Extending Ourselves

There are times in any relationship where we’re hurt by the other person to a point that we’re not able to take the pain anymore. This might be because of something they have said or done (even inadvertently), and it doesn’t always have to be something drastic or big. More often than not, it’s the little things that end up hurting us.

In these situations, we typically respond in one of several ways — either by lashing out at them, by acting cold and distant, or by acting passive-aggressively. The latter takes place in the form of maintaining a safe distance, by pretending to not listen, and talking less with them. We become especially aware and selective with what we tell them. We think twice before saying every word, and we become very calculated in our communications.

We might even act cold and distant or keep our emotions to ourselves and talk only when absolutely required. This is where our ego does a great job of keeping us alone. The funny thing is, despite being aware of our ego at this point, we choose to continue behaving this way because we are angry or upset, or for some reason our expectations with the other person have been violated and/or have not been met. Instead of openly talking about it with them, we choose to keep it to ourselves. We might do this because the process of confronting and solving problems is painful. This is also a great example of winning too much.

The question is, when we find ourselves in situations where we have been pained by others in the past, how do we best deal with it? You’ll see that it’s never about the other person, but about ourselves. Forget about changing others — that’s out of the question. We need to work on ourselves to improve our situation because that is all we can do.

One way we work on ourselves is by what M. Scott Peck calls “extending ourselves” in these situations. In his book, he talks about extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Suffice it to say that extending oneself in these “painful situations” (when hurt by others) can be particularly challenging. When we find ourselves in these situations, it’s easier to quit and avoid pain rather than extend and learn to love.

That said, there are a few ways with which we need to extend ourselves so we can take the “pain” and act out of integrity.

You will find that the other person is strongly charged and in a negative emotional state in these situations. It might be painful to hear things that are being said to you, but we have to realize that the other person is not in control of their emotions, so it’s best to empathize with them and understand them without feeling the need to agree/disagree with them. Of course, doing all of these things is much easier said than done, and I know this from personal experience because, more often than not, I’ve failed to do these things (with my family), despite knowing them intellectually.

Here are some other ways of extending ourselves (especially with our partners).

  • I talked about extending ourselves briefly in my pieces on forgiveness and balance. Forgive the other person and move on (without telling them verbally). Later when you think the time is right to discuss it, make the other person understand and talk about it from your perspective — “I felt hurt when you said/did that…”. This is important because when you’re talking from your perspective and saying how you feel, it’s impossible to argue with you.

  • In a relationship, the two people involved are responsible for extending each other by way of regular and committed communication with each other.

  • We learn to put others’ needs before our own by realizing it’s not about us. It’s about the other person and being at peace with ourselves. We need to learn to look past the things that are wrong with others. Instead, we focus on what we can do; by working on ourselves, we can improve our situation/relationship.

  • We check our ego, especially in times of conflict, and extend ourselves to take pain repeatedly when we are hurt by our partners with the understanding that we have undying faith in them and that we’ll never give up on them.

  • We extend ourselves by doing the right thing in the situation even if (and particularly when) the other person is not. That is us acting out of integrity. This goes back to internalizing the truth that our response is not dependent on their response.

None of these aforementioned things are easy to do by any means, but if we can practice them in difficult situations, there is nothing like it. When we learn to extend ourselves by taking pain over time, we increase our capacity to love others (not in the traditional sense, but from a spiritual growth viewpoint). We become more at peace with ourselves, we become more forgiving of others, and we become more proactive.

Here’s the thing: life is difficult. Extending ourselves is difficult. Only those who can learn to take the pain from their closest relationships are able to truly love others in the interest of mutual growth.

We need to learn to extend ourselves in situations when it’s most needed. During those times, we need to understand others, then make ourselves understood to them when the time is right.

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