What does it take to live a great relationship, a great partnership, a great friendship? Why is it so difficult for most of us?
There are skills that allow this to happen! Of course, it takes a lifetime to fully utilize these skills — yet much can be done in a few months. And of course, you have to know what these skills are.
Join us for a one-day workshop as we explore these skills, looking at how they can be utilized in your life, looking at what to focus on. Much can be gained in one day, the first steps of a new life, one that starts you in more successful direction.
Dave is a retired physician-psychotherapist who has spent his life exploring these skills, focusing on anger management and conflict resolution because he believes anger is the canary in the coal mine of our dysfunctional culture. His qualifications include a Master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Sciences, several diplomas in each of Gestalt Therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, plus a variety of other trainings. He also has a PhD in Wisdom Studies. His major areas of interest were and continue to be those of ‘Anger, Rage and Violation’ and ‘Communication As Emotional Process’. His publications include Blowing Out The Darkness: The Management of Emotional Life Issues, especially Anger and Rage (2008) and Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change (2012).
Dave has had his own relationship struggles; these form the base of his journey.
Date: Saturday, January 29th
Time: 0730am – 1730pm Pacific
Location: In Person (Burnaby, BC) and via Zoom, TBA
This is my second and concluding post on the need for a coup. Earlier I noted Schmookler, in The Parable Of The Tribes, suggesting that a civilization based on power (the original basis by which civilizations emerge) is not sustainable: it demonstrates neither synergy, enhancing the welfare or all, nor viability, sustainable in its continuing existence.
Schmookler also notes that justice could be the antidote of power, thereby underscoring both synergy and viability. Justice requires:
“where power is exercised . . . it should not be used to benefit the wielder of power at the expense of the health of the system as a whole” and
“where different parts of the system have conflicts of interest, the conflicts should be resolved not by their differences in power but by some moral principle which, if always followed, would ultimately be to the benefit of all in the system.”
As a species, we have not yet demonstrated the capability of synergy and viability — world governance, such as it is, is by tenuous cooperative agreement, the limits of which have been demonstrated by Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Again, simply as one example of the many instances of inequitable dynamics, Trump’s stance is that of power; it is not that of justice. Nor is power a stance of cooperation; it is a stance of domination! And it is not sustainable: either it is stopped, or the system itself will deteriorate to the point of collapse (e.g., the predictable outcome of global warming).
So how then does one deal with such insanity, in which it is necessary to develop power over power, and yet act justly. I have seen nothing in the past years to suggest an effective outcome. All of the efforts of the social movements of the past century (including feminism, racial discrimination, the environmental movement, et cetera) have been the attempt of the “people” to get the “1%” to cooperate, and have had only limited success.
Much of what has been suggested thus far is in the nature of civil disobedience. And whereas I believe it is an important tool is opposing power, it is the attempt of the weak to convince the strong to desist certain actions. It does not seem to offer any significant shift in the maturity of the strong, certainly not those who function from the power of domination.
Thus my suggestion that we need a coup! But in contrast to most coups where one form of domination simply replaces another form of domination, we need a coup in which justice replaces domination. And the coup needs to be international, including all of the major powers of the world. Although I often use the USA as an example, I am not naïve in believing that it is the only source of difficulties on this planet.
Furthermore, the only examples of sustainable justice of which I am aware have been within indigenous cultures — cultures that have resisted civilization, albeit without great success up to this point. Our track record of “civilized” process has not been very successful otherwise.
And hence, my best guess is that such a coup must come from indigenous sources, as the power to resist domination and act justly. Again in my limited exposure to cultural issues, it is the native people of North America who seem most apt to engage in sustained resistance (witness Standing Rock and Kinder-Morgan). They also have a cultural heritage that honored justice in much richer fashion than has European-based culture.
These two links discuss the ineffectiveness of modern attempts to limit the use of power, both in preventing individual tragedies and in developing just resolutions to such forces that underlie these tragedies.
An interesting example of how the interplay of legality and power work in our culture. To quote the lead-in: “A peculiar confluence of history, legal precedent and defiance has set the stage for a regulatory mutiny in California that would reverberate throughout the country.” Legally, California can regulate independently of national concerns, and controls at least a third of the auto industry, with a sizable impact on how industry must react. I am reminded of a statement that our culture has a legal system, perhaps sometimes a justice system.
I said in my last post that I would consider the possibility of a coup. At some level, I truly accept that the need for a coup is the only way in which humanity will survive. I’m not a historian, nor a philosopher, nor do I have a military background, so what follows will simply be my random thoughts regarding the issues that confront us as a civilization.
