I Choose My Own Battles

October 8, 2016

Defending our own rights, what we think is right or what we believe is worth it is practical and pragmatic most of the time. This way of relating to ourselves is known in psychology as assertiveness. It is a very common therapeutic goal for patients with low self-esteem or interpersonal problems. The truth is that if we were always passive and submissive and conformed in everything, the world would be rather stagnant. Another topic altogether are the battles that we find ourselves immersed in.

To achieve things, sometimes we have to “slam our fist on the table,” and try to make others see that our point of view is important and valid. The problem is that the situation often gets out of hand and we create “battles” where there was no reason to have them.

Why do we start absurd battles?

Human beings like to feel important and above all else, to see their desires met just the way they want them. We tend to tell ourselves, with absolutist and dogmatic phrases, that “there should not be lines at the supermarket. The cashiers should be faster, come on you good-for-nothings.” Or that “the nurse should have been more friendly.” In many cases, we get drawn into absurd battles.

Woman with Head Down

These “shoulds” are nothing more than demands that we make of the world and others. In the end, they bring about a rather unpleasant mental state in us, normally anxiety or anger. As a consequence of this, we act in a way that does not benefit anyone. Far from resolving our little problem, we turn it into an authentic battle royal.

All of this is in our heads, as things are the way they are. Through our false thoughts, we turn something desirable into an obligation for the other or for reality.

Tolerance or conformity?

That’s not to say that we have to conform in everything. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Conforming is for cowards. It is not being assertive about the things that are really important to me and letting myself be swept away by everything. Whether I like it or not, whether it goes with my values and interests or not.

The key is to develop tolerance towards the things that are not important or barely important. Whether there is a long line at the supermarket register or not is something that barely matters. We cannot qualify this as a problem or adversity. It bothers us, it makes us tense and anxious…but is it worth it?

This tension often leads us to even act like a child and draw the rejection of people around us who do not care if we are in a hurry, if we are nervous, or if we are bored.

We have to be very clear: there are things that we can control and solve according to our own criteria. But there are others that we cannot and in fact, most things are like this. The only thing we can control is our way of interpreting the world.

Couple Misunderstanding with Signs

How do I tolerate what makes me uncomfortable?

In order to learn to tolerate all the things that make us uncomfortable, we can follow the following advice:

  • Learn to detect your automatic negative thoughts. When you find yourself in a situation that objectively is not that important, like at night when your neighbors decide to listen to music a little louder than usual, ask yourself what it is that is happening in your head. Are you demanding that things be another way? Are you telling yourself that this is intolerable? If the answer is yes, you are acting like a god, a superior being who can judge others and make them do things differently. But the truth is that this is just a fantasy and it only exists in your head.
  • Start changing those thoughts into others that adjust to the world as it is and not to the one that we childishly expect it to be. Instead of speaking in terms of “shoulds,” speak in terms of preferences. Instead of telling yourself that something is intolerable, tell yourself the truth and you will already be tolerating it or dealing with what makes you uncomfortable.
  • Use humor in situations that we do not like or that are not desirable. Humor softens almost all blows, especially those quotidian ones from our daily routine and it makes adversity much easier to bear.
  • Relationships are like gears in that if we change, the other tends to change as well. If I notice that the doctor is unfriendly and is treating me in a less than desirable way, I can force myself to be friendly and kind towards him and his attitude will very likely start to change. Love is also disarming and it transforms relationships.

Do not let yourself we swept away by emotions. You must learn to choose your own battles.