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.
What is hypnosis? Have you ever been totally absorbed while reading a book, cooking or watching a movie? Did you zone out to the point you didn’t notice what else was going on around you? If so, you’ve experienced a trance-like state that’s similar to what happens to you during hypnosis.
Hypnosis, also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is a trance-like state of mind. It is usually achieved with the help of a hypnotherapist and is different from your everyday awareness. When you’re under hypnosis: -Your attention is more focused -You’re deeply relaxed and calm -You’re more open to suggestions, and less critical or disbelieving
The purpose of hypnosis is to help you gain more control over your behavior, emotions or physical well-being. Hypnotherapists say that hypnosis creates a state of deep relaxation and quiets the mind. When you’re hypnotized, you can concentrate intensely on a specific thought, memory, feeling or sensation while blocking out distractions. You’re more open than usual to suggestions, and this can be used to change your behavior and thereby improve your health and well-being.
Who is hypnosis for? Hypnotherapy has the potential to help relieve the symptoms of a wide variety of diseases and conditions. It can be used independently or along with other treatments. According to scientific studies, hypnotherapy may be used to: · Change negative behaviors, such as smoking and overeating · Reduce or eliminate fears, stress and anxiety · Lower blood pressure · Control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy · Reduce the intensity or frequency of pain · Treat and ease the symptoms of asthma Although hypnosis may have the potential to help with a wide variety of conditions, it’s typically used as one part of a broader treatment plan rather than as a stand-alone therapy. Like any other therapy, hypnosis can be helpful to some people but not to others. It seems to work best when you’re highly motivated and your therapist is well trained.
Types of hypnosis
There are a variety of hypnotic techniques. The approach you choose depends on what you want to accomplish as well as your personal preferences. For example, in one method a hypnotherapist leads you into hypnosis by talking in a gentle, soothing tone and describing images that create a sense of relaxation, security and well-being. While you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist suggests ways for you to achieve specific goals, such as reducing pain or stress or helping to eliminate the cravings associated with smoking cessation. In another technique, once you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist helps stimulate your imagination by suggesting specific mental images for you to visualize. This conscious creation of vivid, meaningful pictures in your mind is called mental imagery, and it’s a way to help bring about what you want to achieve. Self-hypnosis is a third technique. A certified hypnotherapist teaches you how to induce a state of hypnosis in yourself. You then use this skill on your own to help yourself. For instance, hypnotherapists can help executives visualize what they want to accomplish before they perform it, such as giving a presentation or making a sale.
Although hypnotherapists, like other health care practitioners, each have their own style, expect some common elements:
A typical session lasts from 30 to 60 minutes.
The number of sessions can range from one to several.
You generally bring yourself out of hypnosis at the end of a session.
You can usually resume your daily activities immediately after a session.
Although hypnosis may have the potential to help with a wide variety of conditions, it’s typically used as one part of a broader treatment plan rather than as a stand-alone therapy. Like any other therapy, hypnosis can be helpful to some people but not to others. It seems to work best when you’re highly motivated and your engaged in the process.
Myths about hypnosis If you’ve ever seen hypnotism used as entertainment in a stage act, you’ve probably witnessed several of the myths about hypnosis in action. Legitimate clinical hypnotherapy practiced by a qualified professional is not the same process as that performed on stage.
Myth: When you’re under hypnosis, you surrender your free will.
Reality: Hypnosis is a heightened state of concentration and focused attention. When you’re under hypnosis, you don’t lose your personality, your free will or your personal strength.
Myth: When you’re under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist controls you.
Reality: You do hypnosis voluntarily for yourself. A hypnotherapist only serves as a knowledgeable guide or facilitator.
Myth: Under hypnosis, you lose consciousness and have amnesia.
Reality: A small number of people who go into a very deep hypnotic state experience amnesia. However, most people remember everything that occurred under hypnosis.
Myth: You can be put under hypnosis without your consent.
Reality: Successful hypnosis depends on your willingness to experience it. Even with voluntary participation, not everyone can be led into a hypnotic state.
We all lament the inconsistencies of everyday life. We are rude to the people we love, yet civil to people we know nothing about. We make the right choice and then over-ride it to our own disadvantage. However, when we consider the complexities of our civilized existence and the complications of the human personality, it’s a wonder we are as consistent as we are.
We need to ask ourselves the right questions: “What determines our consistency in the first place? What are the barriers that keep us from being as consistent and as predictable as we’d like ourselves to be?” Our lives would be smoother and less problematic if we could answer these questions. We wouldn’t have to apologize as much or pay the penalties for deeds we had no conscious intention of achieving. We could stop saying, “I don’t know what got into me.” If we knew, we would not do it all over again next time.
I believe it is our subterranean beliefs from the past that determine how consistent we are. These beliefs keep us on track without the need for our conscious awareness, even if we don’t like the path we are on. In a given situation, our beliefs based on past experiences kick in and draw parallels based on vague similarities. Some people consistently give up heir seat on the subway for a pregnant woman. Others consistently do not. We didn’t have to weigh the merits of the case. We just go along with what is programmed deep down inside of us.
Consistency is not what many people think it is. For example, few of us stop to consider there are two kinds of consistency, just as there are two kinds of success, two kinds of control, and two kinds of communication. There is the healthy kind and the unhealthy kind. We al know people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. You’d think they’d catch a break once in a while, but they never do. They claim it’s a matter of dumb luck, or a bad break, or fate. They blame everything but the silent operation of their consistently unhealthy beliefs from their own past.
In my counseling sessions, I look for the consistencies in a client’s life. They could find them if only they knew where to look. For example, I can understand that a man may date or marry the same kind of woman because they are all consistent with his observations of a female role model growing up. He acquired certain beliefs about what a woman is and does. These beliefs shape his expectations of what his wants and needs are in a compatible marriage partner. If a mother is critical and demanding, he will be attracted to women whom act in similar ways. His agenda is not a happy marriage. His agenda is based on a constellation of underlying beliefs, it is to maintain and perpetuate the continuity of these childhood patterns from the past into the present and future. And it all goes on below the level of conscious awareness.
His friends may say he is “consistently inconsistent,” or that he is “predictably unpredictable.” I would say that when it comes to marriage partners, he is consistently unconscious of his inconsistencies. My approach is to reveal these negative consistencies to the individual who, as an adult, has the power to make new choices using his adult judgment to consciously replace his unhealthy beliefs from the past with healthy one in the present. The same processes determine his beliefs toward work, play, success, trust and many other aspects of adult life.
I define the word lifestyle as one’s way of moving through life. This includes the ways we cope with the tasks of love, work, and friendship. Our lifestyle is our way of solving problems of everyday life as they arise. Some of us have been adequately prepared to cope with life. We learned well from competent, self-respecting role models. We acquired some healthy, constructive beliefs such as, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do unto you.” This sort of belief facilitates the functional interactions of a civilized society. But we have learned many things from people and have been given conflicting information. Thus, we have our inconsistencies too.
There is a range of such learning from healthy to unhealthy. There are minor imperfections, which are the fossil remains of minor setbacks in first grade. They are not the problem. The problem is the major imperfections that derive from the never-forgotten events of our childhood. These events taught us lessons about ourselves, about others and about life. These lessons were built into our emerging lifestyle and became the unhealthy beliefs that predispose us to behave in ways that are not consistent with our overall lifestyle today. They are like raisins in oatmeal. Under the stress of a situation in the present similar to ones in our past, these old beliefs come to the surface and predispose us to behave in ways that seem out of character. We have a temper tantrum. But the situation passes and we resume our prevailing lifestyle, our everyday personality re-emerges and our life goes on until the next bump in the road.
It’s a matter of degree. Some of us have healthy self-respect. We have good judgment and we use it to our advantage. Some of us have a mixture of self-respect and self-doubt to a degree that makes our lives more problematic and difficult. We get in our own way without realizing our mistaken beliefs are kicking in and doing the damage. Some of us have still higher degrees of self-doubt and self-contempt, leaving us with mostly raisins and very little oatmeal. We consistently behave in ways that are self-destructive.
Our unhealthy beliefs are stronger then our healthy ones. We make useless mischief instead of living useful, productive lives. We don’t trust our judgment, it’s not good enough, so we merely react to stimuli and provocation. We do not seek happiness, only unhealthy excitement. We are not equipped to identify and evaluate the appropriateness of our unhealthy, dominant beliefs. We do not even question their validity. We just follow where they lead. An impulsive act of kindness, for example, would be inconsistent with our overall lifestyle. It would be a healthy drop of oatmeal in our unhealthy raisins.
