“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius,
Watching and listening to the tirade of a newsman recently, I felt embarrassed for the normally calm (on camera) man. The leaked clip of his humanness played across the screen for all the internet world to see. His words that came out of frustration at things being played into his earpiece were angry words, offensive to many. He was displaying bad behavior. I was uncomfortable with the scene — because in him I could see myself. Aurelius’ words would have served the man well. They are where I draw strength today as I consider the limited power I have.
Normally, I am happy, patient, and kind, but sometimes something happens. Melting down isn’t something I’m proud of, but it happens occasionally. When my kids were little and had pushed every button on my jukebox of patient replies, I would unravel in the very moment I wanted to be the picture of perfection. I didn’t yell at my kids but yelled from the lack of control I had over my frustration — in full view of the children. Immediately, I would sit down and explain to them how I wished I had handled things better. Usually, with tears streaming, I would apologize for what I saw as my bad behavior, albeit normal human emotion. I have fewer meltdowns today, but I do have moments that leave me wishing I had been able to close my mouth a second sooner. My emotions continue to remind me of my humanness.
Emotions can do funny things to us. People can do things to us, too, and until we learn what to do in those situations, we will continue to embarrass ourselves and risk alienating others. I can’t speak for the man on the news — is he normally a nice person? I don’t know. I do know that I’m a genuinely nice person and many other people I’ve seen lose control are nice people, and none of us wants to be thought of poorly. There is nothing worse than feeling that someone has pushed us into a corner (well, there might be worse things, but you get the point).
What can you and I do in those miserable moments? The key to most difficult situations is to have a plan before you find yourself stuck, and always breathe.
- Walk away if at all possible to catch your breath and think things through. If you don’t want to explain why you’re walking away, excuse yourself to use the restroom.
a)What bothered you about what was said? Recognizing and naming the cause begins to take away some of its power so we can better deal with it.
b)Are you angry because you’re embarrassed? No one likes to feel chided or made to feel ashamed of a mistake. Unfortunately, you can’t control other people’s words or actions, but you can recognize that this is the other person’s poor choice of words. Your reacting badly will not take the sting out of what has been said, but remaining calm will make looking in the mirror much easier.
c)Splash some cool water on your face, rehearse a pleasant response, take a few deep breaths, and return to the conversation.
- If you can’t walk away, you can still take a deep breath and ask yourself what has become one of my most important questions: How important is it (to react)? Will letting them know they’ve made you feel like an idiot really make you feel better? Chances are, the humiliation from your own bad behavior will be worse than most anything they might have said.
Call it what you’d like: meltdown, losing your cool, acting a fool. It happens to most of us, and recognizing the only power we have is over our reaction to other people’s words and actions will make us stronger.