Your mind (if it’s like most minds), spends a lot of time criticizing itself. If the thought comes up I’m so ugly, and you start arguing with it, or resisting it, you are just investing more energy in that thought pattern in your brain. If someone came up to you and said ‘You’re a purple elephant’, you would probably not get insulted, because there is no agreement that you have that goes ‘I believe that I might be a purple elephant and that is a bad thing.’ On the other hand, if someone comes up and says You would look better if you lost 15 lbs and got rid of that double-chin you would might get very upset. In fact, you might after reading that feel a little jab like “they’re right, I do have kind of a double-chin, I should really get rid of that.” That’s because somewhere in your mind you have an agreement that (a) you might have a double-chin and (b) having a double-chin is a very bad thing to have. So when someone points that out, or you see an advertisment with a 120-lb model, your mind comes up with “I’m ugly” and you agree with it. So the key is to stop agreeing with your negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean arguing with them or resisting them though. If someone said “You’re a purple elephant” you wouldn’t argue about how you really aren’t and how even purple elephants have feelings – you would just shrug and say “OK, whatever”. You would have no charge on it. That is the attitude to cultivate with your negative feelings and thoughts – a mental shrug. “Ok, that’s what my mind is doing, whatever.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
You may find yourself feeling miserable because of the way you see yourself in the world. You may say to yourself, ”Why does this always happen to me, you think, or why does life have to be so unfair? or why is it so hard?” You react this way when you secretly imagine yourself as being at the center of the universe. This isn’t conceit or arrogance, but it can be called “narcissism”. It’s what happens when you’re the point of reference for everything that happens all around you. We are all a bit narcissistic. A little of that is natural; you look out at the world through your own eyes and hear through your very own set of ears. But when you act like everything happens because of you, you’re headed for trouble.
Narcissism, a psychological state rooted in extremely low self-esteem, is a common syndrome among the parents of psychotherapy patients. Narcissistic people are very fearful of not being well regarded by others, and they therefore attempt to control others’ behavior and viewpoints in order to protect their self-esteem. The underlying dynamic of narcissism is a deep, usually unconscious, sense of oneself as dangerously inadequate and vulnerable to blame and rejection. The common use of the term refers to a preoccupation with one’s own physical and social image, a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings, and a sense of grandiosity. There are, however, many other behaviors that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others, an inability to empathize with other’s experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right.” They also have a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.
Narcissism sees everything as a reflection on you; the universe revolves around you. Your car has broken down; it is your fault and you must have done something to deserve it. A friend walks past without saying hi; she must have done it on purpose to make you angry! Your child does not do their homework properly; you must be a bad father! A commenter accuses me of something I have not done; it was more a reflection of his distortions. There is no realistic reason for me to feel guilt – and yet you do. When you are narcissistic, you assume the guilt for things that go wrong outside of your control. You may see things as your fault that there was no way you could have prevented. For example, a child may write on the wall with a marker and the mother thinks, “It’s my fault, I am a bad mother. If I was a better mother I would have seen him withy the marker before he could draw on the wall.” Narcissistic emotional thinking leads you to assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.
Take driving in traffic. How many of people raise their blood pressure unnecessarily because they’re wondering why the ‘other drivers are all idiots’ and their sloppy driving is directed at you, individually? Or at the office, where a disagreement with the person in the next cubicle seems to be an act of disrespect or hostility? Or closer to home: your boyfriend goes off the deep end over a stupid little joke you told some friends over drinks. It’s not like you told an embarrassing story about his mother; this was just a silly gag! But now he’s upset and you’re feeling misunderstood, attacked and hurt. However, you’re often fighting about something other than what you think you’re fighting about. Maybe your attempt at humor didn’t offend anyone else, but in your partner, it triggered a response going back to times when his father would criticize him after drinking too much. In other words…it wasn’t about you, at least not all of it.
Let me give you another example. I remember when the first woman I really loved, left me, ‘rejected’ me, for another man. It felt personal. How can I not take this personally? Well I learned the reason I don’t need to take things personally is because it’s not personal. How can that be you may ask? Isn’t the person standing in front of you screaming and being mean to you, doesn’t that say something about you? Isn’t the girlfriend who just went four days without calling you, saying something about you? Or how about the girlfriend who just broke up with you for another guy, isn’t that personal, isn’t that about you? Maybe your boss was really cold and aloof today, ‘isn’t that about you?’ you ask. How about your mother who spent your entire life not being affectionate and warm, ‘Isn’t that about you?’
