How Are Good Intentions Mischief?
Children want to be helpful and productive. That is how they learn and grow. Many parents and parental stand-ins insist on keeping their young people in a state of discouraging uselessness with good intentions. This is no more than self-serving mischief which we define as anything that doesn’t need to be done. Mischief doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t even make sense to the mischief maker. Mischief isn’t sensible or rational. It is non-rational. It arises out of purposes that lie below the level of conscious awareness. We can cope with our well intentioned mischief makers when we know what these hidden purposes are:
“Here, let me help you with that puzzle. “(Subtext: See what a good parent I am everybody?”) ( This is Goal 1: Attention and Service for the purpose of self-validation which will not succeed.)
(Better: “Here’s a new puzzle. Let’s see if we can put it together, you and me.”)
“Give me those scissors. You’ll poke your eyes out!” (Subtext: It’s my job to prevent bad things from happening.”) (Goal 2: Power and Control, for the purpose of preventing disaster perfectly in the future.)
(Better: “Be careful. Don’t hurt yourself.”)
“I told you not to try riding your bike by yourself! I’m going to punish you for disobeying me! I’ll teach you to listen next time” (Subtext: I am teaching the child the difference between right and wrong for his own good.”) (Goal 3: Revenge. Relieving the pain of our anger at someone else’s expense.)
(Better: “It makes me angry when you don’t do what I tell you. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. What can we do about it?” “Put it in the shed till tomorrow?” “O.K..”)
“Forget about it. It’s too hard. We’ll do it some other time” (Subtext: What’s the use of trying. We’ll only fail again.”) (Goal 4: Withdrawal in Helplessness and Discouragement. We succeed in setting an example of discouragement for our child to see and follow.)
(Better: “It’s hard isn’t it. Do the best you can and let me know if you get stuck.”)
This is how we shape the child’s attitudes and behaviors. This is how our good intentions replace the child’s native self-respect and confidence with self-doubt. This is how we eliminate the possibility of positive, productive behavior and leave only the option of making destructive mischief. The irony is that we do it all with the best of intentions.
To top off the irony, we say to our adult child, again with the best of intentions, “Why are you such a lazy bum? Look at you. You should be ashamed of yourself! After all I’ve done for you!”
We still don’t get it, do we. And if we don’t get it, how can we expect our child, our student, our employee, our client to get it?
The antidote to all of these mischiefs and counter-mischiefs is positive behavior which arises out of a context of self-respect. We teach self-respect by setting an example of it ourselves. If we do not have it, we cannot set an example of it for others people to see and follow. We can demonstrate our self-respect by replacing our good intentions with real intentions. Children can feel the difference. Real intentions make their lives happy and productive. They will carry our example of self-respect into the future and pass it on to the next generation. If we do not set the example, they cannot carry it on.
Why Do We Need To Know About Good Intentions?
If we do not understand the destructive effects that these seemingly beneficent intentions have on our relationships at home and at work, we cannot begin to counter their negative effects.
A. The Individual Parent Has Good Intentions.
1. We have just seen how “good intentions” can have a deleterious effect on young children. Parents cannot see the effects of their good intentions on that child because they are deceived by the camouflage of their self-serving concerns. But this is how parents rob their children of their native self-respect and replace it with self-doubt and self-contempt.
2. Parental good intentions have the effect of replacing the child’s healthy, appropriate attitudes with their exact opposites. The child grows up with negative attitudes towards himself, his loved ones, society, his employer and his community.
3. It is the context of self-contempt that predisposes the child to behave negatively and destructively. His negative behavior brings about punishment and other negative consequences which confirm him in his self-contempt. He carries his predisposition to behave negatively into adulthood where he inflicts his abusive tendencies on the people around him if he thinks he can get away with it.
4. In extreme cases of self-contempt, the individual’s behavior has the hidden purpose of bringing about the pain, unhappiness and destruction that worthless people such as himself “deserve.”
B. People In Positions Of Authority And Responsibility Have Good Intentions.
It isn’t only parents. Teachers, counselors, administrators, politicians, police and so on have good intentions for the people they control. Their misintentions turn out to make things worse instead of better. It is as if they were standing in loco parentis on their fellow human beings, as if they knew what was best for everyone by virtue of their superior station in life. There is no basis for this assumption.
In extreme cases, unstable politicians and religious leaders set their followers on a high-sounding but destructive path that has little or no relation to the demands of living in the real world.
C. Good Intentions Make Us Angry.
The good intentions of others make us angry. We don’t know what to do with our anger because these people seem so beneficent. We are reluctant to displease them because of the seeming kindness in their hearts. We need to see that this is not kindness, but rather self-serving, over-compensatory, inappropriate behavior on their part as a our first step to countering it effectively. For instance, we can say, “I know you mean well, that you want the best for me, but I prefer to do it this way. Or, we can say, “No thanks, I’ll be fine.”
