Category Archives: Questions Answered

A question of how to release anger!

The skill is in knowing what to do.
The skill is in knowing what to do.
Anger: the canary in the coal mine

I’ve said earlier why I do anger management. I am not an advocate of anger; rather I am skilled at its management. I also believe that there is little effective teaching in our society as to how to manage anger. Most of the time, we are told we should not be angry, we should be able to contain it, and we should be able to work through the conflicts wherein we are angry. Or: “Let’s talk about it so we can understand why you are angry.”

I will say again that I have little use for the word “should” — see my previous posts, six in all on sloppy language. And in general, I suggest that understanding is the booby prize; it is only useful if it leads to effective action .

In the past, when I was in the early stages of my own therapy, I could easily out-talk most therapist, and talking about my anger did nothing  for me. Fortunately I chose to work with therapists who would not put up with my bull. Early on, one of them said to me I was going to have to pound on a lot of coaches and push on a lot of doors. I took that to heart, and eventually built it into the system I call Blowing Out®, which became my workshop Blowing Out The Darkness! There are four basic principles to Blowing Out:

  • create safety, summarized as No SAD and STOP. Safety is absolutely essential — no compromises here.
    • No SAD: do not intend to scare any human being, do not attack any biological creature, and do not destroy in anger that which you would not destroy in peace.
    • STOP: if anyone feels scared (not intended) and says “Stop,” stop immediately, and find another way to deal with your energy.
  • release the energy anyway that works. learn the message of the energy. Is the anger a manifestation of your powerlessness or is it a result of truly inappropriate actions (lies, promises not kept, etc.) on the part of the other.
  • resolve the conflict, either work on your powerlessness or work on the relationship.
A question on releasing anger

Having said this as preliminary comment, let me now address a question I received today, from someone familiar with my work.

Good morning. I co-facilitate an anxiety and depression support group, and last night was a particularly heavy group. Lots going on in people’s lives. A few of my clients spoke of being very angry and not knowing what to do with their anger. I knew in that moment that the blowing out process would be a very effective skill. I have made the weekend workshop fliers available and shared my personal experience as far as the weekend goes.

I was wanting in that moment to do energy release work with them. I didn’t, but I did offer the skill of screaming into the pillow and pushing in the doorway. What else can I offer with safety and health.

My answer:

Hi

Some thoughts in response to your question of: “What else could I do in the support group I co-facilitate.”

First of all, some assumptions I am making. I assume that you emphasized the primary need for safety of all concerned (especially “No SAD [no scare, no attack, no destroy]” and “STOP” — I know you understand these terms, so I won’t define them further here). Second I assume you have previously discussed my work with your co-facilitator, so that the group leadership is not in conflict with my suggestions. In your indicating that you have shared your personal experiences of the blowing out process, these are both logical assumptions for me.

I’m not sure what you mean by “I was wanting in that moment to do energy release work with them. I didn’t but I did offer the skill of screaming into the pillow and pushing in the doorway.” I assume you talked about the release methods, perhaps demonstrated them.  In general, people do not learn from instructions; they learn from experiences, which can then be discussed. Normally what I do is to demonstrate screaming into a pillow and/or pushing in a doorway, so as to show:

  • how easy it is to do, and
  • how to do it safely (for example, make sure you emphasize pushing from the pelvis, not from the back or screaming with an open throat, not a close one).

I also generally demonstrate a) silent screaming and b) management of anxiety by the Valsalva maneuver or square breathing. As you know, there are many other options.

Once demonstrated, I ask for a volunteer, ideally someone unfamiliar with the impact of energy release, to explore how to do it (whichever method they choose) and how it feels. Then I coach the volunteer (who may still be very reluctant) to engage as fully as possible, perhaps again doing my own demonstration. I emphasize that the process of release is not mechanical, and ask the individual truly to put their emotion into the release. To the best of my ability, I make the process playful — we learn better when we play. If the release is effective, frequently the individual will say something like: “I never knew before that I could feel like this!”

I then ask the individual about the felt sense in their body, and what memories it brings up — seeking to explore the message hidden within the anger. Is the feeling familiar (powerlessness of self), or do they have the sense that the other person or situation is truly inappropriate (inappropriate to both themselves and to an average person)? The actual release work is only the tip of the iceberg; eventual empowerment of the individual is the goal.

