(Re-posted from 2006)
Well, the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season is upon us. You know what that means? – Dealing with knotheads! Whether it’s your ex-spouse, your alcoholic mother, your abusive father, your in-laws with no sense of personal boundaries, the guy in front of you on the road driving 10 mph under the speed limit, or the woman in the department store who clearly doesn’t know the answer to your question but is trying to sound convincing anyway…knotheads are in abundance. We deal with them throughout the year, but they seem to come out of the woodwork this time of year. This being the case, it seemed appropriate to offer you some practical guidance on successfully dealing with the knotheads in your life.
Let’s begin with a simple definition. A knothead is anyone who seems determined to frustrate you. I like to use the word “knothead,” because it has such a nice, descriptive ring to it, without crossing the line into…well, you know the more colorful terms you use for these folks – under your breath or behind their back or when the kids aren’t listening. Anyway, knotheads appear to have the secret code to get to our buttons and push them to maximum aggravation level. It is at this point that we begin to see the solution to dealing with the knothead dilemma.
Question: What is the difference between a knothead and a common bonehead? Your common bonehead does goofy things, but doesn’t get you riled up. No access to your buttons, you see. The knothead, on the other hand, has found a way to get you to react with frustration, aggravation, or even outright fury when they pull out the goofy behavior card. So, again, what is the difference between these two? The degree to which you give them access to your emotional buttons! This is great news! It means you have a great deal of power in this equation. You have the power to reduce any knothead in rank to a common bonehead, therefore rendering them totally endurable (even for a four hour Thanksgiving feast!).
The power to neutralize even the most raging knothead is within your grasp. It basically comes down to three simple (if challenging) mental tasks:
- Staying calm. As the old saying goes, there is great power in keeping your head when all those around you are losing theirs. When you allow your emotional reactions to spill out in response to others’ goofy behavior, you are giving them greater access to your emotional buttons, and fueling their knotheadism to higher levels. It may not be easy to stay calm in the face of certain individuals, but I didn’t tell you this would be easy – just that it is do-able. When you stay calm, you stay in control. Maybe this will help. Remind yourself that if you get emotionally reactive because of something your least favorite knothead did or said, it means you have given a KNOTHEAD control of your emotions! Is that what you really want?!! Staying calm means keeping YOURSELF in control of your emotions and choices. (For more insights into the power of calm and the destructive power of emotional reactivity, I highly recommend www.screamfree.com.)
- Reminding yourself that the knothead/bonehead’s goofy behavior is primarily intended to get something for themself, not wreck your life. I know, there truly are exceptions to this – knotheads who legitimately want to inflict damage upon you. However, this really is not the case in most situations. In fact, many times the goofy behavior in question is so irksome to you, not because it was designed to cause you maximum frustration, but because you weren’t even considered. The vast majority of goofy behavior is the result of selfishness, frustration, lack of vision, and/or lack of maturity. If you can find a way to help the bonehead in question achieve whatever goals they are truly after, you are likely to help curb their goofy behavior that would otherwise intensify in an ongoing effort to reach their goals. Remember that their true goal may not be their expressed goal. You may have to listen and look carefully to understand what it is they are really desiring. If you are willing to make this effort, you may find that that what they are after is not so different from something you may desire, as well. If the idea of helping boneheads/knotheads achieve their goals is a really tough pill for you to swallow, consider the words of Jesus, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- Keeping it in perspective. Remember that you really only have to endure this goofiness for X length of time. If you are frustrated with that knothead in traffic, get some perspective already! We’re talking moments here – minutes at most. (Ouch!!! I’m really nailing myself on this one.) Giving fifteen extra minutes of your day to that person at church who doesn’t understand personal boundaries isn’t going to kill you. Even if the knothead you’ve been envisioning throughout this article is the one you will be sharing a living room with for three days over the Christmas holiday – it’s still only three days of your life. Stay calm. Try to help them get at least some of what they really want. And remember that you are leaving in just a few short hours. Why be miserable, just because there happen to be boneheads in the room? Keep in mind what a relatively small sacrifice it is to spend this short amount of time with Bonehead, and make the choice to enjoy yourself and your time. Especially during the holiday season!
I hope this has been a helpful course in Knotheadology 101. I’ll be working on a 200 level course in the future. In the meantime, if you would like some guided independent study with me, feel free to email me at Roger@hopeforyourfamily.com or call me at 225-333-1582. I sincerely hope you will have a knothead-free holiday season and beyond, although many of us simply can’t escape a few boneheads along the way to help us grow and mature. For more specific tips on how to deal with the ex-spouse variety of knothead, click on the following link to a handout I offered recently at a divorce support group: Healthy Relationship with Ex