"Today at work, Sarah…"
"THERE YOU GO! Talking about your damned job again. You're always complaining about your job. You know what I think about that. Why don't you quit if you don't like it."
Ding! It's on. I think you can imagine where this communication is headed.
The goal is to make sure your partner always feels like they can turn to you.
Mammals are different from other animals. When we feel confused, frightened, or overwhelmed, we turn to each other. Harry Harlow, an American psychologist best known for his maternal-separation, dependency needs, and social isolation experiments proved that primates that experienced trauma, like the loss of their mothers, lose the ability to turn to each other for comfort and support. Rather than turn to each other they turned on each other. Establishing and maintaining a secure relationship is of utmost importance to us. One way to do that is to remove obstacles that prevent your partner from turning to you. Overreacting makes it difficult for your partner to turn to you for comfort—especially if they anticipate your reaction being more severe than the problem they are experiencing. Decreasing reactivity will help significantly. You always want your partner to trust that they can turn to you.
Because many of us have not received the best support in the past, many of us do not trust that we can turn to others when we need them. Especially when we have a complaint. We often rehearse in our minds what we are going to say to support our claim, strengthen our shaky confidence, and defend against being blamed for the problem we experienced.
Often, we express our complaints angrily. Anger in this instance is used to disguise, even from ourselves, our insecurity about asking for help.
As the receiver of the complaint you need to be careful not to respond to their upset in a way that escalates the conflict. That takes skill and practice. Here's a suggestion that may help. The next time your partner complains, try saying this:
"I'm sorry that happened. Thank you for telling me."
It's too easy for anything else you say to be perceived as criticism.
Next say, "Tell me more."
You may fear that they might talk forever, but that won't be necessary because you are listening to them. The object, at this point, is to allow them to sense that you are validating their feelings and that you are not criticizing them.
Active listening phrases like, "Awh, Uh Huh" work well.
When they stop talking, ask this question: "How can I make it right or what will fix it?"
They will tell you exactly what they need. The benefit is that you will not have to guess and because you are not guessing, you can meet their needs in the most efficient way possible. Many people fail to get that information prior to trying to work through the problem.
If what they ask for is something you can do, great. If what they ask for is something you need to check on, and get back to them say so. Give them a time when you will get back to them and hold yourself to it. That builds trust.
I know this sounds prescriptive and it is, but this is probably the best thing I have ever learned about how to handle complaints. Complaints handled incorrectly cost businesses thousands of dollars. Mishandled complaints in relationships cost happiness and friendships.
Strengthen your marriage. Learn how to handle complaints.
How do you want to live your life? If you want to make any changes you’ll need to wrestle with that question. Often we get so caught up pursuing the "American Dream," and following the dictates of others, that we fail to ask ourselves what we want. It’s as though pursuing the dream lulls us to sleep.
Too much automatic pilot mode can make you feel dissatisfied. Failure to identify and meet your own needs, clips your wings. Assisting others and following through on commitments can be accomplished without losing yourself in the process. The toll of ignoring your needs is too great. I’m not promoting selfishness nor encouraging you to ignore others. My suggestion would be to keep your needs in focus. To borrow an adage from personal finance, “pay yourself first.” My intuition suggests that if you had more resources, time, money, acceptance, gratitude, or creativity, you would have more to give to those you care about.
Lack of self-awareness may be preventing you from reducing stress and increasing personal satisfaction. If you are working yourself so strenuously that you’re over-extended emotionally, financially, and physically, you can’t be happy.
We all need time to reflect. It’s OK to interrupt what you’re doing to give yourself what you need. Repressing your feelings and desires can make you disappear from your own life. It never works to show up in everyone else's life but your own. Breaking out of that habit requires pressing the reset button and reorganizing your priorities in a more sustainable way.
What would your life be like if you had more disposable time? I don’t imagine you would fritter it away. I believe you would read a book, start a creative project, go to the gym, organize your stuff. These kinds of pursuits would rejuvenate you, increase your confidence and overall competencies, enabling you to meet your other priorities more creatively.
What do you think would happen if you took the time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and priorities? You’ll have to decide if you want to stage the experiment and find out. It’s worth a try. You’re worth a try. Your family is worth a try.
When we think about trust we usually think about infidelity, but there is another way to think about trust in intimate relationships. It has to do with trusting that your partner has the best interest of both you and your relationship in their heart.
Sometimes we forget to trust our partners when faced with stressful decisions. We may believe they can’t help, they will interfere and prevent us from following our plan, or for whatever reason, we may feel uncomfortable about sharing our dilemma with them. Blinded by stress and our own needs, we may not see how a decision we feel pressed to make will affect our partner and our relationship.
When you are faced with a stressful decision one of the best things you can do is talk to your partner about it. Even if your mind tells you not to. That is often the best time to discuss your predicament with them. “But it will start a conflict,” often is what we tell ourselves. Yes, it might, but some decisions are worth fighting over in order to find the best way to address a pressing problem and to avoid a bad decision. In such moments, a constructive conflict might be the very thing necessary to get you to better vete your ideas about the best way to take action.
Trusting your partner in situations like that can be instrumental, not only in helping you avoid making a bad decision and making the situation worse, but it can also increase closeness between you and your partner by demonstrating to them that they are important enough for you to include them in your decision-making process.
What do couples fight over? Couples fight for numerous reasons but feeling unheard, ignored, and excluded tops the list. The decisions you make in your relationship not only affect you. They also affect your partner. They should be given the opportunity to opt in or out of those types of decisions. The trap you spring results from trying to avoid conflict by convincing yourself that your unilateral decisions are right, necessary, and insignificant to your partner—without discussing them together.
I’m not saying you have to run every decision by your partner, but I’m asking you to examine the decisions you find difficult to discuss with your partner. Why? Are you afraid they will disagree with you? Are you trying to avoid the feelings evoked by discussing it with them? Are you making the assumption that they feel the same way about the situation that you do and, therefore, there is no need to discuss it? Do you believe that they will get in your way? That’s when constructive conflict with your partner can be most beneficial. You have to trust that you can tolerate your own strong emotions along with theirs and that they have your best interest at heart. You have to trust that communicating with them—even if things get heated—will help you both arrive at the best decision for both of you.
That requires thinking about trust differently.
Our evolutionary history suggests that human beings never evolved to be happy. We lived in small groups. Our encounters with others were often dangerous. We faced numerous threats—starvation, parasites, illness, injury, and childbirth—we possessed no painkillers and there was no police force. We spend the majority of our time in anxious goal-seeking activity, spacing out, avoiding perceived threats, and sleeping. We experience numerous unwanted feelings and physical discomforts. Our brains evolved to analyze past pleasure and pain and to maximize future pleasure and minimize future pain. Bottom line: we fret a lot.
One of our biggest worries is trying to control situations that we believe might make us unhappy or otherwise harm us in some way. Here are three suggestions from Dr. Ronald Siegel, Harvard University for letting go:
Gain insight into the habits of your mind that create suffering.
There are patterns of mind that create suffering, i.e. self referential thinking, worrying about the past, fantasizing about the future, zoning out, catastrophizing. By learning to understand these patterns of mind you can change how you view yourself, how you view others, and how you respond to not only the situation, but your thoughts about the situation.
Retrain your brain to not automatically react in its instinctual manner.
