Your mind (if it’s like most minds), spends a lot of time criticizing itself. If the thought comes up I’m so ugly, and you start arguing with it, or resisting it, you are just investing more energy in that thought pattern in your brain. If someone came up to you and said ‘You’re a purple elephant’, you would probably not get insulted, because there is no agreement that you have that goes ‘I believe that I might be a purple elephant and that is a bad thing.’ On the other hand, if someone comes up and says You would look better if you lost 15 lbs and got rid of that double-chin you would might get very upset. In fact, you might after reading that feel a little jab like “they’re right, I do have kind of a double-chin, I should really get rid of that.” That’s because somewhere in your mind you have an agreement that (a) you might have a double-chin and (b) having a double-chin is a very bad thing to have. So when someone points that out, or you see an advertisment with a 120-lb model, your mind comes up with “I’m ugly” and you agree with it. So the key is to stop agreeing with your negative thoughts. This doesn’t mean arguing with them or resisting them though. If someone said “You’re a purple elephant” you wouldn’t argue about how you really aren’t and how even purple elephants have feelings – you would just shrug and say “OK, whatever”. You would have no charge on it. That is the attitude to cultivate with your negative feelings and thoughts – a mental shrug. “Ok, that’s what my mind is doing, whatever.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
We’ve all known at least one person whom we would call a victim: Someone who has actually been victimized by someone else, or for whom “life has been hard.” And we don’t want to give them a bad rap, I mean; really, they’ve had it hard, right? So, we tolerate their inability to get up in the morning, or their constant or convenient references to their hard lives, or even their abuse, while we sigh and try to be understanding and say, “Yeah, but she’s had a hard life,” or “Yeah, but he’s been through a lot.”
Now, I don’t want to come across as an unsympathetic person here, but with regard to the victim role, it can turn on a dime into the bully role, if we’re not watching. See, there’s a difference between someone who occasionally has a victim thought, and someone who is living the role. Anyone can get on the pity pot now and again. Anyone can fault life circumstances with life choices. Sometimes it’s hard to reverse that and fault life choices with life’s circumstances. I mean that means taking personal responsibility! But if we are going to finally arrive at acceptance of any particular given circumstance, be it an abuse or an accident, illness or a “bad” job or relationship, we are going to have to take personal responsibility. And those of us, who do finally move to acceptance over that given circumstance, have learned to take personal responsibility over the choices that we made. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is within the power of our choices, but it does mean that we have choices about how we are going to respond to those events over which we have no control. And it does mean that we have much more say-so in our lives than many of us would like to admit.
For someone who has opted to live out the victim role, this means all but never being the cause to your own effect. The mantra of the victim is filled with phrases like:
“You just don’t understand how hard it is for me!”
“I had no choice!”
“I was out of control!”
“I was overwhelmed!”
“She or he made me do it!”
“I can’t help it!”
I could go on, but you get the idea. This person lives out of what we, in the mental health field, call externalized locus of control. In other words, they locate their controls outside of themselves. They truly believe that their own actions and even their thoughts are controlled by something or someone outside of themselves. The very idea of challenging themselves to do something different than they’ve always done, hoping for different results, is foreign to them. They cannot even imagine that they are responsible for life choices. It’s their parent’s fault for not loving them enough; it’s their teacher’s fault for being bad teachers; it’s their brother or sister’s fault, their wife or husband’s fault; it’s the driver of that car’s fault–THEY ruined my life!
Ever heard someone say, “He/she/it ruined my life?” At the very least you were listening to someone who is in the throes of a victim seizure, if not someone who lives entirely out of the victim role. Let me be absolutely clear here, before we go into any further depth: NO ONE can ruin your life but you. Take note, there was a period at the end of that sentence. Regardless of what happens in our lives, we still have loads of options, and still are in charge of what we do with it. But the thinking, the belief system of the victim finds this thought unbearable.
Why would such a seemingly hopeful belief be so unbearable to the victim? Because it means taking responsibility for life and life’s choices. Taking responsibility to them means several things. It means:
Bearing the burden of this awful life.
Holding myself accountable.
Fear, terror, blinding terror!
