Wisdom From a Puppy: Is Shaking Off Conflict Really That Easy?
In my last post I marveled at how easily Nola is able to immediately let go of another dog’s aggression toward her. I even gave myself a little pat on the back for being so relaxed about it too… as if I’m always so calm, cool, and collected. It wasn’t until I read this comment from a reader, that he reminded me that I’m not always as skilled as I’d like to think I am at “shaking it off.” He said:
If dentistry taught us something, its being able to move on after that last excruciating conversation with someone who’s attitude you did not actually like.
You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
Not me. I used to dwell on it. Quietly.
It’s true. Dentistry should have taught us that, but for many of us, it hasn’t. That was always a huge challenge for me too. When just one of my many (and otherwise lovely) patients of the day barked and snapped at me, how did I respond?
I wish I could say I was just like Nola– fearless, confident, and not bothered.
But the reality is, I was none of those things. The only way I knew how to cope was to make it about me. I struggled to happily move on with my day and failed to focus on all the other happy patients I helped that day. I took it personally, and it upset me… sometimes for days. Although with time it eventually did subside, it almost always hovered over me the rest of the day and into the night, robbing me of some precious ZZZ’s that night.
Just like Lady’s mom said her dog had acted out because she was shy (which I’ll admit, I thought was a strange manifestation of shyness, but who’s judging,) we almost never really know exactly why people react the way they do. Obviously if there’s a direct event, we know that’s the cause. However, when there seems to be no direct trigger, it’s hard to know what to think. Of course, patients in fear or pain can be aggressive, but sometimes they act out because they had a fight with their spouse, their boss was mean, or they were simply in a bad mood that day. No matter what the cause, it’s still hard to separate yourself from it. We realize that a dentist who cares about our livelihood and our patients is in a vulnerable situation too.
As humans, it takes much more work to just shake conflict off than it seems to take for dogs. When we are able to move on without worrying, dwelling on, or taking ownership of the offender’s actions, we feel so much more free. If that’s true, why do we resist moving on so much?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that the more personal the relationship is to me, the harder it is to shake off. If I’m likely to be a direct cause or even a direct recipient of another person’s aggression, it rattles me more. If I’m a little more removed, it’s easier. When Lady lashed out at Nola, I was slightly removed, so it was easy to move on with my life. When a patient lashed out at me in the past, it almost always felt like it was my duty own it.
So how do we do it? How do we move on?
Here’s how Nola shakes it off:
Sure, there are techniques that will sometimes work, and sometimes we just need time, or even practice. We can physically shake it off with a walk, some exercise, or I’ve heard that even pretending to literally shake off, like a dog, works. We can distract ourselves by staying busy. We often go for the quick fix like zone out to our favorite TV show or have a glass of wine, but I know when I turn to that, it comes back at a time when it’s least welcome.
Just today I was rattled by a confrontation that was *gulp* kind of, sort of my fault. It was about me, so I had to make it about me. Shockingly, I was able to quickly shake it off. Here’s how… Luckily I was on my way to a workout, which helped physically work out my own aggression and anger; but also I chose to invest a little energy to learn about myself today and why it happened. I searched for some meaning, a message. Once I found it, I chose to take the event as a signal to pay attention, and I made an agreement with myself to modify my behavior as a result. And it worked. It went away.
Sometimes our ability to move on from a skirmish is innate, and other times it takes more work. Do I feel like now I am a little better prepared to shake things off? I hope so. I work hard at it, and I have made progress, but put me back behind the dental chair, and I suspect it wouldn’t be so easy anymore. Maybe if we practice shaking off the confrontations that mean little to us, we will get better at coping with the big ones.
What do you do to shake it off?