- “How do I know when I am angry?”
- “What events/people/places/things make me angry?”
- “How do I react when I’m angry?”
- “How does my angry reaction affect others?”
Answering these questions takes a while. It is likely you can rattle off several things that make you angry. You might even be able to identify several signs that you exhibit when you are angry (e.g., clenched fists, etc.). These quick answers are only the beginning, however; the low hanging fruit. You will want to continually ask yourself these questions for a period of time before you can be satisfied that you are fully knowledgeable about your personal anger.
Recognizing Physiological Signs of Anger
The first step in effective anger management is to learn how to recognize when you are angry. Some angry people see their emotions as a black or white state—they are either raging mad or they are calm. In reality, anger is not black and white, but rather quite gray. Anger occurs on a continuum between rage and calm where most of the time people experience some gradation of anger between these two extremes.
The same people who tend to see anger in terms of extremes sometimes have difficulty recognizing when they are experiencing intermediate anger states. Luckily, most people experience a number of physical, emotional and behavioral cues that they can use to let them know when they are becoming upset.
Some physical signs of anger include:
- clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
- stomach ache
- increased and rapid heart rate
- sweating, especially your palms
- feeling hot in the neck/face
- shaking or trembling
Emotionally you may feel:
- like you want to get away from the situation
- sad or depressed
- like striking out verbally or physically
Also, you may notice that you are:
- rubbing your head
- cupping your fist with your other hand
- getting sarcastic
- losing your sense of humor
- acting in an abusive or abrasive manner
- craving a drink, a smoke or other substances that relax you
- raising your voice
- beginning to yell, scream, or cry
All of us know someone who is never pleased. No matter how hard we try to make things pleasant, the individual can find some imperfection to dwell on and spoil our best efforts. It is as though he were allergic to being pleased. Hypercritical individuals cannot be happy with material or social success. A happy event, such as a wedding or birthday is an ordeal for them. They see to it that it becomes an ordeal for everyone within earshot:
“What’s the big deal? You’d think no one ever got married before!”
“You call this a party? When my Uncle Steve turned sixty he had fourteen-piece band, and an 8 course meal, an open bar with top shelf liquor, a magician, hotel rooms and limos for all the guests. Now, that’s a party.”
We call this person a crab or a sourpuss, as if such labels solved the problem. Labels do not shed any light on the subject; we understand nothing. Labels only make the rest of the problem that much harder to trace. These people are angry at life for not being better than it is. Until life is better than it is, they reserve the right to “complain about the service” at the top of their voice. They refuse to accept it as it is. They cannot and will not be happy with it until it lives up to their fictitious expectations. The consequence of this house rule is that they can never be happy. This rule, in fact, requires them to be angry at anyone who has the audacity to try to make them happy. Such efforts are doomed in advance to fail, and these individuals will hold the would-be pleaser in contempt for trying.
The hypercritical individual feels threatened by happiness. True happiness would undermine the basis of his existence. It would prove to him that his attitudes and convictions about life have been wrong. He would rather be miserable and confirm his mistaken childhood attitudes than risk the loss of the only lifestyle he has known. He is the prisoner of his crabbiness.
These mistaken attitudes and expectations are absurd; they are also tragic. They effectively prevent the sufferer and his loved ones from enjoying the happiness that they work so long and hard to get. It is equally absurd to “fight” these attitudes without understanding the lifestyle that they serve and perpetuate.
Case Study: The World Isn’t Good Enough for Me”
Client: “My girlfriend said something to me the other day that got me thinking. She said, ‘You know, you’re awfully bitchy lately.’”
Therapist: “And was she right?”
Client: “Yes, she really was. My mother was bitchy all the time, and now I can see that I’m just like her. It’s like I can’t stop myself.”
Therapist: “Can you be more specific? What did you say that was so bitchy?”
Client: “For instance, I went into the bakery and the lady behind the counter said, “Gee, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Without even thinking, I said, “I like it a little cooler. It’s too warm for me.” When I got out of there, it hit me. I realized that it was bitchy of me to complain about the weather, she was just trying to be friendly, and I shot her down. I’ve been doing that all my life without knowing it. I’m just like my mother, and I don’t know how to stop.”
Therapist: “Bitchiness doesn’t sound like much of a problem at first, but it can be very serious. It can keep you from enjoying life. It can keep you from having gratifying relationships. People don’t want to associate with someone who complains all the time. So we wind up all alone, and then bitch about how badly we are treated.”
Client: “And we don’t realize that we have brought it on ourselves. It’s true. I don’t like people who complain to me, but I’m doing the same thing as they are. How can I stop?”
Therapist: “As I said, your problem is serious, and it is very complex. It has many facets. Each one has to be identified and replaced with more realistic and appropriate convictions. One facet of your problem is that, like most daughters, you are an ‘obedient child.’ You are obeying the unhappy example that your mother set before you. As much as you would like to rebel against her, you continue to follow in her footsteps. You must give yourself permission to ‘disobey’ your mother and resist the temptation to complain.”
Client: “That’s hard to do.”
Therapist: “I know it is, but grownups do what is difficult. It is worth the effort. But there’s more. When someone tries to be friendly and make you happy, you feel compelled to shoot her down. It is though you don’t deserve the friendship or the happiness.”
Client: “That’s because I feel worthless, isn’t it?”
Therapist: “That’s right. In addition, you feel inadequate to cope with the tasks and responsibilities of adult friendship. You have to nip it in the bud so that your supposed inadequacies won’t be revealed later on.”
Client: “That’s my fear of failure, and my insecurity coming out. Is there more?”
Therapist: “We’ve only just begun. Another facet is your conviction that happiness is only temporary and ends in disaster later on.”
Client: “Now that’s my allergy to happiness. All that from bitching?”
