What Happens When Somebody Attacks You




I have one story I’ll frame with three questions.  If you feel like it, comment on them when you’re finished reading.

1.   How important for everyday leadership at home and work is the phenomenon I will discuss?

2.   What’s your experience been?

3.   Do you think the issue is mostly just an introvert issue?  How would those of you who prefer extraversion experience a daily incident like this.

Here’s the story.  On Saturday, Kate and I picked up Cece who was attending her roommates’ graduation at the Big House at UM.  Cars were backed up for about a half mile and I was attempting to cut across three lanes to make a u-turn. Just as I was seeing my way clear, a man two cars back rolled down his window and screamed at me, “Hey a–hole, you can’t do that.”  I casually waved and flashed him a peace sign as two cars graciously let me through and on my way.

“What a jerk,” one of my daughters said.  My amygdala – the ancient brain stem, where the fight-flight  survival instincts lie  – must have been firing, because my mind was spinning like a jet ski.  One thought right after the next:  “I shouldn’t have done that.”  “Man that guy was a jerk?” “Why don’t I just let this go?”  “What was his problem?”  “What’s with people?”  “I guess I showed him with that peace sign.”  “Quit gloating that was totally passive-aggressive!” Usually this chorus would have just stayed in my head.  But I said to my 22 and 21-year old daughters:  “I hate it that an incident like that keeps replaying in my head.  I guess it’s some ancient male ego thing.”  They eagerly chimed in that they experience the same thing – their minds playing and replaying confrontations as if to resolve them – but without resolution.

Here’s what I think about my first question above:  Negativity is a major downer and a serious leadership concern!  When the brain is awash in fight or flight cortisol, it’s hard to get anything done.  This has implications for negative bosses (see the conversation about Steve Jobs a few weeks ago; how long do you think people replayed getting chewed out by him?!!).  It also has implications for the cultures that bosses allow to exist.  Even worse, negative outbursts are the dirty secrets of so many of our homes.  I know that I have said things to my kids that I wished I could take back, and that I suspect they have replayed hundreds of times.  I also suspect that very often – probably in the case of the guy who swore at me – the target of our anger is probably not the person or event that caused our frustration in the first place.  And that just confuses people who wonder: “Was what I did that bad?  Am I that bad?”  Such unclarity is the enemy of good management.

Question 2: What’s your experience been?  I’m curious how many others carry around attacks, insults, sleights, etc.  I’m curious too if you’ve found productive ways to release or otherwise defang the attacks and subdue the replays.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingHere’s the third angle about which I have a hypothesis and seek your thoughts.   I’m reading Susan Cain’s fascinating book, whose title makes her point Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  Cain suggests that many introverts are from birth what Harvard child psychologist Jerome Kagan calls “high reactives.”  These folks whose high sensitivity is often detectable by four months old, tend to retreat from the threats and noise of external stimuli and into their thoughts and feelings.  So, my question is:  Do those of you who prefer introversion repeatedly replay incidents of confrontation and conflict?  And what about those of you prefer extraversion?  Do you relate to my story, or do you find it fairly easy to release and not second- and third-guess such incidents?

Hope we can all share some learning in order to:

Lead with our best selves!


  • Dean Dan
    I do not consider myself a intorvert. However, I do play negative feedback in my head over and over again. I re-think my comments which are often minimal. Currently, I work for someone who has very high expectation of everyone around him. Compliments are few, you are supposed to come to work and do a great job, right? But constructive criticism is givne often…..!!! I am learning to walk it off, laugh it off, learn from it what I can and keep it moving../. This was a great article and hit very close to home. Keep up the good work.
    ~Learing to lead with my best me!!!

    • Denise,
      Here’s a crazy idea: Tell him you’d like to share something to make him an even more effective (probably a word that really matters to him) boss. Then stop and ask if he’s open to some coaching/input/feedback? If he says sure, you might indicate that you’ve been reading some of the research on negativity/positivity and that many researchers suggest the appropriate ratio is a very challenging 5:1 positive:negative. You might share that in your experience he’s more frequently on the negative side and that though you appreciate the constructive feedback you think you could perform better (for him) with more positives. You could tell him you have a great book by Kim Cameron called Positive Leadership if he’d be interested in reading it.
      Then be really still! Let him talk his way through it. DON’T get into an argument or defend your position. But if he’s defensive (or worse offensive), don’t backpedal a lot, either. Just say something like, “I know you have to lead the way that works best for you. I just wanted to share some feedback.”
      Can you imagine doing this?

  • Dan – I also am one to replay things over and over in my mind. I have done my share of yelling and saying hurtful things at home. I feel I must win every battle, not just the important ones. As I have gotten older I have learned to let things go better. Still a work in progress.