First, as noted in my original first post of this blog (see my home page), Laszlo (in Evolution: The General Theory, 1996) wrote that we are in a cascade of crises, and that we must extend ourselves into a new maturity, else we will likely perish as a species (or at least as a civilization). I also recall from my PhD research, Toynbee in A Study Of History (1946) considered that in the failing of civilizations, new ones arise at the periphery (of the old collapsing civilization) wherein a small group arises who both represents a new energy of purpose while espousing a new religion, meanwhile opposed by the old tyranny. In my dissertation, I suggested that the small group was the Cultural Creatives and the new religion was our maturing relationship with ecology. The current difficulty with both the Cultural Creatives and the ecology movement, though, is that they are disorganized, and do not present a coordinated front to oppose the oppressive forces of our current civilization. Furthermore, this past century is the first occurrence in which we as a species have come to be both a global village and a power dynamic capable of altering the dynamics of the entire ecosystem of our world; there is essentially no periphery for a new civilization — we must confront the center of the old.
I also noted in my posts about power (beginning 2016-08-16) that civilization(s) arose because the human species came into relationship with power, a relationship different from that of all other previous species. Schmookler in The Parable Of The Tribes indicated that “our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture . . . is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power” — and that there is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” In addition, “The laws of man require power, for power can [only] be controlled with power. The challenge is to design systems that use power to disarm power. Only in such an order can mankind be free.” Perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.”
Schmookler mentions a number of relevant definitions:
system: an aggregate the elements of which interact (and therefore no element of the system can be understood in isolation)
synergy: a pattern whereby each part functions in a way that enhances the welfare of the other parts as well as its own
viability: the ability to maintain without diminution whatever it is upon which its continued existence depends
Our civilization is definitely a system, yet it is neither synergistic nor viable. Our civilization is based on power, not synergy and viability. We compete rather than cooperate. We control by short-term domination rather than by consideration of the long-term. We demonstrate immense creativity, but we do not consider the impact of our creativity on future generations (in either our consumerism or our technological advances).
I am suggesting this link, not as a critique of Trump (which it is), but as an indication of the need for definitive action in stopping this kind of tribalism, a stance that likely results in major deterioration of justice and viability. The current system is not healthy.
Not much to report this week. I am still travelling, and hence not as invested in writing my blog. Most of what I read in the various sources I tap is that the world is continuing to react to Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Accord. For me this is a good thing, because it may well be the galvanizing point at which the world starts to recognize how seriously the climate issue truly is. Hopefully . . .
Otherwise, I continue my search for a way in which to utilize my skill set in the issues of global warming. Essentially my proficiency is that of personal transformation — believing that society itself is a system of individuals, and that change comes from small shifts in the cultural milieu. Again, hopefully . . .
This week, I’m presenting workshops in Ontario, exploring the skills of Authenticity. I’ll be returning in October to present Blowing Out The Darkness (my emotional/anger management workshop) and Partners Coming Together (my relationhship workshop — to which individuals can also come). I’ve also decided to expand my on-line presence by offering video coaching using one of the platforms such as Skype (my preference is Zoom.us). If interested, contact me via my website. More later.
Comment: The final email. Hopefully you have gained from this program. I wish you well!
MacQuarrie Email Program — Loose Ends and Final Comments
You have completed the thirty emails of this program. I know that this has required a lot of work on your part. I also hope that it has been an effective program for you, and that you have obtained the outcome you wish from it (Email #01).
At this point, I would very much appreciate feedback from you as to its effectiveness, especially what parts have been most useful, and what not. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My thoughts as to how you can continue:
be aware that as you learn your triggers and become more skillful in managing yourself, you will be changing the system within which you function.
people will not like this, and will attempt to sabotage you. Don’t violate them as they do so; play with the sabotage.
it is not likely that they want you to resume being angry; they may actually want you to be more healthy. However, your changes require that they themselves change. Perhaps your anger has allowed them to avoid their own anger, or served some other purpose within the system. Now they must find another way to cope, and are not prepared for this. Hence, they sabotage you and others so as to avoid their own issues — this is the nature of systems.
manage your energy. People won’t like it; manage yourself safely (Email #02 and #25).
as much as possible (safely), stop violations by others.
deal with conflict. The only person who can initiate change is yourself.
practice the skills of creative communication, cooperation, and challenge
on occasion, dive deeper into your issues, perhaps with therapy.
be aware that these learnings of the past few months will fade. The activities and tasks must be practiced for an extended time before they become second nature. Expect this — come back (or find another program) in six months or a year.
