Fear of rejection, people pleasing, and the impact on work

While it is understandable to want to avoid rejection, red flags should go up if you feel an intense need to put other people’s needs before your own. People pleasers who are compulsive will go to great measures to win people over and are a good example. Their desire for stability overrides their ambitions and impulses due to their dependent mentality, and the way they present themselves mirrors how they think other people want them to be rather than who they really are. They typically have a long history of employment, are intelligent, effective team members, and considerate of others’ needs. They serve as the leader’s followers, the creatives’ audience, and the problematic co-worker’s listening ear.

They seldom ever argue with co-workers and, in many respects, serve as the foundation of organizations. Their emotional antennae are tipped more outward than within, though. They are less aware of their own internal environments when they are tuning into other people. They repress their feelings and beliefs, lose track of their goals, and—most concerningly—disconnect from who they really are.

While their co-workers gain from their generosity, they ultimately lose out because they are unable to reach their full potential or experience the fulfillment that comes from a job well-lived.

They stop thinking for themselves and start relying on their supervisors and co-workers to make decisions and even think for them. Companies lose out on their distinctive talents despite benefiting from their persistent, cooperative work. In this way, the cycle of gratification and dependence picks up speed.

Thoughts lack energy when they are not expressed verbally, which inhibits change and development. To break out of this pattern, motivation is essential. Internal conflict develops when the need to please conflicts with one’s goals. Although this tension is unpleasant, it can inspire the will for change.

If one is willing to confront and resolve these tensions and ambiguities, one can progress personally and professionally. Santosh, a 35-year-old unmarried man who worked in digital marketing, experienced this. His wit and charm provided the ideal cover for his deeper fears, which were nevertheless very close to the surface.

He had to deal with the tension between trying to please people and succeeding because of a promotion. Throughout my whole life, I’ve used pleasing others as a means of preventing rejection. This helped him in his early jobs, but when he was elevated to a leadership position, his fear of being rejected made it difficult for him to make difficult decisions and have uncomfortable conversations.

I was curious to learn more about his predicament. Can you describe how your worries affect how well you function at work? He stated, “It’s inhibiting because the choices you make are layered with lots of considerations about how the other person might feel, or react, or how they might be inspired to speak against you, or how they might recruit others against you.” To make up for it, you either soften what you’re going to say or disguise your own intentions so as not to offend them. That implies that you are less effective and productive. I keep my mouth shut if there is even the slightest potential that they might be upset. You don’t want to take the chance of offending someone since they might leave or convince others to leave as well.

You’re not being honest if you’re worried about whether they’ll think poorly of you. As a result, you feel awful about yourself and they think you should be communicating with them directly. The fact that he was always expecting the next threat because of his hypervigilant state of mind was undoubtedly concerning.

 “Staying on high alert often puts you on the verge of an anxiety attack, and your irrational concerns about others mean you betray yourself,” I advised him. He replied, “If you take people on, then you’re making enemies.” You figure out a means to avoid doing this by attempting to boost other people’s self-esteem. You repress your own personality at the same time. Everything is premeditated; it’s a performance. This is what makes it exhausting because you’re trying to project an image that will prevent rejection.

I told him that despite his new, higher-ranking position, he continued to feel that others—whether subordinates, colleagues, or clients—held sway because they had the authority to reject him. His self-confidence suffered as a result, and he forced himself to work harder to prove his value, but the long hours were making him burn out. He was prone to misinterpret circumstances, seeing risks where none existed, or get distracted so much that he overlooked a real threat.

He acknowledged, “I’ve either not taken something seriously when I should have, or I’ve been prepared for a fight when I simply misread the signs.”

His apparent compassion for other people was actually a coping mechanism for deeper emotional traumas from his early years.

In reality, trauma is an emotional and physical reaction to any traumatic incident. By numbing intense emotions like sadness, helplessness, or fury, the mind hurries to shield the person from overpowering emotions. However, these encounters leave a lasting impression on the way we think, relate to others, control our emotions, and process our experiences by leaving traces in our memories, emotions, unconscious, and even in our bodies.

This includes how we perceive things and respond at work.