  • Introvert yep I believe that’s me!! I repeatedly replay incidents of confrontation and conflict in my head. It’s funny because I was just praying about how to quiet that voice. Usually it takes time, but I would like to get a quicker handle on it. I like Denise work with a “insecure person”, (that’s really the bottom line) so she’s always throwing darts. So if i’m not careful, I’ll shuda, wuda, cuda my day away. I don’t think she knows HOW to compliment. Hang in there Denise (learn along the way, you are with this person for a reason, even if you don’t understand)

    Be Blessed

  • I’m an introvert at heart. I do replay the wrongs just like you describe immediately after they occur, but I like to exercise as soon as I can — just a walk up a few flights of stairs, outside, or something to burn off the adrenaline resulting from the perceived wrong. My response to this kind of thing is usually quite similar to what you did, and I’m proud that I can restrain myself usually instead of being drawn into the offender’s world. I know all my ‘all too late clever comebacks’ are stupid, but I don’t think ‘fighting’ the adrenaline works — it needs an outlet.

    • Harris,
      Thanks. Of all the responses this one is different in that it recognizes adrenaline or cortisol, or whatever that’s been let loose in the system. Where the other responses are largely mental adjustments, this one is quite physical.
      I like it. I want to test it some.
      It fits with my running addiction. I find that often my mental weariness dissipates after a run. It is counter-intuitive: my mind is saying: have a drink, take a nap, flop on the couch. But my body has a better wisdom. The physical exertion has a cleansing effect, as if the sweat is truly carrying toxins out of the system.
      Does your flight of stairs WORK?

  • Hi Dan. I had a similar thing happen about a week ago. With my two teenaged kids in the car, I had just merged onto eastbound I-94 in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, the semi driver on our right wanted to keep moving over to the left. We had the right of way, but had I maintained it, the semi probably would have physically shoved our car into others and caused a major accident. So I braked and let him in. (When I later tried to make eye contact with the semi driver, it was evident that he was completely oblivious to our being there. In addition, he was wearing headphones.)

    Well, not surprisingly, I’ve replayed that over in my head a number of times, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I occasionally do replay incidents from work or home, but more and more, I try to take action of some sort instead of just mentally replaying events.

    With all of the insights that have been shared over the years, one that keeps replaying itself was by a driver who was arrested in Los Angeles many years ago: “Can’t we all just get along?”

  • Dan,

    I often replay my reaction to a situation, or comments that Ihave made – either because I feel badly or becuase Ihave made someone else feel not so good, even though my repsonse was apropriate. Guilt is a big factor, as well as teh standards to which we hold ourselves, as leaders, parents, friends, advisors, etc. As an introvert, Ithink a lot about many different things – replaying them over and over, years later even. I have tried to release and let go – sometimes Iam succcessful and others I am not. If it really bothers me, I attempt to atone for a wrong I may have done to soemone else. My biggest objective is not to repeat it, so I don’t spend time beating myself up. so, unfortunately, I have some pretty high standards. I sometimes worry about how what I may have said or done impacts my children, but I have learned they let things go much easier than I do, and I spend time worrying about nothing.
    My advise, release, let go, seek foregiveness and move on. Life is too short to leave in the past, while we are spending time replaying yesterday we are missing today.

    • Fascinating how forgiveness repeatedly appears in these strategies!
      Carol, I invite you to read Colleen’s comment above and my response. I wonder if you are in the same kind of loop as I get in – where normal human frustration, perfectionism and guilt vie for attention and block a simple resolution, i.e., they are ALL right! Thoughts?

  • I keep a journal. It started as a place to just chronicle daily thoughts, and things my daughter did and said, etc. But it’s also the place I find myself “dumping” this kind of mind churn. I write it all out, brutally honest, no matter how badly it reflects on my self image…and for some reason, once it’s dropped of, I feel done with it. (Going back years later and reading some of them is pretty amusing–could I really have been that disturbed because my 10 year old daughter didn’t start as point guard for a game??? Really?)

    • Colleen,
      That’s great that that works for you.
      I agree that there is great power-for-release in just putting something out there. I have experienced that “being the emotion” can take the sting out of it. It’s as though it dissipates on its own. It’s a wave that just dies out. A corollary is that when we have conflicting values, e.g., the “self image” you mentioned and that you value doesn’t allow the frustration you feel with someone to come out. The two seem to cancel each other out. But the real effect is that the unfelt emotion (in my case or your daughter’s playing time case: the frustration or anger) simply simmers, is trapped, and continues to force its way in via the replay button. It keeps hitting that button (indeed in my circular dialogue, it’s as if different mental standpoints take turns hitting the replay button) but it doesn’t really get heard, and doesn’t get a chance to resolve of its own accord.
      Thanks for weighing in!

  • Hi
    Anusara yoga teaches us to change the way we think about insults, confrontations, etc. I am not always successful but try to create positive thoughts in these situations. My instructor says that when she is cut-off in traffic by someone going fast, etc. that the person must be a brain surgeon who needs to hurry to save a live. Our internal perspective is all we can control.