Five minutes of daily mindfulness practice can work wonders. It can interrupt thinking habits and behavior patterns that you may feel lie beyond your control. Mindfulness can be the difference between reacting and responding. When we react we instantly initiate some conditioned response that may or may not prove beneficial in the current situation. With mindfulness we can take the time to respond in a manner that integrates present moment awareness with current skills.
Learn to spend more time in the present moment.
Thoughts of the past eventually evoke regrets and sadness. Fantasizing about the future triggers worry about situations that we anticipate happening. Over eighty percent of the things we worry about never happen. Situating ourselves in the present provides us with the greatest opportunity to remain calm and feel safe. The decisions we make in this moment have the greatest bearing on the future. It’s imperative that we don’t waste the only time we have worrying about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness grounds you in the here and now.
Unfortunately if you were looking for a quick fix for easing the suffering discussed here, you may come away disappointed. These are lifestyle changes, that take time to cultivate. Your attempts to control situations, didn’t start overnight. So don’t expect to resolve them overnight. Behavioral change does not work work instantly so start practicing mindfulness today.
“Learn how to relinquish control intentionally, as a means of personal growth and self-discovery.
According to divorce lawyer James J. Sexton, “In our day-to-day lives as professionals, parents and just plain human beings, there is no shortage of voices telling us what failures we are. We're bombarded with advertisements designed to make us feel inadequate. Whether there selling pistachio nuts or sports cars, the implication is often that something is wrong or missing.
In the face of this relentless onslaught, you are uniquely positioned to be a voice of support and encouragement for your spouse—a shelter in a storm of disparagement. If you want to keep your marriage healthy, don't squander that power. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to an imaginary ideal you have created or what romance films have told you a perfect spouse would look and act like. Your partner needs a cheerleader. We all do. If there is no major achievement to cheer for at the moment. Cheer for the small things your spouse is doing well. When people have a taste of victory, they often crave more of it.”
Sexton confirms what research has revealed about relationships. Criticism is toxic to marriages. John Gottman, an American psychological researcher and clinician who has done extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability, has written about the negative impact of criticism on marriages. If fact, he refers to criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three are contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Criticism can gallop into your relationship making you or your partner feel vulnerable, rejected, and inadequate. While feedback is important in any relationship, criticism differs in that it can evoke such hurt, shame, and self-doubt that the effects prevent it from being constructive once the victim begins to feel anxious and defensive. Criticism is corrosive, not only to the victim's self-esteem and your relationship with them, but also to your own self-esteem when you criticize others. Unless you are a sociopath, harsh words or insults that hurt your partner don't make you feel good. We all have a tendency to move away from pain and toward pleasure. We want to flee and escape uncomfortable people and situations. As criticism increases, your partner will begin to create distance if not physically, emotionally. Many people report that verbal abuse is more damaging than physical abuse.
To improve your relationship, remember to encourage your partner. One good way to accomplish that is when possible soothe your anger before speaking harshly to your loved one. When you feel angry or frustrated you may feel the greatest urge to provide feedback, but remember that's also when you're most prone to insult, shame, or criticize your partner.
In any relationship from time to time we all communicate in unskillful ways. None of us are perfect. It takes practice to keep our communication upbeat and to accentuate the positive. Sexton is correct, “when people have a taste of victory they crave more of it.” Positive attention and encouragement are strong motivators. And they help raise your partner's morale while simultaneously improving your self-esteem. So if you want to keep the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from trampling your relationship, look for opportunities to praise your partner for both large and small victories.
I was doing what I do on Sundays, sitting at home, reading the New York Times. A front page headline read: “Monticello Finally Opens Door Into the Life of Sally Hemings.”
According to writers Farah Stockman and Gabriella Demczuk, “Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions… And, thorniest of all, in an era of Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”
“We really can't know what the dynamic was,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “Was it rape? Was there affection? We felt we had to present a range of views, including the most painful one.”
My phone rang.
“Hi daddy. Happy Father's Day.”
My daughter's voice sounded cheerful.
“I'm sitting here eating ice cream and reading the New York Times.”
“Ooh. I want some ice cream so bad, but I'm trying to avoid dairy.”
It's good. Vanilla Swiss Almond. I'm reading about Sally Hemings. Wait, wait, wait… what do you think about this? Let me read you something.”
After reading her the headline I continued:
“Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions. How to accurately portray a woman for whom no photograph exists? (The solution: casting a shadow on a wall.) How to handle the skepticism of those unpersuaded by mounting evidence that Jefferson was indeed the father of Hemings’s children? (The solution: tell the story entirely in quotes from her son Madison.)”
“And thorniest of all, in an era of a Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”
“Daddy, it's rape. She was a slave. She was his property. If you can't say no, you can't say yes. There can be no consent. The way crimes are reported in this country has a lot to do with the color of your skin. Our society has difficulty pathologizing the behavior of white men, so they turned it into a love story”.
I felt gaslighted by the article. Thank you for clearing that up. Some white folks make my head hurt. Only they can have that fantasy.
After more conversation, she again wished me happy Father's Day and hung up.
I continued to read the article when I came across this, “John H. Works Jr., a descendant of Jefferson’s who is among the founding members of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, accuses the nonprofit organization that runs Monticello of bowing to political correctness, and insists that the entire premise of the exhibit is flawed.”
Hey John, in a way, by maintaining narcissistic fantasies of innocents you are the one who has bowed to the political correctness of the day. And to Leslie Greene Bowman’s notion that there may have been affection between them, victims of abuse often identify with their captors in an effort to save themselves. In this case, that does not eliminate the fact that she was his property. A slave.
A very similar situation is going on at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice informally known as the Lynching Memorial that just opened in Montgomery, Alabama. From accounts I've read many white folks have difficulty wrapping their minds around the sheer number of black people lynched or even the fact that a memorial to lynching exists. It appears that some white people are straining under the weight of maintaining a non deviant image of themselves.
Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, recently wrote an article for The New Yorker magazine entitled The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma where he recounted being raped as a child and the toll it has taken on his life. Here’s an excerpt:
Yes, it happened to me.
I was raped when I was eight years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted.
After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be “in trouble.”
And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.
I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you.
And anyone else who cares to listen.
What makes an experience traumatic? When it overwhelms your ability to cope. When it strikes where you are most vulnerable, when you least expect it, and when you are unprepared for it. When the experience changes the way you interact with the world. When it upends your sense of self and identity. Trauma is devastating because its magnitude exceeds your imagination, making it hard to believe.
Depending on a person’s age and stage of development, trauma can be even more debilitating because it can strike before a young person has acquired the coping skills and social support necessary to handle its effects.
We need to better understand trauma for ourselves and for others. Many people limp through life from wounds sustained from unresolved traumatic events. Hurt people hurt people. Unhappy wounded people often use cruelty toward others to compensate and feel better. We need to reduce suffering. As Díaz stated, it wasn’t just the rapes but “the agony, the bitterness, the self-recrimination, the asco, the desperate need to keep it hidden and silent. It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life.” It also fucked up the lives of others and, while I am by now means apologizing for his behavior, I am using his admission to illustrate how trauma affects people.
At eight years old or eighty years old trauma makes you feel like an outsider. Alienation from yourself and alienation from others compounds its misery. We are social animals, hardwired to connect. When we are traumatized by someone we trust it decreases our ability to reach out and trust others. Often we may even find it difficult to trust ourselves and our core beliefs about the world we inhabit thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to form healthy relationships. For some people it can make them withdraw from others, and for others it can compel them to engage in high risk behaviors of various sorts. Trauma interferes with our ability to connect with others when it damages our ability to trust.
