It is pretty clear that my original plan to return to my original blog series should be delayed by at least a week. People the world over are either excitedly discovering strange advantages to our worldwide shared reality, or they are feeling trapped, frightened, and they are struggling a lot.
Understandably, very social, gregarious people feel like caged animals. For the first time in a long time they’re using their phones to actually talk to people. And many are calling out to others like auctioneers selling more phone time.
Meanwhile, the world’s introverts curl up with their pets and books and sigh at the pleasure of another reading opportunity. This is the strange way that concepts like ‘power’ and ‘success’ are flow-terms. Their application is always contextual in both time and conditions.
Still, this is an extreme situation. Eventually the introvert will struggle too, just likely under different circumstances. And for them the call out for help will be much more difficult to make. So while each way of being has advantages, there is no ‘way to be’ that’s good in all situations.
We’re in the midst of editing my book, and there’s a fairly refined concept in it that, in some paraphrased terms, can be very helpful for many of us at this time, in these conditions. The idea is to do it with people we know fairly well, although even self-reported impressions are better than nothing.
It can be done with our entire family or, if we have roommates or workmates, that can work too. And if we’re isolated, we can do a modified version of this for the group we’ll communicate with most often during this period.
Just do it when everyone’s feeling good, because we’re going to take some time to make a list of pre-considered reactions.
No matter what type of person we are, everyone is going to go through the same stages during this period. We’re all going to have times where we feel focused and good, or we’re having fun doing something.
But there will be other times where we’re bored, or intensely frustrated, or even on to angry or enraged. There will also be times where we’re giddy and silly and outrageous, and there are times where we’ll be dark and slow and depressed.
Think of the people you’re isolated with. What are everyone’s common reactions? How are they when they are angry? How do they behave when they are stressed? Or depressed?
When do they kick into gear and become the best person to have around? How do they help foster joy, or peace? Do they play guitar? Or sit with us while we cry?
What don’t we want each person doing, or in to be in charge of, is things that don’t suit them.
The Emotional Response Exercise
For this exercise, we can start by taking our knowledge of each other, and we can generously pre-plot where we can expect our housemates to end up under current conditions.
As an example, maybe –Ryan’s great at solving mechanical problems, but if he doesn’t stop to eat because he’s stubborn, he’ll eventually get hangry and explode at who ever’s around.
Can we see what happens then, when Ryan’s working on fixing the dishwasher? And after a day of bashing his hands he screams at his son? If it’s pre-thought out, the son can just see it like an expected bell rang.
Rather than take his father’s anger personally, the son can see it for what it is, and just report to his Mom that, “Dad just hit the hangry zone.”
And at that point, we can know that maybe his sister, who is in the middle of her cycle and is agitated, is likely better to avoid Dad right now because they’re both pretty sensitive. So she gets a warning and knows to self-isolate for an hour.
Everyone can also have pre-figured out that the best person to respond to Dad when he’s hangry, is Mom, who knows his favourite foods and anti-hangry dishes. Maybe some people need salt. Others maybe it’s sugars, or something to chew, or what their Mom made.
Bottom line, approaching things this way gives everyone a job, and that way no one needs to make Dad or anyone else into a jerk or a villain. And this works in the other direction too, that’s important to note.
So let’s say it’s a week later, and our sister’s hormones are back to normal and she’s a very kind and sensitive soul with kitten and horse posters on her wall that her brother usually thinks are lame.
But say the brother was hangry and lashed out at his Mom when she was already feeling useless, and that’s left Mom pretty badly wounded and in tears.
Of course the son’s proved his dedication to Mom countless times over his life, and he just feels awful. And part of both of their reactions was born in the current circumstances. His pressure-related reaction has no long term bearing on how she will feel, –as long as he’s not truly abusive. But Mom’s still hurt in the present.
In a case like that, the science-smart, calculator-capable father who can splint your leg and give you CPR, may have zero idea on how to help his wife to stop crying. He can be agonized by his helplessness.
Meanwhile, his formerly ‘useless’ daughter is now the ‘perfect’ person to react, because she’ll be the only one who knows to just go into the room and sit with her crying Mom and not try to fix anything.
She knows to stroke her Mom’s hair the way she remembers her Mom told her that her grandmother used to do, when her Mom was little.
The husband could have been in the room when his daughter learned that fact, and yet because he is the sort of person he is, he may never even have registered that information as worth remembering. And yet in this case knowing it makes his daughter a hero.
Again, now the Dad doesn’t have to be distressed about not knowing what to do for his wife, or by feeling over-whelmed and over his head by being forced to try. Instead, he just walks into the kitchen and motions to his daughter, “You’re up. Your brother just hangry-slashed your Mom. She’s blubber on her bed.”
And now the daughter gets a chance to be the cavalry. She goes in and gives her Mom time to slowly realize that as much as it smarted, her son was just hangry. And when the hurt thoughts slow down, she knows him well enough to know he’ll do some very nice, sweet, roundabout non-apology. And then stasis will have returned.
It’s also important to note that these logical sorts of people can offer emotional comfort too. If some kitchen implement is broken and Dad’s tired and frustrated by it, then the logical son can come in and fix it, and help his Dad feel better. In this way, everyone ends up with a role and some timing that goes with it.
Keep in mind, if a group sharing space does their list, there may not be ideal people for every situation. But there will still be the ‘best choices’ among the assembled. And that’s not a bad thing.
For whoever gets to be the ‘best choice,’ those are our chances to step out of our comfort zone by some percentage. In doing we are expanding our future capabilities. Those are growth opportunities.
So to accomplish this exercise:
Figure out who each other is.
Figure out your likely reactions to the various states you’re all likely to go through.
Then figure who who should react and how, and who will be their backup if that person fails to help the other person.
And if the person just needs space, then everyone can take that on as a shared responsibility.
This makes all ugliness less personal. And because the response ends up in the natural wheelhouse of the person responding, it allows all of their empathy and compassion to be more genuine and thorough than any other member of the group could make it in those circumstances.
Know each other. Build a team, even if it needs tele-members. But a team where we all know each other’s job description. Because here’s the weird part. At some point, we each have to discuss how we will misbehave and mistreat our housemates.
Whether we yell at them or ignore them, we’ll hurt people. But if everyone discusses their bad reactions openly, and everyone knows everyone has things the others must accommodate, then it makes it easier for us to stay aware of what our own negative reactions commonly are. And that can really help us to help those who are helping us.
Understand and forgive. Respond with wisdom and compassion. And know that even by proceeding with wisdom, there will still be times where rough seas will smash some boats together. But love and respect make for strong bumpers on those boats.
Once the storm blows over –and they all do– there will be no damage to anyone’s long term seaworthiness. It’s important to remember that.
Done right, this can bring groups closer together than ever. The sooner we start working on these, the sooner we can enact our results as our Emotional Response Plan. Then we know who to give which jobs to, and we know who should respond when a teammate is in trouble. With that we can all do a great deal of good.
Stay healthy everyone. Thanks for cooperating with the worldwide plan to not let this invader get from one of us to another. But despite the necessary distances, let’s be more more supportive and emotionally ‘close’ than we have ever been.
Enjoy your days as much as possible everyone!
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.
2 thoughts on “The Emotional Response Plan”
Thank you Scott for this! I will be forwarding it to a bunch of people…great advice!
You’re very welcome. I hope it helps build even more understanding between everyone. That will be useful long after this immediate crisis is over. Take care –and stay healthy.