And especially, recognize that you can act your way into a new way of thinking; you cannot think your way into a new way of acting (it is action that creates change). Growth is a balance of acting and assessing — risking is essential.
Challenge yourself. For me, I am often sad about the ways in which we have created ourselves as human beings, how traumatized we are. Learn how to step into the shoes of others so as to get how difficultly they live their lives, and why they may be criticizing you (Email #30 — Dealing With Other Angry People). For example, they have likely been traumatized themselves such that they are bitter; explore how the trauma arises for them in the present in your actual contact with them.
Most important — be a participant-observer of your own internal conflicts, watching for those sailors who demonstrate wisdom (Email #19 Why We Avoid). Develop your Captain.
I learned to deal with conflict by being challenged in how I functioned — overall a very painful process. When I had had my therapy practice for a few years, I was running a group within a community organization, supposedly an association with high integrity. Gradually I came to suspect that they had many undesirable characteristics, but I did not then have the skill to challenge them effectively. Eventually I refused to work with them, a decision that was hotly challenged. It took me three months to settle my anxiety, and come to terms that I was making a good decision for myself. But it was not easy.
Several years later, someone complained to the College who governed my license. I was able to defend myself, but it took me six weeks to settle my anxiety.
Again after a few years, another complaint — this time it took six hours to settle my anxiety. It was now simply an opportunity to demonstrate that I was living my own values.
I also learned how to function by requesting feedback from others. Much of this was part of the therapy processes I attended (as participant); later, I made it a habit to request feedback from the groups I was running. The skills of maturity are best learned through feedback.
If you want more from me, read my books (see below), subscribe to this blog, or ask questions of me (email@example.com).
If convenient, attend one of my workshops; usually they are listed on my website (A Place Two Be). I also do individual work with clients, usually by some kind of video conferencing such as Zoom (my preference compared to Skype). There is a cost for these, but I am open to sliding scale depending on need.
Keep well; you deserve it.
Thank you. I hope you have both enjoyed and benefited from this program.
MacQuarrie, D. (2008). Blowing out the darkness: The management of emotional life issues, especially anger and rage. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
MacQuarrie, D. (2012). Acedia, the darkness within, and the darkness of climate change. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Both are available from AuthorHouse, and there may be a Kindle edition on Amazon.
Comment: Angry people tend to attract angry responses, likely from other angry people. If you are to live otherwise, you will need to know how to respond to other’s who are angry.
MacQuarrie Email Program #30 — Dealing With Other Angry People
In Email #01, I indicated your anger will tell you there is a difficulty, but it will not tell you if the issue is within you (powerlessness — something inappropriate within your own beliefs), or in others (conflict — something inappropriate with those around you). The primary intention of the Blowing Out method has been to release the Energy and explore the Message — to empty the Pot, and reduce the likelihood of the Pot filling again.
Hopefully, by this point in time, you have developed considerable skill in managing your own anger. However, as you undoubtedly realize, you are not alone in having difficulty with anger. So what do you do when you encounter someone else who is angry?
Previously, you might have escalated with them, with a less than desirable outcome. Your task for this email is to explore what you can do differently in such circumstances.
You probably know already that it will not do much good to suggest that they check out Angry? Change Your Life in 90 Days. Actually, the best way to recommend this program is to demonstrate to others that, compared with a few months ago, you are now much more able to manage your anger — actions speak louder than words.
So, how to deal with someone else’s anger (explore these suggestions to see if you agree):
first, monitor yourself, especially your voice tone, muscle tension, and body language. You want to be able to engage (or not) by choice, not by your own reactivity.
minimize eye contact, neither too little (often interpreted as weakness) nor too much (often confrontational) — be aware there are major variations within cultures. For example, sometimes lack of eye contact is a sign of respect.
assume a relaxed posture, and especially avoid pointing.
speak with moderate tone, and especially no profanity.
listen, listen, listen. Appreciate suggestions; be thankful for contributions.
if you will listen to them, they may be willing to listen to you.
invite time-outs to problem-solve; make an appointment to resume.
when safe, discharge your own energy so as not to contaminate your next event.
When complete, the following is a way to explore what happened (especially useful here, also in many other circumstances):
as usual, act out the situation — when you utilize your body, you are much more likely to access your other-than-conscious mind, and obtain richer data.
first, step into your own shoes (#1) to explore the event
second, act out the event from the perspective of the other (#2)
then, watch the action from the side (#3), as well as standing on a chair as you move around the event (elevated 3rd). You will gain different information from different positions.
finally, if you were dissatisfied with the original outcome, consider what else you could have done, similar to the exploration of Email #20 What Gets You Angry?
