5 Ways to Stay Cool in the Face of Another’s Emotional Reactivity

I had an experience that tested my patience and challenged me to remain calm in the face of aggressive, critical words.  My initial instinct was to fight back, defend and point out the ways in which this person had totally missed the mark.  But I didn’t.  This choice would have flown in the face of all that I know about resilience and mindfulness.  After some needed reflection, I realized this was an opportunity to practice what I preach and I’m happy to report I kept my cool.

Let me tell you, it was not easy.

What happens for many of us when our “old brains” get into the mix and we perceive danger, our fight or flight systems can get activated.  The stress hormone, cortisol, gets released and thinking clearly becomes even more challenging.  Sure, I could have behaved in all sorts of ways that would have felt fitting at the time but would likely have been ultimately unproductive.

Here are 5 ways to stay cool in the face of another’s reactivity:

  • Stop.  Don’t do anything.  Ponder and reflect upon what’s just transpired and if meeting the other at their level will – or will not – serve the situation.
  • Breathe.  Oxygen is helpful to counterract the stress response.  Breathe deeply as you continue on.
  • Imagine.  Try to go deeper into the space where the other is coming from.  If there’s acting out going on, it is more likely from a place of wounding.  The irony of narcissistic and mean behavior is it’s roots in pain.  Hard to see sometimes, isn’t it?  If you know the person well, perhaps it will be easier to find empathy but regardless, make an effot
  • Assess.  Consider whether your potential response will be helpful – or not.  When dealing with another who appears lacking insight into their behavior, an action matching theirs will likely not only incite a matching response (or worse) but possibly guilt for you later.  If it’s someone you care about, even more important to explore the potential damage your nasty response might have.
  • Untangle yourself.  Be as polite as possible then “walk away.”  If you know and care about the person and they are in front of you, call a time-out to allow a cool down period for both of you.  This will increase the chances of repairing the relationship breach later.  Keep in mind they are the one who have lost control of their emotional reactivity.  Avoid joining them.

At the end of the day, most of us seek emotional and relationship health and happiness.  It’s a good rule of thumb to keep responsibility for your behavior where it is – with you.  Sometimes no matter how calm you are, others are not.  Remember this is ultimately their issue and they likely suffer in their life as a result.