Tag Archives: change management

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.

Why I do anger management

So sad.
So sad.

In one sense, this post is a digression on my current theme of visioning a mature society. But it also gets to the heart of the matter of how we are to get to this vision. For me, anger is the canary in the coal mine, and it has movement.

First, what a blog offers me.

In doing a blog, I am forced by its structure: It needs to be short and fairly concise, neither of which really suits my need to present depth. However, I go in a number of interesting directions.

  • I give major attention to how blogs attract people, a significant learning curve for me.
    • I use more lists and more subheadings — they apparently attract more attention. (Because of information overload, people seek very brief bites of information, thus very stressful and dysfunctional. Efficient, but sad!)
    • I keep the posts relatively short, forcing me to be more precise. Likely a good thing.
  • I use my meditation practice (approximately 40 minutes a day) as a way to reflect; thereby, I access my other-than-conscious mind, a very powerful workhorse for me.
  • In having pause time between blogs, I develop very interesting (to me) side-branches to the themes I want to present.

So, why anger management?

I focused on anger management as a therapist largely because anger was so much a part of my own life. With this, I soon came to realize that anger is a part of every life issue. Thus I had the opportunity to study the whole of life.

In that sense, anger is a window to cultural issues, and is a canary in the coal mine. If you want to improve any situation, augment the positives and diminish the negatives. As applied to mine conditions, for example, you work on a) education for better conditions, and b) improving the ventilation system. But if you don’t change the ventilation, education does little good. From my perspective, if our culture does not deal long-term with the underlying anger in healthy ways, much (all?) of the positive movement is ineffective.

In addition, anger has movement; it is a push against the environment. Eventually in my therapy practice, I realized that the people who were stuck were either lazy (they wouldn’t do the work) or fearful (they were afraid of the consequences of the work) — I’m not being critical here, simply attempting to identify. So in retirement, I decided to research laziness and fearfulness as the focus of my PhD. (Eventually I subsumed laziness and fearfulness, plus self-righteousness, into the ancient word, acedia.)

There are two problems with acedia:

  • there is no movement; acedia is a stuck state, and requires an existential choice by the individual that they will not stay stuck; they will move through whatever the issues are.
  • acedia is the dominant factor that has lead to the issues of climate change. As a culture, we have been unwilling to do the work of choosing a world based on justice and health.

Thus, for me, anger management has been my path to health, both individually and culturally. I’ve learned much thereby, both about the negatives and the positives.

Now, back to cultural visioning (unless I develop another digression). :)))

This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.

Towards a mature culture?

We need to learn cooperation.
We need to learn cooperation.

I indicated in my last post that, for the present, I will focus on what I believe we need to move towards so as to have an effective world culture of maturity. To repeat what I wrote last time: “I believe that the single greatest need we currently have as a species is to become a culture predominantly of cooperation. Competition will still be a part of who we are, but not the major part. How we are to get there is not clear.”

What is a vision?

In the next few posts, I will be writing what I envision might happen, but they are only my musings, not something I am locked into. The way I think of a vision is that it is the scenery on the road as I move forward with my life. There is the immediate scenery of what is actually happening around me, and there is the distant scenery of where I am hopefully heading. But, depending on many factors (especially both what I want and what others want), the distant scenery will change ¾ it is only the direction, the journey, not a fixed end-point.

As I develop this theme, I invite you the reader to consider your thoughts about how we function as a society, and what would be a more effective society. I do not mean utopia, and I do not mean a society that gives lip service to maturing — but what would it really mean? How would such a society function?

What would be a mature society?

I’m going to break it down into six sections, with subsections:

  • What would such a society value?
  • How would governance function?
  • What would be the interactions between communities?
  • How would any given community function?
  • What would daily living conditions be like?
  • What are the major obstacles to such a culture?

So, to begin.

What would such a society value? And not just value as lip service; the values would be lived on a day-to-day basis. I’ll comment on each of these in the next post.

  • The care of children would be the highest priority.
  • A cultural story that honors the pursuit of and living of wisdom.
  • An educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth.
  • Practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.
  • Governance based on planning for the “seventh generation.”
  • A judiciary system based on justice circles, not just legality.

Thoughts?

To be continued.

A Major CO2 Storage Advance

We need major advances like this in carbon drawdown.
We need major advances like this in carbon drawdown.

A very important post today, but we need more than technology: Iceland Carbon Dioxide Storage Project Locks Away Gas, and Fast. We are approaching a time when the technological issues of climate change will be resolved. The process described is fairly quick and cheap, and uses routine technology, and it can be scaled up: there’s lots of porous basaltic rock in sea beds, and though it needs lots of water, sea water will do just fine. It will take time to develop, but feasible.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, the technological issues are the least important aspect of global warming. Important, yes, but climate change is essentially only a symptom of our hubris as a human species. Until we resolve the emotional issues that underlie climate change, we are simply likely to create another way of destroying ourselves. In the past hundred years, we have had the threat of nuclear holocaust, loss of biodiversity with extensive species extinction, overpopulation, threats of mass starvation, risk of major sea level rise, only some of which are related to global warming.

