3 Emotional Weapons You Need to Put Down

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
What makes a superhero? It’s not just the cape — or the superpowers, says Emily V. Gordon, a former couples and family therapist (and current Refinery29 contributor!) and author of the new self-help-meets-badass-inspiration tome Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero. Our favorite mysterious crime fighters reach blockbuster status by overcoming traumatic events in their past, embracing their flaws, and working their spandex-clad tails off every day to be the best version of themselves, and that’s exactly what Gordon hopes to help readers do.

“Becoming the superhero version of yourself is all about learning to respond to the trials and tribulations of life in a way that makes you a stronger, wiser, and more positive being,” she writes. “It’s about learning to grow from bad experiences rather than just adding them to the pile of things that have gone wrong in life...Change is mandatory; growth is optional; and greatness is inside all of us.”

One potential obstacle on the path to greatness: The weapons and armor we use to protect our emotions too often end up distancing us from people who want to get close. Read on for Gordon’s take on the most commonly used weapons in our emotional arsenal — and how to disarm yourself.

Sarcasm, you say? Are we considering sarcasm a weapon that pushes people away from us? Absolutely. Sarcasm certainly has its place and can make for extremely hilarious interactions with others, conveying with wit and charm and wry humor just how you see the world. It can be devastatingly sexy. However, if sarcasm is your only method of communication, it can also be very isolating. I think of sarcasm as a bit like teargas — it fills a room and burns people’s eyes. And though sarcasm communicates to the world that you’re untouchable and unflappable, I often find that sarcastic people are in fact extremely sensitive and have learned to employ sarcasm in order to keep others at a safe distance.

It’s about learning to grow from bad experiences, rather than just adding them to the pile of things that have gone wrong in life.

Of course, I am speaking of myself. I cry over dog food commercials; if people I care about are in conflict, I’ll start crying before I can choke out any reassuring words. If someone says something insulting to me, I’ll carry it in my heart for weeks, turning it over and over, trying to deduce meaning from it, trying to make it okay. So sarcastic teargas was my weapon of choice for many years. If I make some witty jabs, others will think I’m tough and won’t try to mess with me — and won’t ever know I’m a crier at heart. I refused to be vulnerable in any way and then wondered why I wasn’t making any real friendships. Perhaps for that period of my life, I couldn’t handle real friendships, but at the time I couldn’t admit any of this to myself. I just realized that even though I had a ton of acquaintances, there were very few people I could be vulnerable with.

Sarcasm, like perfume (here’s where the teargas analogy breaks down), is best used sparingly. If you find yourself spraying sarcasm to everyone and everywhere, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself why you work to keep others at bay.

Being passive-aggressive — demonstrating hostility indirectly — protects you from the terrible awkwardness of having to be direct with another person. It saves you from being honest about your feelings. It’s a somewhat painless way to get across displeasure or concern without seeming concerned. But passive-aggression is a weapon, because it inflicts damage on others instead of using more effective means of communication. Essentially, passive-aggression is the sniper rifle of the emotional weaponry world.

The beauty of passive-aggression is that it avoids the awkwardness of initiating conflict — by not actually initiating it. When your partner asks if anything is wrong and there is totally something wrong, instead of delving into the treacherous territory of, “Yes, something’s wrong,” you can avoid all that and say, “No, I’m fine” — followed by 30 minutes of seething, silent glares. Perfect.

Sarcastic people have learned to employ sarcasm in order to keep others at a safe distance.

Conflict is a healthy part of any relationship and successfully wading through small conflicts is a fantastic way to both deepen a relationship and develop your conflict-resolution skills. Passive-aggression cheats us of that. Some of my passive-aggressive pals have defended their actions by saying, “But I am communicating that I’m irritated, just in a different way!,” but I call bullshit on that. It’s on us to request different behaviors (if necessary) in a reasonable manner, especially since being reasonable can only increase the likelihood of improving the situation.

If you have a tendency to break out the passive-aggressive sniper rifle, the next time you get irritated with someone, take a deep breath and ask yourself a few questions: What are you angry about? Is your expectation of behavior reasonable or is it a “should” that you’re imposing on someone else? (Note that, if your expectation of behavior is not reasonable — and I realize it’s tricky here to determine what is unreasonable — you should probably deal with your anger on your own.) How can you communicate your displeasure to this other person in an assertive, healthy way? If the offense is not worth calling out in an open, honest way, then perhaps the offense is not as offensive as you thought.

Brutal Honesty
Oy, brutal honesty, you are my least favorite of the common weapons. Nothing blows away and keeps away the people in your life better than regularly “telling it like it is.” I mean, you’re just trying to warn peeps of impending danger, right? You speak bald truth so as to prevent others from getting hurt worse later on. As such, brutal honesty is a fantastic weapon: It allows you to injure the people around you while maintaining a martyr-like truth-teller position that no one can touch. I consider brutal honesty the drone attack of the emotional arsenal, deployed from a safe distance.

Passive-aggression is the sniper rifle of the emotional weaponry world.

Here’s some brutal honesty about brutal honesty: Its intent is very rarely to help. Most of the time, brutal honesty is wielded to make the recipient feel wrong and small while making the truth-teller right and large — in a word, superior. But brutal-honesty types aren’t any better at assessing and navigating human behavior than the rest of us — they just think they have magical powers and want others to feel inferior to those powers. “Telling it like it is” is neither healthy nor useful; it’s simply a weapon that some people wield so they can avoid focusing on themselves.

Of course, honesty can be a good thing every once in a blue moon if it’s a loving honesty. If you care for someone you want good things for, and you have information she may not have — let’s say someone you love is caught up in a harmful pattern she cannot see — it can be appropriate to offer some kindly observation. But note that such occasions come up extremely rarely. So if honesty is one of your things, make sure you’re not wielding it in an effort to hurt others while distracting yourself from yourself. You may be one of those rare birds who can keep it real without hurting others, but it’s more likely that you just need to focus on the truths of yourself a bit more.

Since we’re all works-in-progress, if you find yourself employing any of the above weapons or armor, please do not be ashamed. I assure you that we have all, out of the need to protect ourselves, meddled with unsavory powers. The point is that Super You gets bogged down by sad little tricks like these, so it’s better to learn to recognize them and then ditch them when you can. Keep your heart and mind open to the intentions of your behavior — and to the intentions behind those intentions. Keep evolving and keep shedding that cheap shit.

Excerpted from Super You: Release Your Inner Super Hero (October 2015) by Emily V. Gordon, with permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. © 2015

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