It’s so easy to react. Someone says something that riles you up, you get defensive, and say something in anger. Or you remain silent but quietly fume for the remainder of the day. While I rarely say anything I regret, I often regret saying nothing at all.
This last few months, I’ve really been trying to gain better control over my emotions. Learning how to respond to a situation, rather than react, has been a work in progress. I don’t yet have the ability to respond immediately to a negative situation, but I’ve been working on becoming more assertive. Here are a few things that have helped me.
1. Stop and breathe.
I rarely get angry. But frustration and overwhelm are common feelings. When I start feeling this way, I immediately stop what I’m doing. I take a few deep breaths, pushing out my diaphragm as I inhale, then slowly exhaling. I focus on something pleasant: a memory of sitting by the ocean, listening to the waves crash against the shore, or a recent family vacation.
When I react, my body’s initial response is to tense up. To get rid of this tension, I’ll intentionally tense up my neck for a few seconds, then release and let the tightness fall away. I’ll do the same with my shoulders, arms, all the way down to my feet. I may also do a few stretches (quietly in the bathroom) if needed.
3. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
I always try to approach a situation with the assumption that any offense was completely unintentional. A lot of people lack tact or proper social skills, which often leads to misunderstandings. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re deliberately trying to cause problems. Now there will be times when you know someone is trying to get under your skin. In that case, it’s best not to give them the satisfaction of reacting (though that is easier said than done).
4. Think about it.
One great introvert tool is the power of analysis. I’ll ask myself, why did that question/comment/action bother me so much? Am I being unreasonable for feeling this way or did they cross the line? Did they touch on one of my many insecurities? Were they trying to be helpful but just didn’t use tact? Even though it was a negative situation, is there some lesson I can take away from this? As I’m prone to overthinking, I usually give myself a time limit to muse on the situation, then revisit these thoughts later in the day.
5. Let it go.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I try to let any feelings of resentment or frustration slip away. Firstly, holding onto resentment destroys your own happiness, makes you miserable, and weighs you down. Secondly, if you’re harbouring anger towards someone, it can lead to harsh words and further offense if/when you do speak with them. Yes, they said something that upset you. But when you forgive others it takes away any power they have over you.
6. Create a game plan.
Not every situation needs to lead to a discussion. I’ll ask myself, will this continue to happen if I don’t say something? If the answer is yes, then I may need to have an uncomfortable conversation. Telling others that their actions make you feel upset is also a great way to enforce your boundaries. I usually run through exactly what I want to say, choosing my words carefully to avoid offense. I keep it simple because I know I’ll trip over my words if I try to be too verbose. Plan for a best case scenario but be mentally prepared if things go the other way.
7. Initiate a calm discussion.
Obviously, in order to have a calm discussion, I need to be calm myself. Try to choose an opportunity for a one-on-one conversation (as long as you feel safe) when they appear relaxed or calm. If they’re agitated for any reason, they likely won’t be responsive to even the kindest criticism. I try to say something along these lines:
“I noticed that you seem very blunt with your comments towards me. I’m wondering if I’ve done something to upset you.”
There will always be those who get defensive regardless of how you approach them. Just remember, that is their problem, not yours. Ideally, the situation can be easily resolved, but even if it isn’t, you’ve stood up for yourself and that’s a wonderful thing!
Do you have any additional insight?