Gone fishing lately?

Ian and I were laughing at the breakfast table today when he received a text from our 12 year old daughter:

“My birthday is in 7 months.”

Jackie is intellectually and developmentally delayed explaining her seemingly random statement. Her absolute favorite thing to do (besides plan vacations and her birthday party) is to engage people via text, Skype or Facetime. So, she goes fishing. She sends out random texts to anyone and everyone she knows hoping to get someone to respond. She is fishing for a bite. If you even nibble any sort of response, you are hooked. She knows you are there and engaged and will spam you to no end.

It got us thinking about how we as adults also go emotional fishing with people just like our children. We fish for compliments. “What do you think of my outfit?”

We fish for validation to help us feel better for a few seconds. “Do you think I am pretty (or handsome)?”

We sometimes just hover. My children do this quite a bit. They start to wander in my space until it becomes so energetically annoying I crack and ask them what they want. I have opened the door for them to ask for anything without being courageous enough to meet their own needs. It is so much easier to ask for something when someone has already rolled out the red carpet. Adults do this with each other, too. I might sit next to my husband secretly hoping he will snuggle with me. I want him to initiate the snuggling on his own because that makes me feel desired and special. If I have to ask for it, well, that just isn’t that same. Cough.

We even fish for a charged response. “Is there a reason you left your dirty clothes in the middle of the bathroom floor? Just curious.” If the answer is simply, “No,” we might feel unsatisfied and continue with a more targeted approach, “Do you have an expectation that I am going to clean up after you? I am not your maid you know.”

What are we really hoping for in this situation? We are hoping that the other person will respond in a charged manner so we can fight without being the one who “started” the fight. We are fishing for a fight. We want to yell at the other person in anger. Maybe there is even years of pent up resentment we are hoping to unleash.

My teenage son often will insight fights with me because he is angry at a friend or girl and has a belief that it is ok to use me as his emotional punching bag. He rarely expresses his unhappiness towards the friend who is the source of his angst. It’s not cool.

Emotional fishing is clever and a really, really bad way to get your needs met. You are trying to manipulate another person into behaving in a certain way. The other person usually figures your game out pretty quickly and is hurt or angry that you would try to manipulate them in such a manner. Plus, deep down inside you know that you manipulated the person into meeting some emotional need.

In reality, we can only really truly satisfy our emotional needs ourselves. We need to love ourselves before we can receive love from others. We need to make ourselves a priority if we expect anyone to respect us. We are the only one who really knows what we need. If we want something from someone, we need to make a kind request. If I want to snuggle with my husband, I just need to ask (and be ok if he says not now for whatever reason). If my husband is unavailable I could go ask one of the kids if they’d like to sit next to me on the couch and chat or watch TV. Even better, go find the family pet or a cozy blanket.

There are all kinds of ways to meet your own needs and you will do it better than anyone else possibly could because you know yourself better than anyone else. If you want to feel good about the way you look, look in the mirror and tell yourself how beautiful you are (no easy thing to do by the way). If you want someone to pick up their clothes off the floor, be direct. Ask them to pick up their clothes. And if it is a recurring problem, work together to set up some kind of system to support them in remembering (especially if they have AD/HD).

So, pay attention to how you go about asking for things. Make sure you aren’t trolling for a particular response. If you are angry, go deal with your anger so you can have a constructive conversation (check out the blog on the emotions workout). If you do catch yourself fishing, then ask yourself how you can meet your own need or how you can be direct with the other person so you do not manipulate them like you would a fish with a shiny lure.