41: Intent and Impact (Part 1)

There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries.

– Pema Chodron

Over the last three-and-half years, I have created over 360 entries on WordPress. There are still 122 drafts in the queue. Plus, I’ve made thousands of micro-posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

However, of the tens of thousands of words I’ve written over the last three-and-half years, I repeatedly return to a few dozen posts and reread them when I am caught in a moment. These few dozen posts reflect the conversations I have had with myself and others as I internalize my choices and reflect on the relationship between my intentions, the unskillfulness of the actions, and the impact on my own life and the lives of others. 

The meatier posts reflect on my pursuit of skills, awareness, and growth. 

Often I’d write a post simply with the hope of sussing out the intention and impact of an experience. Some posts became waypoints as I moved through my grief, while others became moorings during the emotional storms. Often the meaning of a post wasn’t even apparent to me until weeks, months, and occasionally years later. When the purpose of the post became clear, I could see the impact in places or moments. 

For example, last November, I finally had enough and recognized how idiot compassion for Painter was an obstacle to my growth and moving forward in my life. It wasn’t a switch being flipped as much as a dimmer being turned up one incremental awareness at a time, eventually bringing light to the murky shadows of my thoughts.

Skills and awareness repeating themselves incrementally, even with the half-hearted trudge forward.

As I read my earlier posts on WordPress, the pattern of absorbing damaging and dangerous nonsense under the guise of making emotional space for Painter becomes obvious. In my desire to be accountable and respectful to Painter, I made excuses for her behaviors and blamed myself. 


I took responsibility for both what Painter felt and how she felt. I took responsibility for her actions. I blamed myself. I guessed at Painter’s intentions and minimized the effect on me.


The approach I took reflects my wounds. As a result, I filled in Painter’s silence with stories as I pursued a path to reconciliation. Painter’s willingness to let me take emotional responsibility for her actions is a reflection of her wounds. Too often, I naively believed that if I overlooked Painter’s efforts to undermine my life, she would eventually, almost magically, stop doing it. 

She didn’t. 

I now recognize my idiot compassion. I have repeatedly excused Painter’s decision to try and get me fired, keeping my things, interfering in my business, facilitating a smear campaign, filing false police reports, and a host of other vengeful, childish, and selfish actions. I paid her bills. I ignored her. I avoided her. I left town. I disappeared from social media. I avoided places, situations, and opportunities under the mistakes belief her actions were about me and I would try and make her comfier.

I’m not doing that anymore.

When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries,” write Chodron. “The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say ‘enough.'” 

Enough. Finally.

Growth required I lean into conflict and take Painter to court. There was never anything punitive or purely emotional about this decision. As Chef would remind me, I talked about taking this action on and off for nearly three years. I knew what needed to be done, but, like my infidelity, I was looking for an easier way to allow everyone to be comfortable while I was emotionally self-immolated.

The decision to take Painter to court is the outcome of all the other work I have done. Win or lose I recognize that growing around my trauma and adverse childhood experiences requires I confront my habituated avoidance of conflict to pursue love, acceptance, and connection. The decision is a reflection of the growth I am seeking. A more skillful person might have recognized the need for this course of action much sooner.

Of course, an emotionally more agile and conscious person would never have had multiple affairs to cope with their discomfort.

When I started down this path, I never expected to be taking Painter to court. However, my intentions to mature and grow demand that I confront the uncomfortable.

One of the best posts for me is an entry dated May 17, 2020, entitled 14: A Love Letter to the Betrayers – Intent vs. Impact

The post is a bit long for a journal entry, but I write what I write as the Muse strikes. In this case, my Muse was Dr. Alexandra Solomon, and her Instagram post discusses intention versus impact. In many ways, what I wrote, and Solomon’s post, altered the trajectory of my life in a way that is not easily articulated. 

However, I can sense the sea change in my approach to vulnerability, intimacy, risk, uncertainty, and living in the moment. And although I cannot explain the sensation, I know with all the emotional certainty I carry that it has changed my approach to people and situations in a freeing and empowering way.

Because of how I have internalized this lesson, I decided that I want to revisit the topic of intent and impact over the next few weeks. I’d like to have a conversation about how it has impacted my life as I’ve intentionally internalized the lesson over time.

This will come slowly over the next several weeks.

With Solomon’s permission, I am resharing her Instagram post below.

When someone who matters to you won’t engage with you on an important topic, two things are true at the very same time:⁣

1. The cycle of reaching and blocking sucks! It hurts like hell. You feel like a fool for “putting up with this crap.” You feel lonely and devalued. ⁣
2. Unless you’re partnered with a sociopath, hurting you is rarely the motivation that drives the defensiveness.⁣

This is what therapist call INTENT versus IMPACT. ⁣

Somebody’s behavior can hurt you WITHOUT them intending to hurt you.⁣

Here’s the deal: people defend themselves against stuff that overwhelms their ability to cope. Shit, that feels emotionally charged. Shit that holds a direct line to a core wound / pain point / historical echo.⁣

No pain, no defensiveness.⁣

Where do you go from here? ⁣

* Make sure you’re taking care of your side of the street (see previous post about how to invite a hard convo).⁣
* Remember: Defensiveness is data. See what happens when you shift to curiosity. Can you help me understand why this conversation is hard for you?⁣
* Bring in a couples therapist. We are legit trained in this stuff, and we have some mad skillz!!!!⁣

Relational self-awareness is a learned skill, and your partner may be in Relational Self-Awareness 101 while you’re working on your graduate degree in this shit. There’s even a word for it: ALEXITHYMIA. Inability to name your feelings. Depending on someone’s cultural background, gender role socialization, personality, family of origin, etc, they may well be more unskilled than obstinate. ⁣

What might help you muster a bit more patience and curiosity? ⁣Healthy relationships require partners to be responsive, accessible, and empathic. Some of us just need a bit more remediation than others! ⁣