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Lessons in reacting maturely rather than emotionally

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Lessons in reacting maturely rather than emotionally

D.C.: My boyfriend of four years sent me an online message while I was sleeping that called me by a different name. What's a mature response to something like that? "Excuse me"? Letting it pass? Seeing if he says anything? It was jarring, to say the least.

Carolyn: I think you just say, "Uh, my name is (blank). Is there something we need to talk about?"

It also depends on whose name he used. I can't be the only one with siblings, friends and spouse(s) who call me the wrong name, each offender more than once.

Or maybe I am just peculiarly nondescript.

D.C. Again: It has been several days now since I sent that question, and, as I suspected, the reason for the wrong-name message was relatively innocuous.

But this leads me to an overarching "life lesson" question: How do I learn to respond to situations like that? Or better put, how do I get the frame of mind that will lead me to ask thoughtful questions instead of giving off-the-cuff emotional responses?

Carolyn: First try consciously overruling your emotional reactions, even just to force yourself to wait before responding — like the counting-to-10 we all learned in kindergarten, but longer and more thoughtful. It can seem weird and deliberate — "I can't answer you yet, I need a minute/few hours/day" — but it still beats firing accusations at innocents.

Once you've stopped yourself, then you can run possible scenarios through your mind. "It's not always about you" has become both a put-down and a cliche, and overused phrases lose their power. However, if you use this phrase on yourself instead of others, it happens to be a potent silent mantra. "It's not always about me. It's not always about me. It's not always about me."

The result you're going for is to stop placing yourself at the center of everyone's every gesture, be it a positive, negative or even neutral one. Your flak filter, ideally, will be set to catch only the stuff that really is about something you said, did or just are. The rest — other people's issues, bad moods, biases, mistakes, and anything else you happen to stumble across — is the stuff you simply let pass.

When you are part of a problem, then you take it on directly, by taking your share of the responsibility.

There's a reason people seek beautiful views when they need to restore themselves emotionally: Big landscapes and skylines come with the unspoken message that you're just a dot, and a temporary one at that. That awareness can help you take yourself out of the centers of dramas where you don't belong, and it can shrink any remaining you-centered dramas down to size.

The outcome you want is as pragmatic as the inspiration is poetic. These now-shrunken dramas will fall into one of three categories: (1) You're hurting someone; (2) Someone's hurting you; (3) It's just bad luck that you need to ride out. Sorting them will allow you to focus only on what needs to be done.

This process often starts as a conscious effort, but make it a habit and it can become a general state of mind. Takes time and, often, lifelong vigilance, but it's possible. And nothing is more worthwhile.

Lessons in reacting maturely rather than emotionally 08/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:42pm]
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