Behavior tells a story.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone has done something or behaved a way and you have thought “why on earth would you have done/said that?” For that matter, have YOU ever done something or behaved a particular way and thought to yourself “why on earth would I have done/said that?” I know have found myself in both scenarios. What if I told you that all of those behaviors are telling a story? What kind of story, you ask? Well, that sure is a great question. I think that our behaviors are a story about the needs that we have as humans that are not being met. Or, alternatively, a story about how we have learned to behave so that our needs can continue to be met.
As humans, we spend our time and energy on surviving the human experience. That sounds like an exaggeration, but what I mean by that is that all of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are intended to help us make it from one moment to the next. Why do we feel hungry? So, we remember to eat. Why do we put on our seat belt? Because we want to be safe. Why do we lie and manipulate? Because there is something that we need to take care of ourselves. It is a pretty simple cause and effect.
Over the course of our lives, we have countless experiences that teach us how to behave in order to get our needs met. In a perfect world, we would be taught to use assertive communication where we can identify the need we have or the boundary we need to set and be able to share it those that we care about before we respectfully request that the need is met. But this world is definitely not perfect. What happens a lot more frequently is that we operate using aggressive, passive or passive aggressive communication.
When we are aggressive, we demand that our needs are met.
When we are passive, we do not ask for anything.
When we are passive-aggressive, we are not willing to ask but become angry and resentful when our needs are not met.
But here is what I need to remind myself-people engage in aggressive, passive and passive-aggressive communication for a reason. And the reason may vary from person to person, but generally they are engaging in those types of communication because they “work” in the short term. In the moment, demanding that our needs are met often results in just that happening. In the moment, not holding our needs as important helps us to feel as though we nobly putting the needs of others first. In the moment, making a snide comment helps the other person to feel guilty and shameful and therefore often ends up doing what we wanted but were not willing to ask for.
In the long term? It is only assertive communication that allows us to nurture both our relationship with ourselves and our relationships with other people. When we identify the need and ask for it, it may not always get us the exact thing we think we need, but it does create a conversation where you and the person you are in a relationship with can discuss how both of you have needs that are important. Then, you can negotiate how to meet both your needs and how to make that happen.
But this post is not about learning how to communicate in an assertive way. Perhaps that will be the unintended result of my thoughts, but my intention here is to highlight how recognizing this behavior in others can help you to see that their behavior is NOT ABOUT YOU! That person that screamed at you when you did not purposely cut them in line at the grocery store? The customer that complained about you when you were just doing the best you could? That friend who lied to you about the event that you were not invited to? The guy that laid on the horn behind you because you were driving slower than his preference? The partner that had a meltdown about everything you have done “wrong” in the last two years?
That behavior was about them meeting their needs the only way that they know how. Now, does that mean that you brush it off with a “it is fine, they are just trying to meet their needs”? NO way! There are certainly times where we are in relationships where people are mistreating us and that needs to be addressed, but that is for a different post. What it does mean is that you don’t have to hold their emotional baggage. That belongs to them and you are carrying enough of your own so go ahead and leave it to them. If this is a person who you want in your life, it may benefit you to learn their story so that you can better understand them, but make sure that you recognize that it is their story, not yours.