I’ve a huge aversion to anger. Anger, aggression, accusation – it scares me stupid. Even if it’s not directed at me, it still throws me out of kilter.
My mind goes blank. If there is anything going on inside me beyond my autonomous systems, it’s a subconscious voice chanting “oh God oh God oh God” at an undulating speed. Everything else is drowned out. I go both tense and limp, and after a few minutes it’s difficult to avoid falling asleep.
I mean, I’m there. I see and hear my environment. I understand all the words I’m hearing in the moment. But I’m basically switched off. My mind has no foothold.
On its own, this reaction (or lack thereof) is harmless. I just… don’t do anything. I can’t do anything. So I just sit there. Or stand there, or lie there. And the situation washes over me until it settles. Then, my mind comes out of stasis and starts to work again. If it were just a matter of me, then hey. Whatever. What’s more of a problem is the dynamic that this reaction can create.
What happens is a sort of a feedback loop. I pick up on someone’s anger, and I freeze. My lack of a response fans the flames, increasing the other’s anger. That in turn solidifies the ice, making it that much harder to react. Back and forth, until the situation gets terrible.
This scenario once kicked in during an interview at a press gig. Though my editor had made an appointment, the guys were just looking to shill their product, not answer probing questions. I expected a cordial one-on-one, but I wound up with four guys staring at me, defiantly. Whenever I opened my mouth, they cut me off and snapped back at me. After a few questions, I totally blanked. I stammered a bit, then just wound up staring at a point about three feet behind and through my notebook. The seconds passed, then the minutes. Their tone grew all the more patronizing, and then some PR guy swooped in and took pity on me. He walked with me until I calmed down enough to figure out how to board a bus and go home.
Never got paid for that assignment.
That’s an extreme example, and an impure one. The intimidation in there complicates things. But my reaction was the same. I actually began to fall asleep in front of them. I’m still embarrassed about that event, and I note that my editor never assigned me another interview.
Does anyone have experience with this mechanism I’m describing, and some practical advice in working with, around, or against it? I’d like to stop my brain from shutting off at the first hint of anger, so that I have the faculties to deal with and possibly defuse whatever situation I’m in. This possum thing – it’s got to stop.