We’ve all been there. At the very moment we are in the middle of something very important, or when the sugar fell all over the kitchen floor, or a child is having a meltdown, someone else needs us. They walk in the room, the phone rings, or there goes the doorbell. We can panic, becoming even more flustered and sometimes get “mad” at the intruder. Don’t they know what’s happening right now? That we’re in the middle of a tornado and simply cannot answer right now?
Of course they don’t, especially if they are calling or texting. But sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is to lash out at them, instead of calmly just saying we’ll be a minute. We can react with statements such as:
I can’t believe you asked me to do this!
Why can’t you just give me some space?
Can’t you see I’m busy here?
We are doing a few emotional and cognitive things that cause this defensive behavior. It’s fear-based because there’s a perceived threat – and the crazy thing is the other person may be completely clueless as to our fears – which themselves are probably unfounded because they are based on past experiences.
What might we be afraid will happen?
What if they don’t understand or honor what I need THEN what do I do? Is the most common one. If you grew up with experiences where this happened – where your feelings or needs were dismissed, or you were admonished for having them – you would of course assume others today will do the same.
What if they laugh at me or become enraged if I ask vulnerably? Again, if you had the experiences where maybe a sibling was continually harsh, or the kids at school teased you, the conclusion is that it’s not safe to be vulnerable an open, asking for understanding or help.
I feel conflicted. I feel bad I cannot answer right now, but I need to take care of this fire. This internal fight is all about a need for boundaries. Just because they want you to answer doesn’t mean you can right now, and it’s ok to prioritize as you see fit.
Maybe I don’t feel strong enough to say no. Perhaps because of the above-mentioned experiences or a zillion others, you may not feel strong enough to set a limit. To disappoint, perhaps even anger your caller or texter seems overwhelming and you don’t think you can handle that outcome.
The cure is to detach from whatever might be going on for the other person and focus on taking responsibility for your own reactivity and not putting in on them. How would you feel if you were in their shoes and were blasted just for calling someone at a bad moment?
You don’t have to answer right away unless they are perhaps standing there. Regardless of how you were raised and the unhealthy messages you may have received about “dropping everything” for others. You can focus on how it’s not their fault all this is happening, and it’s YOUR internal conflict that’s to blame. Both parties are not at fault, it just isn’t good timing, that’s all. Or maybe you could have given the visitor a heads up if you knew they were coming over.
Outside of an emergency if they get upset, well that’s about them not you. If the other reacts with impatience or anger, that’s about their lack of boundaries. Young children are another category that are solely focused on their immediate needs, as they should be. It’s not their job to analyze what’s happening for you right now. The other cure is to simply be mindful about boundaries, and not overwhelming yourself unnecessarily. Prioritizing, letting things go and trying to be in the moment help a lot. Not rushing, not trying to get everything done at once is another angle to this that can make a big difference.
In essence, the more you take good care of you and separate your stuff from everyone else’s, the less reactive and more assertive you will become. Also important is your caller/texter/visitor doesn’t have to feel emotionally unsafe around you, which is a big deal.