As we age it seems that fighting with friends becomes less necessary or even possible. There are fewer matters worth fighting about and even fewer worth risking the friendship over. That said, I recently had a real fight with a dear friend. The fight arose because my friend had decided that I had done something that in fact I had not done. It was an action that I believe would have been unkind and devoid of integrity. It was not only that I had not committed the act but also, that I could not have done it, as it would have sharply conflicted with my own integrity and internal wellbeing.
Unfortunately for both of us, my friend had taken pieces of reality and, as the human mind is inclined and skilled at doing, woven those independent truths into a larger story, filling in the gaps and constructing a cohesive narrative, which could have made sense but was in fact not true. My friend was suffering intensely with his false beliefs about me, and the proceeding story, namely, what those beliefs meant for our friendship. At the same time, I was suffering at the hands of his mind, being punished for a crime that I had not committed, and a belief about my nature, which was radically out of alignment with my actual behavior. And yet, no matter what I offered, my friend chose to stick to his false assumptions and write the final act of our friendship. I realized, after great strife, that he was more committed to holding onto his pain-inducing and friendship-annihilating story than to opening to the truth, and possibly, the feelings that the actual truth might bring. I came to understand that the truth, what had actually happened, was irrelevant at this moment. His fictional reality was real in his mind and body. Real, but not true.
With so much at stake, fighting naturally erupted. He fought fiercely for me to concede to his mind’s version of reality, and I fought equally fiercely for him to know the actual reality, and with that, to stop punishing me for a fictional crime, and erasing the truth of our deep friendship.
While fighting for the truth did little to shift my relationship with my friend, it was profound in how it transformed my relationship with myself.
When we fight, our tendency is to want to correct the other person’s version of truth, essentially, to get them to agree with our version. We explain our truth over and over again, in newfangled words and styles, desperately trying to create some consistency between what we believe to be truth and what the other believes. The internal dissonance can feel unbearable when our version of truth is in contradiction to another’s with whom we are involved emotionally, particularly when the truth in question implies something about our character or who we think we are.
When all attempts at truth-correction with my friend had failed, I had nowhere to go, no way to be heard or known correctly. The desperate efforts that had been focused outward, on getting him to change his beliefs, to see the truth about me, had not given me what I needed. It was then that I woke up: I remembered to turn my attention inward, and bring myself the loving attention, listening presence and understanding that I had been so desperately trying to get from my friend. I realized that I could not stake my own okayness and wellbeing on his changing his beliefs. Not only was that not going to happen, but it put me in a perilous and helpless position. I needed to be able to get okay with just my own acknowledgment of my truth and goodness. I made the choice to stop chasing what I needed and open to how painful it was to be misunderstood and misperceived, and possibly to also lose the friendship for reasons that were false. I gave myself the right to know what was true, even if it would never be known by another. I honored my integrity and strength in having made the choices I had actually made. I gave myself precisely what I needed to receive from the outside world.
It’s normal to want those we care about to share our version of truth. And yet, our tendency is to need external acknowledgment and validation in order to make true what we already know ourselves. The time comes however, when we need to start taking care of our own knowing, to provide acknowledgment and kindness to our own truth. When I turned inward and honored the sadness and loss in being misperceived, the truth of what I know actually happened, and the integrity of my choices, I felt known, loved and comforted. The attunement that I desperately sought from my friend, I received from my own loving presence. While I will always wish for my friend to know the truth, and me correctly, I am nonetheless able to bring myself the love and understanding, the wellbeing that I thought only he could provide.
In our search for an other who will hear and understand our truth with compassion, we consistently overlook our own company; we forget our own presence as a source of deep comfort and kindness, and blessedly, one that is always available to us. We need only the willingness and wisdom (and sometimes the reminder) to turn our attention inward, listen with kindness, and care about our own suffering. Particularly when we are in pain, searching desperately for comfort and relief from the outside world, we need to remember to flip the process. That is, to turn towards our own heart, listen to what it is carrying, and offer ourselves the compassion and loving presence that we are searching for outside. The experience of being deeply seen and cared about is ours to give—and receive—here now, when we decide to truly be with our own heart.
Copyright 2014 Nancy Colier