art work by John Ceprano
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That Put My Back Up

It is likely that most of us are able to specifically refer to some things that ‘put our backs up’ – an expression that describes the impact of being provoked by certain acts or deeds of another person.

The derivation is from the habit of cats arching their backs when threatened or annoyed. It is apparently a colloquial term that came into being in Britain in the 18th century.

If you have a cat you will relate to this. I have a wonderful cat whom I adore. Her sweet, gentle, loving manner quickly changes when the neighbourhood cats come to the kitchen window, or the racoons prowl on the patio at night, or a stranger appears at the door. I hear hissing first and then, when I get there to see what the fuss is, the darling feline looks fierce. Her back is indeed arched and she looks ready to pounce. I am reminded at these times of the strong survival instincts of her ancestors.

We humans also demonstrate our angry response to threats in a way that fits with this phrase. Literally speaking, some of us respond to something that challenges us by raising our shoulders, rounding or straightening our backs, and otherwise showing a physical reaction with our bodies. There is usually no mistaking the posture as anything but an emotional and defensive reaction to something offensive.

If you are aware of your back going up – literally or figuratively when in conflict – or have observed this in others, consider this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions):

  • When your back goes up in conflict, how would you describe what you look like?
  • What are you experiencing at these times?
  • What sort of things put your back up?
  • When your back goes up, where does your heart go?
  • How may a friend or family member who observes your back go up describe what they see?
  • How do you think your reaction appears to the other person that is different from your answer to the previous question? What may be the same?
  • When you have observed someone else put her or his back up when in conflict (and perhaps, relating to a dispute happening with you), how would you describe what you see?
  • What impact do your observations (answer to the above question) have on you?
  • How is putting your back up a useful conflict technique? How it is not?
  • If you want to stop putting your back up as a reaction, what may you do instead?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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