Emotions have a way of escalating out of control especially in a close relationship. We are often baffled by another's behavior or choices. Instead of a calm conversation to explore what is happening, we feel angry, hurt, sad, or any number of other reactions that indicate we feel threatened, unheard or unseen. If we are able to get past immediate reactions, however, we soon realize that what we “understood” to be happening, often is not accurate.
At a certain point in my life I began to see this pattern in myself: every time I was certain that I knew why someone had done or said something, I discovered later that I had been mistaken. A passing word would open my eyes and make me realize I had completely misread the situation. It can happen so easily. A simple example, a colleague of mine was late for an appointment and I became angry. She was struggling with migraines. This placed me on the alert. I realized I might not be as accurate in my assessment of other people's motives as I had thought.
The second step in de-escalating an emotional situation is to remind yourself of the affection you have for the other person. When we feel threatened, hurt or angry, our connections to another person are weakened and sometimes actually broken. Love turns quickly to resentment or even hatred. We forget the ties that bind us to one another.
To help yourself, recall a meaningful experience you have had with the other person. Remember something he/she shared with you about their personal vulnerability and weakness. Once you realize that we are all weak and poor before the Lord, you can make the Christ-like leap of love. Christ-like love reverences a person because they have been created by God; they exist and are held in existence by God. They are redeemed by Christ and he walks by their side every moment of the day and night, just as he walks beside you.
Now you are naturally led to a third step which you can calmly formulate as a question: “How can I put aside my own feelings and approach my friend with sincere kindness and concern?”
It’s not easy to approach someone after an emotional interaction. Here is a tool that might help. You could say: "I'm confused/threatened/sad about what has come between us. I'd really like to understand what this situation means for you. Would you be willing to talk about it with me?"
Perhaps you will find it difficult to speak to the other person directly. It is enough to keep the thought within you. Use it as a frame of reference for yourself. You will find that the question moves the compass of your heart toward compassion and gradually points you both in the direction of openness to how the problem might be resolved.
Sr. Kathryn James, FSP; www.pauline.org/heartwork