Years ago I developed a little scheme for helping people to deal with what I called, reactive emotions that usually got them nowhere, except mired in their own misery and instead offered them another option. Imagine someone making a snide remark or remember the last time someone said something to you that prompted an immediate, spontaneous “flight or fight” response. For example, someone calls you by name and says, “You know what? You’re a jerk!” Your immediate, reactive response is often one of two spontaneous emotions. Either you feel hurt, go silent and withdraw, OR you come back with an equal or stronger comment such as “Look who’s calling who a jerk, you stupid, silly person!” Flight or fight.
There is a third possibility but it has to be conscious and intentional and it’s this. You could respond by saying, “That’s interesting. Tell me why you think that.” You might say that’s all well and good but it’s not in our nature to respond that way and you’re right. It’s not. We have to take control and put it there. Then both the conversation and the relationship can continue, if that’s your desired intention. If that is not your wish and you want it to end right there, that’s also a choice but we seldom think of this scene involving choices because the emotions rules out conscious and intentional choice. Albert Ellis, who died in 2007, developed a school of psychotherapy in 1955 called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy based on using rational thought as a mediator to emotional response. And, it works! It’s probably where I got the idea of giving people a third choice and not be confined to an either/or proposition.