Therapist: “The next facet is the confirmation of your prophecies of disaster. When you drive people away from you with your bitching, you can say, ‘I told you so. I knew they wouldn’t stick around for long.’ It gives you something else to bitch about.’ “
Client: “Well, isn’t it true?”
“If you work at it hard enough, you can make it come true. But, there is one last facet of your bitching that we have to understand before we can stop it. From what you tell me about your mother, I get the impression that she thought the world wasn’t good enough for her.”
Client: “That’s true. She didn’t like anything. She never had anything good to say. But why is that so serious?”
Therapist: “It becomes very serious when an individual appoints herself to stand in judgment on the world and find it wanting. Not only does the world fail to live up to her high standards and expectations, but it is her responsibility to point out the world’s deficiencies at every opportunity.”
Client: “That becomes a full-time job.”
Therapist: “It’s a very heavy, unfulfilling responsibility, but one that she could not put down.”
Client: “Why couldn’t she?”
Therapist: “Because nobody ever told her that she could. And because she used this phony, self-appointed, super-responsibility to exempt herself from the more mundane tasks of life at which there was a chance that she might fail.”
Client: “Such as.”
Therapist: “Such as being an adequate mother to her daughter.”
Therapist: “A third reason was that she did not know what would replace this supercritical lifestyle if she were to give it up. It was the only role she had, and it was better than nothing. Fourth, she used this behavior to overcompensate for her own feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy to cope with the real responsibilities of the adult world.”
Client: “How so?”
Therapist: “She appointed herself to the role of judging the world and its people and condemning them for their failure to live up to her high expectations. She was setting herself above her fellow human beings. This phony superiority was her way of relieving the pain of her underlying convictions of inferiority and worthlessness.”
Client: “That’s right. Who was she to criticize everybody else? She was no better than the neighbors that she ran down all the time. I can see that I have been behaving the same way, and for the same reasons. How can I stop it now? What is my Homework?”
Therapist: “Your Homework is to catch yourself behaving as if the world weren’t good enough for you and cut it out. Instead, I want you to decide that the world is good enough for you after all, which it is.”
Client: “I can see how absurd it is for me not to accept the world as it is. Who am I to complain that the world isn’t good enough for me.”
This mistaken conviction perpetuates our self-contempt. If we have contempt for the world we live in, it world rubs off on us. We are no better than the world no matter how badly we try to elevate ourselves above our fellow members of the human race. The antidote to this attitude is that the world is good enough as it is. It can always be better; it will never be perfect, but it is good enough for us in the meantime.
Client: “I can see complaining and criticizing isn’t the way to make the world a better place anyway. It only turns people off and makes things worse.”
Therapist: “Your mother’s ambition to teach the world the error of its way comes under the heading of ‘good intentions.’ She deceived herself into thinking that she knew what would make things better when the truth was that she knew nothing of the kind. Her good intentions were, as usual, self-indulgent and counterproductive. She was trying to make herself feel superior with her self-appointed role as judge and jury. She only made things worse with her continual carping.”
Client: “I guess there’s no such thing as constructive bitching.”
Therapist: “It’s a contradiction in terms. Can you catch yourself about to say something that you imagine will improve the hell out of someone and decide not to?”
Client: “It’s so tempting.”
Therapist: “Can you resist the temptation? You do not have to build yourself up by tearing the world down. The world is good enough as it is, and so are you.”
Holly did her Homework. She caught herself about to criticize her mother for being so critical! This would have been madness compounded. She chose to do the unexpected. She did not fight and she did not give in to her mother’s absurd terms. She took the third course, to live on her own valid terms. She said, “It must be awful for you, Ma.” It was not said sarcastically, it was the truth. Life is awful for people who cannot even have the hope of happiness because of their inappropriate attitudes. Mother’s tone of voice changed, it softened, she came down from her fictitious perch and began to talk like an equal member of the human race. They had a civil conversation for the first time in Holly’s memory.
Therapist: “How did you feel after you said that to your mother? Did you feel guilty, out of control?”
Client: “No. I felt great, like I had just made something happen on my own terms.”
Therapist: “Is that called accomplishment? Success?”
Therapist: “Can you do it again?”
Client: “Yes, I can.”
Therapist: “What’s that feeling called?”
Therapist: “Who gave you that confidence?”
Client: “I did.”
Therapist: “That’s a feeling of identity, maturity. What happened to your dependency? Were you rebelling?”
Client: “No. I was just equal.”
Therapist: “Did you feel independent?”
Client: “Yes, I wasn’t dependent on her any more. I wasn’t trying to make her into a mommy any more. I don’t need a mommy, I need a grown up member of the human race that I can cooperate with as one woman to another. No more games, no more mischief.”
Therapist: “How has she been since?”
Client: “It’s been holding. She’s been treating me like a regular person ever since I disengaged from her mischief. And she doesn’t even know what I did.”
Therapist: “And we’re not going to tell her.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are plenty of ways to relieve stress — exercise, a long soak in a hot bath, or even a massage. But believe it or not, something you’re doing right now, probably without even thinking about it, is a proven stress reliever: breathing.
As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.
Mladen Golubic, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, says that breathing can have a profound impact on our physiology and our health.
“You can influence asthma; you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; you can influence heart failure,” Golubic says. “There are studies that show that people who practice breathing exercises and have those conditions — they benefit.”
He’s talking about modern science, but these techniques are not new. In India, breath work called pranayama is a regular part of yoga practice. Yoga practitioners have used pranayama, which literally means control of the life force, as a tool for affecting both the mind and body for thousands of years.
Take A Breath
Judi Bar teaches yoga to patients with chronic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic. Bar uses yoga and modifications of traditional yoga breathing exercises as a way to help them manage their pain and disease.
Our breaths will either wake us up or energize us. It will relax us, or it will just balance us,” Bar says.
She demonstrates a “firebreath.”
