Some of us encounter jerks all the time. Perhaps an aggressive driver flipped us off on the way to work, a harried woman cut in front of us in the checkout line at Target, or a coworker said something rude about the new shoes we wore to work – all in one day! But while most of us will encounter rude behavior from time-to-time, if we are responding to jerks on a regular basis, then we need to take a closer look at our own behavior.
Although there are numerous ways to invite conflict into our lives, there are a few that almost always trigger others, including:
- Righteousness. If we find that we must not only prove our point, but also simultaneously prove ourselves superior to others, we will invite an ongoing conflict with others.
- Projection. Projection is the fine art of seeing what we cannot tolerate in ourselves—what we despise and hate—in other people. There are times when we invite people into our lives that align with the qualities that we have contempt for in ourselves just so that we can keep them around to abuse. However, usually people resist our projections, which in turn creates discord between others and ourselves.
- Weaponized victimhood. If we block, disallow, or otherwise interfere with the attempts made by others to soothe our pain and suffering, we convey to them that what they are offering is ineffective or insufficient. In doing this, we not only interfere with their attempts to help us feel better, we also punish them for being unable to do so. When using ourselves as weapons against the world, we convey to those around us that our misery is somehow their fault and use our sense of being victimized to punish others.
- Turd hurling. If we cannot stand seeing other people thriving or happy – and feel like we need to ruin it in some way (perhaps by saying something derogatory, bringing up their own suffering, or otherwise squaring the good feelings of others) – then we can expect to encounter a great deal of conflict.
- Patrolling. If we acutely observe the behavior of other people and chastise them when their behavior is “wrong,” we will definitely agitate others. This is closely aligned with righteousness.
Each of these behaviors invites conflict and puts us in an adversarial relationship with the world. To engage in each one of these behaviors is to put on a “kick me” sign. If we are unaware of what we are doing, we will just assume that these counterattacks are actually unprovoked. In response, we over-protect ourselves against the possibility of being hurt, which in turn, makes us more susceptible to the counterattacks that we are trying to avoid.
But there is good news: our unkind behavior is a defense mechanism that we use to protect ourselves – it is not who we are. And this means that we can do something about it! Next time an incident arises that tempts us to engage in one of the behaviors listed above, we can:
- Hit pause each time we believe that someone else’s behavior justifies (*or requires) a direct reaction, criticism, judgment, blame or attack.
- Take a break from the incident by giving ourselves a makeshift “time out” to calm down.
- Take inventory of our role in the incident, and, when able, discuss only our part.
- Invite the other party to join in taking inventory of the incident and listen with an open mind.
- Form an alliance with the other party and use this incident of conflict to not only help us repair, but also to set a kind of guideline for doing so in the future.
- Seek alternatives to living in constant and chronic conflict with the world and invite others to join us as we continue to accept ourselves, others, and the world…as is.
By pausing and taking a break, we can work through our unproductive reactions and start repairing and building meaningful relationships. If we thoughtfully consider and address every way that we invite conflict into our lives, we can also open the door to a new way of relating to ourselves and those around us.
Mark B. Borg, Jr, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst who has been in private practice in New York City since 1998 and the author ofDON’T BE A DICK: Change Yourself, Change Your World (a Central Recovery Press Paperback, on sale Nov 19, 2019).
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.