The Wrong End of the Stick

auntie stress dog walk holly

− "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.

  1. She saw me standing there with a stick behind my back. Then, she heard me as I sent Holly off to find her stick.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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4 Replies to “The Wrong End of the Stick”

  1. Marianna,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It is a great illustration of the effectiveness of you having a good stress management technique in place that you were able to respond in such a matter of fact way and take no offense. I find that a regular routine of mindfulness meditation enables you to have that time/space to assess what is going on before you react/respond to a situation.

    That said, if I go through a period of time of insufficient rest/extra stress without something in place (extra) to balance it out, the regular routine of meditation is not fail proof. In other words, after many days of insufficient sleep, I may have a reactive response. This illustrates the importance of good self-care. In other words, I do not think it is enough to only practice one of your wonderful breathing techniques or meditation – one must also ensure that one is getting sufficient food, sleep and exercise nutrients 🙂

    Warmly,
    Dorlee

    1. Hi Dorlee,

      There are many aspects to good health. I liken it to a Jenga Game – it is important to maintain, learn and improve what you can have control over – this embodies self-care.

      When one isn’t flooded with stress hormones, it is much easier to do the things one needs to do to look after oneself. When the nervous system is balanced, the prefrontal cortex is engaged – the brain’s “CEO” can then do what it does best – performing those executive functions, including making better decisions. Decisions that augment self-care, such as getting enough rest, exercise, eating nutritious foods, having down time, etc.

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