From that message, I would then explore what needs to change for the individual. Does the individual need to work on their own powerlessness, or do they need to find ways to deal with the external conflict with the other? (Usually, the distinction between self and other is quite clear. The individual might need further coaching or therapy with either of these.)

So, what else? First, I would return to the subject of blowing out at the next meeting, reviewing the principles and asking if any questions. Repetition of information is essential in our fast-paced world. And, did anyone explore energy release at home? The difficulty with self-exploration here (at least in early attempts) is that we human beings are masters of avoiding our own issues. Depending on answers to these questions, I would ask people:

  • what is the positive intention of your anger?
  • what is the positive intention of avoidance of your anger? and
  • what would you lose if you gave up your anger?

Although the question of positive intention seems a simple question, it is a powerful one, and one that many people have difficulty answering. And most people can tell what they would gain if they gave up their anger, but what would they lose requires deeper thought (because they hold on to it for good but generally unconscious reason). Just asking these questions invites people to take personal responsibility for their own issues, and eventually to shift into exploring how much they avoid what life offers.

Also, at the next meeting, I would indicate that there are many other ways to release. I would emphasize that what is essential is the engagement in the emotion, and moving to exhaustion of the energy, SAFELY. Tell your own personal stories of when it helped you, and how.

Finally, you can remind people:

  • some release methods are noisy; others are very quiet. In all, they can be safe.
    • do it safely. If not safe, they generally won’t do it, and they will likely generate more problems if they attempt to release when not safe for both themselves and others.
    • they can do it anywhere, for example, in their car with the windows closed.
  • of how unhealthy the general population is.
    • “shoulds” are a measure of the social norms, and that people ‘should’ others as a way to sooth their own anxiety.
    • the more effective their changing, the less people will like it.
  • attendance at the Blowing Out The Darkness weekend would give them more details, and a host of other skills (and remind them there is a sliding scale for costs).

So, I hope all this helps. Ask more questions as needed.

What has influenced my life? And yours? (Part 2 of 2)

Playfulness is the key to life.
Playfulness is the key to life.

I was asked: Who influenced you the most, in your own inner work, and how? I invite you you the reader to consider also what influenced you the most? This is part 2 of my answer.

Important Books

There have been many books (I read a lot), but a few stand out as truly adding to who I am as more than intellectual content (citations are listed in the Media page of my blog, and I will only briefly comment here). These books represent much more than intellectual content for me; they have modified my worldview, how I function in the world.

  • (~1960) Stapledon, Starmaker: the basis of my spirituality.
  • (~1975) Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: affirmation of profound mystery.
  • (~1985) Fowler, Stages of faith: a focus to my spirituality.
  • (~1985) Peck, The road less traveled: the nature of love.
  • (~1986) Bennis & Nanus, Leaders: clarity on leadership.
  • (~1987) Smuts, Holism: the nature of systems.
  • (~1987) Vaihinger, Philosophy of as-if: the nature of beliefs.
  • (~1987) Watzlawick, Change: learning playfulness.
  • (~1988) Crosby, Living with Purpose When …: a value system.
  • (~1988) Doherty, Poustinia: I am a poustinik.
  • (~1990) Ross, Dancing with a ghost: the nature of paradigms.
  • (~1992) Carse, Finite & Infinite Games: Wow! Such richness.
  • (~2009) de Quincey, Radical knowing: panpsychism, now my ontology.
  • (~2016) Herman, Future primal: the nature of democracy.
  • (~2016) Schmookler, Parable of the tribes: the nature of power.

Mentors

There have been six individuals who influenced me deeply, each one because of their authenticity (their own personal growth) and their skill in working with people, all of whom I came to regard as friends (except one, who died shortly after I knew him.) From each, I learned much more than knowledge. In order of occurrence in my life:

Clark Reed (Transactional Analysis): with whom I first began therapy, wherein I had my first introduction to subpersonalities, which later became my metaphor Sailors On A Ship.

Jorge Rosner (Gestalt Therapy): a man of great authenticity and compassion, with whom I first trained and who taught me much.

Gerry Jud (Shalom Mountain): who challenged me and with whom I did most of my depth work of changing my sad story.

Arthur Kilmurray (Yoga): from whom (together with another body worker Tom Myers) I learned much about body awareness.

Ed Friedman (Family Systems): a man of vast emotional intelligence, wherein I learned of emotional triangles and the nature of play.

