A couple of years ago I was searching to find a fun photo of my sisters and me for a calendar I was working on for our parents. In looking at multiple photos, I noticed something about one of my sisters that I had never noticed before when I had only seen them one at a time: when my head was leaned toward her, hers was leaned away from mine. What?!?!? Could it be? I searched for more photos! Why is she pulling away from me? She loves me! I love her!
When I pointed it out, she laughed and sarcastically said, "Well I have to do that to stay upright sometimes with you leaning so close to me!"
It's now our joke when posing for photos. I tease her, saying "I don't bite, you can pretend in this photo that you like me!" And she'll tease me saying, "I think this is my space, give me room to breath!"
In our case, the relationship is well-established, loving, mutual, and honest-- it's more about personality differences, love language preferences, and our own personal boundaries for personal space. (And I'll go on record saying that in searching for a recent photo to illustrate this point-- I couldn't find any!--so it's possible we've exaggerated the story just a bit or that she's finally been trained to lean toward me?! ;) Ha!)
But it's a good illustration because it shows with our bodies what we sometimes are inclined to do with our hearts and minds.
Our Intensity or Personalities Aren't an Excuse
I actually prefer deep conversations, don't need much personal space, and love leaning in (physically and emotionally) to relationships. But I don't believe that's an excuse to do that with everyone, all the time.
In fact, I think personal growth means that I have learned to listen and ask questions as much as I talk. I think learning to not jump into every conversation just because I can is maturity. I think that understanding social norms and expectations is respectful.
Sometimes I hear people say things like:
- "Well I'm just intense, people need to accept that."
- Or, "Well I don't like small talk so if they don't want to talk about things that matter then I don't need to be friends with them."
- Or, "I love talking. I'm a talker. I'm not going to apologize for that!"
- Or, "I can't help it if I overwhelm people-- that's their problem."
- Or, "It's just my personality to be loud, they need to get used to it."
- Or, "Well I just have a lot of problems in my life right now and I need to stay real. I'm not going to hide the truth. If they can't take it, then they aren't the kind of friend I'd want anyway!"
Yes, it may be some of our personalities or habits to act the way we do. And it may also be a dog's nature to jump up, clobber someone, and lick them profusely, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't prefer the dog to be trained, right? And if we don't yet know the dog as friendly, then we definitely don't want to feel attacked or cornered. We need to have trust built up first, feeling safe and knowing that the dog isn't out-of-control. We love dogs and people who have energy, know how to love profusely, and can be a force-to-be-reckoned with; but we also love them when they know how and when to use their energy wisely.
Even those of us with high energy have stories of being around others whose energy and intensity can exhaust us. I remember the first time I thought, "Wow, is that what others feel like when they're around me?" and there is where personal awareness, and eventually personal growth would begin.
We are train-able!
- A talker's life calling is to learn how to invite others to talk.
- Someone with high energy and intensity can learn to also sit, receive, and be; knowing when to use that energy to inspire and uplift.
- Our personality isn't a set point; it can look different based on whether we're in stress and unhealthy or if we're seeking health and integration.
- Someone who prefers deep conversation can learn how to be in relationship with "small talk" while that trust is built to contain the vulnerability that will eventually come.
To feel others withdraw can be painful and tap the deepest fears in our memories of being rejected or unloved. Our tendency is to either increase the intensity and lean waaaaay in even more, (often causing that person to run and hide with the needy-ness!) or to lean waaaaay out, where we put up our defensive wall that says "well that's their fault" as though that protects us.
The secret that no one tells us about defensiveness is that it's a form of attack. It is no more noble, necessary, or helpful than a head-on attack. Every time I act defensively, I am increasing the fight, real or imagined.
Self-acceptance doesn't mean we use our behaviors as excuses, weapons, or barriers. Self-acceptance means not needing to defend ourselves, because we recognize that we're not in danger of losing ourselves-- we accept our worth regardless of anyone elses opinions.
Invite Others to Lean In
One of my favorite scenes-- and there are many hilarious moments!-- in the movie Hitch, where Will Smith plays New York City's greatest matchmaker, is where he's teaching his client Albert Brennaman how to kiss a woman.
Making Albert practice how he'd kiss his date at the end of a great evening is priceless! Albert can't just close his eyes and pucker his lips, waiting, and he shouldn't just go straight for the kill.
Those of us who could possibly be "too much" for others can give huge gifts to relationships-- moving them along, adding depth, keeping up the momentum, and bringing joy; but only if we do the personal growth work to learn these two valuable lessons from Hitch:
- Be aware of the signs: Notice that Alex Smith tells his client that if his dates wants a kiss she'll fiddle with her keys on the porch; whereas if she doesn't want that next step, she'll go inside. We have to be observant, present, and at peace so we can tell when our energy is wanted, and when it's too soon. (And I ALWAYS tell my guy friends-- it is WAY better to kiss her one date too late and make her want it more, than to kiss her one date too early and risk her wishing for less.)
- Use your energy to invite, not force. Alex, then says, "The secret to a kiss is that you go 90% of the way... and then hold... for as long as it takes for her to come the other 10%." If you sense that others tend to pull back or lean away a bit, I invite you to ask how it might look different if you were to use your energy or intensity not to drown, exhaust, overwhelm, or burden the other; but instead how you can use it as a gift in the relationship to go 90% with the invitation extended to let them come the other 10%. To withhold some of us gives space to the other to meet us.
This is a hard post to write because there are SO many variables with all of us acting from different places on the healthy/unhealthy spectrum. But I hope the principles help all of us who might have a tendency to rush in. Our desire is a gift, but we have to be mindful that sometimes small talk, slow growth, and listening can be tools that will lead us to what we crave, in ways that respect others and build up greater trust.
With big, big love,
p.s. Chapter 8 in my book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" shares my Frientimacy Triangle as a reminder of how much to share and when to share with others. When you're just meeting people, online or offline, you are at the bottom of that triangle with them no matter how much you like each other. Which means we err on the side of sharing less as an acknowledgement that the two of us don't have a mutual relationship built on shared consistency or vulnerability yet. Every relationship has to grow-- we should rarely be treating new friends as confidantes....