protective behaviours like enabling, walking on eggshells, cleaning up others’ messes, owning other people’s feelings, giving in to conflict, and not asking for help. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours become habitual, and we choose them unconsciously. Unfortunately, the unhealthy thoughts and behaviours we developed to navigate an unhealthy situation in the past often don’t serve us well in the future.
Being our best self and best contributor involves unlearning old thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are not serving us well and learning new and effective thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
In THRIVE: A Leadership Journey, we focus a lot on using assertive behaviour, including balancing empathy with boundaries. Changing from passive to assertive can feel aggressive. Changing from aggressive to assertive can feel passive. I find it helpful to understand that the story we tell ourselves often comes from childhood and that we have the power to re-write it.
I am no longer the fixer. I no longer own other people’s emotions. I am no longer passive.
I am assertive. I have strong boundaries. I can navigate conflict.
It has helped me release the relationships and situations that no longer serve me.
It has a huge positive impact on how I show up as a leader, parent, and partner.
If you’re looking for a way to invest in yourself and take steps toward living your best life, consider joining THRIVE: A Leadership Journey, starting January in Cambridge, ON and February online. Details here or reach out for more info.