D. Good Intentions Can Make Us Violent.
Some people, who do not respect themselves to begin with, are vulnerable to becoming super angry. They are angry at being controlled by well-intentioned but unself-respecting superiors; they resent the well intentioned rules and regulations imposed on them for their own good, as if they were too stupid to make independent judgements on their own. They become super angry when they perceive an injustice in the “wrongness” of a public policy with which they disagree. These controls are often imposed by someone who meant well but had a self-serving power and control agenda below the surface.
The person who becomes violent often has the good intention to right these wrongs by taking up arms against them. We may disagree with his tactics, but we “see his point.” But his point can never be made by using good intentions instead of mature, difficult thought processes. That is how problems are solved in the real world. That is a real intention.
E. We Need To Repair Our Own Damage.
We all had parents! To the extent that our parents weren’t perfect, they made mistakes, too. Their good intentions for us contributed to our present self-doubts, inappropriate roles and negative attitudes. It is our responsibility to identify these carryovers from our imperfect childhoods and bring them into alignment with the demands of the real world. We cannot be as effective in our capacities as counsellors, teachers, parents or spouses until we repair the damage that was done to us. We need to repair the damage in the right way. Too many of us try to repair it with techniques that make things worse instead of better, such as indulging in addictive behaviors, withdrawing from life, escaping into negative excitement and so on.
F. We Have Good Intentions For Ourselves.
Most of these self-destructive techniques are no more than good intentions that we have for ourselves. We bring about our own misfortune when we operate out of mindless attitudes from the past instead of our adult, considered judgment in the present. We must get out of our own way if we wish to live happy, productive lives.
How Do We Get Out Of Our Own Way?
How can we replace our inept good intentions with real intentions for ourselves and our fellow human beings? By doing our Homework. We can catch ourselves in the act of inflicting a self-serving good intention on someone and choose not to. We can catch ourselves:
• Wanting to be liked by pleasing in ways that are inappropriate to the situation.
• Wanting to be more responsible than reality requires us to be.
• Wanting to prevent disasters in the future as if we knew what was going to happen, as if the worst case scenario was the only possible outcome and that it had to be prevented at all costs. We cannot predict the future out of attitudes that formed in childhood.
• Wanting to prove that we are not inadequate by doing more than the situation requires us to do “just to be on the safe side.”
• Wanting to prevent the humiliating exposure of our inadequacy to cope by withdrawing from reality.
• Wanting to get our own way by controlling others for their own good.
• Wanting to ensure a perfect outcome.
These “wants” are all silent good intentions that we have for ourselves. We want our way.
Specifically, we can catch ourselves wanting to give someone what we are sure is good advice: “This is what I would do” or “This is what you should do.” We do not give advice. We find out what is preventing the individual from taking appropriate action in his own behalf. We want to find out
• What is he afraid will happen if he takes appropriate action?
• What attitude is he operating out of and how can it be replaced with a more
• What is his operating attitude towards success? If he doesn’t deserve to succeed, he will find a way to fail and sabotage our good advice. He will then blame us for the negative outcome and he will be right. We have fallen into his dependency trap.
Instead of giving well-intentioned advice, we identify and remove these impediments to action. We reveal to people that they are not powerless and dependent anymore. They have the power of choice; they have adult judgment; their judgment can be trusted now. It is good enough. They have the courage to take appropriate risks. For example, we reveal that they have the option of doing what pleases them. They may not even know what pleases them. That possibility has not occurred to them heretofore. Their Homework, then, is not to take our good advice, but to find out for themselves what it would please them to do and then do it, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
After they have done it, for example, treat themselves to a nice breakfast in a restaurant for a change, we can debrief their Homework. We can ask them how they felt after they did it. We can ask if they felt relief, control, accomplishment, success, identity, maturity, appropriate responsibility, security, independence, liberation, trust in their judgment, equality, courage, living in the present and belonging. These are all components of self-respect which is the antidote to the self-doubt from their childhood. We can even ask, “Was that a good intention that you had for yourself?” They may say, “Yes,” but it wasn’t. It was a real intention to do what the situation required them to do. They earned the right to enjoy this treat after all their hard work. If it were mere self-indulgence, they would not have experienced all these components of self-respect. Having succeeded once, they are in a better position to do it again. That feeling is called confidence. We did not give them this confidence. They earned it. They gave it to themselves.
Another problem unself-respecting people have is that they are unable to express their appropriate needs and wants. Their impediments to accomplishing this task include:
• “I want to avoid displeasing.”
• “I want to avoid looking selfish or inconsiderate.”
• “I want to avoid appearing weak and dependent.”
