Things get on our nerves. Have you ever stopped to think why? Let me share with you a recent event that really made me stop and look at the things that bother me.
Recently, I was taking my almost-5-year old daughter to her church choir, which she loves.
But that day, we were running late — which was the first time she was to be late for this group. So I casually mentioned to her on the way that we were running late. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the news well.
She was uncomfortable at the thought of being late, and when we arrived at our church, she totally lost it. She asked me to hold her and when I refused (she’s heavy!), she went on to panic because one of her shoe got untied. Finally inside the church, she started shrieking on the top of her lungs and said that she didn’t want to go.
My daughter being a drama queen was no revelation to me, but I was thoroughly annoyed, and proceeded to drag her to the choir room. I thought, if I just threw her in there, she’d remember that she actually enjoyed this.
To my further annoyance, she refused to go join the other kids once in the room. I was very tempted to force her at this point — and then she said something that stopped me on my tracks.
“Daddy, I want to go but I’m scared.”
The truth of her feelings finally occurred to me then, because I myself felt this before. Of wanting to join a gathering but feeling embarrassed, scared and fearful. I myself was a once socially awkward kid, too sensitive and timid to go march in assertively when I felt uncomfortable.
So I swallowed my anger hard, and searched for more logical ways to deal with the situation. What did she need? Reassurance, first and foremost. I, along with the choir teacher and other kids, tried to comfort my daughter that she was welcome and wanted. This had little effect, so I relented — she could just sit on my lap in the corner of the room.
The rest of the choir time, she sat clinging to me, biting her nails, looking at the choir having fun with her large, fearful eyes. The damage and shock was too great to alleviate during the session.
Usually what happens after her choir we go up to the nursery and hang out a bit, and when the babysitters arrive I leave her there to go to my choir.
She still felt very insecure, so she sat on my lap in the nursery as well. This time, I just allowed her to sit, without pressuring her to go play. As she watched other kids play, a smile returned to her face little by little, and by the time the sitters arrived, she didn’t object to me leaving her there. When I came back afterward to pick her up, she was all smiles, playing hide-and-seek with other kids and the sitters.
Why I Overreacted
It sounds all simple and straightforward in hind sight, but at the moment, I was blinded and driven by my temper. I usually consider myself to be a patient person, but kids have ways of “pushing your buttons” to really make you mad.
But upon reflecting on this incident, I had to admit the real reason why I overreacted: she reminded me of myself — the part I don’t like.
As I said above, I really related to how my daughter was feeling once I understood it. She’s emotionally sensitive like me, and she would pick up any slight indications of condemnations or mockery from her teacher or her friends. That’s painful and something to fear. As an adult, the only reason I don’t become afraid is because I learned that most people (at least I think) don’t think much of someone being late and there are others who are late at times, too — tardiness is an accepted behavior. If this was an important meeting, like a job interview, where being late was a big no-no — I would be very stressed. Most people would. A reasonable reason for stress -> processed through a sensitive mind -> overreaction. That explains her reaction.
The reason I overreacted, though, is this: I have the same “weakness” she does, and I don’t like it and worked hard to correct it.
That’s why I reacted bitterly and forcefully at first. When she wanted to be held, I refused. When she panicked about her shoe lace I told her that it was nothing. And once in the choir room, I was ready to grab her arm and throw her in there by force. I’m so glad I didn’t. That would have turned an already ugly scene worse, and may have possibly traumatized my daughter to her choir, being late, or both.
Self-Hate Breeds Overreaction
It’s easy to overreact when fear or vulnerability is involved. Climbing to the top of a tall building may not be a big deal to one, but to the next person it’s a positively scream-inducing nightmare. But there’s a trap for the worst kind of overreaction — that involving anger/temper: we tend to overreact to behaviors that reminds us what we despise about ourselves. Someone who struggles with secret attraction to same sex may become a vocal condemner of gay rights, for example. For me, my daughter’s overreaction to an awkward social situation immediately pushed the limits of my temper.
We all have pet-peeves, we all have behaviors we don’t condone. But overreaction is neither effective nor constructive — it often feeds the problem. So, how do we counter our tendency to overreact to certain situations?
Just like we do with any other scripts — by rewriting them. This is what happened in my case:
- Recognized my overreaction through self-awareness
- Identified the reason for my overreaction
- Recognizing that I was seeing a piece of myself, sought how I would have liked to be treated
- Willed myself to choose the alternative instead of be driven by my overreaction
- Saw that my alternative was indeed more effective and correct in dealing with the issue.
What Bothers You?
But the real question I wanted to wrestle with here is not so much what to do with these situations — what ought to be done seemed obvious to me, once my head was clear — but more about realizing what bothers us, and examining why we hate it, why we react in anger with it.
Allow me to disclose some of my pet-peeve behaviors to you:
Well, I’m going to stop there, because at the moment, I can’t think of any behaviors that I’m not guilty of myself. Sure, I condemn murders and stealing, but I simply don’t approve them from more principled point of view. With the above behaviors, my condemnation is emotional and personal — words like disgust and contempt come to mind.
And yet, I had dealt with a major depression in my family and now am raising a very sensitive child. You know what they do when they’re down? They sulk! As I have, countless times! I feel that the Higher Being is trying to teach me a lesson.
Could it be possible that they still bother me because I can’t bring myself to accept those pieces of me?
Could it be possible that if I did come to accept my sulkiness and corniness and the rest, that I will stop reacting with temper, and not let others with these traits bother me?
Could it be possible that with less things to bother me, I would live in more enhanced state of peace, unperturbed by behaviors of others?
I would say yes to all three, though I can’t be certain, as I have yet to act on resolving any one of them. I can see a 30-day trial coming — a month of being ultra-dramatic, for example! I have to tell you, the thought of such a trial somehow lifts up my spirit — it feels as if I’m letting my guards down in a way. (Will I be able to get away with a month of telling nothing but lies? ;-))
One thing is for certain: reacting by losing temper says more about you than the person you’re reacting against.
Things that bug us are the beacons saying “come and resolve me.” My pet-peeve list is my new laundry list for self-improvement. I’ll be conscious of this truth, from here on. And seek to accept myself more wholly, which will lead me to do the same with others — and life itself.
What are the things that bother you? And of which, how many are the ones you yourself are guilty of?