Our unhealthy beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. They are not chaotic. They are in the service of our self-doubt. If the beliefs are so intense, they will overthrow the self-respecting part of our nature and bring about the self-destruction that the insecure part of us believes we deserve. So the pressure to succumb crushes the worthwhile part. It is a battle between two aspects of our personality. Our adult, civilized, mature thought processes are in direct opposition to our childish, immature beliefs from our personal development.
Our beliefs have dimensions. In addition to the healthy-unhealthy dimension, there is also the intensity dimension ranging from weaken to powerful. When we say we have a strong impulse to hit someone, that is a belief kicking in and trying to control our behavior. When we say we are fighting a strong temptation, we are talking about an intense belief that is predisposing us to behave in ways we know we should not behave. The conflict is between our emotional beliefs and our rational thought processes. The intensity of the belief is directly proportional to the intensity of the early recollection in which it is embedded.
My approach to personal problem solving is to help clients identify the sources of their unhealthy beliefs, which arise from their load of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that give rise to the complaints they want to resolve. In my view, the issue is not the complaint, and I do not give advice. The real issue is the constellation of old beliefs that are creating the problem in the present. My task is to find out what these old beliefs are and where they came from. To do this, I ask: “What is the first thing you remember when you think of your childhood?” and a treasure chest of buried beliefs rises to the surface.
Once I see where these beliefs are coming from, half of the mystery of the unwanted behavior is solved. The rest of the solution consists in helping clients find out what they can choose to do instead of what they have been doing. We solve that part of the mystery together by giving people small tasks to do in their everyday lives. This is called doing your homework. Each time they do their homework, they learn a little more about themselves. They experience themselves as competent to take life as it comes. Each success gives rise to stronger, healthier beliefs that crowd out and replaces the negative ones. As a result, the person becomes more consistently consistent.
I have a system of identifying current beliefs from the client’s behavior in the present. For example, Kate wanted to know why she is afraid to be happy. She had been to a party with people she liked, but she couldn’t enjoy herself. She isolated herself and found something to fret about the whole evening. It didn’t make sense to her and she wanted to know where her feelings were coming from. I didn’t tell her, my theories of why she felt they way she did. I didn’t say, “It’s just a case of nerves” or “You were just being self-conscious” or “I was something you ate”. It had to come from her. To identify Jane’s current feelings in the present, I asked her “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your childhood?” Jane thought for a moment and said, “I don’t remember anything. I guess what comes to mind is being on the playground, playing alone.”
(Therapist) “How do you feel thinking about being alone on the playground, playing by yourself?”
(Client) “Ok, I guess.”
(T) “Could you have felt all alone and lonely, maybe abandoned?”
(C) “No I enjoyed playing by myself, doing what I wanted to do, no one to get into my way.”
(T) “Would you say you felt happy?”
(C) “Yes, I was happy.”
(T) “What else come to mind when you think of playing on the playground?”
(C) “Getting beat up. I was in second grade and playing alone until two boys came pushed me down to the ground and the some other kids started to hit me.”
(T) “How did that make you feel?”
(C) “I felt awful.”
(T) “It probably ruined the happiness you had, wouldn’t you say?”
(C) “Yes, I guess there is a pattern here, whenever I’m happy something bad happens.”
(T) “How do you think this relates to what happened at the party?”
(C) “At the party I must have had the fear that something would happen to spoil my happiness.”
When Jane came to me for help with her confusion, I didn’t just say, “You are allergic to happiness”, which may have saved a lot of time. But she wouldn’t see the connection between the present and the past. Instead, we were able to ask her to reflect, which evoked a constellation of experiences and feelings that were waiting just below the level of her conscious awareness. It’s like pushing a button on a computer. Talking about the problem stimulates the buried recollection to pop to the surface and she can print it out and look at it. Jane was able to make the connection between these two situations for herself. She could see that there was a clear distinction in her experience between playing happily all alone on one hand and the experience she had with others. They caused her pain and hurt. They made happiness very difficulty for her.
To this day she is happier alone doing her own thing, such as gardening, then she is in the presence of fellow human beings, who are unpredictable, potentially dangerous and totally outside her control. It is hard for her to be happy under this fog from the past.
However, once these connections are made, Jane can break them. She can put her early recollection of happiness being followed by disaster in a more mature perspective. She can see the mistake in her conviction that the happiness in her memory was somehow responsible for the disaster that followed. There was a relationship in her memory of the two events, but not based in reality. The earlier happiness in being alone did not cause the disaster, as she has come to believe. We all have ups and downs in life. The ups do not cause the downs. We cannot prevent downs by stifling the ups. The mistake is to draw inappropriate conclusions. As adults, we can see these mistaken beliefs for what they are and correct them.
I said to Jane, “At the party, you were sabotaging your happiness by living in the future and trying to predict what was going to happen, so you could prevent it from happening. You wanted to control the future, but you couldn’t figure out how. You had an anxiety attack. You didn’t know what was going to happen or when. Not knowing what was going to happen was scary and you felt helpless and out of control. Your old beliefs were used to predict a possible scenario and this expectation predisposed you to feel, think, and act the way you did in the past. You brought something into the present from the past without knowing it was happening or how to deal with it. This reaction was automatic, it just kicked in and spoiled your happiness.”
Almost every time we have an insolvable, emotional problem in the present, we can predict that the answer lies in beliefs buried in early experiences. We can predict that after examining the problem that is occurring today, the client’s internal consistencies can be counted on to bring forth a relevant memory or sequence of recollections that put the problem in a useful perspective. This is how our human consistency works. How we make sense out of events from the past is consistent with how we make sense out of events in the present.
We can also predict that once we make these unconscious beliefs conscious, they lose their grip on the individual. Once they can understand where they are coming from, they can choose to replace self-doubt with new beliefs in the context of mature self-respect. “I’m not a vulnerable child anymore, I’m not a victim. I’m a grownup. I’m a worthwhile human being now and deserve to be happy.”
There is nothing unusual about the process of transferring a whole constellation of feelings and beliefs from one person in the past to a similar circumstance in the present. Our emotional system is consistent. We tend to remember painful emotional events and unresolved problems. They nag at us and cause painful discomfort. We strive for resolution to release the tension. When these problems remain unsolved emotions linger. Our memories of unresolved anger, private guilt, secret shame or paralyzing fear do not go away just because they are not expressed. They lay dormant and are triggered when a situation while a similar feeling occurs in the present. However, we can use this consistency to our advantage in our efforts to solve the mystery of where our problems in the present came from and how they can be resolved by using our adult judgment, which we did not have back then.
All you knew was that it hurt: the stubbing of the little finger or toe, biting of the tongue, bumping of the head…
You didn’t even know what you said until you were standing there rubbing your jaw, gazing up at your grandmother as warm tears blended with the stinging of the inflamed imprint left by her hand.
You had been “popped”, “slapped”, “smacked”, whatever you want to call it…
….and rightfully so: Where do you get off using language like that? You’re just a kid…barely out of pull-ups yet!
Reduced to unskilled lip-reading (…considering the ringing in your ears has yet to subside), you peer through your tears and into the wide, angry mouth of your ‘sweet, kind, nurturing’ grandmother.
Intriguing, isn’t it…the uncharted territory of swearing?
How old were you when you figured out that there were some words you just SHOULDN’T say?
Seven? Maybe five?…Three??
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there at some point: standing in the doorway watching an angry grandmother trail off into the distance of our home (well, at least a variation of this situation). And I’m sure the question that popped up first can be quickly summed up with “why?”.
Let’s start with why you said it:
You were in pain. Your foul language was an exclamation; cathartic swearing. You meant no intentional harm to anyone and I doubt that you sought to add some kind of “shock factor” to your choice of words either. You had probably heard it somewhere and, being the naive and often irrational child that you were, simply regurgitated it during a moment of sudden pain. A combination of three theories can explain this (each less flawed than the one preceding):
The Hydraulic Theory: Cathartic swearing is used for “releasing steam”. While most agree, there is no physiological proof that swearing produces this effect. In fact, considering the areas of the brain and hormones linked with hearing foul language, you’re likely to be MORE stressed when you swear.