• “I won’t get it anyway so why bother?”
• “I don’t deserve to get it.”
• “I’d feel guilty if I got it and then have to give it back in the end.”
• “I want to avoid feeling obligated to return the favor.”
• “I’m afraid I won’t ask for it in the right way, that is, perfectly.”
• “There’s no guarantee I’ll get it. I’m afraid to take the risk of failing. I will take my failure personally. It would hurt too much. It hurts less to just do without.”
All of these are negative attitudes and these are all consistent with self-contempt. These are all counter-productive good intentions to avoid the painful disaster that unself-respecting people predict for themselves. This person’s Homework would cut through all of these negative considerations and just ask. That is a real intention. Reality requires that we secure the cooperation of our fellow human beings in a context of mutual respect. But reaching out to someone after all these years is scary. It takes courage, and some of us are willing to take anything but a risk. As adults, people have the power of choice to do it or not. They are in control of the time and place. Asking is not a sign of weakness or dependency at all. It is a matter of interdependence between two equal, imperfect human beings. After they succeed in getting what they want, they will experience all the components of self-respect. It will come easier next time. They are prepared to enter into appropriate give and take relationships with their friends and coworkers. This is called positive cooperation as opposed to negative cooperation which is mutually destructive mischief.
If the answer to their request is no, the individual is prepared for the problem of taking “rejection” personally. Their antidote is the knowledge that self-respect is not conditional upon getting what one wants. This is not a reflection on ones worth as a person. One is a worthwhile human being in spite of ones faults and imperfections, whether the answer is yes or no. We would have preferred a positive response, but we are worthwhile either way. If the negative response makes us angry, we can express our legitimate anger like a civilized human being, “It makes me angry when you won’t lend me a hand when I need you.” This is not self-pity, or a threat of revenge. It is telling the truth about ourselves even when that truth is displeasing. This demonstration of self-respect is often the first step in the creation of an atmosphere of mutual respect in which it is possible for people to give and take as equal members of the human race.
These concepts remain intellectual and theoretical until the individual works up the courage to make a break with his or her unhappy past. These new ideas become incorporated into the newly forming personality in the moment that the individual gets out of his or her own way and does what reality requires them to do. Then these concepts become real.
In doing an appropriate Homework, we heal the heart/mind connection that was broken in childhood. We feel integrated into a new whole that did not exist before. We can do it again. Like anything else, it gets easier with practice.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Malcolm is a Pleasing Child. He has been pleasing since he was 4. He is now 42 going on 5. He has a lifestyle which appears to be dedicated to the pleasing of others. Beneath this facade there lies a darker reality. As a Pleaser, Malcolm doubts his worth as a person. He deems himself unworthy of being pleased. He sacrifices self-pleasing in favor of pleasing others who are worthier than himself. The Pleaser’s Lifestyle is one long good intention for others. He means well, but he doesn’t do well. He does not do what reality requires, he does what he requires in order to overcompensate for his self-contempt.
We say to ourselves, “He’s just doing that to get approval.” We content ourselves with this surface explanation, and we fail to ask the next obvious question: “Why does he need so much approval in the first place? Why isn’t he cured of this need when he gets it?” The answer is that the Pleaser is trying to solve a problem within himself that he doesn’t know how to solve. His solution cannot work. It does not relieve the pain of his self-contempt. Pleasing is the only trick he knows. He has to keep doing it.
As with most good intentions, pleasing behavior seems positive, but it is not. The Pleaser’s true goal is not to make people happy, it is to keep from displeasing them so that they will not beat him up after school. His sense of himself is so thin that a mere look of disdain is enough to unravel his fragile composure. A “dissatisfied customer” constitutes a threat to his existence. To displease is to court annihilation and that is unacceptable. His true purpose, then, is not positive, it is negative; it is the prevention of the bad things that happen to those who fail to be sufficiently pleasing. He doesn’t care about you, he cares about himself!
The Pleaser deceives himself into thinking that he is only being considerate of his fellow human beings by bringing a ray of sunshine into their lives. He has good intentions for others, without realizing that his good intentions are self-indulgent, counter-productive and ultimately self-destructive.
The Pleaser lacks the adult judgment that it takes to discriminate between appropriate pleasing and over-compensatory, inappropriate pleasing. He solves the problem by being pleasing all the time. It is hard work, but for him it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The Pleasing Lifestyle is a carryover of a childhood role into adulthood where it is inappropriate and counter-productive. Pleasers are afraid to give up this role because they do not know what will take its place. To them, this negative, paper thin role is better than no role at all. They do not realize that there is a more gratifying way to go through life than living to please others.
As a consequence of this ungratifying lifestyle, Pleasers are susceptible to feeling impotent, out of control, alienated, insecure, naive, trapped, immature, anxious, and depressed. These are all facets of self-contempt. The harder they try to relieve their distress in counter-productive ways, the worse they feel.
