As we head into the highly sociable season of graduations and weddings, it seems appropriate to talk about the one interpersonal situation that really ties me in knots. I call it bad-behavior tag but unlike the child’s game it isn’t the least bit fun.
Here’s how it works: A friend, acquaintance or even a complete stranger does something that stings my feelings or piques my ire. Maybe a cherished gal pal barks at me or the philistine behind me in traffic starts leaning on the horn while I wait for an old person to cross the street.
At first it seems clear that the situation is an example of someone else’s bad behavior. I feel the OUCH but the rest of the interaction belongs to him or her. It is his or her issue–UNTIL I make it mine by reacting.
That’s when the trouble begins.
It might seem that the obvious way to feel better when someone wounds or angers you is to react immediately and give the other person hell in return. Failing to respond appears wimpy, repressed or dishonest.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bad behavior is catching and in fact there is nothing a provocateur would like more than to hand the responsibility for the problem to you. Even if he or she doesn’t consciously want to play a nasty little game, if you react negatively to someone else’s craziness, you have taken on his or her bleak karma.
Tag, you’re it.
YOU are now the one who is behaving badly. You’re kvetching and carrying on and flipping the bird every which way and the other person suddenly looks like the injured party. What’s more, you feel doubly horrible. You’re still reeling from the other person’s gaffe or growling and now you are burdened with the guilt of what you said or did in return. You are carrying the weight of the interaction. The other person is light as a feather.
Do not despair! There is help, there is even hope!
The first step is to do what a very wise personal coach told me once and that is to insert a make-believe pause button into your hand. When you feel provoked, hit that imaginary switch and give yourself time to consider your course of action. Think about bad-behavior tag. Ask yourself if you really want to take on someone else’s dark energy by responding in kind. Do you really want to get into it? Or maybe you can make yourself feel better by defusing the situation.
If you simply allow the other person’s action or words to float in the space between you, let the interaction happen without engaging, the outcome will be much much better. Obviously I am not talking about defending yourself against extremely violent or dangerous behavior. We’re talking about how to respond to the subtle slights and stings of everyday life.
Not grabbing the other person’s craziness when it is tossed to you has an amazing result: all that nasty energy bounces right back to the source. What happens next? Either the person realizes the infraction and apologizes for it, or the whole incident simply dissipates.
Whichever way it goes, you are certain to hear that sweet bell that rings in your heart when you know you have done the right thing and taken care of yourself.