One of the markers of growing up, IMHO, is to remain calm during provocation. In the past (and occasional present), my reaction to a negative stimuli such as an angry, disrespectful or thoughtless person was to respond in kind with anger or disrespect. Imagine a two-year old having a tantrum but trying to maintain a calm demeanor. That’s me at my worst (well, except for when I actually lose it.)
There’s nothing wrong with that reaction per se; we feel how we feel. But now that I’m in my middle years, I would prefer to take a steadier approach to life’s turbulence. I don’t feel good, content or effective if I’m simply wrestling with turbulent and negative emotions. And by caving into or even fueling those emotions, I’m likely to escalate the situation to where one or both of us then does or says something that we both will later regret.
If only there were a pill for this kind of thing (or is it Valium or Prozac?) There’s just no quick fix for controlling or managing what can be destructive emotions. But I do think practicing a few concepts or exercises has helped me over the years.
- Interpretation – Just because I interpret an action or words in a certain way (disrespectful, thoughtless, hostile), does not mean they were intended that way. This may be someone else’s usual MO (or not at all directed at me) and I’m reading too much into it. See Eeny Meeny Miny Mo – I Choose Fear.
- Forgiveness – Even if someone intended disrespect, aggressive, passive-aggressive or selfish behavior, it does not mean I have to get upset about it. By believing that everyone is trying their best given their unique circumstances allows me to let go of any negative reciprocal feelings I may develop. See Finding Forgiveness and Tit for Tat Played Out.
- It’s not about me – You’ve heard of projection, right? Projection occurs when I have an emotion such as resentment but then accuse someone else of being resentful. I project because I perceive that emotion is coming from outside rather than from within. I’ve had people yell at me and accuse me of how angry I was while I sat and watched them. The irony and hypocrisy was lost on them. Not that I’ve never made similar accusations myself…
- Perspective – Here’s where I step back and ask myself what the end goal is. Is it my goal to be right? To get my way? Or to foster my relationship in light of a challenge? I don’t know about you, but when I engage in a prolonged and/or heated argument about who is right, even if I get a concession, I end up feeling a bit dirty afterwards. It feels like I just bullied someone into agreeing with me. That makes me an a**hole, not “right.” Also, if I “win” then that means I had to make someone else “lose.” Life is not a zero sum game and I refuse to play it that way.
- Quality of life – When I’m in that tantrum-ish state, I’m just not happy. I’m neither my best self nor am I being the person I want to be. Peace of mind has becoming a priority to me since I’ve spent so long squandering it. I also refuse to give away my power to have peace of mind to someone else.
- Reflects Poorly on Me – That emotional tantrum is just plain unattractive and reflects my juvenile mentality.
- Setting an Example – It’s particularly damaging to cave or escalate that tantrum when children, students or people I mentor are present. I am demonstrating that I believe my needs and beliefs are more important than someone else’s. Is that the lesson I want to teach to others?
- Meditate and journal – Doing these exercises regularly helps to get out of one’s head where these destructive beliefs and messages germinate and flourish. When I’m feeling particularly antagonistic to someone, I meditate on wishing them peace, joy, and love. I open my heart to their pain and humanity and, in so doing, am open to my own.
This effort, like everything else I do in my life, is a journey. A work in progress. Part of the forgiveness element includes forgiveness for myself when I respond poorly to someone else and their best effort. They’re doing their best. So am I. And that is good enough for me.