30 Jun Tuning Out, Tuning In
“You Deserve To Live An Extraordinary Life!”
I love my little seaside retreat in Brigantine. It sits next to a lovely marsh adjacent to a cove where sailboats anchor for the night and water skiers find a smooth expanse of calm water to crisscross. In the distance lies South Beach, a thin band of sand dunes that contour the inland waterway. This scene with its sunny ambience, sea aromas and constant breeze provides me with instant relief from the demands of life and work back in the Philadelphia suburbs. I can temporarily escape the demands and pressures and concerns that bombard me otherwise. We all need a space that provides us with a sense of peace, calm, and quiet. All of us contend with more or less the same concerns: health, family, finances, work and interpersonal issues. At times I am able to manage these with a sense of focus, problem-solving ability, and confidence, while at other times they overwhelm me. Many of these problems are situational and improve once they are over, such as paying off a bill or resolving a difference of opinion.
There is another kind of upset or irritation that seems more permanent to our lives, one from which many of my clients, family members, and friends continually suffer. It is the never-ending misery of taking things personally. Dealing with extreme upset can be annoying but taking it personally can be daunting and debilitating.
I have a client—let’s call her “Kathy”—who is plagued by this. For example, if she is frustrated with her children, her typical reaction is to yell and dole out punishment, sending them to their rooms or taking a possession away. Her reactions are highly-charged emotional and explosive ventings when the kids do not comply with her wishes.
Kathy’s frustrations become extreme when her husband does not agree with her perspective or offers a different point-of-view regarding the children’s behavior. She interprets these responses as her husband “turning against her” and always having to be the “good guy.” She accuses him of purposely making her look bad in front of the children, and then feeling betrayed and deeply hurt, she retreats to her room or drives away in her car threatening to never return home. When he does not beg her to stay or ignores her threats, she feels alone and uncared for. She then imagines that her life is useless and recalls other times when she felt misunderstood and abandoned.
Kathy’s pain and continual suffering stem from a poor sense of self and a narrow black-and-white perspective on life. She has not yet learned that others do not have to agree with her in order for her to feel loved and valued. She is not aware of how difficult and controlling she becomes when others do not comply with her demands. She takes things too personally and absorbs the frustrations of everyday life deep inside of her, ruminating and running her hurts through her mind over and over again.
In the scheme of Navigator/Survivor/Victim, Kathy is a Victim of life. She has not yet reached a level of emotional intelligence where she can just feel frustrated or disappointed without the debilitating pain of taking everything so personally. Until she learns the basic skills of self-regulation, self-care when upsets occur, and acceptance of differing opinions and perspectives, Kathy will continue to suffer. She will continue to give her personal power away by blaming others for her emotional misery.
Life Navigators view and experience situational upsets very differently from Kathy. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They know when they are getting upset and practice self-regulation and self-calming techniques. They have taken the time to understand that the world does not revolve around them and do not feel entitled to demand that others prove their love by agreeing with their highly-charged personal point of view. They do a better job rolling with the punches and are not so attached to winning every encounter. Consequently, problem-solving is no big deal because they retain their personal power and ability to create collaborative solutions.
Just like my peaceful retreat at the beach, Navigators are able to find in themselves a sense of calm and stability. While most of us cannot easily escape to a vacation or retreat site for a shift in perspective, we can all find an internal place to step into to practice better self-regulation, maintenance of personal power, and connection to others. In my view, great personal suffering results from the affliction of taking things too personally. It is a great source of wasted time, self-absorption, and interpersonal conflict.
The fact of the matter is that it’s not possible to live a life of self-absorption if your goal is to create peace and mutual understanding with others.
Here are several actions you can take to better manage upset and to not take things so personally:
– Step away from the situation and find a temporary retreat in your bedroom, office, bathroom…wherever you can be alone for a few minutes.
– Rate your level of upset from 1 to 10, with 10 being your highest level of discomfort.
– Check in with your body and feel where you are holding your tension.
– Practice self-regulation by doing some slow deep breathing and imagine bringing clear and nurturing energy to that part of your body.
– Remember a time when you felt safe and cared for. Think about it for several minutes while breathing deeply.
– Ask yourself, “Am I taking this upset too personally?”
– Ask yourself, “What are two other ways for me to interpret or understand this situation?”
– Imagine a friend telling you about the same upset while you remain calm and relaxed. What advice would you offer your friend to help him or her to better manage the problem?
– Once you are calm, go back and deal with the upset like a Navigator!
If you would like to order Moss Jackson’s book “Navigating for Success,” contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.