Life’s a B and then you die…
I started writing a post about diplomacy, but actually I have spent most of the week flying between diplomacy and rage and I am exhausted. It led me to thinking about the different ways in which we cope, the methods that we employ to get us through, the habitual behaviours that are second nature to us in everything that we do, but specifically the behaviours that we inhabit at times of turmoil and stress.
I am almost certain that we all have a long list of anecdotes and phrases that we bring out whenever the going gets tough — as it has occasion to do every now and then. What is interesting is that these turns of phrase evolve throughout our lives, but generally speaking despite how much we develop emotionally and mentally they are all intended to justify our actions or feelings. They are also often our armour, we wear them like a sign to say, ‘this is what I believe in, go ahead and challenge me’. What can be difficult then is when people do challenge you, not because they are being contrary but because their responses are tuned in differently, as is their right they may disagree with your point of view and that can sometimes make you angrier; so let’s look at these phrases that we have lived our lives by (or that I have lived my life by):
When I was a child I used to be picked on, and so I would take solace when my parents said,
“They are only jealous”
When I was a teenager and the teenage angst was rife, exams were hard and boys were confusing, we used to comfort one another with,
“Life’s a bitch and then you die”
As a young adult at university learning to deal with some very different characters and reactions, it started to get more diverse in range, but mostly it was said that,
“They aren’t worth your time or energy”
Now, as I reach my late twenties I suppose the range is ever expanding and unlike in previous years I actually believe what I am saying. Something that is leading my behavioural response day to day is something I have been working on with my therapist,
“You can’t change other people, you can only change your reaction”
It isn’t as simple as it sounds, but I emphatically believe it is the way forward for me, the phrase that I have been trying to pin down and understand for the majority of my life — without ever realising.
We have all been there, a friend or colleague or the attendant at the bank says something that inflames our senses, you feel that hot and shaking ball of range or fury or hurt start to pulse inside your stomach, working its way up to your chest and fluttering in your throat. Your heart starts to pound and your brain mists over and suddenly you are blurting out an instinctive myriad of impassioned rage and judgement because it makes you feel better. It makes you feel bold, empowered and it’s a release of the pent up energy…and then pretty quickly afterward, as you have stewed and thought obsessively about the words they uttered and the response you made and how you could have expressed yourself better, you plummet down to the bottom. Just like when you have eaten too many Percy pigs and the sugar high soars before the shakes come over you, so too does the anxiety of your actions. It’s actually a pretty endless cycle and its all consuming:
Rage > React > Reproach > Regret > Regress > Repeat.
With my new mantra it challenges this, it’s saying why are you angry at what that person said? You haven’t lived their life, you haven’t walked in their shoes and so you have no idea why they feel the way that they do in order to speak and act in that way. Its easy to tell yourself that they are ignorant or selfish or spiteful or any number of those negative terms that we all desperately hope to never embody (but we all do at various points in our lives and thats actually ok). Sometimes the occasion will come that your words might hit home for someone who is emphatically in the opposite camp, but thats almost never going to be when you rage and snap and block out all of what they have said in favour of your own beliefs.
Its easier said than done because as learned behaviours go, they are instinctual, they are innate and so its more than a conscious effort to change your response to a single situation, you have to do it constantly and continuously, expanding your self awareness to the point that you eclipse that old habitual behaviour with the new. This is what I have been working extremely hard at doing and I really don’t always get it right, I am exhausted from the effort but like all things in life that are worth while, it’s an exceptionally difficult journey but it’s rewarding. So instead of the above, this is now my process:
Listen > Learn > Respond > Reflect > Let go.
I wish I could say that I have managed this in every instance, I absolutely haven’t. I have in the past had a habit of letting my rage take over and my emotions would brim to the surface, I really struggled to assert myself without seeming petulant or irrational and sometimes I still do. But mostly in those times I am able to look back objectively, work out how the negative automatic behaviour was triggered, understanding that does wonders for then working out the new automatic behaviour, and instead of stewing about it for days I am much more able to put it to the back of my mind, a lesson learned and a regret actioned upon.
When I do manage to listen and respond instead of rage and react, I spend perhaps a fraction of a moment reflecting on the encounter and then I get on with my day, no obsessive thinking, no extended turmoil.
If I go through this complex array of thoughts and emotions every time I am challenged in my beliefs or understanding, then of course each and every person I come in to contact with goes through something similar. Some people honed the reasonable responses at a young age, some people have learnt and evolved with time and experience, some people will never learn it and that brings me on to my next point.
As I evolve and make a conscious effort for self improvement, every time I see and experience someone exhibiting an old behaviour that I have deemed negative or unfavourable my intolerance flares up! I can’t stand to watch them make the mistakes of my past, I suppose there is a level of avoidance because I am embarrassed to have ever reacted like that because now that I am on the receiving end its difficult to watch. This too can be helped with the same phrase, choose to change your own reaction because you will not change them, true change comes from within, it cannot be taught only explained as a notion. So give that person the time, the space and the patience you wished for and were grateful for from other people and don’t expect them to learn what you did, they might never learn and thats ok. Their life is on a trajectory different to yours, emotionally, intellectually, physically and every other -ally that you can think of.
I think the only way to finish this post is with the key phrase that has led its composition,
“You can’t change other people, you can only change your reaction”.