I’ve been teaching anger management and conflict resolution for nearly a quarter of a century. What makes me so successful in my work is that I do not lecture on any subject matter that I haven’t personally experienced and mastered. In that regard, people find me authentic and know that if I’ve succeeded at healing my anger and being at peace with my surroundings, they can achieve the same or more. For the most part, I’m a pretty easygoing and relatively calm person. For certain, I’m never rude or disrespectful even when I am upset. When I do get angry, I carefully choose my words so as not to offend or hurt anyone. Well, until this past weekend that is.
Brief synop: I have a family member who has had a serious issue with me for many years. Try as I have to resolve things with her, I’ve been unsuccessful. For the sake of my own inner peace, I no longer have contact with her. However, due to a change of family circumstances, that has recently changed as well. As a mutually close family member approaches the final stages of her life, we have been brought together to make some end of life decisions for her. Needless to say, this is a stressful and unpleasant situation for both of us but one that must be what it is.
At one point, I needed to address a very sensitive issue of the disappearance of personal items that belonged to that particular family member. These items were to be given to specific family members upon the death of our loved one. This person was the only one who had access to them. I respectfully stated that I was aware that they were missing and requested that they be promptly returned until the appropriate time to distribute them. I knew that in doing so, I was putting myself at risk for her wrath, as she has great animosity towards me. My instincts were correct as she came after me with a vengeance. Spewing hateful comments, she resorted to calling me names. I immediately drew on my arsenal of conflict resolution strategies to diffuse a volatile situation. “You misinterpreted what I said.” But she cut me off with more accusations. Suddenly she came towards me in an aggressive manner. I immediately backed away. She became even more hostile. Sensing that I could be in physical danger, I quickly exited the premises. “I have nothing to say to you. Leave me alone.” I repeated this over and over but to no avail. Her insults were relentless. Within less than two minutes, I had reached my breaking point, turned to her, and release some hurtful comments of my own. Immediately, I felt shame and regret for what I had done but proceeded to my car in order to protect myself and leave.
A short time later, I discussed this incident with a few family members who were all too aware of the volatile behavior of the other party. All offered their support and reassured me that I was perfectly justified in the way I handled myself. One even stated he was proud of me for finally standing up to her. I felt no satisfaction nor pleasure in the manner in which I handled myself. In fact, I felt nothing but shame and remorse. As a Christian and as one who is proficient in anger management and conflict resolution, I was deeply disappointed in my performance. My daughter reassured me that sometimes anger management simply doesn’t work.
Why is that? What were the critical mistakes I made that caused me to be ineffective in this situation?
Where did I go wrong?
1. I knew going in that I was taking a risk. This was a sensitive issue that had the potential to incite her. Knowing that she has nothing but contempt for me and a volatile temper, I was sorely prepared for the rage she was about to impose on me. I should have more seriously contemplated her anticipated reaction, my response, and how I was going to handle the situation. Having a plan provides a sense of authority, confidence, and personal power.
2. Knowing full well that any discussion of this issue would most likely not be well received, it would have behooved me to have a neutral third party present before engaging in a dialog with her. I failed to even consider this from the get go.
3. I allowed her hate filled comments to get to me. I failed to remain centered, paying careful attention to my inner dialogue which ultimately controlled my feelings. I gave away my personal power which left me feeling vulnerable. This ultimately enabled her to push my buttons and trigger an angry, out of control response from me.
What I did that worked.
1. Initially when the attacks began, I refused to engage with her. I clearly stated that she had misinterpreted what I had said in an attempt to clear that matter up. When she was unreceptive and escalated her assaults, I repeated diffusing statements in an attempt to calm her down as well as enable me to keep my cool. “I have nothing to say. Leave me alone.” I repeatedly stated these with confidence as I continued to make yet another smart choice.
2. Realizing that any chance for a productive discussion was futile and that I was in a potentially dangerous situation, I quickly removed myself from her presence. Even as she aggressively followed me in a very intimidating and threatening manner, I refused to make eye contact with her but rather kept my focus on my vehicle, which was my source of escape.
Where do I go from here?
1. When one mishandles a situation such as I did, it’s important to review the events as soon as possible thereafter. Be completely truthful about your role in the failure of the process.
2. Identify more effective ways to handle things next time. Write them down, post, and review often.
3. Extend an apology to anyone you have offended, even those who mistreated you. You are not responsible for their behavior but you are responsible for your own. Their disrespect of you does not justify yours towards them.
4. Forgive yourself for your indiscretions. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn from them and vow to do better next time.
I’ve been practicing what I teach for as long as I’ve been teaching it and it does work. But every once in awhile, even an expert like me makes a critical mistake. It’s hard for me to forgive myself for ever hurting another human being but I am trying. I do know that next time, I will more closely follow my own advice and am confident I’ll see much better results.
Peter 3:9 “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”