It happened again this weekend. Marita said something which angered me and I went ballistic. Now, don’t misunderstand, this is not Marita’s fault. I’ve learned that if I go ballistic, there is usually something internally with me that is not lining up right and to cover up for it, to deflect from it, or simply to justify it, I get heated and start going off. After all, it makes me feel better if I can make it look like it is everybody else’s fault, not mine. Hmmm. Wonder if that is where my kids get it from?
Anyway, once again I have a very tangible reminder that in the family, we all need to work on cleaning up our own side of the street. Don’t get me wrong, I understand there are times when we need to let others know when they’ve been walking all over us, hurt us, or been behaving inappropriately. However, when the rage is really coming on, especially when you can tell it is an overreaction, the problem is usually not the other person. It is usually us. We’ve got something going on causing discord internally. If we would just deal with it, the rage would dissipate.
So, here’s the plan of attack. The next time someone does something that really, really makes you angry. Stop and look at yourself. Are you deflecting away from some guilt or shame you are feeling on the inside? Do you feel some specific issue is being attacked within you? What is it? Is it some part about which you are ashamed? Is it your pride swelling up? The really tough part is after the fight, hurt, or whatever struggle has occurred and now you are wishing the other person would fess up with all the wrong they did, quit thinking about them. Take a look at you. What did you do to precipitate the problem? Go make amends for that.
I’m not saying the other person is completely innocent. It takes two to tango. However, you can’t control anyone else. You can’t fix your spouse, your kids, or your parents. You can’t make them do anything about any of the wrong they did. However, none of their wrong justifies yours. Therefore, without justification, excuse-making, or blaming, you need to look at your side of the street. What trash is on your side that needs to be cleaned up? Pick it up. Throw it away. Make an amends for your side of the street.
I’d like to promise you that if you do this, your spouse, children, and parents will come around and start cleaning up their side of the street and your relationships with them will always be peachy. Sadly, I can’t promise that. Certainly, most of the time when one person in a relationship humbles him or herself and starts cleaning up their own side of the street, the defenses come down with everyone, apologies flow forth on all sides, and the relationship grows. However, that is just not always the case.
How should you respond if you start working on your side of the street and whoever you’ve been having the struggle with refuses to respond in kind? Just keep cleaning up your side of the street. Why? Because you are not doing this to fix the other person. If you are, you aren’t cleaning up your side of the street, you are cluttering it more with manipulation. Keep cleaning your side of the street because this grants you serenity, peace, and joy. If you let your side of the street stay junky, you’ll always be struggling with the guilt of what you have caused and your part in the struggle. Let’s face it, even if you are doing everything in your power to deflect, justify, blame others, and excuse your behavior, something inside you knows what you’ve done. The guilt and shame will be overpowering, even if it is completely subconscious. That will cause a repeating cycle of trashing up your side of the street and destroying your relationships with others.
And of course, be patient in this process. Be patient with yourself. Perhaps one day you’ll get so good at cleaning up your side of the street you don’t have those blow-ups anymore. However, if you messed up again today, don’t give up on your side of street. Just pick up the trash with which you’ve littered and move on as best you can. It’s a growth process. Life is about progress not perfection. And if you’re married to someone who keeps trashing their side of the street, be patient with them. Like you, they make a lot of mistakes and are growing. Give them time.
Well, I hope this was helpful. I have to go now and do a bunch of street sweeping.
(Check out this follow up article: 4 Steps to Cleaning Your Own Side of the Street)