This week, Works-for-Me Wednesday is a backwards edition: Contributors are asked to post a question about something that isn’t working, and readers can then comment on what works for them. Here’s an issue that’s been perplexing me:
Too often, especially when talking to my family (partner Daniel and five-year-old son Nicholas), I realize that a discussion has gone badly because I started out explaining what I don’t want and why, instead of explaining what I do want or need. It’s as if I assume that everyone else will want the thing I don’t want and try to force it on me. There’s also some kind of screwed-up idea of being humble about my own needs and offering to do everything for everybody yet inwardly hoping that they will save me by offering to do things for me and that will be so much more luxurious if it wasn’t my idea . . . but it rarely works out that way!
Recognizing this problematic pattern has not helped me come to a solution. It just isn’t as simple as deciding not to do it! My thoughts tend to stack up very quickly in an “I’ll have to make all this work because nobody will help me but I don’t have time and it’s all going to go badly and if I ask and they say no I’ll just feel more burdened so I have to explain why they can’t say no but they’ll probably say no anyway” kind of way, so I am anxious and discouraged before I even raise the issue, and (because I am anxious and have been over-thinking it) I tend to go on and on about what won’t work before even giving the other people a chance to think about the options!
This is no good. I want to stop it. How do I stop? What quick redirecting thoughts, step-by-step self-controlling techniques, etc., work for you?
Here’s a specific example:
The situation: The Monday before Easter, I was the speaker in a church service that started at about the same time I normally ride past the church on the bus on my way home from work after picking up Nicholas. No food would be served at church, so we needed to eat supper or at least a snack before we got there. I needed to be in a calm, collected frame of mind so I could speak confidently and keep my mind on it.
What I hoped would happen: I would eat at work and then go straight from work to church; by going directly to the bus, instead of walking to preschool and catching a bus from there to the other bus, I would arrive early and have time to get ready. Daniel would pick up Nicholas early enough to have time to eat, they’d come to church, and Daniel would supervise Nicholas throughout the service so I could keep my frame of mind.
What I feared would happen: I would have to work this in with all of my usual responsibilities; Daniel would have some excuse for being completely uninvolved. Nicholas would dally leaving school, one or both buses would be late, we’d have to scarf down sandwiches while standing on the curb, he’d annoy me with whining and questions and slowness all the way to church, and he’d misbehave in church or need to be taken to the restroom just as I was supposed to speak. We’d be hungry and disheveled and frantic and late, and if I didn’t actually miss my time to speak, I’d be so flustered that it would go horribly.
How I addressed the issue: I told Daniel the date and time of this service as soon as I knew, but we did not discuss the logistics of the evening until the night before. I said something like, “We need to figure out our plans for tomorrow night,” and launched into a detailed explanation of why picking up Nicholas and getting to church by bus would be difficult for me. Nicholas suggested that I drive the car, so then I went on and on about the hassles of finding parking, the possibility of getting stuck in traffic, etc. Daniel tells me I spoke in an increasingly rapid and panicked tone, letting them speak only if they interrupted me, for more than ten minutes. My feeling that everything would go wrong increased while I was doing this. When I finally paused, Daniel was pretty annoyed with me,but he soon said something like, “You keep telling us why it won’t work. Is there something else that you think will work?” and I reluctantly admitted that I hoped he would help me but figured he or Nicholas would have some objection to that.
What actually happened: Daniel did exactly what I wanted him to do. Alone, I arrived at church with plenty of time to spare. Everything went smoothly that evening. What is not smooth is everyone’s feelings about how I turned this issue into a problem instead of just stating what I needed from them.
So, tell me, people of the Internet: How do you sense when you’re doing this, how do you make yourself stop, and what do you do instead?
NEW INSIGHT ON THIS TOPIC: A month later, my friend Andy Looney linked to this article “Are You an Asker or a Guesser?” which partially explains my problem. I won’t say that I am overall a Guesser (for example, in the discussion of how to handle a request for hospitality that inspired the article, I think it was fine for the person to ask and she deserves a straight answer), but I certainly recognize the Guesser psychology at work in me, not just in my tendency to avoid asking for what I need hoping people will guess but also in my tendency to interpret other people’s requests as commands. Also, a whole branch of my family is recovering from a lengthy convulsion over an Asking vs. Guessing conflict regarding hospitality, so it’s interesting to see each of our points of view expressed by strangers in this discussion!