Standing in line at a local coffee shop, even safely masked and distanced, I (along with anyone else in proximity) overheard what seemed like ill-fated advice. A group of 3 women ahead of me (maybe in their mid-twenties) one now looking distinctly embarrassed and trying to quiet the other two, were waxing on about relationship. Before she (the seemingly embarrassed recipient of advice) got them contained, the taller of the three (a head full of trendily cut red hair and lip stick to match) flippantly and loudly said, “you have to give him something to worry about. Don’t answer his texts for a few days. Tell him (she said with a wave of her hand) oh, I forgot you texted”. The third member of the trio, a shorter brunette clad in a checkered pencil skirt and fitted leather jacket) every bit as trendy as her red headed counterpart, seemed to readily agree and added “just let him know other guys are interested. That always gets their attention. Guys want what they can’t have! You have to make him work”.
It’s surprising how many times some rendition of this advice is given, or this tactic taken in relationship. Not only by women in their 20’s but people of all ages. I couldn’t help but think of the lines from a 90’s Pam Tillis Song entitled “Shake the Sugar Tree”. (“I’ve got to raise some commotion. Before you show me some emotion. I’ll shake the sugar tree. I’ll feel your love fallin’ all around me“~ “jealousy it is as bitter as a green spring berry“~ “I’ve got to shake you up just to wake you up , to make you love me“). The recipient of this advice looked like she hadn’t slept. She looked tired, her blond hair pulled into a messy bun and snuggled into a large comfort hoodie, she also looked embarrassingly snuggled into the uncomfortable comfort of her well-meaning friends.
This notion of stirring jealousy (or any painful emotion) in others to increase our value to them is an interesting one. I of course don’t know the dynamics of this young woman’s relationship and distracted myself with my phone (and Tillis’ lyrics rolling around in my brain) as I waited within my six feet and ordered my coffee. Sitting in the car, before heading back home with My and L’s (my husband and partner in life contemplations) occasional franchised Coffee’s, I was compelled to search out the song and have a listen. Tillis’ country twang kept me company for a portion of the short drive home, as did my many thoughts about this ideology.
A portion of my role, in my work life, is to assist others in identifying and processing feelings, while building safe and healthy perspectives. The feeling of jealousy is both normal and misunderstood. It gets assigned negative meanings and for some seems to imply there is something wrong with you for feeling it. This is a true double bind. Feeling a normal feeling, that means your bad for feeling it leaves confusion and (if experienced with consistency) can lead to disconnect from overall emotional experience. What is essential is to look at why you feel it (the painful feeling) and make conscious decisions about how to manage it. In essence jealousy is a feeling that has become synonymous with feeling less than. And, why, if we look back at the occurrences in the coffee line, would anyone direct you to purposefully make someone feel less than or not enough?
In truth, if we manufacture scenarios to create a feeling of being less than in another, we could get a whole host of undesirable responses. And might be better served looking at and processing why we are hurting. Or, why we might believe stirring jealousy seems an option at all. It is possible, making another feel less then or fearful might be effective in making the person feel insecure. And, depending on that person’s history he, she, or they might respond with more superficial desire to hold onto you. But this comes from a place of hurt not a place of deeply held reflection and belief. It is a defense to guard against pain, as is the wish or behavior (if followed-through) of perpetuating this feeling in another. A painful cycle born in one’s history. The place we begin our eventual roadmap for emotions and relationships.
Without experiences of reflecting on and working through our emotions, it is easy to engage in reflexive response (defense) to avoid pain. Standing in line, my brain associated the song’s catchy lyrics, and remembered myself and sister singing along at the height of its popularity in the 90’s. I am certain I did no deeper reflecting back then, just sang along and enjoyed my sister’s company. The song itself, while the actual message isn’t helpful, likely had a place because it resonated with many. We can all likely relate to the feeling of loss, potential loss, or rejection and the places these feelings take us. If we fast-forward to 2008 ~Beyonce’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) encapsulates a similar message. An ultimatum, of sorts. (“You had your turn and now your gonna learn, what it really feels like to miss me”). This, also catchy and fun song, has many potential meanings. In some ways, it implies strength after suffering, but also implies staying too long in something that isn’t good for you (“just cried my tears for 3 long years”). Taking something away and possibly giving an ultimatum to stay in that something (not good for you) if marriage could not be obtained). As we know, the song was widely popular, even grabbing our attention with that now infamous Saturday Night Live Skit. (A skit you can likely find in your own brains associations as you read this. If not, and you’re interested, please see the resources section of this article). I’m certainly not attempting to ruin our fun with listening and enjoying music (I have a place for most genres and hold music as a large part of my life). I am inviting further reflection around the messages contained, exploration of our own impulses and deeper beliefs, and acknowledgement of feelings. (Both those emotions that are pleasant and those that are not).
Once home, handing L’s coffee to him, I settled into a cozy spot on the couch next to him and (as I often like to do) shared my experience and gathered his thoughts. Once I told him about overhearing the conversation at the coffee shop, he (in his quick and cut to the chase wisdom) said “It sounds like a short-term gain with a lot of long-term consequences”. (He has a way of cutting straight to the chase and is always willing to do a deeper dive, which is why I value these conversations). We ended up in a layered discussion leading us many places. We visited motivations for behavior, what we learn growing up, what is reinforced through our media and potentially ~ why, what our brains attend to, how we as people navigate relationship based on our early learning and beliefs, and finally we did our own waxing on about how we have lived under untruths and partial truths as a country (during the last administration) and what this has done to our ability to trust and work together.
