Some of the most hurtful things have been said to me during a heart-to-heart about marriage, parenting, housekeeping, exercising or even writing. I understand women like to share stories, experiences and even drama not only to be heard but in the hopes of finding some resolutions. We want to feel helpful, be good problem solvers and be needed. After all, what a shame it would be if no one learned from our mistakes.
Unfortunately, I think many people have lost the art of empathy and compassion. Or perhaps many are just so self-absorbed they are unable to support others without criticizing and judging. Because truly, every time someone utters the phrase, “If you would just” in a lame attempt to encourage, what you really are saying to me is, “If you weren’t such a lazy idiot you would accomplish more with your life.” Or at the very least, what you are saying is “I know better than you.”
- If you would just get up earlier.
- If you would just eat less.
- If you would just set better boundaries.
- If you would just clean one room a day or delegate more.
- If you would just be more organized.
Perhaps your intention is to be helpful, but your approach just completely sucks. Instead of providing options or possibilities, you only provided absolutes. You have painfully pointed out what I am doing wrong and what you are doing right. And if I try one of those suggestion without success, then I am an even bigger failure than I thought.
There are moments in relationships that our opinion is not only asked for, but necessary. Some responses are better than others. Instead of assuming you are all-knowing, how about wording it in a kinder or softer way?
- Exercising before the kids get up has worked for me, would that be an option for you?
- Keeping a food journal keeps me accountable. Have you ever done that?
- It’s hard, but I have to set really firm boundaries in order to maintain my own sanity.
- I feel less overwhelmed when I clean one room a day.
- I would be lost if I didn’t keep a detailed calendar or make a to-do list every day.
Another approach might even be as effective as asking a couple of simple questions:
“What are three things you think would help this situation? And how can I support you in one of those?”
These questions are asked often in my house when my youngest daughter is flailing. It helps her feel in control of the situation, and makes her more accountable for her own actions. Plus, there is a good chance she will come up with a solution I wouldn’t have considered.
The best words of encouragement I recently received came from my yoga instructor. When I signed in to class, she asked me how I was doing. Without thinking, I responded with, “better” rather than a more universal “fine” or “good”. Instead of commenting on my lack of attendance or reminding me how important it is to exercise everyday, she simply said,
“Today, you made a good choice.”
It filled me with a sense of accomplishment and pride, something I hope to give to someone else the next time the opportunity arises. I wanted to make that good choice over and over. Most of us know how to make life run more smoothly or more productively. We know what needs to get done. We know when we’ve made a poor choice and where to make better decisions. Most of us also know why we need to find inspiration for a healthier lifestyle, both physically and emotionally.
Then why do we keep talking about it with other people? Because we are emotional creatures looking for fellowship and support. We are looking for acceptance and to be reminded that we are normal. I think it also makes us feel important when someone else takes time out to listen and encourage. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time I am tempted to point out someone’s flaws rather than praise them for their accomplishments.