Defensiveness can be our automatic response to criticism; however, accountability or showing people what our boundaries are can feel a lot like criticism for some people. We confuse asking for accountability with toxicity or meanness. We confuse boundaries with shame, or “I’m a bad person,” if people ask us to show up in new ways. Perceived criticism is based on the assumption that the person is questioning your worth, more times than not, that isn’t the case. If someone is taking the time to show you more of themselves, it’s most likely because they want to continue a relationship with you and how you respond to that bid for connection matters.
We need to meet each other even when we feel hurt, triggered, or activated. Sure, give some time to bring yourself back into a settled state, but so many people brush things under the rug and plow forward without ever addressing the ruptures in their relationships.
Our nervous system response to discomfort does not have to equal the demise of our relationships. It is an opportunity to get to know people in an intimate and connected way. We need to work on communication, self-awareness, and understanding the trauma we carry that impedes that connection.
When there are small ruptures in relationships, we can strengthen it by showing up vulnerable and willing to work through it. How will we be able to handle more significant fractures if we continually ignore the smaller ones? How can we show up for things collectively if we don’t practice with our closest relationships? (I am not talking about abusive or manipulative relationships.)
We need to know that asking for accountability is based around the belief that we can get to something different, together, and that can be a good thing. Setting a boundary and staying to talk things out or asking more questions about someone’s boundaries is an act of love. A boundary set is an attempt to be known and to build trust. So many people take it on as shame, but it is a relationship-saving skill to work on.
It is important to remain curious about our loved ones. To explore our wounds, work on regulation while in relationship with others, and to learn how to properly repair when harm is done.
I will be the first to admit that the ways I have tried to set boundaries, to speak “my truth,” or offer up a half-assed apology have backfired. I am all for sweeping my side of the street, to take responsibility where I can, to allow people to hold me accountable without ego taking over; sometimes, ego wins.
Some people understand accountability, and others take that on as a perceived criticism of their character. Feeling misunderstood sucks, but the goal is a connection, the goal is reciprocity, the goal is love and the goal is to show up, even if it’s messy.
There is so much wounding wrapped up in “criticism.” Trauma creates hypersensitivity, a fight or flight, and fawn response; it is on stand by at all times for so many of us, and yet, I have a personal responsibility to work through my trauma. Knowing what accountability looks like for myself and others, what malicious intent is or what is just a misunderstanding, asking more questions, knowing my values, knowing when to walk away, understanding what is abuse, and what is conflict.
To discern, reflect and understand when our nervous system is too activated to have a conversation is critical, but ignoring things wears on the relationship. It requires us to understand hyperarousal and move towards grounding our nervous systems so that we can show up and deepen our relationships.
Our language matters, how we say things matters; however, sometimes you can be clear and kind and still, the other person still feels shame and defensive. We have our individual work to do. Our commitment to our relationships and the work required to nourish each other. Our collective work, checking our bias, becoming aware of our conditioning and the harms we cause. Knowing our values and what we want our relationships to look like can be our guide.