No, I’m not suddenly mad. And no, I don’t enjoy suffering either. I simply realized that the adversities in my life were the most useful, even if not enjoyable moments. And often those difficult situations happen between people: Disagreements and arguments.
My reaction to them tells me an awful lot about myself. In fact, often stuff I’m not really aware of.
This counts for everybody. And it represents one of the biggest chances for us to grow AND to get a good look into our subconscious mind.
Let me take a step back and tell you a little story.
A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly found myself in a difficult situation. An incredibly important relationship in my life was suddenly in danger of falling apart. We had a call and suddenly I learned about something which let me stop, fill with anger and disappointment top to toe, and quickly one word led to another.
I felt betrayed and unsupported by something the person had done – and the other person felt that I had not honoured an agreement we made. We both did not hold back in expressing our emotions which ran high immediately - I dare saying on both sides.
I left the conversation feeling agitated, stress levels through the roof, annoyed and furious. I bet my conversation counterpart did not feel any better.
What happened afterwards was what I had trained myself to do over decades: huffing and puffing, re-living the conversation, talking to people in my inner circle I trust, looking into who’s right or not, finding arguments in my head (or expressing them to friends) of what I could say, argue or how my “strategy” could look like to react to this difficult situation.
Difficult, not only because this person is important to me, but also because this was connected to my business.
The conversation was followed by an e-mail I received, which summarized all the points we talked about on the phone and the person’s view, which let my blood boil for a second time when reading it, even if it was concluded with the invitation to be curious.
I had plenty of ideas of how to answer, none of them seemed wise or right, according to my gut feeling.
So, I left it alone for a while. I was rather busy the last weeks, travelled and worked and still had no clue how to answer.
Until – while walking my daughter’s dogs when visiting her in the UK – it suddenly became very clear. I had to take a step back. And look at myself, which I could not in the first place as my deeply engrained patterns had kicked in.
And with it the FFF response (fight, flight, freeze). In my case it was definitely fight., I don’t tend to run away from stuff.
Responsible for this reaction is a really old part of our brain, which some call the reptile brain, a bit more academic: Amygdala.
Very useful 30.000 years ago when our ancestors spotted a sabretooth tiger and had to run for their life, not so much nowadays, when we react in similar ways, but in a conversation or difficult situation. As it basically paralyses our thinking brain and closes our heart – we’re ready to survive, not to thrive or excel (unless it’s running away, which our body chemistry supports amazingly well in that state).
So, the very first question I asked myself was: What am I afraid of? What fears were triggered in this conversation?
Asking ourselves this question takes a lot of courage.
Because we might find out things we’re scared to look at. Or at least find really uncomfortable. And many of us don’t want to admit that we have fears at all! After all you were angry, not afraid, right?
There is ALWAYS another emotion on a deeper level behind anger or fury. And we can find it if we look closely. More often than not, it is fear. To not be good enough, to have done something wrong, to be treated unfairly, to lose something….you get my gist.
We might also think that our anger is to blame on the other person, right? Sounds really much better than looking into WHY we reacted like we did.
The thing is though that no-one, except ourselves, is responsible for how we react or behave. That was a really bitter pill for me to swallow, until I finally accepted that it’s true. Everything else is avoidance.
And then there’s the desire to be right about stuff, which often hinders us to be honest. With ourselves and others. As we might believe it is weakness if we realize that we could possibly understand the reaction of the other person when we look at the situation through their eyes (commonly known as empathy ;-)). So, many of us might shy away from that.
This is the most important step in the process and is worth gold, as you get a peak view in the depth of your mind and even more importantly, soul.
In my case I realized that I felt that someone had walked over me and was holding me back. Experiences, which I made in life often enough and which left me helpless, not heard and not acknowledged. My brain recognized the triggers and sent the right thoughts and emotions obediently. All of it resulting in anger and fury.
The second step: Being grateful. For the adversity. As it helped me seeing something that was hidden. As it showed me a part of myself that required attention and CHANGE. For being given the opportunity to do exactly that.
Yes, it is an opportunity.
If we take it or not, is on us.
"So, now you’re telling me I should be grateful for some shit happening to me or I have a fight with someone??", you might think.
We all face adversities in life. Some smaller, some bigger. And in some cases, we don’t have ANY influence on or control over on what is happening in our life, or to us.
Well, then we have two options:
We cannot only learn from our immediate reaction to a situation, we can also take a close look at WHY this happened to us – I keep that one for another blog soon to come. In short, I found that whatever sh** happened in my life, I could see the reason for it eventually, even if often not immediately.
Coming back to what to do when we’ve found why we reacted like we did and thanked the situation (or the universe – up to you) for showing us something about ourselves.
The answer: Realizing that we probably reacted based upon some experiences of the past. Our brain is rather good with remembering that kind of stuff and putting patterns in place, which make us react in the same way to similar situations (or triggers).
Just knowing that, allows us to look at the situation in a new light, from a different perspective and opens up possibilities how we could deal with it differently. Suddenly you will become more relaxed – in the best case you can laugh about yourself (might take a bit of practice to get there – at least it did for me - or maybe I’m just slow ;-) ).
We could ask ourselves questions like
Often, we realize – when we get into REAL (and authentic) communication – that the points of views or opinions are either not that far from each other OR we start getting a better idea of the motivation behind – ours and the one of the other person.
Open up. Be vulnerable.
Unless we “learn” vulnerability, it can feel really awkward to open up. But as one of my favourite authors, Brené Brown says: “Either we do vulnerability or it does us”, in other words: we cannot avoid it.
I finally answered the e-mail. After I got clear on my fears and could openly say that the conversation and the e-mail triggered those. And I asked questions. To make sure we have a chance to stand under the same reality. Only then we can start a constructive communication, possibly find solutions, become really curious without putting the being hurt in the center, and without blaming or shaming.
I felt immensely relieved. Particularly as I had not followed my first impulse of how to answer. And because I had given myself time to look, listen and feel. And could come up with an answer from a completely different place: my heart. Not my ego or hurt feelings.
The next step will be a conversation. And I know it will be good, authentic, open and compassionate. We might find an agreement or not. That’s not the important point.
The important point is that I’ve grown. That I could leave my ego behind and be curious and open and ask the right questions. Leave a pattern behind. And even I fall into a similar “trap” again (hey, never excluded…habits or pattern can be quite strong and different behaviour requires some practice), I know that I will recognize it very quickly and can adapt.
So, for me, disagreements and adverse situations are a great opportunity to learn something new about myself, eliminate patterns which harm me and give me the chance to grow. Become a little bit wiser each time. And finally, not to take myself so enormously seriously.
This can happen in case we are prepared to observe, to be aware and to listen. To ourselves.
After all, life is here to be enjoyed and the best way to do that is by leading myself. And this is a journey which is continuous, never ending, and quite exciting.
As life gets better, the better we know ourselves. Promised.