You see, how we interpret makes a huge difference. I interpret taking responsibility for my life and the choices I make as grandly hopeful. I interpret it to mean that nothing, NOTHING can keep me down. But this concept is foreign to the victim. The victim thinks: If I take responsibility for my choices, my responses and very often the actual circumstances themselves then I’ll have to feel this enormous guilt. I’ll have to be ashamed of myself for all the things that I’ve done. My response to that, of course, is well, that’s your choice. You don’t have to choose guilt and shame, but of course, you could if you want.
Victims think, but I should add here that they only think these things on an unconscious level, for to think them consciously might be to recognize what they are up to. Victims think that life is, indeed, awful and that they could not bear to imagine being responsible for such an awful thing. My response to that is, again, that perspective is a choice. Very often, when one of my client’s is in the throes of a victim thought, I will ask her (let’s say it’s a she this time) how yesterday was and she’ll give me a litany of the terrible things that happened yesterday. Then I ask, “What else happened?” The best she can tell me is that “Oh everything else was just okay.” But I’ll insist that she be more specific and tell me about what else happened and what she felt about each specific thing. I’ve yet to have a single person who is not able to come up with some really cool things that happened that day. Things that he or she had not noticed because s/he had been so busy thinking about how bad the day was. For someone who is not identified as a victim, this switch helps them to buoy the other upsetting things that happened. And it helps them to build hope that there are always some good things going on. But for the victim, and this has been almost diagnostic for me, this discussion will cause great consternation and even irritation. The victim will avoid, change the subject, criticize me for being Pollyanna, just plain deny that anything good happened, or if they can admit that they had a good experience or two, they will “yes but” it to death before it reaches the true light of day.
Persons who are identified as victims simply do not want to realize that they are responsible for their own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and ergo, their emotions. They don’t want to do the work of realizing that beliefs create attitudes, mantras and eventually emotions. They want to believe that their moods are just related to bad things that have happened to them, or to swings. Victims will often say that they need a medication adjustment when in fact what they need is an attitude adjustment. But the medication, being an external control, is held accountable.
The really bad thing about all this is that in the process, victims get themselves victimized. They get involved with bullies all too often. Why do they do this? Well it isn’t because they are masochistic. It’s because the bully will help them stay in the victim role and for some reason this victim role seems to work better for them than anything else. Not being responsible somehow makes them feel safe–even if in that safety they are getting the beatitudes kicked out of them. This is where the terror of changing out of the victim mask and costume becomes apparent. Even though the victim role may be killing them, in the most extreme cases, they will hold on to it for dear life, for the prospect of living without it is more terrifying than death.
I want to be clear here that not everyone who is being abused is living out the victim identity. Some, who are being abused, are living out the scapegoat identity in which they feel guilty and responsible for others’ behavior; some are living out other roles we’ll talk about later. But when victims are living in an abusive situation, it is because it makes it possible for them to maintain the victim identity.
The other really bad thing about all this is that very often the victim flips over to the opposite side of the coin and actually becomes the bully. In fact, many victims bully others with their victimness. It works like this:
“I’m so sick, you have to take care of me, and if you don’t I’ll show you in some way that you really are going to have to come up to it.” Maybe they will do this by getting sicker, maybe by attempting to force your hand in some manipulative way.
“I need you; you can’t leave me.” And so the victim holds his or her victim hostage to this desperate need.
“He/she/it ruined my life. Now it’s up to you to fix it.”
Again, I could go on, but you get the idea. Anything within the life of the victim can be used to scare, cajole, manipulate or abuse another person, who is perceived by the victim to be the next best “mama.” Very often the victim will accuse those, who don’t do their bidding, of abandoning them. When I am working with a client who is being so manipulated by a victim, I will very often inform them that adults can’t abandon other adults. When we were children, our fear of abandonment was justifiable since we were utterly dependent on our caregivers for sustenance. But the growing up process means becoming more and more accountable for our own choices. Adults are responsible for their own lives–which mean that they don’t need a primary caregiver anymore. The very notion of abandonment implies that the person left behind is not capable of caring for him or herself. But, you see, for victims, everyone else is responsible for their well-being, because they are absolutely NOT.
So, how do we deal with victims? Well, first we recognize the victim thoughts which hold us victim. We need to be able to see the ways that we are thinking like victims before we can recognize it in someone else. And while we may not be living out the victim role, we must fully understand that we are 100% accountable for our lives to this point and after, in order to be able to recognize and deal with a victim identity in another. Why? Because the victim will be very good at talking you out of thinking that s/he is responsible for his/her own life.
