When life just isn’t going our way, do we react or respond?
Life throws stuff at us every day that makes us feel out of control. If we are exhausted from lack of sleep, stressed out about work, or overwhelmed with kids, laundry and housework, we are probably going to lose it! We yell at our spouse for being inconsiderate, honk the car horn repeatedly at the jerk who’s blocking traffic, send the kids to time out.
When life isn’t cooperating with us, we tend to try to control the situation to make it the way WE want it to be. We habitually activate our need for control and power when we feel discounted or insecure. Often when we try to control the situation, we do get some temporary cooperation, but overtime it undermines the long-term benefits of resolving an ongoing issue in a positive way.
Next thing you know, the same old problem keeps cropping up and we get more deeply invested in having things go OUR way, creating a chasm in our relationships and hurting people we love.
In my recent post “Patterns and Positivity” I shared insights that have been helping me become more aware of my habitual reactions and finding a fresh perspective to age-old behavioral patterns and conflicts. It’s not surprising that a new attitude goes a long way when we try to work out our differences with others.
The hardest part is taking that deep breath and reminding yourself not to be so hasty to react when you are in the heat of the moment.
I have often been too quick to blurt out something and even it if was well-intentioned, the words I chose were not the right words and certainly my agitated tone contributed to a huge miscommunication.
It would be great to be given a mulligan in that moment so that I could reframe my response to match my true intentions. In hindsight, I often come up with a much better way to express myself. Coincidentally that usually happens when I’ve cooled off from the heated emotions and can see things from a bigger perspective.
Admittedly, I often get confused myself at how things get so crazy sometimes. I know in my heart that I really love someone and want nothing but the best for them. Yet in my efforts to help them while simultaneously respecting myself, it doesn’t feel like love and common ground at all.
At the heart of the matter is attitude and awareness — Being mindful of our attitude and being fully aware in the present moment.
Viktor Frankl (legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor) observed this in the most profound way:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing — the last of his human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Having control of our attitude, awareness and responses is empowerment — and that is much more beneficial in resolving conflict than evoking power by being controlling or judgmental.
When we try to grasp control, we do damage to our relationships, often hurting someone we love. It’s really in direct conflict with what we want. We may “win” in the moment by being using intimidation, guilt or punishment. Over the long haul, we are getting further and further away from what we really need and want. Our reactive behaviors might be pushing away the love, respect and happiness we are really seeking.
If you find that there are constant battles with your child, a spouse or a friend, might there be a better long term resolution? A fresh perspective and an approachable demeanor just might open up a healthy dialogue. Try putting yourself in the other’s shoes and let go of personal attachment. You may be surprised at what you discover — about yourself and the other person too.
Look for patterns in your relationships and give yourself some time to sit with your own frustrations, angers and resentments. Bring mindfulness and compassion to where you get stuck. It’s human nature to feel the need to control when we feel disconnected and separate. We go on auto pilot wanting to defend ourselves to have less pain or gain more pleasure. Invest some quality time in getting to really know yourself and what sets you off.
We can’t change the flow of life yet we can change our attitude. If we can practice being less reactive and more responsive along with that new attitude, it is sure to yield a better result for everyone. Less conflict, more joy — sounds good to me.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning