Who’s the b*tch in your life?
Are you counting them off with your fingers yet? Most of us can count off at least a few.
The cycle of labeling people as their behaviors has lifelong consequences. After all, if someone says you’re a b*tch or anything similar, you’ve got all the justification you could ever need to boldly embrace the label.
After 20+ years experience with children and adults of all ages, stages of life and relationship, I’ve never found a single good outcome from labeling people based on their behaviors. Very much the opposite. Early messages and labels can remain part of our self definition long into the latest chapters of our lives.
I’ve also never seen anyone sincerely become open to change or growth when they felt attacked, judged, criticized, labeled, ridiculed or belittled. If you want to make sure your b*tch keeps acting like a b*tch, all you have to do is continue reinforcing the label.
What I have seen help time and again is recognizing that people are not their behaviors.
Beneath all the reactive behaviors to the people, circumstances, and events of our lives, at our essence, most of us are not so different than we were when we took our first independent breath outside of the womb: fragile human beings, born with a spark of G-d within us, who want to love and be loved, nurture and be nurtured, deeply curious about our surroundings, eager to be a pleasure to the people around us, and striving, sometimes struggling, to make our way in the world as we know, interpret and experience it.
Yet we grow up with people who do their best to love, guide and help us based on what they know — based significantly on what they experienced, or didn’t, in their own earliest years.
The next time you find yourself facing the b*tch in your life, try distinguishing the person from the behavior. Here’s one way to do that that’s helped thousands.
Sit face to face, knee to knee, hand to hand, fully present to each other without distractions. Agree for the moments of the exercise, that the speaker will confide their thoughts and feelings and the listener will simply repeat back what they heard to show they get it, whether they agree or not. When the words repeated back are accurate, the speaker simply says “thank you,” and goes on to the next step. After the confiding exercise, you can switch roles, talk about it together, or just appreciate one another for the experience. But during the exercise, it’s important that the speaker focuses on just confiding and the listener simply listens to understand — not react, defend, explain or anything else beyond listening to understand.
- I notice … (What’s the specific behavior you notice? A raised voice? Slammed door? Broken promise? Be specific without exaggerating or focusing on more than one specific behavior.)
- I assume this means … (What happens for you when you experience this behavior? What meaning are you giving to the behavior. Say it without attacking, judging, criticizing or demeaning the listener.)
- I think … (What do you think to yourself when this behavior happens? Whatever it is, again without in any way attacking the listener, say what it is.)
- I am frustrated by … (You know why you get frustrated by the behavior; let the listener know what happens inside you.)
- I am hurt by … (What’s there for you connected to feelings of hurt when this behavior happens. Say it.)
- I worry about …. or What this reminds me of from the past …. (Say what worries or scares you about the behavior. Or, pause for a moment before confiding to consider if the behavior reminds you of other times/experiences in your life. Confide either your worry or realization of what the behavior reminds you of from you own past.)
- I want … (Ask for the specific behavior you want instead of what you’re getting. Being specific and unambiguous is key. There should be no room for misunderstanding exactly what you’re asking for and what that would look like in action.)
- I appreciate you for … (Be as generous, and sincere, as possible. You wouldn’t be doing this exercise with someone you didn’t care about. Despite the behavior you don’t like, this is your chance to generously say a few words about many of the aspects of the listener that you do appreciate.)
- I realize … (What are you realizing about the situation, behavior, or your reactions to it as a result of pausing to look at it and confiding what you’re discovering. Say it.)
- I hope … (Share what hopes you’re aware of as you conclude the exercise.)