So how’s your diet these days?
Swallowed any anger lately?
How’s that sitting with you?
In case you haven’t noticed, the anger we swallow instead of expressing shows up in, among other things, unsatisfactory friendships, strained marriages and compromised health.
Too often, especially for women, our misplaced desire to avoid conflict or protect another’s feelings takes precedence over speaking up. And all the unspoken hurt feelings and simmering resentment and cookies devoured to shove down our anger do nothing to improve our lives.
Once again, according to Cheryl Richardson, in her book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care,
the answer to handling inappropriate behaviour or rudeness is found when we tune in to our bodies. If we learn to listen, our bodies will tell us when to take care of ourselves by speaking up and when to practice restraint.
Start by paying attention to how your body communicates. When blindsided by unsolicited criticism, a snide remark, a sharp reprimand, or a rude comment, what happens in your body? Tight throat? Dizziness? Clenched belly? Constricted breathing? Hot face?
Knowledge is power, especially knowledge of your own built-in alarm system. Once you are aware of the body sensations associated with anger, you are no longer at its mercy. Knowledge puts you in a place of choice and there’s a lot of power in having a choice.
Except for when it appears that you don’t. (Have a choice.)
Like those times when someone says or does someone and you are so shocked that you just freeze.
Stunned into silence.
And then later beat yourself up for not saying anything.
And then spend hours thinking about what you could have/would have/should have said and beat yourself up some more for not thinking quickly enough.
Please know that it is not uncommon to be rendered speechless by rude behaviour. Our frozen “Whaaaat!?” gives our brains some time to process what has just happened.
But freezing could also be the reaction you learned in childhood that continues to be your go-to response as an adult. If you grew up with an authority figure who was prone to sudden outbursts or dealt in sarcasm or got off on humiliating you in front of others, you may have learned that the best way to cope was to keep your mouth shut.
Unfortunately, what kept you safe as a child no longer serves you as an adult. Not if you want the self-esteem to walk confidently through your adult life. Extreme Self Care means using your voice, whether saying something right away or waiting until you’ve had a chance to compose yourself (aka: unfreeze) or process your feelings.
Cheryl suggests a 4 step process for dealing with these anger moments:
1. Acknowledge what just happened and how you feel about it. Don’t ignore the behaviour or stuff the anger that might have arisen. Give yourself a minute to process what you’ve heard. If it feels right to speak, do so, if not walk away and find someone safe to talk to. (More about that later.)
2. If you’ve decided it’s appropriate to speak, take a deep breath and say what you need to say (preferably with grace and love). Use the word ‘I’ to say what you need.
My example (let’s see if I can do this): Please don’t criticize the way I parent. I know you don’t always agree with the way I do things. That’s okay. I need you to respect my right to parent in the way that works for me.
3. While you are speaking, don’t try to change the other person or get hir to see your side or defend your position. Just express your feelings and what you need to have happen in order to feel respected and safe.
My example: Please don’t cut in front of me. The end of the line is over there.
4. Walk away if necessary (assuming that wasn’t your Step One).
Don’t worry. Chances are, in the beginning, you will suck at this. Learning to speak up for ourselves has a learning curve, just like anything else we learn. You’re bound to make mistakes–be too abrupt, over-explain yourself, or say the wrong thing–and that’s normal.
Please, cut yourself some slack. You are human. If you screw up and don’t feel good about the way you handled the situation, you can always apologize later.
As you embark on this new way of dealing with anger, Cheryl suggests that it might help to have a simple stock phrase ready like, ‘please stop; that’s not okay with me.’
If you are tempted to be rude in return, that is definitely the time to walk away. After all, you don’t want to engage in the same behavior as the person who affronted you, do you?
Okay – so you might. But we’re talking about healthy Self-Care here and that momentary rush of glory that comes with ‘Aha! you fill in your own expletive! How do you like a dose of your own medicine?‘ is soon gone. It takes your self-respect with it. And it leaves a deadly hangover.
My husband loves to quote, “Whenever you are in an argument with an idiot, make sure he is not the same.” That sentiment applies here as well, I think.
Restraint is especially important when you realize your emotional reaction is exaggerated because an old wound has been triggered. It is crucial to step back and centre yourself.
Cheryl gives some clues that indicate walking away might be a good idea:
you can’t think clearly;
anxiety is coursing through your body and you feel compelled to act;
you feel like screaming;
or you feel really, really angry and there’s a chance you’ll say something mean or stupid that you’ll regret later.
In short, if your emotional reaction feels bigger than what the current situation warrants, it’s probably best to walk away.
Try Cheryl’s recipe for disaster aversion:
1. Close your eyes and breathe. The instant response to being caught off guard is for your body to go into it’s particular version of Red Alert. This kicks you into the flight-or-fight response. Closing your eyes and breathing helps immensely to calm down survivor brain.
2. Find a safe person to vent about the situation, preferably a good listener who will quietly allow you to process your feelings without hopping on board with them. This is not the time to seek out friends who love drama.
3. Get more information. After you’ve calmed down and before you confront the person in question, take the time to ask some questions. There’s always a chance that you misunderstood them. Ask (preferably with grace and love) what the intentions were behind the words or actions. Or emails. Remember tone is lost in written correspondence.
4. Have a sane conversation with the person involved. (I love Cheryl’s choice of the word ‘sane.’ So often confrontations are anything but sane.) Remember to speak from the ‘I’ position and simply let the person know how you feel and what you need. Cheryl adds that if the connection is important to you, be sure to start your exchange by acknowledging the value of the relationship.
Again, my attempt: Sweetheart, I really love you and want to make this work. When you call me a lazy bum I quit listening. Please tell me what I need to do to support you and I will do my best to do that.
Can you think of any recent examples of times you needed to speak up but swallowed your anger instead? Go over them in light of this new information and think about how you would handle it differently now. How would you proceed? What would you say? We often go over and over how things went bad, why not do so with a powerful new script?
Cheryl has a list of scenarios that challenge people to speak up rather than swallow their anger. Check it out and practice making some of your own loving, graceful ‘I’ statements. It might come in handy the next time you are faced with a similar challenge.
Getting our buttons pushed is a part of life on Planet Earth. Our growth lies in our ability to make better choices when it happens.
And there’s always the happy chance that, eventually, with enough practiced awareness, you might even be able to get to the point where you can feel gratitude to this person for helping you to heal an old fight-or-flight pattern that no longer serves you.
And that is a pretty cool place to be.