As a brand new teacher, I was desperate for my students to like me.
After the first day of school, I thought back through my interactions with all my new students. And I made a mental list of those who hadn’t quite warmed up to me yet.
On the second day of school, these kid were my special projects. I did every song and dance I knew to win them over.
By the third day of school, I zeroed in on the few students I hadn’t gotten through to yet. And not in a good way: trying to get to know them better as individuals, aiming to meet their unique needs. No, my sole goal was to get them to like me.
And the one or two who clearly didn’t? I hyper-focused on them for the rest of the year.
The more I felt they disliked me, the more power they had to influence my beliefs (“If I were a better teacher, they would respond to me better”), my feelings (“I am such a failure …”), and my behaviors (“If I just ______, then they will finally ______!”)
Unknowingly, these students dictated my choices, controlling everything from the particulars of my lesson plans, the clothes I wore, the teaching methods I was (and wasn’t) willing to try, even the way I arranged the classroom.
My desperation to be liked blinded me.
I didn’t see that I was giving power to the wrong people.
Try-Harder Living in Relationships
This habit spilled over into my adult relationships.
If I’d been twins, you could have named one “Over” and the other “Eager,” I was so desperate to win over my nay-sayers. People like
- the parents who blamed me for their student’s poor grades.
- the relative who replaced my plans with their own.
- the friend who was “just trying to help” me be a better mother.
I tried to improve these strained relationships by talking honestly, sharing my heart and inviting reciprocity.
Over the years, my sharing helped a few relationships improve.
Most, however, got worse, not better.
I’m starting to understand why.
Safe and Unsafe Relationships
As I think back through all the negative relationships I tried so hard to “fix,” I am dismayed by the energy I poured into people who did not care.
In many cases, they weren’t just apathetic: they were actually unsafe.
I tried to build bridges by sharing authentically and vulnerably. But they twisted my words against me. Sharing my heart ended up biting me in the butt.
If I could have a do-over of my life, I would take all the time I used to invest in people who don’t care about me and invest it in people who actually do.
Sharing my heart with people who do care is fuel for friendship.
With those who don’t, it’s ammo for injury.
How Much to Share
Over the last year, God’s been convicting me that I give other people far too much power.
Much of the time, they don’t actually take control – I hand it straight over on a silver platter. Often, they don’t even realize they have so much influence; I just react to them as if they do.
As much as I hate to admit it, most of this has been simple manipulation: trying to get others to behave the way I want so I can feel the way I want.
The Holy Spirit is slowly guiding me to stop trying to change others’ behaviors and start taking responsibility for my reactions. (The “slowly” part is entirely due to stubbornness on my part, not ineffectiveness on God’s!)
I’m working on a chart I’ve dubbed “The Safety Sorter” to help me better discern what kind of energy to invest in which relationships.
(Click on image below to download high-resolution PDF!)
I want to quit
casting pearls before swine over-sharing with people who don’t care and get better at building healthy boundaries.
I want to invest more relational time and energy in people who are safe. Not “perfect” … but not toxic.
Today, I’m sharing “The Safety Sorter” with you. Tomorrow I’ll share some stories and examples of how I’m using it.
It’s very much a work-in-progress, so I’d love your input.
- What makes sense to you?
- What doesn’t make sense?
- What seems out of order?
- What terms/phrases would you replace?
- As you scan down the scale, what relationships come to mind? What healthy/unhealthy patterns do you recognize in those relationships?
Feel free to print the download. Tape it to your frig, mirror, computer screen, wherever. Live with it for a week or two and let me know what you’re learning along the way about discerning how much is safe to share.