The preposition matters. As I listened to a friend share someone’s else’s frustration, I asked, “Is he upset with you or is he upset for you?”
There’s a difference. It’s not just about frustration. We could say,
- Is he/she upset with you or upset for you?
- If he/she impatient with you or impatient for you?
It’s the difference between expressing something on our behalf versus aiming it at us. It’s the difference between someone standing beside us, shoulder to shoulder, or someone turning toward us and standing against us. Not that facing us is always a bad thing, because sometimes it’s respectful, but not when we’re in the path of their trajectory. The word with can be deceptive. We think it’s typically a good thing for someone to be with us, but sometimes the action of being with someone places us in their way, becoming the target of blame or anger. It typically has eroding—or explosive—effects on the relationship.
It’s important to know the difference for several reasons:
- We can hear people’s frustration or impatience and think they are coming alongside us when they are letting their own frustration or impatience grow, and it can damage the rapport and trust we have unless it is identified and healthily dealt with.
- We can hear people’s frustration or impatience and think they are against us when they are trying to express empathy. They are territorial for us. That can be expressed in healthy or unhealthy ways, helping or harming the situation.
- We can let someone take advantage of or manipulate us when we are vulnerable if we’re not aware of the dynamics that could be happening around us. The healthier we are in everyday life, the more aware we can be even when we are vulnerable.
- We need to be aware of our own motivations. As we encourage others, we need to be authentically helpful. If we cannot be healthily helpful, and if it becomes more about us than the people we are helping, we need to step back.
Many prepositions are among the smallest words we use but have a huge impact. Let’s pay attention and know who is for and who is with us and vice versa. Let’s know they whys and the potential growth and healing. Let’s know so we can make the right kind of difference in each other’s lives.