How to argue without offending and hurting the ones we love or need to understand
ONE: SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM THE ANGER
Wouldn’t it be great if good communication skills were the first things taught in school. We might have fewer bullies if we did. But, the only time the skills of arguing without offending are left to the Debating Club to teach. How many joined the Debating Club when you were in high school? Mmm… let’s face it. Maybe those kids who were thinking about becoming lawyers but the rest? Uh uh. Too boring. And too formal (which feels phony, right?)
For soldiers, effective communication comes in short, direct commands – the kind that become instinctive and automatic. Action first. Thought second. So, those suffering post traumatic stress disorder become even more limited and reactionary in the way they express themselves, or in some cases, in the way they retreat into silence with occasional outbursts.
Irritability is common to many forms of illness, not just PTSD. In heart or neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or ALS, for instance, it’s a natural physical response to a variety of causes: lack of oxygen, chemical imbalance in the brain, adverse drug effect or overzealous adrenaline, another possibility.
With PTSD, a heightened reactionary response and prolonged frustration can turn those who suffer it into mini time bombs, only no one knows how the timer is set so it is difficult to defuse it. Part of the added firepower is self-anger as well as targeted anger. We become people we don’t want to be, people we don’t like very much, and people we no longer respect.
What do we do with this uncontrolled anger?
Separate ourselves from the anger.
Huh! Notice I said ‘the’ anger, not our anger or my anger. That’s the first subtle step.
- Adjust the way we think. Go from first and second person (I, me, we, our, us, you and your) to neutral third person –IT. Some will immediately argue that, in doing this, we cop out from taking responsibility for our anger. That is only one perspective. We can’t own something until we first control it. It then follows we can’t control our anger until we can isolate it. To isolate it we have to find a way to distance ourselves from it. Thinking in the third person helps us detach.
- See what we do and say from the moon. What? Seriously. Let’s pretend we are standing on the moon watching ourselves. What do we see? Very tiny bugs very far away. Which bug is us? What is the expression on our faces? What do our gestures look like? Are they intimidating to us as we watch? Are we shouting? Why? Now let us look at the other bugs. What is the expression on their faces as we talk? Dismay? Fear? Anger? Indifference? Watch their body language. Remember we can’t react because we are far away on the moon observing ourselves. We can ask for the aid of a telescope but this is as close as we are allowed to come to what is going on.
- Pretend we are an alien reporter. From this neutral position, record what we see happening in the third person. Keep these records in a diary.
EXERCISE: Use this technique to examine an event or something that happened to make you feel angry, frustrated or very hurt. Pretend you are standing on the moon looking down on this person who went through what you did. Follow the steps but stay on the moon, keep that distance from you and the people involved, away from your emotions — you’re reporting not reliving it, like watching a cartoon — not a video that’s too close — and reduce each event to a factual point. Write what you see from your faraway position on the moon and strip it down to a point-by-point summary. A hypothetical case might go something like this:
- A man is in a conversation with another man and the other man makes a statement that, in his experience, he knows is not true.
- He calls the man a liar, tells him the facts and demands an apology.
- The other man gets angry and calls him an asshole.
- They both shout at each other, each one trying to get the better of the last word spoken.
- Both are very angry. Nothing gets resolved.
Next time: Figuring out how each person feels by examining the body language of both and the wording of what they say from our position on the moon.