Last week I shared the first three steps that calm down over-reactivity so that you can respond to something that is upsetting you from a grounded place that actually allows for resolution instead of an argument. If you haven’t read that article yet, start there first as those first three steps take us to the place of grounding needed to implement the 3 tools I mention in this article. This week, the three tools I am sharing help reframe the situation at hand to change our response.
Why reframe you are wondering? “Don’t I have the right to be pissed off? But OMG… You’ll never believe what they did to me…”
Yes, we do have a right to be upset, to be angry, to be sad, etc. and we also get to choose whether to take that frustration out on the other person and to carry that upset with us through the rest of the day and all of the interactions that we have or whether to respond to the upset from a grounded place that creates change so the situation isn’t repeated and we can release it then in the moment instead of harboring the hurt in our body. We can’t control what other people do, but we can choose how we respond to them and how we internalize the event.
I know for me, I’m not willing to allow somebody else’s bad behavior to lodge stress into my body that can manifest as disease or negativity and would rather just let the situation go. The person that cuts me off when driving, the shopper that takes 10 items into the 5 item express lane, or the kid playing their music on the train without earphones on isn’t going to change from my anger but my anger at them is going to change me, my body, my resilience to stress, my immune system, and my happiness for the rest of the day.
And if this a situation, where my response CAN change the person such as with frustrations at a colleague at work or a spouse who once again didn’t empty the dishwasher, I want to have that conversation from a grounded place of compassion for them and for myself so that I can set the boundaries that I deserve and that they will actually understand and follow through with.
I think we all know from personal experience that being yelled at, by someone frothing at the mouth, from a place of pointing fingers, blaming, and saying rude things doesn’t illicit a change response in us and instead is likely to spread to us to bring up past pains and to compete with them for who was most wronged, with neither of us actually listening to what the other says. I’m all about feeling my upset, communicating it from a grounded place, and avoiding frothing at the mouth!
So, how do we reframe and prevent mouth frothing? Try these 3 tools:
1. Allow for the possibility that your experience of this interaction is different from the true experience of the situation and at minimum from the other person’s experience. As upset builds, our mind will give us a thousand reasons why the other person’s action is wrong, hurtful, and even purposefully harmful. When we are upset, we can never clearly see or know the entire situation. Realize the other person has his or her own perspective and feels as justified as you do for the situation. So this is why the first three steps are so important to start with, to down-regulate our stress response first so that we can see a bigger picture of the situation.
Regarding the story I shared last week… If I hadn’t been in a blissed-out aware state, I might have reminded myself that my dad is a Montana man and if I were to put myself in his shoes from his history, I would have been punching, screaming and frothing at the mouth much more than him when confronted with my own vulnerability. There is nothing quite as scary as our vulnerability and fallibility and especially for masculinity.
If you are triggered from someone that you don’t know and it is more about you feeling disrespected from their choice with how they are engaging with the world, you may not be able to fully put yourself in their shoes but you might be able to imagine them having different social norms and expectations than you have.
For example, the driver that cut you off, probably thinks he is a great driver and is in total control and has no idea how his driving is affecting others. The kid listening to music without earphones, is only doing what is normal for his age and social group. The woman in the supermarket who is in the express lane with too many items, may not have even seen the express lane sign and was just choosing the shortest line.
In France and in Peru, I was the person being disrespectful of others and upsetting shoppers. In France, you typically weigh and price your own produce, add the sticker to the produce yourself and then take all your weighed and stickered produce up to the check-out stand. However, I just grabbed my produce and like a privileged North American, expected the cashier to do all the leg work for me. The shop didn’t even have the option to weigh things at the register and I couldn’t understand what the cashier was telling me to do so he had to walk me to the produce area and weigh and sticker everything for me while the people in line waited for us to return and him to finally run me through the line. Oh boy was I embarrassed and I’m sure really pissed off all the shoppers in the line and the cashier.