The Rage Circuit Theory: Mammals naturally make sudden, startling noise when attacked or abruptly injured. It is widely believed that this is a defense mechanism that is even found in humans. This is quite convincing until we realize that we are too cultured to be reduced to such an “instinct”. What left your young lips that day was not a series of yelps or sharp grunts. You were swearing; emitting a series of sounds that had to be learned and associated with the events they followed.
…which brings us to the most accommodating theory,
The Response Cry Theory: Cathartic swearing, though seemingly uncontrollable, is a communicative feature of language. It is intended to inform your audience that something really, really painful, exciting, or upsetting has just happened to you….SO much so to the point of neglecting intelligent or appropriate language to express it.
Now, the fun part: why was grandma so angry?
The surface of the argument is often limited to the fact that swear words are offensive. We, as members of society, naturally associate these words with the most foul, intimidating and exploited aspects of living. We first internalize the feelings we connect with these aspects and then allow them to escape during spells of intense emotion or even casual interaction (the intense emotional swearing often categorized as dysphemistic, abusive, emphatic or cathartic; the more casual mostly known as idiomatic swearing). As a result, we now have wonderfully colorful language for the disfavored groups in our culture (i.e. the “n” word, words for homosexuals), sexuality (i.e. the “f” word, and the ever frequently misused “c*nt”), bodily effluvia and organs (i.e. the “s” word, A-hole) and even the supernatural (i.e. “hell”, “damn”, “Jesus Christ”).
Upon breaking the surface of this argument we find that the offense we take to such language is really involuntary. Whenever we hear swear words the lower right hemisphere of our brain becomes quite active. This activity occurs more specifically in the limbic system (responsible for memory, emotion, basic behavior and even vocalizations in primates and other animals) and the basal ganglia (responsible for impulse control and motor functions). While our choice of swear words is governed by the voluntary selection processes of the outer left hemisphere (the Wernicke’s and Broca’s area), our reactions are governed by the impulsive and emotional inner right hemisphere. Listening to swearing literally forces the listener to think unpleasant, negative thoughts. It is a kind of “mind control”; jerking the unsuspecting synapses of poor, old grandma into sudden rage…completely against her will.
Now, I must say: grandma probably could have used a little restraint. I mean, SHEESH!! I was only SEVEN: When I was a child, I SPAKE as a child. I hadn’t grown my filter yet. Language was fresh, new and disjointed back then. I STILL don’t know exactly what I said to make her so angry that day!
Nonetheless, in putting away childish things, there are some facets of life that just HAVE to go. We are not what enters the lips, but what leaves them. Your fellow man WILL judge your character based upon what you say. Therefore, make no mistake in believing the tongue should go unbridled forever. It’s been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN that we progressively gain control over our speech and, subsequently, the reactions they evoke. Avoiding the release of corrupt communication from our lips does EVERYBODY some good. Besides the hurt feelings and the occasional damaged pride, swearing has also been connected to increased levels of the stress hormone Cortisol which is a contributing factor to bigger bellies and fatty hearts.
Language is a code, a tool for communication. It is the bridge between the mind and the world; the materialization of our experiences. Why take something so functionally beautiful and voluntarily use it for physiological and emotional discomfort?
It is likely that both you and I are not children. Nor are we the victims of a traumatic brain injury or degenerative brain disease (considering that the same areas of the brain used for reading this are closely linked with those that make swearing involuntary for some stroke victims and sufferers of Tourette’s Syndrome). Therefore, with the greater good and maybe even our reputations in mind,
let’s watch our mouths.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Good Intentions are a form of mischief, disguised by a cover story of “altruism” to conceal the underlying self-indulgent purposes of the behavior. Good intentions are not really for the benefit of the recipient. Their purpose is to overcompensate for the intender’s feelings of inadequacy to cope effectively with the reality situation. The intender deceives the beneficiary (and himself) with such protestations of selflessness as “I’m only doing this for your own good,” “This hurts me worse than it hurts you,” and “I know what’s best for you.”
Good intentions do not arise out of the needs of reality. They originate in the intender’s private need to prove to himself and others that he is not inadequate to cope. He imagines that he can accomplish this secret purpose by doing more than the reality situation requires. It is this excess that makes the good intention counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive. The logic of this overcompensatory behavior is, “If a little is good, a lot must be better.” The intender, by his self-serving, excessive behavior, seeks to relieve his feelings of inadequacy and inferiority by elevating himself to the superior position of “All-Wise Bestower of Beneficence Unto the Family,” the other members of which resent being made to feel inferior and subservient.
Good Intentions as Control: Good intentions can be seen as the insecure, unself-respecting individual’s attempt to control his life and the life of his loved ones, subordinates, subjects, and so on. He makes the mistake of defining control as “preventing the bad things of life from happening,” and he proceeds to operate on the basis of this unrealistic definition. He feels it is his responsibility to do so. He would feel irresponsible if he didn’t. That would be painful. This is another pain he is trying to prevent.
For example, the Overambitious parent wants to prevent the child from failing vocationally, academically, maritally (“Clean up your room. Who wants to marry someone like you?”) The Overcritical parent wants to prevent imperfection in the child and will call his attention to his every flaw in the vain hope that he will take heed and mend his ways until the desired degree of perfection is achieved. The Overindulgent parent wants to prevent the pain of deprivation (and his own guilt), so he goes overboard. The Overprotective parent wants to prevent harm (physical, social, psychological, spiritual) by identifying and eliminating all potentially noxious influences from the child’s environment.
On a deeper level, these parents are trying to prevent something bad from happening to them: a) feelings of guilt at not being a “good enough” parent, b) feelings of failure at the task of preventing these bad things from happening to the child — it will be their “fault” if they do, and c) the humiliating exposure of their underlying feelings that they are inadequate to cope after all. The child’s welfare is not the issue, the child is merely the occasion for all these subterranean issues and purposes that lie below the level of conscious awareness but determine the parent’s behavior nevertheless.
These same principles apply to the Overidealistic parent who is trying to instill a sense of justice and fair play in a three-year-old child. He wants to prevent the child from growing up to be an uncivilized savage by forcing him to share his precious teddy bear with his cousin, Sylvia. He also spends his time conducting quasi-criminal investigations into the matter of who socked who first so that the evil doer can be punished as an example to others and himself henceforward.
Good Intentions are Counterproductive: No one doubts the “goodness” of the intention, but when behavior is based on unrealistic, over-compensatory striving, it can hardly succeed. It can only make things worse instead of better. We cannot strengthen an individual’s character by treating him like an invalid or ignoramus. We cannot build him up by tearing him down. Good intentions do not prepare someone for a happy future; they rob him of his trust in his judgment and his feelings of adequacy to take life as it comes.
Moreover, they do not make him grateful to us or more loving. Good intentions contribute to his self-doubt, and he cannot appreciate our efforts toward this end. He comes to hold himself in contempt, and he has anger and contempt for us for robbing him of a more happier, effective example to follow.
Good Intentions are Self-Destructive: Like all mischief, good intentions arise out of our self-doubt. Since they are not reality-oriented, they can only misfire in the real world and boomerang against us. Our good intentions succeed only in driving others away from us, and we are left feeling alone and lonely. Not only are we angry at our ungrateful beneficiaries, we are left feeling angry at ourselves for wasting our time and energies in their behalf. We feel Good for Nothing, worthless. Our feelings of inadequacy to cope have been confirmed.
Antidote: The antidote to these over-compensatory good intentions is to have real intentions, which arise out of and are congruent with the demands of the reality situation. The formulation of a real intention involves perceiving reality and its demands clearly, assessing its legitimate requirements accurately, and using adult judgement to decide on an appropriate intervention — which is sometimes no intervention at all. It also involves having the courage to implement that decision in the reality situation.
The unself-respecting person suffers from impediments in his perception and judgment that interfere with this process. He bases his behavior on what he needs rather than on the needs of the situation. The self-respecting person, however, is more likely to be relatively free of these impediments and able to formulate his real intention, giving it due consideration. He trusts his judgment, he knows how to share responsibility, he knows how to secure cooperation in an atmosphere of mutual respect. He succeeds positively where his well-intentioned opposite number can only succeed negatively, that is, in reverse.
The self-respecting person imparts his real intentions not by lecturing, harping, nagging, scolding, preventing or bribing. He does it in the only way it can be done in the real world: By setting an example of self-respect for others to follow if they choose. He doesn’t give advice, he offers choices. He doesn’t prevent the future, he lives in the present.
