Posted by: Viktor Mar | 2009 July 17

Please Choose the High Road by Ruth Gordon, LCSW

I write this as a recovering “low roader“. In years past, when entering into an argument I was willing to pull out the big guns, try to “win” at all costs, and leave my so-called opponent bloody and wounded. I was tough! All that I garnered from that approach was lowered self-esteem, a guilty conscience, and a relationship that was difficult, sometimes impossible, to repair. I knew how to make people fear me and actually thought of that as a positive trait.

Anger is an important emotion. You will never hear me advise you to squelch your irritation and just be “sociable and friendly” (I cannot tell you how many times my father told me to do just that — I never listened). The trick is to figure out what to do with your feelings of outrage, frustration and indignation while holding on to the standards you have set for your own behavior.

If you have a short fuse, just know that that’s how you respond. It’s neither good or bad. For your own protection, put some space between the incident and your response. Counterattack probably feels good to you in the short term but there’s a good chance you will experience some regrets down the road. You can even let the “other” know that you have a reply but you will deliver it at a later date. Do not interpret prudence as weakness. Adults value discretion.

Suppose you are someone who lets it all build up. Well, you know what happens with that — a big explosion, and, sometimes, stress related illnesses. Neither is a very good alternative. The other person is likely to respond with something like, “Why didn’t you tell me that bothered you?” and you will be left flummoxed and muttering something like “I didn’t want to complain about little things”.

Look guys, it’s the little things that make up the fabric of our lives. You could preface your wish that your friends take off their shoes at the door (or some such thing) with, “I know this is a little thing but…”. Whatever response you receive will sure beat the one you get if you let the fur fly.

A lot of people are on edge these days. Anxiety, fear and sadness can all be masked as anger. Why? Because anger makes us feel powerful; allows us to believe that we are not victims. Check out your anger with yourself and see if you can figure out what’s really going on with you — you can’t treat a broken nail with a toothbrush or anxiety with a temper tantrum.

We are far more likely to demolish our self-esteem than anyone else. Regardless of the rationale, be careful in your responses. If you stoop too low, you are likely to not feel too great about yourself. It’s just not worth it. As for payback, be very, very careful with that little devil. Revenge is a set up for escalating and perpetuating what is already a bad situation. If someone steals your wallet, by all means, call the authorities, try to retrieve it, do what you can to recoup that which is yours. You would be foolish to go out and steal the thief’s wallet.

You may have the illusion that you can make someone experience what your injury feels like. Come on back down to earth. No one else is you! Your past, your genetic makeup, your lifestyle and so much more go into making you a unique, inimitable human being. Besides that, people have a way of teaching themselves their own best lessons. Leave it to the fates, or whatever you believe in, and spend your time making plans that enhance your life rather than harm another’s.

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of having a falling out with someone only to discover, at a later date , that you wish to reestablish contact. That’s kind of hard to do if you’ve gone for the jugular and caused that person to feel humiliated or shamed. People like me are always urging you to be proactive rather than reactive. What that means is that it’s a good idea to step back and think before you speak or act. You may not deliver the witty putdown you had in mind, but you also will not wish you had bitten your tongue out or regret your lack of access to a memory altering drug.

A maxim that I have always heeded is that if a relationship cannot be changed in a way that you are able to put up with, that’s the time to understand that there is nothing left to say. Don’t stick around so that you can deliver the final blow. Preserve your dignity, and just let it be. This doesn’t mean that you should stop talking to that individual, like, “Hi, how are you?”, but it does mean that if, on a regular basis, you feel worse after you’ve spent time with that individual, your wisest course may be to turn your attention elsewhere. If you can’t connect, you can’t connect.

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