Do you understand where I’m going with these questions? The operative word in all these scenarios is, you. And here’s the key. Drum roll please! When someone is doing or saying something to you, it is about them, not you. Let me be clear. There behavior speaks to them, not to you. Their insults and antagonism, is about them. So the girlfriend who I mentioned that broke my heart and ‘rejected’, me turned out to be afraid of confrontation, so she found a way out of the relationship without having to talk. She used her behavior not her words. She went off with a man who would take care of her so she didn’t have to take care of herself. When I saw her years later I realized I had been spared a life of misery. So here is the point, when you hear yourself say ‘I can’t believe they did or said that to me’, you need to stop, take a deep breathe, and realize you were not the issue, you were the target. When you use the word ‘me’ about someone else’s behavior, you make yourself the important part of the interaction. The truth is, that its the other person who is acting in an exaggerated way, trying to make themselves the important part of the interaction. That’s why it’s about them. That’s why it isn’t personal. It isn’t personal because their behavior isn’t about you, but it’s a reflection on them.
The important thing is to realize how self-centered this all is. By assuming everyone’s mood and reaction is about you (mad at me! something I did! insulting me!) you assume that the whole world is focused on you, and revolving around you. Narcissistic Personality Disorder refers to a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. But, in its more universal sense, narcissism can be found at the core of almost all psychological dysfunction. Narcissism represents the way you, like the Greek god Narcissus himself, can “fall in love” with yourself. This is not real self-acceptance. Narcissism, conceit, selfishness, all are used as a distraction, an ad campaign, to hide your own inadequacy. This is seen in the person who constantly treats others like “a child” to make themselves feel strong and superior.
Let’s look at an example. I had a client whose boss was the most abrupt man in the world. And she thought it was personal. He was loud, condescending, abrupt, sarcastic, overworked and that was just his professional life. He was also disrespectful. Guess what? She ultimately realized it wasn’t personal, and that it didn’t work for her to be intimidated by him. It’s empowering when you can say, ‘This doesn’t work for me.’ But as long as you take it personally, then you still may feel badly about yourself and you won’t change your situation. This particular client asked her boss “what the worst part about it was?”. He looked at her and thought and laughed because there was no worse part. It wasn’t about her. From then on, the whole dynamic shifted. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was just a bully, as long as he could get away with it. And he didn’t have a large enough support staff to help him, so he was irritated and cranky. My client took her boss’s behavior as his disapproval of her. When she was able to accept that she was a good employee, despite her flaws and imperfections as a human, she could look at the situation differently. Today, they have a good working relationship.
Let me give you another situation. I had a male client who was deeply in love with a woman who wasn’t emotionally available. She would draw him in and then do something to push him away. It’s commonly called sabotaging the relationship. Well at first he took this personally. And here’s why. He had done some things in the relationship that he felt guilty about. So he was sure her behavior was personal. As we talked and he looked at why he had done certain things, he expressed deep sorrow. We worked on letting go of his guilt himself for his previous behavior and to forgive himself. He went to her and apologized. At first she accepted the apology; soon enough, she once again pushed him away. He got to see that she had major issues around emotional intimacy. It wasn’t personal. She had had a pretty tough life and the way she protected herself when she felt unsafe, was to lash out. And she was highly effective! That person may be suffering from a fear of intimacy caused by some abuse, insecurity because of past failures, or be emotionally unavailable due to their upbringing. You may never know the real reason. It is rarely personal when someone pulls away. It speaks to them, It is there problem, They are afraid of being exposed.
Do you see now that people’s behavior and actions are about them? If you go up and hit someone and they hit you back, well that’s a different story. I’m talking about the uncaused action or behavior; the yelling, the pulling or pushing away, the aloof treatment, the manipulations, or the overreaction. Who hasn’t had a challenging relationship with a boss, a coworker, a lover, a friend or a parent? And when you recall these people, you may ask; now why is it that what they did to me wasn’t personal? Because it’s about them. You don’t have the luxury of knowing about the person’s personal perceptions of life. What made them the way they are and why they see the things they do. They may not even know themselves. In fact, I’ll share this with you. After working with people in various mental health settings for the last 10 some years, I can tell you many people have had unbelievably dysfunctional, painful lives. It’s amazing they even keep going.