Second, because we are now clear that we are not responsible for their lives in any way, shape or form, we can walk away from that responsibility. This may or may not mean walking away from the victim, but it will mean walking away from taking any form of responsibility for them, their lives or their choices. And that clarity about who is responsible, which we learned in the first step, is going to keep us from feeling guilty when they deliberately take a turn for the worse, or get themselves victimized again, hoping we’ll come to their rescue. That also was their choice.
And third, we can take complete responsibility for how we react to their manipulations and machinations to get us to renew our commitment to being responsible for their lives. This might mean confronting ourselves about what secondary gain we get out of rescuing victims.
Will they get it? Occasionally to rarely. But that’s their choice. Most often I find that victims have this really cool cat-like feature. They always, somehow, land on their feet. Often this means that they will find someone else to hold hostage to their refusal to take responsibility for their lives. But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that if enough of us take 100% responsibility for our own lives, the victim will find no one out there on whom they can utterly lean for their lives, and the whole victim identity will one day fade away.
Until then, I intend to be responsible for me…not you!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Does your management say things like: “Our employees aren’t angry! We run a happy ship! They get frustrated sometimes, or upset, and we’ve got one guy who is disgruntled, but we never get angry!” This popular anger management technique is called “denial.” If we don’t know how to solve a problem, we just pretend that it isn’t there.
Anger comes in many forms, all of them unpleasant. That is why we are so quick to deny it out of existence. That way, the problem is “solved;” we are off the hook. It’s a good thing that we don’t have to solve it because we don’t know how to solve such problems. We’d only fail if we tried. We didn’t go to school to learn anger management. We feel inadequately prepared to cope with it. We deny the problem in order to prevent the humiliating expose of our inadequate preparation.
In the meantime, our angry employees are walking around with unresolved anger problems in their hearts. They become discouraged and depressed. We wonder, “What happened to the morale around here? Why is production falling off? Why is turnover so high? Why are they taking so much sick leave?” When our employees’ energy is bound up in unresolved anger, there isn’t much left over to do the work that needs to be done. They keep on getting their paychecks just the same.
Anger doesn’t have to erupt into violence to take a chunk out of our bottom line. Suppressed, subterranean anger poisons our corporate atmosphere and does its silent damage day after day, year after year. “Denial”, therefore, is a very costly “solution” to the problem of employee anger. It is a luxury that no business can afford. Why do managers “deny” that their “happy” troops might possibly have unresolved anger in their bosoms?
They deny that there is anger in the ranks because they have attitudes about anger, attitudes that they acquired a long time ago and never outgrew:
“Anger is scary and dangerous. I don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole.”
“Anger is a problem that might take up too much of my valuable time and attention. Why don’t we just fire him and save ourselves a lot of trouble.”
“Anger isn’t ‘nice,’ and angry people aren’t ‘nice’. I don’t want to talk to people.”
“An angry person is a threat, and I have never learned how to cope with threats in the right way, only the wrong way with counter threats.”
In addition to our attitudes about this nasty emotion, we have attitudes about ourselves as problem solvers:
“Life is very pleasant when I solve problems.”
“Life is very unpleasant when I don’t!”
“I feel out of control when I have a problem that I cannot solve.
“That makes me angry! I don’t want to be angry because anger is painful and scary.”
“If I pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, maybe it will go away.”
That’s no way to manage our lives! We don’t realize that we have these attitudes deep down in our psyche. Neither do we realize that these attitudes are predisposing us to behave in the same counter-productive way time after time. Our behavior doesn’t change because our attitudes have never changed.
Jack is a top salesman. Out on the road he is all charm and smiles. Back at the ranch, he has anger attitudes. For one, he is predisposed to get angry whenever he doesn’t get his way, right now! Jack is angry at Nancy for not typing his sales reports fast enough. He wants them “now!” He doesn’t see why she shouldn’t do what he wants, when he wants it. To him, it’s a perfectly reasonable request.
