No doubt we live in a world where harshness, the quality of being cruel or unkind, is often used to resolve conflict internally or otherwise. From our political world climate to our bedrooms, some of us tend to want to figuratively resolve issues “slap-cocking” it, one of the fastest methods used to draw the gun out of the holster and fire. Every time we do it or take it, we are polluting our human essence and creating a “gong” effect that if left unchecked, it sets the stage for unhappiness, discord and pain at best and relationship(s) chaos at worst= bad partnering, bad parenting, bad company.
I am referring here to words or actions that are short of physical aggression but poison and pierce through our real and virtual skin like the sting of a Stonefish: I’ve experienced both, the sting of the Stonefish and the 2-way street harshness: from me and towards me; they all hurt deeply. I’ve learned better; I wear water shoes in the ocean and watch my words and actions carefully. On the receiving end, it is harder to avoid harshness as we have no control over others’ actions, yet, we must skillfully learn how to stand tall against it, to have a shot at a kinder world. Best selling author and therapist Terry Real puts it best: “There’s nothing that harshness does that loving firmness doesn’t do better.”
What are harsh behaviors? In a nutshell:
Lying, yelling, cursing, criticizing, ignoring, breaking promises, shaming, insulting, rude gestures, insensitive comments, put-downs, offensive jokes, sarcasm, betraying, throwing objects, verbal and non-verbal intimidation, blaming, gossiping, retaliating, righteous contempt, rage, controlling, threatening, giving out false praise, withholding praise, blackmailing and gaslighting. (Feel free to add more)
From subtle to overt, we dish out harshness at will and add injury to it by the justification(s) that precedes it: “I don’t like the way you talked to me, so zap, here’s my glorious sigh and rolling of the eyes rendition”/ “you didn’t call me on time?: zing, I am sending you a sarcastic text”/ “I am not satisfied in my relationship, guess what: I am having an affair”/ “You value conversation?: watch me give you one-word answers”/ “You want to argue a point maturely?: here’s my screaming-at-you-move”.
All our righteous outrage towards world violence amounts to nothing if we are not practicing or standing up to harsh-free-living every minute of our lives.
For over 17 years in practice, men and women have brought into my office samples of harsh artillery to resolve their grievances, disguised and synopsized as: ”I want to make my point, so, there”.
When close, significant relationships are smeared with harshness, trust, affection and friendship, -hallmarks of intimate relationships- wither, and love gets crushed. So, why is it, that despite being willing to walk into a burning building for our loved ones, we also lead with harshness at any given time despite its remnants?
Because, for a moment, it gives the brain a “high” (it feels good)
It creates the illusion of control.
It requires no thought or much effort.
It seeks to regulate anxiety.
As a response to stress, adult harshness (towards self: ”I am stupid” or others: “you are stupid”) is the equivalent to the behavior of a pre-verbal human being, aka, an infant.
In the past six months alone, I welcomed into my office 13 new couples seeking to upcycle their relationship. 11 of them had 2 common denominators:
- One or both experience harshness from their partner.
- The partner(s) inflicting harshness denies it, minimizes it or justifies it.
When was the last time when upset about something, you consciously used skill rather than harshness to deal with it?
Short of having a debilitating or untreated mental disability, we can choose to always practice a harsh-free approach and if on the receiving end, to stand up to it skillfully.
I remember, as a young girl, watching my uncle ignore his wife and 2 children for days; no words, no acknowledgment, no cherishing, just his angry face with gestures of disgust when someone perhaps made noise if he was asleep in the middle of the day. He has been dead for over 24 years now and his sporadic doses of harshness, combined with my aunt’s inability to stand up to it skillfully, left a sad legacy carried by their children and now their grandchildren. I often hope and wonder if someone in that family will have the courage to stand up to harshness and break that legacy.
I no longer have patience for harshness and I don’t mind being called to the mat if I use it; truth be told, it’s very seductive to once in a while, just be childish and thoughtless, after all, reacting harshly requires no effort and using skill and restraint, does. However, I like being treated with respect, kindness and honesty so I make it my business to pay it forward, personally by practicing it and professionally by offering it and teaching it.
Being a therapist and writing a blog gives me the opportunity to reach many, but it’s in the synergy of community that change happens, so I invite to join me to live and lead a harsh-free-life revolution! Inspired a few weeks ago, while chatting and soaking up the sun with my dear friend and brilliant brave-up expert, Kathy Caprino, I am launching a 4 part mini video series designed to show what it takes to live it.
To kick-start it, I offer you the first antidote to harshness. It starts with the answer to this 1 question:
Why do I want to adopt a harsh-free response style?
We all have our own reasons for doing anything in this life and this is a question only you can answer but if you are not sure how to start thinking about this, here ‘s a little help:
- Close your eyes and picture the last time you were the recipient of harsh behavior and name the feeling you felt, the benefit it had and whether you’d want to experience it again.
- I f you have children or plan to have them, decide what you’d like for them to imitate from you when they feel stressed, at school first, in their jobs and careers, with their partners later, and some day, pass on to their own children.
- Go back in time a bit, when you were a kid, and name the people whom taught you that harshness was an option. Did you become him/her?
- Picture everyone you come in contact with to be holding up a video camera, and that every word and action you choose at any given moment, will be played back as part of your legacy.
- Identify the messages you carry about harshness: Is it manly? Is it necessary? Does it represent power/strength? Does it mean that if you use it you won’t be taken advantage of? Are you afraid you won’t know what to do instead?
There is nothing more liberating and invigorating than knowing we have choice. I invite you to choose to live one full day completely harsh-free and take note of how you impact your own mood and the influence you have on those with whom you come in contact. Repeat at will.