“So, at first we pant like a little doggy, and then we close our mouth, and then the nostril breath starts right after that. OK, here we go,” she says.
Bar then begins to pant, first with an open mouth and then through the nose. It almost makes you feel lightheaded just watching. Afterward, she says she feels a little dizzy but energized enough to run around the block a couple of times.
Putting On The Brake
Research has shown that breathing exercises like these can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure.
But more importantly, they can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. Esther Sternberg is a physician, author of several books on stress and healing, and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. She says rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress.
In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down
“The relaxation response is controlled by another set of nerves — the main nerve being the Vagus nerve. Think of a car throttling down the highway at 120 miles an hour. That’s the stress response, and the Vagus nerve is the brake,” says Sternberg. “When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”
Changing Gene Expression
Harvard researcher Herbert Benson coined the term “The Relaxation Response” in 1975 with a book of the same name. In it, Benson used scientific research to show that short periods of meditation, using breathing as a focus, could alter the body’s stress response.
In his new book, Relaxation Revolution, Benson claims his research shows that breathing can even change the expression of genes. He says that by using your breath, you can alter the basic activity of your cells with your mind.
“It does away with the whole mind-body separation,” Benson says. “Here you can use the mind to change the body, and the genes we’re changing were the very genes acting in an opposite fashion when people are under stress.”
Of course, breathing is not the answer to every medical problem. But Benson and others agree: The breath isn’t something Western medicine should blow off. It’s a powerful tool for influencing individual health and well-being. And the best part is all the ingredients are free and literally right under your nose.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Every person seeks happiness. You hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last phrase points out an important aspect, the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that it can be obtained. One of the common things I see is people spending most every waking moment seeking happiness. As if it is something out there to be gained or discovered. Perhaps this is a major contributor to the status of society.
Watch television for more than five minutes and you will see this idea confirmed. If I can only get the car, house, boat, job, relationship, salary increase; then life will be complete. I will lack nothing, at least until the next can’t-do-without product is available for purchase. The average adult now has more than 4 different careers in their lifetime. My father-in-law had one job from the time he was a teenager until retirement. Forty-two years at the same job. That’s almost unheard of now. It seems our society is more into the thought that if this job won’t bring about happiness, the next one will. If this relationship doesn’t bring about happiness, then a relationship with him or her will. If life in this tax bracket isn’t satisfying, then the next bracket up will be. It’s the same story over and over. Something out there will complete my life. It will fill the void.
What if the key to happiness rests internally? What if happiness can be learned?
This starts with the idea that happiness is up to me. My perspective of things will influence the results. My expectations affect the outcome.
So what is it about my life that brings me happiness? If I change my outlook from happiness being something out there to it resting internally, ask this; what am I grateful for in my life? What are my successes or wins lately? When I focus too much on what else is out there, I neglect the things we currently possess. Going to the other extreme is also unhealthy. Spending too much time focusing on what used to be produces blurred vision about what is.
Focusing too much on the future or too much on the past, I will miss a lot of what is going on now. I think I have told every one of my clients at some point to slow down. We live life at a fast enough speed as it is. Sometimes speed only produces uncertainty. Did you realize that of all the species on the planet, humans are the only ones that when lost, speed up. All other animals will slow down or even sit down until they get their bearings before proceeding. Do you know where you really want to go? What is your vision for life?
If you have trouble answering the preceding questions, that’s where you should spend some time reflecting and searching. Take an inventory of your current life. What are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that drain you? Enjoy the things going on in life right now. Happiness can be learned, and it starts with what’s going on inside you now. Happiness is not something out there, its inside. Resting deep within your soul waiting to be tapped into. By slowing down and seeking what you really want, life will begin to be more aligned and then more full.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Imagine you’re 42 and in pretty good shape.
You exercise several times a week, eat okay, and outside of the occasional cold, are healthy.
You’ve been married for over 15 years, have a couple of kids, nice house, and a good job.
One morning you wake up to find that you can no longer move your right arm. Everything else in your body feels fine, you even have feeling in your arm, you just can’t move it.
What would you do?
If you’re like most people, you’d schedule an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible. You may even immediately head to the Emergency Room. You also would probably be fine going to several visits with various specialists in order to find out what’s going on with your arm.
You’d sit through tests, scans, waiting rooms, and be willing to take whatever prescribed medication the doctor’s recommend. You’d be willing to go to physical therapy several times per week until your arm was working properly.
The point is, you’d be willing to do almost whatever it took to have your body working well.
Now, answer me this: What makes it so many people don’t treat their marriage the same way?
If you wake up one morning and discover a problem (or finally admit to a problem’s existence), would you seek out help right away or hope the problem simply goes away on its own?
It seems many people hope for the latter.
Don’t believe me?
Research continues to show that couples wait an average of 6 years after a problem has become a problem before seeking out professional help. That’s 6 YEARS!
Imagine if we treated our bodies the same.
Imagine if we said to ourselves, “Oh well, I really don’t use my right arm all that much. Perhaps it will begin working again soon. I’ll just wait and see. In the meantime, honey, can you cut up my dinner for me?”
Marital problems and struggles are common to us all.
But they don’t have to be the end of the relationship, and you definitely don’t have to go through them on your own.
Seek out a marriage and family therapist. This is your best option.
If you don’t want to do that, open up to a close friend. Preferably as a couple to another couple, or if it’s just you, share your troubles with a good friend of the same gender.
Life is so much better when shared with others. Including our struggles.
Most of the time, when you share a struggle with a friend, you find out that they’ve experienced it as well. Plus, you get the burden lifted off your own shoulders a little.
Thanks to the technology of today’s world, you can find help regardless of where you live.
One last point: being brutally honest with you.
Seeking out professional help or opening up to friends around you is a whole lot cheaper than divorce.