Resolving the technological issues of climate change will likely be easy compared to these other issues. What will it take for us to mature as a species? Probably catastrophe such as we cannot yet imagine!

This post was originally submitted to Facebook 2016 June 11.

What is Personal Growth?

PersonalGrowth1

I was going to talk about spirituality but I thought it would be useful first to identify personal growth; I imagine you the reader have heard the term personal growth. What does it mean? For that matter, what do the terms therapy and counseling mean? What is their relation to spirituality?

What follows are my reflections. (I am not an advocate of definitions — they are too static; I have been too influenced by an Aramaic concept wherein the speaker and listener are both aware of the many connotations of words, and thus a much richer possibility of dialogue.)

Growth, in the context of this blog, refers to: Development from a lower or simpler to a higher or more complex form; evolution. Personal Growth refers to the complex act by which human beings challenge themselves to become more mature, usually both more wise and more playful; it can take many forms but often involves some form of counselling or therapy with a wiser mentor.

PersonalGrowth2Consider the following. A baby (you, for example) comes into the world as a relative blank slate (with much background programming, but a vast amount to learn). The baby is then subject to a huge amount of living, some very caring and some painful (life happens; responses occur). The child copes and adapts: responding, copying, manipulating — developing deeply embedded responses of how to cope with a complex world (these are called the Adaptive Skills[1], patterns of who we are, not just what we know). Many of these responses of the baby are too painful to be kept conscious, so they are hidden behind a wall — these responses are the skills of adaptation.

Individuals who have successfully developed these skills are generally:

  • aware of themselves and their impact on others,
  • easy to talk with (both by those in authority and by those over whom they have authority),
  • emotionally available (able to both express and describe their emotional life),
  • cognitively available (able to give and receive feedback cleanly),
  • able to delay gratification, and
  • flexible to conflict

An impressive list — some individuals have been fortunate to grow up in families where these skills are easily learned. Most of us are not so lucky — but the skills can be learned at a later stage of life.

PersonalGrowth3That is the role of personal growth and therapy. The two overlap, but they are different for me. Personal growth usually involves expansion of what I already know of myself, deepening who I am in many ways; it can be approached alone, without aid of another, but often involves good mentoring. Therapy acts on what is behind the wall — ideally it punches holes in the wall, allowing the individual to become wiser and more mature in who they are, and especially, therapy allows the development of the adaptive skill set. (The term counseling, for me, is a nebulous term that is supposed to act like therapy, but generally does not have the power of therapy.)

From my perspective, good therapy is experiential and inductive. Action, not just talking about, is required, and neither therapist nor client really knows the outcome, only that it is high risk (perhaps for both client and therapist), and fraught with pain — the wall is there for a purpose.

Finally, a number of my mentors have suggested the characteristics of a good therapist:

  • least important, they have a theoretical framework, a way of thinking and talking that allows them to discuss what has happened after they and the client have been in action.
  • they have practical experience of working with clients, and a support system that allows them to discuss what mis-takes have occurred.
  • they focus on their own personal growth, they themselves being the primary resource they bring to therapy (because therapy is a relationship, not a power trip).

This is a list I agree with — so if I am going to work with a therapist myself, I want to know they have done their own growth work. I want someone who helps me to be myself; I don’t want someone who tells me who I should be — I can read that in a book.

As for spirituality, the opening of the individual to all of who they are is the foundation of spirituality. A truism of therapy is that when an religious individual enters therapy , they usually leave less religious but more spiritual, and if they enter without religious status, they often leave more religious (and still more spiritual). Therapy promotes expansion of spirituality.

[1] Scherer, J. J. (1980). Job-related adaptive skills. Towards personal growth. In J. W. Pfeiffer & J. E. Jones (Eds.), The 1980 annual handbook for group facilitators. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. I am thankful for John’s assistance in my PhD research.

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.

 

Gamification

The games of advertising, such power.
The games of advertising, such power.

These posts are likely to be quite random in their content, at least for a while. I read a lot, and am often reactive to the content, especially when the content illustrates what I consider the insanity of our culture. Here is what I came across this morning: gamification, the latest gimmickry to sell you what you don’t want. For me, as a culture we are like teenagers who have not yet learned a sense of perspective, who are spaced out on the hype of experience. I often wonder if, as a species, we are capable of maturity.

This post was originally on my Facebook of 20160602.

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.