Today I had to apologize to my daughter for yelling at her. She had crawled in bed with me and the sleeping baby… and woke him up. Despite multiple requests that she be still and quiet, she just wouldn’t. stop. talking. And wiggling. So now, no nap for mama. Let’s get back up with the baby.
I hadn’t planned on yelling at my daughter. In fact, when I started talking to her, I wasn’t even really angry. Frustrated yes, but not spitting mad. I just wanted to explain to her that because she wouldn’t keep still, the baby was awake and fussing. I just wanted to talk to her about what went wrong, and talk about how wo could do it better next time. I wanted to come up with a plan.
But I made a mistake. Instead of speaking sweetly, I let the frustration seep into my voice. The second I heard my own frustrated tone, it escalated. Big time. With every word, I found myself growing angrier and angrier. In the span of about 5 sentences, my “little talk” had grown into an ugly, angry, loud lecture monster.
Woah! How did we get here?! Put on the brakes!
Time to get everyone a snack, make a cup of tea, and calm things back down.
A Soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
I always thought this proverb was talking about other people. You know, My soft answer will turn away their wrath. My harsh word will stir up their anger.
But then, It’s not always true, right? I mean, some people get even angrier when we answer calmly instead of taking their bait.
But you know what I realized today? It is usually true for others. It is always true for OURSELVES.
Emotions reinforce themselves
Everyone has heard the idea that we need to vent anger. That anger builds up pressure, more and more, and will eventually cause us psychological and physical disease if it is not released. It’s supposed to be healthy to express our anger.
The problem with this? We are humans, not pressure cookers. Anger will not build and build in us indefinitely, anymore than joy will.
When we “vent” our anger, we are actually reinforcing it. We are giving our brain the green light, saying “Yes, I choose to go forward in this emotion.” By letting frustration into my voice, I have the go-ahead to get angry.
What does a soft answer do? When we feel a flash of anger, if we refuse to give into it, and instead answer gently, we set our brains on a different path. Our brains say “Oh, so we don’t want to go down Angry Rd this time? Okay, let’s keep on down this new Gentle St instead.” Now, the ruts in Angry Rd are probably deep, carved out from many years of travel. The brain loves deep, familiar ruts! So it will likely pull us back there again and again. Over time though, if we just keep turning toward Gentle St, the old angry ruts will fill in, and the new direction will become familiar and easy.
Our brains love familiar pathways. We get to choose which ones those are.
And it starts with our very next soft answer.