Response part 4: It’s Just Not Fair!   2 comments

Elisabeth speaks for many of us when she worries that making room for someone’s quirks could encourage the attitude, “God made me this way so just accept it even though it is inconveniencing or hurting you.”  That is one of the guiding principles that shaped the way I related to others most of my life, and it still pulls strongly on my emotions.  This will take two posts to discuss even briefly because I want to start with my own experience and perspective and then offer the comparative view of my wife.

I grew up believing very strongly that I was responsible for others’ responses to me.  If someone felt hurt or inconvenienced by my actions, I should change my behavior.  Either I had done something wrong and should apologize and change myself to prevent this in the future, or they were mistaken and I should explain to them how they had misunderstood my intentions (or a combination of the two).  Their negative feelings indicted me, and I was responsible to relieve them and to then live in such a way that I caused them no more inconvenience or hurt.

I think this entanglement of responsibilities is common among children who respond to parental displeasure by being compliant and who determine their own lovability based on the feedback they receive for their behavior.  If my mom or dad is angry, it is my fault, and I must fix it.  I think our parents’ generation generally believed this, and those of us raised in religious homes believed this was also a true reflection of God’s attitude towards us.  One of the downsides of this perspective is that I hold others responsible for my feelings as well.  You take care of my feelings and I take care of yours.  You take care of my needs and I take care of yours.

Relational Balancing Act

It sounds very considerate, and I suppose it may be, but in my case, instead of a free and loving choice, it was grounded in fear and relational obligation.  I could not survive in forgoing my own needs for the sake of others’ needs if they did not reciprocate, so if there was no parity, I had to pressure others to meet my needs.  If I were inconveniencing or hurting someone, I was under moral obligation to change, and if I did not like what they were doing, they had to change.

Of course, the entire system broke down if others did not meet my needs. When I eat out with a friend, the payment shuffle at the end is a bit embarrassing.  Supposing my friend will reciprocate the next time, I decide to pick up the tab.  But he doesn’t return the favor.  I decide to do it again as a good example that shows him clearly how he is falling behind in the balance of hospitality.  By the third unreciprocated meal, I start feeling resentment and make mild side comments or light jokes to bring his attention to the situation.  If he simply does not work by this system of fair trade, then our relationship is in trouble.  I will feel that he is selfish and uncaring.

When I decide what to wear, what to say, where to go, how to behave, I automatically assume others’ needs are preeminent.  This does not primarily come from a place of health or freedom or generosity, but from a fear that they will justifiably think badly of me or resent me if I do not care about them.  I find it very hard to think well of myself if others think badly of me (in this case because I am being “uncaring”).  On the other hand, if others seem to ignore my needs, I feel that my needs don’t really count, I am not worthy of receiving their care.  So I am trapped in this world of reciprocation based on fear of losing my worth as a person.

My fear of others “taking advantage of me,” requiring me to do more lifting in the relationship than they do, is not simply that I will run out of energy and resources.  It is a much more basic fear—that my very worth as a person is seriously at risk.  Of course, I never think it out so clearly and objectively as this, but simply react from deep-seated emotions, often jumping right past the fear (which makes me feel vulnerable) into the reactive and manipulative anger of self-defense, “Don’t you care about me?!”

Some say that compromise is at the root of any good marriage, but what if either or both partners feel an arrangement is unfair, unbalanced.  Picture the impact on the relationship if this imbalance is not simply an inconvenience, but a threat to the spouse’s very worth as a person.  That is a picture of Kimberly and me as we stepped into a committed relationship.


Posted July 31, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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2 responses to “Response part 4: It’s Just Not Fair!

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  1. Hearing you write here similar to your speaking at the podium as opposed to meeting you face to face many years ago found the two experiences of learning about you, meeting you were as night is to day to me. You spoke eloquently saying all the right things. Meeting you face to face, I could see your emotional baggage and not knowing your situation asked others who knew you to help me to define it because I had a hard time seeing two different people – the one at the podium and the one in person. Probably most difficult for me because I thought you could meet an emotional hunger, need of mine when I heard you speak about your missions in India.

    After I first heard you speak at the podium before meeting you face to face, the Lord compelled me to give to your ministry and I gave you my last 20.00 anonymously – similar to my writing here because I never have wanted you to believe I have wanted anything from you. I gave for the right reason.

    See growing up remember sacrificing myself to a selfish person who would confuse what true selflessness is by using manipulation. They were not gracious as they used selfishness to attain what they wanted and made me feel guilty or tell me I was selfish if I didn’t give them what they wanted. All their gifts had an associated price tag as well. If I wanted something I felt guilty for asking so I did without. Was told I was selfish if I considered myself, my needs, wants, etc. and they took what they could from me and left me to fend for myself in the end yet pushed to be this and that but never was good enough either, or measured up. I have now ended up with very little regarding family and material. A couple of those selfish people are no longer living now too.

    To this day I have an extremely hard time saying what I want, or need as if I have no desire left, or never truly considered what I have wanted. Never felt I could handle the difficulty of it all too. Since I have been on my own it’s always been about survival and scraping by and it has become more difficult not easier these days.

    Found myself as an adult pushing all of those closest to me away and not giving anything to them as a sort of retaliation. Realizing who they truly were I am upset at myself for being so gullable and now have to deal with resentment as the consequence. Thank God, for forgiveness!

    Come to find out the rest of the family manipulated my inheritance keeping it for themselves. They know my financial poverty and were able to get away with this. So in one sense believe I have lost my family, but I never speak about what was done and try to act as if nothing happened today because I tell myself loving them is greater than having money.

  2. Pingback: My False Assumption #1: It’s Your Fault! « Janathan Grace Reflections

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