Trauma is a fall from grace. Prior to a traumatic experience we reside in a privileged place, an innocent place, and, as a result, we feel special. Trauma happens to other people, not to us. Trauma forces us to face numerous realities. We are not special. We can be hurt. And we can be hurt by people we trust. In Díaz’s case trauma ended his childhood and rendered him unable to fully utilize relationships by forcing him to satisfy a “desperate need to keep it hidden and silent.”
We all have various strategies for managing intimacy—the distance between you and another person. Intimate relationships require vulnerability. Problems will arise in any relationship if you are trying to simultaneously make a connection and avoid being seen. In fact, some people do not derive satisfaction from intimate relationships because the closer they get to another person the more uncomfortable they become. For some they destroy relationships before giving them a chance because of the fear and pain of revealing their secrets and the risk of rejection. Many trauma survivors unable to use relationships with people turn to drugs. Drugs serve as a substitute for relationships and also as a means of numbing the painful effects of trauma.
Anyone can benefit from a more thorough understanding of trauma—both victims and perpetrators. While a victim may not be interested in the psychological motivation of the perpetrator, what should be of interest is how victims can develop into perpetrators themselves. In Díaz’s case, he went on to abuse women. Perpetrators need to be held accountable and offered trauma-informed treatment options to help them change their behavior. Those who are best able to heal from trauma, both victims and perpetrators, are those who are best able to re-enter relationships with others with the awareness that they can both be hurt and hurt others by virtue of those relationships. Those who can face the world with that awareness do better.
According to Harriet Lerner Ph.D. in a recent article, she wrote for Psychology Today entitled
“Men lose their voice in marriage far more than women do. They may distance or stonewall, telling themselves, ‘It’s not worth the fight.’ They may remove themselves emotionally from the relationship, and then feel devastated when a partner leaves them ‘out of the blue’.”
I didn't lose my voice in my marriage. I lost my voice in childhood. I lost my voice so early I didn't even know it was gone—almost like I never had a voice. Raised by old-school parents who struggled to parent, and who didn't allow a lot of discussion about feelings, my voice never fully developed. Our family was not a democracy. If anything was wrong, you either prayed to Jesus or you stuffed it. I had no sense of any other option when it came to discussing my feelings with my father. My relationship with my parents felt unsafe, and one contributing factor to feeling unsafe was talking too much.
Prior to my own experience with his violence and neglect, I watched my mother for years plead her case to my father only to learn that to talk back to him was not only useless, it was dangerous.
“Mom, please shut up before you get all of our asses whipped.”
“Who broke… Whatever?”
“I don't know.”
Those are good responses for anyone in an abusive relationship. They helped me survive my childhood and have remained difficult to relinquish to this day.
Voicelessness is a symptom of shame. Show me a man who is voiceless and I will show you a man who is ashamed. Shame pressed my mute button years before I got married. In a healthy family, different members are available to talk, provide emotional support, and help mitigate the ill effects of poor relationships with parents. Comfort can be found in them when unavailable from primary sources. I didn't have that luxury. I turned to the streets. I played sports from sunup to sundown to avoid feeling shame about what I was experiencing at home. Avoidance, distancing and stonewalling were my coping strategies that later led to drug use and other addictive behaviors to numb toxic shame. They became a way of being for me. I gave up on trying to discuss my emotional life with my parents or any other adults for that matter. My relationships didn't work that way.
On the playground, my behavior spoke volumes. I could conceal my frustration on the football field, baseball diamond, and basketball court by outperforming my peers thus gaining the acceptance I craved. Later, in the dope house, I expressed myself fluently. “Let me get another one.” My beliefs about both men and women while dormant hindered my ability to connect with intimate relationships I later discovered.
I didn't have much experience with healthy relationships. Superficial friendships built around my secrets made me a great candidate for becoming abusive once I got married. I was afraid of intimacy, of being too close to anyone. Marriage created the perfect conditions that triggered the very same behaviors that I used in my family of origin. I perceived my wife as an authority figure. I was an immature communicator. And, as a result, problems I encountered as a child manifested themselves in the family I created. Intimacy made voicelessness more uncomfortable and difficult to hide. It exposed the flaw in my game. I developed passive-aggressive tendencies from my inability to speak truth to power. I had an aversion to the authority figures in my life and I acted out behind their backs. Marriage forced me to continue what I practiced in all of my previous relationships. There was nothing wrong with marriage.
Alexithymia is the condition of having no words for feelings. Just like my father, I, too, had no words for feelings, except anger and happiness. By the time I arrived at couples therapy, it was rendered ineffective. I would have benefited more from visiting a veterinarian. I cried throughout the entire experience. My software was defective from childhood. It took the destruction of my marriage for me to break free from my previous programming and learn to take responsibility for my voice.
Men can use their voice and still end up voiceless. To compensate for perceiving themselves as powerless victims in relationships with women many men compensate by communicating from an anxious position, yelling and screaming in an effort to dominate or “win" arguments with their partners. That type of communication in relationships often has the net effect of rendering men voiceless in many ways. Yelling and screaming serve to divert the conversation away from the shame the man may feel, and it can emotionally flood and terrorize his partner. The inability to discuss shame and to thwart your partner from expressing his or her needs or concerns renders communication ineffective.
A more insidious problem resulting from voicelessness is how it undermines forgiveness. Without the ability to protest when wronged, any effort to forgive is bogus and rendered ineffective. You have to give yourself the opportunity to voice your outrage and move through that stage before you can let go and try to forgive. Any effort to bypass that stage is like trying to walk before you crawl. To deny your feelings is a denial of your feelings.
Voicelessness cost me much of my childhood and ended my marriage. It has taken individual psychotherapy, domestic violence education, and 12-Step recovery to help me clear my throat.
That was a YouTube comment posted under the video of Megyn Kelly interviewing me on the Today Show.
When you go on nationwide television and admit being abusive to women in the past you have to have thick skin to face the opinions of those who view it.
A four-minute video doesn’t tell my whole story. It's hard to tell from the video that my abusive behavior occurred over twenty-three years ago. Nor can you tell that I have been clean from drugs, including alcohol, for that same period of time. Not that drug use led me to be abusive, but it did contribute to unmanageability which often triggered my abusiveness. From the video, you can’t tell that I have dedicated my life to ending domestic violence by stopping myself and turning to help other men and women who find themselves caught in the cycle.
No one can see in that four minutes how I came to the attention of producers at NBC. I was referred to them by my friend Nancy Lemon, a law professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law. She has written much of the domestic violence law on the books in the state of California. She teaches a Domestic Violence Law class and, for over ten years, has invited me to speak to her class about domestic violence, my personal story, and perpetrators of violence against women. Many of her students go on to work on family violence issues throughout the Bay Area and the state, designing and implementing more effective domestic violence laws, policies, and programs.
You might think with so much of my story left out, why would I agree to be on the show. There is a difference between being sorry for my past behavior and making amends for it. I speak up and talk about my past to help others reduce suffering and create understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence. When you experience something traumatic, even if you created the trauma yourself, sometimes the only way you can make sense of the experience is when you help someone else understand your experience.