Dealing with ‘difficult people’ is actually a very complex process, partly because conflict is both normal and essential to the development of relationship, be it a group of two people or of twenty-two. When groups are forming, people are unfamiliar with each other — conflict occurs as people honestly sort their needs, and come to agreements as to how to act. Honesty is needed; niceness is often not effective in resolution. Everyone is doing their best to cope, some less effectively than others!
Those people who could be called ‘difficult’ are simply those with less skill (and perhaps have grown up in less than ideal circumstances). Most of the time, such people are demonstrating limited skill when the group itself is immature in its development. As a general rule, I assume that conflict represents immaturity of a group until it becomes very obvious that the individual is truly interruptive to the functioning of a group.
From my perspective, difficulties need to be corrected when they interfere with long-term relationship and/or the performance of tasks. Such correction however requires considerable time, often up to ten hours (or more) for resolution — a lot of work. My standards are these:
if I am the facilitator of a time-limited group, I will identify interruptive behaviors (simply name them so others are aware), tolerate them, or stop them as feasible.
if a long-term group (marriage, friendship, or work group), I will resolve, challenge, or stop inappropriate behaviors. I will also work hard to identify the ghosts and hidden agendas that often underlie conflict.
Something more needs to happen with truly difficult people — those who continue to be interruptive (major immaturity) and/or those who violate others (toxic). Some thoughts:
although much has been made of the concept of empathy in modern therapeutic circles, my experience (and that of my mentors) has been that empathy is very limited in its use.
empathy is useful for the development of safety and relationship, especially that of trust. However, it does not encourage growth, and is often conducive to continuing immaturity.
challenge (frustration) is much more promoting of growth.
early in my career as a therapist, one of my mentors pointed out the need for what he called killer instinct, best summarized by a definition from the 18th century: A gentlemen is one who does not hurt the feelings of another, unintentionally!
If I need to stop someone, I do so calmly and deliberately — it is a stance of clarity, not of anger! And I stop them.
it is important to recognize that people who violate others are limited in resources, and therefore are likely to escalate when challenged, possibly to dangerous levels.
another mentor pointed out that toxic forces are responsive neither to reason nor to empathy. Thus, the risk of escalation — be careful.
Comment: Child discipline is fraught with ‘shoulds,’ and thus a place of major difficulty. Child discipline is more accurately discipline of the parent so as to provide consistency and nurturing.
MacQuarrie Email Program #29 — Responding To Children
I chose this topic as part of the program because children are a part of the lives of everyone. Children are a source of major joy, and also of significant anger. Children are developing into individuals, and therefore resist the efforts of others to manage them. Thus, responding to children is equivalent to managing the third limb of a triangle — fraught with difficulty.
The task in this email is complex — learning to parent with care and consistency. Be aware that it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the ‘shoulds’ in this field. The bottom line is safety and respect. What are your beliefs as to how children should behave? What are you seeking?
Although most people attempt to parent well, parenting is still an isolated phenomenon within the private family. As children, many of us have been traumatized in families; I certainly had been. As such, most of us received almost no training in emotional or relationship dynamics, other than the emotional field of our own families. Because of this, we are at great risk of recreating such patterns when we themselves have children.
There is a lot I could say about why our culture frequently traumatizes children, but it would take much space. I therefore confine my remarks to skills that are needed in responding to children.
The needs of children are age-dependent; difficulties occur because of inherent age-related tasks. Children have more dreams; parents are more orientated to reality. Younger children are focused on family, learning to model family dynamics; teens are relating to peers, and learning independence. Note the directions children are moving (young children towards parants; teens away) People can only hear you when they are moving towards you; thus younger children listen; teens much less so.
For me, the simplest way to describe all these needs is in terms of safety, energy, and choice (the primary characteristics of the Triune Brain — Email #04). All children need safety (not rules, but boundaries within which they can explore), extensive nurturing (energy which adds to safety), and age-appropriate choice (risking within the boundaries of safety). Between ages 0-2, they principally need safety and nurturing.
Difficulties usually begin with the ‘terrible twos,’ and the ‘trying threes.’ Here the primary need remains safety — children between two and ten simply do not have enough life experience to make good decisions of safety; however, the additional need is to educate them towards good choice. This is called child discipline; however, it is more accurately ‘parent discipline,’ the need to provide consistency of safety and nurturing. Parents have difficulty usually because they want to control energy (the expressiveness of children), rather than safety and choice.