Christian de Quincey (Consciousness Studies): my research advisor for my PhD, teaching me much of the nature of consciousness and the inconsistencies of modern scientific materialism.

Who am I?

Overall (like everyone else) I am a complex creature:

  • a polymath (many gifts),
  • a poustinik (a hermit who is available when asked),
  • a Gestaltist (in action with life),
  • a server ( I have been exploring service for the past few years, initially taking a year of study in Hospitality)
  • I am still learning about relationship and about how to interact with complex systems, amongst many other areas.

I seek to live that playfulness is the highest skill of human beings. Here I follow two adages:

  • The most successful person is the one who is having the most fun.
  • There is much evidence that life is painful; there is no evidence that it is serious.

Enjoy!

What has influenced my life? And yours? (Part 1 of 2)

Playfulness is the key to life.
Playfulness is the key to life.

I was asked: Who influenced you the most, in your own inner work, and how?

I’m choosing to answer this question in a more general way: What were the major influences on my life? I suggest this because I have been influenced by many sources; in parallel with this, I invite you the reader to think about your own life, and what influenced you.

  • childhood issues;
  • educational (university) experiences, with many minor mentors;
  • personal experiences of profound mystery, challenging me to change my outlook in many ways;
  • many workshops on personal growth;
  • many important books (where I gained metaphors and concepts); and
  • a few mentors who were very important to me, most of whom have subsequently become friends.

Childhood and Life Experience

My childhood was extremely painful to me, including much alcoholism, suicide, sexual abuse, and other issues. Until approximately age 40, I shut down totally at the emotional level, and in my 40s, I literally had to teach myself how to feel. This subsequently gave me great skill in understanding the nature of emotionality, although it was initially extremely painful (dealing with these issues was a major part of my mid-life crisis).

I have learned a lot about relationships, both the one where I have been unsuccessful, and those where I have been more successful. I regard my wife, Janet, as my life-partner, and one of the most gifted practitioners of NLP (see below) whom I know.

Educational (University) Experiences

To compensate for emotional pain, I used my intellect to succeed— and I had a deep love of learning, perhaps an innate part of who I am. Most of the time it served me well, but it often isolated me from others. During these times there were a number of minor mentors, but I did not have the emotional skills to relate well to them; they were more distant models of who I could be, rather than direct guides to assist me.

My studies also gave me a broad exposure to vast knowledge, ranging from physics to biology to medicine to psychology. I initially planned to be a theoretical astrophysicist, studying the Cosmos; little did I realize that I would end up studying the inner cosmos of being human — and I doubt that anyone would have predicted it!

Personal Experiences of Profound Mystery

In early childhood, I had a brief mystical experience while watching dragonflies. In early university, for a brief few minutes while studying the Bohr atom, I lost consciousness, and I became an electron circling a hydrogen nucleus —with a profound sense of joy. In my early thirties, without any apparent precipitating factors, I entered a state called Cosmic Consciousness (CC) and remained in this state continuously for three years, six months at its peak, fading over the next few years. It changed my life (and still does). But after it faded, I had five years of despair, not knowing what to do with the experience. Resolving this was the beginning of my mid-life crisis.

Workshops on Personal Growth

I had some brief exposure to personal growth workshops through a process called Marriage Enrichment, but it was my first Shalom Retreat that was transformative, lifting my despair although it did not restore CC. It did however open me to the incredible power of good therapy (experiential and inductive), and has served me as a model in my own ways of working with people. Over the next ten years, I blazed through several hundred workshops, ranging from hours to weeks of duration, as well as being in personal therapy. I was thirsty, knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, as a physician, I had the money for these. Most important of all, I learned that I could transform my own pain, and eventually I combined these learnings with more formal training as a therapist so as to be able to work with people on their issues.

Being a therapist has been fascinating: I was being paid to do my own growth, learning much while being a resource. In particular, I am a Gestaltist — my basic philosophy is that of Gestalt Therapy (seeking awareness, contact, and personal responsibility). Much of my practical skill is based in NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP: which I regard as the most powerful and most playful of therapies) and Bowenian Family Systems. On an informal basis, I teach Iyengar Yoga and Vipassana Meditation.

To be continued.

Question: How do I change . . .? (Part 3 of 3)

Thes is actually my definition of freedom.
Thes is actually my definition of freedom.

Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot” (Part 3 of 3).

My final suggestion augments choice by increasing awareness; it is a suggestion that can be applied to any life pattern where the individual wants to change the pattern. I will describe the process as if I was talking to a client.