10 sessions with a therapist = $200-$650ish (depending on insurance)
Talking to a good friend = Free, unless you pay for dinner or the coffee
Divorce= $???????, but a whole lot more than all the above options combined.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Not necessarily. But a lot of couples have that exact fear. If you both want to make things work, then you can. I’ve worked with couples who’d been fighting for years without resolution – but they still loved each other. They still had a lot going for them. I’ve worked with couples where there was infidelity, drug use, gambling, lying. And they worked it out.
Most relationship problems arise because when we get hurt by our partners, we become defensive and close off. Then, without even realizing it, the problems become about feeling alone and cut off from each other. Therapy is a place where you can get the support you need to move beneath your defenses into your true feelings. Most couples find that what’s under the anger is loneliness and longing for the closeness they used to have. Over time, couples learn to let go of their defenses so they can have the closeness they really want.
Yes, there are cases where couples get divorced. But in my experience, at least one person knew they were headed for divorce before they ever called me. They just needed therapy to have a neutral place to talk about leaving, and to know that someone would be there to support them/their spouse through the difficult process of separating. These couples would have gotten a divorce any way. And in some cases, therapy helps them discover that they can stay in the relationship and make it work.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Some have noted a pattern of suspicion followed by silence among those who knew something about Sandusky’s behavior with young boys. Those who work with survivors of child sexual abuse know this pattern all too well and are often angered by it. How do we explain the reluctance of people to talk about their suspicions openly so that something might be done to stop these atrocities?
One of the explanations suggested is that the abuser is a person of power or status who could use that power to punish anyone who dared talk about what they suspected or knew. Though there is some truth to this, especially in the minds of the young person who has been manipulated and sometimes threatened into silence, I think there is a more basic explanation that comes clear in an understanding of the nature of shame and our responses to behavior that evokes shame.
Shame is one of the powerful survival emotions with which we are all hardwired. It is the emotion that compels us to surrender and try to hide when we are faced with an overwhelming threat or defeated in competition. It can save our lives in a primitive battle over status, and it has a complex function in forming our consciences and guiding our moral awareness. But although we use the word in a way that has many complex connotations, it is a fundamental and powerful basic emotion, and shares some characteristics with other survival emotions.
1. Shame compels an immediate behavioral response. Fear compels us to freeze first, then run. Anger compels us to attack. And shame compels us to surrender and withdraw, averting our gaze and trying to hide. We want to become invisible, and anything that draws attention to us makes the shame stronger. So when someone tells an inappropriate joke at a party, everyone wants to crawl under the table. And when someone in your group is behaving badly, no one wants to be the first to call attention to the problem. “For some people, the subject is literally unspeakable.”
2. Shame is contagious. Like the panic triggered in a crowded theater when someone shouts fire, or the rage evoked in a mob when it is focused on a target, shame over someone’s exposure evokes an emotional response in all of us. Depending on our relationship to the person shamed, the emotional response can be one of shame or anger, but if the person is a member of your family, tribe, or a group with which you identify, the shame will come first. When Dad is drunk and making a fool of himself, everyone in the family wants to leave the scene. A secondary
reaction of anger may set in soon, but the initial response is shared shame. If our political leader makes a gaffe, we all groan inside before we go into defensive action.
3. Shame is followed by anger. But the anger may be expressed toward almost anyone. After feeling the sting of shame, we may be angry at ourselves, we may be angry at the world, we may be angry at the easiest person to be angry at – which maybe the victim of the abuse – or we may fear the anger of others that we know is likely to emerge if we make a lot of noise about the shameful situation. So family members enable the alcoholic rather than confront, institutions shield and hide the abusers in their midst rather than share the shame of exposure, and people with suspicions of others, particularly leading members of the group with which they identify, keep their mouths shut and their heads down (the classic posture of shame). The fear of angry reprisals can extend to fear of legal action against the institution involved. But underlying this fear is the naive wish that it will all just go away if we can cover it up or keep quiet about it.
Understanding the nature of our powerful survival emotions, how they compel us to freeze, run, attack, or hide, can help us resist the self defeating behavioral responses that can arise in response to emotionally loaded situations and help us solve problems sooner. Wishing the problems and the feelings would just go away only prolongs the damaging situation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
When you get angry do your loved ones seem to fear you? You may have an anger problem and you could benefit from an anger management class.
Anger management is designed to help you work through your anger so that you can control yourself when you have feelings of violence.
Everybody gets angry and it is healthy to let your anger out in a constructive way, such as communicating your anger in a calm manner or walking it off.
Anger management can teach you techniques for calming yourself down and getting things under control before your anger gets out of hand.
Anger management can save you from a myriad of problems associated with out of control anger. Issues with anger control can lead to problems on the job or problems at home.
Domestic violence and child abuse are often the result of uncontrolled anger. When you have anger management problems you may find yourself enraged in social situations or when driving, which can lead to fights and road rage. Anger management problems can lead to prison or death.
Often the only way to learn how to control your anger is by taking an anger management class. You will learn how to sit down and communicate your anger calmly with the ones you love.
You will learn how to walk away from an angry situation until you are calm enough to talk. You will delve into the root of your anger because knowing where it stems from can be helpful in controlling it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Jill was sixteen years old and having conflicts with her parents, as all teens do. Her conflicts revolved around the issue of time. Jill explained it to herself as, “I just don’t have any sense of time!” That cannot be the explanation. She shows up on time when she wants to. The problem arises when she doesn’t want to do what she has to do. Her time problem is “selective.” Her attitudes do the selecting for her.
Counselor: “What is the worst thing about your time problem?”
Jill: “There’s so much to do and I just get involved doing it, I forget about what else I have to do!”
Counselor: “So it’s a memory problem.”
Jill: “No. That’s not it.”
Counselor: “You have no trouble remembering to do what you want to do. How do you feel about doing the things you have to do?”
Jill: “I feel controlled.”
Counselor: “When these tasks control you, you feel out of control. That’s a problem. When else have you felt like this?”