When Jack is angry, everyone in the unit knows it. He slams drawers, he barks at everyone in sight, he clams up, he sulks and pouts. In other words, he is manifesting his anger just as he did when he was four years old. He hasn’t learned a thing about anger in forty years. We all get angry from time to time. Most of us are able to get through these painful periods without making our co-workers miserable with our inappropriate behavior. Jack never had an anger problem until he became Section Chief. It seems that his promotion gave him a license to abuse his fellow citizens that he did not seem to have before. Jack is displaying several main characteristics of the angry employee:
He is angrier than he needs to be,
He isn’t aware that his anger is out of proportion to the provocation.
He makes no effort to manage his anger like a mature, responsible human being.
He doesn’t see why he should learn how.
To Jack, his request for instant service is reasonable or rational. The rest of us see that his anger is not rational or under conscious control. The more Steve, his Department Head, tries to make Jack “understand the inappropriateness of his behavior,” the angrier Jack gets. Jack doesn’t want to understand, he wants his report and, as far as he can see, Steve is doing nothing to speed up the process. He is angry at Steve for letting Nancy “slack off.”
What Steve didn’t know was that Jack had come to define his worth as a person in terms of getting what he wants. He acquired this attitude toward himself during the formative stages of his personality. Jack has plenty of attitudes:
“It is my right to get my way. If I don’t get it. I am nothing! I cannot allow that to happen It’s too scary. It is unacceptable!”
“I am special. I am entitled to special consideration. It makes me angry when I do not get what I am entitled to.”
“When I have to wait to get what I want, I feel out of control. That feeling is painful. I want to get relief from my pain as fast as I can.”
“When I am kept waiting, it forces me to waste time. Waste is irresponsible. It makes me feel guilty of a crime. That is painful, too.”
“Wasting time and irresponsibility are wrong. Wrongness makes me angry. I must be right and never wrong. I must be perfect.”
Jack never outgrew these attitudes; he carried them into adulthood where they are determining his behavior to this day. Each time we react to Jack on the basis of these immature attitudes, we confirm him in his fictitious role. He is so busy defending his “specialness” that he never has a chance to question the basis of his inappropriate behavior.
Steve is learning that many people have these anger attitudes and that they can not be reasoned out of them. He has also learned that the issue here is not Nancy’s typing speed, or her work schedule. The issue is not even “getting my way.” The real problem to be addressed is Jack’s anger when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. The most important thing that Steve learned was that he had the power of choice: to respond to Jack’s anger the old way, which never worked, or to manage his anger in a way that makes things better instead of worse.
He chose not to defend Nancy, (Nancy isn’t doing anything wrong, she does not require defending).
He chose not to defend himself. He didn’t say, “You can’t talk to me that way,” because ‘manner of speech’ is not the issue. It is a distraction from the real issue. It would have poured kerosene on Jack’s fire.
He chose not to take Jack’s demands as a reflection on his competence as a manager.
He chose not to take Jack’s negative, unpleasant behavior personally, as if it were a reflection on his worth as a person.
He chose to retain his self-respect on an appropriate basis.
He was able to remind himself of the definition of self-respect: it is the feeling that I am a worthwhile human being in spite of my faults and imperfections. Jack cannot take that away from him with his posturings.
He identified Jack’s imperious behavior as mere mischief, which means, “that which does not need to be done.” Steve was able to put this mischief in its proper perspective. “It’s only Jack being Jack again.”
He did not overreact to Jack’s provocation.
He did not try to make Jack “understand.”
He identified his own anger at Jack for causing him and Nancy this grievance, but he had learned how to manage his anger. He put it in perspective. Jack’s anger wasn’t the end of the world, it was only a nuisance.
He did not “solve” the anger problem by firing Jack on the spot.
He did not get personal revenge by depriving the firm of the talents of an imperfect, sometimes unpleasant employee.
He did not give up in discouragement.
He did not stand in moral judgment on Jack for his disruptive behavior. Jack is not “wrong,” he is merely imperfect and his imperfections can be unpleasant.
He did not hang on to his anger. It was in his way. He chose to “let it go.”
He was able to sort it out. He was in control of himself. He didn’t try to “control” Jack.
He was able to make a rational choice in a non-rational, regrettable situation.