The Pleaser often plays the role of the Clown, the Entertainer. He makes himself the butt of his own jokes to show he “can take it.” People may wonder why he is “on” all the time. They think he’s having a swell time. He doesn’t really have any choice. He feels compelled to behave in accordance with his definition of himself as the Pleaser and his attitudes towards himself, other people and life. He is acting out a role in a script that nobody wrote.
As we have seen, Pleasers are not motivated by a genuine concern for the happiness of others. They have an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda of which they are only dimly aware. Their negative purpose in pleasing is to avoid being hurt by others. They prophesy victimization and disaster, and they feel that they can avert these disasters by placating those who have the power to hurt them. It’s the only hope they have. Unfortunately, these counter-productive attempts at pleasing often result in the fulfillment of their prophesies of abuse, rejection, abandonment and other forms of disaster. In the end, they stop trying. They “melt down,” they “burn out.” They have become discouraged.
Some Pleasers think that they can regain their vitality by going to the other extreme. Their motto becomes, “No More Mister Nice Guy.” The irony is that they weren’t a nice guy to begin with. The second wrong is that this phony role won’t work either.
Pleasing as Self-Indulgent Mischief: The Pleaser is convinced that his activities are other-directed and self-less. He is completely unaware of the self-indulgent, over-compensatory nature of his “pleasing” behavior.
The self-serving nature of the Pleaser’s activities becomes apparent when he is prevented from pleasing people his way. When the intended Pleased expresses a preference of his own, the would-be Pleaser experiences unpleasant, sometimes incapacitating conflicts On the one hand, he wants to please in order to avoid the unacceptable consequences of displeasing. On the other hand, he has his own notions as to how the Pleaser should be pleased; and his way is the right way! Thirdly, he dares not express his reservations openly for fear of displeasing his customer, and ruining the whole effect.
He must suppress his anger for fear of rejection or abandonment, which would invalidate his own worth as a person still further. He “solves” his dilemma by complying with the Pleasee’s request, but under silent protest. He does not perceive himself as “giving,” or as cooperating with his fellow human being. To the self-centered Pleaser, this accommodation is perceived as “submission’ to the “unreasonable” whims of his partner.
Mike is a Pleaser, too. He feels that he “knows” how people should be pleased; in fact, he knows how to please them even better than they know themselves! He knows what’s best for them. Since he does not experience himself as valid in his own right, he cannot appreciate the validity of his wife’s legitimate preferences. He discounts Marge’s preferences as “wrongheaded.” His preferences are right, and they are worthy to prevail.
Mike cannot stand to be wrong. He has to be right, even perfectly right. His agenda has nothing to do with his wife’s preferences in the real world. His agenda is to be right and not wrong. In his experience, wrongness is punished, and he has been avoiding wrongness all his life. When he says, “It’s the principle of the thing” to justify his nonsensical insistence, we say that he is just being stubborn. But why is he stubborn? What difference does it make whether they go to his movie pick or hers? The difference is that her pick is the “wrong” one because it isn’t his. His worth as a person is now at stake. If he is wrong, he will take it very personally, as if it were a reflection on his taste in movies. He would lose his shaky self-respect. His stubbornness is his way of maintaining his hidden agenda, which is preventing the invalidation of his worth as a person.
Antidotes To Pleasingness
A. His wife can try saying to him in a firm tone, “Mike, it would make me so happy to go see a movie. Won’t you do it for me?” This ploy distracts him from the phony issue of comparative film judgment. He may see an advantage to himself in making his wife happy for one evening.
B. Or, Mike’s wife might say, “It makes me angry when we always have to do things your way, whether it makes any sense or not. Now, you can go to your movie and I’ll go to mine and I’ll meet you at Barneys for a hot dog afterward.” This approach uses the wife’s legitimate anger to shock Mike out of his childish striving for superiority at her expense. It dispenses with the issue of which movie is “righter” than the other. Often, when Mike comes out of his shock, he goes to the movie with his wife because that wasn’t the issue anyway.
Gilda is a professional Pleaser. She wants to win both ways. She wants to relieve her own distress, and she wants a pat on the back from us for doing it. But because her misguided efforts are usually inappropriate and unrealistic, she very often fails to receive the recognition and approval that she requires to validate her shaky personhood. Instead, she often finds herself excluded from get-togethers, scorned by the very people she tries so hard to please.
She spends much of her life despising the ungrateful wretches upon whom she has had the misfortune to expend her energies and efforts. She finds her relationships to be a succession of such ungrateful wretches, one after the other. She has contempt for them and for the whole human race. But this contempt does not deter her from starting all over again when a new Pleasee moves into the building.
