When was the last time you woke up and decided that you were really gonna hurt somebody’s feelings that day? When was the last time you intentionally set out to make someone’s day miserable or inflict any degree of pain or discomfort in their lives? How much time or effort do you put into being a negative force in the lives of others, either through intentionally offending them, pissing them off or being rude and condescending? The vast majority of people do not begin their days with such an intention; yet, at times the impact of our words or actions have such effects.
How often has the unintended impact of your actions resulted in conflict or disagreement with someone leaving you confused and perhaps offended at the reaction you received? How often have you been on the receiving end of this dynamic?
Awareness of the intention/impact dynamic goes a long way in reducing unnecessary conflict. It also serves as a path to unresolved issues needing attention. Sourcing the gift from such incidents, particularly if I am the one feeling the impact of someone else’s actions, requires that I first take ownership of the thoughts and feelings that were triggered.
“He made me mad!” is not a statement of ownership. It is a statement of blame and making someone else responsible for my inner state. Personally, I do not care to surrender that much control over my being to another. Indeed an external entity may have served as a trigger, however, ownership and the assumption of responsibility moves me in the direction of a deeper understanding of my reaction to the trigger.
Many of us have a tendency to make our reactions the fault of someone else. Shortly after my divorce, I had an epiphany. During my marriage I was often upset by certain habits of my ex-wife. I like to keep my surroundings neat and clutter free. She, on the other hand, left little piles throughout the house- paper, clothing, books or combinations of just about anything. This was not a major problem; more of a cap on the toothpaste or toilet seat type of issue. I came to realize that as much as I blamed her for my irritation about her piles of stuff, her clutter zones may be insignificant to another partner. In viewing this matter through that lens, I could no longer make her responsible for my feelings. Besides, her piles were obviously not done with the intention of causing me distress. It was simply her way of functioning, to which she has every right.
Other scenarios produce far more intense reactions than my irritation around my ex-wife’s piles. And certain behaviors of others are universally triggering, such as a physical attack or verbal insult. Be mindful that I am speaking about the unintentional. Premeditated acts do not fall within the scope of intention vs impact as I am discussing here; however, if we are to maintain integrity regarding our reactions, we must take ownership even when they occur in response to intentional acts.
Our reactions, particularly our overreactions, to triggers direct us toward unresolved issues and old wounds from our past. Properly understood, they offer us an opportunity for healing. To the extent we miss these opportunities, they will resurface. What is unresolved, avoided or denied within reappears until the necessary work occurs to move forward.
I cannot stress the importance of responsibility enough. Until we take full ownership of our emotions, feelings and behavior, we will continue to live as victims; at the mercy of others and circumstance having surrendered the only control we are capable of having in this life.
Instances where others have strong reactions to our unintended behavior often leave us scratching our heads. You may be in a state of confusion wondering, “What did I do?” Some may react directly and strongly while others may be more passive or passive aggressive. Some may distance themselves from you while others react with sarcasm.
We have options in these circumstances. We can remain in a state of confusion or seek to understand the reaction toward us. It is important not to assume responsibility for another person’s reaction but realize there was impact despite my intentions or lack thereof. A willingness to affirm the “affect” on the other party involved is not assuming responsibility for their reaction but simply an act of understanding and compassion.
We move through life with various levels of self-awareness often at the mercy of unconscious forces within. The impact we have on others may illuminate an aspect our functioning previously hidden from conscious awareness. If I am receptive to exploring my side of the intention/impact dynamic, I may come to learn that my actions impacting another reveal something I may choose to address within myself.
The intention/impact misfires of human interaction too often result in conflict as olds wounds are triggered and defensiveness takes hold. I believe such instances are opportunities for self-awareness and healing gifted to both parties…if they choose to and if they possess the ability to step away from reactivity toward inner inquiry.