I'm still trying to figure out why I behaved the way that I did when I was abusive. Many children went through far worse than I did and didn't go on to become abusive. Drug use didn’t make me do it. Drug use served as a repair attempt that failed, leaving me with more unmanageable problems than when I started. I used anger and violence to cope with my feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness, my responsibilities, and my fears. No, there's something about me that made me act the way I did. That same something enabled me to respond to individual psychotherapy, domestic violence psychoeducation, and 12-Step recovery, stop using drugs, return to school at night while working, publish The Pocket Anger Manager, and became a licensed psychotherapist in California. That same something allowed me to walk into NBC studios alone and share a part of my story on a program about victims. A program with no other men and no other black people.
You can't see from the video the healing that has occurred for both me and my survivor. A producer on the Megyn Kelly show asked to speak to her, prior to my appearance, as a means of substantiating my story. I sat in on a three-way call with her and the producer while he asked if I had changed. “Yes, he’s has changed,” she said.
Recovery is available to us all. To say men who have been abusive cannot recover implies that women who have been abused cannot recover. That lie is dead. We do recover.
My recovery springs from acknowledging that I hurt someone that I loved. You can't tell from the video that not one day passes in which I don't think about my past behavior. Recovery doesn't clear your conscious; it allows you to live with what's on your conscious. That’s impossible to see in a four-minute video.
I continue working to help people—men, in particular—reflect on their behavior and take responsibility for it—as I do the same.
Noun: bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.
When we find ourselves blocked from achieving our goals, anger often arises. If we perceive the interference as a personal affront to our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we get mad. That's a natural response to goal frustration. When we walk away, nursing the seeds of anger and revenge, that's resentment. Resentments are challenging to deal with. Not only for the person who is resentful but also for the people around them.
Overall, we cope with resentment well for people not long removed from living in the wilderness with a tendency to respond to resentment with violence. However, we continue to face situations that provoke our more primitive emotions. Sometimes our resentments get the best of us.
You can take the man out of the woods, but it takes effort to take the woods out of the man. Our evolutionary history makes it easy for us to react to situations in ways that harken back to our time spent in the wilderness.
A practice that can help you improve success at controlling your emotions in general and resentment, in particular, is to accept that you are violent. Our society’s violent. It's time to stop denying the reality of who we are. We are violent to ourselves. We are violent to each other, and we are violent to the planet. Have you noticed your self-talk lately? Sure you don't act on every violent impulse or thought you have, but much of what goes on in your head is violent. Have you watched the news recently? It's a steady stream of destruction, shootouts, and wars. The effects of our violence to the planet can be seen in skinny polar bears and seagulls that eat fast food.
There was a shooting at YouTube last week. From the accounts I read, in the news, the female shooter was pissed. According to CNN Wire, “The woman's grievances against YouTube appeared to focus on censorship and revenue.” She had a resentment, grabbed her pistol, drove to YouTube headquarters, and opened fire on people she didn't even know, wounding three, killing one, and ultimately, killing herself. Her parents, aware of her resentment against YouTube but unaware of her violent intentions, notified the police--to no avail.
According to news reports, she was a vegan. This is relevant because it illustrates how resentment can blind you to your own values. A posting on one of her social media pages stated, “Animal rights are human rights.” She wouldn't eat a chicken wing but she would shoot and kill people over her resentment. Equipped with the original primitive software and capable of buying a gun she was able to make others pay for her unhappiness before taking her own life. We may never know her motivation for shooting others and committing suicide. But resentment was a contributing factor.
In a previous mass shooting, it was assumed initially that the shooter’s motivation was based on gender bias. According to Jane Coaston in her article about the Pulse nightclub shooting, “After a mass shooting, observers, including journalists, often search for a motive, sometimes even before the first victims have been identified. But the Pulse shooting proves that initial narratives about mass shooters’ motivations are often wrong — and those narratives can be far more powerful than the truth.” Human behavior has numerous motivations.
Knowing that our resentments can lead to violence and irretrievable ruptures in our relationships, I'm calling for self-control. I'm calling for anger management and impulse control. I’m calling for mental hygiene. I’m suggesting that we recognize the destructive power we possess in order to reduce gun violence. We all need to take personal responsibility for our thoughts and feelings. A resentment is corrosive. It ruins the vessel. It’s like the old people used to say, “it’s like peeing down your own leg and expecting someone else to feel it.”
Talk to someone when you feel angry. Share your feelings in order to manage them better and keep resentment at bay. Avoid using permanent solutions for temporary problems. Stay calm. Use your gun for duck hunting. But most of all anticipate the fact that you will get angry in the future. Devise a plan to protect yourself and others from any violent tendencies that may surface. Only you can prevent gun violence.
I crave therefore I am. My cravings have cravings. I want every goddamned thing. If it's salty, sweet, greasy, and moist, I'm interested. If I imagine that it will make me feel good, give me two of them. If you never gave Pookie twenty dollars to go get you one, while you waited in the rain for him to come back, you may not know what I'm talking about. For the most part, I operate without much self-awareness. I'm too busy trying to execute the algorithm to take a step back and analyze the software. I'm shallow like that.
What would planet Earth be like without craving? Much of the activity that takes place here is motivated primarily by people working to satisfy cravings. Without craving as a motivator, how would we get anything done? What if the first and only one of anything we tried satisfied us for life?
“Care for a piece of chocolate cake?”
“Naw, I had one twenty years ago and I'm still good.”
What if we had sex one time and never wanted it again?
You’re going to have to accept the fact that not only do you crave but also that you grow accustomed to people and things. You get used to new situations and once the shine wears off, it's over; you crave something new. You step onto that hedonic treadmill, rev that baby up to ten, and the hunt continues for the next salty, sweet, greasy, moist experience.
But what is a craving? Is it a thought that generates a feeling, or is it a feeling that generates a thought? Is it both? Does it matter?
Dr. Katrin Schubert, author of "Reduce Cravings: 20 quick techniques" writes: “Most of us experience cravings for pleasurable things such as food, a drink, shopping, or sex. That doesn't mean we are addicted to those substances or behaviors. Cravings are natural and only become a problem when we’re unable to control them and they negatively affect our well-being and quality of life.
We take in the world through our senses, any one of which can evoke thoughts and memories, that trip craving. But cravings are more than that. They serve as a way for one to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. At least in the short term. One of the best ways to avoid an uncomfortable thought or a feeling is to replace it with a more pleasant, less challenging thought or feeling, something that you can do without realizing it, something you can do repeatedly in a vain attempt to prevent yourself from facing challenging emotions. You can abdicate your responsibility to your cravings.
A different approach is to accept the fact that uncomfortable feelings are inevitable. It's the essence of being human, a natural part of life. Although your feelings may trigger cravings, you do not have to act on them. You can practice meditation and breathe so you can breathe again, and let the craving pass. You can turn to another person, a trusted friend, and talk to them about your urges and, in so doing, take the power out of them by coming to recognize that everyone craves. You can surrender. Cravings, distorted thoughts, and unpleasant feelings do not have the power to stop you. You are free to choose. Like storms, urges can pass.
“Racism is pervasive but not persuasively effective.”
Slavery and discrimination have existed for as long as humans have inhabited planet Earth. Since the beginning of time people the world over have treated others from tribes they didn't know differently. There were forms of slavery in which a slave could earn his freedom, marry into, and become part of the family.
Two things made American slavery stand out. One, the intercontinental movement of slaves, and two, the sheer brutality of US chattel slavery. Although slavery existed in various forms around the world, no form of slavery came close to that which existed in the New World.
