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Boiling Point

March 19, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

I hate confrontation and let things slide until things boil over and I explode.

Dear Emuna,

I am not very confrontational. I let a lot of things slide and fool myself that they don’t bother me – but in the end everything boils over and I explode – at my friend, my employer and, most frequently of all, my husband. I know it’s not ideal but I can’t seem to stop myself. Do you have any helpful tips?

Simmering Volcano

Dear Simmering,

You need more than helpful tips. You need to change your way of being. You have allowed yourself to get into a very destructive pattern of behavior and you do it so often it has become a habit. Habits are difficult to change; they are so deeply ingrained that it requires significant hard work and determination to get rid of bad habits and replace them with healthier behavior. So my first piece of advice is that you have to sincerely recognize how destructive this behavior is and you have to really want to change.

Then you have to decide that you are prepared to make the effort. You claim that you are not very confrontational but in the end what your passive behavior leads to is actually a very big confrontation which is completely self-defeating. You are deluding yourself that you can let certain behaviors slide when you don’t actually seem able to do that. In all relationships, and particularly in our marriages, it is good to be able to let go, to not notice the small things, to focus on what really counts (important tip: it’s not the toilet seat or the toothpaste tube). That’s the goal but it requires really being able to let go, not secretly holding on it and building resentment.

If you can’t really let go (we need to be honest with ourselves) then we need to address the issue. My husband always advises that we keep our relationships “current” i.e. not allowing our frustrations to fester. Instead of biting your tongue and growing increasingly more frustrated, you need to find a way to discuss the situation with your husband or friend. This needs to be done in a quiet, calm moment – and not after you’ve just tripped over the hockey stick that your husband just brought in from the car and forgot to put away! Pour yourselves a glass of wine, build some intimacy and connection and then make a request, not an attack. “It means so much to me when you…” “It would be so helpful to me if you would…” “I really appreciate that you…” This removes the anger and aggression.

Whether it’s a friend, a boss or a spouse, we want to work together. We want to deepen our positive feelings, not create more negative ones. Open yet kind communication is the place to start.

Love Work, Dislike Boss

Dear Emuna,

I love my job. I have been doing it for many years and I have achieved a leadership position in the company. The work is challenging and my team is great – enthusiastic and hard-working. The only problem is my boss. I don’t know whether she feels we are in competition with each other and whether it’s just different personality and management styles, but not only is she unfriendly to me, she frequently takes credit for my work. It really bothers me. What should I do?

Subordinate No More

Dear Frustrated Employee,

I believe I can give you a framework for looking at the situation that will make it bother you less but I don’t feel equipped to deal with the actual business issue. That is outside my area of expertise and there is not enough information here.

Is your boss’s attitude impacting your salary, your bonuses or the possibility of promotion? Is she getting between you and your team and badmouthing you to them or in front of them? Are they loyal to you or do they feel the need to side with your boss for the sake of their own careers? These are all important questions and there are many business leaders who have written many books to address these concerns and provide strategies for concerned employees.

From a philosophical perspective (assuming no negative impact to your financial future), it doesn’t

matter who gets the credit. Yes, it’s frustrating when it’s your idea but if the goal was to get it implemented, then you have succeeded. Success is NOT about getting credit. If we are constantly looking for credit, we will never be very happy. It will end up distorting all of our relationships – we will want to take credit with our friends, our spouses, our children – and we will not be very popular. Our goal is to achieve the humility necessary for healthy relationships with other human beings and for a relationship with God. Ego and credit get in the way of that.

It’s unlikely you’re going to change your boss, so if you love the work, focus on the rewards of the work and the good relationships you have with your other colleagues, and let go of the need for credit.

Fear of Surgery

Dear Emuna,

I need to have a minor surgical procedure and I’m feeling quite anxious. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off but I can’t delay any longer because it’s affecting my ability to work. It’s under a local anesthetic and it is a routine operation. Yet my anxiety threatens to overwhelm me and I’m obsessing about it constantly. Because of our health care plan, it will be a number of months before a place becomes available for me. I don’t want to spend the next six months in this anxious, obsessive state. Do you have any helpful thoughts?

Fretting Away

Dear Fretting,

I understand that you are looking for a way to cope with your anxiety. I assume from your descriptions – “minor” and “routine” – that your anxiety is not exactly rational. You are not facing open-heart surgery or a neurosurgeon. You need to begin by familiarizing yourself with the facts of the situation so that you can be more rationally prepared. Then you need to recognize an important Jewish idea – doctors are not God (whatever they may tell you to the contrary). They do not hold the power of life and death or sickness and health in their hands. They are the Almighty’s agents. They perform His will in the arena of healing. It is all in His hands and a wise doctor recognizes that (and even recites Maimonides’ Prayer for Physicians to remind himself!) The doctor may be wearing a white coat and barking orders but the Almighty is running the show. Really understanding and internalizing this idea should alleviate this anxiety. It’s not easy but this should be your goal. And in the meantime, all that soul searching and reading and learning and exploration should take your mind off the upcoming procedure and the accompanying anxieties!

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