Sometimes all it takes is one nudge away from automatic anger to have a nice day.
There have been many situations in my life where, instead of engaging in purposeless, emotional tautologies, I have taken a step back from my reactivity, swallowed the urge to sustain my image-to-myself as eternally-correct God of proofs and facts, and dug a little deeper to see the whole picture.
Mind you, these glimpses don’t happen all the time, or even every day, but the times they do have been amazing. Something as simple as the sudden shock of lucidity that, no, in fact the other party is *not* directly attacking me through their critique of macronutrient ratios, top movies featuring a rogue AI, or ways to hang a towel to promote optimal drying…
Entire afternoons shifted emotional tones. Friendships were strengthened instead of weakened. Sometimes I can clearly see the path I could have taken if I had “stuck to my guns” and spouted more nothing to prove nothing – it always looks ugly. I’m not saying be a “Yes-Person”, just to prioritize. And be aware.
This isn’t an ‘anger management’ blurb – I’ve never really had that problem (although many do, some whom I know personally). Think of it more as a ‘miffed management’ workshop. Here are some things you may consider investigating if you find yourself floating out of the “emotional argument” funhouse kicking yourself for what you said and did.
Challenge Your Dialogue, Within and Without.
The first step is recognizing the endless chatterbox dialogue formated by the mind (and recognizing that it isn’t you!) – and challenge the statements boiling into your consciousness like so many gift-shop mystic eight-balls.
“Is he really, actually a jerk for bringing up the fact that a tomato is a fruit?”
“Does she have ulterior motives for telling you to watch the older version of Blade runner before passing judgment?”
“Maybe lengthwise across the bar really IS the best way to dry a towel! Have I experimented yet?”
One of my go-to’s in this is the idea of “allowance”. One time I became disgusted with just how violent an emotional reaction I got from an old man walking slowly in front of me and slowing me down as I turned a corner. In a moment of clarity I asked myself a challenge-question:
“Is an old man not allowed to walk slowly?”
That shut up my chatterbox pretty quick.
Sense Your Body
Many humans are trapped in their heads, and not just in “The West” (wherever that is). People backflip through masturbatory thought fantasies and memory cul-de-sacs for hours without the slightest clue of how their physical embodiment is doing. Have you ever been stressed out and panicky and it felt like your body was some sort of buoyant ghost-piñata on stilts? Maybe not that extreme, but knowing yourself in a language-void, kinesthetic way is vital to self-understanding.
Shinzen Young said all emotion is a tangling together of thought and body sensation. I’m not sure if that’s 100% true, but with greater sense acuity in the body one is more accurately able to pin down and “recognize” emotions as they come up. Even if it is at the basic level of “WOW, my jaw is really tight right now! That might be a signal that I am stressing out over this guy defending Star Wars Episode 1”
Have a Purpose to Your Talk
What is the reason I am saying this? Is it to change the opinion or situation of the person I’m talking with? Or is it to protect my fragile ego?
We need to say so little, and yet we say so much. This goes beyond the desperate fear of social silence so many of us have nestled in our hearts (“Oh God, no ones saying anything – this gap in palaver is directly related to how inferior I am as a person!! QUICK GET OUT MY PHONE YES I ACTUALLY HAVE A TEXT IT’S ON VIBRATE OK!?!?”) Do you REALLY need to bring up that half-remembered Wikipedia article on meso-american weaponry in order to…? What? Piss the other party off and continue the parade of half-remembered non-facts to propagate this ego friction? Or can you drop it…?
In the Jungian sense, a persona is a fragment of one’s ego which attaches itself to an external icon, title, or entity and begins to act as ‘self’. In other words – I could like tennis, but if my persona is ‘tennis player’, and I’m with someone who is insulting tennis, I would suffer the emotional reactivity as if I was being personally attacked.
Persona (or Identification, if you prefer) is pervasive and effluvial – sometimes you don’t even know what you are Identified with until you find yourself pissed off that someone is disagreeing with your choice of car-interior dashboard wax. You don’t have to be anything, you can change titles. Your hat doesn’t hold your brain, your head does.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received was:
“…you are the only person I know who is totally fine with saying ‘I’m wrong’.” That was not an easy victory over Self, believe me. If you have the guts to realize, and communicate your incorrectness in a way that doesn’t include posturing, vitriol, or begrudgingness, you are 3/4ths of the way to being enlightened. In my opinion.