While different groups worldwide discriminate against other groups it is debatable how effective those discrimination efforts have been. Jews have been discriminated against throughout the world, yet they have managed to gain skills and dominate in key professions such as law and entertainment. In the US black people have been discriminated against since setting foot in the new world, yet we dominate in sports and hip-hop. White people did not want us in basketball. But when we wre admitted, we took over. Whites did not want us in tennis. But eventually we took over. Whites did not want us in golf. We took over. White people understand better than black people that we take over.
Black people in the US have been actively resisting racism and discrimination throughout our history here. The whole world is influenced by our culture and struggle. We have turned resistance into an art form. Our resistance will continue.
Racism and discrimination have changed in some ways and remained the same in others. Black people no longer get lynched publicly. We get shot by the police, and videos of the shootings flood social media. Discriminatory government housing laws have been abolished. However, the income gap between blacks and whites resulting from those discriminatory laws has never been addressed even though black people are legally allowed to live anywhere. The Ku Klux Klan used to hide their faces behind white sheets. Today they find cloaking themselves and their racism unnecessary. So while things have changed, in some ways they have remained the same.
What should a people of color do?
Even though racism and discrimination continue to exist I do not mean to imply that people of color are not making progress. We are. Many laws have changed due to our protests and resistance. Even though our pressure on the system has borne fruit, our work is far from over. We must continue to resist.
Resistance is personal. Each one of us has to decide how to make a difference. No one can measure another person's willingness to protest and bring about change. Diversity is our strength. We need to resist in different ways and in every way. Here are three suggestions.
1. Marketable Skills
People around the world who have effectively dealt with discrimination and racism have acquired marketable skills. They have been able to gain the skills necessary to support themselves and their families while resisting. After acquiring marketable skills if we are shunned by white people we can offer those skills to other black people to generate income and opportunity for ourselves.
2. Establish Your Primary Purpose
So many individuals and businesses derail from either never establishing a primary purpose or forgetting what it is. Do what you do to the best of your ability an do not get distracted by the noise. Changing your Facebook status does not a protest make. As stated above, focus on improving your skill set and your skills can be marketed to anyone.
As a psychotherapist, I am trained to work with people who can afford my services. My training and practice also involves the development and delivery of treatment that serves as a means of resisting racism. Historically, in all areas of both medical and psychological treatment development, people of color were excluded from anything other than the experimentation process. Treatment advances were not made for us. By gaining access to the treatment development process I make sure that people of color are included.
What's good for black people is good for everyone. While people of color predominantly make up my practice, if a white person finds their ass on fire, they don't usually care when they discover me holding the fire hose.
3. Don't Forget Hack #1
Skills matter. If you can increase your income you can use the money to protest. With money, one can buy legal and political support to push the resistance further. Poverty plays a significant role in undermining our resistance efforts. Protesting with picket signs in the street has its place in any resistance movement, but financial support cannot be overlooked. Money makes a difference.
Don't be so “Down for the Cause” that you get left out. If you can't secure your own food and shelter needs you will not be able to sustain the resistance. We have a long way to go. Resist by any means but do not forget to acquire and sharpen marketable skills so you can live to resist another day.
Racism is challenging to deal with. If you have specific ways that you successfully cope with it please include them in the comment section so that we can help each other. Remember to share this post.
1. a person in charge of a worker or organization.
It’s alright to lay back and take life as it comes. There is something to be said about living life on life's terms. It's OK to relax and chill. But if that's your default mode or a socially acceptable way for you to avoid making hard decisions, I invite you to explore what it might be like for you to set goals, create a plan, and press for the mark. If your life feels stalled, you may have to put yourself on the line and step into the responsibility of whatever it is you want. All the cliches, jargon, and psychobabble in the world will not do it for you. If you haven't reached that point yet, then this post is not for you. But if your life is feeling like “Groundhog Day,” keep reading.
It’s so easy to slip into complacency. You wouldn't tolerate anyone stealing from your bank account. You would act a fool if you discovered anything like that, but when it comes to your attention like money it can be stolen. By keeping your attention on your intention and resisting this society’s tendency to steal your most valuable asset--your time-- you can take a proactive rather than reactive stance in your life.
Tim Campbell wrote in New Philosopher (Spring 2018), “We have a great deal to lose if the external world so captivates us that we never turn inward.
So contemplation supports identity, creativity, and morality—no small matters, to be sure.”
According to Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of the Titans, 80 percent of the Titans he’s interviewed have some morning routine which includes exercise, meditation, and journaling. Do you? I don't mean to be critical, but I do mean to throw a bucket of cold water on you in an effort to get you to wake up and realize you are, as the existentialist say, “condemned to freedom.” You can choose to do something different. In fact, your life has to be different before it can be better. It's up to you to make the decision to change.
Cultivate a mindset that promotes pushing your growth edges. It's that mindset that will help you identify opportunities and to work through anxiety and fear to create meaning and value for yourself. Everyone is anxious and everyone's afraid, the people who get things done, the ones who ship, know how to compartmentalize fear. With practice, you can learn to be more courageous.
If you're in a rut, according to Erika Andersen in her article “Learning to Learn” (Harvard Business Review, Spring 2018), “I'm talking about resisting the bias against doing new things, scanning the horizon for growth opportunities, and pushing yourself to acquire radically different capabilities—while still performing your job. That requires a willingness to experiment and become a novice again and again: an extremely disconcerting notion for most of us.” Good bosses have time to breathe and reflect. They manage themselves and their time in ways that enable them to see both the snapshot and the big picture. That facilitates managing projects and their anxiety in ways that produce results.
Get started. Don't get hung up getting ready to get ready. You will never have all the information if by information you really mean a guarantee that what you want to accomplish will work. If you're waiting to feel motivated, don't. Motivation usually arrives after you begin the work. So again, it comes back to your willingness to experiment and feel like a novice.
A boss sets goals, establishes timetables, and allocates resources toward the objectives. But the main thing good bosses do is learn how to learn.
“Managers and employees must practice looking inward, reflecting critically on their own behavior, identifying how they may have contributed to a problem, and then changing the way they act.” —Chris Argyris
Try doing the same thing and take charge of your life, like a boss.
“Hello, Mr. Chambers. Can you talk?”
“Sure, what’s going on?”
“I talked to you recently about my boyfriend and I starting therapy with you. He said he was exhausted from my personality, needs time, and wasn't sure if he wanted to attend therapy with me. Do you think it’s even worth it for me to try to get him to come to therapy?”
“I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds like you might also be tired of your personality. That’s not unusual. We get tired and concerned about our behavior when we behave in ways that are not effective or that do not make us or those around us happy.”
“What do you mean? I’m tired of my own behavior?”
“That’s one way we get tired, by behaving in ways that do not achieve our goals.”
“So you think my behavior is a problem?”
“We have talked on the phone twice about concerns you have about your relationship and your behavior. Nothing that happens in your relationship is entirely all your fault, and I’m not judging you. But, I sense what you have been describing is a problem for you. Anyone is capable of behaving in ways that make other people want to avoid them or end their relationship with them.”
“That hurt my feelings when you said that.”
“When I said what?”
“That I was tired of my own behavior.”
“That’s not unusual. That’s when people call me, when something in their life is not going well and they are unhappy.”
“Yeah, I just don’t know what to do about this relationship. He told me he had one foot out the door, but that he cares about me. He just doesn’t know what to do.”
