Dana thought her new friend Tracy had a strong personality. Tracy always knew what was right and knew how she deserved to be treated. She could always justify why her standards were the right ones. If anyone didn’t live up to Tracy’s rules and logic, she let them have it. She was even right when she told off Dana’s next door neighbor. But Dana had to live with the consequences of Tracy’s tirade.
Do you know any quick-tongued people who are sure they’re right? How do you deal with them?
Dana’s neighbor was having a pretty loud party the evening Tracy was visiting. Dana would have let it go because the neighbor usually was quiet or she would have sweetly asked the neighbor to tone it down a little. As part of their good relationship the neighbor would have apologized and made her guests quiet down.
But Tracy got livid at the noise and shifted into action. She raced over to the neighbor with Dana following behind. When the neighbor answered the door, Tracy lit into her. The guests were looking on but that didn’t stop Tracy for a second. She yelled that the neighbor was discourteous, arrogant, crude and trailer-trash. When the neighbor reacted defensively and angrily, Tracy cut her off, called her a string of dirty names and said she was getting the police on her.
Tracy ran back to Dana’s house, called the police and complained loudly about the noise next door. The police did come.
When Dana said that she thought that was overkill, Tracy got angry at her; no one was going to disrespect Tracy. The neighbor was too loud and she had a lot of nerve to get angry when she was in the wrong.
When Tracy left, Dana was stuck. She’d always had a nice relationship with the neighbor and she didn’t want to start a spite-fight with someone who lived next door.
So what would you do?
When Dana and I talked the next day, we began by separating the three people she had to deal with; the neighbor, Dana herself and Tracy. We went through each one separately and then Dana took the action she’d decided upon.
That evening, she went to the neighbor’s house and apologized for Tracy. The neighbor was furious and wouldn’t accept Dana’s apology. She told Dana off and slammed the door in her face.
Dana waited and after about five minutes she knocked again. The neighbor wouldn’t answer until Dana had knocked for what seemed like another five minutes. Again Dana groveled. She explained that she hadn’t known that Tracy had called the police, she would never have done that and she still wanted to be neighborly. They’d always gotten along before and they could still talk to each other reasonably in the future.
Again the neighbor slammed the door. But an hour later, the neighbor called and acknowledged that the party was a little loud. She said she understood, but she never wanted to see Tracy again. Dana was satisfied with that arrangement. She and the neighbor actually got along better after that conversation and the neighbor didn’t have a loud party again.
The second person Dana had to look at was herself. She was shocked and stunned when Tracy threw her fit. Dana finally realized that she wasn’t a bad person for letting Tracy attack the neighbor; she didn’t have a character flaw. She simply hadn’t trained herself.
When humans are surprised and shocked, we often revert to our childhood reactions or to one of the three primitive reactions we have – fight, flight or freeze. Dana froze; she called it “brain freeze.” Maybe Tracy reverted to “fight” mode.
Since Dana didn’t like brain freeze, all she had to do was to train herself to make a different response. She had known that she’d wanted to stop Tracy. Actually, she knew how Tracy was and that if she’d prepared herself, she wouldn’t have allowed Tracy to go to the neighbor’s house. Or, she would have stopped Tracy in mid-tirade.
Now she had to make her boundaries clear and stand up to Tracy.
When Dana told Tracy how much trouble she’d caused with the neighbor, Tracy attacked Dana. “I was right. Your neighbor was way too loud. I had a right to be angry. Nobody’s going to bother me any more. Someone needed to tell her off.”
When Dana told Tracy she didn’t want to deal angrily with a neighbor over one incident, especially when the woman had been a good neighbor for a long time, Tracy again attacked Dana. “When I get angry I have to get it off my chest. You’re trying to repress me and put me down. I have a right to my feelings and I won’t be stifled.”
Dana she recognized that Tracy was bullying her. Now, Dana was prepared. She said, “You know, you seem to think that you’re entitled to throw a fit if you feel like it; if you feel righteous, right and justified. Did you grow up getting your way when you threw fits?”
Tracy yelled that it was none of Dana’s business how she grew up. “Anyway,” she spat out, “I feel better when I let people have it. They deserve it. And it helps me get what I want. You’re just a coward if you don’t tell people off. You’re asking them to take advantage of you.”
Dana repeated, “Usually, I don’t have the strong feelings you do. And even when I do, I think of what will get me what I want, instead of just throwing a fit and spilling my guts. I wanted to start off nice with the neighbor. When I simply ask, she always takes care of things.”
Again, Dana challenged Tracy, “Is it more important for you to throw a fit than to get what you want? I wanted to tone the party down and I wanted to keep a good relationship with my neighbor. Whenever you feel right and righteous, do you beat people with your tongue or do you think of what else you might want?”
Tracy blew up again. “I was right, your neighbor was wrong. I can do whatever I feel like when people are treating me bad. And if you don’t like it, I’m not your friend.”
After careful consideration, Dana decided that Tracy wasn’t interested in changing her reactions and that not being friends with her was a good idea. She didn’t want to get drawn into fights because Tracy had the self-control of a child. Rage, bullying and verbal abuse weren’t her usual style.
Coaching helped Dana clarify how she wanted to act and what she’d allow in her personal space. Our talking and her learning from “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” helped Dana maintain her boundaries with the neighbor and her former friend Tracy. They also helped Dana stand up for herself against other bullies in her personal life and at work.
I hope this case study and the techniques Dana used will alert you to areas in which you’re not taking charge of your personal ecology.