Whose problem?

My friend calls me to tell me about her boyfriend’s latest critical comment.   She is angry, and she is calling for support and also to get some validation.  So I get mad, too, and tell her she should be angry, that he has no business talking to her that way, and that I want to tell him a thing or two.

So I get on FaceBook and send him a message that says he better shape up, because my friend deserves better treatment than that, and that all of our friends are going to be mad at him if he doesn’t start treating her better.  And I stay mad, and tell as many people as I can about what a jerk he is, and how their relationship is probably falling apart, and then she calls me up and says that everything is fine and why don’t I just leave him alone?  And I don’t know what happened but I am certain that she is making a mistake in staying with that jerk and so I tell her that.  Then she gets mad at me, so I post on FB that she is making some dumb moves and that he is a jerk, and then I block them both.  And I am mad.

Okay, if you know me, or if you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably can guess that the above is a totally fabricated scenario…for me.  However, lots of people live like this on a daily basis.  Lots of people  find interpersonal drama to be the stuff of life, and get so caught up in it that they start to lose track of themselves.  When you can’t really feel yourself, one attempted solution is to get angry about something.  Anger is a feeling of movement, of motivation, and if you can figure out some way to call that anger “justified” or “righteous” then you can even turn it into a crusade.

So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that when we lose ourselves, we end up not living our own lives.  We are not in our lives, but in some surreal, in-between place, where our emotional involvement in other people’s stuff is our focus.

What to do differently?

The place to make a change is at the very beginning.  When my friend calls me, I can ask myself a couple of questions.  First, what does she want from me?  Perhaps she is looking for social support;  most people are, under these circumstances.  Social support means someone to LISTEN.  It doesn’t mean that I have to agree, or have to validate, it just means that I listen to her story but particularly to her feelings, and I validate the feelings.

Second, who has the problem?   In this case, she has the problem.  It isn’t mine, and if you look at the answer to question number one, she isn’t even looking to off-load her problem.  She is likely just looking for someone to say, “Wow, that sounds really hard to deal with.   I can hear that you are angry about that.”

If I grab that problem and get mad on her behalf (mad on her behalf?  Is there such a thing?  Sounds like yet another blog post…), I make her problem MY problem.  In fact, by the end of the story, she had solved her problem and I was left with a whole bunch of collateral problems.

If the problem is NOT mine, I can limit my involvement.

How would I know if the problem did belong to me?   Well, suppose she called to say that she was angry with me for MY critical comments.  Yes, then that is a problem for me.   Suppose she called to say that her boyfriend was making critical comments about ME…..wow, what do you do with that?  Who has that problem?  Is that a problem?   In my world, that is not a problem, but I do wonder why my friend would want to share that information.   Is she trying to create a problem?    In either case, we may have some things to talk about.

So….ask yourself if the problem is even yours.   Byron Katie suggests that there are three kinds of business in the world.  There is MY business, stuff that actually has to do with me directly.  There is YOUR business, which is pretty much everything that isn’t my business, so pretty much everything in the world.   And then there are the things that are not mine, are not yours, and really aren’t anyone’s business….like tsunamis and blizzards and earthquakes.  Those are God’s business.  Unless something is MY business, I have no business trying to manage it or even having big emotional stuff around it.  In fact, I can keep my thoughts, feelings and ideas right out of it.  It is Not My Business.

This week, check in and see if you can be clear about whether a problem belongs to you before you try to solve it, or before you even react to it.  What do you find out?

2 thoughts on “Whose problem?”

    1. Hi, violetblot. Thank you for reading and commenting! The lesson is simple but putting it into practice is often a lot harder. Sometimes I find that I have to stop and really reflect on what’s just happened, how I am relating to it, and what part of it actually belongs to me. That’s a helpful thing for me to do before I take action…or even say anything in response! I wish you well in your practice of finding your boundaries.


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