People who are suffering the pain of internal pressure, tension and stress are not as productive as they need to be. Coping with these unseen, often unconscious problems takes energy that they could be put to more productive use. They waste their energy in futile wrangling over minutiae, personality clashes, sulking in the corner, and looking out the window. We say that they are “preoccupied,” but we do not know what they are preoccupied with. Neither do they. They are preoccupied with solving painful problems that they do not know how to solve.
We are not taught in school how to identify the presence of internal stress. We never learn where it comes from nor how to relieve it in the right way. We spend our lives “relieving” it in ways that make it worse. When we finally burst a blood vessel, they will nod sadly and say, “It was the stress.” Yes. But which stress?
Our doctor will solve the problem by saying, “You’ve got too much stress. Quit your job.” Or he will put us on pills that will numb us to the inner conflicts that are tearing us in half. It would be far more useful to identify these sources of our inner stress as a first step toward making them go away.
Source Number One: Negative Control
We are in control all right. We run a tight ship. We don’t miss a thing. However, after we are taken to the hospital, we will miss quite a bit. There is an irony here, that the very things we are trying to prevent, such as loss of control, turn out to be our fate in the end.
• If we do not know how to control in the right way, we will control in the wrong way by default.
• If we don’t know what to control, we will control the wrong things and fail to control the right things.
• If we don’t know who is controlling, if we are only playing a role opposite someone else’s role, nobody will be in control. A mere role that we play according to a script from the past cannot control situations effectively in the present.
• If we don’t know what control is, we will make up our own definition of control that will not match up with the demands of the real world. In a contest between ourselves and reality, reality will win every time.
The Wrong Way
Internal stress comes from having the wrong definition of “control,” a definition many of us have learned from our parents when we were three. We have not reassessed our definition since then: To us, control means “preventing bad things from happening.” This definition, or more correctly, this attitude toward control, breeds endless stress because:
• It requires us to know what is going to happen before it happens.
• It requires us to solve the problem before it arises.
• It requires that we prevent the disaster perfectly. Nothing less will do.
• It sets us up to feel inadequate to cope with life because we cannot possibly fulfill the absurd requirements of this attitude.
• It sets us up for more disaster, not less because while we are trying to live in the future, we are neglecting our appropriate responsibilities in the present.
• When the “disaster” happens, we blame ourselves for “failing” to prevent it: “I should have seen it coming.”
• We blame ourselves for “failing” to know what the other person was thinking and planning to do to us: “I should have known.”
When we try to live in the future, when we try to “head it off at the pass,” we cannot be in real control. We can only be out of control because our basis of control is not congruent with the real world. We live in fear of impending disaster in the future. This is one of the main sources of anxiety in our lives. It is very stressful indeed.
Suppressing our anger is another example. This is not “control,” either. We are merely “stuffing” it for fear of the consequences of letting it out. We learned as a child that expressing anger was followed by severe consequences. “Stuffing it” now is an example of preventing “disaster” (punishment, victimization, rejection, displeasing, abandonment) in the future. We have never forgotten that lesson. It became our blueprint for “coping” with out of control situations in later life. These lessons once learned, can be unlearned if we know how.
The Right Way To Control
A better definition of control is “the feeling that one is making things happen on one’s own terms in the present.” The antidote to feeling out of control is the feeling that one is in control, not of others, or of life, but of oneself on an appropriate basis. If we want to experience positive control, we must make it happen. The next time we are angry, for example, we can relieve our frustration by reminding ourselves that we have a choice now that we did not have as children – to control it the wrong way, by a) “losing it,” erupting like a volcano, or by b) suppressing it. Or, we can express it the right way. As adults, we can now choose to express our anger in the middle ground between the two extremes: We can tell the truth about it. We can choose to say, “You know, it really makes me angry when you do that!” We have just made that happen, on our terms, at a time and place of our choosing. That is control. That is appropriate responsibility for relieving the pain of our anger in a way that works. We get it out of our system. We do not add another lump to the pile that is making us sick inside.
If we are angry at someone who is not around for one reason or another, all is not lost. We still have our power of choice. We can choose to write our anger out of our system with an anger letter to the offender, past or present. We are making the letter happen right now. We are using the word “angry,” not some childhood euphemism. It is not for the offender’s benefit at all. It is for our own. It will give us relief that the old way of “expressing” it never did. We call this positive method of control, “managing anger.”
It takes courage to manage our feelings and emotions in this new way. It is hard to have courage when we have been discouraged for so long. We need to replace our discouragement with encouragement. Courage is the willingness to take a risk. We are unwilling to risk doing something for the first time. We might fail, or someone might laugh at us for trying. Our lifelong agenda has not been to relieve our pain, it has been to prevent disaster, such as humiliation in the eyes of others. This unconscious agenda is an example of:
• living on other people’s terms, not our own.
• living in the future. We cannot have courage in the future. We can only have it in the present, right now.
When we have the courage to call our anger by its rightful name, to risk the consequences of revealing our secret feeling even to ourselves in an anger letter, we strike a blow for freedom. We are liberating ourselves from a lifetime of inappropriate, hobbling feelings and attitudes that we didn’t even know were there. The irony here is that we do not realize they were down there controlling us until they are gone!
One impediment to having courage is the feeling that we are inferior, we are not worth our taking a risk for. That is not reality, it is only a feeling, an attitude about ourselves. The truth is that, as a worthwhile human being, we are worth the risk, no more and no less than anyone else.
Source Number Two: I Can’t Trust My Judgment
On the basis of our new definition of control, we are free to take the ups and downs of life as they come and do the best we can with it. We have stopped reacting out of inappropriate fears and attitudes e.g., “Life is just one disaster after another, it’s only a matter of time,” and instead, we are trusting our adult judgment to make appropriate decisions as occasions arise. As children, many of us learned not to trust our judgment: “It wasn’t good enough.” Well, it wasn’t very good back then, was it? The problem is that our judgement has gotten much better but this attitude towards our judgment hasn’t grown up with us – it is still back down there interfering with our judgment in the present. Some of us can make ten good decisions in a row, but our old doubt about our judgment will rise up and sabotage the next one. It is as if we were telling ourselves something like, “If I think it’s A, it must be B!” So we override our first choice and pull the plug on ourselves. We were right the first time. We have shot ourselves in the foot. This conflict between wanting to trust our judgment and our fear of making the wrong one is very stressful.
Here, the major impediment is often perfectionism. Our attitude is: “The only way to avoid making the “wrong” judgment is to be sure that my judgment is perfect! Anything less than perfect might be wrong. So I’d better not make any judgment at all.” We decide not to decide. We become paralyzed. Very stressful indeed.
When the crunch comes, we react to the pressure and operate out of attitudes from the past – fear of criticism, fear of punishment, fear of loss, and we come up with a non-rational “solution” that makes everything worse. We “confirm” our attitude that our judgment cannot be trusted. It still isn’t good enough.
The Antidote To Distrusting Our Judgment
Some antidotes to distrusting our judgment would be to:
• give ourselves credit for making successful judgments in the past. We can build on our past successes. We are quick to criticize our lapses, but very slow to validate our legitimate successes. If we don’t validate them at the time, we cannot build on them later. We can say, “I did that. It needed to be done and I made it happen.” That is not “smug self satisfaction,” that is our appropriate responsibility for repairing the discouragement of the past.
• replace our perfectionistic attitude with a more realistic one, such as “My judgment doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be good enough to get the job done. I am required to be competent at my task, and that is what I am.”
• remind ourselves that an imperfect judgment, in most cases, is not the end of the world. That feeling is called anxiety, and it makes our judgment worse, not better. Instead, we can say to ourselves, “If I make an imperfect judgment on Tuesday, I can make a better one on Wednesday based on additional information and experience. I am a worthwhile human being in the meantime.”
• remind ourselves that, “If I make an imperfect judgment, it is not a “failure.” I can learn from it and not make it again.”
• remind ourselves that, “If the organization loses some money due to a mistake in judgment, it is regrettable. It is the price they pay for having imperfect human beings in their employ. It is the price of our on the job training in how to make imperfect judgments in an imperfect world.”
Source #3: “I Am Frustrated”
Frustration is a major cause of internal and external stress. The frustration may arise from external sources, such as a perfectionistic boss, or an irresponsible subordinate. External sources of frustration are visible to the naked eye – the sources of inner frustration are not. Frustration is an abstract concept. It does not show up on the x-ray directly, all we can see are the things that it has been doing to our insides for a very long time.