  • Dan:

    Great questions today and yes, same record plays in my head. I also ask myself what I could’ve done differently as well as what about others ability and my own in being courteous, less selfish and empathic. Have we lost our ability to allow others a little latitude for being human, making mistakes? Too often when we express anger or put others on the defensive it is all about us. How do we get others to be more considerate and forgiving? As leaders or one of the crowd we need to ask ourselves how might we better help others remember the value of community.

  • You told me several years ago that I tested as the classic introvert. But, you also explained that can have more to do with my need or desire for social interaction than ability to interact. I appreciated that because it took the stigma of “introversion” away and I have since found many other introverts who feel similiarly. Yes, introverts do talk to each other about being introverts. To get back to the question, I do not tend to replay events like that over and over and it might have something to do with a better understanding of mine and others motivations. I (you) were not intentionally being a jerk, just trying to get out. The two people who were kind enough to let wave you through got that. The other guy was bored, frustrated and felt the need to vent (probably a classic extrovert). Understanding my own motivations and those of others goes a long towards helping to resolve these type of events in my mind.

    • Jeff,
      This is very consistent with Carl’s comment, above.
      For some strange reason I use this more on the other side of the equation, e.g., when someone is frustrating me by going slowly, or switching into my lane without checking their blindspot. I think of my mom, aunts and uncles, and the other octogenarians and assume that whoever it is, is doing their best.
      I’m going to see the difference when it’s someone who’s frustrated me. I wonder if the character of emotion, and the ability to release the replay button will be the same?

  • Good morning Dan,

    I believe that we all, intro or extroverts, have that replay button in our brains that gets stuck from time to time! It’s difficult not to want to reprocess an incident, comment or situation that after the fact we wish we would have handled differently. I suppose I just chalk that up to caring human nature and the desire and ability to learn from within ourselves and draw upon such experiences for future reference. Over the years I have learned to allow myself to replay incidents three times and let them go. That has taken a great deal of conscience effort on my part and while it doesn’t always hold true, most times I can let it go. I agree that life is too short to dwell on things that you can’t change and I am making every effort daily to enjoy my time and be my best me.

    • Patricia,
      How interesting – 3 times and done. It would be interesting to have a detached counter – like a baseball umpire uses to keep balls and strikes – and see how often you stop at 3. I think I’d probably not get to 3 strikes, because I’d keep fouling off the replays my mind offer!

  • Two things struck me about your article: 1) that you usually wouldn’t have shared your feelings with your children. Why do we do that? My daughter (20 yrs old) said to me last week after I whined about having to go to a late meeting “I’ve NEVER heard you complain about having to do something you didn’t want to!” I had to laugh; as I complain all the time in my head. She actually felt relieved because she felt inadequate for not WANTING to do all the things she is responsible to do. I bet your girls will remember the conversation for a long time. Good for you.

    2) I re-play conversations all the time; confrontational or not. It’s in my nature to not want to hurt people. I re-play to see if I could have been more sensitive, or stronger, or softer, or how the conversation could have been more productive. I think this is my way of owning my mistakes and allowing myself to make them. At least I know I’ll take a look and try to do better next time.

  • Interesting topic. I’m a clinical social worker practicing psychology. What your describing in this event, and all the thoughts that were triggered by it, is just an example of a healthy mind doing what a healthy mind does. Our mind is an amazing machine which is continually analyzing, evaluating, planning, predicting, doubting, judging, what-if-ing. These are healthy functions that assisted you in operating the vehicle that day and manuevering the vehicle out of a jam and in the direction you wanted to go. Just doing a task. However, our mind doesn’t just focus on tasks, it is forever commenting on how we do a task; again, analyzing, evaluating, doubting…etc. Our mind will comment in the form of words, images, sounds. And we can pretty much guarantee it will continue to do this. When we try to stop having these thoughts or try to debate these thoughts, w/ “positive” thoughts, we may get some short term relief, yet all we appear to be doing in the long run is getting caught up in “thinking” thoughts. A quick way to deal with this is to practice noticing thoughts and, instead of spending time buying into our minds’ debate or story telling about what happened, notice our minds storytelling…”ah, there’s thought” or “ah, there’s my mind storytelling about what happened”. when we do this we can step back from our thoughts about things and instead have the opportunity to decide how our behavior was in line (or out of line) w/ our values when driving, dealing w/ other drivers. Practicing this regularly, can also assist us in future events..”if I respond in this manner, is this fitting in w/ my values. These skills can really assist us as leaders in being less reactive, more responsive in valued based ways. BTW-to learn more…check out “Get Out of Your Mind, and Into Your Life” by Steven Hayes, PhD. Hope this is helpful!

    • Julie,
      Good reminder/instruction.
      Perhaps the most important word in your comment is “practice.” I experience the fight-flight mechanism like a wild animal. It’s easy to be “aware” and “notice thoughts” when things are placid, but when the wild animal enters the car (of your mind) it’s altogether different.
      The strategy you suggest is proven; the practice makes or breaks it.

