Focusing When Hurt or Angry

Most of us human beings behave in ways we regret when we are feeling hurt or angry. Rather than taking the high road, we use the excuse that 'someone else started it' or 'the other person is acting like a jerk, so why shouldn't I' or some equally lame justification to let ourselves behave in less than stellar ways. Knowing that this reaction emerges when we are feeling hurt and/or angry, it becomes clear that it is the most important time that focusing needs to take center stage. Without focusing, we are at the mercy of whatever self-restraint we have available to us in that moment. With focusing, we are more likely to guide ourselves out of and avoid a disaster.

The irony, of course, is that focusing is the most difficult when we are in a survival reaction, feeling hurt and/or angry. At these times, it seems so 'right' to lob a grenade or turn a knife. However, the aftermath of such behavior takes a lot of energy, attention, and commitment to clean up and rectify. Better to employ self-restraint while hurt or angry and not have to waste so much time engaged in clean up.

So how to do this at all, and how to do it well? It helps to keep the end in mind and remember who you want to be and how you want to feel about yourself when you put your head on your pillow at night.

By keeping the end in mind, your brain will help you avert the ravines and, rather, take the high road to a successful conclusion. By remembering how you want to feel about yourself at the end of the day, your brain will choose the high road rather than seek the instant gratification of saying what wants to slip off your tongue and pierce the other's heart.

If you keep the end in mind and if you remember who you are and how you want to be, you can stay focused on the trajectory that is most important to get you where you want to go.

If the other person becomes exceedingly defensive, you can use this as a reminder to stay focused, calm your own nervous system, and be the person you want to be.

Just recently, I had the occasion in which I had to practice this intensely. While in a conversation with someone who I had reconnected after many years of silence, a conversation exploded rather quickly as the other person began yelling at me. I had to work extremely hard to stay focused. While many retorts went through my mind, I realized that it would only make the situation worse if I expressed them. While the other person was out of control, I was able to use restraint, stay focused on ending the conversation as quickly as possible, and get off the phone without hanging up on the person.

Though I was able to refrain from lobbing grenades, I was disappointed that I ended up yelling in order to be heard. (The person was yelling a question but not waiting for an answer.) Were I to do it over, I would let the person yell while keeping the phone away from my ear, then when the person stopped, simply say something like, “I'm not willing to have you yell at me. I'm going to hang up now. I wish you well and when you are ready to speak about this, you are welcome to contact me.”

It is fair to say that while it is difficult to stay focused when hurt or angry, it is actually the most crucial time. What is said in anger creates shame and an inordinate amount of time and energy to clean up. Rather, stay focused and on the high road.

As usual, write in with your experience, your challenges, and your successes.

Judith Bell, M.S., Master LHEP™

Judith Bell, M.S., Master LHEP™

Judith is the founder and president of Rewire Leadership Institute®. A master facilitator, consultant, teacher, and coach, she has created and facilitated personal growth, team development and organizational change seminars, coached executives and teams, facilitated strategic planning and high visibility meetings, and supported culture change for over four decades. Judith works with a diverse range of companies from government agencies, non-profit, Fortune Global 500, to small and mid-sized family owned businesses including such organizations as NASA, Seaflow, Total Oil, Restoration Hardware, San Antonio Water System, and Culver Company.

Superb at supporting individuals, pairs, and teams in developing the skills necessary to realize their full potential, Judith helps executives, managers, and staff gain the ability to respond flexibly and rapidly to their changing environment. Through extensive experience and research, she utilizes a number of different approaches including the FIRO theory, systems theory, cybernetics, neuroscience, cognitive, positive, and success psychology.

As one of the world’s leading experts on the FIRO theory, she trains consultants internationally. A consultant’s consultant, Judith mentors facilitators, coaches, therapists and other professionals in the integration of the FIRO theory in their work. From 1981 until 2004, she worked closely with Dr. Will Schutz, the creator of FIRO theory. Independently, Judith developed FIRO Theory Profiling, which has been lauded as the first innovation in the FIRO theory instruments aside from Dr. Schutz’ own developments. She continues to develop courses that synthesize her studies and experience and are based in FIRO theory.

Starting in her teenage years, Judith has been a pioneer in her passion for authenticity, clear communication, and positive change. She is lauded for her ability to see others’ potential and help them realize it—be they individuals, pairs, teams, or organizations. Judith’s zest for life, appreciation for others, and generosity of spirit inspires those with whom she works.

An honor’s student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Judith’s desire and passion to learn about authenticity motivated her to move her studies to The Institute for Creative and Artistic Development (ICAD) in Oakland, California. As the youngest student in their teacher training program, she created and graduated with an undergraduate degree that focused on authenticity through California State University, Sonoma. Continuing on her quest to study authenticity and creativity, Judith began taking courses at California State University, Hayward where she also created and graduated with a unique Master’s degree that focused on communication, transformation, and the creative arts.

Interested in systems and change, Judith began experimenting with her innovative action-oriented approach to assess and intervene with families, groups, and organizations. Through this work, she became a much sought-after instructor, training masters and doctoral students in her seminal work. As chair of a psychology program focused on Creative Arts Therapies at Antioch University, San Francisco, she developed curriculum and continued to serve as guest faculty and lecturer at universities nationwide.

In addition to leading Rewire Leadership, Judith and her husband, Daniel Ellenberg, co-founded Relationships That Work®, where she serves as Vice President. She and Daniel co-authored Lovers for Life: Creating Lasting Passion, Trust, and True Partnership, which applies the principles of Rewire Leadership Institute® to romantic relationships. Recently, they co-authored a chapter in Mastering the Art of Success: Volume 8. With Matt White, Judith recently co-authored Leading with Courage.

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