First, get a small notebook, one that you can be easily carried in a pocket. Carry a pen also. (It would be possible to use a Note app on a cell phone for this activity, but my belief is that a physical notepad and pen are more effective.)

Make a commitment to yourself that every time you do the activity you wish to change, you will take the notepad out of your pocket, and put a checkmark (√) on a page of the notepad. At the end of the day, you might have 20 checkmarks on the page. After you have done this activity for a few days, change the activity to that of making the checkmark before you do the behaviour, and then carry on with the behaviour if you so wish. (It sometimes helps initially to practice this activity with an activity that does not carry anxiety — for example, you could monitor the desire to go to the bathroom as rehearsal.)

Each day, when you are comfortable with making the checkmarks, choose one example of when you have done the activity to be changed. For that example, answer the following questions, with a few words only (KIS: Keep it simple): 1) name the behaviour, 2) what happened first (the first anything that lead you into the behaviour, 3) what happened next, 4) what happened next, 5) how did it end, 6) how did you feel at the end (probably after you said “Be careful”), 7) where in your body was the feeling (what sensation), 8) how was the feeling familiar (from earlier years or your own childhood), 9) when in your life did this particular feeling start, and 10) what feeling immediately preceded this feeling that you felt at the end, especially where in your body was this preceding feeling. (It may help to write these questions out in chart form, with blanks to be filled in each day.)

All of this is training in awareness, becoming familiar with the issues hidden within the behaviour to be changed. If the answers are fairly simple, this may be all you need to do. The recognition of the pattern, simply the requirement to make the checkmark, may interrupt the pattern enough for you to have choice, and do something different with your anxiety.

If not, deepen the process by now making checkmarks whenever you note the preceding feeling that occurred before the final feeling (see question #10 above). Carry on the same exploration with this sensation. If the behaviour is resolved, great; if not, continue to deepen the process, until you arrive at the very earliest suggestion within your body of the beginning of this pattern.

If still not resolved, there is almost certainly some early childhood learning to this behaviour (that you wish to change), something deeply engrained. It may be that the simple awareness gained from questions #8 (how familiar) and #9 (when started) will be helpful in resolution. Can you be playful with what you have learned? Or it may be that you need to work with a therapist to deepen further the resolution.

 

Question: How do I change . . .? (Part 2 of 3)

 

Thes is actually my definition of freedom.
Thes is actually my definition of freedom.

Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot” (Part 2 of 3).

So, is “Be careful” appropriate? Yes, with limitations. the child needs to know that an action has potential consequences, many of which may be painful. Especially the child needs to know if the action is dangerous. However, at some point, the child/teen needs to assume full accountability for risking dangerous actions, especially when the actions are legal. My cut-off here is age 16, but I would not quibble about age 18 or a bit older. From about 12 to 16, the child needs to gradually learn full accountability, and hence my stance is negotiated decision-making between parent and child. For example, negotiated overnight parties or return time for evening parties, but no drugs (alcohol or other) or unsupervised parties.

Between 2 and 12, I follow Phelan’s advice: one age-appropriate explanation in any three month period. Children are not stupid; they understand instructions, but learn best from experiences. If the action of the child is truly unsafe, I stop it. If the major issue is my own anxiety, I deal with my own anxiety, and seek to minimize displacing my anxiety onto the child. I also attempt to teach the child options for better choices. For example, suppose the child is climbing an unstable chair repeatedly. The first few times I would assist the child, while talking about difficulties that might occur. Sooner or later, I would simply allow the child to explore. If the child falls, I would likely ask: “Wow. How did that happen? What could you do differently next time?” (meanwhile allowing the child the experience of a painful outcome in safety). Below age 2, my responses in this example would be similar, but with more attention to safety, e.g., putting pillows around so as to minimize the dangers of falling.

But the bottom line here is that eventually the statement “Be careful” becomes an expression of the anxiety of the parent, and also becomes reinforcement of undesirable behaviour by the giving of negative attention. The child needs to learn the consequences of choice.

As for the wish to change a behavioural pattern (“How do I interrupt my pattern . . .”), this too must be mediated within the issues of safety, energy, and choice, in bottom-up fashion. Any pattern is maintained for a positive intention, usually at the other-than-conscious (OOC) level. Knowing this positive intention is very useful, in that it may provide guidance as to what other behaviour(s) would be useful instead of the current pattern. Moving towards something positive is more effective than moving away from something negative. I would ask this parent: “What is the positive intention here?” and “What else could you do instead so as to maintain this positive intention?”

