Vail Relationships: How do you protect yourself? |

Vail Relationships: How do you protect yourself?

Neil Rosenthal
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –The most common primary responses to stress, anger, criticism or rejection are: fight, flight, freeze and faint.

At various times you may have experienced all of these responses, but most of us have a predominant style. Take the following quiz to determine which style you most commonly use, courtesy of Cynthia Wall in her book “The Courage to Trust.”

Recall a situation in which you were the object of someone else’s anger, rejection, blame, disrespect, criticism or judgment. On a scale from 0 (not me) to 5 (very much me), how well do you fit the following responses?


I get angry so fast, I can’t control it. I could break or hit something.

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My heart instantly hardens. I feel cold, unloving.

My whole body gets hot. I want to jump up and scream.


I’m out of here.

I want never to see the other person again.

I can’t stop talking. My mind is going a million miles an hour.


My mind is a blank. I can’t think of a thing to say.

I feel punched in the stomach, unable to move or talk.

My heart is beating fast. My mouth is dry. I feel like a robot.


I can’t remember what the other person said.

My body feels like Jell-O. My knees buckle.

I just wait until the bad part stops, then act like nothing has happened.

You, like the rest of us, have an inner protector. Your inner protector has developed ways to keep you safe. It finds ways for you to numb pain and minimize your hurt feelings.

Some of the more common ways people use to numb their pain and to protect themselves include getting high or drunk, bingeing on food, watching lots of television, playing lots of video games, eating lots of sugar or smoking cigarettes. All of those will distract you, help you to ignore (or forget) the problem or assist you in not feeling.

But there is another way of protecting yourself. When you’re dealing with someone’s anger, rejection, blame, criticism, judgment or disrespect, try to figure out at why the other person might reasonably feel the way they do. Look for where they could be right.

This may urge you to attempt to negotiate, compromise or to otherwise talk the problem through so the conflict can be resolved. Solving a problem or resolving an issue is the most effective way to protect yourself.

If you were to use this healthier and more mature form of self-protection more often, you would:

• Listen to someone carefully, trying to understand where they are coming from or why they feel the way they do, rather then trying to defend yourself or to deflect, minimize or block out what the other person is saying.

• Look at where there is agreement. Where do you agree with the other person? Where are they right?

• Make requests about what you would like in the future, instead of complaining about what was done in the past. The future can be changed. The past can’t.

• Use empathy – essentially giving the other person the benefit of doubt. It communicates that you care how they feel.

• Say everything you want, but say it tactfully and respectfully.

It is an act of supreme maturity and wisdom to respond to disrespect with grace and poise, restraining yourself from responding with an insult back.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colo., specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777, or e-mail him from his Web site

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