I knew of a gentleman, an old friend, he is deceased now. Years ago, before he passed away, he was well known between circles as being obnoxious and aggressive. Then there was an incident in which he and I received unfair treatment from a professor. As I engaged the professor to engage to rectify the situation, I noticed that my friend was unusually quiet. As the disagreement between the professor and I intensified, my friend became even more uncharacteristically meek.
In the years that followed, I have seen this phenomenon repeat itself several times with different people. Heck, it appears that the more boisterous they present themselves, the more likely they are to respond passively during a serious conflict.
Now why is this?
With clients, I have worked with over the years, who display this phenomenon, one thing they all have in common is an emotionally abusive and sometimes physically abusive past. This is not to imply that anyone who experiences an abusive past will grow up to be pretentious, but those who are pretentious about being tough, almost certainly do have an abusive past. The reason for this behavior is due to the manner the person learned to interpret conflicts as a child. Specifically, for those who engage in pretentious behavior, these people came to the unfortunate conclusion that they were ill equipped to cope with conflicts. Thus, the obnoxious and aggressive behavior is an adaptation to ward off would be bullies and abusers.
This technique may have served its purpose during their childhood, however in adulthood, they run into the inevitable of having to deal with people intent on provoking conflicts with them and others. The problem with people who are pretentious in regards to the attitude they put on, is that in their private lives they habitually run away from conflicts. Examples of issues they deal with are, failure to stand up for themselves, on the job, in their personal lives and failure to protect their children from abusive situations.
I once witnessed a father threaten his daughter, after she confronted him for not protecting her from an abusive situation during her adolescent years. It is interesting that he felt comfortable with saying the things he said to her, even though he never addressed the poor treatment his daughter received with her aggressors. In truth, he lashed out the way he did, because he was ashamed and it was too painful for him to hear about how he had failed his daughter.
The good news, is that there a solution towards becoming more courageous and it has nothing to do with putting on an aggressive act. The solutions are a three-step method and is as follows:
- Calmly address the offending behavior by the other party.
- Listen carefully for a possible explanation, or a refusal to explain.
- Calmly state what actions you are going to take if the behavior continues.
In this video, I demonstrate with a colleague how to use verbal judo, in which I carefully integrate the three steps.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and that’s because issues of incompetency highlighted by feelings of intense fear will come up for some people who use this technique. A solution to this would be practice beforehand with a situation that you just experienced.
For example, let’s say you experienced a conflict with a supervisor, where you became tongue tied due to a fear of being let go. Write out the incident as it happened and document your feelings every step of the way. The goal for this exercise is to document how you reacted to each feeling and then document how you would have preferred to have responded to the feelings. Finally, you are going to practice visualizing yourself giving your preferred response to each feeling.
You should practice exercise at least once a day, to trigger the process of neuroplasticity. For best results, I would suggest working one on one with a cognitive behavioral therapy.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and consultant.