“It sounds like no matter what he does you would like to stop behaving in ways that make you and him unhappy. You could always enter into therapy for yourself, without him, and see if we might be able to figure out how to help you make changes. Relationships are about attraction and not promotion. It sounds like you are unhappy and you may be pressuring him to commit when he feels unsure about it. A better approach might be to enter therapy yourself, identify your problems, make some changes, and see if he recognizes it. Even if he doesn't, you will still feel better about yourself. You really don't have to pan-handle anyone to be in a relationship with you.”
This inquiry illustrates a common problem. Your personality can kill your relationship. When considering what it takes to succeed in relationships, we often only consider our positive personality traits. However, even positive traits can become problematic when they become extreme. For example, according to Rob Kaiser, author of “Dealing with the Dark Side,” being excitable can make you appear passionate and enthusiastic on the one hand, and reactive and volatile on the other. Or being skeptical can make you appear politically astute and hard to fool in one instant yet mistrustful and quarrelsome in another instant. The trick is to improve self-awareness by studying your own behavior patterns, listening carefully to intimate partners and friends who provide you with critical feedback, and using that information to minimize or prevent your negative personality traits from spiraling out of control. By learning to do that you can prevent these patterns from poisoning your relationship.
Riding my folding bike I arrived at the bus stop at the Fruitvale BART station as the bus pulled away from the curb. Quickly, I turned my bike to catch the bus at its next stop on 35th and International Blvd. I pedaled hard, weaving through commuters as I headed toward the intercept.
Panting I arrived at the intersection of 38th and International Boulevard to find the stop light red and the grid blocked. A new white Mercedes-Benz with two young black women in the front seats, idled at the crosswalk inside the grid like the start of a drag race. The light turned green for me and I started to pedal, rolling into the crosswalk, trying to beat the bus to the stop across the street.
I felt a jolt, looked down to my left, and realized the Benz had hit me. As I lifted off the ground, holding onto my bike, flying through the air, I yelled. I jammed my left arm into the asphalt to break my fall. I landed on my ass and backpack simultaneously. As I hit the ground I lost control of my bike. It fell just outside of my reach. I locked eyes with a Latino man crossing the street, in the same direction, thinking he was coming to offer me assistance. But, instead of helping me, he nonchalantly picked up my bike and attempted to walk off with it. I jumped to my feet, took a few steps toward him and snatched my bike out of his hands as we both walked to the other side of the street together.
The two soul sistas in the Mercedes-Benz drove off as I squinted to read the license plate. Too late! The Latino man played off his aborted crime by patting me on the back and asking if I was okay. When I reached the corner, I surveyed my damaged bike and tried to fold it before the bus arrived, but something was clearly wrong. It wouldn't fold easily. I boarded the bus suddenly exhausted.
I found a seat and assessed my injuries. My left wrist felt hot and tender. The same wrist I jammed one night months ago when I fell near my house returning from Dorothy's. My lower back hurt, but it had been hurting prior to the accident, from my early morning workouts—too many Jack knife exercises. I felt fire in my left hip, but nothing was broken.
Sitting on the bus, I began to seethe thinking about the motherfucker who tried to steal my bike, the sistas in the Benz who hit me and drove off, and the bystanders who didn't attempt to help me. The pain in my left wrist and hip exceeded my frustration with all of them. By the time I reached my stop, I felt happy to be alive.
In the days following the hit-and-run, as my body began to slowly heal, I noticed I was thinking differently. My own denial about death, which I had concealed without knowing it, diminished enough for me to take in a glimpse of reality. Secretly, I believe I'm special. Death happens to other people, I told myself. It won't happen if I don't think about it. If I'm good enough to other people, if I work my 12-Step program well enough, I can prevent death from taking me at the wrong time. I can resolve all my problems, lace up all my loose ends, and die peacefully with all my family and friends around. I don't have to worry.
I don't know if I figured it out while flying through the air or in the days afterward, but life is a terminal illness and as such I need to be aware of death to live. Animals live unaware of death. Zebras don't get ulcers because they only think about lions when lions are present. I, on the other hand, am aware that, at some point, I'm going to die. I have the ability to push it to the back of my mind, which is a kind of death, but I'll get to that in a minute, and go on about my business.
The moments I laid in the street were personal. That was my brush with death. Nobody really cared. The driver didn't care. Latin dude who picked up my bike didn't care, and bystanders didn't care. It was me and death. I have to say, we have a more intimate relationship than I want to admit. Oh, he’s around. He took my mom. He took my dad. He took my friends Antonio and Lane both out of the blue. Within the last thirty days I've narrowly avoided death twice. Prior to getting hit, some nights ago, I straight-armed a car and lifted myself out of death's way again while in the crosswalk with the right of way returning home from Dorothy's house. Death is a stalker.
Life is what we do while death is busy with other people. We all live with the knowledge that death hasn't gotten around to us yet. But have I been really living in anticipation of death? Remember, I said I would get back to the idea of how well I live, pushing the thought of death out of my mind. There is no sense of urgency like the sense of urgency one gets from death breathing down one's neck. DO IT NOW! I really don't know how much time I have left. No one does, but because of my ability to push thoughts of death out of my mind I can drift into a state of complacency.
With humility, I can look at death now. I don't have unlimited time available to waste on trivialities. Thinking about your own death will make you prioritize life like nothing else. Thinking about my own death makes food taste better, makes my relationships a priority. Thinking about my own death makes connecting with family and friends that much more important. Thinking about my own death forces me to live like only the dying can with urgency and in the moment.
"Effective emotion regulation is key to satisfying relationships and long-term health and well-being, and the more we learn about emotions, the more constructive and adaptive our regulation can become."
—T. Wranik and K.R. Scherer
What we don't understand about anger can hurt us, and the people around us. Every day the media bombards us with story after story about violent crimes from around the world. One thing most accounts have in common is anger. Someone flew into a rage.
During our evolution our ancestors’ ability to anger quickly, to deter and defend against threats, helped them survive in a predacious environment. However, as we continued to evolve, live closer together, and more effectively manage predators, our need for rage decreased. But our propensity for it remained. Today, to avoid killing each other over slight provocations we need to both learn and unlearn important things about anger. Our happiness and survival depend on it. We need to accept our anger and learn how to manage it. It’s difficult to create a fire drill if you don't believe you will ever face a fire. Accepting anger enables us to be proactive rather than reactive. Prediction is the basis of control. If you can predict an event you can better prepare for it even if you totally can't stop it.
We need to unlearn that anger must be expressed, at least in the way most people think of expressing anger. It's a myth that we fill with anger and need to blow it off like steam from a kettle. Years ago, the Primal Scream movement encouraged participants to release pent up anger and aggression by screaming at the top of their lungs. That misguided practice continues to compel some people to vent their frustration by beating a pillow, hitting a heavy bag, or “keeping it real” by expressing exactly how they feel without considering the effect such behaviors may have on the people they are mad at or on bystanders. Rehearsing expressing anger tends to prime one for their next angry episode. Also, expressing anger, even when not directed at someone, can have unpredictable social consequences—friends and peers may avoid you.
Another erroneous belief is that people or situations make you angry. That belief also needs to be unlearned. When situations occur that provoke anger the way you appraise the situation, and the meaning you assign to that appraisal, can turn a pilot light into a raging fire. The way you see it and what you tell yourself about what you see determines how well you manage your impulse to rage. This is paradoxical because people and situations do actually trigger our anger, however, the way you appraise the situation determines whether you express anger constructively or destructively. Shakespeare was correct, “thinking makes it so.”
