When doing the right thing leads to personal attack you have to remember that the response is not about you. A recent situation that began with gratitude degraded a few days later to anger and blame in a public forum. This type of behavior is difficult to process. But there are a few simple steps to keep an even keel.
THE FOUR AGREEMENTS
I have been influenced by a book called “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is based on Toltec wisdom that talks about the four agreements we should make with ourselves in order to change faulty beliefs we have acquired on our own.
This recent experience brings two of the agreements into extreme focus, don’t take anything personally and don’t make assumptions. Tough stuff.
The explanation about how our beliefs are shaped goes as follows, “The belief system is like a Book of Law that rules our mind. Without question, whatever is in that Book of Law is our truth” (Ruiz, The Four Agreements, pp11).
One of the most profound comments in the foreword is “We base all of our judgments according to the Book of Law, even if those judgments go against our own inner nature.” This means they override your value system and moral compass at times.
The Four Agreements is so much more than just quotes. It is a spiritual book, and a quietly valuable personal growth tome. It explains how to replace faulty logic with a new belief system that is rooted in facts. It is about integrity, acceptance, and peace.
An easy to understand ‘how to’ the book identifies crooked logic in others, and how to respectfully respond while standing on your own beliefs. This book encourages you to be an outstanding person with the ability to process a moment in time for exactly what it is.
DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY
When someone puts a label on you, or assigns blame to you, or implies something negative and you “…agree with whatever was said,” then you have taken it personally. You do not have to accept someone else’s negative view about you. You do not have to take it personally.
When you make assumptions your mind has bridged the gaps of missing information. You often make the assumption that “everything is about you,” or that you “are responsible for everything.” Ruiz calls this “personal importance.”
Ruiz asserts that “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of them.” Each and every person has their own system of values and beliefs that shape how they think, feel, and act. You are not responsible for the choices of others. Just because they choose to attack you or blame you, it is their unstable reality they are projecting.
Ruiz also asserts that each person deals with their own beliefs, which include feelings and opinions. These belief systems have been acquired from our experiences and our reactions to them. They may be royally skewed or completely out of the box. Without correction, you are destined to make the same mistakes repeatedly.
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
Another extremely helpful idea in this book is “don’t make assumptions.” Making assumptions comes naturally. Your mind wants to connect the dots. Once you have connected the dots it is difficult to accept other options, including the facts. Ruiz reminds us that “The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth,” an easy trap to fall into.
This quote describes the art of making assumptions:
“We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking – we take it personally – then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word. This is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing” (Ruiz, The Four Agreements, pp 70).
Do you like creating drama your life? Do you send emotional poison with your word? Do you create problems when you could have avoided them? You do not need additional challenges in your life.
THE CASE STUDY
My recent experience had me running to The Four Agreements to untangle how dirty and chastised I felt. For a moment I felt all the negativity and see-sawing emotion that was being thrown at me. It is easy to get caught up in someone else’s drama.
A few weeks ago Joe (name has been changed) was rushed to the hospital. On the way, he fell into a coma. Joe is a middle-aged gentleman who has had little to no contact with his remaining siblings in years. He was in a coma for over two weeks.
We found out about a week into his ordeal. He has 2-3 close friends and we are one set of them, and we are local. The VA hospital was looking for someone to make decisions for him or anyone who cared. A visit to the VA had them continuing lifesaving measures.
The VA was going to slowly bring Joe out of an induced coma to see if he could breathe on his own. They were not sure if his prolonged high fever was going to affect cognitive thinking. Something had to be done.
I posted a message on Joes Facebook, as well as going through his friend’s list looking for siblings to let them know what was happening. I explained his condition and where he was and asked them to contact me urgently.
A few days later a brother got back to me. Of course, he thought it was a scam. Some person he doesn’t know sends the message “your brother is in a coma” sounds awfully like the beginning of an elaborate scam, especially in this day and age.
When he asked “how do I know this is real,” I sent a picture of Joe all hooked up in the ICU. A phone call to me ensued. I gave the brother a quick rundown on what I knew. He had called the hospital and was on his way over there.
That evening, I got a phone call thanking me profusely for letting him know. He had not spoken to his brother for 10 years. But, he said he was in for the long haul.
A sister popped up online. She lives in another State entirely. She seems very nice. I gave her all the contact numbers and information that I had.
I was happy that I had found family and that the message was Joe was sick, and not Joe was dead!
Fast forward about a week. News filters down to me through my husband who has contact with the other close friends. Convoluted but how it worked.
Drama… Joe’s little sister went to the VA and caused a complete ruckus. Apparently, she is extremely volatile and quite unbalanced. She was escorted out and banned from the hospital.
Joe is having some mental health issues on top of his physical issues. The VA wanted to keep him as calm and comfortable as possible so he could heal.
The VA banned all visitors and screened phone calls. A hospital cannot have drama happening in the top level ICU. Joe now out of the coma but very highly medicated does not need to be upset.
A prior boss of Joe’s popped up on Facebook. She presented a very concerned, loving, and caring inquiry. I gave her a quick update. Of course, Facebook is a public forum.
