We often get caught up in a cycle of threats; I feel threatened by somebody, so I harden up and put out “don’t fuck with me” signals. The other person gets intimidated on their end, and they do the same. All the while, in our desire to be secure, we don’t see just how awfully insecure we’re getting. We forget that there is a far greater power available to us: the power to extend an olive branch and say, “I refuse to fight,” to make peace, to calm tempers and soothe spirits and sometimes even get people to join hands and walk through the doors of love and compassion together. The power to disarm.
When I encounter a situation in which somebody raises their voice at me, insults me, or threatens me, I try my best to remember that they are doing this for a reason. The other person has “armed” themself because something has threatened them, otherwise there would be no need for the negativity. It is often customary to push back in some way. But if we could just remember that threatening behavior is the product of feeling threatened, we’d have another way: to get to the bottom of what is threatening this person and help convince them that there is no threat. Then they will usually gladly disarm, cause all those “weapons” really weigh a ton. 🙂
It’s amazing the number of little things people feel threatened by: I can sometimes be very talkative. In a few situations, just this alone has seemed threatening to another person! Maybe they’re afraid that I won’t listen, because they’ve been around talkative people who don’t shut up and never listen. Then there are people who feel threatened by quiet. Or by a specific tone of voice. Or by the style of clothes you wear… pretty much anything. This is extremely important to remember: though it sounds kind of grim that others can feel threatened by anything, it actually will help you keep your cool in the quest to achieve disarmament, because you will know that these things just happen sometimes, it’s not your fault, and you will be less likely to take anything personally. And like I always say, staying cool is really key to being a positive person.
Often, we will try to get at a conflictive situation by saying something like “what’s the problem?” or “why are you doing this?” This approach often just makes things worse, because it looks to the other person like you are blaming them. Feeling blamed is even more threatening on top of the original thing that causes a person to get defensive. And by the way, do not tell someone “don’t get defensive.” If you were told that by someone, would you not feel an implicit blame hidden in there? Especially when people perceive hidden feelings on your part that you are not being open about (whether or not you actually have those feelings), the threat level often goes up, because hiding the truth is very threatening.
What you should do instead is do your best to show the other person you accept their anger / distrust / discomfort. Show them that even though you don’t yet understand why they are becoming negative, you do know there’s a reason, and you won’t challenge or blame them for their feelings. This is crucial because it establishes that you are open and listening, and one of the greatest threats that we all fear as human beings is not being listened to, and thus never being understood. Once you establish this with someone, you can draw them out: “now tell me, when you said I was a stupid jerk, what was I doing that made you feel that way?”
You may feel like “what? I should accept being called a stupid jerk?” The answer is no–not to yourself, anyway. You know your reasons for acting the way you do. But, just because you are not a stupid jerk doesn’t mean that the situation will be helped by trying to fight the other’s view of you. No… disarming involves acceptance… acknowedgement of another person’s right to feel the way they do.
You can, and often will, choose to withdraw and let the situation be for a moment. This is often a very good idea, because it gives everybody a moment to process what has just happened. You can then think to yourself: is this person/situation worth my time? If, for example, it is a reckless driver who made you feel unsafe somehow but is now speeding away and didn’t actually hit you, then the answer is obviously no–let it go. But if you have a relationship of some sort to the person–a coworker, a family member, etc.–then they are worth your time. In these cases, walking away for a bit is still often a good idea, especially if you or they are overheated in the moment… and then, when you’ve had some time to digest things, you can come back with the olive branch in hand: “I saw earlier that something I did [possibly] rubbed you the wrong way… please tell me about it when you are ready, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me.”
There are some times when something is a sore spot for another person, and try as you may to extend a hand to them, they won’t disarm with you. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about that, and the choice is then up to you as to the next step… which might involve distancing yourself from the person. But no matter what, remember also that when people “arm themselves” and act negatively, often they have little to no idea why they are doing so. They are acting on impulse, not thinking rationally–something we all do from time to time. Sometimes it’s just a question of a person getting in touch with their sense of justice. And sometimes, a person needs to find the starting point for that journey on their own. We do like to own our own experiences as much as possible.
They say it takes guts to stand up and fight. The truth is, it often takes a million times more guts to lay down your weapons when a fight is imminent. There is a time to fight–but you will know when that time comes, because you will be able to see it better when you are not angry. All the other times (which is like 99% of the time), disarmament holds the key; even if you can’t always get the other person to disarm, relieve yourself of the burden of arming yourself. That itself is healing; others will see that and appreciate it, and you will waste way less time, feel safer, and have far fewer hangups yourself after a while.