I often hear clients say, “they made me feel ___” or “I had no choice but to yell back.” This is absurd. We always have choices, but the reality is that we just don’t like our options.
How do we not take it personally when someone says, ‘You’re a pain in the ass’? Well what does it mean when we are a ‘pain in the ass?’ Is it literal? Do we cause a physical pain to occur in their rear? No, it means we are being insulted. 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.
However, it’s not personal when we consider that they are merely “firing for effect.” They want to intimidate us and they 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. We can say, “It’s awful, isn’t it!” Or, “I don’t blame you for being angry.” We are not agreeing that they are right in their “facts.” We are just letting them know we heard what they said! We can say, “That’s what you think, I never thought of it that way.” We are merely agreeing that they said it.
We can keep our version of the facts to ourselves. This is called, discretion, which is the power to choose how much we wish to reveal and when. Right now, we do not have to choose to reveal anything. It wouldn’t help if we did. They aren’t interested anyways. We can choose to do something else instead, such as:
• We can agree with them; e.g., “It certainly seems like I’m hard to get along with.” We are not agreeing with the facts of the matter, we are agreeing that they feel the way they feel. Feelings are like opinions and perceptions in that they are subjective, without a factual basis.
Or we can choose to agree that they are upset: “It’s so frustrating when this happens, isn’t it.” We do not need to go on and on defending the inaccuracy of their accusations, trying to win a pardon for our offense against them. We are not required to defend against fiction, they are not a judge and we are not guilty. We do not need to explain our choice to live in the real world. It’s not a crime, we do not have to convict them of our innocence.
• We can say, “I can tell you are angry.” This is not a confession of guilt. It is an observation of their tone, words and body language. We are just acknowledging that we can tell they are in emotional pain.
• We can tell the truth: “It makes me angry when you blow up in my face for telling you how I feel.”
• We can say “It must make you angry when that happens. I don’t blame you, I’d be angry too if that happened to me.” This is an appropriate validation of the other person’s anger and of their worth as a person. When we validate the other person’s anger, we are validating their right to have feelings in spite of their unpleasant choice in how they are being conveyed.
Below are other useful responses when faced with another’s intense emotion:
• “It seems that way sometimes doesn’t it?”
• “I never thought of it that way.”
• “You may have a point.”
• “I don’t know how you stand it.”
• “You got a real problem there, I don’t know what to tell you.”
• “It’s just awful, isn’t it.”
• “Thanks for calling that to my attention.”
• “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
A key point, we must be mindful of our tone to ensure we are not being sarcastic, dismissive, or provocative. Have you ever taken a road trip and gotten lost? You don’t know where you are and feel a bit confused on what to do. Do you stop and get directions? Do you turn around? Do you pull over for the night? Do you keep going? You’re concerned, confused, and unsure what direction to go. That is the tone to use, confused. Really you don’t know what’s going on and why the other person is making these false accusations. You speak slow and softer, but deliberate and clear.
This is not “pleasing,” or “kow-towing,” or “giving thrm the satisfaction.” It is taking the wind out of their sails. You are depriving them of a target. They will go find another victim: “You’re no fun anymore!” Amen to that.