Here’s a big secret about how to not take things personally. Work on yourself to heal your wounds. As you heal, you can see that other people have wounds that cause them to act or react in all sorts of ways. Often you can’t see the other person if your wounds are too tender. They inadvertently hit a raw spot and you react from the pain. Yet, as you heal, there are less and less raw spots for others to hit and hurt. As a result, there are less opportunities and reasons for you to react.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 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.
Every person seeks happiness. You hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last phrase points out an important aspect, the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that it can be obtained. One of the common things I see is people spending most every waking moment seeking happiness. As if it is something out there to be gained or discovered. Perhaps this is a major contributor to the status of society.
Watch television for more than five minutes and you will see this idea confirmed. If I can only get the car, house, boat, job, relationship, salary increase; then life will be complete. I will lack nothing, at least until the next can’t-do-without product is available for purchase. The average adult now has more than 4 different careers in their lifetime. My father-in-law had one job from the time he was a teenager until retirement. Forty-two years at the same job. That’s almost unheard of now. It seems our society is more into the thought that if this job won’t bring about happiness, the next one will. If this relationship doesn’t bring about happiness, then a relationship with him or her will. If life in this tax bracket isn’t satisfying, then the next bracket up will be. It’s the same story over and over. Something out there will complete my life. It will fill the void.
What if the key to happiness rests internally? What if happiness can be learned?
This starts with the idea that happiness is up to me. My perspective of things will influence the results. My expectations affect the outcome.
So what is it about my life that brings me happiness? If I change my outlook from happiness being something out there to it resting internally, ask this; what am I grateful for in my life? What are my successes or wins lately? When I focus too much on what else is out there, I neglect the things we currently possess. Going to the other extreme is also unhealthy. Spending too much time focusing on what used to be produces blurred vision about what is.
Focusing too much on the future or too much on the past, I will miss a lot of what is going on now. I think I have told every one of my clients at some point to slow down. We live life at a fast enough speed as it is. Sometimes speed only produces uncertainty. Did you realize that of all the species on the planet, humans are the only ones that when lost, speed up. All other animals will slow down or even sit down until they get their bearings before proceeding. Do you know where you really want to go? What is your vision for life?
If you have trouble answering the preceding questions, that’s where you should spend some time reflecting and searching. Take an inventory of your current life. What are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that drain you? Enjoy the things going on in life right now. Happiness can be learned, and it starts with what’s going on inside you now. Happiness is not something out there, its inside. Resting deep within your soul waiting to be tapped into. By slowing down and seeking what you really want, life will begin to be more aligned and then more full.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 )
We hear what we expect to hear, we see what we expect to see. Our expectation changes our experience. If we walk into a meeting and expect it to be a long, drawn out process rivaled only by a root canal or preparing your taxes, more than likely it will not disappoint. At that same meeting, another member of the crowd may come with a more open mind and willingness to learn and think it is the most enlightening time they have ever spent. So what’s the difference? This same rule applies to our relationships. Our expectation changes our experience.
So where does our main model for relationships and communication come from? You probably guessed it, our parents; who received their patterns from their parents and so on. How they did and do relationships has an impact upon our own. Like it or not. If you had an affectionate relationship modeled by your parents, you will most likely carry the model forward or go to the other extreme so as to try and break the cycle, either way the influence is there. If your parents were good communicators when it came to the sticky topics; money, discipline/parenting styles, intimacy, then you most likely can handle the tension most people try to avoid when it comes to talking about some of the tough things in life. If this information gets you down, don’t worry. You can change the pattern if you choose. When you understand some of the forces at work in your relationships and life, you attain the possibility of being able to have your past no longer dictate your future.
When you shed some light on this process in your relationships it’s easy to see why our important relationships are so much work. There are two family systems fighting to gain control of this newly formed system. Coupled with the idea that we see what we expect to see and hear what we expect to hear, no wonder there are times of conflict in this relationship. Surprisingly, there are many people I have worked with that are shocked at this fact. Apparently they have held on to the fairy tale version of relationships for too long. Maybe you have too. Movies and TV portray relationships as an alluring time of romance, love, laughter and joy. You know what I mean, “and they all lived…”
If you can complete that sentence, you have had that illusion as well.