That is why the conversation and ill-fated advice from the coffee shop, was so disturbing and thought provoking. Lying to create an illusion for personal gain is a destructive behavior that won’t lead to any real connection or safety in relationship, or larger arena. In regard to the women and their conversation, most likely there was no carefully crafted lie. Just poor advice (reinforced through time and messages ~more likely than not) from a place (that without further reflection) may have seemed like care or at a minimum support for a friend in pain. (A problem in reality). Much like the songs that Tillis’ in her day and Bey in her on-going day belted and belt out. There is a place for it, a market, if you will. That market is our emotions.
As we meandered through our conversation, finishing our cups, we talked about what has aptly been termed the big lie. The purposefully crafted lie Trump and his administration created to project a distracting illusion leading our country to its current destructive divide. L, noting, “there have been untruths upon untruths piled on. A mirage has been created and to find the truth we would have to wade through all the layers of deceit and lies”. And, even if we do there will always be those who need or want to believe what has been crafted and those who will not question (just respond).
If you tell someone a lie they will respond to that lie in some way. The truth between you gets murkier and murkier. This is true even when the dishonesty may seem innocent, at least on the surface. I tend to believe any dishonesty is self-serving in some way. I would think the one caveat is regarding safety. i.e., teaching children refusal and safety skills. (If they are home alone; We often instruct our children to self-protect by using statements such as “my parents are home or my parents are expecting me home”, etc.) Genuine safety needs trump truth in these occurrences.
In regard to personal relationships, the truth is always the best option. If we are dishonest, anything the person does in response is based on that dishonesty. There inevitably will be a lot to untangle. This said, there isn’t a guarantee being honest will get you what you believe you want. One of the deepest truths (in relationship) is even when we are truly clear in our thinking and show up honestly (genuinely knowing what we feel and directly asking for what we need or want) the other person may not be in this place. He or she may not be able to respond from a place of clarity and may respond from defense. Reflecting, on the coffee shop conversation, the young woman could choose (and maybe did) to tell the other person how she feels and ask that her needs be met. It isn’t a guarantee that the other person will understand or meet her needs. But it is more likely she won’t spend time sorting out the many layered problems that can occur from dishonesty and purposefully creating illusion to gain a desired response. Making others feel insecure, or less than will cause a response of some type. It might lead to (as Tillis implies) more attention, maybe even getting a ring on your finger. It is not likely to promote longevity of healthy relationship, trust, connection, or working together. It is likely to create longer-term issues.
In truth, lying with the goal of crafting a potential response is destined for pain. It is important that we notice and accept what we feel, pause to reflect, identify factual information, perspective take, plan based on this information, and genuinely cope with our emotions. The ability to engage in this self-reflective process is modeled and encouraged in our primary relationships and has long-term life consequences. Learning to identify and manage emotions (even those undesirable emotions such as jealousy) helps us to understand ourselves and others. It lays the foundation for empathy, builds reciprocity, accountability, perspective taking, and trust in relationship.
This leads me back to our current national reality. We did see (and continue to see) the impact of lying and attempting to craft reality during the Trump years. There has been a capitalization on emotion leaving people fearful and responding to that fear. The divide left in our country is multi layered, containing within it (the divide) competing interest, distrust, and ongoing difficulty in collaborative forward movement. We are stuck in a seemingly unending loop (of stirred emotion and sorting lies) largely due to self-interest and disregard for truth or greater good. As my husband, so aptly stated “a short-term gain with a lot of longer-term consequences”. So many of them (the consequences) yet to be seen.
Clearly stated, lying to create an illusion for personal gain is a destructive behavior that won’t lead to any real connection or safety in relationship, community, nation or larger world. Self-reflection, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking skills are needed to navigate each of these arenas.
As always, I hope you found something that resonates. I welcome your thoughts, insights, and comments.
Deepest respect and care, LaDonna
Note: See resources section for child and adult resources on identifying and managing emotions. There are many to choose from, a few are offered here.
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National Hotlines: Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-825
Photo: Image found on Pixaby
Aguirre, Blaise MD.and Galen, Gilleina, PsyD. DBT for Dummies. https://www.amazon.com/DBT-Dummies-Gillian-Galen/dp/1119730120
Cain, Janan~ The Way I Feel. Children’s Book~UTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITPUxVQ6UIk
Feelings Wheel: TeachersPay.Comhttps://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Feelings-Wheel-Printable-with-Coloring-Activity-Emotional-Learning-Tool-5487498
Krueger, David. MD. What is a Feeling. Link to Resource https://www.amazon.com/What-Feeling-Lets-About-Feelings/dp/0943990750
Stafford, Shiela~The Wolf Who Learned Self Control. UTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLUGycJSS-Q
Beyonce’ All The Single Ladies~Utube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ75jGcGgPU
Saturday Night Live Skit: Single Ladies ~Daily Motion https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x25sj6
Tillis, Pam: Shake The Sugar Tree. Lyrics ~ UTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69S5gYRxo6k
Image found on Pixaby