Often my clients don't know what to do when they get into a heated conversation and experience anger, defensiveness, and resentment. The emotion of the moment overcomes them and they react. Later, they feel guilty and regret their outburst. Yet they have no alternative when they perceive that they are at the mercy of the emotion.
Today I offer you a tool that I give to these clients to support them to stay in control. Let's say someone pushes your buttons. You feel the anger rise inside you. Your heart beats faster, perhaps your face flushes, your muscles tighten. You want to shout, to defend yourself, and soon you're off to the races in a conversation that escalates and becomes more tangled with each passing minute.
Instead of merging with the feelings and reacting, I invite you to engage a part of you that steps back from the reaction. You simply watch it, observe it. Then you speak from this observer perspective. You "put it on audio" like you would if you were reporting on the actions of a small child having a temper tantrum in front of you.
For example, you can say, "There's a part of me that's having a reaction right now." This suffices if you can't identify your feelings right away, and you need some space to sort them out. You can add, "I'm not sure what's going on with me, so I'd like a half hour (or five minutes or a day) to get clear (or cool off). Then I'd like to revisit this conversation. "
If you're clear about your feeling reaction, you can say, "A part of me is so angry right now it wants to nail you to the wall!" Or "When you said that, I felt really anxious and now I'm going into major fear." An interesting thing occurs when you put your feelings on audio, speaking what they're up to instead of acting on them. They diminish or go away!
You see, our reactive nature operates best in the dark. When we don't see what it's up to, it has us over a barrel and can run us around mercilessly. When we shine the light of our consciousness on it and "tell on it," it can't hang around. It will slink off until the next opportunity to lure us into an upset. That's how it keeps itself alive; by feeding off the food of our upsets.
This takes practice. I confess that, even though I've been teaching this tool for years, I reacted in a conversation with my husband recently. Much of the time however, because I've been practicing, I can successfully navigate the rocky shoals of reactionary upsets. Like the time I said to my husband, "Part of me wants to make you wrong, and it wants to be right." In a couple more clarifying sentences, that conversation ended without a blow-up!
Putting the reactionary self on audio is NOT easy! It's addicted to drama. It will do its best to pull you in, especially when you attempt to step back and observe. Just keep practicing. Don't give up. When you do become sucked in, forgive yourself. Think of how you would put your reaction on audio if you could do it over.
Thus you practice mentally, and that eventually leads to change.
Dr. Marta is a Life Coach in Communication with a degree in Psychology. To contact her, write email@example.com or call (928) 451-9482.