"As a former Relaxation Trainer for most of my life, the founder of the 'Anger Management process' in the 1970's, a social skills and assertive group trainer and stress management consultant for over fifty years, Most days I receive private messages requesting some problem-solving issue, but mostly requests are more often to do with coping with stress, reducing the stress in one's life and particularly,preventing others dumping their stress on you.
So without apology, I am posting the bulk of a posting I did on this subject some years ago for those it may help in response to my many inquiries received.
As an experienced past worker in stress management and a Relaxation Trainer for almost fifty years, one of the most common problem behaviours I found in people who experienced too much daily tension and stress, was to 'box themselves into a corner' instead of learning how to come out fighting and improve their situation!
For all you Freudian followers out there, 'boxing oneself into a corner' is akin to withdrawing to the womb and cowering down to life's stressors instead of confronting them and successfully beating them. There are many ways of not falling into this common trap, which will only take a few months of repeated practice to ensure that your new behaviour becomes a reinforced part of your newly acquired response pattern the more you practise.
There are three main categories of stress we encounter in life:
(1) The stress that naturally visits us through tragic and traumatic circumstances, over which we have no influence and cannot avoid.
(2) The stress which we invite into our lives and put upon ourselves.
(3) The stress that we allow others to dump on us.
Stress One: Whether the tragic circumstances which visits one in life involves bereavement of a loved one, loss of limb, loss of home, loss of job, loss of love, terminal illness etc., etc., there is a process and a time span to be negotiated before healing of feelings, body and mind can occur. Like many healing episodes in life, you will not emerge totally unscathed from your traumatic experience and may be left with some scars; perhaps even immobilised for a brief period. At the very least, expect to emerge badly bruised. The most important and helpful responses to healing in this example is to accept the reality of what happened, do not deny yourself the expression of your negative feelingst, thoughts and fears. After you have healthily negotiated this experience, move on with your life. You will not forget the experience, but you will learn from it and become a more understanding and stronger person for having had it and successfully negotiated it!
Stress Two: While it may seem strange to think that we invite stress into our daily lives, believe me, we do. Much of the stress one experiences is self-inflicted, mostly through the reinforcement of bad habits into our response patterns. Observe too fat a person eating two pizzas in one sitting, followed by a giant tub of ice cream and it becomes easy to see the stress being stored up for later life, such as increased likelihood of heart attacks, diabetes or failed organs. Other forms of self-inflicted stress however, become less visible to the untrained eye and unthinking mind and gradually creep up on us with accumulated consequences.
Did you know that learning to become more assertive, besides practising a few social skills behaviours more regularly will reduce self-inflicted stress levels enormously? The social situations I refer to are everyday situations which most of us are called upon to deal with, but many duck and take the easy way out by avoiding the expression of their true feelings. My twenty years of research into response patterns revealed that there are a handful of social situations which contain the ingredients to induce stress in each of us if we do not handle them properly. The situations I refer to are the giving and receiving of compliments, making a request from a stranger and refusing a request without the provision of an explanation, and learning to be appropriately assertive and tell the truth in potentially embarrassing situations. The very same social skills that are necessary to successfully negotiate almost every life situation are to be found in these social situations.
Imagine: your mother-in-law gives you a birthday present you detest and she asks you if you like it, and you want to truthfully answer her without offending her? Or perhaps, asking your partner whom you suspect to be spending too much money or having an affair, if they are! Most of us find it easier to avoid dealing with such situations when they affect us, but such avoidance makes matters worse, not better and lead to higher stress levels. The mere avoidance of doing what we know we ought to do increases stress, which leads to the unhealthy suppression of feelings. This vicious spiral leads to the strengthening of a bad habit and the increased likelihood of doing the same again in a similar situation. When the stress level gets too high, the non-assertive person is in a greater danger of involuntary explosive action. Some inappropriately aggressive types allow their stress to build up and up until it becomes too much to contain and like a volcano they erupt and 'explode', letting rip at the other person. Others of a more non-assertive nature allow their stress levels to build up and up until they 'implode' and let rip at themselves. This inward explosion either makes them ill, self-harm or can even drive them towards suicidal action or seemingly out-of-character acts of inexplicable violence against others; even loved ones. Whenever we avoid doing something we should instead of facing and dealing with it, our stress levels automatically increase, and conversely when we confront our anxiety, our stress levels diminish.
Stress Three: I find this type of stress the worst of all; not because its negative consequences are or aren't greater than the other two stress categories, but rather because it is easily avoidable and so unnecessary. Put as crudely as I dare in a public post, nobody would allow another to defecate over them without a word of protest as they just stood there and allowed it to happen. Why then, why oh why, do we allow others to dump their stress on us? Why do we burden ourselves with their stress by accepting the parcel of anxiety they pass to us as they allow the bomb to go off in our hands instead of theirs?
We live in an ever stressful world today and knowingly or otherwise, the rich often make the poor poorer, the strong tend to place the greatest burden on the more vulnerable, the powerful seem to believe it their right to reign supreme over the impotent and your boss, your neighbour, the stranger in the street, your friend and even your partner may occasionally try to dump their stress on you, 'if you let them!'
This behaviour is akin to one person wanting to push a problem out of their corner, looking around for a place where they can 'fly-tip' and then, dumping it on you and leaving you to deal with it in your back yard as they go off to repeat the process with some poor unsuspecting other! It is most evident in one's job where the boss will delegate a problem downwards to you to be solved that he doesn't want to bother with, and being subordinate in your work position, you find yourself accepting their 'dump'. It's not surprising that afterwards therefore, that you feel a failure letting it happen; not at all surprising if the experience leaves you feeling a bit of a shit! The very best way not to allow others to dump their stress on you is simply to refuse to take it on board.
When they dump their stress in your corner, pick it up and put it back where it came from and belongs; in theirs! 'I'm sorry but you seem to have mistaken me for someone else' or 'I don't recall going to the shop to fetch your sandwiches as being a part of my job description when you gave me the post' or better still, 'JUST SAY NO.' Indeed, the very first rule of becoming more assertive and not allowing others to dump on us begins with learning to say, 'No' to unfair and unwarranted requests. My own feelings on the matter is, if you cannot say 'No' to a stranger or boss, how are you ever going to say no to your children's demands or your partner's unfair behaviour whenever they seek to employ their emotional blackmail in order to make you feel guilty, so they may get their way?
So starting tomorrow, begin your new life, start to reinforce and strengthen your new response pattern and don't let anyone box you into a corner, least of all, yourself!" March 20th, 2017