The most common primary responses to stress, anger, criticism or rejection are: fight, flight, freeze and faint. At various times you may have experienced all of these responses, but most of us have a predominant style. Take the following quiz to determine which style you most commonly use, courtesy of Cynthia Wall in her book The Courage to Trust (New Harbinger) . Recall a situation in which you were the object of someone else’s anger, rejection, blame, disrespect, criticism or judgment. On a scale from 0 (Not me) to 5 (Very much me), how well do you fit the following responses?
____ I get angry so fast, I can’t control it. I could break or hit something.
____My heart instantly hardens. I feel cold, unloving.
____My whole body gets hot. I want to jump up and scream.
____I’m out of here!
____I want never to see the other person again.
____I can’t stop talking. My mind is going a million miles an hour.
____My mind is a blank. I can’t think of a thing to say.
____I feel punched in the stomach, unable to move or talk.
____My heart is beating fast. My mouth is dry. I feel like a robot.
____I can’t remember what the other person said.
____My body feels like Jell-O. My knees buckle.
____I just wait until the bad part stops, then act like nothing has happened.
You, like the rest of us, have an inner protector. Your inner protector has developed ways to keep you safe. It finds ways for you to numb pain and minimize your hurt feelings. Some of the more common ways people use to numb their pain and to protect themselves include getting high or drunk, bingeing on food, watching lots of television or playing lots of video games, eating lots of sugar or smoking cigarettes. All of those will distract you, help you to ignore (or forget) the problem, or assist you in not feeling. That is why they are self-protections.
But there is another way of protecting yourself. When you’re dealing with someone’s anger, rejection, blame, criticism, judgment or disrespect, it involves you looking at why the other person might reasonably feel the way s/he does, to look for where s/he could be right, and it urges you to attempt to negotiate, compromise or to otherwise talk the problem through so the conflict can be resolved. So solving a problem or resolving an issue is the most effective way to protect yourself, using this method.
If you were to use this healthier and more mature form of self-protection more often, you would:
- Listen to someone carefully, trying to understand where they are coming from or why they think/feel the way they do, rather then trying to defend yourself or to deflect, minimize or block out what the other person is saying.
- Look at where there is agreement. Where do you agree with the other person? Where is s/he right?
- Beware of listening for what is missing or inaccurate about what the other person says, or of listening like a judge deciding who is right and who is wrong.
- Make requests about what you would like in the future, instead of complaining about what was done in the past. The future can be changed. The past can’t.
- Use empathy—essentially giving the other person the benefit of doubt. It communicates that you care what s/he feels.
- Say everything you want, but say it tactfully and respectfully.
- It is an act of supreme maturity and wisdom to respond to disrespect with grace and poise, restraining yourself from responding with an insult back.