Staying calm when others are launching personal attacks
Why is it that some people manage to stay calm and in-control when others are critical or upset with them, where others simply feel hurt, personally attacked, and become defensive?
Obviously, we are all allowed to be human and occasionally give a human response. But for many people, their difficulty in controlling their own behaviour tends to make a bad situation much, much worse.
So, how do you stay calm when feeling personally attacked? Here are some reminders of what you do (or might do more of) to maintain some self-control when others are pushing your buttons.
Think before you speak: Some people never think before they speak or act. They simply give an emotive response. They are on auto-pilot, but for many of these individuals, their auto-pilot has done their training at Kamikaze school!
Instead we need to find a way of thinking that is helpful to us and relevant for the situation. Thoughts such as:
- Maybe there are other things they are stressed about – I don’t have to take this personally
- Maybe they have a point – There is something valuable in this for me
- This is good that they are speaking with me – It gives us a chance to work things out
- If I say what I feel like saying, it is going to make the situation much worse
- I need to arrange a better time for this conversation
- How can I best respond?
Don’t let your feelings determine your choices: People who are self-controlled certainly can feel hurt and upset, but they don’t let their emotions dictate their behaviour. Instead, they choose from a range of options, including:
- Simply ignoring the personal attack
- Focusing instead on solutions
- Demonstrating some understanding for how the other person is feeling, perhaps apologising for the misunderstanding or for how their behaviour came across
- Returning meanness with kindness
Act before you lose control: Given enough stress over a long-enough period of time, we are all capable of losing control, though people do this to different intensities. If you are close to developing an unhelpful mindset or acting in ways you will not feel good about, it is important you act before you lose control.
- Putting yourself out of button-pushing reach for a period of time
- Finding a better time for the conversation
- Refocusing your attention elsewhere, allowing yourself (and perhaps the other person) time to settle
Deliberately practise self-control: The good thing about self-control is that the more you practise it, the better you get. This is also the case if you practice self-control with other matters. For example …
- Deliberately using your non-dominant hand. E.g. If you are right-handed, using your left hand
- Starting and continuing a physical training program
- Conducting difficult discussions in front of an agreed third party
- Taking control of other matters that are causing you stress. E.g. Becoming tidier and more organised around the home
I am not suggesting self-control can be easily achieved simply by tidying up your home. But self-control practised in one area of your life can often be transferred over to another area.
Take better care of your health: Sometimes, there is a physiological basis for intolerant, aggressive behaviour.
Sometimes there can be a quick fix, such as simple rest, that will put many people in a better mood. For Type One Diabetics, like myself, my wife, Christy, will tell you that cranky behaviour from me is often best responded to with jelly beans. After my blood sugar levels have risen, I am in a much better frame of mind.
With other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or organic brain injury, medication or other treatments may be what is needed.
So, which of the following are a good fit for you?
- Think before you speak
- Don’t let your feelings determine your choices
- Act before you lose control
- Deliberately practice self-control
- Take better care of your health
Remember that if you are finding it hard to develop self-control, a medical assessment and professional counseling can also be of help.
The good news is that the more you can control your own emotions and behaviour, the more in-control you will feel and the better able you will respond to the ‘difficult’ behaviour of others.