Jill: “I remember when I was little, my father insisted on taking me outside to go sledding. I really didn’t want to go outside. I was all zipped up in my snowsuit. I had to go to the bathroom. He said, ‘We didn’t have time, you can go later. You can wait.’ I couldn’t wait. I wet my snowsuit. We didn’t go out. My dad was angry at me.”
Counselor: “How did it end?”
Jill: “I got punished.”
Counselor: “So, you won the battle but you lost the war. Do you have the feeling, ‘I can’t win for losing.’”
Jill: “Yes. I feel that way a lot.”
Counselor: “That is an attitude you acquired on that occasion, and many more like it, I’m sure. This was your covert rebellion against being controlled against your will. Your father’s controlling behavior set you up to confuse cooperation with submission. You still rebel secretly by accidentally losing track of time.”
Jill: “It doesn’t work. I still get punished for not doing what I’m supposed to do.”
Counselor: “I didn’t say it worked. You wind up submitting in the end. This is how you maintain the continuity of your personhood from early childhood to the present.”
Jill: “I can’t snap out of it.”
Counselor: “It’s not your fault that you can’t. You haven’t learned how to replace your old attitudes with new ones. The issue is not time management. There are underlying purposes being served, roles being played, all below your conscious awareness. You are playing the covert rebel role in order to keep from being put in the victim role.”
Jill: “Why don’t I just blow up in their faces?”
Counselor: “That’s a different role. Is your older sister an open rebel?”
Jill: “Yes. How did you know?”
Counselor: “Because you took the role that she left open to you and you’re still playing it.”
Jill: “How can I stop?”
Counselor: “By replacing these negative roles with an independent identity as a person in your own right. You can stop operating out of old attitudes and roles and begin using your mature judgment to tell you what to do.”
Jill: “I know what to do. I just don’t want to do it!”
Counselor: “You do it when you are forced to. You lose in the end. You can do homework in the real world. The next time your mom says, ‘It’s time to get out of bed. You’ll be late for school,’ you can catch these old attitudes rising up in your system:”
• ‘I won’t let you control me.’
• ‘I won’t submit to your tyranny.’
• ‘I am not a victim, I’m a rebel, but undercover.’
• ‘I want my way and I’m going to get it one way or another.’
Jill: “What can I do instead?”
Counselor: “You can remind yourself that you are not a copeless four year old anymore. You’re an individual in your own right. Specifically, you can use your judgment to tell you what reality requires you to do. Your mother isn’t just making something up. It really needs to be done. You can choose to assume appropriate responsibility in the present instead of sabotaging yourself to get your way. You can make a conscious choice to stop cooperating negatively in this tug of war over who can make who do what and when. This is your Homework, not your mother’s. This is between you and you. Do you want to stop acting like a child and be a grown up someday?”
Jill: “Sure I do.”
Counselor: “Then it’s your responsibility to catch yourself confusing cooperation with submission. You don’t have to submit anymore. You can cooperate with your mom as an equal member of the human race, doing what you have to do, taking the ups and downs as they come. Children only want the ups. Self respecting grownups know that life doesn’t work that way.”
Jill: “But I like to win, to get my way.”
Counselor: “You don’t know what your way is. These are only attitudes kicking in and controlling your behavior for you. Do you want to be a success when you grow up? You can’t achieve that goal if you continue to play games with reality. Reality doesn’t care what games you play. It just is what it is. If you try to outsmart it, you will find that you have outsmarted yourself. You will confirm your expectation that you can’t win for losing. You have not gotten what you want at all. You will carry these same immature attitudes into your relationships and your career. You will not succeed at succeeding, you will succeed at failing.”
Jill: “I’ll try it tomorrow morning.”
Counselor: “Don’t try, just do it. You have a power called the power of choice. It’s not your mother’s choice, it’s your choice. Do you want to be independent? Tomorrow is your chance to Declare Your Independence from the little girl you used to be.”
Jill came to our next appointment and declares,”Well, I did my Homework.”
Counselor: “What did you do?”
Jill: “When mom came to wake me up, I got up!”
Counselor: “How did you feel?”
Jill: “Like I was my own person. I was making it happen on my own terms.”
Counselor: “You felt identity, in control, you were living in the present. Were you being obedient, submissive?”
Counselor: “Were you disobedient, rebellious?”
Counselor: “What were you?”
Jill: “I don’t know what you’d call it.”
Counselor: “That’s right. They don’t teach you these things in character education, or values clarification. You were not obedient or disobedient. You felt like an independent human being. You were making a choice using your independent judgment. You were cooperating as an equal member of the human race. You were choosing to do what reality required. What happened to the power struggle over getting up?”
Jill: “There wasn’t any.”
Counselor: “Did you miss it?”
Counselor: “It used to be exciting.”
Jill: “I don’t need that kind of excitement. This is better.”
Counselor: “What is this absence of negative excitement called, boredom?”
Jill: “No. It felt good.”
Counselor: “Would you say its called peace of mind.”
Jill: “Yes. It was nice for a change.”
Counselor: “Maybe you are ready to outgrow the exciting mischief of your childhood. This cooperation didn’t cost you anything, it paid dividends. Can you do it again?”
Counselor: “What’s that called?”
Jill: “Confidence. That’s how I feel. The old way never gave me that feeling.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Communication takes place in a context. If the context is one of mutual contempt, then the communication style will be consistently negative. That’s why Bill and Joan sought out counseling.
Joan: “I could have yelled at Bill Tuesday, but I caught myself and I chose not to.”
Counselor: “The warfare has subsided considerably, but it still isn’t perfect yet.”
Bill: “That’s right. She has stopped calling me ‘lazy’ and that’s a big help.”
Counselor: “Have you told her that it’s a big help?”
Bill: “I don’t have to. She knows.”