This was the situation with Santosh, who was born following his mother’s miscarriage of two previous children, and who grew up to be the center of attention for his mother and everyone else at home.  He realized as he got older that people did not adore him as much as they had when he was younger.  Contrary to what he had come to believe, the world was very different.  As a result, he developed a strong desire to win people over so that he could receive their full attention.  He eventually developed an obsessive need to appease others.

Alas! It was starting to take a toll on him.


  1. Do you often compromise your own goals and agendas in order to not offend others?
  • How has ‘people pleasing’ affected your role as a leader or when you grew into a leadership role, both at home and in office?

Ding-dong bell, Donkey in the Well

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One can’t get rid of difficult people from life.  You keep finding them along the way.  Throughout my consulting career, I have come across many people who ask me how they could deal with a difficult boss, colleague, spouse or family, or even client.  I keep thinking about ways in which you could navigate those difficult phases when you are confronted with difficult people.

As I ponder, I am reminded of the old Buddhist story of the Donkey in the Well.

The donkey in the well.  Dealing with difficult people

It so happened that a Donkey that was happily grazing the fields of his master – a farmer, accidentally fell into an empty Well, that was lying abandoned for a long time.  Fortunately for the Donkey, it didn’t get injured and had only minor bruises.  As he stood at the bottom of the Well, he gathered himself and started braying as loud as he could to get the attention of his master.

After about an hour of relentless braying, the master heard his cries and came looking trying to find from where all these cries were coming.  “There you are, it is you who has been creating such a racket. You deserve this” said the farmer to the donkey.

He was not just a cruel man but was long contemplating how to get rid of the old donkey as he felt he was no longer useful to him.  He found this to be a great opportunity.  In fact, he was also thinking of getting the dry well covered as that was of no use to him as well.

“Why not fill the well with mud, so that I can get rid of both the problems in one go?” thought the farmer.  He started to pour mud and dirt into the well with the idea of burying the donkey alive. 

We mustn’t underestimate the intelligence of the donkey though.  Initially, he was shocked at the way he was being treated by the person whom he served tirelessly for so many years.  He began yelling err.. braying louder and louder pleading with his master to spare him his life.  The farmer however didn’t pay any attention to the donkey and continued pouring mud into the well.

The donkey realizing that all his pleas were to no avail, paused and decided that it is best to deal with the situation by himself.  He gathered himself and the next time the farmer poured some dirt into the well, he calmly stepped aside and stomped his feet on the dirt.  He moved one inch above.  Each time the farmer poured mud into the well, he did the same, moving aside, shaking the dirt off from his body, stomping on it, and gaining about an inch in height.  Eventually, he rose enough to reach the top and jump out of the well.  And yes, before running away, he bit the farmer on his bum, just to remind him about how karma will catch up with him one day and bite him back.

This story spoke to me in many ways and more importantly how we can effectively deal with all the difficult people in our life.  The fact that you will always have someone who is ready to throw some dirt on you and make life difficult for you, it is the way you respond to the situation that matters.

Like the donkey in the story, it is best to shake off the dirt, stomp it under your feet and keep rising above.

And don’t forget that bad karma will eventually catch up with difficult people. 

Difficult people are not just difficult on others, but they are the ones who find it equally difficult to deal with themselves. 

How heavy is your Teacup? – Dealing with difficult people

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Stress could be one of the reasons why people become difficult on themselves and others. When you are stressed at work you carry it back home, give folks at home a very hard time, and then because of that hard time at home you have problems with your family that adds to the stress.  You then carry the stress from home back to work.  I see that people are stressed out even before they begin their day.

This vicious cycle of negativity and stress, so much so, that we really must learn to deal with that problem, whether at home or at work.

Dealing with difficult people - disengage

The old Buddhist story – How heavy is the cup?

The longer you hold it, the heavier it feels. If you keep holding it for five minutes, your arm aches, ten minutes – you will be in great pain, if you keep holding this for half an hour then the pain will be unbearable. What should you do when it starts to get heavy? Put it down for five minutes. Try this at home, pick it up again after say about five minutes and it would seem much lighter. Does that mean its weight has changed?  It’s exactly the same weight – it feels lighter because you disengaged with it for a while.  You took a pause, some rest.

