I was talking to my very wise daughter, recently, and told her of a situation where someone had been quite rude to me.
“And did you speak up at that moment?” she asked.
Nope. Out of the five trauma responses, fight, flight, freeze, fawn, flop, my default reaction is freeze. When I’m stunned by rude behavior, I just stand there, immobilized. By the time I think of the clever comeback, the gentle explanation, or the strong self-care, it’s hours later.
I wish I had spoken up. But I’m learning to shift my focus from what I could have done to what I can do. People with other trauma responses can do the same by becoming more aware of how they react, and what can be done to not get steamrolled (or be the steamroller).
I notice the freeze response, and some of the others, can even be generational; many of us were socialized never to get embroiled in a confrontation, but just to turn the other cheek. In fact, save the other person from the humiliation of their own behavior. Apologize for things that aren’t even your fault. But it’s much healthier to speak up—still being courteous—and to insist on proper treatment.
Then she shared a quote with me, attributed to many who’ve spoken it:
Givers have to set limits because takers don’t have any.
That hit me like truth coming down from a heavenly choir. “Setting boundaries” is a popular phrase right now, but it’s for good reason. It says to ourselves and others, “I have value. I choose not to be treated this way.”
The odds of changing a taker into a kind, thoughtful person are somewhere in the range of making it through sacrament meeting without a baby crying. Or, even more unlikely, somewhere in the range of a ward getting 100% ministering done every month.
Nope, if you want to change what happens between the two people in question, you have to change yourself. And, if you’re like me, always caving in to domineering people, you need to make a plan.
First, realize your value. And we all think we know it, right? We can almost recite the scripture verses that say “the worth of souls is great” and we know that Jesus loved us so much that He atoned for every one of us. But do we know it? Do we feel it in the depths of our soul and delight in it? Or do we often wonder if we have disappointed Him so much that, surely, He couldn’t still love us?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Our individual worth is already divinely established as ‘great’; it does not fluctuate like the stock market.”
We need to sit with that knowledge for some time. We need to reflect upon all the comforting messages we’ve sensed from the Holy Ghost. All the rescues and miracles. All the words of God in scripture, reminding us that we are His whole point. Write Moses 1:39 on a card, and post it where you’ll see it often: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
Just quickly, that is not a redundancy at the end, there. The Lord wasn’t saying we’ll live forever and we’ll also live forever. He’s saying we’ll live forever, and have Godly life! Eternal doesn’t mean never-ending; it means Godly. Game changer, right?
Second, after pondering how much God loves us and how incredibly valuable we are, it now makes us see others the same way. Will we forever smile at everyone who tests our patience? Of course not; we’re human. But we will be less likely to get embroiled in an argument because we’ve practiced feeling familial love for one another.
Third, just pause and enjoy the gratitude you feel to your own self, for finally taking care of you. It feels strong, stable, grownup, and freeing. Why freeing? Because now we don’t have to panic when trouble arises; we can trust ourselves to handle it.
When we know our value, we don’t accept belittling. We apologize to others when we offend, and we repent as needed, but we retain our confidence in God’s love. We know we have huge potential and that He wants us to reach it.
I wrote a Meridian Magazine article about how to recognize our own value here, and I recommend this as an adjunct to this piece.
One last thing. I would imagine that most of us think of ourselves as givers. We certainly give to our spouse, our children, our career, our neighbors, our relatives, our church calling, on and on, right? Occasionally we see ourselves as only “the good guys.”
Let me just present something to consider: Are you a giver when it comes to Heavenly Father? In an honest examination of our prayers, are we always asking for things and giving Him a wish list? Or do we offer to help Him with His Plan?
It’s a humbling imbalance, isn’t it? Yet how patiently He tries to turn takers into givers. I guess it really can be done.
Hilton teaches Seminary. She is also an award-winning playwright, and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.