Counselor “I never said she didn’t. This communication is not for the purpose of education or reporting. She can get that on the nightly news.”
Bill: “Then what’s it for?”
Counselor: “It’s for encouragement. We want to encourage her to continue behaving constructively and not destructively.”
Bill: “We both need all the encouragement we can get, that’s for sure.”
Counselor: “It is also for the purpose of validation. The antidote to twenty years of disrespect is validation. When she deserves to be validated, it is your right and your responsibility to validate her.”
Bill: “That’s fair.”
Counselor: “Of course, it’s a lot easier to commend Joan for doing something positive…”
Bill: “Like taking my favorite shirt to the cleaner instead of throwing it out!”
Counselor: “It is a lot harder to recognize when she has stopped doing something negative.”
Bill: “It’s kind of invisible.”
Counselor: “But it is an accomplishment just the same. Even an invisible accomplishment is worthy of recognition.”
Bill “She doesn’t commend me for not calling her ‘foolish’ any more.”
Counselor “Then it wouldn’t be fair for you to commend her, would it?”
Bill “It does sound stupid when you put it that way.”
Counselor: “It really isn’t a matter of intellectual competence at all. It is a function of childhood logic that has never been updated. We have to update it now.”
Bill: “How do we do that?”
Counselor: “Let me answer your question with a question. For whose benefit am I encouraging you to recognize your wife for something she has stopped doing?”
Bill: “I’d say ‘hers,’ but I know it couldn’t be that simple.”
Counselor: “You’re right. It is for your benefit primarily and only secondarily for hers.”
Bill: “How is it for my benefit to compliment her for not doing something?”
Counselor: “Isn’t it logical to tell someone who pleases you that she pleases you? It is illogical not to. This is an ancient technique called telling the truth. We can replace our childhood logic by acting logically as adults in the real world. Thinking about it or intending to do it someday does not help us make the transition from the old logic to the new.”
Bill: “How should I say it?”
Counselor: “You see, you have had precious little practice in communicating positively. It was inconsistent with your old, negative lifestyle. As you practice communicating positively, your lifestyle will change for the better. You will be happier and more self-respecting. For example, you can say, ‘Joan, I’ve noticed that you have stopped calling me ‘lazy’ and I appreciate it.’”
Bill: “That’s the truth. I can say that.”
Counselor: “Good. Then why don’t you say it?”
Counselor: “Why not? Do you want to wait for a more convenient time?”
Bill: “No. I just feel silly.”
Counselor: “That’s your old lifestyle talking. You are operating out of attitudes from the past. You have been the prisoner of ‘silly’ for 40 years. It’s time you made a change.”
Bill: “Okay, here goes. Joan, it means a lot to me that you have stopped calling me those hurtful names…..Why am I all choked up?”
Counselor: “That’s your new, independent lifestyle being born. What did it cost you to tell Joan the truth?”
Counselor: “Did it cost you your masculine pride, your superiority? Your self-righteousness?”
Bill: “No. That never made me happy.”
Counselor: “And it never prevented bad things from happening as you might have hoped they would.”
Bill: “They only made things worse.”
Joan: “Bill, all these years, I thought you didn’t want me in your life. You were so critical, like I wasn’t good enough for you, and like you couldn’t respect me until I lived up to your expectations.”
Counselor: “Your wife just communicated something to you. What mistake has she been making for all these years?”
Bill: “I don’t know. Say it again.”
Counselor: “She said that you didn’t want her in your life.”
Bill: “Well that’s stupid. I keep telling her she’s wrong. I do want her in my life.”
Counselor: “Is that your idea of communicating positively?”
Bill: “I was wrong, wasn’t I?”
Counselor: “You’re catching on. It is not positive when you imply that your wife is stupid, wrong or a liar. You are standing in judgment on her which you have no license to do. You can’t improve the tone of your marriage that way.”
Bill: “What should I have said?”
Counselor: “Now that is a good question. Not long too long ago, you wouldn’t have even thought of asking that question.”
Bill: “You’re right. I thought I knew it all.”
Counselor: “You might have said, ‘I don’t blame you for feeling that way. It’s not that I don’t want you in my life, it’s that I don’t deserve you in my life. All that happiness was giving me fits. I didn’t know how to solve the problem of having happiness that I didn’t feel I deserved, so I was trying to squelch it.”
Counselor: “That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?”
Joan: “Bill, is that really how you felt?”
Bill: “Not consciously, but I recognize it now that he’s put it that way. I didn’t deserve it. I felt inferior, unworthy.”
Joan: “You were trying to solve the problem by driving me away from you.”
Bill: “I didn’t mean to drive you away, it was just turning out that way.”
Joan: “We are communicating now, aren’t we?”
Bill: “This is heavy. Do we have to talk like this all the time?”
Counselor: “‘All’ means ‘perfectly,’ and perfection is not required. Let’s not have too much of a good thing, let’s not ‘force it’ with the best of intentions. Why don’t we just take it as it comes. Now that you know the way, it should come a lot easier.”
As I have said, communication takes place in an emotional context. If that context is negative to begin with, the communication will come out negative. It is ironic that even a course in “Communication Skills” can be used in the service of a negative Lifestyle. In the hands of someone like Bill, who is recovering from a lifetime of self-contempt, any asset can be turned into a liability. He can say, “I love you” with a snort. The music will be all wrong. It will ruin any positive effect he may have been trying to create. None of this is conscious. The tone and the music are controlled by attitudes acquired in childhood.
Two weeks later, Joan came in alone.
Joan: “I’ve got a problem.”
Counselor: “What is it, Joan?”
Joan: “Bill is getting worse. Ever since we came in for our last appointment, he’s been horrible.”
Counselor: “Can you be more specific?”
Joan: “For instance, he knows all my little tricks now, and he won’t let me use them. It’s infuriating. I hate him.”
