Responding to "You always...!"
When you are feeling hurt and reactive, your perception of another's behavior often becomes skewed. These are the moments when painful phrases like, "You've always been insensitive about my feelings," get expressed.
When you are on the receiving end of these phrases, it can be difficult to remember that they are an expression of hurt in the moment.
Hearing someone say how you "always" have behaved in a particular way, stings. You imagine that all your loving and kind behavior is being discounted. The impulse to defend arises immediately. Your ability to resist that impulse in the moment can save you from a long and painful argument.
You can resist the impulse to defend by recognizing what's actually happening. Words like always and never let you know that the other person is in reaction. As soon as you realize someone is speaking from reaction, remind yourself to let go of the content. Imagine the words flowing over your shoulder while your focus stays in the present.
You can help to ground both of you by asking for specifics. For example, you might ask, "Can you help me understand exactly what I did, that was painful for you?"
If, from your perspective, your behavior seemed innocuous, then you ask a second question, "What did that mean for you, when I did that?"
While the behavior of others can stimulate all sorts of feelings, reactivity usually arises from the meaning you make of someone's behavior.
Hearing the meaning someone made of your behavior you may be tempted to jump in immediately and correct their mistaken perception. This can work when reactivity is fairly low.
However, a highly reactive person has difficulty taking in new information. You can help to further de-escalate the reactivity by slowing down the conversation. You do this by expressing your understanding the other's world. It might sound something like this:
"So when you heard me say, ‘go out with your friends if you want to', you thought I was wanting to get away from you and saying I don't like your friends. Thinking that you feel hurt and angry and your wanting love and respect, is that right?"
You might have two or three rounds of saying back what you are hearing. If you are able to do this in a connecting way, the other person will likely begin to move out of reactivity.
As you feel a little settling in him or her (and yourself), you make a conscious shift to expressing your truth by making a request first, "Would you be willing to hear what was going on for me when I said that?" This kind of request is helpful because it honors choice and supports collaboration.
In saying what was going on for you, it's important to express your own thoughts, feelings, and needs at the time rather than simply denying the other's interpretation.
This week, notice where you have the impulse to defend. Practice stepping to the side energetically and letting the other's words flow past you. Keep yourself grounded in the present by naming the specifics to which you and the other are reacting.