When your intentions are good, it’s hard to know when you’re doing things that are accidentally hurtful to others. As a personal-reflection exercise, you might consider a few of these ideas with as much honesty and objectivity as you can. Take them in and consider them for yourself and no one else. Decide that you do not have to take any action and that you are not necessarily guilty of any wrongdoing. Just take them in, consider them, and then let them go. What happens when you’re able to self-examine without hurting your own feelings or judging yourself (that’s a primitive way to describe it, I know) is you can sometimes improve yourself and become a better person via more openness and awareness. None of us want to hurt those we care about, so when we can actively avoid even a single instance, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Exercise one: Consider whether or not you tend to analyze people or diagnose their problems beyond what they have asked for. Sometimes when we have a lot of information that has helped us to make sense of the world, we tend to want to share it, because it has helped us. This information, when unprompted and delivered to another person, sometimes doesn’t feel so good. In a way it’s like telling them something about them is wrong that they might not necessarily agree with. Try and remind yourself that this information needs to be asked for and not prescribed by you, no matter how valid it feels to pass it on.
Exercise two: Do you spend a lot of energy trying to wrap your head around what upsets you about another person’s actions, and then spend a lot of energy bringing that thing up in the right way with that person? You’re probably thinking, yeah, and that is pretty hard and takes a lot of effort on my part. Agreed. Food for thought: When you place a clear emphasis or focus on what’s wrong with your situation (related to another person) it implies that you are dissatisfied and unhappy. And this is of course, not the message you want to deliver. It’s just a single issue that needs attention, but the way it appears is much bigger and more pervasive. Try to remind yourself that this problem, no matter how important and real, is not the whole of your feelings. When you deliver this information remember that a person who loves you does not want to be the cause of your unhappiness. Do not make them feel an unnecessary amount of pain as a result of the unhappiness they’ve caused you. Keep your focus on the big picture when you bring up issues.
Exercise three: Do you interrupt people or constantly think of how you can share a story of your own while they are talking? If you’re an average social person the answer is probably yes. Because in order to relate we have to share common ground and in order to get to know one another, we have to put ourselves out there. One thing that can happen in our eagerness to relate, please, entertain, and share, is that we remove ourselves from the present situation and with that, our ability to be sensitive/engaged listeners. Even when we spend a lifetime trying to be good listeners, sometimes we slip out of practice because of human traits like empathy or anxiety or even a want to entertain and comfort the person we’re conversing with. Next time you have a conversation with a loved one and you find yourself thinking ahead of them, perhaps stop and just see what they have to say. I think it will make you feel good and rewarded when you do.
Exercise four: Sometimes when we work very hard to do good things, even great things, we get to a level of comfort with that fact, and we begin to talk about it to others. That’s really a great thing in that it allows us to own our efforts and our actions and with that acknowledge our goodness to ourselves. But for this exercise, consider how you might feel if you were to do things that are good and great, only for your own knowledge. As a statement to yourself. Perhaps decide the next time you do something wonderful, to keep that thing for yourself and no one else. When a person is good and loving they really don’t have to tell anyone. It’s a truth that shines from every angle of their person. As an experiment, keep that knowledge for yourself, as a gift.