Conflicts of Interest Blog by Vivian Scott
It has taken me a very long time to figure out the best way to deal with dramatic, toxic, and otherwise undesirable folks in my life. Here’s my evolution:
For what seems like eons I was caught in the web of other people’s issues. I would have opinions, try to help, get frustrated when individuals would ask for advice and then not take it, and often I would compassionately hold the hand of the person falling in the same holes over and over and over again. Their problems consumed me! I would lay awake thinking about solutions, hoping things would get better, and then eventually resent the person when progress wasn’t made.
Then I thought I got smart. I decided that someone else’s journey was not my journey so I stopped sharing my pearls of wisdom and brilliant ideas that were sure to fix everything. This approach was very clunky, though, because I didn’t have a plan for what to do instead. I still listened to and participated in the drama. I knew all the details and as much as I liked to think I wasn’t carrying any of their garbage with me, I was. I could still smell it.
The next step involved me learning to say, “Oh.” I became stingier with my input. I would listen and respond with an acknowledging nod (because it would be rude not to let someone know I heard them, right?). Then I would break out my “oh” as a placeholder for all the other things I really wanted to say. This method worked a little bit, but it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
Then I became an expert in changing the subject. Want to tell me about all the drama that seems to have been on auto-repeat for the last decade of your life? At the first sign of a rerun story, I would quickly say that I wish everyone well and then ask the drama reporter if they’ve seen the latest episode of Downton Abbey or something as banal as that. Unfortunately, my strategy didn’t always work because somehow the conversation would come back to the drama, no matter how much I tried to take the wheel.
The answer finally came to me in an unlikely way. After harboring resentment toward me for my observations about a particular person’s behaviors, I got smacked with the Facebook unfriend. I no longer knew what was going on, didn’t have the background when others wanted to gossip about so and so, and could truthfully say (and feel) that I was removed from any emotional investment in the situation. Bingo! I started hiding people left and right, unfriended some, and became invisible. It really is true that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.
Now I focus on healthy relationships, take care of myself, worry about my own stuff, and carry my invisibility cape with me at all times. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I wish I had known that I had the power all along. Apparently, the invisibility cape was hiding in the back of my closet but, wow, am I glad I found it!
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