There are two systems I advocate for the younger age group: 1-2-3 Magic (Tom Phelan) and Inner Discipline (Barbara Colorosa). 1-2-3 Magic emphasizes the energy management (positive energy to encourage appropriate behaviours, and absence of energy to discourage undesirable behaviours (criticism is negative energy, and a form of energy reward — as is too much explaining; remember, children want energy, and negative energy is better than no energy). Inner Discipline emphasizes age-appropriate choice. Both systems emphasize safety; both require discipline on the part of parents — consistency of caring, rather than energetic negative reward.
For the age group of 10-18, the child is gradually allowed to assume responsibility and accountability for both safety and age-appropriate choice, transferring safety issues to the older teen — such that adult-adult relations can develop as the child enters their 20s, perhaps as a form of mentoring on the part of the parent. Sometimes, such consistency is encouraging that of risk-taking, and other times is restrictive due to safety concerns.
The most useful way I have of thinking about responding to children again arises from Transactional Analysis, the therapy I introduced in Email #13 Who Are My Sailors? (TA is generally very good at explanations). There I suggested each person consistently has five sailors (nurturing parent, NP; critical parent, CP; adult, A; adapted child, AC; and natural child, NC).
The Parents operate from beliefs, the Adults from thoughtful evaluation, and the Childs from feelings.
‘Grown-ups’ have all five states; ‘children’ only C states.
CP operates from ‘shoulds;’ AC is the sneaky Child.
In general, effective communication is with equivalent sailors (e.g., P-P or C-C), and poor communication when levels are crossed (e.g., P-C, P-A, or A-C). Thus, the most difficult situations occur between CP (‘you should’) and AC (‘I don’t want to!’).
Most parenting conflicts occur between CP and AC, a crossed transaction, in which the parent attempts to control the behavior of the child, independent of issues of safety and choice. Given that we all have Child sailors, younger children are predominantly Childs and teens are often Childs (while learning to have Parent and Adult sailors, eventually Captains — effective Adults).
Such crossed transactions are recipes for difficulty, especially with teens. The essential parenting need is Adult — set clean boundaries that you yourself can manage. The most effective way that I know is to ‘out-child’ the child — the skill of playfulness, together with an Adult (to provide safety). Can you be in a state of wonder? Do not lecture (P-C); do not argue (C-C). In each case, you will lose. Set boundaries (A), and wonder how the teen will respond (C).
For example, the teen wants to borrow the car, but never contributes gas. Set the car keys on the table with the instruction that the keys are available when they are replaced with $20 (to be refunded if the car is returned with a full tank of gas); otherwise the keys remain on the table. What will the teen do in response? Probably argue — do not engage. Possibly sulk or cajole — do not engage. Do not lecture. The discipline is to stay with the parameter of: Keys = $20.
Some other reading material to consider. Tom Phelan’s Surviving Your Adolescents is excellent; if possible, find the first edition — better information from my perspective. Also read Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution by Watzlawick et al.; it is the primary source whereby I learned to play.
Comment: In some fashion, we all want intimacy, but we are unwilling to risk, and thus we shift to psychological games with predictable negative outcomes. “Here we go again!” Sad.
MacQuarrie Email Program #28 — Intimacy and Relationship
A friend of mine, a cultural anthropologist, asked approximately 40,000 people how they wanted to live their lives? Essentially everyone said they wanted a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, authentic relationships, and the ability to contribute — to be able to gift to others. My friend also noted in his research that our culture is characterized by domination, greed, and self-righteousness — essentially these are the same 40,000 people, just different sailors present.
So how then do we get what we say we want? It is not easy — it is risking being vulnerable so as to give permission to the other to be vulnerable also. I summarize it as: 3Rs:
Risk not knowing what will happen, and
Requesting closeness — Let me know you. Please risk with me.)
The task of this email is for you to explore your vulnerability, and if you are willing to risk. How willing are you to have a successful relationship? Always it requires effort, and risking.
Vulnerability is the willingness to be powerless, bringing a clean thoughtful stance to issues, risking criticism (not knowing what will happen, and able to pick oneself up if the attempt does not work). Overall, men in our culture repress their feelings, and lack relationship skills; underneath this, they are actually terrified, especially of being criticized by women. Thus, the best example I have of men risking is in sexual approach. (What if the woman (or possible mate) says No?) Women in our culture experience the pressure to nurture, and do the dance of deception; generally, they are more emotionally mature than men, although they are often indirect, and act as victims. For women, the best example of being vulnerable is when they are willing to express unpleasant feedback directly. These features may be changing for younger generations; however, I do not have enough evidence to judge.
