Recently, I was talking with a person who knew exactly how to press my buttons. We were talking back and forth about something big in the news — a heated conversation — when the topic shifted. Suddenly, I started hearing things about me: I had made bad choices, I had done the "wrong" thing, and I had disappointed people. I was now in an argument, and I was the one who felt attacked.
What do you do when you're under attack? My first instinct was to defend myself. I felt blood flowing through me at a faster rate; fight or flight was kicking in. Adrenaline was powering me through this. I couldn't just leave the conversation so I had to stay.
And I unleashed. I was angry. Everything I heard from the other person wasn't true or, at least, wasn't as I intended. But my actions were being twisted and changed into something far worse, something malicious, and something hurtful. Parts of me chimed in, “But... that's not me! That's not. I'm not a hurtful person! You're wrong!” Lots of defense. Lots of shielding.
The conversation was messy and did not end well. Both of us walked away at the end of it feeling hurt and angry. It did parts of us a world of good to vent and complain and attack like that, but other parts of us were left on the sidelines. We just couldn't be present in those moments. Right?
This very driven and heated conversation stirred up our emotions and the bits of both of us that we had each been sitting on for a good long time. Heightened emotions and heightened actions. And yet, compassion and empathy were out the door in this case. Make no mistake: these are really hard instances in which one can practice these things but it is not impossible.
Setting aside our ego and our defenses in order to listen and be compassionate with that person can open the door to greater understanding, care, and connectedness. And yeah, yeah, it's something that I know, but in those moments? Way harder to tap on that. So much of me wanted to respond in kind... and I chose to do so. Of course, it's normal to be angry and pissed and upset in the moment. But we need to keep our ears open and working and present, and truly listen, even when a part of us saying, “Noooooooooo!”
How we respond is a choice. It always is, even when it feels like we have little say in the matter.