The word, “grace” can mean charm, which is a nice quality to cultivate in ourselves. In a religious context, as in the song, “Amazing Grace,” it means unearned kindness. You may be the giver of this kind of grace or its receiver.
Being kind to people you meet and date, even if you feel that their behavior doesn’t deserve it, is good for you, for them, and via a ripple effect, for the planet. I’m not saying to be a pushover. Kindness simply means treating others with the respect they deserve as human beings. We all have virtues and flaws, and when someone’s shortcomings seem to be screaming at us, it can help to take a few quiet breaths and accept that he or she is doing the best they can at the moment.
Still, most of us are likely to be thrown off balance when less than gracious behavior comes our way.
Jenny’s ability to respond graciously when under duress was tested. She had recently been fired from the prestigious job she had held for five years. She was feeling lost and hopeless when she gathered the strength to attend a party. Harold, a friend of a friend of hers, was there. Thinking he’d be understanding and maybe have an idea for her about what to do next, she told him that she was now unemployed for the first time in sixteen years.
He said, “It’s too bad that you don’t have any skills.
He then suggested that she go back to his place, presumably for sex.
That’s all he thinks I’m good for, Jenny thought, disgusted with him, and also with herself for opening up emotionally to someone so boorish. She went home feeling worse than before.
Showing Grace is an Option
Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We have options, and showing grace is a good one. We do not need to retreat into self-pity or to lash out vengefully. Either of these responses may feel natural, but neither is gracious to yourself or to the person who provokes you.
Using Jenny as an example, how’s how to switch to gracious mode when someone treats you ungraciously: First, notice what you are feeling. Typical feelings in such situations are hurt or anger about being insulted, devalued, or manipulated. When we experience them, we may feel too discombobulated to take corrective action on the spot to get centered. But it’s helpful to try to restore our equilibrium as soon as we feel calm enough.
Ideally the first thing Jenny could do to get back in balance would be to take some deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly a few times. She could also count to ten.
Switching to Showing Grace via Self-talk
Next she could practice the five step self-talk communication technique described by psychologist Dr. Pamela Butler, author of Talking to Yourself: How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life. Here’s how Jenny might follow the five steps, paraphrased below, to restore herself to a more gracious state:
Step #1. Notice what you are feeling and thinking.
Jenny might have been thinking: “He’s a creep to treat me this way,” or “I’m worthless except as a sex object.”
Step#2: Ask yourself: Is what I am telling myself helpful?
Jenny answers that it is not helpful because it keeps her feeling bad about both Howard and herself.
Step #3: Ask yourself: What is driving me to be talking to myself this way?
Jenny says her negative self-talk is coming from her “Judge,” which labels people as bad or wrong. Jenny now tells herself, “I’m blaming both him for making me feel crummy and myself for being a mess.”
Step #4. Better self-talk.
Jenny tells herself, “I don’t need to tolerate boorish behavior or let another person define me. When a situation feels toxic, I can politely excuse myself. I can be courteous even to someone who’s not behaving decently — by not taking it personally. Uncouth behavior is about the person who acts that way. It’s not about me.”
Step #5. What’s your action plan?
Jenny decides to be more gracious when someone is insensitive. She also resolves to be more cautious about with whom she’ll share her personal details. She will strive to be pleasant to all, yet keep her distance from rude people, because “I need to be kind to myself too.”
Why to Respond Graciously
Whether we’re single or married, we’re likely to find ourselves in situations now and again where our buttons get pushed. We may feel an urge to retreat sullenly or to strike back angrily. How much better it is, for our emotional health, for the wellbeing of others, and for just about any relationship, to respond to an incitement with grace.