Be that as it may, we all want intimacy and connection. In Email #12, I identified what I call the three laws of experience: We want positives, it is easier to get negatives, and negatives are better than nothing. These laws determine the difference between intimacy and psychological games.
A therapy that helped me make clear distinctions here was Transactional Analysis. (Briefly I indicated this therapy in Email #13 Sailors On A Ship.) TA is about transactions — interaction.
In TA, intimacy is an unpredictable transaction with a possible positive payoff. It is high energy, high contact, and high risk, but when successful, it is very satisfying. In contrast, a psychological game is an other-than-conscious transaction with a predictable negative outcome. It is high energy, high contact, and low risk. Notice the differences between these interactions:
intimacy: high risk, positive outcome (very satisfying), unpredictable.
psychological game: low risk, negative outcome (negative is easier to get and better than nothing) , predictable.
Throughout these emails, I have repeatedly emphasized that life has required many of us live with major blocks to awareness, living into acedia rather than wisdom. Thus most people derive the energy they want via psychological games, keeping the process at the other-than-conscious level so as to block awareness of predictable negative outcomes. Sad. If you can say “Here we go again . . .,” you are a participant in a psychological game!
The classic game is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle. Here there are three roles: the persecutor (P), the victim (V), and the rescuer (R). P is criticizing V (giving energy to V), R comes along and attempts to stop this “obvious” inappropriate behavior, thereby giving energy to both P and V. Suppose each starts with 100 units of energy, and each transaction is 60 units.
Persecutor (P) blames victim (V), transferring 60 units. Rescuer also gives 60 units, 30 units to each of P and V. At the end of this round, P has 70 units, R has 40 units and V has 190 units. The basic question is: Who is winning? The victim always wins! But the game is unstable (sooner or later, someone runs out of energy). So, in order to keep the drama going, the players alternate roles. For example, Victim becomes Rescuer, and Rescuer becomes Victim. The game goes on. As an example, husband comes home drunk; wife (P) blames husband (V). Next morning, husband has a hangover (V); wife (R/V) says: “Stay in bed; I’ll get you breakfast. You had a rough night, so somebody (i.e., me) has to take care of you.”
As for resolution, Eric Berne (the TA therapist who studied psychological games in detail) stated “The only way to stop a game is to stop it!” Simplistically, you cannot play tennis with yourself (it takes two to play)! So when one player walks off the court, the game ends.
In comparison, effective relationship requires hard work. A host of skills are needed:
maintaining values — the groundwork, with often subtle differences between the individuals.
communicating and cooperating. Couples need to do much more than communicate — especially they need to cooperate in problem solving.
caring and resolving conflict. Caring is sometimes just as much work as resolving conflict. Problem solving (#27) is essential.
relationships do best when there are at least five positives for every negative.
blame has no place in relationship — blame is based on a right-wrong mentality, whereas everyone is always doing their best. When inappropriate behaviors exist, the basic question is whether the action was intended, or not. And do the individuals wish to act into better behaviors.
Sudden start-up of conflict is especially harmful.
it is necessary for the individuals to reveal themselves, especially their differences (a potential source of conflict) as feedback (not criticism).
Feedback (healthy) says “This is who I am;” criticism (unhealthy) says: This is who you should be.”
All of this, especially cooperation and gift-giving, is the basis of effective relating. Repairs of harm (e.g., authentic apologies) are essential. Management of energy (Emails #25–#26) is mandatory.
The essential stances are:
if one of us has a problem, it is our problem! It is simply where the pain surfaces.
the person who has the pain has the responsibility to initiate discussion.
Comment: Very few people like conflict — however it is a major underlying feature of relationship. For trust to build, conflict needs resolution.
MacQuarrie Email Program #27 — Conflict and Resolving Difficulties
The task for this email is to explore how you handle difficulties. Please reflect on the following:
The resolution of difficulties is a major need in the management of cooperative conflict, and also a major need in any long-term relationship (see the next email). Conflict is always part of relationship — it is simply ‘difference in a closed space (a relationship).”
Two acronyms are especially useful: SOLVE and ACT!
S: state the difficulty, and recognize that the description is incomplete. If you could describe the difficulty appropriately, it would likely be resolved already.
O: outline the ‘solutions’ attempted. They aid in clarifying the nature of the difficulty. They indicate what does not work.
