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“Lighten Up”

You may have heard someone say “lighten up” to you when you are upset in or about a conflict. At these times, the speaker is typically picking up our seriousness, intensity and/or negative feelings and seems to think telling us to “lighten up” will change our experience of the conflict.

I don’t know about you, but I experience the phrase “lighten up” like the one “calm down”. They both have a somewhat patronizing tone to them. More so, it is unlikely that we can simply turn off our emotions on command! And it is very possible that our strong reaction or our conflicts signals that we have some learning to do about ourselves, the other person, and the matters that are causing friction between us. So, it is more important, in my view, that we listen especially hard to ourselves at these times, including the emotions we are feeling.

When I think about what propels someone to say a phrase like “lighten up” though, it occurs to me that they are more likely reacting to the mood created for them by the tension. Perhaps, they are uncomfortable with our bleakness and negativity and want it all to stop.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog asks you to consider a situation when someone said something to you like “lighten up” and you found it annoying.

  • To what – that you were saying or doing – was the person reacting when she or he said “lighten up” (or a similar phrase), urging you to change your reaction or mood?
  • What specifically were you experiencing from the conflict that resulted in the reaction or mood about which the person commented?
  • How did you feel when the person urged you to “lighten up” or whatever phrase she or he used?
  • How did it help when she or he said “lighten up” (or other statement)? How was it not helpful?
  • How did you respond?
  • What did you need from the person urging you to “lighten up”, rather than that or the statement expressed?
  • What did that person need from you? Why do you suppose she or he needed that?
  • What, generally, helps you to get over and past the mood or reaction you feel when in conflict?
  • What would have been a preferable comment for someone to say to you in that conflict, rather than what the person said?
  • If you tend to use expressions like “lighten up” to others, what might you say instead if you prefer not to do so?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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