  • Dan, humans have to release tension, its a natural thing. Like a release valve on a hot water tank, if the pressure is too strong, the valve opens…. I think the guy was releasing his frustration because he was stuck in a traffic jam for 30 minutes too and your bad driving was the release he needed to open his valve. Good leaders understand that more is under the water line than what can be seen above and you guys, (all 3 in the car) have live a special life for 8 years and perhaps the thought of someone calling you an #*@*hole got to you more than you think because of some other underlining issues. If 10 other people in that line would have done what you did in your car, there would have been gridlock for hours and perhaps civil unrest …. I say its better to understand that its better to give a peace sign and maintain a positive attitude than to dwell on a bad action compounded by another equally bad reaction.

    • RAD-
      Love the “release valve” idea. And I agree “it’s better to understand.” You and Carl are on to something positive.
      Will try it next time (I act like an a–hole and write my own rules). I’ll be watching how my amygdala – the fight or flight brain – engages with this transcendent forgiving self!

      • And that is what leadership is really about, reflecting and growing from the experience. I always appreciate your inviting diversity into the conversation. Thanks Dan, I will have to apply this when I am driving with my kids too!

  • Dan,
    I am definitely an introvert. However, I have learned over the years that there are people that give themselves the right to express their emotions easier than others. Additionally, there are hundreds of factors that are at work in people’s lives that I am not aware about. I have decided to live my life in a manner in which I will not judge those folks without knowledge of their situation. If you had the opportunity to talk to that man who yelled at you, you would have found that he was in one of these states of mind: generally legalistic, generally pessimistic or generally frustrated. How he got there, I don’t know. But he yelled at you because you were doing something he didn’t or couldn’t give himself the right to do. And there you were, blazing your own trail! That’s why bosses do it to subordinates at work and that’s why parents and siblings do it at home. “Hey, you can’t do that, it’s against MY beliefs!” WRONG… If it works for you (and you’re getting the job done or it’s not hurting anyone) then we should encourage the freedom to be yourself. Or “lead with your best self” as you always say. Thanks for your posts Dan and God bless.

    • Carl,
      Thanks for posting. I’m curious and enthused about this theme that is emerging, which is focused on how you and other show compassion towards the angry other and – bonus! – find your own release in that outward movement.
      I think your speculation about his likely mindset is spot-on. I also think your pointing to this fear-mindedness and how it turns into a strict rule-consciousness is fascinating.
      Thanks for sharing.
      Reading for Leading is clearly its “best self” when thoughtful people weigh in as they have this monring.

  • I am not sure if an introvert is more likley to dwell on attacks made against them, compared to an extrovert. Commonly it seems people think that letting it all out gets you over, or past the mental upset, but I am not sure that is true.

    An attack made by someone who knows you is different from a stranger, and also the relationship and situtation is important. If the attack involves something that is a lasting issue, then we are more likely to dwell on it, as the issue repeats itself in our lives. Maybe the extrovert is better at communicating their situation to the attacker, and so an attacker may correct themselves out of compassion and common sense, or for a few attackers, they may have found that they had accomplished their gol of upsetting you, and plot another attack. So much of this is fact specific, and dependnet on the individuals involved.

    The introvert may, by reacting less, or not reacting get a different follow-up from the attacker.
    How we react to attacks is critical to success in many situations.

  • I think it’s natural to replay incidents and wonder if you would do the same thing again or respond differently. In our family we do just as you’ve done here. We talk about it and joke about it all day long if it’s funny enough. There are even “code” secrets that have come out of it (lol). I think it’s also very natural to respond to being attacked. Providing you are not angry at everyone who crosses your path, anger is a natural reaction. It does allow you to know when you’re not being treated properly. As someone else stated, there may be other reasons for frustration as well. The reality is no one wants to have negative experiences when driving. There are those situations that happen purely by accident and others that don’t. It’s the ones that don’t that are disheartening. Try getting in an accident and the person is looking the other way while driving. And then remarks I didn’t see you “you don’t say”. Not enough time to tell the whole story but don’t think I was not “Hot”. Sometimes I do I have to repent for my thoughts. But you get over it and honestly, some situations have made me more cognizant of other relevant issues. Of course that’s not always the scenario for angry encounters during the car ride.
    My experience with introverts (I have one in my family) is interesting. My take, even in re-treat they are not at a loss of words for defending themselves verbally. That’s pretty much “not” the case for anyone in my family except maybe one. The importance of trying to understand introverts or extroverts is about how you handle them and why they respond as they do. At the end of the day, it all boils down to this; I don’t want my family life to be a place of “no resolve”. Notice, I didn’t say challenges (that’s inevitable). The leader in me asks “how do we better exist with each other and how do we strengthen and edify our relationships”. Leadership in the home can be a real challenge.
    Thanks for asking the question Dan.