Counselor: “You are angry at him. Could you give me an example?”
Joan: “Oh yes. When I say, ‘You must be very angry,’ he says, ‘I know where you picked that up, don’t I?’”
Counselor: “Very cruel. What else?”
Joan: “When I say, ‘I’m sorry you’re so angry,’ he says, ‘No, you’re not. You’re just saying that because you learned it somewhere.’”
Counselor: “Anything else?”
Joan: “When I get angry, he says. ‘I’m sorry you’re so angry’ in that third-grader sing-song voice of his. I could scream!”
Counselor: “He is setting you up. If you scream on his terms, you lose and he wins. This type of winning at your expense is negative, which is consistent with his self-contempt.”
Joan: “What can I do?”
Counselor: “You can disengage from his mischief. You are an independent human being, not a victim. Instead of defending yourself against his false accusations, you can say, ‘You’re making it worse, Bill. I’m more angry now than I was before!’ Your anger at his mischief is entirely legitimate and valid. You can choose to use your words, not yelling, but stating how his behavior makes you feel.”
Joan: “Why does he do it?”
Counselor: “To perpetuate his unhappiness. Happiness is foreign to him. He prefers the devil he knows to the one he does not. If you become happy and self-respecting, he is in big trouble. He feels inadequately prepared to cope with that. His third-grade antagnonism is something he can handle.”
Joan: “Here I am, trying so hard to make things nice for us, and he hits me over the head with this stuff.”
Counselor: “When you give him ammunition, he uses it against you. He can’t see why he shouldn’t. You are so vulnerable and so easy. I suspect that he senses your underlying good intentions for him, and he resents them.”
Joan: “Shouldn’t I want to make things nicer between us?”
Counselor: “Not yet. You have got your hands full with you. Before you can start to address his behavior, you must find out what pleases yourself. You can do that by doing your homework and living on your own terms. You can choose to set some limits and accept that your behavior shapes his responses.”
Counselor: “In a sense, he is hitting you over the head with what he learned at our last session. He is killing two birds with one stone. I, too, am a threat to his shaky status quo. I am causing him to rethink many of the lessons he learned about himself, about others and about life. That’s scary for him, and he takes it out on you. When you forget to disengage from these mind games of his, he wins. He feels superior to you, and he holds you in contempt. For the moment, he feels relief from the pain of his own self-contempt. He doesn’t have to grow up. That is risky. He is off the hook and is able to stay in the negative role that is familiar to him.”
Joan: “I’d better stop. What should I do?”
Counselor: “To find out what to do, we need to learn the purpose behind his behavior. How does Bill make you feel when he uses your words against you?”
Joan: “Angry. I figured out that I’m angry at the unfairness of it. I don’t deserve this abuse. I’m working at the relationship and he isn’t.”
Counselor: “You’re right. That’s not fair. Do you feel that your ‘efforts in his behalf’ are all in vain?”
Joan: “Yes, I feel ‘Good For Nothing’ again.”
Counselor: “How else do you feel?”
Joan: “He makes me feel guilty when he throws these words back in my face.”
Counselor: “Guilty of what crime?”
Joan: “I don’t know exactly.”
Counselor: “Guilty perhaps of the crime of ‘weakness,’ of having to use a crutch because you are too weak to stand by yourself.”
Joan: “Yes, guilty.”
Counselor: “It’s ironic. First he breaks your legs, then he blames you for needing a crutch. That’s tough. You can’t win for losing. No matter how you respond, its never good enough to fix the problem. How else does he make you feel guilty?”
Joan: “Like I am being insincere, as if I am merely mouthing someone else’s words.”
Counselor: “It may be that you need to practice putting the right words to the right music. You are still new at this.”
Joan: “But I’m not insincere, I really am concerned about his anger.”
Counselor: “He is new at this, too. He isn’t sure that he can trust you just yet, so he tests your sincerity by cutting you off at the knees.”
Joan: “So what is he trying to achieve?”
Counselor: “We’re getting close at finding out. What are you able to do about these insinuations of his that you are merely reciting lines in a play?”
Counselor: “Then you feel powerless and out of control. His purpose is to control you, to prevent something ‘bad’ from happening….”
Joan: “Like growing up and acting as an independent person.”
Counselor: “Perhaps, Bill feels powerless and out of control. He may feel that your progress means you are growing away from him, so he ‘controls’ you with guilt, in these useless, childish ways. He is trying to prevent the disaster of being abandoned by you, which he fears will happen if you outgrow him.”
Joan: “No wonder I feel so frustrated. I can’t do anything about it.”
Counselor: “Oh yes, you can. It’s only mischief, and you can still disengage from it.”
Joan: “Won’t it ever stop?”
Counselor: “Not as long as you keep falling for it and paying it off. You say it makes you angry when he uses this information against you.”
Joan: “Yes, I get furious.”
Counselor: “Can you tell the truth? Can you resist the temptation to debate issues and techniques? These are not valid considerations at all. He is just baiting you and you are falling for it. You can choose to catch yourself next time.”
Joan: “I feel as if I have to defend what I learned in counseling.”
Counselor: “He is counting on you to defend. He knows you very well, and he lays a trap for you. You can choose to push your comfort zone and tell the truth about your anger. Not destructively with your behavior, but constructively with your words. You are not responding against him, but for you!”
Joan: “I can take a deep breath and I can say, ‘It makes me angry when you do that.’”
Counselor: “Sure you can. You are telling the truth about how his behavior makes you feel, which you have every right to do. This is communication.”
Joan: “Maybe he’ll start using something else!”
Counselor: “Relationships are like machines, if you change one part the whole machine runs differently. So if you catch yourself taking his words personally, you will stop becoming discouraged. Remind yourself, his words are not for you. They are for him. He is communicating his discouragement to you, too. You are independent now. You can choose to disengage from his behavior and acknowledge your own efforts, according to your own standards of good enough, on your own valid terms.”