The same is with difficult people. The longer you engage with them the more painful it will be.  The more stressed out you will feel as they become more and more difficult with time.  Like with the teacup, it is best to disengage for a moment – maybe take a 10 min. break or go for a walk.  You will feel a bit lighter when you come back and pick up the conversation again.

You would have experienced this yourselves many times at home or in the office.  When we keep engaging with those who are difficult, it does not just anger you, but you end up feeling a whole lot frustrated.  You may even feel exhausted at the end of such conversations, unable to think clearly.  It affects your judgment, and you tend to get caught in the vicious cycle.

Disengage to re-engage meaningfully – a way to deal with difficult people

What other methods do you adopt while dealing with difficult people at work?

That which ‘troubles’ you is your ‘TEACHER’

One such trouble comes from difficult people.

Difficult people and difficult situations in life are common.  You may not ever find a place where you can hide, run away or escape from difficult people.  They are part of life, and you have to accept that fact.

difficult people

You have to also accept the fact that the difficulty of dealing with difficult people comes from you and the way you react to them.

My dad once told me, if you ever find a difficult person, remember that you have to endure them only for a while, but do you know that they have to live with themselves their whole life.  It would be so difficult and painful.

It was such a wonderful reflection that I realize that when I see difficult people, I know that if they are difficult for me to live with, they are also finding it difficult to live with themselves.  It teaches you a very important lesson – of ‘compassion’.

It started to take away the hurt that I feel and directed my attention to the hurt that they may be living with.  It helps me understand what makes them so difficult for others to deal with.

I also come to realize that if they have been so difficult for you, then they would be having no friends, none they can relate to, as they are difficult characters to live with.  They might be so lonely.

You must realize the fact that difficult people may not be around you for a long time.  What lives with you is your thoughts, feelings, and reactions towards such people.

What lessons have you learned from the difficult people in your life?

Dealing with difficult people

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Dealing with difficult people at work and in life will not be easy if you merely do your own thing with whomever you meet.   It demands ‘‘Different strokes for different folks’’.

I was having a conversation with my friend who is an HR Manager in a global IT organization.  Let’s call her Susan.

Susan had had an excellent working relationship with her supervisor for over three years. Then he was transferred. Susan didn’t hit it off nearly as well with Floyd, her new manager. It wasn’t that Floyd was unreasonable; he was well-liked by the board and his colleagues in the global office.

dealing with difficult people

Susan was puzzled. Why wasn’t she able to work as effectively with Floyd as she had with her earlier supervisor? Susan was a hardworking manager who believed strongly in teamwork, collaboration, and trust.  She made sure her employees felt respected and brought a high level of engagement due to her relational style of leadership.  Her team would stretch the extra mile to help her in achieving the team and business goals.  She operated from a position of ‘trust’ and ‘openness’ that endeared her to her colleagues.

Because Susan valued trust and openness in communication, and herself desisted micro-management,  she filled Floyd in on only those points that she felt needed his attention. Before long, Susan noted that in their weekly meetings Floyd would often tense up and increasingly edgy. When Susan reported on a project, Floyd often asked for more and more details, to the extent that he wanted her to report all the activities and tasks that she did in the last week.   He started passing snide remarks at Susan, that she is not diligent, doesn’t know her priorities, is difficult to work with, and can’t be trusted. 

So much so that he would sit beside her and ask her to show all that she was working on her laptop. Clearly, Floyd was frustrated by something Susan was doing. But what?

At times, Floyd said, ‘‘Just give me all that you have, to the last detail. I like to get a daily report on the task you are working on and send a mail before you close business”

Susan, though, was uncomfortable providing what she thought would be an overload of information that Floyd in his position shouldn’t be bothered with.

So she continued giving only what she felt was necessary. After all, that’s what she would have wanted if she were in Floyd’s shoes. The problem, of course, was that Susan wasn’t in Floyd’s shoes. Floyd was.

And Floyd’s working style was very different from Susan’s. Even when Susan saw that her way of working and reporting was disconcerting to Floyd, she stuck rigidly to her way of interacting.  She hated micro-managing her team members and didn’t expect to be micro-managed.  She felt that employees are mature to understand what they are accountable for and don’t need to be monitored so closely.  She felt that approach was so industrial age.

