I thought about that today. In order to have a relationship, there must be at least two parties at all times and when something changes in said relationship, both parties are considered to be responsible for said change. While I believe that to still be true, I’ve come to learn that it does not take two people in order to make one person act.
In a more specific scenario… In previous relationships and even in the beginning of this one, I always thought it was my fault that the other person didn’t want to do XYZ. That the other person wouldn’t love me enough because I could do this or that. That if the other person wanted to leave, cheat, lie, etc, it was because I was inadequate, that I had somehow caused him to do or act in a certain way.
But those are not true. Those thoughts are not true. While my behavior may affect another person, while my behavior may encourage someone to act a certain way, I am not making that person act. I am not making the decision for him to react, to behave, to do anything. If he cheats, lies, whatever, that is not on me. He chose to cheat. He chose to lie. He chose to act in a way that was detrimental to our growth.
So in the end, while it takes two to make a relationship, it doesn’t take two for someone to be an asshole. Or leave. Or do whatever else.
If there’s anything that I am learning in the course of my work, it’s that we must take control of our actions and our behaviors. We cannot expect someone else or the environment to change for us if we are unwilling to take a look within ourselves to make our own changes. There is always going to be an asshole out there and how we respond to that makes a difference.
TL;DR – You are not the cause of someone else’s bad behavior. They are.
Tonight, one of my professors said something really good: he said that we, as clinicians and social workers, must take into account people’s behavior in context. For example, if a child is running and screaming – is that appropriate behavior? If I didn’t tell you any other information, you wouldn’t really know how to judge that question. Is the child in a library? A church? Is this occurring during a church service? Or did they create a fun day?
Carrying this thought onto the work that I do is crucial. At one point does my client’s behavior become inappropriate and in which context, for the client, does it seem appropriate? By whose definition of “appropriate” am I going to judge the behavior? Even outside of my clients, I can use this for my relationships with people. In context, it was very understandable – though appropriate is another question – about why my dinner partner was in a crappy mood: he was late to work, had a lot to do, was given a new assignment on that day, was waiting for a response from a coworker, and it was mid-week when his stress level is probably pretty high. If I didn’t take his behavior into context, I could have demanded that he change his behavior to accommodate me and instead, I offered solutions such as declining or rescheduling dinner if modifying his behavior was not a viable option at the time.
If I apply this concept to myself, it will give me a better understanding of how my behavior is affected by the context in which it occurs. There is so much context in one’s behavior – the fact that I have chosen to do something is based on years and years of experience. Behavior is a learned trait – not necessarily innate. For example, I have acquired a lower-than-average self esteem based on years of criticism, years of watching children in media receive praise, years of receiving praise from others but my parents, the lack of “fitting” into the “physically attractive” category, being taught that there will always be someone better or that I can always do better, indicating that my “current” state is not enough, and so on and so forth. In context, in knowing all of this information about my history, I can see that I was not able to channel those experiences in a more positive direction and thus spawned the low-self esteem. I didn’t learn the tools in order to fight the crappy self-talk and only now am trying to acquire better cognitive reflexes to deter that thinking. It’s taking work, but I’m glad to be on this uphill path.
I’ve been trying to acknowledge at least one good thing I do each day. This acknowledgement must be my own – not after I’ve received feedback from someone else, but a thought that I came to by myself. Only then will I be satisfied in knowing that I didn’t allow for someone else to affirm me and that I was able to do it for me.