Joan is learning why her anger-management techniques were so unsuccessful in the past. She had made the mistake of imagining or assuming that Bill heard her words as she intended him to hear them. She has learned that Bill hears what he wants to hear. His implies meanings that are consistent with his self-contempt and with the role he has been playing all his life. And he hates it.
Joan’s efforts have been more effective since she has learned to take into consideration Bruno’s frame of reference and his perspective. In other words, she considers the ear of the beholder. She is not submitting to his terms, nor is she manipulating him with hers. She is mindful of the fact that he is an imperfect human being with attitudes and predispositions of his own. It is foolish and counter productive to pretend that he is hearing her words as she intends them.
For example, here are some examples of how Joan’s message would be received by Bill:
Joan: “Why are you angry at me?”
Bill’s translation: “I demand that you defend your unjustified anger at me. If your explanation is unsatisfactory, you will forfeit your right to have, let alone express, this emotion.”
Joan: “Don’t be angry at me.”
Bill’s translation: “Do not feel the way you feel. That’s an order. Your feeling is wrong and so are you.”
Joan: “Don’t yell me.”
Bill’s translation: “I am right and you are wrong. I am superior and you are inferior. As an all knowing, superior person, I demand that you stop yelling. As your superior, you must submit to me. If you do not do as I say, then you are guilty and indebted to me.”
Joan: “I didn’t do it.”
Bill: “You are a stupid liar. You are inferior, invalid and worthless.”
Joan: “I didn’t mean it.”
Bill’s translation: “Since I never intended to hurt you, you have no right to harbor negative feelings toward me.”
Joan: “After all I’ve done for you.”
Bill’s translation: “I’ve kept score and you owe me. My efforts to please you in the past, entitles me to a get a free pass at mistreating you in the present. Since you are guilty of not appreciating my efforts to please you, you have forfeited your right to criticize my shortcomings now.”
Joan: “You’re just like your father.”
Bill’s translation: “Your father was an out-of-control, abusive SOB and so are you. There is nothing you can do about it. You are the helpless, damned prisoner of your genetics.”
Joan: “Your mother put up with this abuse, but I’m not going to.”
Bill’s translation: “Your mother was a weak, spineless victim. I am smarter and superior to anyone who has ever loved you. If you don’t want to be a loser, then you better treat me right.”
Joan: “The neighbors will hear you.”
Bill’s translation: “The neighbors’ opinion of us is more important to me than how you feel. Suck it up.”
Joan: “Why can’t you be like Sam next door? He brings his wife flowers every Saturday night.”
Bill’s translation: “Your cheap and selfish. You a useless failure and unless you change, I gonna look elsewhere.”
Joan: “Why don’t you listen to me!”
Bill’s translation: “I know what’s best for you. I am smart and you are stupid.”
Joan had no idea that Bill was hearing her words in this intensely negative perspective. She meant well. Now she knows the difference between these anger provoking good intentions, which are counter-productive, and real intentions, which might solve the problem. Instead of imposing her self-serving comments upon her husband, she is now free to do what the reality situation requires her to do in the moment. Reality requires that she refrain from defending her injured innocence, and instead, focus her energies on restoring her husband’s shaky self-respect. She cannot do that by telling him that he is unacceptable to her as he is.
Joan has learned to distinguish between Bill as an imperfect human being and his negative, destructive behavior. This what we call separating the act from the actor, the sin from the sinner. She is making a distinction between the deed and the doer. Bill’s behavior is unpleasant and regrettable, but he is worthwhile in spite of it. Joan has also learned that when she does he homework in the right way, she feels relief from the pent up pressure, tension and stress. She feels in control of her end of the conversation. This control feels positive and constructive, rather then negative and destructive.
She has an identity of her own. She’s not just a role opposite her husband. She is living in the present, not the past or the future. She feels independent, no longer depending for her worth on making her husband understand her needs. She has stopped trying to please her husband. She has started to please herself in appropriate ways, such as by disengaging from his mischief. She has begun to understand her own needs on a mature basis. She has let go of the need for trying to build herself up by improving her husband according to her standards. She is having success at building up her own self-respect on an effective basis. She is using her marriage as opportunities to replace her childhood self-doubt with self-respect in the present. Now when she speaks to Bill, her music is different and Bill is hearing the difference:
Joan: “I’m sorry that you are so angry.”
Bill’s translation: “Your anger must be very painful to you, and I regret that you are so unhappy.”
Joan: “I am angry at you.”
Bill’s translation: “I am telling you the truth. You are not a child. I do not have to protect you from my unpleasant emotions. You are a grown-up and you can take it.”
Joan: “It’s awful when that happens, isn’t it.”
Bill’s translation: “Your feelings are understandable under the circumstances, and I empathize with you as one equal member of the human race to another.”
Joan: “I’d be angry if that happened to me.”
Bill’s translation: “Your angry feelings are unpleasant but valid, and you are a worthwhile human being in spite of them.”
Joan: “Your teasing makes me angry.”
Bill’s translation: “I am telling you how your behavior is making me feel. I am not telling you what to do. I am not controlling you. I am controlling me. You have a choice. If you continue to make mischief, there will be a logical consequence – but the choice is entirely up to you.”
Joan: “Your snappy comeback has just made things worse. I am angrier now than I was before.”
Bill’s translation: “You cannot provoke me to overreact. You cannot deflect me or my anger. I am angry at you and I will not be moved. I have made my point. The ball is in your court. In the meantime, I’m going to the grocery store.”
Bill is learning how to express his anger appropriately. He respects Joan’s new example and he works at following it when he can. He no longer expects Joan to abandon him and accepts that he is an equally lovable member of the human race. He has learned that self-respect means feeling worthwhile in spite of his faults and imperfections, not on some specific day, but right now, while he improves his communication in the meantime.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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