Calling a Time Out

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I relearned a really useful lesson this week about the power of putting myself on a time out. Clearly this is something I need regular opportunities to practice, as I forget to use it most of the time!

As is the case for many people my age, I am involved in the care and support of my aging mom and her significant other. They live in a different state than I do, so frequently I need to make arrangements on their behalf over the telephone. On Monday, I received a call from an upset handyman who was supposed to do some work at their house, indicating he was no longer willing to do this because of the way in which my mom’s 81 year old long time companion treated him. I couldn’t possible recount here the narrative that was going on in my mind at that moment, as it would be embarrassing and frankly, shameful. My first inclination was to  call and read this guy, who has been a pillar of support to my mom for thirty years, the riot act. AMAZINGLY, the thought occurred to me to wait before calling! This almost never happens to me because I am typically so sure that I am in the right and the way I am seeing things is the way it is.

Thankfully, the rest of my life got in the way of me making that phone call, and it was four days later before I finally got around to it. During that time, the emotions that were present when it first happened had pretty much dissipated. So that when I did speak with him, I was able to hear a more complete story about the incident. More importantly, what I heard was the voice of an aging man whose ability to influence much of what is happening in his life is pretty darn limited. Compassion was allowed to be present. A cordial exchange with a straight forward request from me to throw this handyman’s business card away was had. As a result, harm to an important relationship was averted.

When emotions run high, as they did for me when this whole thing started, we are rarely able to show up as our best self. Our mind gets clogged with the fear that arises when something happens that pushes us off the path we wanted to be on. Noticing the emotions that are present and then deliberately choosing to do nothing until they fade, is very often the must useful approach.  “I’m too upset to talk about this right now, I’d like to come back when I am more calm” can be the most effective thought you can have, especially if preserving the relationship is a priority for you.

I am so grateful that I waited to have my conversation, especially when I think about what I initially wanted to say. Maybe this is the start of a new streak for me – where instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, I ask myself the question, “What do I need to do in order to maintain this relationship?” Ultimately, that is what matters most.


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