Now back to the initial question, what did you expect? The onus rests on our own shoulders to make the most out of this life. If you expect things to be tough today, most likely they will be. If you expect your marriage to be rocky, it will. I am not advocating that you don’t examine reality honestly, but more often than not, what we expect out of things becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. By changing your focus or outlook on things, other aspects of life will begin to change as well. Problems in life are inevitable, struggling is optional. Improve your ability to improvise, adapt and overcome will allow you to take charge of your life and harness more energy for your day. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to change the wind in your life, adjust your sails.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Now I know you have been in this situation. You are involved in your daily tasks with your family or significant other and they say something in passing to you. While whatever they said was innocuous, your interpretation was anything but. So you storm out of the room or react with a verbal unleashing that would give any baseball coach in an argument with an umpire a run for his money. If the preceding hasn’t happened, maybe the following has. You are so deeply involved in your routine of life and work that when you come home after a long day, you simply co-exist with your spouse. You don’t even talk anymore. You’ve drifted apart and are living lives together under the same roof but miles apart.
A common belief regarding the cause of these examples is usually that the people involved are having trouble communicating. They would benefit from some communication training. Learning how to be assertive and use “I” messages properly. Nothing against these types of approaches, they are each good concepts to learn and incorporate within the right contexts. It is however my belief that within a committed relationship is not one of these contexts. Let me explain. As a foundation for this article, keep in mind that you cannot not communicate (pardon the double negative).
Everything we say; spoken and otherwise speaks volumes. Everything we don’t say speaks loudly as well. Research continues to confirm that around 93% of our communication resides in our body language and tone. How we say what we say speaks louder than what we say. The reverse is also true, how we say what we don’t say speaks louder than what we don’t say. I think I just confused myself. Maybe an example will bring about a little clarity. My wife comes in while I am watching a show on TV and begins a conversation (sorry if this is stereotypical). I now have a choice. I can turn off the show (or more likely hit pause on the Tivo) and respond to her invitation for a conversation. I can continue watching without saying a word. Or I can leave the show on and respond with the distraction of the show still in the background. She will react to whichever path I choose since she will read whatever I am saying by my reaction to her reaction and so forth. No wonder there are times when it seems communication is difficult.
The fact of the matter is, more often than not, communication problems are not the result of trouble understanding each other; it’s that we understand each other too well. In other words, the problem lies in me not liking what the other person is saying, and then reacting. When we react to the spike of emotion we get while interacting with another human, we often do so in an attempt to sooth ourselves.
Back to the previous example. If I do not pause the TV show and respond, or at the very least ask to have the conversation later, that can be interpreted as a threat to the status of our relationship. The message could be the show is more important than the conversation, and then the relationship, and then the family, and then the marriage, and ultimately then my wife. She may as well pack her bags and move out. I realize that is a bit overboard but it often starts that simply.
A majority of communication within a committed relationship in my opinion is covert. We are afraid to say what we really mean because we are afraid to take the “hit.” So we say it in code. We also interpret what we hear and see on our own without asking for clarity. Mainly because we may not want to know what the answer really is. We treat our significant other with kid gloves so as not to damage them. Incidentally, when exactly did I marry a person who is fragile? Why do I treat them as though they can’t handle what I truly think?
Conflict is not all bad. It is only through some conflict that value and rewards are increased. I hate to break it to you, but living a life that is more alive requires some work on your relationships, unless this life you envision is alone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever wondered why there are times in life when it seems that you are simply coasting along? Throughout life, there are many tasks that must be undertaken in order to experience a life or relationship that is more alive. Granted there will be times when each of us may be bogged down with a particular event or stage in life (I have a 2 year old and a 3 month old in my house, needless to say, life right now is about them). Life has its natural ebbs and flows of emotion. But if you find yourself asking the preceding title question frequently, let me offer you some hope.
First, you are not alone. There are many, many people that have chosen to settle into their schedule driven life and have begun to believe that this is all there is for them and their loved ones. For many people, a routine life full of kid’s activities, homework, one week of family vacation per year, grocery lists, church meetings, carpool, etc. is enough for right now. What about later? When the kids are grown and out of the house (hopefully not boomeranging back). Have you planned that far in advance? Incidentally, did you know that the second most frequent period of relationships experiencing divorce is after the kids are out of the house? When you are forced to spend time with your spouse whom you may have avoided by “diving” into your kid’s life for all those years. You don’t have to wait that long (to change something, not get divorced).
Second, something can be done now that can begin the process of experiencing a life that is more fully alive. Experience a life full of passion, energy, love, adventure, and fun. It begins by asking yourself a series of simple questions: Would you want to be married to you? Would you want you as your father/mother? Would you want to work for you? Be friends with you? When we can honestly answer these questions, we have entered the beginnings of a life transforming process.
