Our choice of words matter, and when it comes to close relationships, like our partners, our children, our parents, etc. it really truly matters a LOT!
Today I would like to focus on the way we sometimes express our frustration, anger or disappointment to a loved one. First of all, it is totally normal to feel frustrated, angry or disappointed with the people we love, however, the way we express those feelings can be detrimental to our relationships or, it can be constructive…
After many years of therapy, self-reflection, and serious work on becoming more conscious and mindful, I have found that there are ways to make our communication positively impact our relationships, but it takes some practice and awareness, for sure!
But, first things first, when we are hurt or angry, it is hard so see clearly and act mindfully, so the first thing to do is to take a little distance from our feelings and become more objective and more conscious.
Now, how exactly do we do that…. well, unless you have a well-established mindfulness or meditation practice, this doesn’t come very naturally for most people, so it is important to have some tools that can help us take that distance from our emotions (sometimes on the spot! before we jump at our loved ones with all our complaints and rage!)
I work with kids, and as a mom as well as a yoga teacher, I have found some techniques that are very helpful to calm down negative emotions, here are some tools that any adult can use and/or share with children in their lives:
1. Take 3 deep breaths before you react to whatever is making you angry
2. Go outside and take a brisk walk, run or kick a ball
3. Punch a pillow
4. Listen to music that you like or sing a song
5. Close your eyes and think of a calm place or pleasant thought or something funny
6. Draw a picture
7. Write down your feelings, or a letter to the person you are mad at (you don’t need to send it)
8. Talk to someone about your feelings (not the person you are mad at!)
9. Ask for a hug, make sure it lasts a few breaths! (Again, not to the person you are mad at!)
The first one is the fastest and most accessible one, for adults and children alike. As simple as it may seem, taking deep breaths is incredibly powerful, simply because when we breathe slowly we are counter-acting the “fight or flight” response that kicks in automatically when we feel threatened (in this case angry,) the brain gets the message to slow down and lower its guards, so we can see the situation for what it is and not for what our blurry vision – affected by our feelings – will make us see.
There is a difference between the reality and what you see as “the reality,” when emotions are involved. Knowing this, and accepting it, is the first step to becoming more conscious.
So, let’s say that you can efficiently distance yourself from the emotion (whether it is anger, frustration, sadness, etc.) so you are able to calm down on the spot, which doesn’t mean you don’t feel the emotion anymore, it simply means you are able to acknowledge it for what it is and take responsibility for it. This doesn’t mean you just ignore what the other person did or said, or the fact that you feel angry, but it is important to take responsibility for your feelings!
Nobody has the power to MAKE YOU feel this way or that, YOU are the only one with that power, in other words, what you feel is your responsibility alone, which in turn, does not mean that the other person has NO responsibility in the matter, they are responsible for their actions just as much as you are for your reactions… do you follow?
So, it is crucial that if you want the relationship to stay healthy and grow, you need to handle communication effectively. So now we come down to the choice of words.
See, once we have taken responsibility for our feelings, we don’t need to blame the other person, but we can, and should, point out the facts, and express our feelings in a way that does not trigger the other person’s defensiveness or other negative feelings.
If we communicate in a healthy way, it will be clear enough for the other person how we are feeling, and they will have the opportunity to take responsibility for their part, without becoming defensive.
Here is a simple everyday situation as an example of how communication can go wrong, or right depending on the words we use:
Husband and Wife are getting ready to leave the house for an invitation and they are running late, they only have one key to their car and they can’t find it! (The last person who drove the car was the husband). The wife is starting to feel angry at a familiar scenario, and she hates to be late!
Wife: “You have lost the key again! You always do this, why don’t you leave it in the key holder by the door, it isn’t hard, that is why there is a key holder there!!! Now we are going to be late!” (in an annoyed tone)
Notice the direct accusation and blaming: YOU have lost the key, YOU always do it!
Husband: “Stop blaming me! you are the one who was taking for ever to get ready, if you could skip your hour long sessions of hair brushing we could be ready much earlier and then deal with this with less stress, plus I told you ages ago to make another copy of the key!” (in an angry tone)
Notice how the husband, feeling accused and blamed, goes immediately into “defensive mode” and tries to retaliate by taking his turn on accusing his wife of the first thing he can think of.
So, in this scenario the angry and negative feelings keep escalating, and there is a full blown fight, which is not about the lost key anymore but about the couple’s feelings overtaking them and completely shutting off communication.
Wife: “You have lost the key again! You always do this, why don’t you leave it in the key holder by the door, it isn’t hard, that is why there is a key holder there!!! Now we are going to be late!” -Same as scenario #1
The husband feels accused, but takes a few deep breaths and realizes that his wife is really worried because she hates to be late and it is her frustration talking at him, he also realizes that she may have a point about him being a bit disorganized, in fact he was already feeling a bit guilty for the loss of the key… so here is his response:
Husband: “Honey, I understand you are mad because you hate to be late, and I am sorry we cannot find the key, you are right, I often put it in different places which makes it harder to find it, I apologize but let’s try to find it together and make a note to make a copy so we have a backup key in the future, and I will be more careful to leave it in the key holder”
To this, the wife’s anger immediately deflates and she replies:
“I am sorry honey, I didn’t mean to blame you, we don’t really know what happened, it is just that I really dislike being late, but never mind, we just have to keep looking and yes, we need to make a copy, sorry I have not gotten to do that as I offered. Let’s keep looking and hopefully will find it soon. I will call our friends to tell them we will be late.”
The wife is feeling really annoyed at her husband, but before she says anything, she takes a deep breath and notices that he is frantically looking for the key and probably feeling bad already about not finding it, so she says:
“Honey, I feel really frustrated because we are going to be late, I know these things can happen, but it is a good idea to leave the key always in the key holder to avoid this happening in the future” (In a loving tone, not an accusatory one!)
Husband “I know, I am sorry, I will find it and will be more careful in the future to leave it in the holder when I use it, why don’t you call our friends to tell them we will be a bit late and let’s make a note to make a key copy as soon as possible”
In scenarios number 2 and 3 one of the partners averted a fight by being mindful, but at the same time expressing their feelings and the facts in a very effective manner.
You can see how the example above can be applied in many other cases and with different relationships. The specific situation or facts don’t matter as much as the way we react to them, and how we choose to communicate.
So, here is how we can avert fights and grow our relationships:
1. Taking a step back, before our feelings take over our actions and reactions
2. Choosing the right words to express ourselves, here are some ideas:
State the FACTS instead of accusing the other:
We will be late, as we can’t find the key (fact) vs
We will be late because YOU lost the key (accusation)
Take RESPONSIBILITY for your feelings instead of blaming them on others
I feel frustrated when we are late, it makes me feel embarrassed (taking responsibility for one’s feelings) vs
You make me look bad, because of you we will be late, and it is embarrassing! (blaming the other for our feelings)
DON’T ASSUME the other person is guilty, even if it seems obvious!
I wonder where the keys can be. Do you remember what happened after you parked the car last night? (Unassuming) vs
You lost the key again! (Assuming the person is guilty)
If you take these simple steps and practice them over and over, I assure you that your relationships will grow stronger and healthier and that you will feel a lot better with yourself and others!
Thanks for reading!