We need to define these abstract terms so that we can manipulate them as easily as we do our red hot sheets of steel in the rolling mill. We need to get a handle on these factors that are destroying our health just as bacteria used to do before Pasteur taught us to put the right label on them. Once he did that, an antidote could be found.
• Anger (“This situation is causing me a grievance”), plus
• Powerless (“There is nothing I can do about it”), plus
• Out of Control (“The situation is controlling me. I cannot make anything happen!”).
When we are angry and have the power to do something about it, we are not frustrated. We solve the problem. The anger goes away. We made something positive happen. Many times, however, we are angry, we try to do something about it and it fails. We wind up feeling frustrated. This is the emotion that causes employee burn out, executive heart attack, and “Type A personality” cardio-vascular “accident.” But it wasn’t really an accident, this individual worked at it. He did not do what he might have done to prolong his own life. It was not on his agenda. To relieve frustration, we must relieve all three components – anger, powerlessness and feeling out of control.
Let’s take an example; Mack is angry at Mary Ann for losing his expense account. Every time Mary Ann looks up, Mack is glaring at her. It’s unnerving. It makes her angry. She tells Evelyn, the Section Chief. Evelyn goes over to Mack and says, “Stop glaring at Mary Ann. It’s unnerving,” She goes back to her seat. She is angry at Mack, Mary Ann is angry at Mack, and Mack is angry at both of them.
Mary Ann looks up again. There is Mack glaring at her. That’s frustration. She thought she had power on her side, and that it would resolve the problem. She sees now that she was mistaken. Nothing has changed. She is powerless. She goes back over and tells Evelyn. Now Evelyn is frustrated. She has been thwarted, her power and control have proven to be useless. She goes back to Mack and says, “Now stop it. I really mean it. You’ll be sorry.” This bluff and bluster does not seem to work, either. It didn’t work the last time or the time before that. Mack is defeating them both in a power struggle over who can keep who from glaring at who. Mack is frustrated because his mismanaged anger is not solving the problem of his missing expense account.
These three people are all in pain. They are all pumping adrenaline which stimulates them to fight or flight. Unfortunately, they can do neither, which only compounds their frustration. They become super frustrated. Their hearts are beating too rapidly, their digestive systems have shut down, their energy is propelling them to actions which are forbidden by company policy, such as yelling and screaming, hitting, poking, punching and so on.
This situation has created an internal conflict between “letting it all out” and “keeping it all in!” They are going to remain in this morbid condition until Mary finally finds the expense account which has inadvertently been filed under “Bad Debts.” Now they are all back in control of themselves, they are empowered to get on with their lives, and the grievances have been removed. The inner stress has been relieved.
But what if the source of the frustration is not so easily removed? What if Mary Ann had put in for a promotion but it was given to an employee with more seniority but less specialized experienced? Or Evelyn had submitted an idea for eliminating four unnecessary steps in processing vouchers but was turned down because her superior didn’t think of it first? That is frustration, and it doesn’t go away. It may become sealed over, like an oyster with a pearl, but it is down there causing “stress” just the same.
Coping With Frustration
Frustration arises when we have only one choice and it doesn’t work, or two choices and neither of them work. Once again, the antidote is that we can free ourselves from these painful beartraps by giving ourselves a third choice. One complication is that, when it comes to relieving anger problems, our repertoire of responses is severely limited. We never learned at home or in school what our constructive choices are. All we have are these destructive choices of our own devising. But we are adults now. We can learn what our new choices are. This knowledge is empowering. As soon as we give ourselves an effective alternative, we will feel relief from the pain of this internal stressor.
Here are some choices that these three people could have made had they known that they were available. All of these choices come under the heading of an anger management technique called, “Telling The Truth.” This is a difficult technique, which is why so few of us use it. Most of us have been using techniques that are easy. That is why they don’t work. We cannot solve difficult problems with easy answers. It takes courage and maturity to do what is difficult. We strengthen our courage and maturity by doing what reality requires, not what we “think” it requires. Most of us do not even know that these hard choices are available to us. We have been told to pretend that we are not angry, we are just “upset,” or “bothered.” These words are not the truth. They are euphemisms for anger, and they do not give us the relief that we need. Also, they require no courage to express. Any fourth grader can express them.
Mack could have relieved his frustration by choosing to say to Mary Ann: “It makes me angry when you lose things that I give you.” Mary Ann could have gone over to Mack and chosen to tell him the truth about herself, which she does have the right to do: “Mack, it makes me angry when you sit there and glare at me. It doesn’t speed things up, it only slows me down. But, it’s your choice. Just don’t complain if it takes me longer to find your expense account.”
Evelyn could have said, “Mack it makes me angry when you sit there glaring at Mary Ann when we have a 4:30 deadline to meet. There’s work to be done. It’s your choice, but if it isn’t done, there will be a consequence in the morning. That’s not a threat, that’s the real world we live in.”
Mack could have said, “Evelyn, it makes me angry when Mary Ann loses my things, and you don’t do anything to improve her efficiency. She needs a better filing system.”
Or, he could have chosen to “let it go.” This is not suppressing or repressing, it is choosing to do what is appropriate in the reality situation. It relieves the internal stress.
Some of us are afraid to use the scary “A” word. It isn’t “nice.” Life gives us opportunities everyday to outgrow such childhood attitudes and replace them with more mature ones. Anger is unpleasant, but it is not a crime. We are not guilty, we are merely imperfect. Sometimes life requires us to stop being so “pleasing” and do that which is unpleasant. It is regrettable, but appropriate to the unpleasant situation at hand. It is up to us to use our judgment and make the right anger choice at the right time.
How Do These Choices Relieve Internal Stress?
We all know that “doing nothing” does not relieve stress. We also know that “doing the wrong thing” doesn’t relieve stress. The third option is to do what reality requires us to do, no more and no less. We can use our judgment to tell us what reality requires, and we must have the courage to do what needs to be done – not for the other person, but for ourselves.
• We are not reacting or overreacting, we are making a considered choice.
• We are affirming ourselves as a worthwhile human being in our own right.
• We are not building ourselves up by tearing someone down.
• We are not letting them tear us down, either.
• We are making it happen at a time and place of our own choosing.
• We are not out of control, we are in control of ourselves.
• We are not powerless, we have the power of choice and the courage to carry it out.
• We are not using our anger to intimidate (control) another person. We are showing appropriate restraint.
• We are not living in the past or the future. We are living in the present.
• We are assuming appropriate responsibility, not too much or too little.
All of these good feelings are components of self-respect. When we make these new choices on an informed basis, not just because someone told us to, we have feelings of independence, security, equality, belonging to the human race and peace of mind. In other words, we have used a difficult anger problem as an opportunity to replace our self-doubt from the past with self-respect in the present.
• The more we succeed, the stronger we become in our new identity as a worthwhile human being.
•The more we respect ourselves, the more likely we are to earn the respect of our co-workers.
• The more we respect each other on a healthy basis, the less stress there will be, internal or external.
In this atmosphere of mutual respect, we will be more likely to cooperate with each other in getting the job done. We will be more productive, and we will enjoy it more.
Have you ever tried to ride an elephant? I’ve been on rides at the circus or petting zoo as a child where some trainer led the elephant by a short rope around a short circle. Then I went to Africa and for the first time it was just me and an elephant, no rope. I wasn’t alone, there were eight other people on the elephant, and one of the people was a local elephant trainer, so the ride didn’t ask much of me. There was, however, one difficult moment. We were riding along a path on a steep hillside, two by two, and my elephant was on the outside, walking about three feet from the edge. Then the path turned sharply to the left, and my elephant was heading straight for the edge. I froze. I knew I had to steer left, but there was another elephant to my left and I didn’t want to crash into it. I looked around and no one else seemed to notice. I might have called out for help, or screamed, “Look out!”; but some part of me preferred the risk of going over the edge to the certainty of looking stupid. So I just froze. I did nothing at all during the critical five seconds in which my elephant and the one to my side calmly turned to the left by themselves. As my panic subsided, I laughed at my ridiculous fear. The elephant knew exactly what she was doing. She’d walked this path a hundred times, and she had no more interest in tumbling to her death than I had. She didn’t need me to tell her what to do, and, in fact, the few times I tried to tell her what to do she didn’t much seem to care. I had gotten it all so wrong because I had spent the previous ten years driving cars, not elephants. Cars go over edges unless your unless you tell them not to.
