Shaking off inflammatory learned behaviors

When I was a kid, I behaved like a kid. Ornery when dealing with what I thought of as in-my-face siblings. Shriveling internally when getting called names by some classmates who specialized in bullying. Ducking behind behind the covers of a book when life just got too overwhelming – which it seemed to do on a regular basis.

From those situations, emerged what I call “learned behaviors.”

You know, those inflamed automated responses that crop up. Such as sputtering “Shut up!” when discussing how much firewood I was allowed to use on a recent camp out. My next-in-line-to-me sibling was in charge of fire operations.

I stalked back to my tent. Brooded, growled and chewed over what I wanted to say. Versus how I should behave especially with younger family members watching. I located him later and scraped out an apology for the heated words. But not for how I felt about his assertion of being da boss. That – that part of him will never change so I need to accept that reality.

A few weeks ago my boss micro-managed a project. I understood they wanted a certain result – okay. However, the way they communicated their expectations, left me feeling like a first grader who’s struggling to figure out what C – A – T spells.

I’m still trying to figure out a pleasant and professional way to shape my response to that situation. One with using my “I” words versus the more inflammatory “you” words.

Yeah. Good luck to me on that one.

And of course there are other situations that trigger the learned behaviors of earlier adult years. For example, sharing a meal with a 20-something offspring – and wanting to spill out reams of parenting advice on how they could shape their lives into my image of success.

My” or “their” image? Hmm. I bit back the words that hovered on the tip of my tongue. Told myself, “hey, cupcake, this isn’t your life.” It’s tough. But all those lovely “how-to’s” and “you should do’s” need to be shared sparingly. Sometimes not at all, unless the object of my concern looks at me and says, “Mom, what do you think?”

Basically, shaping the responses that keep the doors of communication open calls for a lot of thinking.

In some ways, I think I’m making progress. Although I’d better be careful about saying that too loudly or life (karma?) will bonk me royally over the head.

My mother and I have survived nearly two years of life together under the same roof. Because her health issues, she needs quiet and simplicity. I am learning to clamp down on my tendency to overly explain myself. Inserting pauses that allow her to gather her thoughts. Knowing when to fill in the words she is struggling to say – and when to voice solutions that work for her.

So, I’m working to scrap off the old triggers and examine more thoughtfully what is happening between me and others. One event at a time.

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved. The writer can be contacted at marylvandyke03@gmail.com.