Not only is Gilda angry at the failure of her beneficiaries to recognize and appreciate her “goodness,” she is angry at herself. She is the “stupid” one for doing it over and over. She should “know better” by now. But she doesn’t. Since everything is her responsibility, her unhappiness must be “her fault” in the end. Since her goodness was unappreciated, she feels that it was all for nothing too. She feels worthless, angry at herself, and this anger turns into depression. Instead of relieving the pain of her self-contempt, her counter-productive, self-indulgent pleasing has only made it worse.
he other day I was approached by an acquaintance who was offering me a great opportunity to be a part of a great organization where a lot of money could be made with very little work. He got my name in passing and was good at following up leads. During his call to schedule a time to meet and discuss this opportunity further, I found myself in a dilemma. While this may indeed be a good option to explore further and the guy offering this was a new acquaintance, there was no way I was going to add anything more to my schedule, especially another job. So what to do?
A little into the call I simply told him “no”. I was not interested in adding anything more to my life. A few years ago I would have gone into even more of an explanation and justification of my answer in hopes to not hurt his feelings or our relationship. But I have discovered that the art of saying “no” is often enough in itself. No explanation is usually needed unless it is requested and the relationship is higher on the importance list.
Saying “no” is easy when it is a telephone solicitor or via email. As the degree of contact and the importance of the person rises, saying “no” is more difficult. However, it is important to be able to tell even the important people in life “no” if you hope to have more authority and power over your life. Being able to take charge of your life may mean that everything and everyone will not fit into your dreams and goals. It’s time to face the fact that some things and people are energy drainers. You dread the conversations with them when you meet in the hall at work. You see their name on the caller ID and your insides tighten, but you still answer the phone (even though your voicemail works fine).
Let’s begin to employ the art of saying “no” more frequently. For some of you that may mean this week you only tell two people “no”. Which would double your normal rate. Start small and work your way up. This week, when faced with something you really don’t want to do, say so. When given the wrong order at the restaurant, speak up. This is an easy way to learn how to say “no” which will increase the likelihood that you will be able to say it to more people, even those towards the top of the importance list.
Saying “no” allows you to stay on target with your values and goals. I do not recommend saying “no” just for the sake of saying “no”. Say it to take charge of your time. To take charge of your family. Your marriage. Your job. Your recreation. And say “no” without a long drawn out explanation, which often turns into excuses. Say “no” confidently. It will empower your spirit and your life!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While driving down the highway in the fast lane, the person in front of you appears to have no idea what the fast lane means. After running all over town with the kids, you arrive home. They know they have rooms yet insist that the entire house is their closet and drop things wherever they please. It’s your birthday and your best friend gets you just what you needed, nothing. It seems that in these instances, the first reaction is to take things personally. As if what was done was intentional, a personal attack.
As odd as it sounds, we often think that there are many forces against us and we are innocent bystanders. I don’t agree. While there are some truly random events, much of what happens is our own doing. How we feel and react to the things going on around us will largely determine what happens to us. In the preceding examples, what makes us think that the things that happen to us are directed at us? Instead of reacting with a “How dare you!” we often react with a “How dare you do this to me!” The truth of the matter is that each person is really more concerned about themselves than they are others. It’s survival of the fittest. The person driving slow in front of me in traffic is more concerned about having a wide open lane ahead of them than they are with me getting past.
A lot of our life is spent worrying about what others may think or feel about us. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, we wouldn’t worry near as much about what others thought about us if we knew how seldom they did. When we are emotionally reactive to things in life, we give up our power to choose. If we take things personally, whether intended personally or not, our reaction intensifies. All of the sudden we have to defend ourselves, though many times a response is not warranted. Instead it would be better if we could learn the art of self-soothing. To be able to calm ourselves in the midst of emotional reactions opens a whole new range of responses.
We all have this ability. We are born with it. Just the other day, my 2 year old was climbing up on a toy in the house for the first time. As I watched her, she had a moment of pause just before she stood up tall and proud. In that moment of pause, she gathered herself and found the internal courage to stand. We do the same thing just before we honestly speak our mind, or address an issue with our spouse or kids. Self-soothing can be enhanced and used in all situations. And doing so gives you much more power over life’s circumstances.
To put this another way; you teach people how to treat you. If you feel that many people treat you wrong or take advantage of you, it only happens because you let them. Learning how to self-sooth, then stand up will produce a different outcome. This in turn will change the way others treat you. If you demand respect, trust, love, honor, comfort, or whatever, accept nothing less. Whenever you receive less than you expect, rather than taking it personally and reacting as such, calm yourself and address the issue. Either put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective or stand up and be honest, or both. If this honesty comes from both your mind and heart, it carries much more weight than just emotional reactivity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an argument and wondered, “how did I get here?” Have you ever wondered, “How do I get out of here?”