Steve was able to take himself through this process in a matter of seconds. He had learned the drill. He knew how to find the meaning of Jack’s mischief by identifying the hidden purpose of the behavior. Jack was making him feel powerless and out of control. That feeling told him that he was in a power struggle with Jack over who could make Nancy do what and how fast. This insight gave Steve a new choice to make: he could pull back in a tug of war, or he could drop the rope and end the power struggle on his terms. He chose to drop the rope. He let it go. It was only mischief on Jack’s part. It didn’t need to be done. What really needed to be done was to resolve Jack’s anger problem in the right way so everyone could go back to work.
Steve had learned to spot employee mischief a block away. He had also learned how to disengage himself emotionally, not from the employee, but from his unacceptable, provocative behavior:
He did not take Jack’s behavior personally, as a wipeout of his self-respect.
He reminded himself that “I am a worthwhile human being in spite of Jack’s negative comments.” This technique is called ‘self talk.’ It keeps him on an even keel.
He did not take Jacks words literally, as if he really meant what he said. Jack is only “firing for Effect,” trying to use Steve’s own vulnerabilities against him.
He disengaged from his own predisposition to make counter mischief:
Steve didn’t make any of these mistakes from the old days. He made a new choice using his adult judgment on an informed basis. He knew that Jack’s anger was painful and out of control. It was his appropriate responsibility to deal effectively with his employee’s psychic pain as he would the physical pain of a cut finger. Just as he was prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver if someone were choking, so is he prepared to give “emotional first aid” when it became necessary. It was necessary now. Steve made the right choice. He cut to the chase. He chose to address the issue of Jack’s anger.
Steve chose to say, “It makes you angry when Nancy takes so long, doesn’t it.” In making this choice, Steve was using an anger management technique called validate. Steve knew that Jack’s accusation was not a valid one. He knew it wasn’t rational, it was based on self-serving attitudes. He did not make the mistake of correcting Jack’s thinking, which would have made things worse for everyone. He knew that he could not relieve this pain by invalidating it. In calling Jack’s anger by its rightful name, Steve was giving Jack “permission” to have this unpleasant, disruptive emotion. He did not “fight the feeling.” He validated the anger, “I don’t blame you for feeling that way.”
Jack heard his anger being validated, perhaps for the first time in his life. He felt that he had been heard and understood by someone who knew what he was talking about. He felt that he was being validated as a person. The pain of his grievance was relieved. The second validate is for Jack. He heard himself being treated with respect in spite of his unpleasant behavior. He respected Steve for doing that. If he doesn’t respect his superior, he will not cooperate with him. He will make destructive mischief instead.
The third validation is for Steve. He had the courage to address the scary problem of Jack’s anger instead of defending Nancy. He had used good judgment. He replaced his good intentions with real intentions. He had earned the right to respect himself as a worthwhile human being with an identity of his own, not merely a role opposite Jack’s immature role.
There are two sides to this anger coin: Jack is one and Nancy is the other. Nancy needs to know what to do with Jack’s anger when it hits. As part of the Anger Management Process, Steve prepared Nancy to cope with Jack’s anger on a new basis. He broke the problem down into its components so she could see what she was up against.
Do not take it personally. It is not a reflection on you.
Do not defend – you are not guilty of a crime and you require no defense.
Do not become counter-angry. That just prolongs the problem.
Do not try to make Jack “understand” the realities of the situation. He is not interested.
Identify the real issue: the issue is that he is angry
Jack is making mischief. He wants to control so he will get his way sooner, also, he wants
revenge. He wants to hurt Nancy as she “hurt” him. These are negative purposes. They need to be identified so that they can be turned around in the right way.
Jack reminded Nancy that she could choose to keep her self respect in spite of Jack’s anger. She is a worthwhile human being whether she pleases him or not. As a self respecting, independent human being, she, too, can choose to validate Jack’s anger, which is the real issue. She, too, can say, “I’m sorry you are so angry, but I’ll have it done by 4:30 today.”
When Jack came by to voice his complaint about the “service,” Nancy did her anger Homework: She disengaged from the mischief, not from Jack. She was able to “Consider the Source”; she reminded herself that it’s only Jack sounding off again. She didn’t hang on to her protestations of innocence, she chose to let them go. When she made that choice, she felt relief from the pressure, tension and stress that these anger situations had been causing her. In letting go, she didn’t feel out of control, she felt in control. She was making this happen in the present. She was choosing to live on her terms, not reacting to someone else’s. She had her own independent identity.
