Have you ever felt like you had to defend yourself? Someone knew exactly what to say to get under your armor and stick that dagger close to your heart. Your heart rate started climbing. Your body released the fight or flight adrenaline and you can feel it coursing through your veins. It’s on! Emotionally, you are already on your toes, reaching for your sword, and are about to defend yourself, and take some flesh while you’re at it. No one talks to me like that and gets away with it.
Take a second to create some space.
“I can’t help how I feel,” you justify. “That hurt and I have every right to defend myself and fight back.”
Create some separation between you and your emotions and thoughts. You are not your thoughts (a radical thought in itself). The voice in your head that you identify as “I” is not you. You are the one who chooses what to do and who considers the thoughts and acts in each moment. You are also not your emotions. These things are a part of you, but not what make you, you.
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When you pause in the midst of an emotionally charged argument, you show your power and gain some much needed self-control. You greatly improve your situation rather than recklessly running into battle, come what may. Think of a Samurai warrior. He lives by a code of ethics and fights only when necessary. True power is strength under control, used decisively and appropriately. If he engaged in battle every time someone insulted him he would not really be in control of himself. Rather, he would be reactionary and we would call him a novice, not a mature warrior.
When these situations arise in relationships, I pause and use this trick. Often times this means creating a break in the action and taking a few minutes to yourself.
I pause to collect myself. I take a few deep breaths to slow down my heart rate. I imagine a river bank and I sit beside my river. I try to remember that my emotions are not me. They are important warning signals that are also usually temporary. I know that they will come and then go. So I imagine sitting along the bank of the river, watching my emotions get closer, even stronger, then start to fade and float downstream. As they start to subside, I may also take a moment to think about them and identify them. I wonder why the warning signal fired in me, and think about how I might act. Usually there is some fear that ignited and if I can locate it, I will try and name it.
Your power is found in your ability to choose what to do and how to respond to any situation. You don’t have control over how life shows up, what other people do or say, but you do have the power to make a choice and decide what to do. So, pause. Right there in that space is your power. This is not a power that is corrupt or forces itself on others or is disrespectful of others. But it is a crucial personal power to discover. This is your birthright as a human, born on this earth. Own it. Stand on your own two feet. Take up your space and be confident in that space. How? By mastering yourself. Call upon the warrior within, not to do damage to others, but to learn self mastery and self control.
One more thing about this important pause. I know this may not be earth shattering for you. But in all likelihood, unless the house is on fire, your car is headed toward a cliff, or there is some other perilous circumstance… ready for it? You are probably not going to die right now. I know from personal experience that emotions can flare up huge in your face that feel like life or death, the shields come out, and the battle lines get drawn. But in all likelihood, death is not imminent. More probably, a major fear was triggered and your emotions can’t tell the difference. The emotional part of the brain cannot tell time. It doesn’t know whether your need is urgent as when you were a baby and needed food, versus you are an adult and fear that some need may not be met in this relationship. Both are driven by the fear of a need not being met and thus, the same emotion is generated from within.
The next time your emotions rise up and you are ready for battle, remember to pause. Take a moment to collect yourself. Breathe a little deeper. Sit along the riverbank and take a moment to decide how to respond. When you do, you will show your self mastery, and be able to speak your truth about the situation with confidence. This will go a long way in creating healthy relationships with those around you based on mutual respect. There is power in the pause.
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.