− "You b****!", came the voice from behind me.
I was encouraging Holly, who was happily and madly crashing through the bushes, with a round of "Go find your stick, Holly!"
− "You're hiding the stick behind your back. How fair is that?" asked the woman I recognized from when our dogs crossed the many paths at the dog park.
− "She dropped her stick, she likes to carry it around with her. She's not interested in this one. Besides, it's the one I use for my arm exercises."
− "Oh." came the reply.
So, let's look at how that woman got the wrong end of the stick.
- She saw me standing there with a stick behind my back. Then, she heard me as I sent Holly off to find her stick.
- Her perception, based upon what she saw in that moment, was that I was mean, asking Holly to look for a stick that I was "hiding" behind my back.
- The conclusion? The aforementioned appellation.
What surprised and delighted me is what didn't happen. I knew I wasn't being a b****, so that label had no emotional charge for me. It simply wasn't true, so there was no need to expend energy on that situation. It had no power over me because I chose to act consciously, rather than react. I was able to p-a-u-s-e long enough to evaluate what the best course of action would be in this situation. I felt she needed more information, which would help to clarify things.
How often do you get the wrong end of the stick? You may zoom to assume, which can lead down the perilous path of misunderstanding.
Your interpretation of the things you see and hear come from your history. You learned your lessons from the interactions and experiences you've had and bring them forward to your future interactions and experiences. However, those lessons may need updating, especially if they were learned during times of stress.
For example, your first job may be one you wish to forget, but it seems that there are times that the horrible work experience you had comes rushing back to you. You may be unaware that the person you just spoke with reminded you of that boss who made your life so distressing, all those years ago. Suddenly, you're feeling out of sorts - your breathing changes, your muscles tighten and you've taken a dislike to the person who reminds you of your boss, even though you may have not yet made that connection. In a split second, you've dismissed this person, all because of your stressful history with your boss.
If you were to approach this situation from a different angle, you'd recognize that the memory of that earlier situation was just that - a memory. When you change your perceptions, you are often able to change the outcome. Stress techniques allow you to do that, by helping to reset your nervous system, so that you are not so reactive. It also allows you to take a figurative, and sometimes literal, step back to assess the situation.
When you feel compelled to react, take a few seconds, breathe, then ask yourself if you have the full picture - the right end of the stick. Do you need more information? Is your perception accurate?
You can facilitate this skill by balancing your nervous system - when you are in a more balanced state, you are not as reactive. Liberally sprinkle your day with things that make you feel good - recall a satisfying conversation, spend a few minutes listening to a favourite piece of music, scroll through your photos or savour your cup of coffee or tea. Whatever it is you're doing, put your heart into it - because it's the power of your heart that will help you address and undress your stress.
And as for the woman, I told her that it was inappropriate for her to slap that term on me, even though I realize that she was defending Holly.