This past summer I went to visit my parents for the first time since the publication of my book, Finding Emotional Freedom. I had actually forgotten, at the time of the visit, that I had shared with my parents and many of my siblings that I had written the book. I was surprised and saddened by the welcome I received from my mother.
When Liz and I arrived, my mother proceeded to share how angry she was about the book. She told me if I were to do a book signing, that “it would be over.” She went on to say how much of a liar I am and that I need to get the story straight. What is interesting is that nothing she talked about was in the book.
I share this story to demonstrate what most of us might call a no-win scenario. As I have reflected on this interaction with my mother, I’ve seen that almost any interaction would have, in her mind, justified her position and validated her anger. I asked a few friends for thoughts about how they might have responded, and listening to their thoughts clarified just how few options there are in such a scenario to respond in ways that honor ourselves.
Arguing. To argue with Mom would be engaging at her level, which would allow her to validate that her anger and position were justified.
Apologizing. This would likewise have justified her position, because an apology would imply that I had done something wrong. If I did no wrong, there was no need to apologize.
Attempting to explain or justify my position. This would also be an invitation for Mom to justify in her mind that she was correct. If I had no need to defend myself, why do it?
Say nothing. In this case, with such a strong conviction that I was wrong and she was right, silence would once again validate her position. In her mind, if I had nothing to say for myself and could not stand up for myself, I must be wrong.
When Mom was finished sharing her thoughts and her sideways anger, my response was “that’s an interesting perspective.”
Later that day I learned that she shared with a nephew that she “might have been a little hard on me.” This response told me that I had responded appropriately.
As you read and reflect on this blog, I invite you to consider this question: “How do I respond to someone who is communicating in a fashion that has no perceived positive outcome?”