Well nice story, but what is the point? Well, I think that this story can be helpful in understanding how the unconscious mind works. Just like a person riding an elephant, you may believe that you are directing your life, but in reality your unconscious is directing you. You may be riding these elephants, but they are the ones in control of where you are going. Like the rider, the conscious, reasoning part of the mind has only limited control of what the unconscious emotional elephant does. The rider is holding the reins and by pulling one way or the other can tell the elephant to turn, stop or go. You can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, you’re no match for him. You are merely a passenger. The elephant has been around for longer, is much faster, and is far more powerful then you. The rider cannot stop the elephant once it takes action, you can only guide it where it is willing to go. If you want your elephant to respect your wishes, you need to be aware that the elephant will exaggerate failures, understate success, and it will worry about potential consequences. The elephants may be stampeding, but they can be tamed. With time, attention, and effort, the rider can train the elephant, the unconscious can be made conscious, and the results of this teamwork can be astonishing. The key, is noticing when your conscious and unconscious are pulling you in opposite directions.
How do you know when you are being pulled in opposite directions? You need to reflect on how you make sense of the world around you. It begins by understanding how the unconscious mind influences daily life. Your daily experiences occur on two different levels of perception, namely conscious and unconscious. The conscious mind is the one that we are all familiar with. The conscious mind is in charge of “perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation.” However, there is no single definition for the unconscious in psychological literature. For my discussion, I will use a definition for the unconscious from Webster’s New World Dictionary, which is, “the sum of all thoughts, memories, impulses, desires, feelings of which you are not conscious, but which influence your emotions and behavior.”
The unconscious is not a thing but a relationship between yourself and the external world. Just as gravity describes a relationship between masses, perhaps your unconscious and conscious mind refer to a similar relationship between your inner processes and the outside world. The conscious mind is what you ordinarily think of when you say “my mind.” It’s associated with thinking, analyzing and making judgments and decisions. The conscious mind is actively sorting and filtering its perceptions because only so much information can reside in consciousness at once. Knowledgeable and powerful in a different way than the conscious mind, the unconscious mind handles the responsibility of keeping the body running well. It has memory of every event you have ever experienced; it is the source and storehouse of your emotions.
So I find an iceberg to be a useful metaphor to understand the relationship between the unconscious and conscious mind. An iceberg floats in the water largely hidden. Typically, the tip of the iceberg is seen, and the huge mass of it remains below the surface. Only a small percentage of the whole iceberg is visible above the surface. Everything else falls back below the water line, into unconsciousness. The conscious mind, like the part of the iceberg above the surface, is a small portion of the whole being. Yet the unconscious mind, the largest and most powerful part, remains unseen below the surface. And like an iceberg, the conscious mind is built upon a solid foundation of unconscious material.
Because of the inherent limitations of your perceptual systems, you can place your attention and concentration on a very tiny fraction of the information that is potentially available to you, at any moment. For instance, as you read this, you are probably unaware of the feeling behind your knees, or the background sounds around you, until you consciously direct attention to them. The brain is constantly scanning its environment for personally relevant information. When an unexpected event occurs, such as a loud noise from an empty room, a rush of adrenaline shuts down all unnecessary activity and focuses the brain’s conscious attention, so you can spring into action. Conversely, a situation that contains mainly predictable or repeated circumstances, such as driving, reduces the conscious brain’s interest in the outside world and tempts it to turn inward. The point is that lacking emotional weight, circumstances lose their hold on your conscious attention. The best the mind can do is to have an awareness that flexibly scans events, so that nothing is ignored for very long. The more information you have available to you about events, the better you are able to determine what is relevant to solving problems and satisfying your needs and desires.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The book Embodied Resistance looked irresistible. I often write about gender issues and the chapter headings in this book grabbed my attention with subjects including beauty and sexuality, transgender identities and breastfeeding in public. It seemed to be a feast of ideas for reflection and blogging.
Then my gaze found chapter 12: “‘What I had to do to survive’: Self-injurers’ bodily emotion work,” by Margaret Leaf and Douglas P. Schrock. Instantly my mood of professional evaluation was swamped by the shock of memory, a visceral hit that hurled me back in time five years.
It was January 2007 and I was on a plane to Chicago, sitting next to my daughter, when I first saw them: long scratches on Sarah’s arms. The alarm bells that had for some months been clanging in my head suddenly coalesced into a certainty: My 13-year-old daughter was cutting.
The term self-injury or self-harm encompasses, as Leaf and Schrock report, everything from cutting the skin to hair-pulling, burning and bone-breaking. And it seems to be gender-related, as most self-harmers are adolescent females.
But Sarah isn’t a gender statistic, and her activity wasn’t generic. Our beautiful only child was carving into her skin with a razor blade. My husband and I felt confused and terrified. We felt ourselves to be a happy family — with the usual parent-teen tensions, sure, but basically in good shape. What weren’t we seeing? And was Sarah suicidal?
Immediately we found a good local therapist: some sessions were 1:1 and others involved all of us. I learned that cutting is better understood as an attempt to blunt emotional pain than a manifestation of mental illness or suicidal intention.
In Sarah’s case, the issues were largely about depression, intensified at a time when she struggled to fit into 8th-grade-girl culture. In addition to signaling emotional pain, though, cutting can be physically dangerous, especially if a blade goes too deep and hits an artery.
My husband and I clung to the therapist’s advice and read everything we could on self-harm. Through the years, though, our greatest source of insight about this time period in our lives has become Sarah herself. She stopped cutting 4 ½ years ago; 18 now, she shares her story when it may help others. Once I received Sarah’s permission to write this post, I invited her to speak here.
“While my struggle with self-harm began as a sort of test to see if it really did ease the pain, it quickly turned into an addiction. I never once did it for attention; I was only looking for a way to control at least one thing in my life — and I could control the amount of pain. I felt that I was powerless in every other aspect of my life. It was spiraling out of control, and I had to take matters into my own hands, but quickly the self-harm spiraled out of control too.”
“After a while, the intense rush from cutting wasn’t enough. The emotional release would be worth it, but waking up in the morning completely reversed those feelings. It was a vicious cycle — suddenly, the control that I had over this one part of my life became uncontrollable. I needed help, and I got it.”
“My parents and therapist were all very supportive of my recovery, but I discovered that finding creative outlets is just as helpful as a supplement in the healing process. I am an avid writer and singer, and instead of cutting, I am now able to channel that pain into my writing and musicianship. I have been clean from self-harm for years, and now that I have come full circle, I have found comfort and fulfillment in trying my best to help others who may be struggling with the same problems I was.”
The arc from trauma to recovery for Sarah was so much harder than can be conveyed here, and included excruciating setbacks.
But Sarah is a person with a generous spirit and a strong sense, now, of who she is. She connects to others through community service and activism as much as through fun and friendship. I’ve written elsewhere about the joy of watching her find her way during her first year at James Madison University.
I’ve intrigued to see that her self-description matches what Leaf and Schrock report from their interviews with 15 current or former self-harmers (13 were female; ages ranged from 18 to 33). Three steps, they found, are key to recovery: first identifying and then addressing the emotional pain, and then engaging in open and healthy ways with the social world.
Sarah took these steps successfully, and the last words go to her:
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“I am not ashamed to say that I am a survivor of self-harm. I am proud that I faced and defeated my demons head-on, but it was not easy. Self-harm is a serious problem facing millions of people, and asking for help is extremely difficult, but it is never a process that should make anyone feel belittled or disparaged.”
“I am including a link to the To Write Love On Her Arms “Find Help” page. It contains contact information for anyone who may be suffering with self-harm and wants to seek help.
Is this you? You’re waiting for a traffic light to change, and your heart races at the thought of all the time you’re wasting going nowhere. Going through security at the airport, you want to scream at the first-time flyer who’s just in front of you who still has his shoes on because you know he’s about to bring the whole system to a halt. At work, your boss is so much less competent than you are that at night you dream of various unsavory forms of overthrow. Well, what you need in these scenarios and several others that present themselves in modern life is a dose of patience, which, says Allan Lokos, who thought about this a lot and has just published a book called “Patience,” is something that you can actually practice and develop and build.