There also needs to be the recognition, and acceptance, that sometimes the ‘pattern to be changed’ is appropriate. There will truly be times when it is appropriate to tell the child “Be careful,” especially when the learning situation is new or the dangers are very real, and as yet unexplored.

Is there a way that the pattern can be made fun (positive energy)? Years ago, when someone came to the door of my house, I had a dog that barked fiercely, simply part of her particular breed. But the noise was very irritating to me. Many times I attempted to teach the dog not to bark, unsuccessfully of course. Eventually I decided to play. When the dog started to bark, I would say (fiercely): “Kill. Kill. Kill,” knowing full well that I was being playful. It helped me immensely, and allowed me to relax while the dog barked. Then someone pointed out that the individual at the door might not understand my playfulness! So, thereafter I would say: “Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.” It was just as effective for me, and the dog certainly did not care. So again I would ask this parent: “How could you play with your own energy so as to minimize the impact of your anxiety on the child?”

To be continued.

Question: How do I change . . .? (Part 1 of 3)

Thes is actually my definition of freedom.
Thes is actually my definition of freedom.

Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot.” As usual, I suspect that my answer will be useful to many, so I’m addressing it as part of my general postings. Again, I am splitting my answer over several days (3 parts_.

The general principles of what I am going to discuss are:

  • Understand the emotional basis of the difficulty.
  • Understand how you yourself function at the emotional level.
  • Manage the difficulty. If at all possible, be playful with yourself.

First of all, I suspect that there are actually two questions here, one obvious and the other unstated (and subtly phrased as a should — “I’m saying it an awful lot,” a criticism of self). So what follows are my reflections on these questions. (Please note that I never have an intention to tell people what they should do — it is not effective.)

To discuss the possibility of human beings changing patterns, either of themselves or others, in any fashion requires a brief digression to understand the nature of the triune brain. The brain (mind) is organize in three levels: the brain stem, orientated to safety; the limbic system, orientated to energetic experience (energy); and the cerebral cortex, orientated to choice. It is a bottom-up processor — safety takes precedence over energy, which takes precedence over choice. As example, think of what happens with New Year’s Eve resolutions — generally they do not work, because the individual tries to make him- or herself do certain behaviours (stop smoking, etc.) that usually they do not really want to do (top-down imposition from the internal critic). If you really want to stop a behaviour, decide what you want to do instead (choice), and make the process fun (energy) while being safe (safety).

That said, child discipline is not discipline of the child — it is discipline of the parent so as to provide an optimal environment for the growth of the child. All human beings, especially children, need these three qualities in life: safety, energy, and choice. The manner in which they gain these qualities is age-dependent. Up until approximately late teenage years, it is the job of the parent to provide age-dependent safety — prior to age 2, I suggest this is an absolute requirement. After age 2, there is a conflict that parents well know, beginning with what is called “the terrible two’s.” It is a conflict because the child wants energetic experience (energy), and is not yet safe as to making healthy choices — and needs also to learn the consequences of making choices.

The job of parents is to provide:

  • age-dependent safety always (negotiable with older teens),
  • the learning of age-dependent choice after approximately age 2, and
  • negotiable energetic experience up to approximately age 16 – 18.

— with full release of the child somewhere after age 16 so that the child may become an interdependent human being, in relationship with life.

Without going into a lot of detail, there are two systems of “child discipline” that I advocate. First is the work of Tom Phelan called 1-2-3-Magic. Phelan’s work attempts to manage the energy of the child, providing positive experience as reward for healthy choices, and no experience for negative experience. Here it is important to remember what I call the Laws of Experience: 1) we want positive experience, 2) it is easier to get negative, and 3) negative is better than none. Phelan recognizes that negative experience, in this case too much explanation and/or criticism, acts as a reward for the undesired behaviour to continue. (In my opinion, Phelan’s video is more effective than his book.)

The second system, that of Barbara Colorosa’s Winning At Parenting, seeks to manage choice. Colorosa is a master of providing options for the child so as to have age-appropriate choice. For example, it is bed-time, and you want the child in pyjamas. You say to the child: “We’re going to bed. Do you want to wear your blue pyjamas or your red ones?” (Note: no option of no pyjamas, or fighting about pyjamas, or not going to bed. And in order to process the pyjama choice, the child has to accept the first statement of going to bed.) Then, if the kid wants blue top with red bottom, that is fine — age-appropriate choice.

