"Sir, you are ugly. Your breath stinks like that of a midden, and your mother clearly frolicked with a warthog nine months before your birth!"
What a wonderful challenge. Then the satisfying thump as a leather glove hits the stage.
What follows is clearly a duel. A duel to the death, or at least to the pain – and duelling scars, of course.
All this is immensely entertaining in books, in films; on the stage. But a problem arises when we try it at home.
The challenges we receive in real life are rarely as obvious as that above:
• "You're wrong."
• "You're being silly and emotional."
• "You're using your illness as an excuse."
• "Why don't you try abc/xyz? I'm sure you will find it's simply a case of too much stress/not enough sleep/a poor diet." (delete as appropriate)
Yet our emotional response is as elemental as if that leather gauntlet had indeed smacked us around the face.
We become defensive and we lash out at the challenger, who then retreats in a huff: "I was only trying to help..." Or even worse, we engage in a furious battle; words whirling, cutting and slashing like sabres, wounding and injuring our relationships and the love we share with our family and friends.
We react, we don't respond.
I know I am particularly bad at taking that couple of deep breaths first – especially when I am in my manic phase. The other day, I accused one of my dearest friends of exhibiting the emotional maturity of a tired eight-year old. It may have been a valid point, but I would never have said it – or said it in that particular way – if I had not been challenged in the first place. I don't know if that relationship will recover. I can only hope and pray that time will heal the wounds each of us has inflicted on the other. Because I miss my friend. I miss him very much.
It is a good habit to develop, that of breathing first. I won't say count to ten – because when we do that, we concentrate on just getting to the point where we can detonate – and the deferred explosion is all the more powerful for having been bottled up for those ten seconds.
My husband has the very good habit of always saying thank you for any criticism or challenge. He then takes it away and mulls over it for twenty-four hours or so, before coming back with a considered reply. This can make conversations rather fragmented and long, but it does mean we rarely row.
If we can say, "Thank you for your opinion, I will consider what you say," and take our time to respond, we are far less likely to hurt the people we love, or the ones whose opinion we value.
On the other hand, we could always consider taking a lesson from the weather: it pays no attention to criticism at all.
A Moodscope member.