So I’m sitting in an Al-Anon meeting the other day…
(Yeah, we’re a big fan of 12 Step meetings around here. Been going for like, 20 years. Wonderful program, I highly recommend it. Also? You hear great stuff in there and usually laugh really hard at least once. Love my Al-Anon peeps.)
Anyway, as I was saying. A woman there was talking about how sometimes when she overreacts to something someone says or something that happens during her day, she takes that as a sign that she needs to stop and ask herself what’s really going on inside. She said it like this: “I’ve learned that when my reaction is hysterical, the reason is usually historical.”
Isn’t that great?! I just loved that, and it made so much sense to me. One of my goals in my never-ending quest to Be A Grown-Up is to learn the difference between reacting and responding. The first one is knee-jerk instinctive, and happens without even thinking about it. The second one is more thought-out and self-aware. Now I’m not a real volatile person so my reactions, even to negative things, are rarely explosive or over the top. But I do know that sometimes when something hits me the wrong way, or makes me feel kind of anxious or annoyed it may have more to do with my past than my present circumstances. Russ calls those things ‘anchors’– they’re invisible on the surface but underneath it all there is something that connects you to a heavy weight that can drag you down. It may go back to childhood, or just an experience in my life that deeply affected me but the bottom line is that when I have a strong reaction to a person, place or thing that seems a little out of line with what the circumstances are, I’ve learned to recognize that as an anchor and give it a second look. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or send me running screaming to a therapist or anything, it can be as simple as stopping a second and saying, “Whoa, what was THAT about?” Usually I can identify the real source of the reaction pretty quickly, and honestly? The identification is really more than half the battle! When I know what is yanking my chain and why, then I can choose how I want to respond instead of just being swept along with the feelings of the moment. The most obvious example is the classic “stuff and blow” syndrome– like when something is bothering you and you just keep stuffing it down and then out of nowhere you blow up at something completely unrelated and relatively innocuous…
What? Just me?
Oh come on, YOU know what I’m talking about! Around here that can look something like this: The house is getting messier and messier, no one is picking up after themselves, backpacks and overflowing suitcases are lying around willy-nilly, and I am getting more and more frustrated about it. However, I haven’t actually sat down and talked about it and made sure that everyone knows what is expected of them and expressed the fact that the messiness really bothers me. But when one of the girls needs me to run something by their school that they forgot, suddenly I am huffing and puffing and saying things like, “Hello, I have a schedule too, I have things that need to get done today and I do not have time to drop everything just because you didn’t take care of your responsibilities blah blah blah huff puff…” Reality check! Everyone forgets things occasionally (myself included), this is the exception rather than the rule, it is NOT a big deal, so what is my problem? Well, my problem is that the state of the house is making me feel like my needs don’t count and don’t matter to anyone. I feel disrespected and ignored, which actually has NOTHING to do with what I am currently (over)reacting to, and everything to do with the fact that this is hitting an anchor in me– it is reminding me of other times in my life that it has been up to me to make my wishes known and to be clear about what I expect from the people closest to me, and I didn’t do that and it didn’t feel good. So the truth is, the person that has really let me down and ignored my feelings is… me. And when I step back and take a moment to examine why this little situation is getting all blown out of proportion inside, it suddenly makes sense to me. I get it– I have choices, I can change this, I don’t have to feel this way.
Now granted, that is a silly little example of something that really doesn’t matter much in the long run. But it is indicative of the pattern, and the reason I loved hearing about ‘the hysterical reaction revealing a historical reason’ is that now it is stuck in my brain and can help serve as a shortcut to my enlightenment! Now when I find myself in a situation like that–or even a more serious, important one– that little bumper sticker of a phrase will pop into my head and hopefully I will save myself some time, energy and angst. Because as Truman Capote used to say, “Life is too short– and too long– for that!”
So what about you guys? Got any thoughts on the subject? Got any favorite sayings or quotes that have helped you? Share ‘em with the class!