I’ve been working on defining the difference between expressing my feelings and dumping criticism and aggravation on someone. Mostly, this happens in exchanges with my husband. Often I believe I am expressing my emotions (something I’ve read over and over is a healthy thing) and he feels like I am attacking him. I have not mastered the gentle approach and he would rather avoid conflict altogether.
Lessons from AA
I recently heard on a podcast that in Alcoholics Anonymous individuals on the path to sobriety are taught to pause before they respond when they are aggravated. This is a fine practice for all of us, yes? In AA it is taught as a way to manage the inevitable frustrations of getting sober.
Viktor Frankle of Man’s Search for Meaning basically said the same thing in his quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Ooops! I did it again
The other day, I received an email from the schedule coordinator at work. I am a special education paraprofessional at the local high school. The email asked if I could take on an additional task during one of the busiest periods of my day. I replied right away. I asked if another employee could do it. I stated how busy I was and how I was already “abandoning” two of my other students way too often due to shortages in coverage. I hit send.
Then the regret started. Maybe I was too harsh with my words. I am a brand new employee, who do I think I am pushing back like that? It is hard to decipher tone and intention in typed words. What if she thinks I am too pushy or aggressive? I wished I would have paused and let myself cool down before I replied to her email. I was heated up about too many pulls on my time.
Was I advocating or just reacting?
While I sweated out my coordinator’s reply, I also thought it might be alright that I made it clear right away that I can not be dumped on. I have received many words of encouragement from friends and family over the years telling me to speak up for myself, to take care of myself as well as care for others.
The coordinator responded with the explanation that we were very short-staffed that day due to illness and that she completely understands my plight. She even said she appreciates that I advocate for my students.
She took the time to write a thoughtful and well received response. I felt good after reading her message. I felt heard while still respecting the message she needed me to understand. She probably paused before responding to me.
And the past creeps in again
As usual, I see my past haunting me in my current relationships. I spent a lot of time taking care of others and their emotions in the past. I now have a knee-jerk response of annoyance and sadness when there is a whiff of someone taking advantage of me. I also had a husband who had a very direct way of speaking and seemed genuinely undaunted when critiqued or told to do something in the name of greater efficiency. Along the way, I picked up a few of his traits.
Only sort of effective
With my second, more people-friendly husband, I have to dial back my statements and responses. I need to strive for a gentler approach. I need to deliver my words after a cool down period. I’ve written about effective communication. The key elements of effective communication are: 1. Know your position 2. Express it in such a way that the other person can take it in.
I am better at knowing my position but I am floundering with the delivery. The email from my coordinator, my quick response and the worry it later caused me, once again serve as reminders to slow down and respond thoughtfully. I know all of my relationships will benefit.
How to pause?
I’ve found that walking, deep breaths, talking with a trusted friend or reading give me enough time to reassess my thoughts and initial reactions. I’ve heard some people recite a favorite poem or take a shower. These all seem like good ways to take a break from the spinning mind.
The lesson and necessary actions
I will employ the pause when aggravated rule. This allows me to cool down and not speak from a heated (read brain hijacked) place. I will take time to reflect on what part of the response is related to a wound from the past and respond in a way that reflects what is actually happening now. I will also take into consideration, the way my husband processes my words based on his past and his temperament.
Always working on creating a better Brenda…
What personal lesson popped up for you this week? How good are you at pausing before responding? What helps you pause?
If you would like to learn how to create lasting relationships and personal resilience on your own, at your own pace, I recommend checking out my online courses at brendaknowles.teachable.com. Click the image below to find out more.
I need to be mindful of this with my husband. I can be very critical at times which he doesn’t deserve. And I sound like my mother, which I hate. Even when I know I’m doing it, I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut. I will try pausing and hope this keeps me from saying things that sound like I’m attacking him.
I can relate! For me, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to feeling a threat of some sort. Is my mate not right for me? If I point out his flaws maybe he’ll fix them and we’ll be alright. I sometimes think I need perfection to be happy and accepted. I put that perfectionism on my partner too. Most of the time I just need to take a step back and enjoy the ride. 😉 Good luck with your pausing.
Ahahah! I can totally relate. I had a tensed meeting with a prospective client early this week. Since she also happens to be my friend and is worried about her company, and not sure how to pay me for the work she wants to give me, things got pretty difficult. We talked it out yesterday and each said she didn’t like the tone of voice the other one used. We had each reacted strongly to some of the things said during the meeting – which included other people. I too seem to have t work on the way I communicate things, although it strongly depends who I talk to. Most of the time there doesn’t seem to be a problem. My question is, I guess, how come we activate/get activated so strongly by the way some people talk to us, and not at all by others?
My experience and research regarding reactivity, primarily points to earlier conditioning. People we feel closest to set us off the easiest because they remind us of past intimate or caregiving relationships. A certain tone of voice, lack of eye contact or simply day to day exposure remind of us past long-term relationships and the pain or rejection we felt. The close relationships see us at our best and worst. Our vulnerability shows with them. If they don’t make us feel safe when vulnerable, we react by protesting or withdrawing. I’m glad you could work things through with your friend. That’s the best. Conflict is inevitable and often necessary to learn something. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Good advice. And as well, always to be aware of our internal conditioning. I find getting up and walking around, then re-reading (this mostly applies to work items) gives me the break I need to examine what was written, not what I perceived. I had that with a client this week. Changing my approach (ask; listen;filter) allowed me to hear the client better, which toned down my immediate “more unpaid work” alarms considerably.
I will try the ‘walk around’ and then re-read approach. Emails tend to get me hyped up. Mostly because they are often items that need attention and action. I appreciate your input wise lady. 🙂