Most people agree: anger can be destructive. But what about anger’s positive qualities? Anger surfaces when our needs go unmet. When we witness injustice in the world, anger compels us to act on our own behalf or on the behalf of others. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks wanted a seat on the bus, and she got angry when ordered to get up and move to the rear of the bus. Her anger at the injustice of racial segregation in the Jim Crow South changed the course of history.
In intimate relationships, anger often indicates that we care about some issue. Used appropriately, anger can have a positive effect. Since anger is inevitable, it is also predictable. Prediction is the basis of control. We might as well recognize our mistaken beliefs and learn how to constructively use anger to improve our relationships. We can stop feigning surprise next time our blood boils, and take this opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive and learn how to effectively express anger.
According to C. Nathan DeWall Ph.D., it is theorized that self-control is comprised of three distinct systems: learning, skill, and a limited energy resource. We need to learn about our emotions to manage them more effectively. It takes skill to know not only what to do intellectually when we get angry, but also how to manage our behavior to meet the challenges posed by difficult emotions. All of us have only so much energy per day. Once we deplete our daily energy allotment, we don’t have it available to help us control our impulses or to manage other difficult tasks. A useful way to monitor our limited energy resources is to use the acronym HALT reminds us to avoid becoming too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
We need to learn about our own emotions and the emotional lives of others if we plan to improve how we deal with anger. An interesting characteristic of anger is that it is described as a "secondary emotion." Usually, when we feel anger some primary feeling such as guilt, shame, or vulnerability has been tripped, and anger signals to us and to those around us that a threat is present. Anger swells quickly not only to help us mobilize against the threat but to also help us save face among our social group. In this way, according to Raymond Novaco, anger serves as a form of image control. Anger communicates to others that “I am angry, leave me alone or I am willing to defend myself now.” That's a great feature for guys running around on the savannah hunting for protein, but not so valuable for your intimate relationships.
A better alternative today is to recognize threats, appraise situations accurately, and use words to express how you feel—provided you don't have to run. Running is still a great survival skill. Cultivating emotional intelligence provides the best opportunity for us to keep our inner caveman in check, avoid jail, and maintain both our employment and our relationships.
We all get angry. The point I’m making is not how to avoid anger but rather to express anger effectively and constructively. To that end, one of the best skills one can learn is how to calm down. We get angry for various reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that we sense danger. Before you attempt to calm down you must feel safe. Move to a safe place and make the effort to calm down. When we feel angry or anxious our breathing becomes fast, loud, shallow, and irregular. To calm down, bring your attention to your breathing and do the opposite: breathe slowly, quietly, deeply, and regularly. Thich Nhat Hanh says he can control his anger in three breaths. He’s a Buddhist monk. Don't expect to corral yours that efficiently; he's practiced meditating for years. The point is your breathing controls your nervous system. When correctly used it is very effective in regulating your emotional states.
Other than getting to safety, take care of your anger before you attempt anything else. When it comes to stress we all think we're better at managing it than we really are. We often make situations worse when we attempt to solve problems under duress with adrenaline coursing through our veins. This idea goes back to the myth that we have to get the anger out. Don't fall for it. Take the time to calm down. If you attempt to resolve a problem between you and another person while agitated, mirror neurons in your brain activate mirror neurons in the other person's brain and both of you will most likely get upset. Calm down first.
What you say to yourself when angry is important. Pay attention to negative self-talk. This may be challenging because you’re upset and you may have never considered your internal dialogue or tried to change it. Saying soothing words to yourself will help you avoid boiling over.
Optimally, in an intimate relationship, approach your partner with a soft heart, soft eyes, soft voice, and soft hands. It helps to build trust. Remember human beings, when frightened or overwhelmed, turn to each other. It's only if we have experienced some previous traumatic event that we turn on each other.
Use your words. If you are unable to express your complaint succinctly, you are either not calm enough or you have not thought about the issue well enough to discuss it effectively. Words formed into “I statements” can be very effective because the structure of the “I statement” helps you articulate the problem without blaming your partner. The object is to state the problem, how the problem makes you feel, and what you need from your partner to correct it. Here’s an example. “When you’re late coming home, I feel worried. I need you to call when you are going to be late.” Another useful approach is the “XYZ Statement.” Here’s an example. When X happens in situation Y, I felt Z. Both “I Statements” and “XYZ Statements” are non-blaming. Remember, conflicts are expressed through language. How you say things, the words you choose, can be the difference between a successful outcome or a broken relationship.
Relational statements make clear what the relationship means to you. Relational statements also help you remain calm by reminding you to remember that you are having a conflict or disagreement with an intimate partner—someone you care about. Here are some examples of relational statements. “This issue is important to me.” “You are important to me,” and “Our relationship is important to me.” Relational statements, when properly used, express the positive value you place on the relationship between you and your partner and increase intimacy while reducing anger and frustration.
Listening to understand can help keep you and your partner calm. Listening is the first step toward validating feelings. Invalidation can ignite anger and escalate a conflict faster than gasoline and matches. Listen so that you can respond to what you hear rather than the voice in your head that is often emanating from the most primitive regions of your brain—the part that only understands fight or flight. Remember, you're angry at an intimate partner, someone you care about. Listening helps you suppress impulses which is the key to expressing them constructively rather than destructively.
Anger management takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness, a willingness to stay calm, positive self-talk, compassion, the expression of your feelings using “I Statements, XYZ Statements, and Relational Statements, and active listening to validate and understand the feelings behind your partner’s words. Controlling your emotions is worth it. Practice for yourself, your partner, and for the world.
A lack of self-acceptance can sabotage you in a variety of ways. It can increase anxiety the closer you get to someone or something desirable. It can compel you to act in ways that are antithetical to your goals. It can make you withdraw during the goal acquisition stage without giving you a chance to succeed. When you feel ashamed of who you are or some aspect of yourself a satisfying relationship is hard to develop. Until you acknowledge those parts of yourself and learn to manage them, your life may remain unsatisfying. Learning to accept yourself places you in a better position to be accepted by others. It’s a hollow victory when friends and family accept you and you have trouble accepting yourself. Everyone may not like you, that’s not the point. The point is for you to like yourself and for you to have the courage to give others the opportunity to like the real you. By being more aware an authentic, you offer others the chance to choose to like the real you, not some fake invention.
Let’s distinguish between self-esteem and self-acceptance to clear up any confusion about the two before we proceed. According to Leon F. Seltzer Ph.D.: “Self-esteem refers specifically to how valuable, or worthwhile, we see ourselves, self-acceptance alludes to a far more global affirmation of self. When we're self-accepting, we're able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more "esteem-able" parts.”
Everyone is both a saint and a monster. We also may have physical features that make us feel bad about ourselves. While we may have an overall view of ourselves as worthwhile a lack of self-acceptance may interfere with our ability to accept those unfavorable characteristics. When we don’t like features we possess we may try to hide them or compensate for them in ways that allow us to cope. Our efforts to suppress, numb, or avoid the parts of who we are that we don’t like often invite other problems and make the situation worse. Someone who can’t stand being short may overcompensate by acting more macho. Someone overweight may begin smoking in a misguided effort to prevent weight gain. Someone who suffered growing up poor may vow to never want for anything in life and overspend or steal. Those coping strategies often fail and increase our problems. The macho person may find himself trying to prove how big he is in progressively dangerous ways. The smoker who fails to control her weight without smoking may ultimately find herself needing an oxygen tank. And the person who breaks the law to compensate for an impoverished childhood may wind up in jail. In short, our fixes often make accepting ourselves more difficult.