All I knew at this point was Joe was in the VA and will live. His little sister is crazy, and banned, and his younger brother was in contact with the VA.
The VA was upholding visitor restriction and security measures. I encouraged all that care about Joe to stick around and show him love and support as he makes a slow recovery.
DEALING WITH IRRATIONAL PEOPLE
Low and behold after 11 pm at night a sequence of vitriol appeared on the Facebook feed from the younger brother who had called and thanked me profusely not a few days prior. I shook my head. Absolutely confused. What the????
The gist, with F-u appearing on every post and second line of text, he went to visit and was not allowed in and blames me. He accused me of having him banned. He is positive I did something. He is furious at me. And I’m all sorts of “expletive name here.” Talk about a double take.
I explained that I had no contact with the VA whatsoever. The only info I am getting is filtered down and that the VA has mandated a no visitor policy. In no way has anyone else interfered.
And the shit storm kept coming because I had told him Joe needed love and as many friends and family around him as he healed. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. The brother had been “rejected” and somehow it is my fault.
I calmly advised him to call the VA and ask why he wasn’t allowed in. I also advised him to call close friends if he needed clarity about anything. And that was that.
Well… the next morning I logged on and he had continued his tirade into the wee small hours of the morning. Apparently, all of us can go to hell. I am a liar. And I laid some kind of trip on him.
My brows still lower when I read this. I was stumped. And quite taken aback.
My first thought was he must be drinking or something. This is just not rational. The responses are so far removed from logical thinking. It’s a garbled mess. It’s a crazy, raving, lunatic mess.
I understand dysfunctional family systems. This particular family has a history and as a result, has spread far and wide and lost or purposely discontinued contact.
I intellectually also understand that a grown man is lashing out at me because he can find blame and harbors strong feelings about his family. Real or imagined, I have caused all of his angst. I am the target.
This is a gentleman who is himself not emotionally stable. To go back to Ruiz, don’t take things personally, and don’t make assumptions just leaps out at me in this situation.
KEEP YOUR SIDE OF THE STREET CLEAN
For my part, I examined actions, words, implications, encouragements, and motivation… to see if I had inadvertently got things sideways. I don’t believe I did.
If this guy is acting this way online, how the heck did he act at the VA? The sister has already caused chaos and been banned. Did he do the same? If a person will act out on a public forum like this, what will they do in person?
Even though this event was a couple of weeks ago, it still comes up in my thoughts. I am hands in the air, radio silent on the matter. I will have nothing more to do with the situation.
The good news is, after close to six weeks in ICU, Joe is now home. He is not completely well, but home and hopefully on the path to good health and long life. We love him and will help in any way we can.
Every time there is a problem or drama in your life, make sure you look at your part. You cannot possibly deal with irrational people. You can only control your own actions.
It is easier to not take things personally when you know that you did not intentionally or maliciously set out to cause drama. When a person lashes out at you it will make you feel crappy for a bit. It will feel personal.
If you examine the situation you will realize, it’s not all on you. If you are there, you are part of the drama, a small part, but there nonetheless. Take responsibility for your part.
Don’t make assumptions about what is happening. If you must react, get the facts first. If the facts remain murky, stay impartial and don’t take sides. And most certainly, don’t hurl accusations or blame back.
When someone personally attacks you because they have chosen you as their scapegoat, it is not your job to placate them. Sticking to the facts may set them off more, but sticking to the truth is acting with integrity.
Being the target for verbal or physical abuse is never ok. There are times when extra compassion is required, or advisable. As soon as someone chooses you to be their target, it’s time to step away. Do not be afraid to remove yourself if necessary.
Why am I writing about this? Because it made an impact on my life. It forced me to think before I acted and be careful with my words, even though I wanted to lash out.
I wanted to be angry and defensive. I wanted to call him names. I wanted to be an irrational female. That would have made it worse. The words hurt. They made me feel horrible. I was upset.
It made me aware of how different other people around us are. You can’t tiptoe around everyone. You can only be yourself. If that annoys other people, that’s on them.
You are not going to be everyone’s friend. Some people are just not going to like you, and vice versa. Unbalanced people are never going to see reason, or make sense. In some situations, it won’t matter what you say or do. There is no pleasing some people.
Quietly backing away, or running away and slamming that particular door is a good option if all forms of kindness and reason have failed. No one will blame you.
Spending time being introspective is a learning moment. Adults behave badly at times. Grown men (and women) can be irrational, angry, foot stomping, tantrum throwing idiots. We’ve all been there.
How often you want to be caught up in someone else’s irrationality is up to you. If you enjoy drama and chaos, by all means, carry on. You are not acting with integrity when you are part of the problem.
Acting with quiet dignity, and politeness when faced with an angry person often makes them madder. Cold hard facts will do that.
Doing the right thing, putting the wants or needs of someone else ahead of yours is to be encouraged. Sometimes doing the right thing goes wrong. Don’t let this stop you.
Act on your values and beliefs to help others, it’s the right thing to do.
Leave it at that. And let it go.