How to stop the self-sabotaging spiral sparked by someone not believing you.
‘I never said that!’ And then it starts — hurt, anger, self-sabotage sadness. What is going on and do you have a stop button?
I was listening to a caller on a radio phone-in about doctors not seeing patients face to face — and how awful they are!
The caller was a doctor.
A hard working doctor wounded by the slings and arrows of false accusations fired at her and her colleagues, day after day.
This doctor — this human — felt misjudged and unheard.
And it played out like this —
Misjudged, hurt, not believed, defensive, angry, rejected, sad.
To be fair, I am guessing the last one based on my own experiences and the stories shared with me.
Does this resonate?
You might not be a doctor or someone trying their best and being accused of being lazy.
You may not have spent years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit like the Cardiff 3 of Butetown.
But you are human and therefore likely to have felt the sting of being falsely accused.
Can you recall incidents from your childhood perhaps?
How quickly did you spin down the spiral of self-inflicted anger, self-doubt and a sense of alienation?
I can recall moments — clearly.
For me — feeling misjudged has the power to trigger a teenage tantrum response.
I haven’t been a teenager since 1976.
That wretched feeling that someone has misjudged you and even when you correct them — they don’t believe me - they might even humour you.
You are crying out to be heard, believed… loved!
You ‘know’ they are still misjudging you— even if they attempt to retract the comment.
Having reached this impasse, you now retreat like a wounded animal. Your anger morphs into a sinking self-doubt.
- Your identity has been trashed.
- Your attempt to defend your identity is being ignored.
- You feel stupid and isolated.
- You decide you are useless.
This spiral of self-doubt suffocates joy and growth.
This isn’t just about you!
We all misjudge — we are all misjudged.
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during domestication.
Don Miguel Ruiz
In other words — don’t take it personally!
Easy to say.
That kind of calm rationality is highly challenged in a ‘trigger’ event!
If feels very personal.
So how about I illustrate all this with a very personal story.
A story of allergy, cystitis and someone else’s friends.
I was staying with my ex husband’s friends — meeting them for the first time.
We were hours from home and away for a long weekend by the sea.
The friends had 2 hairy dogs. I am allergic to dogs.
My eyes and throat instantly itched.
I then felt the familiar initial — unconnected — niggle of cystitis — I knew how it would develop.
A perfect storm.
That night, I try to sleep alongside my ‘then husband’ — in the house belonging to the friends who were not mine.
I wheeze and struggle for breathe.
The dogs dander has done the deed.
what started with a small sting was now a full blown case of cystitis.
Fast forward to the next morning after a fitful night of sleep propped up on extra pillows made out of rolled up clothes!
My now ex and I are taking a short walk to the nearby beach whilst the ‘friends’ get up.
‘I can’t stay another night’ I say.
‘Really?’ he says — with a frown.
‘Well what a surprise’ he says sarcastically. ‘I knew you didn’t like my friends.’
‘What? It’s nothing to do with them. I am allergic to their dogs and feel lousy with cystitis!’
‘Seems like a convenient excuse,’ he says.
The trigger event has taken place and I am angry. (We will deconstruct this emotion in a moment.)
Reluctantly my ex agrees to cut the stay short. The entire car journey back is a mix of surly silence from him and repeated attempts to plead my case my me.
You will note the ‘ex’ ingredient of this story!
What was really happening?
He had already decided I wouldn’t like his friends — before the weekend even started.
I actually didn’t really like them. But I didn’t hate them!
The physical misery of cystitis was very real.
I guess if you’ve never had it badly, the searing pain is hard to understand.
And — something was going on with my identity. It was being trashed.
But then it was happening for him too — in wise hindsight.
For him it was about a judgement on his friends that had been part of his world long before he met me. A judgement on his friends was a judgement on him.
For me it was a judgement on my honesty. Whilst there was some truth in what he said, he totally ignored my physical state. It felt like full on abandoment. Rejection. We know the fear of rejection is pretty primal.
And with fear comes defensiveness.
Defensiveness and listening are separated by a bolted door.
Two people glaring at each other whilst clanking around in full armour are not two people sat around with a cup of tea talking through a misunderstanding in a relaxed, exploratory frame of mind.
Defensivness comes from fear.
Anger come from fear.
Fear is a big thing!
The same bodily response occurrs in fear as in anger, differing only in degree.
Fear is an instinctive response to threat — in this case the threat of rejection.
Anger is a secondary emotion arising from fear.
It also arises from sadness — and being misjudged by someone you feel should ‘have your back’ does make you feel sad.
In fact, the word ‘anger’ has Norse origins that are closer to ‘grief’.
Being rejected and feeling a threat to self — well that is a good foundation for grief isn’t it?
Grieving a lost bond and a lost self.
Sadness, fear, hurt and anger — and anger wins!
The problem is — once you step on to the angry conveyor belt — you go round in circles achieving nothing other than self-inflicted pain.
And if you are still thinking about the incident days, weeks, years later… you are still poking at your self-sabotage nerve endings.
How to stop the self-sabotage spiral
Tip 1: Stop analysing, arguing and agonising over the incident.
The longer we ruminate about what has made us angry, the more ‘good reasons’ and self-justifications for being angry we can invent. Brooding fuels anger’s flames. But seeing things diferently douses those flames.
Try the buddhist technique of recognising the thoughts as they pop up but not engaging in them.
Let them fade with time.
Importantly — keep persective by not being too hard on yourself for feeling the feelings! You are human.
Try some humour — the great diffuser. Even if this is just with internal dialogue.
Tip 2: This might surprise you. Reach for cold water rather than oil!
Instead of pouring oil on troubled water — chuck cold water in your face!
The sudden cold shock activates the mammalian diving reflex — which shuts down the panic mode your body is stuck in.
Tip 3: Check your levels of self-squashing — and work on your unsquashing.
When your resilience foundations are wobbly your fear triggers are easily activated. When your self-esteem is scattered with fissures —your anger easily errupts.
Build your sense of self-worth by recognising your good points!
Talk to honest and supportive friends who will remind you of these good points.
Give yourself a good talking to about over-reacting. Make it a personal challenge to avoid the tantrum style response. Do it for you as part of your personal growth.
Tip 4: Remember that nobody is perfect.
I think Eleanor puts it very well.
‘Sooner or later, you are bound to discover that you cannot please all the people around you all of the time. Some of them will attribute to you motives you never dreamed of. Some of them will misinterpret our words and actions, making them completly alien to you. So you had better learn fairly early that you must not expect to have everyone understand what you say and what you do.’
All things human self-belief are explored in ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’. Available on Amazon — or order through bookshops.
Host of the ‘Make it Real’ podcast.
Call out the FIBs (fears, illusions and baggage) that hold you back. Details at www.trishalewis.com