In Peru, I fondled produce like I normally do at a farmers’ market to decide what was ripe and what I wanted. Oh did I make the farmer mad. In Peru, normally you point to what you want and tell the farmer the level of ripeness you are seeking. You never touch their produce without asking or you always buy whatever you touch. A lesson I quickly learned and wouldn’t make the mistake of again, and also was doing what to me was what I thought was normal.
Allow for the possibility that the other person who has upset you, is not purposefully trying to hurt you, slow you down, or even knowingly doing something “wrong” and instead are doing what they feel is normal for whatever reason that is. Imagine what that reason could be. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Please don’t beat up the shopper for their mistake!
2. To calm ourselves down, it can be helpful to pretend, even for that moment, that the other person might actually be in the right or heck, even go further and picture that the person is actually trying to help you, has done whatever he has done for your own good or thinks it’s for you, even if that seems impossible to you on first glance! And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter why they did what they did to the rest of our lives and the path we are on. What does matter is that we can respond from a grounded place and not from a place of reactivity.
For example, if I had gotten triggered in that engagement with my dad I shared last week, I could have imagined that my dad was afraid of his daughter visiting and seeing him for who he is so he was closing off that possibility and protecting me from witnessing a failure of masculinity.
What might you tell yourself about why the driver did what they did as a reason to support other drivers? Trying to get out of your way and the other drivers’ ways quickly to clear the road more for you? Not likely at all but what matters is that you get out of your own head and create the possibility of something else. What if the slow down at the grocery store means that you miss being in a wreck on the drive home that otherwise you would have been caught-up in? We have no idea what chain of events are triggered or stopped by our engagement with someone else and it can help to imagine that this frustrating situation has a better outcome for us than had it not happened. When I’m running late for something, instead of blaming others, I look at how there may be a benefit to running late that I may never know.
3. Imagining something that would make you feel compassion for the other person is another way to take the steam out of the hot kettle. When we feel compassion for someone, it is impossible to hold anger at them at the same time, and it helps calm down our reactivity. We can’t control what the other person did or said, but we can control our emotional response to them and choose a healthy response that doesn’t upregulate our stress hormones or lodge trauma into our body. By responding with compassion, it also takes the wind out of their sails and chills them out too. Why they did what they did, probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but our ability to connect with them and communicate from a grounded place what our needs are, is what matters and isn’t possible from a reactive state.
What if the coworker reacted to you or did what they did because they are jealous of you or because they have really low self-confidence and are embarrassed about their mistake at work so are blaming you to avoid feeling the pain they feel? What if your boss was rude to you, because they had an awful day and just dealt with news of a death or maybe they haven’t slept in days because of pain? My recognizing or even imagining that vulnerability to a Montana man is the same as death could help me hold compassion for my dad and his responses to me. What if the person at the check-out line doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know they are in the wrong lane? What if the person who cut you off in traffic is rushing to the hospital where their wife is about to give birth?
If there is a “story” that would allow you to calm down if you knew, then tell yourself that story and come from that grounded place of compassion in interacting with them which means no road rage, no beating up a shopper, no taking your anger at the teen boy on train into work with you. It means, holding the possibility and giving the benefit of the doubt to the person in your life who has triggered you, your coworker, your boss, your spouse, your mother, etc. and from that place of compassion, having a real conversation with them to understand what actually happened and why, and creating the boundaries that need to be created from a grounded place of understanding.
Do we let people walk over us and get away with hurting us. No. Perhaps you hold compassion for your partner and from engaging in a calm, rational, grounded space, your emotions, how they made you feel, and what you need, and from that you learn that they can’t give that to you or don’t understand your upset. Then maybe it becomes time to let that relationship go, but knowing that you are making that choice from a grounded space, not a reactive one and working to have an open conversation with compassion for self and them.
How about you? What happens when you reframe a situation to calm down your upset so you can engage from a grounded place with the world, with the person and with yourself? What is your experience with reactivity? Do you have any experiences you’d like input on, for how to reframe? Please share in the comments below.