A misjudgement or false accusation can be a trigger for a self-sabotage spiral. It starts with anger and leads to a kind of grief.
What is going on and do you have a stop button?
Real examples of individuals feeling misjudged.
The misjudged doctor.
I was listening to a caller on a radio phone-in about doctors not seeing patients face to face — and how awful they are!
The caller was a doctor.
The slings and arrows of false accusations had wounded this hard working doctor – her and her colleagues, day after day.
So it was not surprising that this doctor — this human — felt misjudged and unheard.
The conversation between the radio presenter and the doctor demonstrated the spiral of feeling misjudged, hurt, not believed, defensive, angry, rejected and sad.
To be fair, I am guessing the last one based on my own experiences and the stories shared with me.
But maybe this resonates with you.
You might not be a doctor or someone trying their best and being accused of being lazy.
It is unlikely that the misjudgement is a miscarriage of judgement or false accusation on a par with high profile cases such as the tragic case of Chris Jefferies and the victims of Carl Beech or the Cardiff 3 of Butetown.
But you will have felt the sting of being falsely accused as a child and adult.
Feeling misjudged has the power to trigger a teenage tantrum response.
I haven’t been a teenager since 1976, but I feel that tantrum energy easily if misjudged and not believed.
You know that feeling when you try to correct the person who has just misjudged you and they don’t believe you? They might even inflame your anger more by pretending to believe you, whilst obviously just humouring you.
All the while you are crying out to be heard, believed… loved!
You ‘know’ they are still misjudging you— even if they attempt to retract the comment.
And having reached this impasse, you retreat like a wounded animal.
Your anger morphs into a sinking self-doubt.
- Your identity has been trashed.
- Your attempt to defend your identity is being ignored.
- You feel stupid and isolated.
- You decide you are useless.
This spiral of self-doubt suffocates joy and growth.
This isn’t just about you!
We all misjudge — we are all misjudged.
Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during domestication.
Don Miguel Ruiz
In other words — don’t take it personally!
Easy to say.
That kind of calm rationality is highly challenged in a ‘trigger’ event!
If feels very personal.
How does the trigger of feeling misjudged end up with you feeling useless?
Let me tell you a story of allergy, cystitis and someone else’s friends.
I was staying with my ex husband’s friends — meeting them for the first time.
We were hours from home and away for a long weekend by the sea.
The friends had 2 hairy dogs. I am allergic to dogs.
My eyes and throat instantly itched.
I then felt the familiar initial — unconnected — niggle of cystitis — I knew how it would develop.
A perfect storm.
That night, I try to sleep alongside my ‘then husband’ — in the house belonging to the friends who were not mine.
I wheeze and struggle for breathe.
The dogs dander has done the deed.
But on top of the watery eyes and wheezing I am weeing in pain because what started with a small sting was now a full blown case of cystitis.
Fast forward to the next morning after a fitful night of sleep propped up on extra pillows made out of rolled up clothes!
My now ex and I are taking a short walk to the nearby beach whilst the ‘friends’ get up.
‘I can’t stay another night’ I say.
‘Really?’ he says — with a frown.
‘Yes – really.’
‘Well what a surprise’ he says sarcastically. ‘I knew you didn’t like my friends.’
‘What? It’s nothing to do with them. I am allergic to their dogs and feel lousy with cystitis!’
‘Seems like a convenient excuse,’ he says.
The trigger event has taken place and I am angry. (We will deconstruct this emotion in a moment.)
Reluctantly my ex agrees to cut the stay short. The entire car journey back is a mix of surly silence from him and repeated attempts to plead my case my me.
You will note the ‘ex’ ingredient of this story!
What was really happening?
He had already decided I wouldn’t like his friends — before the weekend even started.
I actually didn’t really like them. But I didn’t hate them!
The physical misery of cystitis was very real.
I guess if you’ve never had it badly, the searing pain is hard to understand.
And — something was going on with my identity. It was being trashed.
But then it was happening for him too — in wise hindsight.
For him it was about a judgement on his friends that had been part of his world long before he met me. A judgement on his friends was a judgement on him.
And for me it was a judgement on my honesty. Whilst there was some truth in what he said, he totally ignored my physical state. It felt like full on abandoment. Rejection. We know the fear of rejection is pretty primal.
And with fear comes defensiveness.
Defensiveness and listening are separated by a bolted door.
Two people glaring at each other whilst clanking around in full armour are not two people sat around with a cup of tea talking through a misunderstanding in a relaxed, exploratory frame of mind.
Defensivness comes from fear.
Anger come from fear.
Fear is a big thing!
The same bodily response occurrs in fear as in anger, differing only in degree.
Fear is an instinctive response to threat — in this case the threat of rejection.
Anger is a secondary emotion arising from fear.
It also arises from the sadness felt when someone you feel should ‘have your back’ abandons you.
What started with anger has now developed into a kind of grief. In fact, the word ‘anger’ has Norse origins that are closer to ‘grief’.
You feel a threat to self and that is a good foundation for grief isn’t it?
Grieving a lost bond and a lost self.
Sadness, fear, hurt and anger — and anger wins!
But how do we win?
We don’t want to win a fight we just want to win by not tipping into the self-sabotage spiral.
But the problem is — once you step on to the angry conveyor belt — you go round in circles achieving nothing other than self-inflicted pain.
You might be on that conveyor belt for days, weeks or even years if you keep ruminating and poking at your self-sabotage nerve endings.
So take some action to get off that conveyor belt.
How to stop the self-sabotage spiral
Tip 1: Stop analysing, arguing and agonising over the incident.
The longer we ruminate about what has made us angry, the more ‘good reasons’ and self-justifications for being angry we can invent. Brooding fuels anger’s flames. But seeing things diferently douses those flames.
Daniel Goleman (referring to research on controlling anger by Tice and Bauminster 1993)
- Try the buddhist technique of recognising the thoughts as they pop up but not engaging in them.
- Let them fade with time.
- Keep persective by not being too hard on yourself for feeling the feelings! You are human.
- Try some humour — the great diffuser. Even if this is just with internal dialogue.
Tip 2: Reach for cold water rather than oil!
Instead of pouring oil on troubled water — chuck cold water in your face!
Or as Dana G Smith suggests — ‘slap a bag of frozen peas on your face’!
The sudden cold shock activates the mammalian diving reflex — which shuts down the panic mode your body is stuck in.
Tip 3: Check your levels of self-squashing — and work on your unsquashing.
When your self-esteem foundations are wobbly your fear triggers are easily activated.
- Build your sense of self-worth by recognising your good points!
- Talk to honest and supportive friends who will remind you of these good points.
- Give yourself a good talking to about over-reacting.
- Make it a personal challenge to avoid the tantrum style response.
Do all this for you – as part of your personal growth.
Tip 4: Remember that nobody is perfect.
I think Eleanor puts it very well.
‘Sooner or later, you are bound to discover that you cannot please all the people around you all of the time. Some of them will attribute to you motives you never dreamed of. Some of them will misinterpret our words and actions, making them completly alien to you. So you had better learn fairly early that you must not expect to have everyone understand what you say and what you do.’