If you can remember everyone’s behavior is a reflection of them and not you, even when the fall-out directly affects you, then their tone or attitude doesn’t have to send you into a tailspin. The benefits of shifting cognitive gears and thinking, “This has absolutely nothing to do with me,” are truly beyond belief. Instead of taking things personally, you detach with love from other people’s issues, agendas, and projections. You become less defensive, reactive, and easily angered. Reframing your thoughts does not come easily or naturally, and takes a bit of practice, so let’s get started.
Say, for example, someone close to you takes a tone you think is sarcastic, impatient, or condescending. Does that press your buttons? Does it trigger past memories of someone, perhaps a parent, who took that tone and catalyzed feelings of shame, embarrassment, ineptitude, or unworthiness in you? If so, join the club. Everyone has had those experiences. Of course, that doesn’t make it good, just part of life. The question is: How can you deal with it?
First, remind yourself:
This is not about me.
This is not about my parent.
I am no longer a child.
I do not have to take this personally, even if it feels like an attack.
This is not about my past. This person is not consciously trying to press my buttons. Perhaps, they feel threatened, angry, or vindictive and are unconscious of how those emotions might be influencing their behavior.
Even if they are saying things in a tone of voice that reminds me of old pattens and pain, I do not have to react without recognizing I have a choice. I can choose to see their behavior as a reflection of them, not me.
If someone’s tone is consistently pressing my buttons I can talk with them, look at my own responses, and own them. By taking responsibility for my emotional reactions, I reclaim my power over myself.
In the moment, when you feel your sympathetic nervous system engaging its flight, flight, or freeze modes, consciously take a deep, deep breath. Feel it infiltrate every cell as you inhale and relax each one as you exhale. Feel yourself grounded in your seat or feet, connected to stability and firm resolve. Your agenda is to keep breathing, feel secure, and only speak once you have thought about your response. This may mean there are longer pauses between their remarks and your retorts. Let that be just fine. It’s not chess, and no timer will chime if you take a few extra seconds.
By allowing yourself to notice your reactions on physical, emotional and cognitive levels without rushing to react, you can calm down and process what is happening.
Assume the best. Choose to believe this person is not trying to push your buttons. However, if you know they are itching for a fight, let that be another reason to keep calm.
If you feel threatened, ask yourself: Is there any real danger? Naturally, if you think someone might assault you get away as fast as possible. More typically, it is emotional pain or interpersonal conflict we want to avoid. If that is the case, remind yourself how you have lived through plenty of pain and conflict in the past. While it wasn’t pleasant, you survived. That should help calm you even more, enabling you to respond thoughtfully, rather than lash out defensively. Later on, when you can leisurely assess the situation, you may decide to spend less or no more time with that person; or, if they are very close to you, you may want to work through things. That may mean talking about it once tempers cool, or enlisting the help of a therapist.
Another way people typically get defensive is when their expectations meet reality. Expectations are a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for disappointment on a good day, and anger or depression on a bad one. If you keep cultivating unrealistic expectations about all the people in your life you will find yourself reacting badly to their tone of voice or attitude.
Perhaps, you discussed someone’s sarcastic or condescending tone of voice and are surprised when they talk to you that way again. Just because you alerted them to their verbal patterns does not mean they will change them. Thinking other people will adjust their habits to suit your desires is a guaranteed path to disappointment, as is trying to motivate them to want to change. Rather than embark on a fool’s errand, you might want to work on the only person you can change: you.
Last but not least, resist the urge to think, “If they really loved me they would change.” and “They know how much this bothers me. Obviously don’t care enough to behave differently.” Those thoughts may sound rational but aren’t. They are a perfect example of unrealistic expectations and assuming you know what motivates someone else’s behavior. Since each head is its own universe, you can’t possibly know. Resist the urge to analyze other people’s actions and erroneously attribute negative motivations to them. Sometimes, people are just oblivious, distracted with their own issues, or forget how much something bothers you. Hard as this may be to believe, even if someone adores you, you aren’t the center of their universe every minute of every day. They are.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang