~ Alfred Sheinwold
We all know that paranoid person in the office or some other social environment. The one who acts out of fear, the one that reminds us of Tom Smykowski from Office Space running across the corporate landscape between the building and coffee restaurant warning his officemates that the company has hired consultants. The truth is that we all act out of fear at times, but the person who displays habitual response to perceived fears creates a lot of problems for themselves. And we see it obviously in others!
I recently read something that made me realize I needed to learn the lessons from other people like this. Then I realized perhaps I was “other people.” Maybe I am not as bad as the personalized examples I think of when conjuring a mental list of people who act out of fear, but I have come to discover that there are areas in my life where I have been acting out of fear more so than I would like to believe.
I am reactive to judgments(or what I perceive as judgment) from those close to me, my wife, my daughter, other family members. I worry about my daughter having a preference for her mother over me. I find myself rising to frustration or even yelling at times. What I have discovered is this is my fear-response – and I didn’t even know it. A truly assertive person acts rather than reacts. So, when I find myself reacting, I must ask myself honestly where is the fear? What is my insecurity? Because most likely, the problem is actually mine and not the other person.
So part of my self-lesson here is that to be a more assertive, self-actualized person, I need to control my responses to fear better and to stop reacting like an unthinking animal. However, there is another point that brought all this home to me. What I recently read was that when someone yells or becomes angry, this is a sign of weakness and a message they are not truly in control. I think we all kind of know that, but the subtle thing I have missed in all the years of knowing this self-improvement cliché is what happens on the other side when giving this sign or message.
Long ago, I talked about being a wounded berry. I learned not to belly-ache in public, not to air my dirty laundry, especially when it comes to my romantic relationships because it makes me less attractive. No one picks the bruised fruit in the produce aisle. The message I send will elicit a response. Stopping that bad habit served me quite well, by the way – but I digress.
The same is true when I yell or become angry. I send a message, and it signals others to respond. Now some will handle my signal of weakness more gracefully than others, but many will feel their predator instinct kick in and pounce, tearing me to shreds – although I may not realize I’ve been ripped until much later.
So maintaining my calm rather than reacting fearfully is important for two reasons. First, because it is a more productive way to resolve the issue. But secondly, because sending the message that I am weak, especially if my role is one of authority, compounds the problem exponentially.