Trying to be your best self even in difficult moments
Dear Carolyn: I think it’s important how I am treated and how I treat others, but I’m not perfect, especially when I’m angry or frustrated. How do I bring my best self forward even when it’s a dif icult moment?
I think all of our best selves get elbowed aside by our worst sometimes, and so aiming for perfection is not realistic. But contrition is realistic, and it’s essential. If you behave poorly when angry or frustrated, then you admit to it the moment you
recognize it, whether it’s while you’re still snarking or an hour later or a day later or a year or when a witness asks you, “Are you OK? Your reaction was pretty harsh,” and it occurs to you that s/he’s right.
This is for the occasional lapse.
If you regularly snap during dif icult moments, though, or if more moments are dif icult than not, then it’s time to upgrade your response — because an apology for snapping is inadequate when it’s for the wrong transgression. Once it becomes a pattern, then the apology you owe is not for the particular instance but instead for the pattern itself, for your not dealing effectively with general anger or stress.
And the action you owe is both to ind and address the source of the stress, and to identify habitual reactions that are unkind and/ or counterproductive. For example: A problem you’re afraid to face can be faced; an uncomfortable or unsatisfying life rut can be replaced with a different path; a tendency to act out reflexively can, with awareness and effort, be replaced with patience and mindful action.
How can you know when you’ve become this angry person and need to change? Two steps: (1) Be able and ready to admit fault; a defensive self is not your best self. (2) Read the people around you. Are they avoiding you? Tiptoeing around you? Engaged in repetitive battles with you? Groveling to avoid ticking you off? This second part might seem subtle, but the irst one is the tallest hurdle to clear. Email Carolyn at [email protected]post.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook. com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www. washingtonpost.com.