For as long as I can remember, I always had a problem dealing with stressful situations. I was brought up to fear confrontations. My mother always became anxious by people who would try and get under her skin. It ruffled her feathers because she didn't know how to respond. It shook her up like it does mine to the point that I freeze in my tracks and respond subserviently so as to not cause a commotion. When she died, she left me with a mountain of bills, a box of cassette tapes from her many recitals at Carnegie Hall in New York City and a puzzle of memories: who was this woman exactly and what was she afraid of?
Perhaps you can relate to my situation.
The mother I describe in my memoir Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love, is one of deeply rooted fear. She's fearful of the media in the way it portrays Israel that she will do everything to stop me from even volunteering on my aunt's kibbutz prior to serving in the Israel Defense Forces. She's scared to be homeless and on the street, so she'll take any kind of performance gig as a classical pianist even if her new boss doesn't treat her nicely or she gets a negative review in the local paper.
But unfortunately, she didn't teach me well how to deal with difficult people and how to manage my emotions with stressful situations, and still, at age 45, I'm taking things that people say and do personally. Maybe there's a part of me that wants to live confrontation-free (Not ideal, I know) and maybe there's a part of me that's afraid to deal with difficult people. (Not very realistic, I know.)
You see, I've often taken words to heart by people who have authority just because they have the title as an editor, teacher, or manager. My mother was the same way. And when she got scared or intimidated, she would consult with other adults. But she instilled all her fear in me.
Instead of distancing myself from these negative people, I let these people take control of me. I automatically believed there was something in that person's words that hinted I was an incompetent or unprofessional person. Instead of fighting back, I would stay passive until I would be forced to examine the situation at its core.
This is exactly what happened to me today when I received an email from an manager's assistant asking me to take care of a specific situation.
Up until now, I've always ignored my intuition because I never placed a strong value on it. Other people knew people. I was never taught to listen to my voice. I was never taught to value my beautiful voice. But today, I had to -- I had no choice. Here's how I was able to finally take control without taking someone else's words to heart. (Easier said than done, I know!)
1. I think how I felt the last six months. I take a few moments to separate myself from this email and get quiet.
2. I replay in my mind all the email interactions. I remember how I felt. By now, I'm not feeling so good.
3. I debate in my mind my next steps. The first step is to connect with my body. I'm still not feeling so good.
4. My mind tells me it's time to move on.
5. I reply in an email that I am unable to take on this project any longer. I've already figured it out. I respond back. I'm willing to cut my loses and move on.
Walking away from that project was empowering. I won't go into details as to what happened afterwards, but let's just say that I became more and more empowered with each email I received knowing that I made the right decision. I will say though that I took all of those emails personally - after all, I'm a human being with feelings.
But I kept listening to my intuition which I refer to as the "yum-yuck." "Yum" if what you feel about a certain person or situation is good and "yuck" if you know this situation or person will cause you heartache, pain or unnecessary stress. In my case, stress.
The beauty about listening to your inner voice is that you can tune into it any given moment. But with so much noise in our digital world and beyond, it's hard to distract the good from the bad noise. We are a society that prides ourselves on outcomes and people are often driven to shoot for "perfectionism." Perhaps, if I had been treated more respectfully, I may have reconsidered my decision.
A Few Words About Developing Intuition
If you're dealing with a difficult person, I encourage you to take a step or two back and reevaluate. Is this situation worth your energy? How will you benefit in the long run? By listening to your intuition with one situation, you can open the doors of possibility you didn't know existed for another.