Awesome Gabriella’s Burning Question: “How important are manners in the scheme of things? Sometimes I find myself still being peacemaker in some situations or trying to deflect gossip in a nice way and accepting not so nice comments from people. You know, ignore, don’t make waves, it’s about them, the battle is with themselves, not me. In reality Melody, I sometimes really want to punch some people in the face. I want to tell some people to fuck off. I do. I really do. At minimum I want to tell people off for their behavior. I know I have it in me to tell someone off but there’s always something holding me back. Turn the other cheek, mind your manners, just walk away, whatever you give you will get back ten-fold. Don’t use bad language (I ignore that one. Bad language makes me laugh). How do I keep myself nice and still tell people to “eff” off without fear of backlash or punishment?
I see you, Melody, have no fear in calling it as it is. Can you teach me to do the same?”
Dear Awesome Gabriella,
Here’s the thing: there’s a HUGE difference between deciding not to tell someone off because you know it would do no good anyway, and totally suppressing the feeling. There’s a reason that “simply letting it go” isn’t very satisfying. That’s because you’re not really letting it go; you’re just choosing to ignore it – you’re choosing to ignore how you feel. But actually punching someone in the face isn’t really an option either, if you’re honest. Luckily, those aren’t your only two options.
To tell off or not to tell off?
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of the healing emotion called anger. When you feel powerless, you will automatically be guided towards anger, as a way to empower yourself again. This is the emotion that takes you out of depression and helplessness, the feeling that you have no control over anything, as well as moving you out of the state of fear. Unfortunately, most people have been taught to suppress their anger and have therefore let it build up over time. So, when something pisses them off, it really, REALLY pisses them off. This is why someone getting your coffee order wrong or not finishing a report correctly can cause you to want to punch them in the face – a totally disproportionate reaction, unless you understand that your rage is actually about something much deeper.
Nevertheless, the urge to defend yourself, via telling the person off, punching them, or taking revenge, is a healthy one, or at least the impulse that lies underneath it is. Because you’ve probably never been taught how to express your anger in a truly healthy way, however, you’ll most likely only see two options when someone triggers you. You can either fight or flee. You can either come at them with the fury of a thousand suppressed peasants rising up to topple and eventually behead their brutal rulers, or you can slink away into the night, convincing yourself that “calming down” is the same as dealing with it. It isn’t, by the way. Not even freaking close.
Now, just for the sake of a thought exercise, what would happen if you actually went on the defensive and kicked some ass? Let’s say that a co-worker makes a snide comment and you feel white hot rage bubbling up inside you. Let’s run through your possible defensive maneuvers:
1.) You could stomp the ever living shit out them. This would most likely lead not only to jail time and job loss for you, but horrible feelings of guilt for having hurt another person. Let’s call this Plan Z (last resort) for now, k?
2.) You could give them your best crazy eyes and then proceed to scream them into cowering submission using profanity (not the funny kind) and superior volume. I call this the Bully Approach. This might be temporarily satisfying, but would also lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
3.) You could put a pin in your anger, but then proceed to passive aggressively punish your co-worker for the rest of the year, by subtly sabotaging their day every chance you get. In other words, you could become a troll. This is the preferred solution for people who would like to take option number 1, but don’t have the balls to confront anyone, so they do the same if not greater amount of damage behind the scenes. As you may be able to tell from my tone here, I don’t have much respect for people who choose this option. If you’re gonna be a dick, as least be an honest dick. It has to be noted that this is actually a reaction borne of an immense sense of powerlessness and involves a great deal of self-loathing.
4.) You could try to force the other person to apologize by waging a battle of words, whereby you try to out-argue the other party by bombarding them with “logical” reasons for why you’re right and they’re basically a zit on society’s chin. This would then put you in the role of the Intellectual Bully and, while it carries less shame than the Physical Bully approach, still tends to lose its feel good status after a short amount of time.
Note that all of these options WILL initially make you feel better. They are all ways to empower yourself. The problem is that all of these options also come at a price – they are ways of lashing out, trying to pass on and share your pain rather than dealing with it. But spreading your discomfort around isn’t the same as resolving it. Yet, people will often choose one of these options (not consciously, mind you), because they don’t see another way to actually relieve the pressure they’re feeling.
Of course, providing that pressure isn’t too great, most people will chose the only other option they see – to swallow it. Just take it. It’s not worth it. Don’t fight, just walk away. Turn the other cheek, and all that (by which I don’t believe that Jesus meant “Be a doormat and let other people walk all over you. Jesus was all about stepping into your own power. I believe he meant “stop looking at what you don’t want, turn your head in the opposite direction and start looking at what you do want”).
