I have always been somewhat of a reactionary fellow. More often than not, this innate quality of mine has gotten me into more messes than I care to remember. I have a bad temper and a really short fuse, plus a knack for sarcasm that will have you rolling on the floor or ready to hurl a beer bottle at my head. All in all, it is safe to say that I haven’t always handled myself in the most dignified of ways during times of conflict. That, however, was what seems to be a lifetime ago.
As I have matured, I have learned how to appreciate the relationships in my life. I find that I look at and handle conflict very differently, now. I no longer need to experience the rush of energy that anger and retribution provide. Saving face, while still important to me, doesn’t seem worth sacrificing my integrity or self-respect. Most importantly, I see the importance and significance of the relationships in which I engage. I thank the powers-that-be that–somewhere along the way–I grew up.
Don’t get me wrong: I am still a reactionary person. At times, it takes very little to get my hackles up. Although I don’t think age has tempered me any, I feel I have learned a thing or two that has put life and my own stuff into perspective.
I had grown tired of my relationships being chaotic and short-lived. Apart from being a crappy communicator (at the time) and looking for any opportunity to vent my frustrations, I would have considered myself to be a pretty good catch. Not really. Confused as to why I was chronically single, I decided to seek out the help of a therapist to try and get down to the core issue of my problem.
Even though I only went once—a typical reaction to hearing things you don’t want to hear from a complete stranger—I was given the gift of clarity, nonetheless. I was given three questions to ask myself during times of conflict to de-escalate myself. I thought this solution was too simple to work, having about as much faith in it as I did in Santa Clause.
To my delight, I proved myself wrong.
So, when you find yourself in a situation when you are toe-to-toe with your significant other or colleagues, and the likelihood of your saying something you’ll regret later is high, ask yourself these three questions before you say what you want to say and let the “magic” happen:
1. Is this the best thing for me?
There are very few instances in this life when it is OK to be selfish, and this is one of them. Bringing awareness to the fact that what you say and do may have lasting, tangible effects on your life is crucial. In the heat of the moment, saying whatever ugly things pop into your head may give you a temporary sense of satisfaction, but what about the long-term effects? Regardless of how good lashing out may feel at that moment, the feelings of guilt and shame that come from hurting someone else eventually find their way into your conscience. That is never pleasant. Moreover, sometimes the things we say can change how we are perceived; thus, how that person engages with us in the future—if at all. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself if it is, actually, worth it.
2. Is this the best thing for them?
While keeping your own best interests in mind is OK, it is also important to understand that there is a certain amount of accountability we have for the safety and well-being of others. This is especially so for the people we invite into our lives. So, when you are ready to “go for the jugular,” ask yourself how your words might impact that other person in terms of pain. The brain doesn’t distinguish between physical and emotional pain, actually. It feels it all the same. Do they, as human beings (and possibly people you love or respect) deserve the suffering you are about to inflict? Probably not.
3. Is this the best thing for us?
Relationships are a source of strength, support, pleasure, and happiness in our lives: the kinds that we cannot achieve alone. If you value the relationship you are in, protect your investment (of time and emotion); it’s paramount. After all, tossing a good relationship aside for the sake of a well-delivered zinger is never a smart move. Yes, we need to be independent and secure in ourselves in the relationships we are in; however, we can also be better versions of ourselves within them when inspired by the right people. No amount of instant gratification is worth throwing that away.
Now, these questions, while brilliant, are not, actually, magic. There is some science behind the concept at large. When we engage in conflict, our “fight or flight” instincts become activated. This causes tunnel-vision and the feeling that we need to defend ourselves. Obviously, a lot can go wrong during such a process. Asking ourselves open-ended questions, however, activates the part of our brains that is responsible for higher-level thinking, the more rational part. When this happens, options and alternative courses of action become possible, visible.
All you have to do is pause, ask, listen, then act. This is mindfulness.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
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