Couples that fight are invariably couples that are locked in a shame cycle. One of both of you learned that having needs meant you were weak, needy or somehow not okay. This may have been explicit or implicit. So instead of asking for help, support or understanding directly, you say or do something indirect. Instead of saying, I’m tired and I need help with the dishes, you leave them in the sink or say something like, “why is it always my job to do the dishes?” which puts your partner on the defensive.
When I counsel couples to speak from a more direct place, they often squirm. Saying, “Honey, I don’t feel like doing dishes, would you do them?” in a soft and gentle voice feels like a huge risk.
“He’s just going to say no, or tell me I’m being ridiculous.” I hear.
“Let’s try it,” I say, “and if his response is mean or defensive, maybe we can help him out.
“It doesn’t matter what I say. I’ve tried it every which way, and she always ends up pissed at me.” He says.
This is a very discouraged, tired and lonely couple, and their feelings are contagious. I can feel myself wanting to tell them both to just shut the f up and do what I say. Not particularly therapeutic. But I know that the feelings I’m having are not mine. I know that I am resonating with their experience, feeling what they are feeling.
“I wonder if either of you is wishing the other person would just shut up and listen to you?”
“Yes!” They both say in unison. And we finally have some common ground!
“So each of you is feeling the same thing!?” I ask, though it’s more observation than question.
“I guess,” one or the other offers tentatively.
“Where do you feel this wish in your body?” I ask the one who guesses.
“In my arms,” he says, pushing the air in front of him.
“And you?” I ask the other.
“Same,” she says, pushing the air too.
“Wow, so you are both feeling the same thing and your bodies are holding it in the same way. There is so much resonance between you!” They don’t respond. They are not ready to feel what they share.
“What are you pushing away?” I ask him.
If it stops there, she is left feeling like the bad guy. But I know he doesn’t want to push her away. They’ve been fighting like this for 15 years. If either wanted it to end, it would have ended by now.
“Yes, and what aspect of her are you pushing away.”
“Her not hearing me.”
“Yes, and what else?”
“Her not caring about me.”
“Yes, and what else?”
“Her not seeing that I’m a good guy.”
His voice has a little tremor, a little emotion in it. I look at her, and she is not seeing the vulnerability. She is lost in feeling criticized. I stay with him, but keep an eye on her.
“Stay with this experience, pushing away her not hearing, not caring, not seeing you. Where else have you felt this in your life?” I encourage.
“My father.” He says.
“Tell me about your father.”
“He always assumed the worst about me. When there was a mess in the house, he always came to me first and made me clean it up – even if it wasn’t my mess.”
“What did he look like when he made you clean up?”
“Mean, angry, fed up with me.”
“What did you want him to feel about you?”
“I wanted him to love me, to know that I loved him. I wanted his approval more than anything. I wanted him to be proud of me.” He is tearing up. His wife’s expression has softened.
“What are you seeing in her eyes now?” I ask, nudging him to look up at her.
His face stays downcast and he says, “She doesn’t care.” And in this moment, he could easily drive away the compassion she is feeling for him.
“That’s not what I’m seeing.” I say to him, but hoping that my words will help keep her from hardening again. “What I see is more like tenderness, (her face softens again) and I think it might be important for you to see that.”
He looks up, searching. She has heard me, and stays soft to him. “She looks… like she cares?” He says, surprised.
“Do you?” I ask her.
“Yes I care! I never saw him like this before. I mean, I knew his dad could be an ass, but he always seemed like he just rolled with it.”
“Like he was tough?” I ask.
“Yeah. He’s very tough.”
“How did you learn to be tough?” I ask him.
“I figured out pretty young that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted from him, so I just stopped caring.”
“What about you?” I turn to her, “How did you learn to be tough?” since she is too.
“For me, it was growing up with brothers. If I didn’t act tough, they would call me baby, tease me, pinch me, that kind of thing.”
“Toughness really protected both of you,” I say. And they both nod. “But now, you’re paying a price for that protection.” I continue, and they nod some more, each still looking in the other one’s eyes. “What do you really want to experience together?” I ask.
“Tenderness,” he says.
“Yeah. That would be good,” she says.
“And if you felt tenderness when you didn’t want to do the dishes, what would that sound like?” I ask.
“Babe, I’m wiped, could you do the dishes?” she says, looking tenderly at him.
“I’m wiped too. Maybe we could do them together?” he offers.
“How does this feel?” I ask.
“Better,” he says.
“Much better,” she agrees.