But this isn’t satisfying, either. By walking away and trying to just dismiss the issue, you’re not actually shifting anything. You’re not healing anything. You’re simply dismissing your own feelings and their validity. You’ve decided that you how feel is less important than what is socially acceptable. And, of course, if the alternative is to go to jail for hitting someone, becoming a troll and living with shame and guilt, this seems like a logical choice.
What most people, however, don’t realize, is that these two choices represent the extremes – think of them as the goal posts on either side of the football field. There’s a whole bunch of territory in between. This is where the other options lie – the ones that don’t require you to either violently confront someone or just squash your feelings. And somewhere on that field lies the solution that will both allow you to feel empowered AND good about the way you reacted.
Finding the balance
The tricky part is finding that balance. And while I can give you some techniques and guidelines, this will essentially require that you get in touch with your emotional feedback system and feel your way through the process. But don’t worry, this won’t require you to be a total master at perceiving the subtleties of your rage. As long as you can tell the difference between something that feels bad and something that feels better (pain and relief), you’ll be good to go.
Before you even attempt to find this balance, however, I strongly suggest that you release some of the pressure and at the same time, get in touch with the source of your anger. In other words, you need to have an anger release. While actually punching someone in the face would be destructive, fantasizing about doing so is perfectly ok. Have angry thoughts. Give yourself permission to be as angry as you want. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up. Feeling them and acting on them are not the same thing. But you do need to feel your emotions in order to release them.
Remember: If you don’t feel, you can’t heal.
So, by all means, indulge in whatever rage filled fantasies allow you to feel better and don’t shut yourself down with guilt or shame or thinking you’re doing something wrong. Having angry thoughts doesn’t make you a bad person (anger is not bad, some expressions of anger may not be productive, but anger itself is actually very healthy), any more than taking a poo makes you a bad person. What I’m saying, in my incredibly colorful way that will stick with you for the rest of your life is, maybe don’t chuck your poo at other people, but don’t judge yourself for having to poo in the first place.
Once you’ve relieved the pressure a bit and let out a significant part of the anger, you’ll be able to start the work of finding a solution that actually works for you.
Hot, Cold and Just Right
Do you remember the children’s game of Hot and Cold? You know the one where someone hides something or blind folds you, and then you’re led to the location of that thing by clues. If you’re close to the object, your friends yell “Hot!”, and if you’re far away, they yell “Cold!”. I don’t mean to ruin this game for anyone, but I could never help but wonder about the logic of this game. I mean, why is “hot” desirable and “cold” not? After all, wouldn’t something hot, the hottest of the hot (signifying success in this game), freaking burn you? Sure, I get why “freezing” is better than “cold”, but why is “searing your skin off with molten lava” better than “getting warmer”? Personally, I’d like to just be comfortably warm, neither hot or cold. Shouldn’t success lie somewhere between the extremes and more importantly, does the game of Hot and Cold represent the polarity that our society insists on teaching our young? Discuss amongst yourselves class. There may be a pop quiz tomorrow.
I think a better and vibrationally more accurate version of the game would be called “Hot, Cold and Just Right”. Also, this just happens to serve me much better in the way of a metaphor. But mostly this is about vibrational integrity and intellectual accuracy, dammit.
Ok, so let’s say that “hot” represents one extreme – one side of the field, or the goal post, if you will. “Cold” represents the other extreme. Your job is to use the feedback of hot and cold to find “warm” and then narrow that down further to “just right”. And yes, I’m fully aware that I could’ve also used a Goldilocks metaphor here, but I’m committed to this one now, so this is happening, people. Hotter is worse than hot and freezing is worse than cold. When things get too hot, that means you’re feeling more anger coming up. You feel the urge to punch people. When things get too cold, you feel sad and depressed and like you just want to lie down in the fetal position and feel sorry for yourself. Both sides represent different extreme expressions of powerlessness. Empowerment actually lies in between the two.
When things get too cold, you move towards the other side – hot. At first, you’ll probably overshoot it. This is why people who realize they no longer want to be doormats will often totally lose their shit for a little bit. The once mousy colleague will suddenly rip everyone’s head off if they so much as glance in her direction. This is all done in an attempt to find empowerment – the balance between the two extremes. Once you’ve moved to the other extreme, you’ll realize you’re too hot now. You’ve become too volatile, you don’t like how you’re reacting, and you begin your move back towards the cold. The idea is to swing back and forth between the two sides, but each time you do, stop just short of where you ended the time before. This way you slowly but surely work your way toward the middle point – the balance of power.
