Have you ever been caught off guard by an overwhelming surge of shame, agitation, and anger that seems to arise out of nowhere? It’s as if these emotions have a mind of their own, propelling us towards reactive behaviors and leading to actions we later regret. We’ve all experienced those moments of realization when we wish we had taken a pause and chosen a different path instead. 

I can personally attest to encountering this struggle time and time again. It seems that the Universe continually presents me with people and experiences that serve as opportunities to practice the art of pausing rather than reacting. Most recently, during my much-anticipated vacation in Virginia, I found myself faced with yet another test. Allow me to share what unfolded… 

Relaxed To Reactive 

Imagine this: I was sitting on the front porch of a luxurious bed-and-breakfast, a cherished indulgence in celebration of our 19th anniversary. As I soaked in the breathtaking vistas of the Shenandoah’s, sipping my coffee and swaying gently in the porch chairs, a profound sense of tranquility washed over me. Engaging in lighthearted conversation with our housemates, I truly felt in harmony with the world around me. That is, until my serenity was abruptly shattered when Ruben, the innkeeper, appeared and handed me the Band-Aid I had requested, accompanied by a sarcastic remark dubbing me as “high maintenance.”

In that moment, a battle surfaced within me, forged by a lifetime of enduring the relentless echoes of “You’re too much” in various forms.  A part of me wanted to defend myself, to retaliate against his demeaning remark, as I’d done many times over the years. But a wiser, more composed part of me knew that reacting would be less than helpful. So, I made a conscious choice to soften and remain silent. 

Don’t Feed The Sarcasm With Your Attention 

Ruben’s flustered gaze shifted towards my wife, Yvette, as he snidely asked, “How do you deal with her?” I eagerly awaited Yvette’s response, curious to see how she would handle this sarcastic remark. 

With grace and sensitivity, Yvette deftly redirected the conversation, sparing Ruben any further embarrassment in front of the other guests. Hours later, as I reflected on the encounter, it made me consider how sarcasm can serve as a defense mechanism, leading to unintended hurt. Understanding the defensive nature of sarcasm allows us to lessen the impact of their cutting words and foster a deeper sense of empathy and understanding. 

Stand In Your Own Power, Define Yourself

Later that evening, Yvette pondered over a more fitting reply to Ruben’s sarcasm. “No, she’s not high maintenance,” she began, her words hanging in the air as she searched for the right way to express herself. In that moment, it occurred to me that changing my definition of “high maintenance” was a far more sustainable way to reduce the negative impact on me. Rather than attempting to change Ruben’s perspective, I proposed a different response: “Yes, she is remarkable at expressing her desires and needs.” 

Insight Over Eyesight 

This realization marked a personal milestone, as I understood that the power of others’ opinions only exists if we grant it to them. Our triggers and emotional reactions reside within us, independent of external voices. By acknowledging our reactivity, we gain the ability to pause and question the validity of their statements. 

Ultimately, we have the power to decide if their words hold any weight or if they simply fade away as insignificant noise. When we embrace this power, we open ourselves up to personal growth and self-discovery, transforming moments of conflict into opportunities for reflection and inner strength. 

Going From Reactive To Response: Keeping Your Serenity 

To help navigate those moments of overwhelming emotions and reactive behaviors, here are some practical steps we can take: 

  1. Recognize your triggers: Pay attention to situations, words, or actions that tend to trigger strong emotions within you. By becoming aware of these triggers, you can better prepare yourself to respond instead of react.
  2. Take a pause: When faced with a triggering situation, make a conscious effort to take a momentary pause before responding. This pause allows you to regain control over your emotions and gives you space to choose a more thoughtful and intentional response.
  3. Soften and remain silent: Instead of immediately reacting with anger or defensiveness, consider softening your approach and remaining silent. Sometimes, choosing not to engage in an argument or confrontation can diffuse the tension and prevent further escalation.
  4. Steer the conversation: If someone directs negative remarks or sarcasm towards you, follow the example of Yvette in the story. Skillfully steer the conversation away from the uncomfortable moment by changing the topic or introducing a more positive subject.
  5. Reflect on the situation: After the initial incident has passed, take time to reflect on what happened. Ask yourself questions like “What triggered me?”, “Why did those words affect me?”, and “What can I learn from this experience?”. This reflection helps you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your emotional reactions.
  6. Reframe negative labels: Instead of internalizing negative labels or criticisms, try reframing them in a more positive light. Look for alternative perspectives or interpretations that empower you rather than disempower you. For example, if someone calls you “high maintenance,” consider seeing it as being “remarkable at expressing your wants and needs.”
  7. Question the validity of others’ words: When faced with criticism or hurtful remarks, question the validity of those words. Ask yourself if they hold any truth or if they are merely opinions that do not define you. Recognize that you have the power to choose which words hold weight in your life.
  8. Set boundaries and prioritize self-care: Use these moments of reflection to identify any boundaries you need to set for yourself. Determine what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment from others, and prioritize your own well-being and self-care.

By implementing these practical steps, you can navigate difficult situations with more grace and self-awareness. Remember, personal growth and self-discovery often occur in the moments when we choose to pause, reflect, and respond consciously rather than reactively.

Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com