    As a side note, I may have to put myself on timeout for responding to RFL with such longs posts. My introverted sibling would be pissssssed!!!! Lol, but you didn’t hear it from me.

  • This observation is on the comment of the dark secrets in our family lives. On the point of how to handle a situation in which the ‘fight-flight’ response is influencing how one responds, it is best to make a conscious decision on how to respond and to move on. Easier said than done, you say. I suggest that ‘life is too short’ to wallow in the aftermath…Did I mess up or is the other person to blame? This especially is true in the dark secrets of our families and homes, where spouses or a parent and a child can have a blow up that causes both hard feelings and second guessing. In my own experience, most of the time an honest soul searching reveals whether or not I am the culprit. If it is me, I try to ‘fess up’ and let my wife and adult children know that it’s on me…I am responsible for how I respond in every situation. Then, I ask forgiveness and move on. It really is confessing responsibility, reconciling the situation, and moving on. If in fact the other party is at fault, offering forgiveness is appropriate. All of this is easier said than done, but the result is lifting a burden off oneself or perhaps parking a burden to address another time.

    It is possible to apply a similar approach in the workplace, in responding to a ‘Steve Jobs-like chewing out’ or a blow up. The wallowing and second guessing wears on a person and is unproductive, no matter if the chew out or blow up was your own fault. We do control our responses.

    To use the Mulhern phrase, taking responsibility for how we respond to these situations and moving on really is “leading with your best self”.

  • I don’t cast stones, as at one point in my life, I could have been the ‘yeller’. Now, I deflect, reflect, assess, and continue on my way…..praying for internal peace for the aggrieved, myself, and the entire world!!

  • I guess I consider myself an extrovert in most situations. I have learned to avoid the replaying by employing understanding and forgiveness. I do admit that my first reaction might be a negative thought or comment, but then I try to understand the other person’s point of view. Using your traffic situation, that guy was just as frustrated as you with negotiating heavy traffic. I know I feel nervous and worried when I negotiate traffic at someplace like an airport. So understanding my feelings helps me relate to his. Then I practice forgiveness. I may not agree with his expression of frustration, but I understand so I can let it go.

    As a union leader for many years, I had to have a lot of understanding when people were frustrated about issues that were important to them. I often had to endure raised voices and referee arguments, but with the ability to understand and re-frame the problem/s I could assist others in reaching understanding (not always agreement). Then, by taking the time to understand I could come to forgiveness of the person. This sounds simplistic and often I have to replay a few times to get to understanding, but getting to forgiveness it helps me to let it go.

    The bottom line for me is that I have too many important things to do and consider than to allow myself get bogged down in self-doubt.

  • Stupid question: how do you know if you are an introvert or extrovert? Others say I’m a “people person,” yet I’m much more comfortable by myself.

    • Hi MT. Do you tend to gravitate toward being in a crowd or being by youself? Do you reach out for help when you need it or hunker down? Given the opportunity, would you rather position youself to be the front person or work behind the scenes? Do you tend to speak your mind most of the time or are you a bit more pensive? If you chose the first of the two options listed, then you are probably more extroverted and introverted – and of course, vise versa if you chose the second of the two.

      It really doesn’t matter how others perceive you. Folks say I am a people person too. But, that’s only because I have learned to adapt to different situations. Probably as you have. I’d pick the second of the two options I have listed above all the time. Hope that helps.

    • MT,
      Carl’s given some helpful tips. There is an instrument called the Kiersey Temperament Sorter which is built upon the same foundation as the Myers-Briggs Instrument. You can take an online version of the “test” at http://www.keirsey.com. And there you can read much more about introversion/extraversion as well as other aspects of “type.”

  • We have been given a gift to dissipate negativity thru prayer — I AM an instrument of God invoking the full power of the Violet Flame to transmute the cause,core, effect, record and memory from any timeframe or dimension of any misqualified energy (negative energy) in
    my forecefield. I call upon the Godselves of all involved in the misqualified energies to take full dominion of those lives NOW. I know my continuous positive approach will change the course of history and the direction of the world.

  • Dan,

    I’m reading the same book right now and wondered if you had picked it up yet. I’m learning so much about myself, being validated about my feelings and how I have always conducted myself and learning how better to harness the strengths that can come with being a thoughtful introvert.

    Of course, as a total introvert I replay these kinds of events in my mind all the time. I have events from my childhood that I recall replaying the conflict. But as one reader referenced earlier, as an adult, it’s much easier to understand that when somebody hurls something at you, frequently there is an explanation coming from their side. And as introverts, I sometimes think we are more in tune to what some of those explanations might be.

    The book is certainly an interesting read for me.


  • WOW, the timing of this article was perfect for me. I have to remind myself to “be careful of self-talk”. I have accomplished many things and am a competent, skilled and knowledgeable member of the team. If I start believing all the negative comments, criticisms, put-downs and the coulda, woulda and shoulda’s, I am heading down the wrong road. I am impeccable with my word, I don’t take anything personally, I don’t make assumptions and I always I do my best. (The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz). Some days this can be very difficult but I keep on keeping on.
    I am going to adopt the 5:1 positive:negative ratio. This new tack will be great for my self talk.
    Thanks Dan for the great weekly articles on leadership.