Fear of the extreme
The problem with this process arises when people won’t allow themselves to move from one extreme to the other, for fear of that extreme. For example, most people would rather stay totally passive and keep swallowing their rage, rather than give it free reign and actually punch someone. And, given the fact that in our society, extremes of anger carry a much stiffer penalty than extremes of depression, this is totally understandable (unless of course you’re a country. Then it seems that it’s much more desirable to wage war rather than be a doormat…)
The good news is that you don’t have to actually act any of this out in order to find your balance. You can do all of this in your head! Yay!
That’s right, you can simply imagine each step along the way. Let’s use the example of someone being mean to you at work as an example:
Right now, you’re stuck in one extreme – the Doormat stage (Freezing Cold).
Your natural urge is to go to the other extreme (Hot, Hot, Hot!), which is why you want to punch people in the face. Now, if you’ve actually been paying attention, you’ll already have moved to this extreme in your mind and fantasy punched everyone on the pie hole. Ooooh, how satisfying!
When you, however, start to imagine actually acting out these violent fantasies, you realize that doing so really wouldn’t feel good. You don’t want to hurt anyone. This will begin to swing you back the other way. You won’t return to the Freezing Cold extreme, though. Because of the pressure you’ve released with your pie hole punching fantasies, you’ll have less momentum behind you, and your swing will stop just short of Freezing Cold. Now, you’ll just be Cold.
In concrete terms, this may look like you trying to resolve the situation by getting a different job. This is still totally non-confrontational, but it represents more of a solution (you’d actually be getting away from the nastiness) than simply putting up with it. So, this solution would feel better than being a doormat. But, you might then realize that even if you left, you’d still really want to tell your colleagues off. So, you swing back the other way (not quite reaching the punching stage) and see yourself giving them a piece of your mind on the way out (“Bye Losers!”). Yes! That’s feels good!
But wait… after sitting with this fantasy for a while, you realize that you don’t really want to quit. You’d really like to stay. You just don’t want to put up with these people’s nasty comments anymore. At this point, you should’ve let enough of the pressure go to be able to discover what you TRULY want. In this case, you want to feel good and happy at work. So, why are their comments bothering you so much? Perhaps you believe that your work experience depends on their mood. Or, maybe their bitchiness is bringing up insecurities of yours – you’re afraid that they’re also gossiping about YOU. As you uncover these fears and beliefs, you can begin to negate them.
As you keep discovering more and more about what you’re feeling and what you want and don’t want, you’ll continue to swing back and forth. Notice that each time you take that swing, you’re simply reaching for the next best feeling solution you can find. At first, the thought of punching someone feels best. After a while, the thought of quitting feels best. Then, the thought of quitting but telling them off when you do feels best. After that, you might see yourself quitting and letting it go, focusing on how great the new workplace will be. Then you might see yourself actually confronting (not violently, but calmly) the nasty people and telling them how you feel. This may happen in variations of severity (over time, you’ll downgrade just how confrontational you want to be). Keep swinging until you find the solution that feels really good to you, that brings you ultimate relief.
If you get stuck and have trouble figuring out the next solution, simply focus on what you’ve identified as your TRUE desire (you want to feel happy at work) and do your best to enter into that state. As you point your focus to what you want, you’ll begin to swing again, and the next better feeling solution will occur to you. The important thing is that you realize that none of the solutions are THE solution, until you find one that feels really good. And they don’t have to be. They are part of a larger process. So don’t dismiss any of these solutions simply because they’re not yet perfect. Entertain each one (sit with it, visualize it, feel it) and the next solution will present itself. These are the breadcrumbs along your path. And this is how you follow them.
The balanced solution to every problem, the one that feels truly good to you and allows you to get what you want while being exactly who you want to be, always lies in the middle of the two extremes of powerlessness. The problem arises when we see these two extremes as the ONLY options available to us. They’re not. In fact, these are the two WORST possible solutions to any problem. The trick is to recognize that there’s a whole field of possibilities between these extremes, and to allow our natural pendulum to keep swinging between them until finally, balance is achieved. It really is about getting out of the way.
We do this by:
1.) Recognizing that the field of possibilities exists (there are other options, even if we don’t yet know what they look like)
2.) Allowing our natural pendulum to swing by looking for the next better feeling solution, without needing it to be the final, balanced action we’re ultimately looking for
3.) Sitting with each new interim solution and allowing ourselves to FEEL whatever it brings up in us
4.) Focusing continuously and to the best of our ability on what we really want (and defining that further each step of the way)
5.) Keeping the faith that balance will be found (don’t get impatient because you have to take more than one swing)