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Archive for October, 2009

There are times when the reactions we get from others make us either upset or angry, or both. I am going to suggest something difficult to accept: that we may have contributed to our own discomfort. This is not an easy idea to accommodate. My theory about our contribution is that I think we actually get something from the outrage we feel – I haven’t ever fully understood the “brown stamps” concept in transactional analysis but maybe my pattern is an illustration of what other people manage to articulate more succinctly with that concept.

You do, say or write something; someone responds in a way that you find unpleasant, upsetting, infuriating, unjust … all the things you associate with feelings you prefer not to experience. You feel outraged and possibly misunderstood. You relate the story to someone else, the metamessage being, “Isn’t it unfair? Haven’t I been mistreated here?” You feel righteous in your indignation. With a bit of luck (from your point of view), the person you relate the story to says, “Absolutely!”, “It’s awful!” or similar, so that your righteous indignation feels endorsed and justified. You then go on to repeat the experience … over and over again.

If you really are lucky, however, at some point you will get a challenge rather than an endorsement. I put it that way because I think, in my own case, I have to take some responsibility here and I’d like to try to change my pattern. My feelings have not occurred as a consequence of a situation with no input from me. Whether I like it or not, I have actually gone to the playing field and put myself on it. Maybe I didn’t learn the rules of the game first. Or maybe I made the assumption that I simply could play, could handle the game and be good at it, just because that was what I wanted. Sticking with the analogy, maybe I then found that the way I played the game meant I didn’t score any goals, I got injured, or I got pulled up for fouls and got sent off. In other words, maybe my approach was ineffective or at any rate yielded the opposite of what I intended. What to do?

I think there are various strategies to consider. Some are:

  • Get tougher and roll with the proverbial punches (with apologies for the mixed metaphor!)
  • Commit fewer fouls and therefore get penalised less often
  • Learn to take evading action so that you get tackled less and maybe both avoid injury and get to score.

(This is obviously not an exhaustive list.)

What you do in real life, rather than in the game analogy, depends on what you really want. If the bottom line is that you want to have a story to tell like-minded people, who will empathise with your outrage and agree with your response to it, you will keep doing the same thing and put up with the discomfort of getting there. If not, you have to change something.

I’ve decided that the fun of telling the story is punctured too much by the feelings I have to go through to get to tell it (remember this is cyclical; if you do the same thing, you’re likely to get the same result). I’ve also always found “learning to roll with the punches” more desirable than achievable – call it frailty of character if you like, I just know I don’t find it easy. So I’m going to try to go for sparing myself the feelings in the first place and foregoing the fun of telling the story. Another way of putting it is that I’m going to try to take responsibility for how I feel, and do something about my contribution to that, rather than engineering righteous outrage at how I contend someone else has “made” me feel.

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Draw a line

Sometimes people surprise you, and not in a good way. You initiate a friendly conversation and it turns into an argument. You expect a certain reaction and the response you get is completely different. You make a call to impart some news you think will please the recipient and instead they shout at you before hanging up on you. Healthy self-esteem enables people to weigh up such events sensibly and sometimes to shrug and move on. Those of us who find it more difficult to deal with them need to focus on a few basic principles:

  • Don’t take responsibility for anyone’s feelings but your own.
  • The other person’s reaction may or may not have anything to do with you personally, and they are under no obligation to explain it to you, or to excuse their behaviour.
  • Some disagreements and differences of view can be fixed; some can’t.

It’s useful to learn to draw a line under events instead of reliving them over and over again. If they’re really yours to fix, then fix them. If they’re not, accept that you can’t make anyone else fix them. Let them go.

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