It catches you off-guard, that moment when a friend, colleague or loved one unleashes a tirade, blaming and shaming you for anything – perhaps even everything – going wrong in his or her life. Quite understandably you feel ambushed, set upon most unpleasantly for something you might or might not have done.
How you handle this verbal attack is what determines whether the situation is quickly defused and a more civil atmosphere re-established, or whether it devolves into a terrible scene of recriminations that can mar the relationship for a long time.
Do you find yourself:
• Getting rattled and meekly giving in to any demands the person makes of you?
• Trying to defend your position, explaining your side of the matter?
• Becoming equally aggressive and letting loose a blame-and-shame dose of your own?
• Clamming up and withdrawing into yourself, feeling like an undeserving victim?
• Feeling the tirade is a personal and judgmental attack, taking a severe blow to your self-esteem?
Caught in such a disagreeable bind, you naturally feel confused, hurt, angry and victimized. You might blame the person attacking you emotionally for all you’re feeling, but actually it could be stemming from your own act of self-abandonment. Being calm and loyal to yourself can make surviving a blame-and-shame episode like this easier to survive. It isn’t easy taking the high road, but doing so can smooth things over much faster.
Here are seven simple things you can do to regain control when you find yourself at the receiving end of a blame-and-shame bout.
1. Politely disengage:
Step away to collect your thoughts and come back when you’re confident you can address the situation calmly. The party responsible is so blind with rage when indulging in an emotional attack of this kind that he or she is unable to engage in constructive conversation. When you step away, it also gives them time to calm down. On your return, you can initiate a worthwhile exchange of thoughts and feelings. This disengagement shouldn’t be mistaken for emotional withdrawal, which generally involves closing your heart and punishing the other person by withholding your affection and understanding.
2. Be generous to yourself and honestly acknowledge the hurt you are experiencing.
Do so being compassionate to yourself, but do not indulge in self-pity.
3. Understand that the other person is responsible for this distressing episode by losing a grip on their temper.
Recognize that no matter what caused the outburst, you do not deserve being blamed-and-shamed. There are more mature ways of addressing problems.
4. Explore whether the experience has triggered long-buried hurts from similar situations in the past, perhaps in your childhood.
Treat these memories with kindness. The most effective way to relieve old pain is to revisit it with compassion and objectivity.
5. Examine if the person responsible is battling challenges of his or her own.
Are they having a bad day? Could exhaustion or personal problems have clouded their judgment and made them lose control? Finding empathy for them could help you decide not to take the attack personally.
6. If you’re still struggling, do something to distract yourself and bring you peace.
Call a friend, take a walk, meditate or indulge in a hobby. Do something you know will restore your emotional equilibrium.
7. When you are both sufficiently composed, talk things over calmly.
Take it as a mutual learning experience. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth to what the other person is saying, just that the message was delivered in the worst way possible. And you might also help the other person understand themselves better and work on their own issues.
When the process is complete, one of two things might happen. You might find there wasn’t really an issue, just an angry outburst flowing out of general frustrations. When you establish this, you can both move on. Or you might identify a real problem and work together constructively to resolve it. Coping maturely always ends in a win-win.