  • dan

    I expect to come across people and situations like this and do not take it personal. I generally feel thankful that I am not that person and feel good if I can just let it go.The more challenging it is, the better I feel if I can not let it get to me. I don’t feel a need to respond and if I I am with one of my kids I like to have a conversation and help them anticipate such things and get their thoughts and response. I do not expect them to be the same as mine. Thanks Dan for the thoughts and inspirations, gotta run.

  • Dan,

    I would ask myself two questions. Was my driving in fact legal? Was this dangerous to my passengers. finally, if this has no impact on my future, let go. Anger only hurts the person from where it’s coming. Take Care, Keith

  • I am a flaming extrovert (ENFP per the Meyers-Briggs) and I continually replay scenarios such as the one you described. Although extroverted, I can be extremely sensitive. I usually wonder what I did to set off the incendiary attack.

    Your comment about an individual misdirecting anger at someone who didn’t deserve it was spot on, as Jen would say. I admit to having blown up at others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; that is, near me while I was in the clutches of frustration.

    I have a bad habit of lugging home negative baggage from work and unpacking it on my teenaged son. One way I leave work problems at work is to build in a buffer between work and home so I can change gears and successfully transition to a more positive parenting role.

    In order to interfere with the replay loop, it sometimes works to visualize a stop sign. While I think it’s good to be reflective of our actions, I also feel it’s important to stop questioning our role in an incident when it becomes clear that the other person was out of control. Just as no one deserves to be physically abused, no one deserves the emotional abuse sometimes heaped upon us as unsuspecting victims.

    True leaders create a culture of trust and the strongest leaders are those who are humble enough to admit when they’ve made a mistake, especially when they have vented their frustration on someone who happened to be an innocent bystander. When a leader (in the workplace or at home) apologizes for crossing a boundary and asks for forgiveness, s/he models reconciliation. That healing process makes it possible to mend relationships and continue on toward a mutal goal.

  • Wow, information overload, Dan! So many questions. My answers:

    1. Introversion is a choice, not a character flaw. It’s one way of interacting with the world and some of us extroverts have reason to admire an introverted approach.

    2. Were you depending on the kindness of others to do what you wanted to do? Is that a good idea? Did you make that choice because you were late, failed to plan on traffic? What part of the conflict can you take responsibility for? I’m just askin’…

    3. People are more likely to blow up at strangers. It’s too bad that we have lost a sense of community, where we know those we deal with. In our highly-mobile society, we interact with many people we do not feel connected to and may never meet again. It’s the reason people feel free to blow up. Chances are, they wouldn’t do it to someone they know well and feel connected to.

    4. Do you know that trucking schools TEACH semi drivers to TAKE the right-of-way? The philosophy is that any sensible driver will give it to them rather than risk being creamed by several tons of moving cargo. Be aware of this!

    5. Is it the amygdala or the reticular activating system? Or both? Is there a psychologist in the house?

    6. Yes, it’s good to be emotionally honest with our children. It’s how they learn that we are emotional beings, too, and maybe learn ways to handle emotions.

    7. We replay things in our head because we have leftover emotions from unresolved conflict, so our brains try to process the emotions away, rationalize them, but the emotions are there because the conflict needs to be resolved in order for the emotion to dissipate. Here’s some distilled wisdom on that subject from a variety of sources that I have found helpful:

    How to Not Take Things Personally

    Ask yourself “What am I afraid of?”
    A lot of times, especially when we get self-righteously angry about some injustice, it’s because of some old baggage from the past, a time when we were hurt or wounded because someone acted like we were incompetent or stupid, or maybe they ignored us or exclude us. We haven’t really resolved our feelings about that old hurt, so those feelings are coming out now, in a totally new situation, with totally different people.
    …so maybe it’s about you, not about them…


    Consider the possibility that something else is going on:
    …they’re having a bad day.
    …they’re worried about something major going on in their private lives, so they were distracted and didn’t mean anything by it.
    …somebody dissed them at some point in the past and they’re getting back at you for it because you’re available and they can’t get back at the other person because the other person could fire them, or the other person moved away or died or something but they’re still angry and hurt about it. Sure, it’s not fair, but it happens.
    …so it’s not about you, it’s about them.