L: list alternatives (brainstorm). People do it often in business, but seldom in personal issues. Sometimes, unusual approaches are most effective (using play and wonder).
V: visualize the consequences (more accurate: associate into the difficulty, and explore).
E: evaluate the results, and re-cycle as needed. The future is not predictable; you can only make your best guess, based on homework and truth-testing. If your choice did not generate a desirable outcome, simply choose a new direction.
In my therapy practice, clients would often come to me with what they considered as difficult decisions (e.g., a job change), indicating that they had studied the alternatives, and could not decide on the best option. They did not know what to do, and needed to make a decision within a few days. I would simply tell them to pick locations around the room, assigning a specific location to each of the choices. At each location in turn, they were to associate into the given option, and live it as if they were six months beyond the decision; no words or descriptions need be spoken. They felt it in their body. Then they would stand in the middle, and sway in the various directions. Invariably they knew which direction felt best! A 5-minute process — a simple resolution. All that I had done was to guide them in truth-testing the options (Email #22).
ACT! (When you find yourself in a deep hole with a shovel in your hand, put the shovel down!) The following is a modification of the Serenity Prayer:
A: Accept what will not change (i.e., the third limb). It may change, but it is not in your power to accomplish this reliably.
C: Change what will (these are your personal options of Email #26).
T: Treat yourself well. Forgive yourself — self-criticism is only useful for about 10 minutes. (Again, the first thing in such a deep hole is to put the shovel down!)
! Get out of the hole! Only then explore how you ended in the hole in the first place.
Recall that only about 30% of difficulties are solvable; the remainder are resolvable. You may not have noticed, but I am here being very precise in language — describing difficulties, not problems. Difficulties are of two kinds: 1) solvable, or 2) painful but not solvable, e.g., death, illness, et cetera). Get on with it — solve them, or accept the limitations.
Technically speaking, problems occur when we insist on solving these latter difficulties (those not solvable, only resolvable), thereby generating further pain in the process (a major example of which is attempting to “fix” the third limb of emotional triangles). [If you want to explore further, find the book Change (1974) by Watzlawick; I learned how to play from this book!]
As such, when I encounter a difficulty, I seek to determine very quickly as to whether or not there is a solution (30% — generally some kind of logical solution). I learned a great deal from Plato here — he described difficulties as logical, ethical, or emotional. But we do some very strange maneuvers with these ideas:
Logical: there is a logical mechanism to be corrected. E.g., my toaster is broken. Logically I could take it apart, analyse the fault within the circuit, replace the parts, and have my toaster back in working order. In our culture, we regard this as too expensive.
Ethical: there is an agreed-upon set of rules as to how we respond. E.g., my toaster is broken; I bought it two months ago, and the store issued a warranty of three months. I take it back to the store, and the store gives me a new toaster (and the old is ‘garbage’).
Emotional: there is no agreed-upon set of rules, only pain-pleasure principles. E.g., my toaster failed at day 90, the warranty expires at day 91, but I’m busy. I don’t get it back to the store until day 92, and tell them it failed at day 90. They would be fully within their rights to refuse to give me a new toaster, but also know that they might lose many customers when I complain about how ‘unfair’ they are! So, I get a new toaster!
Ultimately, resolution of difficulties with others comes down to genuine interest. Thereupon, the management of one’s own energy is a private affair, whereas the seeking of resolution is public between the individuals concerned. All this requires time, intention, focus and flexibility (you can have a TIFF about the issues.
As mentioned in the previous email, keeping your word is essential. Actions speak louder than words, and if you are unable to do what you say you will do, re-negotiate another resolution with the parties concerned — otherwise trust will be compromised. No trust — no resolution!
Next most important is to decide concerning what you can agree before you explore what you disagree about — this exploration of agreement is the relationship, the umbrella under which the conflict can be safely explored. Here, positives are very important. Express lots of appreciations, ideally five positives for every negative.
Third, negotiate needs, not positions. Positions are stances that come out of needs. Notice the difference between “People should not smoke in the house” (a position) compared to “I have asthma — second-hand smoke really aggravates me. I need a smoke-free environment.” (a need). Positions often generates resistance and conflict; needs usually leads to compassion and understanding.
Finally, make appointments (spontaneous discussions of difficulties are fraught with pain). Especially important is that sudden start-ups generate anxiety and resistance — always give warning of intentions. This is especially so with questions — sudden questions both surprize and generate anxiety; it is always best to state your intention prior to asking a question. E.g., “I’m curious. I don’t understand why you did that.” Notice the difference from “I don’t understand why …,” especially if the voice tone is misinterpreted.
