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by Sandra Prior
Do nothing? Seriously? For women of action, this may be the last solution to consider in trying times. Many of us think we're more likely to succeed if we get involved, assert ourselves and put up a decent fight. But there are certain situations (and we're here to tell you which) where saving your breath and making a graceful retreat is your safest, smartest bet. In these situations, getting involved will have only damaging consequences and bring unnecessary problems into your zone.
So when exactly should you hold back? When you need to protect yourself. These are the situations in which you could be made into a scapegoat, an accomplice, a punching bag or an enemy by saying too much - or saying anything at all. Watch out for them.
When they're Throwing a Tantrum
When somebody's having a hissy fit, he or she is not thinking rationally or listening to anyone, so engaging at this point is a waste of time, you won't get through. It's a chaotic interaction at an emotional level, and if you get involved, you run the risk of getting pulled into the drama. If you start responding from the basis of feelings, you can escalate the situation. Rather calm down and reflect on what's happening. Afterwards, approach the person and say what you don't like about the behavior.
The way to protect yourself is by not allowing yourself to become the enemy or the savior. Realize that, by stepping away, you're allowing the other person to let off steam, something he or she might desperately need to do. You could still be a friend without becoming involved, by allowing the person to give in to the feelings. Often that's enough. If it's someone you care for, you're showing that you accept what he or she is going through, but you're not part of it.
When there's Nothing to Gain from Engaging with Them
‘Two years ago, one of my best friends developed an eating disorder,’ says Leigh-Ann, 27, a copywriter. ‘She was under stress at work and was starving herself. Her family and friends soon noticed and commented on it, because we were worried. Her aunt even phoned me to say I should organize an intervention to force her to start eating again. I desperately wanted to help but I saw that, whenever anyone started talking about her eating habits, she cut them off. Those people were only alienating her. I decided never to mention her eating disorder - instead, I supported and encouraged her in anything I thought was positive.’
'One day, I mentioned to her that I'd been to see a therapist during a difficult time, and how it had worked for me. I was amazed when my friend told me a week later that she'd started seeing a psychologist. It really helped. She resigned from her job and found another, and also ended an unhappy relationship. She's completely fine and healthy now.'
The first thing to do is evaluate the situation. Ask yourself whether there is anything to be gained from engaging, how much damage it could cause you and how you can protect yourself. You can't change another person. If you feel you've said it all, what would engaging with them achieve? Also, consider the possibility that your solution might come from within you, not from the outside. Figure out whether you can hold back and do something inside you differently. We tend to think that engaging with a person is the sole answer to a problem. But sometimes he or she is just the catalyst and it's you who needs to do something about the issue in yourself.
When the other person starts reacting in a 'Yes, but...' way to everything you suggest, it's time to give up. There are people who can't listen to or hear what others are saying. Recognize when this is the case, and step away. They might start to remember and hear what you said in the first place.
When you get Caught in a Conflict between Two People
When you know a situation actually has nothing to do with you, then it has nothing to do with you - it's as simple as that. Don't you have enough problems of your own? By not saying anything, you are refusing to take sides - which is what they might be expecting. If you do become involved, you'll become part of the conflict and their problem will become yours too. Ask yourself what's in it for you and why you're being drawn into the situation. Assuming the other two people are adults who can make up their own minds and take responsibility for their own issues, why do you want to get involved? Do you feel the need to solve everyone's problems? Does conflict make you uncomfortable? By intervening, you can actually be doing the others a disservice.
Conflict takes individuals to another level. By playing the rescuer, you could be depriving them of the opportunity to grow and strengthen their bond. If, however, they ask you to intervene, consider the potential damage it could cause to you and your relationship with each of them. You can say no if you don't feel up to it.
When He/She/It isn't that Important to You
Learn to pick your battles. Confront only people you want to be close to and people who are acting abusively. Trying to resolve an issue means you are serious about the relationship. Accepting conflict automatically draws one closer to the other person involved and foists a relationship on them, whether they like it or not.
Conversely, not saying or doing anything is in fact 'saying' something. By not reacting, you could be showing that you don't care, that you disapprove or that you don't know what to do. So before you do react, look at your motives. Why do you want to do it? Is this person open to what you're going to say? And do you actually care?
When the Issue is Over
Endlessly harping on a past event can threaten to break a good relationship apart. There's no point living in the past when you're happy together and you love each other. You can't let your past ruin your present. When something's done, it's done, and worrying, obsessing and talking about it may merely create more problems. But a situation doesn't just vanish. Sometimes the reason you give energy to a situation is to help you move on. If it involves a significant person or event, spend some time on it - then move past it. Infidelity is a prime example. You might wish it could be swept under the carpet but it needs to be spoken about.
Though it's not pleasant or comfortable, feelings must be discussed if you want to overcome the issue. Talk if it's significant to you and if the person is important. But watch out for obsessing over every slight and disappointment in your life; you could be using your energy in far more creative, fulfilling ways.
If you find moving on and letting go difficult, use introspection to find out why you can't. Maybe you fear feeling like a failure by not solving the issue. We all want happy endings but that notion simply isn't realistic. Most of us want to please, to be accepted, to do the right thing - but we go on trying beyond reason and it becomes a struggle, which can be very tiring.
When you've Done your Best
Even if things didn't work out the way you'd hoped, pat yourself on the back for doing your best. Maybe it was meant to happen that way. There are things we can control and things we can't. Decide which is which and have the wisdom to step back from what you can't alter. Don't hang on to it. You can't change the outcome this time - but you can change how you engage with the same person or situation in future to generate a different outcome.
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