The Psychology EDIT June’23

I’ve been thinking about the smoke from the Canadian wildfires that we recently experienced in New York (as did other parts of the country). The fires are happening so far away, yet we still felt a profound impact.
To me, the smoke felt deeply symbolic: sometimes when others struggle, we aren’t immune to the impact. It may not be as obvious as actual smoke, but very often, the ripple effect is significant. This is true on a global level (for example, resources we need could be impacted by a war far away). Less obviously, but of equal importance, this also happens on a much more personal level.
Often people tell me they feel frustrated when their partner, parent or child is in a bad mood, because the ‘smoke’ from the other person’s bad mood might negatively impact their own life experiences or time with that person. However, if we think about it slightly differently it can be helpful. Just as smoke signals a fire, a bad mood is a sign that someone is struggling emotionally. They might have had a hard day, or maybe they are coping with a long-term issue with loss, depression or other life stressor.  The bad mood isn’t the true issue, so if we address this symptom with compassion, rather than frustration, it will strengthen the relationship, rather than create distance.
Here are few ways to show compassion, even when feeling frustrated. Different strategies may work better at different times and for different people. You can try them all and see what works best.
1. Focus on the person’s feelings, rather than their behavior:
Instead of “You’re being rude/obnoxious”, try “Are you feeling upset/angry?”
2. Give them space rather than confronting them:
Instead of “What’s going on, why are you behaving like this?”, try “I’m going out to run errands, text me if you want me to bring anything back for you.”
3. Don’t take it personally:  
Someone’s bad mood may be drifting in your direction but unless you know otherwise, recognize that it isn’t your fault. Respond with support, but don’t feel that you need to fix the problem that caused the bad mood.
4. Don’t overexpose yourself if it is feels negative:
If the ‘smoke’ feels like it is bad for you, take care of your health by leaving or disengaging. Let the person know that you are not angry, and that you will circle back once they have worked through their bad mood.
Here’s to looking through the lens of compassion!