Have you ever yelled at a stranger? Or has a stranger ever yelled at you?
Sadly, most of us can probably answer yes to both of these!
In the heat of the moment it can be a challenge to remember that just because you are invited to a fight, doesn’t mean you have to RSVP! And engaging in intense emotional reactivity, especially with strangers, only results in toxicity in your body. And in theirs.
It’s like emotional poison. And we drink it without even thinking.
If you live in a city like me, it can be common to see strangers yelling at each other. Especially in traffic, road-ragers are the worst.
A few days ago a stranger invited me to a fight in the Whole Food’s parking lot. Luckily deep mindful breaths helped me decline this invitation.
Although I have to admit it was tough to not engage.
To me it was simple: She was texting with her back to one-way traffic so I tapped my horn to alert her a car (my car) was coming. It was clear she was having a different experience because she turned around and immediately started screaming at me. No problem, I cruised passed her and parked. Not engaging was more difficult when I got out of my car. She ran up to me yelling away and my self-righteousness was doing flip-flops in my head. “That’s what horns are for!!” was a loud defensive thought blaring through my entitled mind.
Yes, it’s entirely possible for nice lovely people like you and me to be provoked to act, well, less than nice and lovely. But there’s a better way:
This saved our butts back in the cave days when we needed to quickly flee from a saber tooth tiger (Neuroscience details behind the fight or flight response in this video) but it isn’t so helpful with today’s common stressors like angry strangers or emails.
But there’s good news… we can train our brains through meditation and mindfulness to be less emotionally reactive. This is because observing our emotions and thoughts from a slight distance during meditation teaches us the nature of emotions. We can see them coming and going without being attached to them or needing to be “in” them. This enables us to respond from our values instead of reacting from our emotions in day to day life. Yep, meditation benefits extend way beyond a temporary peaceful mood!
We can observe “anger” or “fear” or “irritation” without being swept away in anger, fear or irritation.
So we can recognize that we are angry, we may even want to excuse ourselves from the situation yet not have the compulsion to react from the emotion. It’s basically the difference between knowing you’re feeling anger and telling the stranger to eff off!
The interesting part is that I’ve learned to become grateful for these emotionally triggered encounters.
Sure, getting a side of cray-cray with my kale was not on my Whole Foods shopping list. And it’s not something I’d ever request. However, the net result is that I got practice grounding in my values and being less emotionally reactive – which is something I am interested in! And it definitely takes practice.
Plus I’d for sure rather practice with an angry stranger than with someone I actually want to continue a relationship with.
Please leave your thoughts below or share your experiences with how you stay authentic during emotionally challenging situations.