As Jack went on and on, Nancy rode it out. She didn’t prolong the process with explanations of the situation that Jack didn’t care about anyway. She saved her breath. Nancy noticed that the storm blew over in half the time. Jack walked away talking to himself, but he settled down much sooner than he used to when people got in his way and made his anger worse.
Nancy was angry at Jack’s abusive behavior. We relieve pent up anger by giving people choices that they didn’t know they had. Steve has learned what some of those choices are. Instead of ignoring Nancy’s painful resentment, he validated it; “You must be very angry at Jack for dumping on you like that. If you keep it in, it will make you sick. One way to drain it out of your system is to write him an anger letter. It’s not for him, it’s for you.”
Nancy wrote her anger out in a letter to Jack and then tore it up. Steve asked her how she felt afterward. Nancy said that she felt “good.” In debriefing Nancy, he helped her to break this “good feeling” into its many components: feelings of relief, the power of choice, trust in her judgment, control, accomplishment, success, confidence and independence. These good feelings are all components of self respect.
Nancy had done an anger homework in her own behalf. She had earned the right to respect herself. Self respecting employees are more motivated, more productive and more free to be creative than employees who are filled with self doubts, anxieties and feelings of inadequacy to cope. Nancy was able to use an unpleasant anger situation as an opportunity to improve the way she felt about herself as a person in the world.
Even Jack benefitted from Nancy’s new way of managing her anger. He expected to be met with scorn, invalidation, criticism, excuses, denials and all the other counter-productive defenses that people use when they don’t know how to manage anger. Instead, he felt that Nancy had listened to his complaint without demeaning him as a person. She had not compounded his anger as people usually did. He didn’t feel “good” about the conversation, but he was aware that he felt “less worse.” He felt relief from the pressure, tension and stress that he had been causing himself with his unrealistic attitudes. To him, that was progress. Steve had taken the sting out of a potentially inflammatory situation. There were no cuts or bruises, no one got fired. Under this new regimen, Jack’s anger attacks came farther and farther apart, and they ended sooner each time. He remained a productive, valued employee of the firm.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 )
While driving down the highway in the fast lane, the person in front of you appears to have no idea what the fast lane means. After running all over town with the kids, you arrive home. They know they have rooms yet insist that the entire house is their closet and drop things wherever they please. It’s your birthday and your best friend gets you just what you needed, nothing. It seems that in these instances, the first reaction is to take things personally. As if what was done was intentional, a personal attack.
As odd as it sounds, we often think that there are many forces against us and we are innocent bystanders. I don’t agree. While there are some truly random events, much of what happens is our own doing. How we feel and react to the things going on around us will largely determine what happens to us. In the preceding examples, what makes us think that the things that happen to us are directed at us? Instead of reacting with a “How dare you!” we often react with a “How dare you do this to me!” The truth of the matter is that each person is really more concerned about themselves than they are others. It’s survival of the fittest. The person driving slow in front of me in traffic is more concerned about having a wide open lane ahead of them than they are with me getting past.
A lot of our life is spent worrying about what others may think or feel about us. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, we wouldn’t worry near as much about what others thought about us if we knew how seldom they did. When we are emotionally reactive to things in life, we give up our power to choose. If we take things personally, whether intended personally or not, our reaction intensifies. All of the sudden we have to defend ourselves, though many times a response is not warranted. Instead it would be better if we could learn the art of self-soothing. To be able to calm ourselves in the midst of emotional reactions opens a whole new range of responses.
We all have this ability. We are born with it. Just the other day, my 2 year old was climbing up on a toy in the house for the first time. As I watched her, she had a moment of pause just before she stood up tall and proud. In that moment of pause, she gathered herself and found the internal courage to stand. We do the same thing just before we honestly speak our mind, or address an issue with our spouse or kids. Self-soothing can be enhanced and used in all situations. And doing so gives you much more power over life’s circumstances.
