So let’s say, just hypothetically, that something happened in your life that you didn’t enjoy. In fact, you might say it really sucked. You don’t ever want to go through that again. Maybe you got fired, jilted, embarrassed, or angry beyond words. Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have or were really hurt because someone said something unkind to you. Now what?
Really, what do you do? My first impulse used to be to retreat and lick my wounds, or perhaps to counter-attack in some way that is satisfying, but I know will only escalate the situation. I have a bit of a check-list here to provide some alternatives that work for me. The main thing is to find a constructive way to deal with it. Rather than waiving our victim banner, soliciting sympathy, and bashing the person who has wronged me, what alternatives are there? I don’t always see it in the moment, but I’m getting better at stopping my gut instinct of telling someone off, counter-attacking, or responding with “poor pitiful me.”
When I was pregnant with my youngest child, I was also working full-time and going to law-school full-time. It was a full schedule, considering I already had three children who needed my attention. One evening, I had a complete melt-down. I yelled at my husband over a pretty minor issue. As I think back, it was an embarrassing tirade. The kids were frightened, because this wasn’t my typical behavior, at all. My husband looked like a deer in the headlights. Rather than respond to me and my nasty, hurtful words, he took my hand and led me upstairs to the bedroom. He tucked me in bed and told me that he would take care of everything, why don’t I take a little nap? It was exactly what I needed (OK, a loooong nap). That was responding constructively. He’s usually pretty good at that, with me anyway. We all need to be this way for each other, and for ourselves.
Here are some of my favorite tools for responding to a bad situation:
- Yup, I messed up. What can I learn from this?
- Am I like this? Do I need to see the behavior in others before I know what to change in myself?
- Is the universe pantomiming a message to me? (A speeding ticket may tell me to slow down, or getting stuck in the snow may be a message that my life is stuck and I need to move on about something. These are simple examples; mirrors can get pretty complex.)
- Is there a way that I can turn this situation into something better? Could I be the one that doesn’t pass on the gossip, or says that I’m not comfortable with that joke? Could I be the gentle reminder that someone is a bit (or a lot) out of line, without being obnoxious?
- Did I ignore the early warning signs? How can I pay more attention next time?
- Would this appear differently if I wasn’t judging someone? Because judging people really isn’t my job; I need to let them be who they are.
- Did this escalate to a big issue because I ignored it when it was a small one?
- Have I been penny wise and pound foolish? Penny and pound foolish?
- Is this any of my business? Someone else’s behavior that doesn’t affect me is rarely my problem. Maybe I need to let that person be who they are and just not let it affect me. See judging, above.)
- Did things get out of hand simply because I’ve been ignoring some important but basic needs – I’m sleep deprived, way too stressed, or haven’t eaten? How can I be sure that I don’t get this low again?
- Have I been ignoring the subtle signs that I’m not doing what I need to be doing, so the signals are so loud that I can’t ignore them?
- Do I need to look at a situation differently? Is there a constructive way to see what is going on? Usually, this means looking at it from another person’s perspective.
- If I were my client, what advice would I give? (Usually, this one really gets me to look at things impersonally and constructively.)
- How can I respond without becoming part of the problem? How can I be part of the solution?
I know that many of you have other ways of dealing with adversity that are constructive and helpful. Let me know what they are. I’m interested in this issue!