A few years ago, I brought a roommate into my home. This was the first time I’d had a roommate since I’d graduate from college, so many years ago, so it was a bit of an adjustment for me.
To make things more challenging, my roommate and I had dramatically different personalities. She was an extrovert who enjoyed arguments for fun, and I am an introvert who avoids conflict whenever possible.
I will never forget the first break from teaching I had after she had moved in. I was all set to have a relaxing week in preparation for the intense couple of months I knew would follow. I walked into the kitchen one day early in the week, and my roommate decided she needed to convince me I needed to become an extrovert, a point she pursued tirelessly for 10 or 15 minutes. She ended up telling me I needed to defend myself, but I saw no need to argue over my introversion!
It turns out that she wanted me to relax and have fun by arguing!
This was not the last time she picked an argument with me. That year was an election year, and we held opposing political views. That in itself didn’t bother me; I quite enjoy the open exchange of ideas. The fact that she always had to be right did bother me.
One night she had me so frustrated and angry that I went to my room and cried. Yes, I sobbed! I was convinced I’d have to ask her to move. She heard me and came and apologized. Thankfully, she never provoked me to that degree again, but we never really were able to develop a friendship.
How often do we let people or circumstances “push our buttons”?
Any time we are drawn into a conflict it is important to remember one thing: I can only control and change myself; there is nothing I can do to control the other person or their reactions.
If that is the case, what can we do to rise above the drama of everyday, or extraordinary, conflict?
Changing how you react to the people and circumstances that provoke you is not a quick and easy thing. In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Process” – leadership doesn’t develop in a day, but daily. I think here we could substitute the term “personal growth” for leadership. It’s a process.
Just like losing weight or building muscles or learning how to perform any skill takes time, effort, attention, and practice, so building our emotional muscles takes time.
Lysa TerKeurst talks about such a process in her book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. She calls it “imperfect progress.” If each day we are making slightly better choices than we did yesterday, we are making progress. We won’t react perfectly every time; we are still human and we will blow it. However, if that happens less and less frequently, we have cause to celebrate.
The Ongoing Struggle
When my roommate finally moved out, she did so in such a way as to provoke conflict. However, by that time I had begun to value my inner peace more than exerting my rights and managed to avoid a final open conflict. It truly was a struggle – the woman had become an expert at pushing my buttons – but I chose to not respond to her provocations in the way she expected. Imperfect progress.
In what area of life do you need to allow “imperfect progress”?
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. by Lysa TerKeurst