Everything someone does or says is an attempt to meet a need... Really?
The other day, I was in a gathering and I ran into a woman two times. What I mean is, I looked up and she was right there and we were standing so close that I was startled. After an hour at this event, I was pulling out of my parking place. I looked both ways and waited for a car to go by and then pulled out of my parking space and I nearly side-swiped the lady's car. The very same lady!
In each case, I apologized and blamed myself. Then, on my way home, I started to blame her. Do you ever find yourself ruminating on your judgments and trying to place blame? Has this behavior ever relieved your anxiety or angst over the situation? It hasn't succeeded for me even once, yet I've tried it countless times throughout my life and one more time with this lady.
If it's true that "everything someone does or says is an attempt to meet a need," what needs would judgment and blame serve?
I think the needs I'm trying to meet are safety and reassurance that I'm okay. So, I think that if I can find fault or blame in a person or a situation, maybe then I can avoid it in the future and thus feel safer. (My brain actually thinks that this works, whether I blame the other person or myself!) I also think that there's a false sense of safety when I can evaluate something as good or bad. There's something about quickly categorizing people and events -- good, bad, right, wrong, and then determining who is to blame or praise -- that supports order and predictability, which also ultimately connects to a perceived need for safety and reassurance.
Marshall Rosenberg would call these "tragic expressions of unmet needs," meaning that using these particular strategies (judging or blaming others or myself as good, bad, right or wrong) does not EVER work toward supporting safety and reassurance.
Argh. It's such an inviting trap, though, isn't it? And, so predictable and ordinary that it can be challenging to catch ourselves in the act.
So, back to the lady, as I was driving home, I first focused on blaming myself because I almost ran into her inside the building and then again in the car -- I was telling myself that I was clumsy and distracted. Then, I shifted to blaming her because I looked both ways, so surely it was her fault. Then, again, I acknowledged that if our cars had collided, I would have been the one officially at fault. This back-and-forth blame game lasted only a few minutes, until I noticed what I was doing and immediately asked myself what actually happened. I literally said this in my head, "Mary, what actually happened?"
"I looked both ways and didn't see any vehicles so I started to pull out of my parking space. When I was about halfway through my U-turn, I saw the lady's car and hit my brakes. We did not collide. I mouthed an apology. She smiled and gave me the American Sign Language sign for love."
This is what I call "living in the observation." At first, noticing that my brain wants to find blame, fault, right, wrong, good or bad in a situation. Then, asking myself what actually happened, in detail. Most times, including this incident, when I'm living in the observation I realize that there's no need to judge the situation, the other person or myself at all. In fact, what actually happened is rarely even worth mentioning to someone else or spending any of my time ruminating on it. This is to me a true place of empowerment, safety and reassurance because it's grounded in reality.
The alternative, of course, is to continue ruminating on the situation, thus creating more suffering and angst. Hmmm. When I think of it that way, there hardly seems a choice at all!
Here's to living in the observation as a daily practice for creating more peace in my daily life... and yours.
For more by Mary Mackenzie, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.