View From the Hill

Heather Hill's Veterans Advice

ASS  U  ME?

Your thoughts impact you every day.  I’m sure you have heard people identify themselves as optimists “the glass is half full”, pessimists “the glass is half empty”, or sometimes someone will say they are a realist “the glass if truly half empty and I know its fact”.  The way we think about things impacts our outlook and how we interact with others.  Our assumptions about situations and interactions lead to emotional responses which are not accurate and cause significant distress. 

ASSUMPTIONS: Do you assume?  Many individuals, veterans or not, make many assumptions during the day.  Assumptions are challenging as one often assumes based on past experiences or perceptions of events.  I encountered a clear example of this at a local Safeway.  There were two young teen girls dressed in the style of the moment – short shorts and  halter tops.  When I passed them, I overheard them talking.  They were upset because an older woman had shaken her head at them.  They were using colorful language to discuss the encounter between themselves and occasionally looking back at the older woman walking away with her shopping cart.  Although I do not underestimate people’s love of their opinions,  I was dumbfounded that this older woman would have shook her head at these young girls.  Out of curiosity, I kept my eye out for her in the aisles to assess the situation myself.  I encountered her head on quickly.  She was shaking her head at me too!  Was she?  No, she had some type of tremor.  Every time I encountered her, or if I saw her walking away from me, her head was shaking.  These young girls ASSUMED she was shaking her head at them in a condescending manner.  This pessimistic thought led to an emotional reaction and emotional reasoning which was false.  These young girls likely caused their emotions to continue to escalate out of frustration due to their perception they were being judged by someone.  All that effort, energy, and time wasted on something that was not even close to accurate.  Have you done that?  Maybe not for short shorts and a halter top – but many of us had allowed our emotions to take control of us over an assumption about another’s motives, actions, and/or statements.  Our emotional reaction for a 5 minute exchange can cause collateral damage for the remainder of the day.  Ever had a road rage incident and when you arrived home were still upset?  Your family and spouse are the victims of your emotional response for an incident that took perhaps minutes of your day.   Is this fair?  No – and we all know it.

EMOTIONAL REASONING: Emotional reasoning occurs when an individual allows their emotions to be the foundation for their decisions and actions.  This is challenging as many of us are unaware of the emotional hijack we are experiencing until a significant amount of time has passed and emotions have deescalated.  When we are not emotionally reactive any longer, we can reflect and see how our responses and actions fueled by emotions may not have been our norm under different circumstances.  There are stereotypical actions that are fueled by emotional reactions that will resonate with many: peeling out in a car after a fight with a spouse, property destruction while angry, etc.  Our emotions often lie to us and lead us to believe our situation is much graver than it really is.  It feels real – but its not.  Do not act when the volume of your emotions is at max.    Stop.  Really – STOP.  Give yourself some time.

Prevention: Can we prevent ourselves from being emotionally hijacked?  Individuals with PTSD sometimes struggle with having the ability to act prior to their emotions being activated.  There is a “knee jerk” emotional reaction that occurs.  If the individual is aware, the best thing to do is to take time to deescalate.  Some individuals with PTSD can catch themselves prior to their emotions gaining control.  If you can catch yourself, there are tools that can support gaining a better understanding of the situation that may keep reactions rational rather than emotional.

Clarification:  If someone says or does something that you perceive as offensive – why not ask them about it?  This could look like asking – “Did you mean…?” or “I’m not sure if you intended this, but I took this as….”  You may be surprised how often your assumptions are incorrect.  Many of us speak the same language, but how we use language, words, and context varies from individual to individual which leads to misunderstandings.  Sometimes people are also unaware of how their tone is impacting what they are communicating.  If they sound upset or angry – ask them if they are rather than assume you know.

Empathy:  If someone is rude to you or sharp, perhaps consider what may be impacting that person to behave that way.  One of the huge eye openers I have had working in this line of work, is how we all assume someone’s attitude, behavior, or looks are always directed at us as individuals.  Most of the time, whoever is the perceived offender does not even have me or you on their radar – we are experiencing the emotional collateral damage from something completely unrelated to us. Their mother or father may be sick and dying. Maybe they found out that they owe money to the IRS and do not know how they will pay it. Maybe their spouse/partner lost their job. Who knows? Ideally no one would be victim to the emotional overflow from an unrelated event, but we are human and when our emotions hijack us its hard to regain composure or control. Do not assume its always directed at you.

This particular topic could be a standalone book – but I will spare you and not tax a likely stressed attention span. Just please consider how your automatic reactions could be impacted and influenced by assumptions and emotional responses. If you can take note and begin to work on having awareness of your reactions, you will be pleasantly surprised how often you are incorrect about your assumptions. 

Heather Hill can be reached:509-667-8828 (Office) or in a mental health emergency 509-699-1212 (Cell).

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