We’ve all encountered someone who has inappropriately attempted to goad us into reacting to them. It could be something said directly to your face, heard through a third party, texted via mobile or posted on social media. There are just so many ways to say inappropriate things in the digital age!
I’ve had this happen to me twice within the last 48 hours, and I think how we manage these encounters can determine how emotionally healthy we are.
In the first instance, I was texted some incredibly harsh and judgmental words, amounting to no less than an attack on my character.
The second time was an unsolicited political comment on a completely innocuous Facebook post.
How do you respond when someone attacks you, either publicly or privately? The general reaction to something that pushes our emotional buttons is to react emotionally. But I’ve discovered a better way which helps me maintain equilibrium and not get caught up in others’ drama.
Whenever someone does criticize of me, depending on how much I value the source I will seek to discover if there is even a grain of truth in their words. I want to be honest with myself and seize upon growth opportunities when they come my way.
Referring to the first instance, the text message was clearly an emotional reaction that had no legitimacy. It didn’t take me long to spot that the sender was reacting to not having their way in a situation, and so they lashed out.
My buttons were being pushed. And when we react to our buttons being pushed we are actually surrendering the power we have to respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally.
One of our human flaws is the need to “be right.” But being right doesn’t always lead to being happy. Sometimes we can be content with being right without having to prove it to others.
In this case my options were to:
1) Defend myself against the false accusations and make my case for why this person was wrong. But what would that serve? If this person has already made up their mind that their truth is THE truth, I’m not likely to persuade them otherwise. It would just turn into an argument. And I don’t want to fight.
2) Fight back. See #1. I don’t want to fight. And I don’t want to hurt the other person by saying something that I would regret.
3) Say or do nothing.
I choose #3. I didn’t need to defend myself and I didn’t want to fight. To me, it is far more empowering to let others think, feel, believe and/or perceive whatever they want about me or about the situation. As the saying goes, what you think of me is none of my business!
When you choose to not react or even respond to false accusations, you are empowered to release the other person. And you demonstrate that you won’t be controlled by their reactions. After all, most often a verbal attack is designed to engage you into a battle that can’t be won.
The other instance took place just a short time ago. After thinking about writing this piece based on the first encounter, having the second one happen really drove home my desire to express my thoughts.
I made an incredibly non-confrontational Facebook post that was akin to a Seinfeld post… that is to say, it was about nothing.
And yet an acquaintance (whom I haven’t seen or spoken with in years in person) took the opportunity to grandstand with a smarmy political statement.
It immediately became obvious to me and I sat there looking at the comment, thinking “why?”
This individual breached a boundary and I could have reacted a number of ways.
1) I could have engaged with this person and responded with my own thoughts about their conclusions. But is it really wise to engage with someone so predisposed to an opinion that they would post an in-your-face political comment on a post that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic? Of course not. It would be foolish.
2) I could have fought back and stooped to the same level of primal discourse, which is to say, attack. But why? This happens regularly on social media. People yell at each other, call each other idiots, curse at one another… and nothing good comes of it. Ever.
3) I could ignore the comment. Sometimes I’ll leave comments like this and allow others to engage with the commenter. But this is MY wall. And it takes a lot of nerve to come into my house and start pointing fingers. It also takes a lot of self-righteousness. I posted about the Righteous Indignitus virus epidemic recently, and it was staring me right in the face.
4) I could delete the comment. My wall. My rules. If you came into my home and spoke to me like that I’d ask you to leave.
So I deleted the comment from my wall. And in this case I sent the commenter a short DM that said “Hope you are doing well, but I’m not taking the bait. ”
You don’t have to take the bait, either.
There is no rule that says you have to engage with people who attack you. Even if their method of sharing is crude, we are still responsible to look for any grain of truth in what they are saying. Again, don’t pass by an opportunity to learn and grow.
But if after doing so you conclude that this person is just having an emotional reaction, recognize that it is their problem. You don’t have to play by their rules or dance to their music. In fact, by not doing so you are building a stronger character for yourself.
Sometimes leaving people to sit in their own words, actions or behaviors without responding can give them time to think about what they did. And sometimes it can lead to an apology. Other times they will just double-down on what they accused you of because it is easier than looking in the mirror.
There is a world of difference between reacting and responding. Remember that reacting is based on emotions. It is usually immediate and rarely in the best interests of anyone involved in the dispute.
But responding is thoughtful and deliberate. You can’t control other peoples’ emotions. You shouldn’t let them control yours.
But the bottom line is that you don’t have to defend yourself against false accusations (unless there are legal implications). You don’t have to prove anything to other people if you are content with your own behavior and decisions. And you don’t have to take the bait.Recommended1 recommendation