Even more destructive is sudden start-up of criticism! Give warning and time for processing.
Comment: Having established safety for all, the next most important aspect is to distinguish whether the issue is me, or my relationship with others. And then get on with resolving the issues.
MacQuarrie Email Program #26 — The Message of Your Anger
In the previous emails, I dealt with Safety and Energy. Here we will explore The Message and The Conflict, again so as to develop personal power.
The process of Blowing Out works in that I can reliably move from a full pot of energy to that of a relatively empty pot having three characteristics:
I can feel safe (accessing choice),
I can think more clearly (choice), and
I can make a significant distinction between what is happening within me, and what is happening outside me with other people (the choice to resolve conflict).
It is not an instantaneous process — it requires time, but not a lot of time. And there are two critical choices to be made. The first is simply that of choosing a time-out. In the heat of the moment, it likely requires 2-3 seconds to make this choice. My experience is that, regardless of how overwhelmed you have been in the past, you can create this time period using the Checkbox of Change. This then allows the Blowing Out process to continue to resolution.
The MESSAGE of Powerlessness (The Familiarity of Pain from Your Past)
The second choice is that of distinguishing whether the issue is that of your own powerlessness, or that the behavior of the other has truly been inappropriate. This distinction is available because you can now think more clearly, but may require additional learning. I suggest you return to the John James Game Plan (Email #10), for it is here that you can practice recognizing “this feels familiar” (question #8). Powerlessness is recognized by emotional pain familiar from your past, indicating the surfacing of unresolved issues, buried perhaps for years.
As indicated in Email #08, if there is any significant degree of familiarity, deal with this first, at least in part, before approaching the other. I normally allow up to ten minutes for energy release, and another ten for processing, before I return to the conflict scene (which I must do — so as to satisfy the requirements of the time out). To the extent that the issues are familiar, I apologize, and indicate that I am determined to settle these old issues so as to continue to be in relationship.
Depending on the skills developed in the preceding emails, much of this work may already have been done. Or — you may need to deepen the process by working with a good therapist, someone who will assist you in further skill development, not just tell you what you should do.
The MESSAGE of True Conflict (The Other Is Inappropriate: Lies, Broken Promises, et cetera)
There are essentially four options in responding to conflict:
I can forgive — simply let it go (see Email #24 for the options of EFT).
We can cooperate — we are not stupid; we can always find a resolution eventually.
Because I can manage my energy, I can always choose to cooperate — I don’t have to like it! I choose it because I want resolution. Essentials include:
Keep my word — if I say I will do something, I do it — or I re-negotiate!
I explore what actions we need for resolution, not what we believe is true.
One of us can violate the other! If the violation is physical, leave (when safe)!
This is the one situation where I tell someone what to do — it is too dangerous!
We do not cooperate! I always choose cooperation as my first choice (unless physical violations exist); it is also my second choice unless repeated violations occur!
the basic problem is that non-cooperation always risks ending the relationship.
There are two ways in which I can express myself in conflict:
directly in relationship with another person — this can be painful, but is almost always healthy if the energy has already been released. You are being honest, stating “this is who I am,” and potentially asking “and who are you?”
indirectly, into the third limb of the triangle — likely unhealthy.
There are six ways I can respond:
I can leave! A useful response if I know how to manage the issues, and simply no longer wish to deal with them.
leave (create geographic distance), and release my energy. Always useful.
leave, and plan my return. Always useful.
I can extend love and forgiveness into relationship (useful if no violations exist).
I can extend clarity by studying the emotional issues underlying the conflict. Useful.
I can play — the most complex skill! It is a profound skill!
Some thoughts (please reflect on them carefully):
leaving, especially to release and/or plan, are always a useful option.
Plan at least three different responses for the return.
the conflict is not the relationship! The goal of good communication is to go on feeling good about the other while resolving the differences!
extending love and clarity are useful in cooperative conflict.
It helps immensely to explore what we like about and want from each other before we argue about what we don’t like!
being playful is most useful in non-cooperative conflict.
tyranny is not susceptible to reason. Leaving is the best option when violations exist; the other may escalate dangerously if opposed, especially if challenged by playful interventions.
in non-cooperative conflict, I seek a resolution that works for me, without violation of the other. The other may not like my resolution! They may escalate. Safety is mandatory!
in true playfulness, I want to be in a state of wonder as to what will happen if I do ‘X.’ As such, I have no anxiety of the other, even if they escalate — the other must deal with their own issues.