A few months back, a friend fumed to me about how she’d fallen out with someone who she’d thought was a friend until they told her that they’d only been doing certain things because they’d expected payback in favours. She’d been under the impression that they were mates so not only did she feel insulted, but she suddenly realised that this person had ulterior motives the entire time and she cringed as she recalled conversations where she’d confided in her.
I’d forgotten about this run-in until I was watching The Office US, my bedtime watch on Netflix. In season 3, there’s an employee who transfers from another branch and he has a gameplan of brown-nosing / sucking up to the boss Michael so that he can squeeze out another employee. At first Michael is very flattered by all of his crap jokes being laughed at, him encouraging his bad behaviour, and even the weird ‘mirroring’ but over time he starts to become uneasy and even takes to avoiding him. After this guy accomplishes his mission, somebody else explains to Michael that this guy doesn’t actually like him and has been sucking up to him the entire time. He’s really offended – he does want people to suck up to him but not because they’re trying to get something from him; he wants them to suck up because they think he’s amazing.
And then I had an A-ha moment:
When we have a hidden agenda, we’re not being ourselves because we want to be what we think will get us a relationship ( or a job, popularity, an opportunity etc) or we’re passive by trying to dodge conflict, criticism and basically anything that we think is going to jeopardise our chances of getting the prize we have our eye on, we can come across as disingenuous.
Even if the perceived reward of our masterplan is to have a relationship and give someone our love, by pretending to be something that we’re not, by busting our own boundaries and letting them take the mick with ours, and by silencing ourselves and other such painful acts, we’re not only doing ourselves a disservice but in our quest for love and validation, we’re actually coming across as dishonest.
And finally it slotted into place about why I’d disliked a particular ex, yet had felt guilty and even ashamed for not liking him – he was very passive (although admittedly that would give way to another habit of passive aggression as well).
What bugged me at the time was that he was ridiculously agreeable. He just wouldn’t be honest in terms of ‘feedback’ or his opinion. Everything was what he thought I wanted to hear, he wanted to do whatever I wanted to do (even when he blatantly didn’t), and even when I was in the wrong or he just had a different opinion, he wouldn’t express it. I’d know that he wasn’t being honest with me and sometimes I could even pick up the simmering annoyance, but he’d just smile and be agreeable and I’d be “AAAAAAAAGGGGHHH!”
It made my blood boil. Then I would feel guilty and ashamed because how could I be thinking mean things about someone who was so “nice”? I think it was why we stayed together a little longer than we should have. In the end, I ended it for a number of reasons but not least because it would have been like pulling teeth to have some mutual honesty in the relationship.
Thinking about this subject caused me to realise that I don’t like being in a situation or around people where I end up feeling guilty or even ashamed. Oh hell, who does? It also clicked with me why I’ve felt quite stressed out in the past by certain family members – I end up feeling guilty for having a memory or boundaries, or for feeling the disconnect with the ‘niceness’ and what I know.
And then I also had a cringe moment because I realised that I’ve done my fair share of playing ‘nice’ and ‘understanding’ and ‘patient’ and ‘supportive’ and ‘forgiving’ and ‘gold standard doormat’.
It’s one thing if your true opinion or feelings on something is what you say it is and being The Most Accommodating Person In The World is the authentic you, but and there is a big but, if you have for instance, been in an unavailable relationship where you’ve been the passenger to a driver doing things on their terms, can you hand on heart say that you haven’t been holding back your true thoughts, feelings, and self?
Can you honestly say that you haven’t been trying to be someone else in an effort to ‘win’ the relationship or their affections or a changed version of them? Can you honestly say that you haven’t been doing all of this stuff to prevent losing the relationship?
Imagine that you’ve actually been through a pretty rough time with someone (some of you don’t even need to imagine…) and then you’re basically telling them that it wasn’t that bad, that you love them no matter what they do, and you’re brushing stuff under the carpet or even apologising for stuff that you don’t need to. If the other party has an ounce of decency they should feel remorse or even shame. But then, they can feel ‘trapped’ by your niceness. If they’re not able to or don’t have the desire and willingness to be very different and work with you to fix the situation, they may have very conflicting feelings about you triggered by recognising great things about you but also knowing you’re not being honest and then also feeling guilty and ashamed (if they have that function…). They may even want you to be angry and some will even try to provoke it and then because you’re actually simmering with resentment, you end up erupting one day and they finally get to feel relieved of their guilt etc.
Now I know it’s not easy to say what you think, need, and expect but it’s a lot harder not to.
Any relationship worth having is mutual and has the capacity for mutual respectful honesty. If you won’t be honest in your relationships because you think it will ‘keep’ them and will even encourage them to do what you want, they not only cannot trust you to give honest feedback, but they don’t know who you really are. Or…they don’t until you start trying to ‘claim back’ for what you think you’re ‘owed’.
Losing the hidden agenda will let you be you and that means that you’ll be an authentic you in an authentic relationship instead of a ‘pretend you’ in a relationship that bears no reflection on your needs, wants, expectations and values.