Far too often we want or expect those around us to change and accommodate us. We also may fall victim to the stagnating process of waiting for the other person to change before we respond. Let me explain by personalizing this. There have been times in my marriage when I have grown tired of the routine we have established of interacting, but I wait for my wife to do something different before I do. And to compound the issue, while I am waiting for her to read my mind, I get frustrated that she doesn’t respond fast enough or adequately to my unspoken expectations. Now I know how you may be responding to this; if she truly loved me and understood my needs, she should just know. If you are thinking this, you have fallen victim to the Hollywoodization of relationships. Just because you are in a marriage/committed relationship/close friendship/family does not mean that you cease to exist as an autonomous being. One with your own hopes and dreams and fantasies.
Having a life that is more fully alive, starts with you. By answering these questions honestly, you can begin to grow yourself into a better human. However, this does not come easily. This honest assessment of self and life is often accompanied by a spike in our levels of anxiety and discomfort. This is why we settle into the routine of life and don’t rock the boat. What I am proposing is that you have the willingness to stand up and address the things in your own life that get in the way of the life you want and in turn, take charge of your life and become more fully alive.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
If you had two minutes to screen teenagers who were potentially at risk for suicide, what four questions would you ask them? That’s the central inquiry in a study published last month by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health. The quick screening tool they developed is as interesting for what it doesn’t include—a question about bullying—as for what it does.
The research team, led by Lisa Horowitz, tested 17 questions on more than 500 patients between the age of 10 and 21 who visited the emergency room for either psychological problems or physical illness. There is already a screening tool for teen suicide attempts that’s considered to be the gold standard in medicine, because it has held up well in multiple studies—a 30-question list called the Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire. Horowitz and her colleagues wanted to figure out whether a far shorter list of questions could come close to matching the SIQ for catching kids at risk for attempting suicide. They came up with 17 potential questions for ER doctors and nurses to try on their young patients. The four questions that matched the SIQ results almost perfectly (with 97 percent accuracy) were:
1. In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off if you were dead?
2. In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?
3. In the past week, have you been having thoughts about killing yourself?
4. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?
It makes sense that these questions in combination would screen effectively for suicide attempts: They’re either directly about suicidal thoughts or attempts, or about the kinds of thoughts that are strongly associated with depression, a major predictor for suicide. One of the other 17 questions, though, was about bullying: “In the past few weeks, have you been bullied or picked on so much that you felt like you couldn’t stand it anymore?” And what’s striking about this one is that it had the very lowest ranking among the 17, meaning it was the least likely of all 17 questions to match the predictive quality of the SIQ.
The point isn’t that there’s no link between bullying and risk for suicide. Another study in October found that children who say their peers pick on them—like children who are abused or mistreated in other ways—were significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts than children who weren’t bullied. (The study also found the greatest risk of suicidal thinking among children who were victimized in more than one way.) What’s interesting about the December study, as Ann Haas of the American Federation for Suicide Prevention pointed out to me, is that it suggests that in a world of limited resources, bullying isn’t the factor that makes sense to focus on for suicide prevention. The key here is proportion, and understanding that suicide usually has multiple causes.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
With all the violence in suburban schools, there has been increased curiosity about the sources of social ostracism among youth, painful facts of life about the healthiest and, we presume, happiest of our kids. The focus of this article is on teasing, an almost universal experience with implications far beyond the attention we generally give to it.
Most of us can sympathize with the child who complains miserably of being teased or bullied. Our advice is usually simplistic: “Try to ignore it,” on the theory that the teaser will get bored and drop it when the victim does not react. But this discounts the reactions of the other participants, the onlookers or the audience for whom the bully is performing and who reward the scene with their attention. Besides, none of us is good at ignoring our own feelings, and the feelings that can be triggered by teasing are more powerful and painful than we like to admit, perhaps because we feel powerless to protect our children from this kind of an attack, ubiquitous as it is. The two primary feelings involved are often topics of discussion in the therapy session: shame and anger, or in their extreme: humiliation and rage.
Looking back on it, it seems to me that the relationship between shame and rage should be obvious. When something or someone makes you feel powerless, terribly hopelessly powerless, the thing you crave most is something that will help you feel powerful, or at least safe. We don’t like to talk about these disturbing feelings. Shame is something we hide, or minimize, because exposing our shame only seems to make it worse. So the impact and consequences of teasing, shaming and excessive
criticism remain obscure for many of us. And the resulting rage catches us by surprise.
Many things can make us feel powerless. Whenever we experience animportant loss or disappointment, we feel powerless. When we are shamed, teased, criticized or bullied, we feel powerless. When we are ignored, we may feel powerless. When we are sick, tired, or hungry and as a result, confused, we may feel powerless.
