Is there anything more human than to take something personally? Doesn’t everyone do it? And haven’t we all been baffled when we said something we thought was innocuous or mild that caused great offense to someone else?
It occurred to me one day just how often we get our buttons pushed. We’re natural mind readers. We want to know what to expect, so we watch how people act and listen to what they say, discerning what their beliefs and attitudes are. These are the little puzzle pieces we put together to make a picture of who someone is.
Yet none of us is completely objective – we bring too much of ourselves to the table and fail, at times, to see when our own biases get in the way.
Furthermore, everyone is inscrutable to a greater or a lesser degree. We’re working with limited information because people obscure themselves and hide things. It’s a truism that everyone puts their best face forward and lets the mask slip only when they are safe. They show themselves in part to one person, and in a different way to another, so only the people they know most intimately know them totally.
Take, for instance, the proverbial “open book”, the person who seems to conceal nothing. You see it all, you think, but in a little corner of their being is a painful memory that lies dormant or a belief or expectation that isn’t normally too important. You wouldn’t even know it was there until you’ve accidentally hit the right button, and then their pain is felt again or you’ve crossed the line of how they expect to be treated. Either way, you found yourself unexpectedly in the cross-hairs of someone’s anger.
And, lastly, people change over time, so that even a spouse they’ve lived with for years can surprise the person to whom they’ve long been married.
But even knowing all of this, we can easily find ourselves getting defensive and offended without cause, much as we try to avoid it. As for me, I finally learned that there are two things that are vital for me to keep this from happening.
First – time. That means when an issue arises, I need to consciously step back and take a few moments (or longer) to sort out my feelings. This can take real control and discipline because the tendency is to want to react to our strong emotions, and they easily override our reason.
Second – objectivity, which I cannot always supply myself. I need other people sometimes to help me reason out what I experience and give me a reality check. This comes after the emotion has dissipated and I need someone to help me sort out what is right about my view of what has happened.
Just recently I had a situation where I got all inflamed about decisions made at a meeting I attended and I was ready to go off on someone. But I restrained myself, drove home, and called someone for a reality check. Then I could process things better and get a clearer idea of why my buttons got pushed. I also had to admit how often this can happen.
Do you have a plan on how to keep your emotions in check, to be reasoned with in conflict? I hope so. There are so many ways our individual personalities can clash with others. We have to know our own weaknesses and the ways that we can be tripped up. Get help from someone to help you see your weaknesses and keep them around for a reality check when needed.