Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Did You Just Tell me to Relax??

Last night, in a social situation, there was a minor difference of opinion.  The very tense woman who disagreed with me told me to relax.  Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, I held her with my eyes and said "Don't ... ever ... tell me to relax."

Nothing makes me more tense than people telling me to relax.  What do those words really mean?

All communication is a projection of some kind.  When I communicate with you, I am projecting my identity through my thoughts, ideas, and feelings.  Even a statement that seems factual, like "The Romneys have five sons," is also a projection of my attention to the 2012 US election.

However, the worst projections are made when people project their own tension and impatience on others by telling them to "relax" or "be patient."  This is irritating for several reasons:
  1. The speaker has become tense and thinks her tension will go away if she issues the relax instruction to everyone else.
  2. As soon as the speaker gives that perhaps tenderly meant instruction, she is making a judgement, thus acting superior by implying that the speaker herself is relaxed and patient.
  3. These statements draw attention away from the instigating incident and make it about the other person's supposed tension or impatience, thus creating new conflict.
I could go on... but the next time someone tells me to relax, I'll try and smile.  Then I'll scribble down the website to this blog and entreat them to read it.


  1. I totally agree. I am reminded of an episode of This American Life where they were speaking with a hostage negotiator. He was asked about the one thing you do not say to a hostage taker. His response: never tell them to calm down.

  2. Robin said, "When someone tells me to be patient, I say 'I didn't know you were a doctor!"

  3. thenewgreen wrote:
    When somebody tells you to "relax", they are never actually telling you to "relax" and they know it. What they're telling you is that you'd better stop going down the path you're on or it might get ugly....

    Nobody has ever relaxed after being told to relax. It's about as antagonistic a comment as you can make to somebody.

    My biggest pet peeve is when somebody starts a sentence with "you don't understand....."

    What the ___ is that about? That one really gets my blood boiling... I probably need to relax.

  4. Here's a comment posted on hubski (http://www.hubski.com/)from cgod:

    I liked your bit about people telling you to relax. It's basically a gaslight, I use it when I'm working over people who won't change their mind or just deserve to get jerked around.
    You have a nice voice, your blog is very readable.

  5. Just last month my professor told me to relax in class because I defended the majority of students who felt uncomfortable with a particular assignment (including myself). My reply to him was simple and effective, which was "why don't you relax!, I have the right to speak in this class." The disagreement ended with the professor apologizing to everyone.

    1. As you can see, telling people to "relax" generates a lot of hostility! Thanks for the example.

  6. Wow I agree with this! I have just received a morning text from a sort of ex... "Relax". It winds me right up and they know that! I don't even know what to reply without starting an argument!