I missed the red flags of someone in pain, but it won't happen again

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“Why can’t she take care of her own damn kids?” I muttered to myself as I drove off.

This was following another practice where the same mom was a no-show at pick up. As the coach, I waited around for 20 minutes before giving in and driving her son home.

Once we were at the house, she gave me some confused excuse about not being able to leave french fries in the oven. WTF???

There I was juggling five kids, and yes she also had her hands full, but how is it that I end up picking up her slack? Outrageous!

I was mad. Put out. Every time I had contact with her after that day I very quickly put her in the “inconsiderate person” or “bad mother” box that I so righteously held. I didn’t think about her much, but when I did it was not kindly.

A few years later her family tragically broke apart when she entered rehab with very serious addiction.

That woman whom I was so quick to judge had been sending out red flags. Lots of them. And if I hadn’t been so quick to make myself better than she, I might have been able to help her. I might have at least been a small bright spot in what was surely a very dark time.

Instead, I judged her for not having it together or being a proper mother.

Unfortunately during that time period I was dealing with my own demons and wasn’t able to see what a difficult time she was having. I forgive myself for that, but wish that I had been available to help her in whatever small way.

Nowadays I view “bad behavior” very, very differently.

When I see someone being arrogant, I know that inside they feel very small and insecure. I see them pretending to be stronger than they are.

When I see Type A, Martha Stewart behavior, I think about how the need for perfection is a constant struggle to prove that you are good enough. So I feel compassion for how exhausted that person must be, attempting to keep up appearances all the time.

When I see someone unable to stand up for themselves or who is constantly self deprecating, I know how much that person is struggling to believe that they matter in the world.

When I spend time with that relative who is always mean, cranky and hating the world, I realize how much he actually hates himself. Because the world is a mirror and what he sees and experiences outside of him is what he believes about himself.

When someone cuts me off in traffic I wonder if they are having a hard time at work or if some emergency has them driving recklessly.

When people are no shows at events without calling or saying why, I wonder what difficulties they might be dealing with at home.

When someone is rude or abrupt to me, I send them kind thoughts because mean behavior screams unhappiness. And I know how terrible unhappiness feels.

With all the psychological training I have now, I know that everyone battles feelings of shame, unworthiness, not good enough and of wondering if they matter.

And so often those desperate feelings come out as what society deems “bad behavior.” So when I run into it, I try to be compassionate and see that the “bad behavior” is actually a cry for help.

Sometimes when someone is acting out, looking them in the eye, truly seeing and acknowledging them as a human being can make all the difference.

Whether it is other people’s bad behavior or your own, be gentle. Ask what need is not being met. Question whether the reaction is coming from fear or powerlessness. Look underneath the surface…that is where you will find what is really going on.

Today if I were to come across a mom who didn’t show up for pick up, I would do things very differently. I would ask:

“Is everything alright?”
“Is there something I can do to help you?” 
“Do you want to talk?”

I would notice the red flag and do something. By asking the question, I give the person an opportunity to open up. They may not want to, but at least I will have tried. And maybe at some later point they will come back or seek someone else that they feel safe sharing with.

The most important thing is for the person to know that they are not alone. That there is support available if and when they are ready.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about.” ~Wendy Mass