To be continued.

References:

Colorosa, B. (1989). Winning At Parenting…Without Beating Your Kids. Littleton, CO: Pannonia International Film.

Phelan, T. W. (1996). 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Videotape and Booklet) Glen Ellyn, IL: Child Management.

Talking about important issues

When people change they lose many "old friends."
When people change they lose many “old friends.”

A couple of people have asked me to comment on the fact that they do not know how to talk about issues such as their own personal growth and/or the nature of spirituality. When they do, when they talk about how important these issues are to them, and how much they personally have been changed in these issues, other people either look away, move away, or are derisive of them in some fashion.

Not surprising! When I was young, the topics to avoid were politics and sex. But in the complexity of our modern world, the new topics to avoid seem to be personal growth and spirituality (while talking about sex or politics is common, although usually superficial).

But why? I suggest it is because others are threatened — they are somehow aware that something important is missing in their lives, but they don’t want to know it. Otherwise, they would want to do something about it, and they don’t know what to do! They will be confronted with an option glut of possibilities, most of which are likely superficial or false in their claims.

So, this post is about my thoughts on what to do so that you can talk about these issues. Please note that I do not have complete answers, but I have given the topic a lot of thought as to how I respond here. I also suggest that personal growth and spirituality are essentially cognates of the same thing, and thus I will link them in this post. As an example of this, the major definition of love that I use comes from Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (1978-2003): the will to extend oneself for spiritual growth — spirit and growth linked.

What follows is rather heady, so translate it into your own language.

First, and more important, don’t talk — demonstrate that in some profound way you have changed. Actions speak louder than words.

Second, and almost as important, proceed slowly — this is dangerous ground. You are challenging scientific materialism, the dominant ontology of the Western world, and if fact, for most people, the only paradigm of which they are aware. Scientific materialism operates from the two assumptions that 1) only the material world exists, and 2) only science can provide truth about the world (the world, not just the material world). And you are entering into areas that take years of study to do justice to them.

Scientism is the assumption that the only valid manner of seeking truth is by the scientific method. Personal growth and spirituality both challenge this latter assumption — the truths gained are not subject to analysis; even if they were, the objectification obscures the fact of how important these processes are to the individual.

So, how to challenge. I would start by one-on-one conversations (group conversations are subject to the participants being scorned by the most vociferous dissenter of the group, usually the individual who is most self-righteous and most trapped in scientific materialism). When you find an opportunity to talk about the importance of these issues to yourself, do so in simple language, perhaps a comment like “That does not make sense to me.” When they present the usual “science” or “neuroscience,” ask a question: “Are you aware that what you are saying is only an assumption?” You will probably get a blank look, in that they have never given it any thought, we are so trapped in scientific materialism. But at least, you can introduce the possibility that scientific materialism is not the only worldview. (See my book Acedia, The Darkness Within, pp. 85-94, if you want a more complete discussion of the philosophy of consciousness.)

Specifically with spirituality, you can point out that, from the 14th century onwards, science simply offered more accurate answers of the material world, but it did not prove that the older models of spirit were wrong, just simply not as accurate in this domain of matter-energy. The way I usually put it is that, “in the Christian Bible, Paul talks about powers and principalities beyond our knowing. Science did not prove this false; it merely passed out of fashion because the scientific method was very successful in explaining the world.” (I’m being very careful with my words there.) Then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.

Specifically with personal growth, you can point out how difficult it is to talk about the subject, that very few areas in life teach the skills of wisdom, and that even though you yourself are just on the beginning of glimpsing how to make wiser choices, your life is still changing for the better. Again, then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.

Proceed cautiously from there. I suggest you think of three scenarios, and imagine the conversations pertaining to each. Keep them simple. Keep them such that you leave the listener in doubt, questioning the basis of what they believe. At a later time, re-start the conversation, e.g., “I was thinking about our earlier conversation.” Then add another simple piece, like “It seems to me that there is a way of thinking about …”

You can change your world; I did!

“You should,” Part 4 (Management)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the fourth of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds. (Note: because Facebook does not easily allow paragraph markers, I am choosing to begin my paragraphs with … to make it easier to read — at least it is easy for me!)

