A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to an acquaintance (let’s call her, “Ellen”) through email.** I had a question to ask her, and I thought that she might be able to provide some insights to a query of mine. This is not a colleague or a good friend, but it is someone that I communicate with every once in a while. As I always do, I read my message over before pressing, “Send,” and waited to see what kind of advice she might offer in her reply. What I was not prepared for though was what she said.
Ellen replied really negatively to my message. Somehow, she thought that my query was a reflection on her and some of her past practices, instead of just a wonder and a search for input. When I first read her response, I had to read it twice just to ensure that I didn’t misinterpret the tone of her answer. I didn’t. Then I went back and re-read my email. Did I somehow imply something more than what I thought that I did? I still don’t think that I did, but I can see how the example that I referenced — about a past experience, as I was hoping that this might help with her advice — might have been interpreted differently than I intended.
- Maybe Ellen wishes that she responded in another way back then.
- Maybe Ellen’s still struggling with this past experience just as I’m struggling with my current one.
- Maybe Ellen felt judged by her actions, even though this was never what I meant to do.
- Maybe Ellen is working through another problem right now, and this email out of the blue from me, was just enough to increase her stress.
- Maybe something else is going on in Ellen’s life, and I somehow triggered it or added another layer to her stress with my request.
Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why?” and “Why now?” had me thinking through a lot of maybes. While I could read Ellen’s reply and know that her words were coming from a space of dysregulation, I’m not going to pretend that her email didn’t make me angry. A few choice words of my own might have gone through my mind. I knew that I needed to reply to her though and diffuse the situation, but I also needed to calm myself in order to do so.
This is when I sent a text message to a friend of mine. Someone that I can trust, and someone that I knew would help calm me down so that I could do the same for Ellen. I didn’t tell her what caused my upset or the details of the email, but I did tell her that I received a message that made me mad. She let me vent. She gave me the space to be, and she told me what I needed to hear to feel better. I was then able to write Ellen a note that included an apology: sharing more about why I reached out to her and how much I valued her advice. In the end, my second email helped reduce Ellen’s stress, and she emailed me a few great suggestions. This was the very reason that I wrote her in the first place.
Now I realize that some people might question my choice of platforms, and explain that a written note is easier to misinterpret than a phone call. This is how Ellen and I communicate though, especially since our schedules are so very different. She probably would have been even more on edge if I called her, as I never do that. This whole experience ended up being a great reminder for me about stress behaviour versus misbehaviour. Yes, I think that these terms apply to adults as well as kids. If I saw Ellen’s hurtful words as intentional, I might have responded a lot more harshly than I did. My own stress response might have also impacted on how I replied to her and any future correspondence with her. Thankfully my good friend could be my inter-brain of sorts, and seeing Ellen’s email through a lens of stress behaviour, I was able to reply differently than I probably would have previously.
Since taking Foundations 1, so many interactions that I have in life I view through a Self-Reg lens. As much as Self-Reg has impacted on our classroom experiences, I think it impacts equally as much on my life experiences. This doesn’t mean that I always respond perfectly. In fact, I would say that I’m far from perfect. But Self-Reg does get me to slow down more often and avoid some of the harsher responses that I might have expressed more frequently in other years. Know more. Do better. Ellen reminded me of this. How has Self-Reg changed your life? Years after Foundations 1, it’s continuing to change mine.
**Please note that some of the details of this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.