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Responding to “Show them how it feels!”

You complain to your friend that your brother has not called you back in a week even though you had asked for a quick response.  Your friend says, "Then don't respond to his calls and show him how it feels."  Your friend has offered a strategy that while very common, leads to more disconnect and sometimes violence on small and global scales.

Your friend is suffering from the thought error that if you "make someone feel something you felt," they will have empathy for you, a new skill set, and behave differently next time.  It just doesn't play out like this.  Even people who proclaim things like, "That happened to me and I would never do that someone else," may end up doing the very thing they vowed not to do.  True change requires insight, support, and new skills.

On the other hand, you know your friend's intention is to support you.  They want your needs for empathy, respect, and reliability to be met.  You don't want to correct them and yet you don't want to ignore what was said.  You might begin responding by acknowledging your friend's caring, perhaps saying something like, "Yeah, you want me to be treated with respect.  Is that it?"  

If your friend is a bit grumpy, they might confirm your answer with, "Well, duh!"  

Either way you can stay grounded in what's true for you.  Your grounded expression could acknowledge your friend and state your truth.  Perhaps something like this:

"Hmm, thanks for caring about me.  I don't believe any amount of trying to make my brother feel how I feel will win respect.  What I will do is talk to him about it next time I see him in person so I can understand what's going on for him and ask him to listen to my experience.  With clarity about what's happening we might choose a different way to communicate or I may set different boundaries regarding our relationship."

Committing yourself to this kind of direct action and communication requires courage and integrity.  You are a hero for doing it in a world that too often supports all sorts of indirect communication and manipulation.  You allow others to witness a different way forward.  You also build a relationship with yourself that you can trust.  You learn to trust yourself to show up for what matters with skill and thoughtfulness.


Take a moment now to reflect on a situation in which you were tempted to think that punishing someone might help them evolve or somehow make a situation better.  Once you find that situation, imagine at least one thing you might do or say or offer that could make compassion and skillfulness a little bit easier to access.

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