To recap. Shoulds are the rules of social boundaries. They are an investment in the third limb of an emotional triangle, and are usually dysfunctional. They do however contain information — the rules of the social network.

The management of shoulds is a measure of maturity. To quote a poem I developed years ago:

No one is perfect; we all fall down.

The measure of maturity is how we arise,

And how we help others when they fall down.

So, how do I manage shoulds?

First of all, I attempt to digest them; I attempt to grasp the social rules that are being expressed by the should. By digest, I mean that I explore to what extent this information is of value to me. To what extent do I wish to live by this rule? Under what circumstances would I choose to act according to this rule? Or not?

Having done this, I am in position to choose how I wish to act when I next hear this should, either from someone else or from one of my own sailors. Simply put, I initiate what I call WIWI — Will I or Won’t I? What is the worst that will happen? What is the worst if I do? What is the worst if I don’t? I don’t waste time with all the nuances; they simply clutter my thinking. If I can live with the worst, the nuances don’t matter — life will unfold. If I can live with both ends of the spectrum, I simply choose whichever seems like the most fun.

Suppose I do not like either option — what then? I play. Not only is play fun, but it is the most sophisticated skill set I have (it took me ten years to learn how to play). Imagine someone (or a sailor) has told me I should do something that I do not wish to do. I will then choose to do something that is somehow appropriate to the emotional dynamics, yet is also a weird response, surprising to the other (and often to myself as well). The key is that I must create for myself a state of wonder (“I wonder what they will do with this? . . . Wow! What will they do?”). If I know they will react or be angry or be frustrated, it is not playful! When I am in a state of wonder, I am not anxious about what the other will do, and I am not invested in the third limb of this triangle.

The second thing that being playful does is that it pushes the emotional energy of the should back to the other; they must then deal with their own anxiety, anxiety that lead to the should in the first place. The difficulty here is that the other may not like my response, and may choose to escalate the pressure. So I need to be prepared — how will I respond if they do? So I do not choose to be playful when the danger is quite real! Remember — we will kill to protect the rules.

Note well: I tend not to play in cooperative situations — play jars relationships. Here, I would rather negotiate a resolution with the other, presuming cooperation. Sometimes, I will still play, but only to lighten the relationship.

Ok, enough on shoulds. I trust that you the reader can now grasp how complex the subject is.

Originally posted to Facebook 20160612

Please also see my comments on sloppy language.

“You should,” Part 3 (Emotional Triangles)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the third of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds.

From Ed Friedman I also learned of the incredible importance of emotional triangles — the laws of relationships; this information changed my life. Essentially, shoulds invest energy in the third limb of the triangle, an investment that is generally dysfunctional (unless other people want the investment).

For those who are unfamiliar with my work, an emotional triangle is the triangular relationship between any two people and a third person or issue, e.g., me and you, me and an issue (or person), you and the same issue. Since there are many people in my life, and many issues (sometimes many issues with the same person), there are many (thousands) of emotional triangles in my life (and in the life of every person). I do not live in isolation, and I am always subject to the influence of these triangles! It is the system within which I live, and systems are designed to remain the same — shoulds are one of the ways in which this occurs.

Triangle

It is also important to recognize emotional triangles can also exist (and frequently do) between the sailors within me. These internal triangles have the same rules, but are not as apparent usually. Management is also the same.

There are three laws associated with emotional triangles, with corollaries, applicable to every triangle. Imagine you and I and an issue (a sample triangle — the laws are the same for every triangle).

  1. I can only change myself. I can change my relationship with you, I can change my relationship with the issue, but I cannot change you and your relationship to the issue. This latter is called my third limb, the limb to which I do not belong; it is a relative term in that your third limb is the relationship between me and the issue. But what happens if I am anxious about you and your relationship, my third limb? These are the corollaries.
    1. When I attempt to change my third limb, the results of my efforts are not predictable. In spite of how much I think I know you, you are not predictable. You will only change when you want to do so, not when I want you to do so (these might be the same, but often not). Much of human activity involves investment in the third limb, but is cooperative and seems as though it is predictable. For example, in work environments, the boss is invariably seeking to change the third limb — but here, the employee is willing to cooperate so as to get paid!
    2. What is predictable is that, when you don’t want to change, the more I insist that you change, the more I will get the opposite of what I want. You will resist me.
    3. Under these circumstances, any pain in the triangle between us will move in my direction. Needless to say, not a recipe for success.
  2. If I change, you must change. We are connected! But, under these circumstances, you may be anxious about my changes. This will be especially true if my change is significant to the system in which I live. Corollaries:
    1. Suppose you are anxious about my change. In your anxiety, you will attempt to change your third limb, me and my relationship to the issue. This is called sabotage. It will occur, and in fact, I can know that my change is effective by the degree to which sabotage occurs. I generally tell people that changing myself is only 30% of the work of change; dealing with the sabotage is 70% of the work.
    2. Sabotage will occur even when my change is ultimately healthy for the system. Expect it; be prepared for it! Systems strive to remain stable, and therefore resist change.
  3. Change requires that I stay connected. Corollary:
    1. It takes about three months for change to work its way through the system. Rats — I have to stay and deal with the sabotage. It would be so nice if I could leave and come back when the change is complete. Tough!