The benefit of this, well, a lot less impatience in your life, which, Lokos says, translates into a lot less anger. And how much of that is there going around these days? We want to hear from you on this. If you do practice patience in your life, we would like to know how you got there. What incident turned you around? Or what lesson did you learn that maybe the rest of us can learn something from?
So if you practice patience, how did you get there? What was the turning point for you? If anger is close to impatience, and the scenarios that I was just outlining, being in traffic or being in that security line at the airport or having a boss that drives you crazy and leaves you tied up in balls of anger, you know, maybe it doesn’t feel good, but what’s wrong with anger? It’s actually an honest emotion, is it not?
LOKOS: Oh, definitely, it is. And there’s nothing wrong with anger. There’s nothing wrong with impatience. The problem is do we act when we’re experiencing impatience? Do we act when we’re experiencing anger? That’s where the problems can arise. But the feelings of impatience and anger are perfectly normal, just as you said.
DONVAN: Well, you do write in the book that you call anger almost a form of insanity, which doesn’t sound like it’s necessarily all right.
LOKOS: Well, it’s acting when we are angry that can really lead us into a lot of trouble. The key is to be in touch with what we are experiencing as early as possible, let’s say as in the examples that you used, if we’re stuck in traffic or our boss is acting in a way that’s idiotic, we will experience the arising of impatience or anger. But if we can exercise patience just for a moment or two, we’re much, much less likely to say or to do something that we’re going to regret. That would be the part that’s really insane.
DONVAN: So what is that experience of exercising patience? What does it feel like?
LOKOS: I think it’s personal within each of us. We can learn what that’s like by stopping and taking a moment to just become more aware of what is going on within us, specifically the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that arise, and they’re constantly arising one after another. They arise, and they die away. When we cling to them, that’s when trouble can begin. You know, your example about the boss who’s not as competent as I am, if I begin to write my stories about I’m always in this situation, I’m always playing second fiddle to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, that’s why I never get anyplace, that’s why I’m not in a good relationship, that’s why nobody likes me, all that’s happening is that I had the experience of dissatisfaction with an aspect of my boss. All the rest of that I’ve made up, and that’s where problems can arise.
DONVAN: Wow. So you’re saying that we don’t have to have the second and third and fourth layers of those reactions?
LOKOS: We don’t have to have them and we don’t really want them. It’s the bare experience. The experience of what I just simply call the arising of impatience or the arising of anger. They’re feelings, and exactly as you said, they’re absolutely normal. There’s nothing wrong with the feelings themselves, except for the fact that impatience and anger don’t usually feel very good. You know, happiness, love, compassion simply feel better. They have a more pleasant tone about them.
DONVAN: Can there not be an argument made that anger gets things done, anger as a driver?
LOKOS: If anger becomes the motivation to act in a way that is both wise and compassionate, then yes. But the danger is because anger can be very powerful that we will go right past wisdom and compassion and act just simply on anger, which can mean revenge, getting even, that sort of thing. And that’s not really going to be wise.
DONVAN: We’ve asked listeners to call in with their stories of, I guess, learning patience and where it comes from. What was that turning point? What was the moment, if it was, indeed, a moment and not a long process? Let’s bring in Amy from Dearborn, Michigan.
AMY: Hi there. I was at a funeral a couple of weeks ago, and I’m generally a very impatient person and it translates the most when I’m with my children. And the impatience I feel sometimes when they’re not doing what I’m asking them to do. So I went to a funeral a couple of weeks ago, and somebody who spoke read a poem called “The Dash.” And “The Dash” is about the – there’s a date from when you’re born and a date when you die. And the dash in between is how we live our lives. And that to me is such a powerful thing. I’m getting choked up.
DONVAN: It’s so interesting. So it was something you heard. It was…
AMY: It was.
DONVAN: …a lesson imparted, really, really stuck with you.
AMY: And I don’t want my dash to be all about impatience and anger with my kids.
DONVAN: Can I ask why that’s hitting you so hard, Amy?
AMY: Because I’m still struggling with it. It’s difficult for me. I kind of blame it on, you know, astrology a little bit because my sign and things like that, which is another conversation. But I feel that I’m a very imperfect person, and it comes out the most in a stressful situation with my kids.
DONVAN: Yeah. Allan, what do you hear in this?
LOKOS: Well, Amy and so many of the rest of us have a tendency to categorize our self this way and say I’m an impatient person. A statement like that is always going to be inaccurate because as science has now proven, we are constantly changing. So, you know, Amy, if we say, to this point, I’ve experienced a lot of impatience, that could be accurate. But this – it just sounds like you’ve come to a moment of awakening, of realization and wanting to do something about that. And that can change everything. And our children are great teachers because they’re going to bring out our impatience. You know, the job of parenting is a difficult job.
DONVAN: I have an email, actually, from a listener named Patience, who writes two sentences to us, Allan. She writes: Small children teach patience. They are never hurried.
DONVAN: I don’t know if they’re never hurried but…
LOKOS: Well, I’ve seen a pillow that was embroidered with the words impatience – oh, no. I’m sorry. It says insanity is inherited. We get it from our children.
DONVAN: Thank you. We’re going to bring in Tara in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
TARA: Hi there. I just thought of a particular lesson in which I’ve learned the value of patience. And that was in middle school when I was being bullied by a particular girl when I was engaging with her and retaliating against her, and I realized that in doing that, I was just continuing to give her the power that she wanted in the first place. And so that’s where I really learned my lesson of patience, that if you give in that you’re really letting someone else control your emotions. And I’m a control freak, yes, but I don’t want someone else to control my emotions in that way.
DONVAN: So interesting that you’re a control freak but don’t want that kind of control. And so you’ve found patience as the solution. I think, Allan, that’s almost exactly what you’re talking about before.
LOKOS: I think it is, and I think this realization that Tara had is a way of saying that she realizes that she is the only who can give up her inner peace. No one else can take that from her.
DONVAN: And we’re going to go now to Chris in Naugatuck, Connecticut.
CHRIS: Hello. I moved to Seattle out of college, and I went to school at UConn in Connecticut, and I moved out to Seattle after graduation. And the first time that I actually had like a real interaction from somebody who lived in Seattle was at the supermarket. When I checked out, the cashier said thank you. Have a nice day. And I was – it took me aback because I wasn’t used to people being nice and taking their time to say something pleasant.
DONVAN: Interesting. So it sounds as though, Allan, maybe what Chris is saying is that we can pay forward a little bit?
LOKOS: Absolutely. It’s amazing what just a kind word or a smile does, you know? We just need to realize what it does for us if someone just looks back and holds the door for us for a moment or just says, hi, how are you doing? That just can change our outlook for the entire day. It’s so great to offer that and to receive that.
CHRIS: Well, absolutely. I mean, there was – there are other points. I lived there for about seven years, and there was, I guess, a study that was done that someone told me about that if you’re in a line of traffic in New York, it takes exactly zero seconds for the light – when the light turns green that people are going to start beeping. In Seattle, it takes 10 seconds, and in rural Oregon, it takes – there’s – they don’t beep.
DONVAN: I want to go to Alan in St. Petersburg, Florida.
ALAN: Hi. So I’m in – I’m almost 30 now, and I developed this anger – I don’t know – just impatience and anger probably in my mid-20s that I’ve never had before. And I found myself doing things that I would never do before or saying things that were totally irrational and things that I would regret later. And the way I’m coping with it now, which I don’t like it at all because it’s totally not me, is I think about how my father and how my brother would react and how they would handle the situation because they’re very patient people. And when I stop and I think clearly on what they would do in the situation, you know, I act out, you know, better responses to the situation.
DONVAN: You mean by learning from them as a negative lesson and I’m not going to do what they did?
ALAN: Right, exactly. You know, how would they act in the situation?
DONVAN: Well, let me ask Lokos this question about family. Is family sort of a built-in, you know, since we know members of our family, generally speaking, very, very well and patterns are very, very deeply laid down, are families a difficult area particularly where patience comes in, or is it a safe place?
LOKOS: Well, my research that I did before writing this book certainly shows that families are tricky areas for most of us. You know, we speak about our buttons being pushed. It’s our families who installed those buttons. So, yes, they can be problematic areas.
DONVAN: I’d like to share an email with you, who writes: In 1997, at 35, I was diagnosed with a tumor, which was benign. After surgery and physical therapy, I realized that life is too important to be rushed. What about these big life-changing moments, do they play a role often?