To put this another way; you teach people how to treat you. If you feel that many people treat you wrong or take advantage of you, it only happens because you let them. Learning how to self-sooth, then stand up will produce a different outcome. This in turn will change the way others treat you. If you demand respect, trust, love, honor, comfort, or whatever, accept nothing less. Whenever you receive less than you expect, rather than taking it personally and reacting as such, calm yourself and address the issue. Either put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective or stand up and be honest, or both. If this honesty comes from both your mind and heart, it carries much more weight than just emotional reactivity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We hear what we expect to hear, we see what we expect to see. Our expectation changes our experience. If we walk into a meeting and expect it to be a long, drawn out process rivaled only by a root canal or preparing your taxes, more than likely it will not disappoint. At that same meeting, another member of the crowd may come with a more open mind and willingness to learn and think it is the most enlightening time they have ever spent. So what’s the difference? This same rule applies to our relationships. Our expectation changes our experience.
So where does our main model for relationships and communication come from? You probably guessed it, our parents; who received their patterns from their parents and so on. How they did and do relationships has an impact upon our own. Like it or not. If you had an affectionate relationship modeled by your parents, you will most likely carry the model forward or go to the other extreme so as to try and break the cycle, either way the influence is there. If your parents were good communicators when it came to the sticky topics; money, discipline/parenting styles, intimacy, then you most likely can handle the tension most people try to avoid when it comes to talking about some of the tough things in life. If this information gets you down, don’t worry. You can change the pattern if you choose. When you understand some of the forces at work in your relationships and life, you attain the possibility of being able to have your past no longer dictate your future.
When you shed some light on this process in your relationships it’s easy to see why our important relationships are so much work. There are two family systems fighting to gain control of this newly formed system. Coupled with the idea that we see what we expect to see and hear what we expect to hear, no wonder there are times of conflict in this relationship. Surprisingly, there are many people I have worked with that are shocked at this fact. Apparently they have held on to the fairy tale version of relationships for too long. Maybe you have too. Movies and TV portray relationships as an alluring time of romance, love, laughter and joy. You know what I mean, “and they all lived…”
If you can complete that sentence, you have had that illusion as well.
Now back to the initial question, what did you expect? The onus rests on our own shoulders to make the most out of this life. If you expect things to be tough today, most likely they will be. If you expect your marriage to be rocky, it will. I am not advocating that you don’t examine reality honestly, but more often than not, what we expect out of things becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. By changing your focus or outlook on things, other aspects of life will begin to change as well. Problems in life are inevitable, struggling is optional. Improve your ability to improvise, adapt and overcome will allow you to take charge of your life and harness more energy for your day. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to change the wind in your life, adjust your sails.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Now I know you have been in this situation. You are involved in your daily tasks with your family or significant other and they say something in passing to you. While whatever they said was innocuous, your interpretation was anything but. So you storm out of the room or react with a verbal unleashing that would give any baseball coach in an argument with an umpire a run for his money. If the preceding hasn’t happened, maybe the following has. You are so deeply involved in your routine of life and work that when you come home after a long day, you simply co-exist with your spouse. You don’t even talk anymore. You’ve drifted apart and are living lives together under the same roof but miles apart.
A common belief regarding the cause of these examples is usually that the people involved are having trouble communicating. They would benefit from some communication training. Learning how to be assertive and use “I” messages properly. Nothing against these types of approaches, they are each good concepts to learn and incorporate within the right contexts. It is however my belief that within a committed relationship is not one of these contexts. Let me explain. As a foundation for this article, keep in mind that you cannot not communicate (pardon the double negative).
Everything we say; spoken and otherwise speaks volumes. Everything we don’t say speaks loudly as well. Research continues to confirm that around 93% of our communication resides in our body language and tone. How we say what we say speaks louder than what we say. The reverse is also true, how we say what we don’t say speaks louder than what we don’t say. I think I just confused myself. Maybe an example will bring about a little clarity. My wife comes in while I am watching a show on TV and begins a conversation (sorry if this is stereotypical). I now have a choice. I can turn off the show (or more likely hit pause on the Tivo) and respond to her invitation for a conversation. I can continue watching without saying a word. Or I can leave the show on and respond with the distraction of the show still in the background. She will react to whichever path I choose since she will read whatever I am saying by my reaction to her reaction and so forth. No wonder there are times when it seems communication is difficult.
The fact of the matter is, more often than not, communication problems are not the result of trouble understanding each other; it’s that we understand each other too well. In other words, the problem lies in me not liking what the other person is saying, and then reacting. When we react to the spike of emotion we get while interacting with another human, we often do so in an attempt to sooth ourselves.
