Polly's storyPolly had a four year old child who nearly every day would scream at her: “I want to kill you!"
Polly tried her best to keep her cool but predictably, the point was soon reached when she would feel herself almost bursting with rage every time she heard the offensive words.
One day when he said them, she locked the child in his room for an hour. He yelled his lungs out all the while, but it didn't stop him from later saying the same thing again.
Another day, Polly poured black pepper on the kid's tongue, and another time she tried washing his mouth out with soap. All these “remedies" may have helped her little son understand who the “boss" was, but for all that, he went on informing her regularly, in a nasty tone, that he wanted to kill her.
In desperation, Polly phoned up a friend who was already an experienced mother and asked her what she would do in such circumstances.
“As the oldest of three children, he probably feels left out of things, " advised the friend. “I would say he's not hateful, he's just in pain. Don't respond to the words. Only respond to the pain. "
The next day, true to form, the little chap shouted out the four dreaded words.
Acting on her friends advice, Polly hugged him, smiled and said: “Even if you want to kill me, I love you more than anything in the world. "
Once the boy had recovered from the unexpected “shock" and the atmosphere was calmer, Polly tried to find out what was bothering him. That was the last time he ever uttered those words, or anything similar.
If you're like most people, you react almost every day to situations you perceive to be threatening in much the same way that Polly would respond to her little one's painful verbal jabs - only to get nowhere for your trouble!
Credit card blues
Let's say that a man gets really hot under the collar while checking the family credit card statement, after noticing that his wife had bought some big ticket items without his knowledge.
If she decides to give in to her first impulse, the lady might well yell back at him: “You old skinflint!" (or an even less flattering “compliment") and continue: “What's the matter with you? Aren't I entitled to a few decent clothes like any other woman?"
Alternatively, she resist the temptation of an impulsive response, calm down a little and say: “You're right. Neither of us should make a purchase without first consulting the other. You know, I'm really sorry. I didn't intend to hurt you. "
And hopefully, that's the end of the incident.
(Note that I'm not talking about abusive personalities - emotionally disturbed souls who will continue to insult and manipulate you no matter how gently you respond to them. With such people, you're probably better off keeping your distance. Here, though, we're presumably dealing with a rational, well disposed gentleman, just feeling the stress of having to be continually vigilant in the ongoing struggle to balance the family budget. )
Martha vs. SidMartha was an idealistic young lady young lady who lived more for other people than for herself. In fact, one of the reasons why she was attracted to Sid, the man who was to become her husband, was that for many years he had been very involved in community activism and welfare work in his spare time.
In the first weeks and months of marriage, she was apparently quite surprised to see some major changes in Sid's after-work routine. Very understandably - at least, many people would have thought so - he cut back sharply on his community volunteering in order to spend time with his new wife.
Martha, for her part, was flattered enough by his attention and grateful for his devoted help around the house. Unfortunately, her pleasure was marred by an inner conflict: what she had wanted in a husband was a sort of public hero - a man whose life revolved around his community, not around his hearth and home!
Martha tried to persuade him to return to his communal endeavors. This only served to alienate him, since took it as a sign that Martha didn't really appreciate all the attention he was showering upon her.
Eventually, Martha also turned to an older and more experienced friend for advice.
“Lay off! Leave the poor man alone, " counseled her friend. “Concentrate on improving yourself, not him. Work every day on refining and perfecting your character traits. And in particular, always try to think of new things you could be doing for your husband - things that will make him a little happier, his life that much easier. . . "
From that day on, her marriage went from strength to strength.
Now, what do Martha, Polly and the lady whose husband didn't like her spending habits all have in common?
Who's in control?
If you think about it, it boils down to this: each of them controlled their Ego!
They subdued it, they harnessed it, they molded it to their advantage. Each of them had their own inner struggle, certainly. But ultimately, they did not allow the Ego to control them. Absolutely not!
It's a well known fact that when a person senses danger, the body pumps out stress hormones such as adrenaline. Adrenaline then cause the system to release fat into the bloodstream, which provides the extra energy the person needs to fight off the danger.
It's also well known that when a person gets angry, the body receives a false signal and starts producing adrenaline even in the absence of real danger. If this happens often enough, it can cause irreversible harm to the body.
The fascinating thing is that this pattern of events operates not only on the physical level. When you smell danger around the corner but none, in fact, exists, and you start to panic for no good reason, you unwittingly inflict on yourself real damage on the emotional plane as well.
And, as if the personal damage isn't bad enough, sometimes your relationship with someone close to you somehow gets caught up in the firing line.
Let's say you're standing in line at the supermarket checkout when somebody behind pushes you aside and strides up to the cashier. His very act of queue jumping is a red light for you and you get hopping mad. But before your blood pressure has even had time to rise, the offender has already finished his transaction and you're free to proceed.
You stop to think. “Hey, my body and my emotions have just taken a terrible pounding, but why? Was I in any type of danger? No, it appears not. Then why the heck did I get so hot under the collar?
“On second thoughts, though, there was a part of me that came under threat. But which part? Only my Ego, actually. . . . . And for the sake of a bruised Ego I'm willing to get so excited over an inconsequential delay of precisely eighteen seconds?"
It's only your Ego that's hurt when you pass an acquaintance in the street and she returns your greeting with a blank stare. It's only your Ego that's hurt when a clerk at a government office yells at you for not bringing the right forms.
It's only your Ego that's hurt when you do something beyond the normal line of duty at the office, but nobody seems to appreciate it. And it's only your Ego that's hurt when you go out of your way to prepare something special for dinner, but as far as you know, your family don't even notice it.
Once you have learned to distinguish between real danger and mere ego-danger, you will have the key in your hands for vanquishing the troublesome Ego and confining it to its proper place for ever.
Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.