Because neither person adapted to the other, their working relationship continues to deteriorate.

Obviously, differences between people aren’t the only sources of interpersonal tension. However, they are a major factor in much misunderstanding and conflict. Susan is learning this the hard way. 

Most of us are limited in our ability to relate to another person’s uniqueness

It’s not just our differences, each one of us is unique, from one another in so many different ways.   It’s almost like a genetic makeup that makes us distinct from the genes of every other person.  Almost like our IRIS.

We are endowed at birth with an individuality that can never be replicated.

 ‘‘It is never possible to completely understand any other human being, the complexity is too great’’ Edward Hall.

That only means that you cannot go through your work and life merely doing your own thing with whomever you meet.   It demands ‘‘Different strokes for different folks’’.

You may however when trying different strokes find that it is extremely difficult as the number of differences between people who interact with them is simply overwhelming. It seems humanly impossible to fully adapt to everyone’s idiosyncrasies.

Does that mean that we stop trying?

Well, a good place to start with is to understand oneself better.  Know what makes us tick and what ‘ticks us off’?

You will find that those highly adept at dealing with difficult people and their differences are the ones who are completely self-aware; accepting who they are in the first place.  It then helps them to respect others for who they are – their differences included.

The Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude! I’m sure you have heard of this word before and you probably know that it simply means a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation. The “attitude of gratitude”

Gratitude may be a mouthful to pronounce but the act of showing it is actually rather simple and effective to implement. Knowing the power and potential of showing gratitude and subsequently applying it accordingly can be the single most decisive factor in ensuring better degrees of success for yourself.

Attitude of Gratitude

Let’s dwell a little on exactly what gratitude can do for you and subsequently your success. Gratitude instills a positive feeling in you and the people you show it to. It alters your perspective of negative feelings, thoughts, or beliefs you may have of yourself or others by alerting these feelings, thoughts, and beliefs to the things you are grateful for. Gratitude raises your awareness and focus and it can inspire you to achieve better for yourself and the people around you.

In fact, there are numerous other benefits of gratitude. Yet, many people still do not or refuse to shower themselves or the people around them with gratitude. Instead, they put themselves and others down by criticism and condemnation. To see if you fall under this category, take the next few seconds to ponder over the following questions:

  1.  What exactly are the obstacles that are holding you back from showing gratitude to yourself and to others?
  1. How can you overcome these obstacles?
  1. How can you unleash an onslaught of gratitude to yourself and to others?

The obstacles stated above are mainly negative thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that you may possess that are probably not only hindering you from showing gratitude but are most probably also hindering you from success. However, the chief aim of my article is to show you the importance of showing gratitude and how you can go about doing it. As such, I will not touch in-depth on how to overcome these negative thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. But if you would like to find out more, please refer to the resource box below.

Now that you are clearer about the benefits of gratitude, let’s first talk about how you can start showing gratitude to yourself.

To start doing this, you must first be appreciative of all your achievements – be it big or small – that you have experienced so far in your life. Ask yourself: when was the last time you actually rewarded yourself for those achievements? If you have constantly been doing so, then good for you, and keep it up. If not, then it’s about time you start indulging or pampering yourself with some simple or extravagant (whichever is appropriate) rewards for all your past achievements and future ones.

Next be appreciative of the things you have – your job, workplace, house, wealth, family, food, and surroundings. I know it can be rather impossible to directly show gratitude to these things but don’t fret. You can actually list down these things and write down thank you notes for each of them to express your gratitude. Keep referring to this list when you’re feeling sad or depressed and you can instantly feel a surge of happiness or positive emotions.

So far, I have covered how you can show gratitude to yourself and the things around you. Now I will touch on how you can show gratitude to the people around you. There are many ways you can express your gratitude to the people around you but I will only list down the few I feel are important and simple to perform. You are, however, free to find out or think of others of your own and implement them as you deem fit.