When a young child craves power, there are only a few options. He can reach out for the loving protection of a comparatively powerful parent or caretaker. He can practice those few things that give him a child’s sense of mastery and control. He can exercise power over someone or something smaller or weaker. He can imagine fantasy scenarios of power, or revenge.
Babies are good at reaching out for protection. Though some may be fussier than others, most babies have a powerful way of making most adults feel nurturing and protective toward them.
A toddler is experimenting with a growing repertoire of
movement and communication skills that offer a sense of mastery and control over a small part of his universe. But if you speak sharply to a toddler, you will see the downcast eyes that represent the classic posture and facial expression of the primary affect of shame. Some anguished sobbing will usually follow, and it is not unusual for
the anguish to be followed by rage, as the toddler regroups and assaults you with the worst insult in his vocabulary.
The surge of aggression following the shame of defeat is part of our emotional evolutionary heritage. The two feelings are hard wired together, the sequence normal and unavoidable. But we do have some choice in what to think and how to act in response to the feelings, and these choices are learnable and therefore teachable.
The parent who finds a toddler’s tantrum cute and laughs at it, or the parent who finds it intolerable and punishes it, will see the child’s shame and rage reenacted immediately. With a few repetitions of this scene, the child soon develops a memory for the experience of helpless rage. Another alternative for the parent in this situation is to help the child release the shame and rage, and to begin to learn how that is done. By listening seriously, and labeling the feeling, the parent can accept the expression of emotion, while firmly limiting any dangerous or destructive behavior. Understanding, accepting, and labeling the shame and anger (and predicting that it will soon pass) reassures the child of continued respect and love; these responses help the child learn to get past the feelings of helplessness sooner, an important emotional skill to learn.
A five-year-old entering school is suddenly faced with a much larger world full of dangers and chances to feel powerless. What has he learned about this painful and confusing feeling and what to do about it? If he has not learned how to recover from shame and rage fairly quickly, he may be in for a crash course. Before long, he will encounter a disapproving adult or a competitive peer who will trigger feelings of shame and helplessness, followed by some feelings of aggression or rage. He will practice one or more strategies for dealing with this situation and choose one as his favorite. He may try to bury the rage by taking it out on himself in a damaging flurry of self-criticism. He may fantasize about revenge, and even plan and execute some form of retaliation. He may take his aggression out on someone else, seeking a way to restore status by teasing or harassing another, or by shifting blame. Or he may find a supportive listener with whom to work out this problem, though this requires skill and sensitive communication from the child and the listener. There are so many such episodes in his young life, that a preference for one of the strategies is soon established. It may work well enough in the short term to hide the helplessness and take the shame inside, or to gain back a sense of power. But often it may result in some unreleased shame or anger that grows into a chronic expectation of social danger.
The adolescent lives in a world in which the option of reaching out for protection from a loving adult becomes enormously more complicated and difficult. Even the need to seek understanding and help from an adult can be the source of embarrassment or shame when the primary psychological task is establishing independence. Competition for status within the all-important peer group often takes the form of teasing or hazing, where one youngster seeks to make himself the center of attention by making fun of another. It is a universal game, and within limits, can be a healthy kind of flexing of social muscles. But the limits are not well known, and therefore easy to cross. The young person who is the butt of the joke is in a poor position to define the rules of this game. Shame and hurt rule in silence, and the inevitable anger soon begins to grow. The young person may direct this anger at any of a number of targets. He may define himself as a loser and experience anger
at himself, eroding his self-esteem. He may become angry with the adults of the world for not protecting him, or with the “winners’ of the game for their cruelty or insensitivity. This anger is difficult to express, especially toward the teasers who provoked it. So it is more likely to be turned inward and become the stuff of self-hatred or angry fantasies of revenge. Fortunately, many kids find some way through this minefield without significant scars. But many others do not. Eating disorders, adolescent depression, and oppositional disorders all share a chronic expectation of criticism or shame, with chronic anger focused either on the self or the outside world or both. For some the anger fuels constant fantasies of getting even. Their angry demeanor subtly repels some of their peers, leaving them more isolated, and angrier. They find sympathy with angry lyrics in songs, angry images in movies, and a few angry friends, their fellow misfits. Academic and social failure and isolation add to the shame, and to the rage. Emotion “motivates” us to act. And rage motivates angry or violent behavior, toward oneself or the outside world.
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