Have you ever been in a relationship with a partner or boss or acquaintance where the conversation gets ugly? Maybe you are shocked by what was said and frozen to silence. Or maybe you were angered and snapped back something equaling mean-spirited. Whatever the scenario, you’ve probably wished later that you were able to respond more wisely.
Often, when a conversation or disagreement starts to go south, one or both parties begin acting childishly. They use sarcasm, threats, name-calling and blame shifting to prove their point or win. These are emotionally immature ways of communicating, with emotionally charged feelings that result in immature understanding and poor problem solving. No Bueno.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Although you can’t control what the other person does or says, you can control how you respond. Often reactions to negative stimulus (like mean words, gestures or attitudes) are automatic and unconscious. We barely even recognize what we are doing or saying until it’s over. Today, I’ll give you some tips on how to recognize your part in the unhealthy dynamic and ways to improve.
For a little exercise, choose a recent argument or dilemma in which you reacted problematically. If you can become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, even the unconscious ones, you’re much more likely to gain control of them. Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can be less reactive to painful stimulus:
- Why was I so angry/scared/withdrawn?
- What exactly was I feeling when it happened?
- Does that feeling remind me of a familiar feeling from my past?
- Did I react similarly this time as I used to react to past painful stimulus?
- Knowing what I know now, what would have been an appropriate response?
- What kind of response would have solved the problem instead of added to it?
Once you are able to answer these questions with certainty, you will be twice as likely to respond with wisdom the next time you are faced with a painful or scary stimulus. We can not control or be responsible for other people’s choices or behaviors, but we can determine how we will respond to them. This is especially true in long standing close relationships because behavior patterns can be observed and even predicted. We know that another challenge will arise and another disagreement will emerge. Think about how you might want to respond next time with the following tips:
- Recognize your triggers.
- Slow down your response enough to think it through.
- Imagine yourself responding the way you want to.
- Recognize your personal needs for respect.
- Determine your boundaries ahead of time.
- Assert those boundaries with love and respect.
This list might take us our lifetime to master, but the energy trying is always worth it. Being a student of our own feelings and behavior adds value to out circle of influence. The more we are able to harness the power of our response, the stronger we become, the straighter we hold our heads, and the better we are treated in return. We can not expect others to value us more than we value ourselves. Taking hold of ourselves, while connecting with others in emotionally adult ways is the call for all of us.