Sometimes we catch ourselves behaving in a way that surprises us.
Sometimes the feeling is a positive one: we accomplish a major goal that we weren’t sure we were going to accomplish, we crush that job interview that we were certain was a total failure, or we find the courage to ask for that big promotion at work.
However, there are times when we do or say something that surprises ourselves, but in a negative way. We snap at our coworker for taking too long to finish a report or we have an argument with a loved one that ends in tears.
So, what can you do when you find yourself engaging with others in a negative way?
1. Did You Read the Situation Right?
If you find yourself responding aggressively to another person’s comments to you, it might be helpful to take a moment to double check that you read the situation correctly. Did your friend intend to insult you or were they simply making a joke? Sometimes, we or the people we love say things that we don’t mean. Taking a moment to determine if that was the case might help put things into perspective.
2. Be Accountable to Yourself
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re surprised by your negative behavior or someone close to you calls you out on it, try your best not to make excuses for it. Attempting to justify hurtful behavior or getting defensive isn’t a step in the right direction. Before you can start to make changes to your behavior, you first have to accept that you do those things in the first place. If you can’t do that, then you’ll trap yourself in a vicious cycle where you won’t be able to break the pattern and move toward a better mental state.
3. Don’t Put Yourself Down
When we become aware of our hurtful behaviors, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap where we feel guilt and shame for the way we acted. While this is certainly better than celebrating the fact that you just made a stranger cry by yelling out the passenger-side window at them in traffic, it still isn’t a productive reaction. If you get into a routine of shaming yourself into oblivion every time you display hurtful behavior, you might convince yourself that it can’t be changed. Acknowledge the incident and look for solutions that’ll help you not do it again.
4. Put It in Context
What was going on when you snapped at your coworker? Did you not get enough rest the night before? Were you stressed about a major deadline and felt the pressure? When you find yourself in situations where you exhibit this negative behavior, take a moment to reassess what might have been the cause of your stress or act out. Oftentimes, when we are feeling a certain way, we fail to notice other important contributing factors that might explain it.
5. Find the Pattern (So You Can Change It)
If you can catch the pattern of decisions that you make or certain situations that feed directly into those negative behaviors, then you’ll be able to know how to correct them. If you regularly notice that not getting enough sleep at night contributes to a cranky morning the next day, then work to change your sleep schedule so you don’t put yourself in that cranky situation. Even making a slight change to your routines can help you find a steadier emotional state.
6. What Sets You Off?
Sometimes certain people, situations, or places can contribute to our negative emotional states. For some people, it may be running into the wrong people at the bar or a coworker who loves to do exactly what you find annoying (like always talking to you about their personal life). A registered therapist can walk you through those moments where you found yourself unnecessarily agitated and help you find the things that set you off.
Once you have an idea of what those things are, you can then work on them. If you pinpoint those environments that push you over the edge, you can then work to change, accept or disarm those triggers. For others there may be need to engage in activities that ‘spark joy’ or add value to one’s life. That is because sometimes we engage in negative behaviours because we are unhappy. The simple act of taking a walk during your lunch time or even talking to a trusted friend can do wonders for your emotional state.
7. Practice Forgiveness
Forgive yourself and practice forgiveness with others. Humanity is messy; we all have our own personal problems that can lead to sticky situations when we interact with one another. Practicing forgiveness and working together to make interactions less of a negative experience can take the stress off and help us all feel a little bit better.
Therapy Can Help
If you find yourself engaging in harmful behaviour but you’re unsure of how you can start making changes to those behaviours, working with a registered therapist is a great place to start.
Therapists are trained to help you navigate through your emotional confusion and pinpoint the areas that are causing you the most grief. They can act as an unbiased third party that will help you examine those moments of anger or anxiety and work toward long-lasting solutions. That way, there won’t be so many surprises in the future.
Shaun is a therapist in our Toronto clinic, supporting individual and couples.