    It could be both, of course, but we know we can’t change other people, so what are we going to do about it? Here are some ideas:
    …take a deep breath, chill, and when you can respond calmly, in order to find out what’s really going on, say:
    “THERE MUST BE A REASON WHY YOU DID THIS (treated me unkindly, changed the rules, punished me for doing what you told me to do, etc.). MAY I ASK WHAT IT IS?”
    …After they’ve responded, or even if they don’t, use this formula in hopes that they won’t do it again and again, assuming you won’t mind:
    “WHEN YOU (act like this–and keep it factual not judgmental, like what a camera or tape recorder could document)…”
    “HERE’S HOW I RESPOND… (It makes me angry and hurt and frustrated and it makes me want to slug someone or do the exact opposite of what you want, just to show that I have very strong feelings when something like this happens.)”
    “SO IN THE FUTURE, PLEASE… (list a specific action, like “Don’t tell me one thing and then punish me for doing it” or “Involve me in a decision that affects me.” “Tell me when you’ve changed the rules about how things happen around here.”)”

    Like, maybe we all need to take a course in confllict resolution–introverts or not.

    8. Is it a good idea to forgive someone who’s failed to take responsibiltiy for their anti-social actions. In my case, if some high-minded person told me they’d forgiven me without having the courtesy to give me a clue what in the heck I did to need forgiveness, I would feel utterly blindsided.

    How about deep, authentic honesty, courteously phrased, as a leadership quality to emulate?

    9. Some managers are leaders. Some are just managers. Two different skills sets as evidenced in _The One Thing You Need to Know …About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success_ by Marcus Buckingham.

    • Active Advocate,
      Wow! That’s a lot.
      Personally, I love # 7, especially the part about others’ “attacks” hitting old wounds and fearful thoughts.
      I suspect in my little example the man’s outrage was reactivating the little boy who tried to obey all the rules (and was punished when he didn’t), the little boy who didn’t want to be stared at by the whole room when he did something wrong, and the deep and ancient male who has been hard-wired to fight or flee when attacked.
      Fear implicated in all of them.
      The other thing I love love love about your comment is this line:
      “How about deep, authentic, honesty, courteously phrased, as a leadership quality to emulate?”
      Honesty is the #1 quality people say they want in a leader they will willingly follow.
      And by the way, you consistently model this in your posts, IMHO.
      Thanks for your reflections.

  • I have replays of the things that have been done to me for years, being treated like garbage by one of my bosses, by the police and by family. They’ve lied on me and even abused me that I never could get over any of it because of not ever getting justice, justice for like the police brutality even though some times I almost died. They then refused me medical treatment for noone will know about the abuse. They then put false charges on me to keep me in jail for as long as they could. You get bonded out then days later you go to court they’ll put you back in jail with a higher bond until you plea guilty for something you didn’t do. The higher bond would be as much as $100,000 for even a misdeamnor with violates my 8th admendment rights. Then one day I realized that I was getting too old that I better have that baby I always wanted before it was too late. I had one that fast then and I also was finally not having anymore replays of what was done including the false charges and beatings by the police. None of that mattered any more. I finally had someone that I loved and who will love me back. I did everything right and was the perfect mother. When my mom died I decided to take my baby away from the city where I had to suffer and noone would ever help me. My mom would bond me out but that’s all she could do. I moved to the country figuring it was going to be better and it was at first until my son was hit by a teenager on the school bus 2 1/2 years later when Noah was 6. He was afraid to ride the bus and I was afraid for Noah as well. When I was 6 or 7 a 6 year old purposely broke my nose with a baseball bat. I legally started to homeschool Noah while the school was trying to find safer transportation for Noah. That didn’t happen too soon because the state said I was crazy for worrying about my son. So now for the 2 1/2 years I have been seeing Noah once or twice a week while he stays with people. The state wants to terminate my parental rights pretending that I’m neglectful and dangerous to my son. My son never missed school since he was 2 years old, he was up to date with his shots and the dentist. I always took Noah to speech therapist and always to the hearing specialist because of his speech. I also took Noah always to Children’s Hospital for his legs that was growing crooked and they was constanstly checking to see if his legs was getting straight again or will they need to do surgery. I also took him for surgery because of his privates needed to be corrected. Noah always had food and clothing and most of all I always loved my son but according to the state I’m neglectful to my son. The state worker made it clear that she don’t like single parents and my false police record they brung up. The state workers have endangered my son’s life many times and nobody will listen to me when I told anybody and everybody, just like when the police was doing what they were doing noone would listen. Noah made a wish on his birthday for him to come home, he thinks that his wish didn’t come true because he told me. Noah said that on his next birthday he will make the wish again but for me to forget about what he wish for for his wish would come true. Noah has no idea that he won’t be seeing me again after this Mother’s Day. How do I tell my son that he will never see me again? How do I go through the rest of my life replaying the life I use to have with my son? The child I wanted for years to love will soon be history. I cried when Noah was going into surgery thinking that I was going to loose my dream baby. The things the police have done to me is nothing compared to loosing my child. What was done to me back in the 90’s I would rather go through all of that again than to loose my perfect child, the boy I always treasured. I never found it hard to be a single parent, I enjoyed it but the state worker is trying to say that it’s hard to be a single parent that Noah needs to be with a 2 parent family. Try replaying that for the rest of your life your precious child’s kidnapping. Sorry if this went through twice because I think that I hit submit by accident. Sorry for it being so long but you know me, you take care, Dan