LOKOS: We shut our eyes to what’s important, the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness or in the case of the person who wrote the email, fortunately, a diagnosis that was not serious. But these can open our eyes. They can be those big moments where suddenly we say, hey, what am I doing? I’m just wasting a life that’s precious. Let me re-examine. I think those things are very big moments.
DONVAN: Another email writes: I have recently begun practicing patience after I just went through a rehab program. I do simple things like choosing the longest line at the supermarket or staying behind a driver doing the speed limit on the highway. The turning point was accepting the fact that I have absolutely no control over the actions of others, only my responses to them. Taking myself out of an angry situation even if only mentally for a moment and putting myself in the other person’s shoes gives me a much better perspective. Patience is like a muscle though. It gets stronger through practice, but at least right now, mine is not the strongest.
LOKOS: Well, he is showing considerable wisdom. I love his exercises of getting behind the slower driver, et cetera. Patience is not usually the word that comes to mind first when something is provoking our impatience and causing it to arise. So this type of exercise can be great. In the book that I wrote called “Patience,” I lay out a whole list of exercises that are very, very easy to do that you don’t need patience to do, but you practice them using the word patience. Usually that’s all we need is to just have something in the mind say, oh, patience. And that’s it.
DONVAN: Mary Beth, Cedar Rapids, Iowa,
MARY BETH: Hi. I was a having a very busy day with lots of errands a few years ago and went into a post office where I was the only customer. And the attendant was taking his time rhythmically stamping a very tall pile of envelopes. And he didn’t even look at me. I stood there for about five minutes. And finally, I just laid it into him, at which point he looked at me and he said, ma’am, that is the prettiest blouse. He completely disarmed me. And I thought what a great tool to have in your toolbox when somebody is impatient, to be able to use something like that, that completely changes the subject and gets you see how unimportant this little delay is in the bigger scheme of things.
DONVAN: So, Mary Beth, how did – how do you bring that into you life so that it’s not always the other guy who has to say the nice thing?
BETH: Well, I try very hard to remember that fellow and try to exemplify that, but I always fall short. I mean, I think we all do. It helps, though, to use humor, and I think humor is a very powerful tool.
DONVAN: I want to ask you one more thing. The issue of aging relates to patience you talk about in the book. We only have about 40 seconds or so left, but what do you mean by being patient about being older?
LOKOS: Well, the body is changing. And we look in the mirror and we realize one day, oh, the muscle tone is not what it was. And sometimes we can become very angry at our own body, impatient with ourselves. And I think it’s very important to realize that is the nature of the body: everything is changing. The body is changing. So why not go with that so that we don’t go to the finish line just resisting and unhappy, but going with what is natural order instead?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Dream #1 – Helen
Helen came in for counseling because of her persistent anxiety and obsessing. She was a pretty woman who had been a pleaser since childhood. She lived on other people’s terms, not her own. She was afraid that if she failed to be pleasing enough, she would be punished by a look of disapproval which, based in her childhood experience, ultimately leads to painful emotional abandonment.
Helen used to have anxiety dreams, which we understand as the consequence of unsolved problems in her life. Her inability to solve problems was frustrating, which means it made her angry. Her out of control anger turned into anxiety. This was her new dream:
Helen: “I was afloat on a raft, in the water. I was afraid to get off. I might drown. Not scared. I said to myself, “OK, I’ll just stay on the float. So I did. It was alright.”
Helen had this dream of floating after some months of counseling. It is a dream of problem solving. There was some pressure, tension and stress in the first moments of the dream. Even in her sleep, Helen was able to use her newly discovered adult judgment to make a responsible choice in a timely manner. She was not out of control; she was in control. There was no cause for anxiety. She was not dependent on others to help her; she was independent. She did not need someone else to validate her judgment; she was able to validate it herself. It was good enough. She was not trying too hard to succeed. She wasn’t having good intentions for herself; she had a real intention to let go of her old dependencies and take life as it came. She did not wake up screaming. She actually felt calm living on her own terms in the present. The dream ended peacefully. She remembered it the next morning as being pleasant, for a change. She wrote it down and brought it in.
We were able to compare this totally new dream with her previous dreams and she could see for herself that she could not have had this dream four months before. She could appreciate her success in outgrowing her old self-doubts and replacing them with feelings of confidence, security, competence and all the other components of self-respect. The problem of depending on others had been solved by replacing her self-doubt with self-respect.
It is significant that Helen, who in the past had to be perfectly pleasing to avoid the disaster waiting to happen, remembers her solution to the problem as being “alright.” She didn’t have to obsess to find a perfect solution. It was good enough. Her judgment was good enough and so, by extension, was she. Problem solved.
Dream #2 – Rob
Rob: “What a dream! It was emotionally engaging! I woke my wife, I was moaning, groaning! It was fairly simple at first, but then it got intense. My sister and I were kids again, still young, in our house. It was daytime. Mom around. We were playing. Dad’s at work. We went to the house next door. Something was terribly wrong! Their kids were abandoned. It was the worst scene, a wreck. There was a dead horse on the floor. Dog eating it. Filth. No mother. Their father had left them. It was so weird — Those two children were like, not attacking us, but uncontrollable. They could break their way out of the house. I was scared but not afraid I was gonna die, I was dealing with this monolithic force, unrestrainable. It came from the kids. It was demonic. My response was to attempt to control them, but they were impossible to control! Not overwhelmed. I woke up. It saved me from being overwhelmed. I knew it was a shadow of me and my sister. When I woke up, I felt relief. Totally amazed at the power that was evidenced by the bad kids. I noticed it pushed me to the limit.”
This dream came after several months of counseling. Rob had strengthened himself in his independence, his security, his feeling of belonging to himself and to the world. These successes strengthened his personhood to the point that he could tolerate the pain of this dream. The anxiety in it arose from his out-of-control, scary, forbidden anger at his father for abandoning him and his sister. His childhood was difficult. One could even say it was a nightmare for two little kids who could not understand what had happened to them or why. They had no way of finding out what they could do to relieve their pain. They must have blamed themselves for his leaving, as kids do. They had problems they could not solve.
Rob: “We did feel abandoned by our father! It was the worst possible environment for us to be in, nothing we could do. We were left coping with the intense emotional reaction to it, in our own home — no place to go with it”
Rob had strengthened himself to tolerate this level of pain from the past. His organism was ready to tolerate the pain. He had talked to his sister the day before the dream. He remembers saying to her, “Dad would be 89 today.” An anniversary is often the impetus to dredging up unfinished problems from the past.
Dream #3 – Vicki
Vicki: “My mother, brother and I in China, a big gate, a bronze plaque telling the history of the monument. It’s interesting. There was a massacre here. My brother was wading in a moat around the monument.”
Vicki’s history was a bloody massacre of children being abused by an unstable father and a negligent, helpless mother. Now it’s in the past. She can be objective: “It’s interesting.”
Wading in the water was like a baptism (rebirth, a new beginning for her brother — and her). Through her dreams, Vicki remembered several positive memories that she did not remember earlier in her therapy.
• “A hat store, fruits, flowers we could put on the hats, with my mom. It was fun.”
• “My dad took me to a woman client who made furniture for doll houses, fascinating, tiny martini glasses, tiny sugar bowls. It was fun.”
• “I remember seeing the Northern lights over the prairie around our house. Fascinating. Colorful. Mysterious. Unpredictable. Play of lights and colors.”
• “Color and form everywhere, creating.”
• “Women. No men. They were independent, had their own careers, doing very well. Homes. Having fun. (This describes Vicki’s successful, creative career in the colorful jewelry business which she is actually beginning to enjoy and be proud of.)
Shortly after her positive dream, Vicki had a breakthrough. She received a special delivery package from the man she had just broken up with. She dreaded opening it. He was returning all the mementos of their time together that he no longer wanted to keep. Rather than destroying them, he sent them to her. She found the courage to open it. Included in the package were photos from the last roll of film they had taken together. There were shots of a display she had created for an exposition out of town. A magazine had just called wanting to do a story on her career in the field of primitive art, but she didn’t have a photo to illustrate their story. She would have had to call a photographer, recreate the display, rent a studio, all at considerable expense in time and money.
Now she had the photos in her hand. She made copies and sent them to the magazine for their article. She was two weeks ahead of their deadline and had saved herself all that time, money and aggravation. To her, it seemed like a miracle of timing and luck.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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