Wincing I glanced down. It hadn’t taken much to make that small blister appear in the hollow of my palm, that most tender of places on one’s hand. It’s my writing hand where a thin flap of skin now folded back.
Suddenly I remembered a dinner party where the hostess brightly asked the man across the table from me, “How long have you been hunting for a job?” I saw him wince momentarily, then quickly attempt to cover it with a smile. He made a fumbling reply then someone quickly changed the topic.
But there is another way.
• There will always be those who, unthinkingly or deliberately ask questions or make comments that cause us discomfort or worse.
• When someone hits one of your hot buttons or a current topic that you’d rather avoid it’s like creating that tiny blister in a tender place.
• Yet, unlike a blister, the memory takes a long time to heal, if ever.
• Worse yet, because our primitive brain is hard wired with a survival instinct (thank goodness!) we respond sooner, more intensely and longer to the negative things that happen to us than the positive.
• That effect has several emotional implications for strengthening our resilience – our capacity to stay open and connect well with others:
- The more we dwell on how we feel about the bad things that happen to us, the deeper the rut in road of our brain so that anything that subsequently happens that looks at all like that earlier, bad experience, is likely to evoke a reactive response in us…. again.
- While we can’t avoid thinking about difficult experiences we can choose to change the channel when we see something similar beginning to happen in a situation.
- Advance preparation is vital. For example, if the man had thought of the brief, deflecting response he would choose to make when others asked about his job search, he would be better able to respond in the heat of the moment. (With true friends, he can feel safe to share what is really going on.)
This advance verbal preparation is akin to wearing protective gloves, something I heedlessly choose not to do.
Don’t be surprised next time. One can never be prepared for any situation yet one can contemplate what topics will cause most discomfort. As Thedora Wells wrote in Keep Cool While Under Fire, “Don’t let somebody else determine your behavior.
There’s an added bonus. Too often we presume that when somebody says or does something it means the same thing to them as it does to you. When I first went to northern Europe I realized that they did not smile as often nor as broadly as many Americans do. This sometimes caused consternation on both sides. As Americans would smile more broadly which made some of the people they encountered look away.
Research shows that people who are aware of their hot buttons and have practiced ways to not react against another person are more able to sense that person’s intentions and to behave in ways that connect rather than conflict with them.
That’s an easier way to live - and savor life.