"Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic." Step 10. From 12 x 12
I am learning restraint and have been for several years. Yet, there are still times that I want to unload with both barrels of a verbal tirade. There are many times when I can feel what I perceive as injustice, lack of respect, and just plain selfishness from another inviting me to let go of all restraint.
I have read that reactivity is a mindless, thoughtless reflex and involves the least evolved, most primitive parts of us humans. Restraint on the other hand is equated with thoughtful, conscious self-control and indicates better ego functioning. All very true. But there are moments when the primitive parts of myself are fighting with the more civilized me. It would be so easy to let the beast within win.
I think that I've always been a sensitive person. I know that I'm an intuitive person. I can feel a slight in the air almost like a dog can air scent his beloved human. This hypersensitivity has created a lot of problems in relationships over my life time. It's because I knew that I was being told lies, I knew that the promises were going to be broken, I knew that something unpleasant was going to occur.
And yet, I generally didn't go into an external rage. I wasn't a dish thrower, a verbal abuser, or a trafficker in sarcasm. Instead, I practiced restraint. I would try to rationalize, and yes, deny what I was really feeling. But my restraint only went so far. Instead of voicing my displeasure and binging on an emotional outburst, I would opt to be the wounded victim, the self-righteous martyr. Rather than confront a situation directly, I would give the silent treatment. And all the while inside I was fuming, wanting to release the tiger from the cage.
I still do some of that manipulative self-righteous fuming. But I have also learned to speak up in a rational and reasonable way when something really bothers me. I generally think about what is going on, what I feel, look at what my role is, and make a decision whether it is important enough (How important is it?) to speak up about. Often times if I have a "cooling off" period and detach from the situation, I decide that the affront wasn't really about me. I don't know the intentions of another and what is going on with them. Maybe they are just having a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, a bad life.
If I do decide to speak up about something, then the approach that I now use is to be direct and say what is bothering me: e.g. "I am uncomfortable about....". I think that a measured approach rather than the shotgun blast approach is less messy and isn't tinged with regret later. Because once out of my mouth, I've found that the indignant rage will deflate me faster than a pin stuck in a balloon. I feel blown apart, without any energy or purpose.
There are lots of triggers that can sabotage self-restraint when it comes to personal relationships. I know that I don't want to swing from one extreme to the other by either reacting too much or restraining myself too much. I strive for balance and awareness. Hopefully, those will take me on the higher road to kindness.