It is true that everything is not all about me. Nor is it all about you. I know, earth-shattering, right?
While this is certainly true, it is also true that when we are feeling messed up, off-kilter, or wrecked, then a lot of that comes out in how we treat others. So to have great relationships, we need to do a little "me" work first. And as we begin to work on ourselves, a secret is revealed: We must Be Honest.
Be honest about your past.
Let me state a cliche you might have heard before: "We've all done things we aren't proud of." As a kid, I had a really terrible temper. I would get mad quickly and easily and I was sure to let you know about it. I liked to be loud when I was angry - I would shout and slam things around, like books on a table, or doors. I remember being angry one time and slamming the front door of our house as I stormed outside. I slammed the door so hard the large oval window in the door shattered. At this moment, I can't recall what my reaction was - perhaps my parents could tell you - but what I do recall is the years of remorse I felt afterwards, even to this day.
Over the years, I can truly say that my bad temper is much more under control and I can truly say that it is only by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I know this to be true because there are still times when, in my own flesh and frustration, I get very angry. I say terrible things and get loud - slamming and shouting. But these times are rare and when it does happen, I usually have just enough self-control to put myself in time out. I remember not too long ago, literally sitting in my closet under the hanging clothes, door shut and lights off - wondering why I was such an awful person.
Be honest about your inner thoughts.
I have perpetrated a lot of pain on myself. I have a hard time overcoming feeling guilty for things I've done. I let my mind take me on a downward spiral for much longer than I should. As a result, when I am in dark places of anger and / or depression, I find I am really good at remembering all the mistakes I've made. This means I flog myself for them again and again.
And I end up whispering a message to myself, "Your anger is a plague upon you. Anyone who sees it will be shocked and horrified, and ultimately frightened of you...for good reason. Lock it away. If you can't and someone sees it, you can go ahead and mourn the death of that relationship."
Imagine what this does to my attitude toward the person I'm in relationship with. There is a mixture of shame and embarrassment for my outburst, followed by me distancing myself from that person. The logic? If I distance myself first, they won't have to. I know they want to, but are too nice and maybe too afraid to anger me, so I'll save them the trouble and pull away.
"Give up this idea that nobody can know you and still love you."
This takes us back to that whole reality that we've all done stuff. You're going to have to forgive yourself for it and receive the forgiveness of others. As am I.
Be honest about your friends and family.
With whom are you currently in relationship? Take a minute to take stock of the people who surround you. Are they supportive? Are they healthy (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally)? Are they, themselves, growing? Are they critical and negative? Are they encouraging and positive?
I'm not suggesting you ditch the "bad seeds," but I am suggesting you limit your exposure to them. I have a few relationships that fall into this category. I truly love these people, but I simply cannot spend a lot of time with them. When I do, I have to be in a place where I am prepared to give and am not, myself, in need. These are friends in whom I find little support and encouragement, but that does not mean I cannot be supporting and encouraging to them.
I had lunch with one of these friends the other day. I didn't realize I was in a needy mood and she is not one to give support. I tried to tell her some things I was struggling with and some new things that I needed encouragement in. Sadly, what I was needing from her is not something she was able to give. I left our time together feeling beat up. I let it bog me down for several days until I remembered that she is not one of the friends I can turn to for such things.
Now, I am also not suggesting you quietly abide in abusive or toxic relationships. Pay attention to the things you believe about yourself after you have spent time with a particular person. No matter who you are or what you've done or what you've been through, you are worthy of love and respect and support. You deserve to grow and flourish. If you are in relationship with someone who leads you to believe the opposite of these things, get help getting out of that relationship.
Be honest about who you want to be.
As you think about your past - who you were, and your present - who you are and what you need, then the next logical step is to analyze those two things to create a vision for your future. How do you want to treat people? How do you want to behave? What do you want to be known for? What are you looking for in friendships? What are you looking for in a romantic relationship? If you are married, what do you need from your spouse and what can you give?
"Who you thought I was is the man I want to be."
If you are in a good relationship and want it to be even better - perhaps even great - there are two ideas I'd like you to think about with me...
1. Who does your beloved think you are? There are a few lines from Sherlock, s4.e2 in which Watson confesses about his wife: "She taught me to be the man she thought I already was." And then later to his wife (sort of...long story that could be a spoiler if I explain): "Who you thought I was is the man I want to be." I think that in a great marriage, these things are true, or at least they can be. When your spouse sees in you on your worst days, the you that you are capable of being on your best days, he or she can encourage you to rise to that you. You can be the you your spouse thinks you are.
2. This also requires that you "Give up this idea that nobody can know you and still love you." That one is from Reign, s2.e20. There are parts of me that are ugly, to be sure, but there are ugly parts of everybody. There are also lovely parts of everybody. The ugly doesn't mean we don't deserve love and acceptance. I think we should strive to overcome the ugly with beautiful - kind words, loving actions, genuine compassion - but it does not make us monsters if we succumb on occasion.
Be honest about putting in the work.
Now it's time to take action.
Get alone and take inventory. I process by writing, so I will always recommend journaling, but even if you don't want to write it down, at least take the time to process by yourself.
Step One: Think about your past. Think about those worldview-shaping that were born out of what you've done or haven't done. Do NOT beat yourself up about them - just consider them with some objectivity.
Step Two: Forgive yourself. For real.
Step Three: Assess your relationships. Are there some where you need to step up and invest more of your time, energy, and trust? Are there some where you need to step back or step out?
Step Four: Create a vision for who you want to be. What are your dreams and desires? What do you want to be known for?
Step Five: Share some of this journey with someone. Post a comment below, if you like - I would love to hear about it.