There are so many tiny moments when an argument can either spiral downward or upward. When we grow up shamed, we tend to look away right at the moment when our partner is offering a look of care or concern. Or we see the care and dismiss it, focusing on what feels more familiar – criticism, anger, detachment. If you fight a lot, I have a challenge for you. Can you find a moment of care or tenderness in your partner? If it’s hard to find there, can you offer a moment of care or tenderness and stay with it until he/she is able to see it and take it in? While it’s not easy (maybe not even possible) during a fight, could each of you commit to looking for these moments as often as possible when you’re not fighting? IfRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
If jealousy isn’t addressed with love, understanding and restoration of positive feelings, it will return over and over again. You already know from experience that jealousy can’t be fixed with arguments or avoidance.
•To heal jealousy, you both need to know that it may have deep roots in a very painful past experience of being abandoned, rejected to made to feel less-than or not-good-enough.
•Being ashamed of feeling jealous gets in the way of healing. So identify and let go of shame.
•If the jealous partner could calm themselves down, they would. They need help to do so. If your partner is jealous, make a commitment to helping them feel safe with you. This may mean spending special time together daily. It may mean sharing phone records openly. It may mean reassuring them using affection, tenderness and finding the right words – words that really make them feel safe and loved.
If it’s hard to heal jealousy on your own, it may be time to get outside help. Really understanding the roots of jealousy, overcoming shame, shifting negative beliefs, and changing defensive reactions is a big task. But it is a do-able task, and one that can make your relationship strong, safe, secure and deeply loving.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
When you or your partner feels an intense, negative emotion, you can bet that he or she is having a fight or flight response. This response happens in your brain stem – the part that is made for basic survival. When you feel threatened physically or emotionally, your brain stem sends surges of chemicals into your body to help you fight or flee.
When you feel jealous, you’re experiencing a threat to your primary attachment. The basic survival part of your brain feels that if you lose this person, something terrible will happen. It puts you on high alert to avoid this perceived danger. For many people with chronic jealousy, there is an old wound to a primary attachment. This may be an old relationship in which you were betrayed. Or it may go back to your earliest childhood.
If your parents were preoccupied, stressed or had difficulty knowing what you needed to feel safe and secure as a baby, you may have grown up feeling like you were on your own, craving close connection, but fearing that you could never really have it completely. If your parents were overburdened, they may have accidentally given you the impression that you were a burden or that you need for closeness was too much or that you were too sensitive.
When an old attachment wound gets triggered in the present – maybe your spouse or partner travels a lot, or forgot to call when they said they would – that’s when you begin noticing every little shift in your partner, checking every credit card statement, every cell phone log. It’s a terrible feeling – and even worse if you know, rationally, that your partner is not cheating and has no intention of leaving. Then you might also feel ashamed of being jealous.
Understanding jealousy is the first step to healing. In our next post, we’ll talk about what to do when your partner get’s jealous. In the meantime, we’d love to hear how jealousy has affected your relationships – especially if you found a way to overcome it!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is ask for help. When we ask, we run the risk of being told, “no,” having our needs dismissed or invalidated. As a result, we may become fiercely independent, determined to do it all ourselves. Or we may become bossy and demanding, hiding our vulnerability by voicing our needs as demands. Either way, if it doesn’t feel safe to ask for what we need, we can’t be close to our partners, and ultimately, that’s what we really want.
If you find yourself in one of these two roles, it may be time to try something new – something like, “Sweetheart, I’m feeling overwhelmed (or tired or unmotivated…), and I need your help with something.” If this approach feels scary, it may be useful to sit with a therapist who can help you get the words out and help your partner practice listening so that it really IS safe to ask for what you need.
It may also help to preface the conversation, preparing your partner that you’re about to do something hard, and need him/her to be kind. Maybe even showing him/her this posting as a way of introducing the topic. Though it may be uncomfortable for both of you at first, knowing that you can ask for what you need and that your partner will listen without judgment can make you both feel closer and more connected.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
David Bennett worked hard climbing the corporate ladder and found himself in a great position where he could influence and serve at a high level. His wife and three sons were doing well. Life was great! Then it all changed.
“My wife became ill,” said Mr. Bennett. “For three years we went from one doctor to another trying to figure out what was wrong. No one could give us a firm diagnosis. All the while, my wife was going downhill fast. One physician thought she needed ionic (salty) sea air to breathe and detox her body. He encouraged us to move as soon as possible.”
Willing to try anything for relief, Heather Bennett loaded up the boys and headed to Michigan for a month to see ifa change in environment surrounded by her extended family would help.
“Towards the end of the month I started feeling better, but when we returned to Atlanta I tanked,” said Mrs. Bennett. “I was ready to move anywhere for relief from whatever was attacking my body. If it meant packing up the family and moving to Florida, I was ready to go, David was more reluctant.”
