You find yourself facing a situation that you know you should do something about but you’re just not sure what. It could be with an inconsiderate family member, a selfish friend, a disrespectful employer, an over-the-top demanding client, a good-hearted but snail’s paced contractor, or any number of types our lives intersect with every day. Or it could have nothing to do with the other person and just be a situation that pushes your buttons. You know, those things we’re hyper-sensitive to and often overly-reactive to because of our background and beliefs. The things that drive us crazy.
When faced with an emotionally charged situation, we can take one of three positive actions. (I’ll leave the negative actions for another post.) Accept the situation as is, talk to the other person and work towards a resolution or walk away.
Let’s start with what I think is the best first choice: talking with the other person and working towards a resolution. You really can’t make a good decision about the other two options until you’ve tried and dismissed this one.
Talking through an issue isn’t easy. We have to move through our emotions and our long standing beliefs and directly address the other person involved. We can’t play the victim or the aggressor, roles that hide our feelings and insecurities and make us feel emotionally safe. We have to be honest, open and direct. Yikes! While it’s the toughest option, it’s also the one that offers the most reward. Imagine how much emotional energy you’d save, how much stress you’d avoid, how much healthier and more successful your relationships would be if resolving problems the first time they came up was how you reacted to challenging situations?
But talking isn’t always the answer. Sometimes there’s no resolution to the issue. Or there’s no common ground to build on. Or you’ve set boundaries before and they aren’t being respected. Or you’ve simply decided that the effort or compromise required to solve the problem isn’t worth it. For many different reasons, sometimes it’s time to move onto your other two choices.
Option two: accept the situation for what it is and take no outward action. I say outward action because true acceptance requires a huge amount of inward action. You have to work through your stuff. Acceptance isn’t simply doing nothing. Acceptance is fully, deep in our bones peacefully living with the reality that we can’t control or change what we’re facing. Acceptance is a hard thing. Even when we really want it, even when we intellectually know that what’s bugging us shouldn’t matter, it’s really hard to let go and move on. Too often we don’t take any action but inside we’re still holding onto anger, resentment and fear. We suffer in silence. But that’s not acceptance, that’s good old fashioned repression and denial.
So when is acceptance your best choice? When even though you can’t come to a resolution, you still don’t want to walk away from the relationship. The reason why can be as simple as it’s an important client you need to keep or as complex as it’s a longtime friend that you have years invested in and care deeply about. Whatever the reason, acceptance means making a conscious choice. Weighing the pros and cons of the relationship and deciding that even though you can’t find a resolution to the particular issue you’re facing, the good still outweighs the bad. The over-the-top demanding client regularly brings you lucrative referral business or the friend that is selfish in everyday situations is one of the few people you can count on to have your back when the big stuff hits the fan. When you make that conscious decision to accept the situation as is and work to live peacefully with it rather than continually fighting against it, the negative feelings around a situation or person almost magically disappear. Making the choice for yourself rather than feeling forced by someone else is key.
Option three: walk away. When talking hasn’t worked and acceptance isn’t a healthy solution the only choice you have left is to walk away. Not run away to avoid the problem. But walk away after weighing the pros and cons and realizing that a resolution or acceptance isn’t possible.
Too often this is our first response. We don’t want to suffer through the situation and we don’t believe we can muster up the courage to talk about it so it’s just easier (and feels so much safer) to walk away. We convince ourselves that we’re taking the high road, that we’re being the peacemaker, or any number of other wonderful sounding things. But the reality is we simply want to avoid all the stuff that comes with staying.
Of course there are times when walking away is the best choice. When we get honest with ourselves and discover that we don’t have a compelling reason to stay. When your raise request has been met with “next month” for the last six months and another family is ready to woo you away. When the sweet but completely unrealistic client can’t even settle on a job description and you simply don’t have the extra time or patience needed to wade through her indecisiveness. And it’s always the best choice when our emotional or physical safety is at risk.
So what emotionally changed situation are you facing? And how do you decide what to do? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below.