To further illustrate how our attempts to compensate for low self-acceptance can create problems, here’s an example from the Disney movie “Aladdin.” Aladdin presented himself as a prince to the princess when he was actually a beggar. As they grew closer, he became uncomfortable. Feeling increasingly anxious about who he really was and his dishonest attempt to conceal his true identity threatened to destroy their relationship. Feeling like an imposter Aladdin, ultimately, revealed his true identity and, like all things Disney, the fairy tale ended happily. In real life betraying yourself and others in that way can be disastrous.
What's interesting about the Aladdin example is how it illustrates the difference between self-esteem and self-acceptance. Aladdin’s self-esteem motivated him to strive to be with the princess. He aspired to be with someone beautiful who also had status, and he accomplished that goal. That indicated healthy self-esteem. On the other hand, dishonesty about his true identity indicated low self-acceptance. The internal conflict between his self-esteem and his self-acceptance resulted in feelings of guilt and shame about being dishonest. Those feelings triggered anxiety and self-doubt which threatened his relationship with himself and the princess.
Working to accept yourself is for heroes. It takes courage to proceed down a hero's path. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to accept your fears, discomfort, and efforts in order to embrace yourself fully-- and not just the positive “more esteem-able” parts. By feeling more comfortable with yourself, you encourage people to like the authentic you. Presenting a false front or withdrawing from relationships before you give them a chance to succeed leads to unhappiness.
The inability to accept yourself is a type of suffering. To free yourself from this attitude requires that you learn to sit with yourself and look deeply into who you are. That seems simple enough, but we all spend an extraordinary amount of time avoiding, camouflaging, and disavowing the parts of ourselves that we find unattractive. When we do this, simple things become difficult. The last thing we want to do is sit, breathe, and embrace every part of ourselves and our suffering. That’s emotional labor. To be human is to suffer. Fear prevents the type of emotional exploration I'm describing.
Exposure therapy is the number one treatment for specific phobias and other fears. If you went to see a therapist about a fear of snakes. The therapist would talk to you about snakes. He might even show you a picture of a snake. As you become more desensitized, he might even bring in a rubber snake. Eventually, as your fear of snakes decreases, he might even have you hold the rubber snake until your fear of snakes is extinguished. By sitting with and exposing yourself to your own thoughts and feelings and the anxiety they invoke, you can reduce your anxiety. To avoid feeling like an imposter, increase happiness, and improve your relationship satisfaction, practice self-acceptance.
“My girl so insecure. She always looking for shit.”
“Yea. I tell mine, if you look through my phone it's a wrap. You got ta go. Why they always looking fa stuff?”
“What do you mean, looking for stuff? What kind of stuff?
“Man, they be lookin’ for other women numbers and shit.”
“So, what you got a phone or a grenade? You leave your cell phone down and she see a message from baby, and it will blow your whole shit up. You'll be starting the New Year in a shelter or in jail.”
“That's only if she lookin’ for something. Why they so insecure?”
“I hate to tell y’all this, but you will not date secure women,” I said.
Every man in the room paused, cocked their heads to the side, and looked at me like the RCA dog.
A voice shot out of nowhere.
“You will not date an secure woman because you are insecure.”
The looks on their faces indicated in no uncertain terms that I needed to resolve the tension.
“I'm not insecure. She’s look’n fa shit.”
“Remember the meditation we just did? Remember how noisy it was all the shuffling, fidgeting, and stuff that was going on. That's insecurity. The inability to just sit still and breathe. What about all the girlfriends? You're supposed to be in a committed relationship and you're cheating. Cheating is a form of insecurity. Violence is the biggest form of insecurity there is. There can be no attack without fear. We all date and get involved with people who are equal to or less than we are. I suggest that we account for and learn to manage our own insecurity, and stop believing that it is a force outside of us, moving toward us, rather than a feeling inside of us, moving out.
The room got quiet.
Neither the mother’s personality, nor the infant’s neurological anomalies at birth, nor its IQ, nor its temperament—including its activity level and reactivity to stress—predicted whether a child would develop serious behavioral problems in adolescence. The key issue, rather, was the nature of the parent-child relationship: how parents felt about and interacted with their kids.
—The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
In my practice, working with both victims and perpetrators of intimate partner violence, one observation stands out. People who have been hit in relationships have different attitudes about hitting than people who have not been hit. Those who have been hit often believe violence is useful, necessary, and expected. When initially asked, men in my domestic violence groups do not attribute their current behavior to the harsh treatment they received as children. In fact, most offenders share one thing in common—early childhood trauma.
When we discuss corporal punishment the men in my groups often argue that the treatment they received during childhood helped them become better people. They also believe they deserved the overly punitive treatment they received from their caregivers.They often don't see how their subsequent substance abuse, criminal behavior, and domestic violence relate to the harsh treatment they received growing up. Part of my job requires drawing lines and connecting dots to help them understand the problem before they become motivated to change. Precontemplation, not necessarily denial, prevents many of them from understanding the link well enough to consciously engage the change process.
Trauma victims often blame themselves. It may be easier for them to ascribe blame to themselves than to cope with the random, unpredictable, predacious nature of trauma. Blaming themselves may serve to decrease anxiety.
Often, our suffering begins when we are quite young and continues to fester as we grow. There is a five-year-old still inside us. This child may have suffered a lot. A five-year-old is fragile and easily wounded. Without mindfulness, parents may transmit all their pain, anger, and suffering to their children.
—How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Participants in my groups have significant difficulty regulating themselves. I observed this recently when I invited them to join me in a ten-minute meditation at the beginning of a group session. They were all new to meditation and mindfulness. During the meditation, I noticed they made lots of noise and were quite restless. Their inability to sit quietly I found very annoying. I could feel myself becoming angry, as I imagined them making noise on purpose to get me to discontinue the exercise. One man even began drumming his fingers on the table next to him and talking to what sounded like himself as no one else answered. As I continued to breathe, frustrated with the noise they made and my powerlessness over their behavior. I felt the impulse to yell at them to shut up, but I held my composure. I herded my attention back to my breathing, and my anger began to cool. As it decreased, I realized they were not making noise and fidgeting on purpose. Each man, in his own way, was challenged by the silence. As I relaxed more deeply, I noticed the men making the most noise also had the most severe trauma histories. What I was actually witnessing was each man's dis-ease. Meditating with them opened a window which allowed me to observe their suffering. But more importantly, meditation allowed them to observe their own suffering. Rather than personalizing their behavior and feeling angry at them, I was able to feel compassion for them. I began to think more deeply about what each man had experienced in relationships prior to the incident that resulted in his arrest and sentencing. The gift I received from them was an opportunity to see first-hand, at least, some of the impact of witnessing and experiencing violence and victimization as children.
Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.
—Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. MFT
Once the meditation ended, we engaged in a discussion about their experience, emotional lives, and coping skills. Informed by my observations, during the exercise, I posed questions to help them see their need to avoid the discomfort of thinking about past treatment, emotional burdens, and silence. I encouraged each man to account for his own dis-ease while meditating and to consider no wives, women, or girlfriends were present. Their experience was solely their suffering—suffering they have been blaming and punishing their partners for.
When we feel unhappy, we often use cruelty toward others to make ourselves feel better.