Back to the previous example. If I do not pause the TV show and respond, or at the very least ask to have the conversation later, that can be interpreted as a threat to the status of our relationship. The message could be the show is more important than the conversation, and then the relationship, and then the family, and then the marriage, and ultimately then my wife. She may as well pack her bags and move out. I realize that is a bit overboard but it often starts that simply.
A majority of communication within a committed relationship in my opinion is covert. We are afraid to say what we really mean because we are afraid to take the “hit.” So we say it in code. We also interpret what we hear and see on our own without asking for clarity. Mainly because we may not want to know what the answer really is. We treat our significant other with kid gloves so as not to damage them. Incidentally, when exactly did I marry a person who is fragile? Why do I treat them as though they can’t handle what I truly think?
Conflict is not all bad. It is only through some conflict that value and rewards are increased. I hate to break it to you, but living a life that is more alive requires some work on your relationships, unless this life you envision is alone.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever wondered why there are times in life when it seems that you are simply coasting along? Throughout life, there are many tasks that must be undertaken in order to experience a life or relationship that is more alive. Granted there will be times when each of us may be bogged down with a particular event or stage in life (I have a 2 year old and a 3 month old in my house, needless to say, life right now is about them). Life has its natural ebbs and flows of emotion. But if you find yourself asking the preceding title question frequently, let me offer you some hope.
First, you are not alone. There are many, many people that have chosen to settle into their schedule driven life and have begun to believe that this is all there is for them and their loved ones. For many people, a routine life full of kid’s activities, homework, one week of family vacation per year, grocery lists, church meetings, carpool, etc. is enough for right now. What about later? When the kids are grown and out of the house (hopefully not boomeranging back). Have you planned that far in advance? Incidentally, did you know that the second most frequent period of relationships experiencing divorce is after the kids are out of the house? When you are forced to spend time with your spouse whom you may have avoided by “diving” into your kid’s life for all those years. You don’t have to wait that long (to change something, not get divorced).
Second, something can be done now that can begin the process of experiencing a life that is more fully alive. Experience a life full of passion, energy, love, adventure, and fun. It begins by asking yourself a series of simple questions: Would you want to be married to you? Would you want you as your father/mother? Would you want to work for you? Be friends with you? When we can honestly answer these questions, we have entered the beginnings of a life transforming process.
Far too often we want or expect those around us to change and accommodate us. We also may fall victim to the stagnating process of waiting for the other person to change before we respond. Let me explain by personalizing this. There have been times in my marriage when I have grown tired of the routine we have established of interacting, but I wait for my wife to do something different before I do. And to compound the issue, while I am waiting for her to read my mind, I get frustrated that she doesn’t respond fast enough or adequately to my unspoken expectations. Now I know how you may be responding to this; if she truly loved me and understood my needs, she should just know. If you are thinking this, you have fallen victim to the Hollywoodization of relationships. Just because you are in a marriage/committed relationship/close friendship/family does not mean that you cease to exist as an autonomous being. One with your own hopes and dreams and fantasies.
Having a life that is more fully alive, starts with you. By answering these questions honestly, you can begin to grow yourself into a better human. However, this does not come easily. This honest assessment of self and life is often accompanied by a spike in our levels of anxiety and discomfort. This is why we settle into the routine of life and don’t rock the boat. What I am proposing is that you have the willingness to stand up and address the things in your own life that get in the way of the life you want and in turn, take charge of your life and become more fully alive.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I like to define assertiveness as the art of asking for what you want in a way that makes it easy for the other person to give it to you. If you think of it as a skill that can be learned by anyone, and can be learned easily by children at an early age when they are learning all kinds of communications skills, I can explain how it is preferable to the other ways of getting what you want.
Parents can teach assertive asking in two simple ways:
The next most important thing in assertiveness is timing, which requires some empathy for the other person so that your request can be heard. Children shouldn’t have to be too sensitive to their parents’ needs, though they often are acutely aware and can be quite naturally empathic. Parents can help the child develop this skill by coaching them: “I can’t read you a story right now, because I am fixing dinner, but if you remind me after dinner, I would be happy to.”
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 )
« Previous Entries