Even as we become mature, hopefully stable, aging adults, there are times we may revert to responding emotionally to situations the way we did at a much younger, less mature age.
For decades I worked as a nursing supervisor in a busy hospital with all levels of personnel and many personalities. I also came in contact with patients and their families, who were experiencing sometimes frightening health issues, over which they had no control. At times, by representing the hospital, I became the immediate target for emotional outlet. I learned not to take remarks and behaviors personally, because folks were responding, in their stress, to my role, not me specifically.
However, since I have retired, I no longer have a “role” that enables me to de-personalize negative interactions with folks out in the public. Now I’m not the nursing supervisor, I’m simply me.
Today, I had an upsetting interaction with a grocery store employee, as I entered the store. The employee was bringing shopping carts back inside the store, and she was located just inside a door that opens automatically as someone approaches it. I didn’t see her there before I triggered the door to open. It hit her in the back.
She yelled angrily, “I was standing here and you hurt me.” I apologized many times, but she shouted, “Just go on , just go.”
I felt shocked, bewildered, and hurt myself. Certainly, I didn’t mean to hurt her and I thought defensive things like, “I didn’t mean to hurt her, why is she so angry at me?” and “She should know not to stand so close to the automatic door.”
I did go immediately to the store manager to report she may have gotten hurt, also admitting I was nearly in tears myself over the incident.
Then, I examined my own emotional reaction to the situation and realized I had taken it too personally and defensively……. an adolescent response. Yes, it’s reasonable to be taken aback when something startling occurs. But the woman was equally startled, perhaps injured, and I’ve observed her enough at the store to know she may have some underlying behavioral, mental health issues.
Thus, I realize I had reverted to my easily hurt, adolescent self, because she yelled at me and told me to leave. I was centered on my internal feelings, instead of looking at the bigger picture.
As we retire from our careers, we may lose some of the personal strengths we learned on the job and perhaps left there. Absorbing those beneficial strengths into our retired “selves” keeps us growing into our most emotionally mature natures.
Emotional health and maturity are works in progress throughout our lives. Certainly I forgive the grocery cart woman who yelled at me and probably has a life of hardships I can’t even imagine. But I also forgive myself …..and realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to keep growing and learning.