    • Pat,
      Thanks for sharing your difficult story.
      It sounds tortuous to be away from Noah.
      You are and will remain the most important model for him. Don’t forget that.
      Love is an awful lot like leadership.
      And “modeling the way” may be the most important thing we can do as leaders and parents.
      So, your commitment and ability to keep moving forward, to fight to change what you can and adapt to the rest, is the most important thing you can do for – or show to – Noah. Life is making you have to demonstrate perseverance, patience, adaptation. Aren’t these all things that Noah will need?
      Keep leading with your best Pat,

  • I think leadership at home definitely affects the scenario you describe because our home life shapes the way we see ourselves and also models behavior that may help us to process those instinctive reactions faster. Mixed in with that fight-or-flight rush you describe would be my toxic conditioning that imperfect behavior is cause for shame, soon to be followed by the overdeveloped sense of injustice (a byproduct of the shame model) should I decide that I am blameless. And because I would have to determine my fault in the matter before I could proceed to that latter, equally hot-cheeked indignation, yes I would suffer the questioning and doubt, and over matters far more trivial than how I drive. I have to think better leadership at home could have changed this, since the alternative is to think I was born this way.

    It is actually this issue, however, that makes me feel less extroverted than others seem to think I am, because my impression is that people more extroverted by nature don’t seem to dwell upon imperfections in anyone’s conduct. Those of us overcoming our introversion in order to be more involved in humanity do seem to get plenty of fuel for our tendency to brood, and perhaps we just have to put up with it and hope that it makes us deeper rather than just more insufferable.

  • Sam, IMHO, it’s easy but useless to fix blame on parental failures because 1) we can’t change the past and 2) as far as I know, all of us have been raised by imperfect parents (unless you’re Catholic and believe that Jesus’ parents were God and a sinless woman). In other words, we might as well figure things out for ourselves if our parents didn’t have the resources to give us more effective tools.

    My parents coped with the stressors of life by drinking a lot of alcohol, which caused other stressors for us, their children. I could see the very negative effects that had, so I choose to cope in other ways (hopefully, more helpful). We can all make different choices. We can all change our behavior… or so I believe or I wouldn’t be worth one red cent as a human services professional.

    You mention an overdeveloped sense of injustice as a defensive mechanism after a perceived threat of rejection (shame over less than perfect behavior), justifying one’s behavior. Great insight!

    Maybe most of us do our best, day to day, but some days, our best isn’t nearly good enough because we skipped breakfast, didn’t get enough sleep, whatever. Still, if it’s our best, what’s there to be ashamed about? As you imply, maybe people need to cut us a little slack when we fail to meet their expectations to the nth degree simply because we’re human, and “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” People fail to be perfect all the time.

    What you describe as “better leadership at home,” I read as “occasional messages to affirm my sense of self-worth.” Like, reassurances that even if as a kid, I screwed up, my parents know I’m still a good kid, or that I tried, or whatever, and would make clear to me that I am not destined to be a total lifelong failure because I failed to dust my room this week or whatever. Kids take things so seriously and some parents are overzealous in their efforts to instill an excellent work ethic or manners or whatever IMHO.

    Interesting insight, your interpretation that us extroverts seem to simply shrug things off while an introvert may have a stronger tendency to brood about glitches in behavior and possible rejection for imperfect behavior. You may be right! I remember an interesting story about a counselor whose client continued to worry about what people thought of him and then finally (so the story goes) when they passed on, St. Peter showed him that people weren’t thinking of him at all! They were thinking about themselves!!!

    This may sound rather arrogant, but I can tell you that in my case, I used to worry what people think and so I’d change my behavior to be funny to my friends and be pious when around the religious sisters who taught us in elementary school, and be a diligent student while at college and someone else altogether when I was at my part-time job. It became rather stressful when friends from school met people I knew from church or the office. Like, who was I? The punster or the pray-er or the bookworm or someone else altogether? I finally decided it took too much energy to be a people pleaser. In my case, better to just be myself (whoever that might be on any given day), just doing my best. Then, if people rejected me, I *could* shrug it off. Like, their loss! I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent and hey! I can’t be friends with everyone anyway. I also surely canNOT be perfect 24/7 (at least so far) but I still have a right to live and say what I think, at least in the USA, thank goodness.

    I agree that there are so many opportunities in a day and in a life to feel wounded by someone else’s lack of consideration. Maybe we need to cut them a little snack. Maybe if we had gone through what they are going through (suddenly divorced, diagnosed with a terminal condition, facing challenges of returning to society after a time away in jail or prison or a nursing home or a trip to some other continent, just moved here and trying to figure things out, etc., then maybe we wouldn’t be coping as well as they do. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time.

    I used to be a perfectionist, but now I’m in recovery.

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