Tuesday Tales: How are you experienced? – Donna Thistlethwaite

Do you have a sense of how you are experienced by those around you? Have you ever thought to ask?

While I advocate for not getting too caught up in what others think of us, there can be some amazing value in checking in with people about what they see in us … how they experience us.

A few months ago I went on a mountain biking weekend with around 10 friends. It had all the ingredients of a magical weekend for me – deep chats, connection, fresh air, nature, break from parenting, new places and people, and cycling (only a road bike could have improved it!)

My connection with these humans, most of whom are women (a couple don’t identify as gender binary) is quite strong and I enjoy my different relationships which each of them immensely.

There is one though that I have felt a distance with. They are the partner of a longer term friend. I have felt a longing to get to know them better. I feel like there is much that I can learn from them but I have occasionally experienced thoughts that maybe I’m not cool enough for them, or that there is something that irritates them about me. Often these thoughts can be stories that we make up based on our filters. But I also recognise that I’m a talker and that my upbeat energy can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming for people depending where they are at.

I tried to line up opportunities over the weekend to connect with this person, let’s call them Jett. I made a couple of jokes about how keen I was to spend some time with them, eg. “You’re not getting away from me Jett … I’m going to make sure I spend some time with you over the weekend”.

On the final morning I found myself riding next to Jett. I may have even chased them down, I can’t exactly remember ???? I wanted to get to know Jett better but I also wanted to understand the dynamic that I felt existed between us. A little way into our conversation I said “So how do you experience me?”. Jett was a little surprised by the question … to be honest so was I, it had just dropped into my mind.

Jett replied “Hmmmmm, I find you probably the most buoyant of the crew. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without a smile on your face. If I did, I think I’d worry. I also find you intriguing. I know that you’ve been through some dark times and I wonder how you got from there to where you are now.”

Jett and I went on to have a good conversation about life and growth and I really enjoyed my time with them. I hope that it’s one step closer to developing a deeper friendship with them.

The reason I’m sharing this story is that the conversation reinforced for me that the conclusions that we draw about what’s going on in conversations, interactions, dynamics, friendships, … are not always as we think they are. Never for a moment would I have thought that Jett noticed my positives and in fact I was sometimes assuming the opposite.

I haven’t pulled out the “How do you experience me?” question again but I suspect that I will. I learnt a lot from that conversation.

What about you? Is there anyone you’d like to ask the question of?

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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