Good advice from the archives…
Today’s post is born of a real personal experience I had at a friend’s 50th birthday party. It got me thinking about humans, human emotion, and human behaviour.
During Christmas week, I attended a long, lovely Christmas choral concert with a friend. We left feeling uplifted and calm, and walked through the cool, humid night to the condo building where the party was happening.
The party room was large with pockets of people scattered everywhere. I really only knew the birthday boy and his husband, so my friend and I hung around the bar, vainly attempting to catch up to the rest of the party-goers who had a few hours of celebratory drinking on us already.
I found myself next to a very handsome man who I noticed earlier. He was on his own at the time but I had already seen him with his girlfriend and knew that he was not available. Hands off. No problem. We struck up a conversation and chatted for a while until his girlfriend, quite drunk, appeared out of nowhere.
In uncoordinated drunken aggression at the sight of her boyfriend talking to another woman, she lashed out – the palm of her hand connected with my cheek but she wasn’t able to deliver the stinging slap she intended, instead pushing my face off to the left. I wasn’t hurt but I was shocked, and so was her fella.
“What is this?!” she wailed.
The boyfriend and I, stunned, looked at each other in gaping confusion. Within seconds, I moved away from them, he hauled her out, and the party resumed. It was surreal.
I shared a radio interview with communications expert, Ric Phillips, of 3V Communications last year and I met with him this week. I always like talking to Ric because his background in social psychology and coaching gives him an interesting perspective.
During our visit, I told him about the intended bitch slap. We discussed what my options could have been, and Ric said that when conflict arises, there are really only four possible choices:
1. Do nothing – maintain silence and do not react;
2. Escape the scene or person(s) to avoid further conflict;
3. Change your attitude because you have a minimal chance of changing theirs;
4. Change your behaviour (see #3).
Note that retaliation is not a suggestion in Ric’s list of conflict management options. I responded with a combination of 1 and 2 for a couple of reasons: one of my friends said that he would have hit back, but I believe that violence begets violence and I would never strike anyone, so there’s that, but also, the woman was intoxicated and this made her emotional response a little more uh, “lively”, and I chalked it up to that. That, plus the understanding that the underlying insecurity issues that the booze brought to life have probably been there for a while and are the root of the outburst.
Psychology Today describes jealousy as
…encompassing feelings from fear of abandonment to rage to humiliation. It strikes both men and women when they perceive a third-party threat to a valued relationship… Conventional wisdom holds that jealousy is a necessary emotion because it preserves social bonds, but it more often destroys them. And it can give rise to relationship violence.
Ric says, “Jealousy is directly linked to a lack of self-confidence,” and of course, he’s correct. Confident people don’t fret over whether their mates are being faithful or not because they trust their partner and their partner trusts them. People in unstable relationships would not feel confident due to the instability of the partnership that co-exists with that person’s lacking self-esteem.
Jealousy is a one-sided, ego-based reaction that begins in self-doubt and can eat away at any of us and sabotage our relationships (if we’re the jealous type, that is – I do not believe that all people are). I feel that the woman in question reacted not to me personally, but to me as a threatening figure to her relationship, and she violently protested. If she were not the jealous type and presumably more comfortable with herself and her relationship, she might have come over, introduced herself, chatted with me a bit to get the sense of who I am, and looked clearly into my eyes to see that I wasn’t out to pick up her boyfriend at all, just making conversation with him. Unfortunately, she made a different choice.
Dramatic jealous scenes can wreak havoc. If you’re the type to get jealous, Askmen.com offers five points to counter jealousy and keep it in check before we do anything we’ll regret:
1. Learn from past experiences: look at how your behavior affected past relationships and use that to help you behave better.
2. Deal with reality: focus on what is really happening, not what you perceive to be happening… Don’t let your imagination dictate the kind of person [your partner] really is.
3. Respect yourself: realize that [he/]she chose you for a reason and there is no need for her to be so easily tempted elsewhere.
4. Get a third party’s opinion: ask a friend to take note of your behavior around your [boy/]girlfriend. It may help you to fully understand the extent of your actions (as well as [theirs]) by getting a neutral party’s perspective.
5. Set some rules early on: try establishing some general guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable for you [and your mate].
Of course the news of the slap went on Facebook the next day. A friend called me when she heard about it explained that she had a couple of really good-looking boyfriends in her life, and these relationships were difficult – not because of the men in question, but the women who reacted to them. She said that when they were out at bars, women would step in front of her to engage the boyfriend, and other women actually gave the boyfriend their phone numbers right in front of her. How terrible that must have been for my friend!
I don’t know who the woman was who assaulted me but seeing as though her boyfriend was so drop-dead handsome, she may have experienced other women behaving in less-than-respectful ways too, and when I think about the situation this way, I feel empathy toward her (and him – I can’t help but wonder how this made her boyfriend feel and how the outburst affected their relationship).
“I try my best to empathize with the other person or people, and I give them permission to be a flawed human, just like me. Through empathy I connect with them and calmly work at resolving the issue, one way or another,” Ric says.
“Empathy is the key to communication. We must try to listen, read body language and see the issue from the other person’s perspective. We do not need to fight, or run away, or apologize, or get riled up with defensiveness. We instead should practice self-control and empathy first.”
Empathy is putting ourselves in another person’s shoes in an attempt to understand where they might be coming from and why they react to situations the way they do. She reacted to me the way she did for reasons only she could (or perhaps could not) understand – I don’t know who she is or what she’s been through and I don’t know what it’s like to date a gorgeous younger man, but it mustn’t be easy. In fact, it probably sucks, or she wouldn’t have tried to maim me. I imagine that a lot of energy is wasted fighting to maintain her status as the woman with the handsome beau, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I think it would be great if this woman gets to the point of accepting and appreciating herself for who she is so she won’t have to get aggressive when she perceives that someone is out to get what she’s got – i.e. changing her attitude, as Ric suggests – changing her attitude about herself.
A change in attitude will bring better relationships with others and with the self, strengthen personal confidence, and ultimately, it will save someone the shock of being on the receiving end of a bitch slap.