  1. Instead of putting down, insulting, and complaining about the people around or working under you, try complimenting, praising, and appreciating them for all they have done for your well-being and your achievements. By doing this, you gain their respect and trust and they are more likely to continually assist you to achieve better.
  1.  Make a thank you list of all the people you are grateful for and constantly refer to this list to give yourself a better and greater feeling.
  1. Give a simple verbal thank you, a note of appreciation, or even a thank-you e-mail to express your gratitude to the people who have assisted you in your achievements.
  1. Shower the people you are grateful for with small or big cards, gift presents, or rewards to clearly show them how much you appreciate them.
  1. Or simply provide the people around you with gifts that cannot be bought with cash like your valuable time, your sacrifice, or something that is of utmost importance to you.

Gratitude. The word may be a little complex to pronounce but there is actually nothing complex about performing the act of showing gratitude. Always bear in mind that when you show gratitude to yourself, the things, and the people around you, you will definitely hold the key to unlocking your personal growth and ultimately your success.

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LISTENING – Questioning is a poor listening habit!

When I tell people in my workshops that ‘questioning’ is a poor listening habit, many are taken aback.  They have been told that when you ask questions, you encourage the speaker and that is the way to go with your listening.  People assume that questioning is a good way of showing that you are interested in the speaker and what they have to say.

Listening - Questioning is a poor listening habit

The problem  I have with questions is that they tend to steer the conversation in the direction of what the questioner thinks or has in mind.  I have found that questions often end up as a  channelizing mechanism.

Listening is more effective if you let the speaker make their point in their own way.  They know what they want to say after all, and you don’t as a listener.  Don’t push your own questions on the speaker.  Most people prefer to talk without being bombarded for details, at least until they have expressed their basic idea.  In fact, it takes time for most speakers to effectively articulate their thoughts and the act of speech in itself is a way of clarifying in their own minds what they want to communicate.

Curiosity kills the cat they say, so don’t let your curiosity effectively hijack the conversation. 

Refrain from, or at least try and limit, your questions as the speaker’s message unfolds. When you see that the speaker is finished, it may then be appropriate to ask a few questions to fill in important details or to shed light on whatever is unclear to you.  Maybe even before that, use paraphrasing to check your understanding.

Although questioning has productive uses, it inhibits communication when used too soon.

At work

Questions are incredibly useful and a companion tool to listening. At work, they can help you learn a new process, discover what is needed by a prospective customer, understand the reasons for a customer’s dissatisfaction, determine whether or not the person you are interviewing is the best candidate for the job, or in a team meeting uncover the reason for last month’s slump in productivity and business performance.

You must learn to ask insightful questions as part of your listening process that may well lead to a breakthrough in that conversation.

Personal life

Asking well-targeted questions can be important in one’s personal life too. Effective questioning will help you acquire the knowledge needed for important decisions like dealing with a child’s problems at school, understanding your partner’s expectations and needs, uncovering the reasons for problems in your relationship,  evaluating options, while making major purchase decisions, and making sound investments, and many more.

In hindsight, you may realize that most of our listening in conversations has more to do with “us” than about the “speaker”


I am sure your mind would have wanted to question what I have just mentioned.  What’s the purpose? Is it to truly understand?  Reflect.

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Listening – mishaps of diversion

Remembering a conversation with my son after he lost the closely fought team doubles badminton final.

As he walked across the court to meet me.

Listening Skills - Diversion

Adi: (With tears welling up in his eyes.) I was terrible. I’m the reason we lost the game.

Me (disagreeing): No you weren’t, you were good!

Adi: I was not! I missed the drop shot when we were on match-point.  That was crucial.  If I had made that one then we would have restored parity and would have been one set apiece, taking the match to the third set.

Me (reassuring): No one expects you to win the match by yourself. However, a little more practice, and you’ll do better.

Adi: You don’t understand.

Me (disagreeing): I do understand. I have experienced those moments myself.

Adi: Just stop it, Pa! (Adi turned around and started to walk away.)

Me (criticizing): You are just too stubborn to listen to reason.

You will find that in this conversation, I ended up committing both the listening miss-haps; that of providing quick ‘assurance’ and the second of ‘diverting’.  In the last post on ‘Listening’, I talked about how jumping to offer quick assurance is a poor listening habit.

