How to...



How many times...

How many times have you reacted to someone in anger and blame, regretting it later?

How many times have you gotten defensive with someone you cared about and the conversation went south?

How many times have you hurt someone's feelings by thoughtlessly blurting something out?

How many times have you forgotten that it takes two people to argue?

How many times did your mouth open without your permission?

How much better would your relationships and life be if you knew how to interrupt yourself when you started to indulge in this abusive behavior?

Stop in the name of love

When we open our mouth and later wish we hadn't, it's almost always with someone that we have an ongoing relationship with: a husband, a wife, a lover, a child, a parent, a friend, a colleague, a boss, an employee. These are our most important relationships. 

Most often, our words are already "out the barn door" before we may become aware that we're going to later regret what we said. Even then, we may feel out of control. We know we should be able to stop arguing, but we don't. We know we should somehow care about the damage we're causing to ourselves, to the other person, and to our relationship. But we're like a lemming drawn to its own destruction.

The source of our behavior

The ultimate source of this reactive behavior is our living inside the House of Good and Bad. As you manage to extract yourself from that house, step by step, these behaviors will naturally disappear of their own accord. See Undoing Shoulds. That however, can take a while, and it may never be completely done.

Here's what you can do in the meantime

To start with, select one important person you'd like to end your reactive pattern with. Let's say their name is Jamie.

Choose a time when things are okay with Jamie and say to him or her:

You: "Jamie, I've got a problem I've been trying to solve on my own, but I haven't been very successful. If I could get a little help from you, I'm sure we could nail it. Let me explain my idea, okay?"

Jamie: "Sure, go ahead."

You: "You've noticed how I get argumentative, or blaming, or defensive with you sometimes, right? I don't like that behavior in myself. It doesn't show respect to me, to you, or to our relationship. With a little help from you, I think it won't take very long for me to break this habit. Let me tell you how this would work, okay?"

Jamie: "I'm a bit curious."

You: "I've already created an intention for myself to catch myself, either when I feel myself getting reactive, or at least catch myself at some point when this abusive behavior has already started. That may work sometimes.

"But other times I might not catch myself very quickly. You're more likely to notice my abusive behavior before I do, right? So, if you catch me before I do, then there's a small bonus in it for you. I'll tell you about that in a moment. But when you notice this abusive behavior, I want you to wink at me if we're face to face or make a raspberry sound (or whatever you like) if we're own the phone. This will give me a signal that I'm indulging in this pattern again."

Jamie: "Okay, but I don't see how that's going to help much?"

You: "By itself, it won't. But this is what I promise to do. When you wink at me (keep doing it if I don't notice it right away), I will swear to you that I'll do three things immediately:


"First, using a squeaky, silly, Donald-Duck voice I will sing the line, "Row, row, row our boats gently down the streams, Merrily, merrily, merrily, life if but our dreams." 

"Second, I will get down on my knee and bow to you as deeply as I can.

"Third, I will immediately give you the smallest piece of money that I have, asking you to accept it as a token of my apology to you.

"Jamie, I don't know how many times I will need to do this before I break this habit, but I don't think it will be too many. What do you think?"

Jamie: "Okay, it seems like a good idea. Let's try it."

You: "I appreciate your partnership on helping me to break this habit I've had with you. Oh, but there is one other part to tell you about.

"If I catch myself first before you need to wink at me, then I agree to do the same as above. You'll know what I'm doing even if you didn't know that I was about to indulge in this habit. But there's one difference in the consequence for me. Because I caught myself first, I won't be giving you that money. Make sense?"

Jamie: "Okay, agreed."

You: "Thank you. If for any reason this doesn't seem to be working at some point or either one of us notices that the other has forgotten what they agreed to, then I promise I will bring it up again if I notice it first and I hope you will do the same. Then we can put it back in place, maybe with some adjustments, okay?"

Jamie: "Sure."

I'm not always a nice guy

Heidi, my personal/business assistant, and I noticed a pattern. Once every week or two, I would react with annoyance at something she told me, like I was going to have to pay for something I didn't anticipate. She was just the messenger. The annoyance passed rather quickly, but it still affected Heidi.

Breaking my pattern

Heidi would likely notice my upset before I would. She agreed she would just say to me, "Are you upset?" I promised her that when she said this I would immediately lie down on the floor and scream like a child for several seconds. 

Here's a short video of my temper tantrum






Only two times

I only had to do this two times before my machinery got the message. It's been a few months since I've gotten annoyed at something with Heidi. She likes that.

Partnership Conversation

For any ongoing relationship that you have this abusive habit with, choose courage to initiate this partnership conversation with them. Step by step and fairly quickly, you can dramatically improve one or more of your relationships. See the Partnership Conversation about a very powerful approach to any conflict.

Design considerations

The core of this process takes the idea of pattern interruptions from NLP. 

The above sample dialogue gives you the basic idea. You'll need to adapt it to your circumstances and to each relationship. If it's likely that you might get abusive on the phone (instead of face to face) with a particular relationship, then the second and third parts of the "weird" behavior that you agree to will need to be selected so that you can do them over the telephone.

Many possible "weird" behaviors could be chosen and agreed upon (always in advance). 

  • go to the sink and splash cold water on your face

  • get down on the floor and roll over three times

  • have some dog nibbles available and eat one of them

  • pull your cheeks out and make a funny face

  • skip around the room

  • count backwards by one-half from 83 down to 78.

Whatever interruptive behavior you select, it must be something you can do immediately (It's unlikely to work very well if you can't do it immediately in front of the person you've abused).

Implementation considerations

I've coached many people on using this technique. It always works. One time I noticed my own pattern of getting impatient with an assistant I had in Shanghai whenever she would forget to do something that I had asked her to do. So I set this agreement up with her so that I had to pay her a one-rmb consequence immediately (about 15 USA cents) each time it happened. It only took three times to break my abusive pattern with her. 

It might be a choice of courage for you to set this up. It could be a choice of courage for you to agree to do (and follow through on) the pattern interruptions. Go to the CCC toolkit to review the four steps of choosing courage. 

Plan and take the first step with the first person now.