Dr Stewart Hase - Psychologically Speaking

Dealing with the unexpected

Its that time of the year again. There you are, walking along, minding your own business. Perhaps quietly daydreaming, tuned out while your MP3 player is tuned into the latest podcast of your favourite music, or just chatting away to a friend on a warm spring morning outside the front gate. It may be youre halfway through your golf swing with a Tiger-like seven iron that is about to put the ball in the middle of the green.

Suddenly, there is a vague sense of impending danger as your instincts take over, a rush of air and a loud crack, just centimetres above your head. The fight and flight response takes over as you instinctively look to see what it is, ducking and weaving at the same time. Watching someone being bombed by a magpie is quite funny, as long as its not you. On the odd occasion I have managed eye contact with a bird in kamikaze mood I could swear it thinks its a great laugh too. Using nesting time as an excuse to create a bit of mayhem; toying with the masters of the universe. Or perhaps Im reading too much into their behaviour.

People can be a bit like this too. Everything is sailing along smoothly (or so you think) and lifes a breeze. And then, suddenly, out of the blue comes a bombshell. A nasty piece of behaviour, a dastardly act, an unexpected emotional discharge that comes your way for apparently no good reason. You are left completely flabbergasted, hurt, anxious or just plain angry. Depending on the strength of the relationship you duck and weave to a safe place and lick your wounds, fight back and up the ante, or just go find someone else to play with permanently. These reactions are a natural part of the fight and flight response and quite understandable. But the fight and flight response is pretty primitive and mostly bypasses the higher thinking centres in the brain. So our reactions to someones shocking behaviour can be a bit primitive too.

One way of looking at this sort of problem, that Ive found helpful, is to understand that all human behaviour is purposeful. People do things for reasons that mean something to them. It might not mean anything to us and might just seem senseless and designed to hurt us. We look for reasons for why the person did what they did but in effect we are making up stories because we dont really know, unless we ask them.

This doesnt make bad behaviour right but changes the viewing of it and takes some of the negative emotion out of the situation. It can be really useful to walk away from the immediate situation for a little while until things have calmed down. Then come back later and have a conversation in which you tell the person how you felt about what happened and ask them what it was all about. In other words talk it out and make a more informed decision about what to do. Its not easy but it is better than fighting or flighting.

I find it hard to hate magpies when I realise that they are only behaving instinctively and their bad hair day only lasts for a little while. And I can also find ways to deal with the problem until it goes away. Mind you, Im getting sick of this plastic bucket on my head when Im out walking. And it plays havoc with my golf swing.

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