Another post because I think the topic/link is significant. I do not strictly regard myself as a Christian, although I am deeply spiritual — I do believe that there is an underlying meaning to the universe, and that this meaning is friendly. I also recognize that the Christian Church is the dominant religious force in our Western World, and acknowledge that its history of intolerance and bigotry, sadly, is extensive. Yet it has the possibility of greatness, and thus the concept of the emerging church, the evolving church, is important to me, and I believe, to the world.
I suggest that all of us search for meaning, including those of us who regard ourselves as a-theistic. As part of that search, we search for authentic relationship and community. And if we are to do so, we much give up our dualistic criticisms of each other, recognizing that we all search. Unfortunately, some of us, perhaps most of us, have been so damaged by the system that we do not know how to bridge these differences.
For me, the work of Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation does much in this bridging. I routinely receive his daily meditations, and value them deeply. Sometimes the language is a little too churchy, but the basic message is deeply inclusive, asking us to move to acknowledgement of the fundamental mystery of our universe, and especially the profundity of love (for me, best described as the will to extend oneself for spiritual growth).
This past week, Richard’s writings have centered on the profound changes that are taking place in the entire field of spirituality and religion, specifically but not exclusively to the Christian faith. I therefore offer this link (and its embedded links) as a source of exploration. If you wish to follow Richard’s Daily Meditations, you can subscribe at: https://cac.org/sign-up/.
The week has been busy — lots of little jobs, and also I have been having difficulty organizing a workshop I will be doing (in October) on relationship. I am taking an older workshop, one that I have never been fully satisfied with, and both reducing it in size (for a full weekend to 1½ days). Such a reduction is always difficult for me, and more so this time as I have been searching for how to focus the workshop in a way that satisfies me. What I have settled upon, and which satisfies me, is to emphasize the importance of intersubjectivity.
Intersubjectivity is a concept I learned from my research advisor Christian deQuincey when I was doing my PhD. To quote one of Christian’s books (Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness Through Relationship, 2005):
Intersubjectivity is “knowing through relationship” — a form of non-sensory, non-linguistic connection through presence and meaning, rather than through mechanism or exchanges of energy. (Kindle location 452)
Christian also distinguished three forms of intersubjectivity:
Intersubjectivity-1, the exchange of linguistic tokens (words and other sounds),
Intersubjectivity-2, where we influence each other with the meaning we promote, and
Intersubjectivity-3, where we co-create each other into a meaningful experience by the wholeness of who we each are.
For me, when I experience it, intersubjectivity-3 is the richest form of dialogue of which I have experienced.
So the workshop is becoming a process whereby we (myself and the participants) explore how to have a really great relationship. In essence then, for a given relationship, to what extent are we willing
to be authentic with each other,
to support each other to be the person we each want to be (as opposed to who we should be for the other , or for society),
when difficulties arise in the relationship (inevitable), to explore the difficulty with total honesty.
Hard work, requiring that we love ourselves as well as our partner, and that we define the truths by which we each stand (or fall). The most important place for learning about life, provided we have ways to sort the complexity.
One component of this is what the Family Therapist Murray Bowen called self-differentiation — the consistent ability to be a self while in the presence of others. Amongst his other contributions, Bowen developed a scale for self-differentiation, ranging from 0 to 100. He believed most people scored around 40, and that no one ever scored above 70 — it is simply too difficult to stay separate from the influence of others (we are not designed to do so).
Anyway, the workshop is looking interesting.
Other issues of note for the week, both on climate issues:
Last week, I listed The Unhabitable Earth, an article that discussed the worst case scenario of what we face, indicating how close it comes to doom-mongering (worst case scenarios are usually very challenging). This link (The Planet Is Warming . . .) is an excellent response to the concern re doom-mongering in regards to global warming — unfortunately, if we are to respond effectively, we each need to deal with our despair. Not fun, but necessary.
Two interesting links to the impact of plastic straws, the first on our creativity, the second on our ecology. Apparently we discard 180,000,000,000 straws a year (1,400,000 kilograms a year, 500,000,000 a day) to landfill and other forms of discard. I deliberately changed the data from 180 billion to 180,000,000,000 to emphasize the impact. And that is just drinking straws!
I’ve recently returned from Ontario, where I was presenting two workshops on Authenticity (what it means, and how to be authentic — the work required); both were well received. For me, they also illustrated the huge desire and need for people to be authentic, as well as how little teaching there is in our society regarding emotional maturity.
Question: how often have you gone to a workshop that emphasizes emotional growth, or resolving relationship issues? My guess is that, for most people, the answer is: Never!
The preceeding centuries, at least since the 18th century, have emphasized technology and consumerism, all fueled by scientific materialism and especially by neoliberalism — great for industry, but not a good combination for health, especially emotional health. For me, they are a sad reflection on the path of human development.
As I emphasized on one slide of the workshop, our history has been that of hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. As such, many of these societies have been incredibly healthy, perhaps our oldest true immediate democracies. Then we had the beginning of agriculture, with the introduction of civilization. And empire, including slavery. With the Greeks, we had the identification of democracy and the valuing of wisdom. And eventually feudalism, and functional slavery. With the Renaissance, we had science and the valuing of the individual. And industrial slavery. With the 20th century, we had technology and the valuing of women. And consumerism (and perhaps commercial slavery). Now with the 21st century, we have the information revolution and the valuing of diversity. And global warming (and The Climate Lie). Such a strange path we humans have lived.
So now we are reaping the costs of this path. Some examples follow.
Jack Kornfield often has brief but intersting comments of living with the insanity. My own stance is that we need much greater emphasis and availability of teaching on how to do this work. Otherwise such articles simply become another ‘should’ of how we should live.
We are such an interesting species! (A reminder of the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times!)
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.
I have just returned from an outstanding workshop called Men’s Rites Of Passage (MROP), provided by a men’s organization (Illuman) committed to becoming better men; it is based on spiritual traditions, but totally ecumenical and welcoming to all men regardless of personal characteristics. Over my years of therapy, I have likely attended more than 100 major workshops, and this one has clearly been one of the best, both in its organization and its clarity of work. For myself, the impact was somewhat diffuse (as noted, having done much work before); its impact on other men appears to have been profound, consistent with the quality of the workshop.
The workshop is based on the work of Richard Rohr, founder of the Center For Action And Contemplation, a Franciscian based spiritual center. Based on Richard’s book Adam’s Return: The Five Promises Of Male Initiation, the premise is that throughout the past, men have needed initiation rites so as to move them into community; otherwise men tend to be highly orientated to power dynamics. The premise makes sense to me, not that it is exclusive to men, but certainly it has been a factor in the basic power dynamics of our Western civilization.
Essentially, the workshop normalizes the pain of life journey. It is based on spiritual teachings, although non-religious and very ecumenical. It poses a variety of non-challenging interventions, yet is very powerful.
Various studies (I forget the sources) have suggested a range of life stages for men and women, the most common of which (if successfully completed) are:
early adult transition, usually in the early 20s, wherein mastery is learned,
mid-life transition, approximately age 40, wherein maturity is begun, and
eldership transition, approximately age 65, wherein wisdom predominates
this could also be called old age transition, but I dislike the connotations of this designation.
The current MROP is orientated to mid-life transition; workshops to emphasize the characteristics of the other statges are currently being developed.
From my perspective and as indicated in previous posts (my series on Mature Community, such as here), if we are to survive and thrive as a species, such work is essential to the maturing of our species. I cannot emphasize this enough, and I believe that Illuman has a major role to play in this process.
Other issues of the week:
Global Warming continues to worsen (are you surprised?).
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 email@example.com.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.