While shopping for clothes on a quiet afternoon, I encountered a frustrated worker who decided to take her irritation out on me. As I left a dressing room with clothes on my arm, the young woman yelled - actually yelled - at me for not putting them on a nearby return rack. When I started to explain that I was, in fact, buying the clothes, she abruptly interrupted me and continued her reprimand in a condescending tone: "I told you to put the clothes right here!"
Immediately, I felt the signal in my body letting me know that I needed to speak up - tightness in my neck and shoulders - a signal that I used to ignore. Recognizing that she had crossed the line of appropriateness, I quickly said (in a very firm voice), "Stop and listen to me. I said I plan to purchase these clothes. Please don't speak to me that way." She looked up, surprised by my response, and replied "Oh, sorry, no big deal," and then proceeded to go about her business. "No big deal," I thought to myself. "What's up with kids today?"
I walked out of the dressing room feeling clear and empowered instead of blindsided and upset. Rather than do what I used to do - walk away with her frustration in my body - I left it where it belonged and continued my shopping. Later that night, when I retold the story to my friend, Max, we talked about how so many people (especially women) put up with inappropriate behavior. Instead of speaking up (a reasonable response to rudeness), the desire to avoid conflict or to protect another's feelings takes precedence. Instead we keep our mouths shut and swallow the anger - a choice that has serious, long-term consequences. Friendships erode over time under the weight of unspoken hurt feelings, marriages dissolve from the disabling pain of chronic resentment, or health suffers as we make our way to the fridge one more time to shove down our anger with food.
Over the years I've learned to pay close attention to the messages I get from my body so I know when to take care of myself by speaking up. And, I know when to practice restraint. Because I've practiced tuning in to what my body needs, I've come to recognize the warning signs that tell me when to open my mouth. How about you? What are the common signals your body gives you when faced with inappropriate behavior? Do you get tightness in your throat, a rush of anxiety down your arms, or a flushed feeling in your face? As you raise your level of awareness by practicing Extreme Self Care, you'll find that your body becomes an ally, a barometer of sorts, that tells you when unsolicited criticism, a snide remark, or a sharp reprimand may need to be addressed.
What's your typical reaction to sarcasm, insensitive comments, or rude actions? If you're like most people, you've probably found yourself in a situation where someone makes an unexpected, inappropriate comment and you suddenly freeze up. You stand there like a statue completely disabled, unable to say a word. When I talk to women about expressing their anger, this is the most common scenario they describe. They get blindsided by a bully, for example, are stunned into silence, and end up beating themselves up for not saying anything.
When someone is inappropriately rude, it's not uncommon to be rendered speechless. It's as if a part of our brain says, "Wait, he didn't just say that, did he?" Or, "I couldn't possibly have heard her right." It makes sense that you'd have hard time processing something that goes against your nature quickly enough. Sometimes the reason we keep our mouths shut is because the behavior is all too familiar. If you had a parent or caretaker who had a tendency toward sudden outbursts, sarcasm, or humiliating you in front of others, you may have learned not to react in order to stay safe. Silence may have been your best defense. Then, as an adult, when someone portrays a similar behavior that triggers this past experience, you snap back into your old way of responding.
Regardless of why you keep your mouth shut, it's too expensive to swallow your anger. There are few things that will erode self-esteem quicker than tolerating inappropriate behavior. Whether you say something right away, or wait until later when you've had a chance to compose yourself or process your feelings, Extreme Self Care means using your voice.
An Excerpt from the Book "The Art of Extreme Self Care"
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Life Makeover for the Year 2017(sm) is written and produced by Cheryl Richardson.© Copyright 1999-2016 Cheryl Richardson, P.O. Box 13, Newburyport, MA 01950, www.cherylrichardson.com. All rights reserved. Used with permission.