I read an interview the other day with Sharon Osbourne, the lovely, sweet wife of Black Sabbath helmsman, Ozzy Osbourne. She was sounding off against a reporter who wrote disparaging remarks about her kids. In short, she said that she considers herself fair game for media attacks, but she will not tolerate attacks against her children. So she did what any caring parent would do in this situation: she sent the reporter a Tiffany’s box filled with her own excrement. (She’s married to the Prince of Darkness. Were you expecting cookies?)
Call me old-fashion, but I think that’s overreacting a little.
But we all overreact at times, usually when we are hit with something unplanned and unpleasant. Regardless of the specific unlovely thing that causes us to overreact, there are a couple of general reasons we let our emotions run away with us.
- Self-talk. Part of why we overreact is based on the conversation that takes place in our heads. When some nasty things happens to us, thoughts assault us and sometimes come out of our mouths. “I deserve better! This is unfair. This shouldn’t happen to me.” When we hear these voices, and we don’t challenge them, we start to believe them.
- Expectation gap. No one ever questions when GOOD THINGS come our way, like a promotion or unexpected praise for our work. But when we feel like life has crapped on us, that unpleasant reality forms a rift with our sunny expectations. For example, we might not be surprised that a food that is fat/sugar/calorie-free tastes terrible. In fact, we expect it. But we struggle to accept that not every call by the refs-of-life will go in our favor.
Does this sound familiar? Do you get the urge to mail excrement to your critics? Or maybe something more rational like throw a rock through their windows?
Here are a couple of countermeasures to overreacting when the urge hit you to hit back.
Pull up a chair. And stay in it until you’ve cooled down. Nothing done in haste that’s flamed by heated emotions will yield a good result. Take time to think before you act. It’s the most powerful tool to fighting the urge to overreact. And it’s the most often ignored advise once emotions run hot.
Challenge your self-talk. Okay, just because you hear voices in your head, it doesn’t meant that those voices are your friend. Instead of blindly accepting your negative, whoa-is-me self-talk, have a more honest, positive conversation with yourself. Say, “I’m not happy about this, but maybe things will go my way next time.” Or try “This is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or a failure.” Or dig deeper and find a positive like “This gives me a chance to show my character…that I can handle disappointment with style.”
Challenge your expectations. Why should we expect that the rain that makes the crops grow won’t also cause a flood at times? Would we be better off with no rain, no flood, no food? You can’t gain the experience of being a good loser unless you have some actual losses. Free yourself from false expectations that tell you to readily accept good things without tolerating the bad. By balancing your expectations, you might experience some nice surprises when you aren’t always expecting to win every race.
Practice letting go in daily living. What situations push your buttons on a regular basis? Start with those. If you know what they are, you can anticipate them. And then you can practice letting go. And then once you’ve practiced, you can move into the harder issues like…being passed over for a promotion or being slighted by a friend or loved one.
- Is it the rude driver who races ahead even though the sign clearly states the lane merges? And then he expects you to stop and let him in…even though you stayed in the correct, slow lane, just so you wouldn’t be discourteous? Let him in. Wave him on. Let it go.
- Is it that person who brings 16 items to the 15 items or less express check-out line? Count to ten instead of counting items. Be gracious. Let it go.
- Is it your child whom you’ve told him to knock before entering your bedroom…and he keeps barging in? Even when you’ve said it a thousand times?! Has yelling ever done anything more than make you feel better in the moment and cause regret later? Resist the urge to scream. Pull up a chair. Once the homicidal urge passes, try to figure out how your child can make it right. And let it go.
Think about the last time you overreacted. How did that work out for you? I’d love to hear about it!