Today let us look at one more – that of diverting.

It’s highly likely that you are trying to divert attention while listening when you start to use phrases like;

“That reminds me of the time when I…”

“You think that is bad, last week even I…”

“Speaking of which, I was thinking …”

“I know what you are about to say …”

In a way, it’s not surprising that diverting would be a frequent temptation for many people. When someone starts talking about a challenge they are facing, there is a fair chance that you’ll start thinking about one that you’ve been through or are grappling with.

If they describe what they did last weekend, you’ll undoubtedly be reminded of your weekend activities. That’s the way the human mind works. And when your mind makes these associations, you’re so eager to talk about them that you often burst into “talking” mode, describing your experience without realizing that the other person hadn’t finished talking about what was on their mind.

It’s very similar to the situation when a harried wife comes back home from work and says, “What a day! I don’t think there was anything left to go wrong today”. Before she could unburden herself, her husband might start saying things like, “You know what? I completely relate to how you might be feeling, my day was unbelievably terrible”—and he starts relating all the of his problems in the office.

Now you may say “weren’t they talking about the same topic: a bad day at work?”.

You may not realize in the first instance, that it was the wife who wanted to talk about her bad day, and the husband wouldn’t wait even for a moment before jumping in to talk about his bad day.  Notice, they are two very different conversations and about two different people and their experiences.

I am sure you would have also had similar experiences.  For example, if you tell about a recent stressful situation, a poor listener as a diverter is apt to interrupt, saying something like “Wait till you hear what happened to me,” and delve into an account of a troublesome situation that he/she experienced, which, of course, was far worse than yours. Whatever may have happened to you, these diverters are quick to let you know that it’s nothing compared to what they’ve experienced.

If you too have this habit of diverting, it won’t be long before people assume you are self-centered and have little interest in what they have to say. That’s no way to build relationships.  You’ll soon find that their engagement with you is slowing down to a trickle.

So, discipline yourself to listen intently to the other person until you are sure that they have finished what they have to say. Then, if you want to add something, feel free to tell your experience or make your point.

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You will be astonished to find that reassurance is high on the list when it comes to irritating listening behavior.  You must understand that when you are reassuring someone, what you are doing is actually talking, whereas it probably would be more appropriate to be listening.

When you look closely at the effects of reassurance, it rarely lifts anyone out of the dumps they are in.

I was having a conversation with someone whose son, a 10th grader was distraught at the thought of leaving all his friends as they were moving to a distant city as the parent’s work would have them to. His mother told him, “You’ll make lots of new friends in the new city”, “Exploring places and finding new friends will help you learn adaptability that in turn will help you in life” this parental effort at reassurance did nothing to diminish the son’s anxiety.


What has been your experience? When was the last time you felt less apprehensive or more confident after someone said, “Don’t worry, Things will work out.”

Come to think of it, reassuring someone generally boils down to minimizing another person’s strongly held concerns or fears.  It hardly ever works by simply trying to talk them out of feeling as they do.

For example, when a person is discouraged over a screwed-up task or assignment, the so-called “listener” in us often underplays it by making statements like;

“It happens. Everyone makes mistakes. “

“To err is human, and we all are.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

“Anyone in your place would have done what you did.”

“Don’t worry, it can’t be that bad.”

“I’m sure it will work out eventually.”

Statements like these supposedly to comfort the person often tend to undermine the person’s effort to cope with his difficulties or process the emotions fully. The very discomfort that your reassurance attempts to alleviate can be a powerful trigger for learning from the situation and for mustering up the courage and willpower to turn it around.

When someone is down in the dumps, it’s enormously helpful for a friend or colleague to listen empathically to that person’s predicament. When as a “listener”  you start reassuring someone who is discouraged, it so often happens that the person will likely assume that you as a “listener” simply don’t understand the degree of difficulty he or she is experiencing.

Instead of lifting the other person’s spirits, your reassuring words may leave them feeling misunderstood and isolated.

Psychologists believe that reassuring or comforting is often our subconscious, self-protective behavior that we use to avoid experiencing someone else’s pain. We seem to talk the person out of their discomfort soon so that we don’t have to together experience the pain that the other person is going through.

