Ever have someone come into your life and send you right back to painful past relationships? This happened to me at work last week.
I am well aware, through much self-reflection, reading, contemplation and a healthy dose of therapy that I have trouble with angry people. So, I went into a meeting with an angry person that I knew was going to be challenging armed with my hard-won defenses locked and loaded. I still struggled. Ugh. Despite my best efforts to maintain my calm inner balance, I was pushed off the cliff and into a familiar old sea of anxiety and unrest.
I found myself thrashing about and throwing out conciliatory lifelines to this angry person at work, just like I used to do with an ex. Its like everything I learned from my previous experience went straight out the window. I was right back, trapped where I used to be, trying to appease an angry person triggered by me bringing up valid concerns and who was intent on blaming me for everything wrong. And just like back then, my body reacted. I felt the rising, suffocating well of anxiety in my throat, my heart beating fast, my hands shaking and my speech pressured and speeding up to the point where I felt like I was choking on my own words. And that feeling took 2 days to fully subside, painfully reminding me how I used to live with it on a daily basis for years. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived that. It does not feel healthy, to say the least!
So, I guess even though I thought I was beyond being vulnerable to angry people, this recent experience at work has shown me that I still have room to grow. In times of stress when defenses are low, those rotten old patterns can still come roaring back. I thought I was ready for it, but I wasn’t. And I feel bad that I lost my inner Zen, because I treasure it so deeply. Especially after so many years living the opposite experience of that. Time to regroup and remind myself that someone’s anger is their problem, not mine and it probably isn’t going to be a productive conversation if anger is present. Might be best to try to connect again later. And it is ok for me to bring up stuff, even challenging stuff. I’m kind about it, so if the other person doesn’t want to hear it, so be it. It isn’t my responsibility to fix the situation for them or to make them feel better because they are angry and out of control. That also is on them. It is up to them to grow or not. Just as it is up to me to recognize where my responsibility ends and theirs begins. Ohm.