What If Your Inner Voice is a Mean Girl?
Recently, I was called out in a major way. I didn’t see it coming, but as it turns out, I’d been stuck in a pattern that was seriously threatening an important friendship. And it all started with a to-do list.
I was sitting at my desk trying not to be overwhelmed by the mounting number of tasks ahead of me. Halfway down the to-do list was “Call Patrice.” Patrice is a dear friend whose recent phone calls I’d forgotten to return.
Then, lo and behold, my cell phone rang. It was Patrice. I sighed with relief, knowing that one of my to-dos had taken care of itself.
Patrice asked how my week was going. I responded with a generic “I have good days and I have not-so-good days, you know how it goes.” We went on to have a good talk about insecurities, laughing at our mutual tendency to dwell on those things and vowing to show up as our imperfect selves. I was having a great time, but I have to admit that my eyes were still on the clock. Patrice snapped me back to the present when she asked if I had a moment to discuss something important.
I got a little nervous. But I said, “Sure, of course.”
Patrice continued. “Sometimes I feel like you’re shutting me out. You know, you’re the only one I can connect with when I’m experiencing certain things, and when I don’t hear from you, it makes me sad. When I called you last week, it was because I really needed to talk to you.”
I remember vividly the personal stressors of the days leading up to our conversation and the accumulating missed calls from friends and loved ones. I’d made a decision to unplug, hoping to catch up on work; I have to admit I was also searching for a release valve and avoiding dragging others into my messiness. I’d created a terrible cycle of overcommitting and overworking, and I was completely overwhelmed.
As it turned out, during this same stretch of time, Patrice had been in a place of despair. She’d reached out to me for guidance, but knew that her repeated calls were being sent directly to voicemail.
In retrospect, I’d done this before: wrapping myself in the cocoon of my own stuff whilst forgetting that others existed outside of it. It’s a pattern that I’d thought I’d beaten, but has clearly re-emerged.
I also honestly thought that the friends I’d shut out wouldn’t miss my presence in their seemingly full-and-figured-out lives . . . or that they might just be better off without it. Patrice, for example, is a wake-up-in-the AM-and-run-a-few miles-before-work kind of girl. She’s always been there for me, lending salient counsel and advice. And, at times, I’ve wanted to reach out, but my inner “you aren’t good enough” voice warns me against sharing my messy life with others. And so I retreat. (Seriously, when did my inner voice turn into a mean girl?)
At previous points in my life, I’ve caught myself in this harmful process, created tactics to manage stress, and fully re-committed to my relationships. After the phone call with Patrice, I’ve been determined to break the pattern. I’ve come up with some more important to-dos for myself: the ones that will help me become a better friend to my loved ones . . . and to myself.
- When I’ve let a few calls go to voicemail, I pause to acknowledge the feeling associated with that action. Sometimes it’s an “I just can’t talk right now” thing; at other times, it’s an attempt to shut others out. I start to peel back those layers until I hit the source. This takes immense practice, but by recognizing the underlying emotional trigger, I can begin to take steps towards course-correction.
- I stop comparing my problem list to those of my friends. My issues aren’t greater, deeper, messier, or more special than theirs. More importantly, making assumptions about others’ problems, or lack thereof, devalues the actual lived experience of those around you. Instead of assuming, try asking questions. You will likely uncover a shared experience that only serves to grow your friendship.
- I say yes. Yes, I will go with you to that event, even though I feel crappy. Yes, I will support you in anyway I can. Showing up, lending your time, and acknowledging what’s important to your loved ones is the ultimate act of kindness, especially during moments of personal challenge. Of course, there’s a balance to strike between self-care and being there for others. But when the most important people in your life need you, you gotta try to be the friend you’d want to have.
- I stop trying to problem-solve on my own. Sharing those moments of stuckness and messiness invites others to engage in collective problem-solving, often providing much-needed insight; it also makes it easier for others to be vulnerable with you.
- When short on time, I send short, quick check-in texts expressing love, gratitude and kindness to the important people in my life. Recently I’ve sent this text: “hey girl! I was thinking about you. I believe today is the day of your exam. Kill it girl. Missing you like crazy. Lisa.”
- I place loved ones’ important events on my calendar. If you don’t know what or when these are, shoot said loved one an email and ask! That alone can create a great moment for connection.
- Finally, I stay grateful for the friends who listen to me, tell me the truth, and love me for my flawed, unique self. I’m a lucky girl to have had relationships in which both parties value honesty, progress, and helping each other through the tough stuff. It’s not always easy, but being truthful about what you need and what you’re getting (and the gap that may exist between the two) can be a loving opportunity to share insight and rebuild.