“Is Something Bothering You?”

Question from a reader: If you sense something is bothering your partner or friend, whose responsibility is it to initiate dialogue? The person who is upset or the person who is sensing something?

The person who is bothered is responsible, of course.

However, there are many false ideas or beliefs that get in the way of this initiation.

For example, “I cannot disappoint anyone. I must please everyone at all times.” Or, “Expressing problems will always lead to conflict, and conflict is always terrible.”

These are rarely things people rationally think. But they are false ideas that many people feel, and feeling is a form of thinking—often a very powerful form.

If someone you know seems bothered or troubled, it’s important to keep two things in mind.

One, it’s their responsibility to bring up their problem or concern. You can do everything possible to foster an environment where they’re comfortable doing so, but it’s still their responsibility.

Two, don’t be presumptuous. In other words, don’t say, “I know you have a conflict or a problem.” For one thing, you could be wrong. For another, even if you’re right, you have no idea what it’s about. You might think it has something to do with you, while it has nothing whatsoever to do with you.

Another false belief people sometimes hold is, “All problems must be resolved verbally, as soon as possible.”

This isn’t always possible, necessary or even desirable. When you push someone to talk about something before they’re ready, or when perhaps for their own reasons they choose not to discuss it, you create unnecessary conflict.

You’ve probably seen or heard of conversations, for example, that go like this.

“Are you upset?”


“Are you sure?”

“I am sure. But I am getting upset over this conversation.”

The person you’re concerned about is responsible for his or her emotions. If he or she is choosing not to articulate those emotions or concerns to you, then that’s his or her choice.

Pushing, probing, or pressuring implies that you’re somehow responsible for another’s emotional state. The false belief here is, “I must make sure my loved one reaches a state of serenity.” No, that’s not true. It’s not your job to ensure another’s peace of mind or psychological well-being. It’s not your job because it’s not yours to do. People can only do this for themselves.

Your own serenity and peace of mind requires an acceptance of this truth. Otherwise, when someone you know seems or is troubled, you feel an anxiety-based compulsion to “do something about it, and now.” This will come across to the other person as annoying, presumptuous or intrusive, whether the person is actually troubled by something, or not. It’s a lose-lose, from your own self-interested point-of-view, to push where it’s not yours to push.

Put yourself in their situation. Has there ever been a topic you’re not ready to discuss, or for whatever reasons you prefer not to discuss? While in that state, how would you like it if someone pushed you? Offering is one thing, but pushing is another. It’s best to offer once, and then if the offer is declined, return to your own state of serenity by thinking, “If it’s important enough, sooner or later he (or she) will bring it up.”


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