A few months back, I had lunch with a friend who is a single mom. She was worried about something a mutual friend of ours had said. The comment had upset her because she didn’t understand our other friend’s intent.

They’d been talking about housing and the mutual friend had made a comment that could be perceived different ways.  She’d suggested that my worried friend apply for Section 8, which is a government rental assistance program.

The friend I was speaking with was miffed about the comment. I understood that. Comments about a person’s financial situation are difficult to interpret. Did our mutual friend perceive her as indigent? Was it a slight? It struck at the core of my worried friend’s self-identity. Is that how people saw her?

My worried friend wanted my interpretation. I have a high degree of empathy, often too high. It makes it hard for me not to try to fix things. I felt her angst and I reassured her that people don’t perceive her that way, and they don’t.

However, our mutual friend is one of the nicest people I know. I can’t imagine she’d intentionally slight another person. In my heart, no matter how her comment came across, I knew she had good intentions. Perhaps she thought she was being helpful.

The conversation unsettled me. I disliked that my concerned friend was overthinking something relatively insignificant. I equally disliked that our mutual friend hadn’t thought about how her comment could be misinterpreted. I hated being pulled into a situation that had nothing to do with me.

In hindsight, I should simply have said, “I’m sure she meant well.” It would’ve ended the conversation because there’s nowhere to go from there. My concerned friend could’ve kept pushing for my interpretation and reassurance, but I could’ve kept repeating, “I’m sure she meant well.”

That simple phrase would’ve erected a boundary. Regardless of my feelings or interpretation, it had nothing to do with me, but I allowed myself to be pulled in. My friend’s concern became my concern. Her troubled energy disrupted my calm energy.

Other People's Drama

The situation got me thinking about how often we’re pulled into other people’s drama and how often we create our own by not having stronger mental and emotional boundaries.  “I’m sure they meant well,” has since also become my go-to phrase for self-protection. It prevents me from ruminating about other people’s intentions and it diffusing my codependent urge to jump in help friends doing just that.

By de-escalating the mental thought process that leads to conflict or confrontation, “I’m sure they meant well,” also saves me from saying or doing something I may later regret. I now immediately embrace it when I start analyzing unsettling people or situations. 

About seven years ago, when I embarked on deep journey of healing and self-discovery, a person I admired had remarked, “Why do you always assume the worst?” Boom. What? I never thought I had. I’d always thought of myself as someone with a positive mindset. Yet, when I reflected on his comment, I realized that wasn’t true. I was riddled with judgments and criticisms.

Quieting My Inner Critic

My inner critic had emerged. Unresolved trauma impacted my worldview. I analyzed everything. That happened because I had few boundaries. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I was well into my 40s. Boundaries wouldn’t have gone over well in my enmeshed family-of-origin.

Unresolved trauma leaves us vulnerable. For me, it manifested as codependency, which meant everything was somehow directed at or involved me. That led to emotional reactivity. In the situation with my friend, my emotional reactivity was that I was upset for her. I felt her pain as though it was my own. But it wasn’t.

There were so many times, too, where I’d done exactly what my friend had: I’d overthought and overanalyzed another person’s behavior. I’d made it about me. I’d done exactly what Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, The Four Agreements, advised not to do with Agreement #2:  Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Maturity & Character Matter

We don’t talk enough in our culture about character and maturity, nor do we sufficiently value these characteristics. Our pop culture and news media talk more about what a woman looks like than about how she behaves. When coverage addresses a woman’s behavior, it’s often glorifying or scandalizing bad behavior.

“I’m sure they meant well,” is a character-building phrase because it’s about self-restraint. When we use that phrase with others, and with ourselves, we shut our mind to things that will disrupt our inner calm. We’re not enmeshed in other people’s drama, and we’re not creating our own.

Regardless of whether another person’s intentions are good, or evil, “I’m sure they meant well,” protects us from saying or doing the wrong thing. We might react harshly to something that wasn’t meant to offend, or we might react appropriately to something utterly offensive, but that reaction may cost us dearly.

In this way, uniformly adopting the phrase, “I’m sure they meant well,” will move us to a higher level of being and awareness. It protects our energy and when that energy is shielded from disturbance, we think more clearly and behave more wisely.

Becoming an, “I’m sure they meant well,” person increases character because it leads to the increased self-respect that comes from knowing you protected others, and yourself.

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