Angry and defensive Mr. Bennett thought the physician was completely irresponsible in telling them to uproot their family and move when he didn’t know if this was truly a remedy. Intense discussions were a regular occurrence as the Bennett’s tried to figure out their next step.
“I was thinking about how hard I had worked to get to my current position,” said Mr. Bennett. “I wanted my wife to get better, but at the same time I wanted to keep my career momentum going. I also thought about the challenge of selling our house in a down economy.”
After speaking with several mentors and wrestling with the situation, Mr. Bennett realized his identity resided in his position at work instead of his calling at home.
“If you ask most business people where family falls on their list of priorities, they would say first,” said Mr. Bennett. “Until your back is against the wall you don’t really know if that is true. I had to step back and realize that my identity is a husband first, dad second followed by work. I will never earn enough money to make up for losing my family. I want to be the only husband Heather will ever have and the only father for my children.”
The Bennett’s decided to make the move. In addition to knowing that this was the best thing for Heather, they also thought this was a great opportunity to model what it meant to take care of your family. Recently, Mr. Bennett was reflecting about the move with his oldest son. His son shared he thought it brought their family closer together.
“I was scared to death of what this was going to do to me internally,” said Mr. Bennett. “It has been ten months since we made the move. We sold our house, downsized significantly and I took a different position in the company. Best of all, Heather is symptom free. We have much less today, but at the same time we have so much more. It is times like these when you really find out what you value.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The psychology of road rage has always intrigued me. For some reason, it turns normally rational people into raging lunatics over seemingly trivial matters. Usually placid, reserved people are transformed into foul mouthed, 1 finger saluting maniacs and drivers with an existing tendency towards anger are reduced to emotionally charged barbarians.
So what is it about being behind the wheel that causes these transformations? Is it the fact that cars are potential weapons that have the power to inflict devastation and anyone who uses them gets subconsciously charged by this innate power? I don’t think so.
I think it is because of the arrogance effect. That is, everything that occurs in traffic whilst in a car has a built in arrogance to it. This is not really anyone’s fault as such, it’s just a trait that has been built in to the system. Think of this: You are at the supermarket, browsing through the isles, in that ‘supermarket state’ where you are partly looking for something, partly looking at where you are going and partly thinking about the meaning of life. Someone bumps in to you. Startled for a split second, you stop and look at the perpetrator. In this moment, you aren’t offended or threatened, but you are trying to rationalize what has just happened and are looking at the person who has bumped into you for answers. The person immediately apologizes almost before the act of bumping has finished. This apology is usually coupled with a sincere kind of embarrassed smile. At this point you have your explanation: It was an accident and the person who bumped you is sorry for disturbing you. You are totally fine with this. You’ve made this accident yourself many times. You smile back and say something like, “that’s ok” and never think about it again. All is well. Perhaps you are both better people for having had this frivolous interaction.
But suppose that person didn’t apologize, suppose when your eyes gazed at theirs in search of that vital bit of communication, you were met with nothing. In fact, the person who bumped you didn’t just fail to acknowledge what had just happened, but had pretended you didn’t exist and to top it off grabbed the last can of baked beans from the shelf (the one you were just about to put in your trolley). All of a sudden, this interaction is not so pleasant. You would most likely be a little aggravated and retaliate. Needless to say, if this person then retaliated back in the same arrogant fashion in which he or she bumped in to you, things would escalate pretty quickly.
The problem with cars and traffic, is that this kind of behavior is almost unavoidable. When someone cuts you off in traffic, often it is an accident, or it was a necessary maneuver and at that point, you are back at the supermarket and someone has just bumped into you. You are seeking that act of curtosy that allows you to smile and say, “that’s ok” and then move on. The problem is though, that because it happened in a car, there is no way for that person to give you that human interaction that can defuse the situation in a split second. All you can see is the cold arrogance of the back of their car. It’s actaully not their fault (the arrogance, that is) or yours. It’s just that the human element has been taken out of the game and in your eyes, that person is the kind of person who would bump into someone at the supermarket and not even acknowledge that the person exists.
So what do you do? You probably beep the horn. That’s another great problem. While it is is almost impossible to inject that gentle human interaction into the situation, it’s quite easy to pump aggression into the situation. A nice loud pounding of the horn will do the job. True, often a wave out the window can act as a nice gesture of appreciation or apology, but it rarely happens because it relies on both drivers being able to see each other clearly (which is rare) and both drivers being able to not focus on the road for a second (which is dangerous) in order to interact. But the horn happens instantly and unmistakeably. And just like the supermarket scene, once the tone is set, things escalate quickly. Trading horns, slamming on breaks, speeding up and overtaking, swearing and yelling. These are the mild reactions of road rage. These are the reactions of normally rational, peaceful people. When there are a few aggressive people at play, things get very bad, very quickly.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
« Previous Entries