Do you ever have those moments where you just want to shout: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”? Or maybe there’s a person (or people) in your life that makes you wish that you could give them a high five...in the face...with a chair. Not that I advocate violence, but maybe you know what I’m talking about.
Part of being human and having to deal with other humans means that, at some point, we are going to be challenged by someone. It could be your partner, a coworker, a family member, a friend...whoever! There will inevitably be communication breakdown, misunderstandings, disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings. Sorry, but it’s the nature of the beast.
Recently, I came face-to-face with a situation that put me in the same room with someone who, in the past, has been really challenging for me. On certain occasions, I basically short-circuited and a side of me came out that didn't feel good and I was not at all proud of. Basically, these encounters left me feeling really pissed off.
Has this ever happened to you? Tell me I’m not alone here!
See, when people like you and I come up against emotions like anger, contempt, fear, and sadness (feelings that run counter to our desire for safety and connection) - our sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear and we go straight into “fight or flight” mode.
If you’re not super familiar with “fight or flight,” here’s a quick explanation of it that comes from Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard Medical School:
“A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the "fight-or-flight" response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.”
So yes, while running into someone who makes you mad, or dealing with a co-worker who is a pain in the ass might not be life-threatening, it can certainly be stressful.
And you guys, stress is terrible for our bodies! Too much of it can (and will) tank the quality of our lives and diminish the joy we feel.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of stress. Sure, it can be helpful in certain ways - but not so much when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
So to deal with the stressed caused by the particular situation that I mentioned earlier, I was left with three options:
I could numb out, avoid the conflict, and pretend like nothing was wrong (flight)
I could act out and make every attempt to make this person feel the same shitty way that I did (fight)
I could practice what I preach and take the challenge to be kind and compassionate.
As easy as those first two options would have been, neither of them would have gotten me anywhere, and I’d gamble that I would just feel worse after it was all over anyway. I wanted so badly for this situation to be different than times before.
If I wanted this scenario to lead to a sense of internal peace, there was an invitation - no, a DEMAND - that my ego let go of the wheel so that compassion (or something close to it) could take over.
This wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, it was probably going to be uncomfortable and difficult as hell. But I figured it couldn’t be worse than the alternative, right?
So I put on my big girl panties and took the compassion challenge head on. Thirty seconds and one hug later, it was done. Tension released.
That was it.
Could it really be so easy?
Yes, as a matter of fact it can.
I want to share with you the simple, internal process that it takes to get you from pissed off to feeling peaceful. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a little courage to dig into the moment and beat back the “fight or flight” response (aka “stress,” aka “feeling pissed off,” aka “numbing and ignoring”) without bypassing any of your (very real) emotions.
Here we go...
1. CLARIFY YOUR VALUES
I know I talk about values ad nauseum, but it’s because THEY ARE SUPER FREAKIN’ IMPORTANT. Brene Brown defines “values” as a “way of being or believing that you hold most important.”
Simple as that.
If you aren’t super clear on what’s important to you, it’s hard as hell to know how to make decisions that align with your heart and who you want to be in this world.
Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University, here’s a great primer on figuring out your values, if you don’t know them already.
As for me, my values are: LOVE, JOY, COMPASSION, CELEBRATION, and EASE. These ideas help me sail my ship and pretty much never steer me wrong.
Take a minute to write down your core values, and put that list in a place where you can see it every day.
2. JUST BREATHE
Breathe in. Count to 4.
Breathe out. Count to 4.
Repeat until your heart stops feeling like it’s going to leap out of your chest.
This type of breath (called "Corner Breathing") helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system and pump the breaks on the "fight or flight" response mentioned earlier. I know it seems elementary, but taking this moment to breathe and tune into your body is essential to the process of creating a sense of peace in stressful situations.
3. NOTICE YOUR EMOTIONS
As you were breathing, notice what emotions were coming up for you.
Anger? Hurt? Sadness? Fear? Resentment? Relief?
Maybe it’s a cocktail of those emotions. Perhaps there’s a little excitement in there as well. Who knows? It's all up to you. You're the expert here!
Whatever the emotions are, don’t judge them. All of them are normal, human responses to external stimulus.
Let the fact that you feel passionate about something indicate that it has meaning for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s just information.
And, information is just the stuff we need to make better decisions about our life.
4. FORGET ABOUT THE NEED TO BE RIGHT
So after that “information gathering” you just did (noticing your feelings), now comes the part where you use what you found to choose between door #1, #2 or #3
Will it be: Fight, Flight, or Response-Ability (sorry, I know it doesn’t really have a ring to it)
This is where things get a little sticky, because this is the part where we can just let our conditioning kick in and do what we are used to doing (fight or flight) when we’re faced with a stressful situation. Plus, it’s super easy to feel self-righteous when you really, truly give a shit about something. When you feel like someone has hurt you or done you wrong.
I hate to say it, but that’s just your opinion, man.
As each of us has our own perception and experiences life in our own way.
Part of being compassionate means remembering that EVERYONE experiences struggle, and we don’t get to decide that OUR struggle is more important than anyone else’s.
What I often ask myself in this moment is: “Is it more important to be right, or to be at peace?”
And if my answer is “peace,” then this is the part where we ask ego to step out of the driver’s seat and release the need to be right. This is the part where I choose what’s behind Door #3: Response-Ability (the ability to respond)
Again, releasing the need to be right gets so much easier when you know what’s up with your values and what’s most important to you.
When you hold your values up next to the emotions you’ve pinpointed, you get to be so much more intentional about choosing your response. For example: I’m totally allowed to feel angry if I feel slighted by someone, but what I do with that anger is my choice. And because I know that LOVE, JOY, and COMPASSION are 3 of my highest values - I have the opportunity to check myself and choose to respond in a way that reflects those values.
At no point in any of this do you diminish your anger, or pretend that it doesn’t exist - you simply suspend your need to be right and channel a response that reflects the core of who you truly are, as opposed to letting yourself get hijacked by emotions.
5. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE
If nothing else, remember treat others how you want to be treated.
Don’t like to be yelled at? Don’t yell at people.
Don’t like to be ignored? Don’t ignore people.
Like to be treated with kindness? Treat others with kindness.
When you allow yourself to get out of your own way and understand that each and every person on this Earth basically just wants to feel seen and be loved - it’s so much easier to slow down, take a few breaths, and remember that we’re all just humans being human.
It makes it easier to listen, find the shared humanity with the person who is pissing you off, and seek a degree of common ground that makes peace possible.
Your peace of mind is directly related to your ability to respond, rather than to react. So, know what’s important to you, take a couple breaths, feel what you’re feeling, and let your next step be guided by your desire to feel a sense of peace over your desire to be right.
As always, I’m curious to hear about what this looks like for you in real life. Feel free to drop me a note and let me know how this process works out for you.
If you are feeling called to practice these steps and discover more about how you want to "show up" in life - I'll be offering a 6-week virtual coaching workshop for women beginning August 28, 2018. We will be exploring more topics just like this, and how to make a powerful impact in life. Space is limited, and early bird pricing is available until August 3rd! Head here for more information and to get signed up!