We are afraid that in our attempt to tune in to the depths of the other person’s heartache, we will be dragged down emotionally too.   It is pertinent here to ponder the discrepancy between the way most of us handle our own demotivation or discouragement and the upbeat way, we urge others to manage theirs.

“There is always a comforting thought in time of trouble when it is not our trouble.” – Don Marquis

Genuine comfort is provided when, instead of offering shallow consolation, you listen empathically to the person’s concerns, which will likely reduce the sense of isolation they may be experiencing and may help them grapple their way out of a difficult situation

The clue to this is in the derivation of the word “comfort” from two Latin words, con and fortis. When combined, the words mean “strengthened by being with.”

If you wish to learn how to “LISTEN UP” without being biased, judgmental, shallow, and instead be truly comforting, Sign up for a 6-session 1:1 Coaching with me. 
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Relationships – Fight, Flight, or Loving Action!

Fight or flight – our automatic response to danger. When fear is present, adrenaline pours into our system to prepare us to fight or flee – from the tiger, the bear, the lava from the volcano.

Fight or flight – today we automatically respond this way to the present dangers, the deep fears that come up in relationships: rejection and engulfment – fears of loss of others and loss of self. Often, when we feel rejected and fear the loss of the other, we fight for love not to go away by defending, explaining, blaming, attacking, complying, fixing, or we flee through withdrawal.

fight or flight response

Often, when we feel engulfed and fear losing ourselves through being controlled by another, we flee through resistance or withdrawal, or fight by attacking, defending, or explaining. Just as our ancestors fought or fled from physical danger, we fight and flee from emotional danger. The problem is that, while fight or flight is appropriate in the face of physical danger, this same behavior in the face of emotional fear causes deep problems in relationships.

When we respond automatically to the fears of losing ourselves and losing another, we behave in the very ways that create fear in the other. Our fight or flight reactions create fear in the other person – the same fears of losing themselves or losing us. Our fighting and fleeing activates others’ fear of rejection and engulfment, creating a vicious circle of fighting and fleeing.

These unconscious, automatic reactions to emotional danger were learned long ago when we were very small and had to rely on fight or flight as part of our survival. Today they are no longer necessary for our survival and need to be replaced with loving actions toward ourselves and others.

What does it mean to take loving action in the face of another’s fight or flight behavior?

Where do we get the role modeling for what it looks like to take loving action in the face of another’s unloving behavior?

Most of us had parents who did not role model loving action in the face of conflict. We have not seen much of it on TV or in movies.

How do we learn to take loving action on our own behalf when in conflict with another – an action that takes care of ourselves without violating or threatening another?

The steps we can take to move out of automatic fight or flight and into loving actions are:

  1. Start to attend to your feelings, the physical sensations within your body that let you know when you are anxious or afraid.
  1. Stop and breathe when you feel fear or anxiety in the face of conflict, or in the face of another’s fight or flight behavior. Give yourself some breathing time to make a conscious decision rather than go on automatic pilot.
  1. Take action on the information you receive.

Examples of loving action are:

  • Move into compassion for the other person, recognizing that he or she would not be in fight or flight without being in fear. Asking the other person, again from a deep desire to learn, what he or she is afraid of that is causing this behavior may de-escalate the situation and lead to understanding and healing.
  • If the other person is not open to calm discussion and exploration of the conflict, disengage from the interaction, speaking your truth without anger or blame. For example, you might say, I don’t want to fight with you. I’m going to take a walk and let’s try to talk about it later. Or, This isn’t feeling good between us. Let’s take a break and get together later.
  • If the other person has withdrawn from you, loving action may be to do something fun or nurturing for yourself.

Both staying and learning together or taking some time apart to reflect on the issues or self-nurture will break the cycle of each person going into fight or flight in reaction to the other person’s fight or flight.

It takes conscious practice to stop going into automatic behavior, but the payoff is well worth the time it takes to practice loving action.

If you wish to improve the quality of your Interpersonal Relationships through
“Loving Action”

Get in touch with me for a 1:1 coaching session

Alternatively, you have the choice to “Fight” or “Flee”