I’ve never forgotten a story that was read to my class when I was a kid. The story was called “The Warm Fuzzy” story. In “The Warm Fuzzy” I learned that sometimes people could give out “warm fuzzies” which are smiles, hugs and kindness and sometimes people could give out “cold pricklies” which are harsh comments and mean looks.
I remember sitting up very alert and interested. Maybe I was interested because it rang true. I had experienced warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. For the first time I had the words to label my internal experience. Identifying a negative encounter can help you rise above it. I can’t tell you how many times, throughout my life, the words “cold prickly” popped into my mind in the middle of an unpleasant encounter.
I’m really glad that I have those words in my head to put some perspective on what is, unfortunately, a fairly common experience. If I didn’t have those words, I might easily take those cold pricklies personally or have the pain of those cold pricklies destroy my mood and mess up my day.
I remember a time when I didn’t have my money ready for a parking attendant. It took me a couple seconds longer than it should have. The man in the car behind me jumped out and yelled at her. The parking attendant then yelled at me. I was rattled. I felt like a horrible person, making this important man have to wait a few moments longer than necessary. How could I commit such a heinous crime!
It was a highly unpleasant experience, and I must admit, it bothered me for a little while. I cycled through feeling embarrassed, hurt and angry. And then I realized how negatively I’d been affected by this encounter. It was literally a complete turnaround from how happy and calm I’d been feeling just moments prior. I wasn’t about to let an unpleasant encounter ruin my day. I’d just experienced a cold prickly. And the parking attendant had experienced a cold prickly from the guy in the car behind me and passed it forward.
Putting this encounter into perspective and labeling it as a cold prickly helped me shake it off and slowly return to my previous happy mood. Being able to label an experience allows you to get some distance from it. This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence…being able to identify what you’re feeling instead of just being consumed by the feeling.
Therapy is a great way to build emotional intelligence. And group therapy is especially effective in teaching you how to identify your feelings and label them as well as being able to identify the dynamics of what is happening between people in relationships. In a group you can see when someone is giving a warm fuzzy or a cold prickly. You can also go deeper and understand what feelings are underneath the cold prickly. This exploration usually builds empathy and understanding while it also teaches people how to engage in relationships from their warm and fuzzy self, which really is better for everyone involved.
Most of the time, we don’t have the luxury of being able to understand what’s going on behind someone’s harsh behavior towards us. I’m not going to turn to the parking attendant that just yelled at me and say, “Can we talk about what you’re feeling right now because I’m sensing a lot of hostility?” No, you’re just going to move on and deal with it on your own. Labeling the encounter as a cold prickly is one way to move on.
I was still a bit sad thinking about how such unpleasant encounters occur all the time to everyone around me. “The Warm Fuzzy” book asserted that the more cold pricklies you hand out, the more you’ll receive in return. I think that’s true, but in your busy life where you encounter so many people in different settings, from the grocery store to the gas station to your kid’s school, you’re going to experience some cold pricklies. Don’t make them worse. Don’t prick back or take it out on the next person. Don’t take it personally. Give out warm fuzzies and usually that’s what you’ll get in return.
If you’re interested in learning how psychotherapy can help you, contact Rena Pollak, LMFT for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I have a private practice in Encino and Tarzana.
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