If you’ve ever had difficulty relating to someone in your life — and, c’mon, who hasn’t? — you may have gotten stressed by something they said or did. In slang terms, they “rattled your cage.” Other slang terms meaning to aggravate or annoy include “gets on my nerves,” “up in my grill,” or “messing with me.” If you’re in relationship with someone prone to sexually compulsive behaviors then you may have gotten your cage rattled, as is the case with many of the partners of sex addicts that I work with in counseling at Compulsion Solutions.
From what I understand, the origin of “rattle my cage” is the rapid succession of sharp, annoying sounds that might occur when actually shaking or rattling a metal cage. So how do you respond to an annoying person? Whether you are someone who copes with sexually compulsive behaviors or you are in relationship with such an individual, how do you deal with the stress of having your cage rattled?
Cage Rattling Communications
One positive step you can take is to clearly and constructively communicate to the other person, who we’ll call the “cage rattler,” that you don’t want the cage rattling behavior repeated. As the “cage rattlee,” it’s up to you to take the steps necessary to decrease the chances of future cage rattling from the cage rattler.
If the annoying person doesn’t understand or isn’t aware that he — we’ll call him a “he” just for the fun of it — then your task may be more difficult. When someone is lacking in empathy for others, which is often the case with addicts who are primarily focused on their compulsive behaviors, then not only are they more likely to rattle your cage, but they are also more likely to be oblivious to the annoyances they are creating in your life.
Dancing With A Rattlesnake
If you are the partner of a sex addict who has or is rattling your cage, your reaction might be similar to one encountering a rattlesnake — just get me the heck out of here. With some truly dangerous people and/or individuals who are lacking in empathy and compassion, that may be the best course of action. But the sorry truth is that no matter who is or isn’t in your life, there will be instances when your cage is rattled.
Here are 4 steps to take:
1. Clearly communicate boundaries. Know your boundaries and stick to them. If you allow the annoying cage rattler to continually aggravate you, then that, as they say, is “on you.” One big step I encourage my counseling clients to take is to learn to say “no.”
2. Be alert to situations where cage rattling is more likely to occur. If certain topics of discussion increase the chances that your stress level will go through the roof, either avoid those topics or structure the conversation so the discussion does not escalate and get heated to the boiling point.
3. Clarify what the words mean. Be alert to the different meanings that you and the cage rattler might have for the same words. For example, to you “truth” might mean complete honesty. To the other person, “truth” might mean not telling you anything that might upset you. Then, when you do find out the “whole truth and nothing but the truth,” your cage is rattled. Initial clarification can lessen the possibility of cage rattling.
4. Keep the “big picture” in mind. Let’s say, you’ve been in a minor car accident that was not your fault. Your initial reaction could be to feel rattled and to blame the other driver. Keeping the big picture in mind might mean noting that 1) You’re alive, 2) You’re not injured, 3) Your car can be repaired or replaced, and 4) You might even walk away with some cash in your pocket.
When you keep the big picture in mind, your stress level can fall. If you apply this to a personal relationship, you might keep in mind that the other person is improving through counseling and you might also be in counseling, so you may end up with a closer, more intimate relationship with better communication and less cage rattling.
You may have your own ideas about how to deal with cage rattling situations. If so, you are encouraged to share them with our readers. However, if you do comment on this blog, please please try not to “rattle my cage.”
by Faye Reitman, LFMT, MA, Compulsion Solutions Counselor