At a family dinner this past summer my dad and I got into a heated discussion about the pros and cons of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). The conversation continued to escalate until another family member finally redirected the conversation. I patently ignored my dad through the rest of the meal and wouldn’t look at him…which was no easy feat as I was sitting right next to him and could feel him looking at me.
After helping with the dishes I left the rest of the family and went to my room where I promptly burst into tears. I love my dad dearly and have such respect for him. I deeply admire the man he is, and in so many aspects of my life, I rely on his guidance, his knowledge and his insight. I hated arguing with him. I also hated how I was feeling.
I had been in conversation with a friend the day before and discussed how I didn’t understand why people couldn’t just listen to and respect the opinions of others even if they were in conflict with their own thoughts. If I really believed that why was I so upset? Why wasn’t it enough just to agree to disagree?
I knew what I was feeling was about something much more than a disagreement on the value or drawbacks of GMO’s. Sitting in my room with tears streaming down my face and a great big ache in my heart I started a little personal inquiry. Sometimes when I can’t get to the root of something directly I start to ask myself questions. Doing this has really helped me to loosen up my thinking when I get stuck.
Why WAS I so upset? Did I feel like he wasn’t listening to me? Did I feel insecure in my beliefs and let his contrary opinion undermine my confidence? Was I embarrassed that we had argued in front of the rest of the family? No, none of that felt quite right. There had to be something more behind why I was feeling so distraught.
Finally it dawned on me. I wasn’t upset about the actual conversation. Honestly I couldn’t have cared less about the discussion on GMO’s at that point. What was really at the root of why I was so upset was a deep-seated resentment and anger at my dad about not taking better care of his health.
Holy S#*t! I was angry and resentful! What???! I don’t do anger and resentment. Well, surprise, surprise…apparently I do…and that shoved down, hidden away anger and resentment had just risen to the surface. The interesting thing was that I felt so much lighter when that realization dawned on me. It was like a huge weight had been lifted.
While my dad isn’t in poor health he isn’t in his optimal health either. I realized I was angry at him for not making a few simple adjustments to his diet and exercise habits that could have a profound impact on his overall health and longevity. I resented the fact that he is such a disciplined and principled man in so many aspects of his life but this one. And I was scared. I was scared about the day when he wouldn’t be around for me. That realization still brings up a lot of emotion for me.
A few moments after this epiphany there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find my mum and dad on the other side. Probably in her attempt to clear the air so we could go watch our nightly installment of Homeland (we are coming to Homeland a few seasons behind but are busily catching up!!) my mum had brought my dad down to my room to talk to me about what had happened. Still hiccuping a bit from my tears, and with a shaking voice, I explained to my dad what I had just become clear to me.
It was probably not an easy thing for my dad to hear that his daughter was angry and resentful towards him. It probably wasn’t easy for him to see how vulnerable I felt at the thought of him not being around. However, true to the amazing man he is, he patiently listened to me, explained where he was coming from and then opened his arms and gave me a big, emotion filled hug.
While our talk that night was healing for the both of us it wasn’t complete, and there are more conversations to be had. However, it was an experience that was both freeing and illuminating. I am grateful that we hit this bump in the road and had the opportunity to share with each other in such a profound way.
Learning from a Difficult Conversation:
- When something happens and my response seems out of proportion with the context, I need to pause and ask myself some questions to get at the root of what is really going on. More times that not what will reveal itself will have little to do with what just happened.
- It is important that I am honest with those I love and share what I am feeling. It may seem scary at first but it is far scarier to keep those emotions and thoughts bottled up and stuffed deep down inside of me.
- I need to remember that everyone is on their own journey. Especially when I love someone and think I know what they need I often want to jump in and fix things for them. When this desire comes up, it’s a signal for me to take a deep breath, meet them where they are and honor their process and their choice.
Have you been upset about something and then realized it was actually something else that was bothering you? How did you handle that?