What has to happen before we can respond to other’s anger? We must first identify and relieve our own pain. We must give ourself emotional first aid.
We must stop our own bleeding before we can attend to others. Many people are not used to putting themselves first in their own lives, but it is entirely appropriate to make ourselves a priority under these combat conditions. We are not being selfish. Selfish begins and end with us. We take care of ourself and let everyone else be damned. Self-preservation means we take care of us so I can be there for everyone else. To be a good wife/husband, father/mother, son/daughter, sister/brother, friend, employee; we have to care for our own needs first.
Self-preservation is like when we are on an airplane and they go over the safety instructions. Selfish is only putting our air mask on while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while we choke. Self-preservation is putting on our air mask first so we can the help those around us.
We aren’t taught how to cope with this stuff in school. Our teacher may have told us to ignore it when someone calls us names. But how did it that work out? Terrible. It’s one thing to ignore a dumb remark. It’s quite another to feel like a doormat, letting ourselves be verbally abused and ignoring the painful degradation of our worth as a person.
Emotional first aid involves:
1) Doing what pleases us
We spend lots of time trying to make others happy or preventing their unhappiness. Doing what pleases us requires us to: chose to stop doing what is unnecessary and do something constructive by making choices in the present for ourselves that align with our own standards. This may involve stopping what we “should” do and making a choice to advocate for own own happiness instead.
2) Use Our Judgment
We can use our adult judgment to determine which words make sense and which are used to be hurtful. Their behavior is not personal when we consider that others anger is an adult sized temper tantrum, merely “firing for effect.” They want to intimidate us and are using provocative words or a hostile tone to show dominance. This is done to push us into submitting. Instead, we can choose to agree with the feelings, not the facts.
In this context, we have the choice to use our judgment to override our defensive attitudes. We can catch ourself about to take their barrage of insults personally, as if they were a reflection on our worth as a person. That is exactly the way they want us to take it! They are building themselves up by tearing us down! This tells us that they are badly in need of building up. Self-respecting grownups have no such need, but those lacking self respect do. We can choose not to give them verbal ammunition. We can choose not to tear them down more than they are already.
3) Catch Ourself
We can regain control by reminding ourself that we have the power of choice. Specifically, we have the power and control over what comes out of our mouth. We can catch ourself about to explain, defend, debate, cajole, counter-attack or submit, and choose not to do it.
We are not the worst person in the world. We can choose not to take their words at face value. We can agree that they feel the way they feel: “You sound hurt “. That must be painful”. We can keep our version of the facts to ourself. This is called, discretion, which is the power to choose how much we wish to reveal and when. Right now, we do not choose to reveal anything. It wouldn’t help if we did. They aren’t interested.
This is not the same as “ignoring.” We are consciously choosing to give their accusations all the attention they so richly deserves, namely none. We just appear to be paying attention. Nodding our head would be a nice touch.
We are choosing stay calm. We are not taking the bait. They do not have the power to provoke us. These words are not for us. There is no need to respond. We are using our judgment to make a choice to stay quiet. They would not listen to what we have to say anyways.
4) Regain Our Self-Respect
If we just have taken their insults personally, we have been put in a “one down” position. They are in control. But as of right now, we can choose to regain our self-respect by reminding ourself that we are worthwhile in spite of our faults and imperfections. We are an equal member of the human race in spite of what they just said. Even if they are right in their accusations, it merely proves we are imperfect, like everyone else. Our “imperfection” made them angry, and we can regret that it did.
Their criticisms are not to be taken as a reflection on our worth. But it’s hard to avoid going down the path of doubt and self-criticism. We can maintain our self-respect by reminding ourself that others’ comments are merely a child’s temper tantrum; they don’t help the situation for them or us.
We can choose to catch ourself retaliating with immature attitudes. We are an adult now, we can choose not to. Instead, we can choose to shift gears. We can choose to tend to our own wounds before we begin to address them. We can choose to calm ourself down. We can remind ourself that we are not worthless. We are not worth more. We are an equal member of the human race. We can remind ourself that they are not superior and we not inferior. We are both imperfect human beings operating out of attitudes from our own pasts.