As simple as these laws are, they are incredibly subtle in their usage. They also provide an active way by which to live the Serenity Prayer. The third limb refers to what I cannot change, the second law to what I can, and the boundary to the difference between these two areas. I first learned of the Serenity Prayer when I was 30; I did not learn how to use it until I learned of Emotional Triangles.

Serenity

A major aspect of the management of shoulds is, thus, to really grasp the significance of these laws.

Originally posted to Facebook 20160611

To be continued.

“You should,” Part 2 (The Crab Trap)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the second of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds.

Ed Friedman (as noted in the previous post, Ed was one of my primary mentors) used to tell a story about how to catch crabs in the ocean; he claimed it was true, although I have never been able to verify it from independent sources (hints, yes, but verification, no). Anyway, imagine a big box, maybe 6’*6’*3′, with a chicken wire bottom and no top. Attach some ropes and a float. The fisherman rows it out to where he thinks there will be crabs, puts a lot of bait in it, and pushes it over the side to sit on the floor of the ocean in maybe 10-12’ depth of water; then he (or she) comes back the next day. Crabs smell the bait, climb in, and soon there are 20 or so crabs munching away. When the bait is all gone, they are trapped.

CrabTrap

But how? There is no top, and they climbed in without difficulty, so why can they not simply climb back out. Because they will not let each other leave. Crabs are social animals. When they are in the box, they somehow recognize themselves as a group, and will not let others leave (on the ocean floor, there are normally no walls, and hence no confinement to leaving). If a crab attempts to leave, the others will pull it back into the box; if a crab insists on leaving, the others will kill it — they will tear off its claws. So when the fisherman comes back 24 hours later, here are 20 crabs, 2 dead, 18 alive. Off to market!

Human beings are social animals also. The word should, and its euphemisms, is our crab trap. And we will kill to protect this word, to keep others in line. You only need remember the wars of the 20th century to recognize how much we will kill!

We should so as to protect the rules. But what are the rules? Here it gets a bit crazy. There are essentially two major rules that we protect. The first is “Don’t think about the rules.” And the second is “Everybody has the same rules.” Weird.

We likely learn both rules before the age of three or four, in the stage of “Why, why, mummy/daddy, why.” Baby is attempting to understand the world, and its rule base. So when baby asks ‘why,’ and mummy/daddy are in good moods, they answer (baby of course then asks ‘why’ again!). Great; baby is happy.

However, when mummy/daddy are not in a good mood, baby will likely be criticized, sometimes severely, but at least with an answer like “because!” with a harsh voice tone. Baby know then that it is not safe to ask — and baby has a very high need for safety. So baby eventually stops asking. But baby also has a high need for energetic experience. This internal conflict between safety and experience eventually means that baby must repress the need to ask ‘why,’ especially when it is not safe (harsh voice tone) to the point of not even thinking about the rules (rule #1: Don’t think about the rules). Otherwise baby would ask about the rules.

But baby is now stuck — can’t ask about the rules, but must figure out the rules in order not to be criticized. The only way to do that is to guess the rule, and assume that everybody follows the same rules (rule #2). This is fine in the family, because likely everybody does follow the same rules, but when baby is older, and finds that perfect partner, the partner of course “has the same rules.” Maybe! But you can’t ask about the rules — that breaks rule #1.

As you can imagine, it gets complicated. Sometimes this is a source of major conflict in the new relationships. And sometimes it is very dangerous, because we will kill to protect the rules (note the frequency of family violations).

So, shoulds are heavy duty words!

Originally posted to Facebook, 20160610

To be continued.