Tag Archives: violation versus violence

Anger #15 Sloppy Language

Comment: I have long maintained that one of the major ways in which you can change your life for the better is to give meticulous attention to your language for six months. The results will be dramatic! You will automatically correct many of the major difficulties you encounter.

MacQuarrie Email Program #15 — Sloppy Language

I’ve suggested in a variety of ways that the primary skill of dealing with anger (and life) is being aware of what is happening right now, in the present. [Please note: the word present is a triple entendre; it refers to now, here, and a gift to be opened. Question: Are you a gift to be opened?]

CrabTrapAt various times in the past, I have asked individuals if they are aware of what is happening right now. If pressed, most people will tell me what they are thinking; this is specifically NOT what I am seeking as an answer. I am referring to being attentive to the ongoing sensory experience of the moment. From my perspective, one of the ways I know I am present right now is that my sensory data is crisp — visual data is clear, sounds are bright, touch is detailed, et cetera.

Furthermore, one of the primary ways in which my awareness is demonstrated, to myself and to others, is in how I language my experience. Consider: Fish swim in water. (Weird statement for an email on anger.) Well, if fish could think like human beings, they probably don’t think much about water (unless it is very polluted). Yet water determines their very existence.

Consider: Human beings swim in language. I suggest that if you will pay meticulous attention to your language for six months, you will dramatically improve your life in many unexpected ways.

Task: In this and the next email, I’m going to ask you to pay detailed attention to your language for a few days (you might want to do it for six months). Please use the Checkbox of Change (Email #11) or some other tool to do so. Once a day, pick an example and journal about it. Play with the suggestions I am making in this email, and explore what differences occur.

Consider: The most important word related to awareness (and anger) is the word should. Before reading on, please make a quick list of the many things you should do today, or in the next week. (If you get past twenty, please stop.) How do you feel about this list?

Why are they shoulds? What happens if you change them to want to’s?

On the positive side, shoulds are the rules of social boundaries. They contain information — the rules of the social network. But they are an investment in the third limb of an emotional triangle (me, society, and the task), and are usually dysfunctional. I mentioned in the last email that, as children, we swallowed the rules of the family, and if healthy, we digested them, coming to our own acceptance of the rules we want to follow. But if undigested (and from childhood to now is a long period of time for something to be undigested), the rules contaminate us. Consider: The Rules are shoulds (especially the undigested rules)! They always represent an internal conflict.

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

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

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

angry15b-noshouldsSo, what can you do about shoulds. What do I do? (The following are suggestions for you.)

  • First of all, I digest them! I identify the social rules that are being expressed within the should, and decide to what extent I want this rule to be part of my life. Under what circumstances will I choose to act according to this rule? Or not?
  • Second, when I hear myself give voice (externally or internally) to should, I bring the conflict into awareness. I respond to myself with: Will I or Won’t I? What is the worst that will happen? (WIWI) What is the worst if I do? What is the worst if I don’t?
    • I don’t bother with the nuances — they just cloud the issue. If I can live with the worst, the nuances don’t matter — life will unfold.
    • If I can live with both ends of the spectrum, I simply choose whichever seems like the most fun.
  • Sometimes, I don’t like either option. What then?
    • If there is no time pressure for me to respond, I engage with the issues while in meditation. Often my other-than-conscious mind will present fascinating options.
    • If there is time pressure, I play with the energy. I choose to respond to life, so I may as well have as much fun as possible. To what extent can I be in a state of wonder concerning the issues? Again, when in a state of wonder, my other-than-conscious mind will present me with fascinating options.

[Sidebar: On my blog The Human Side of Global Warming, I have a number of posts on both shoulds and other types of sloppy language.]

Coming next: More Sloppy Language

Anger #14 The Rules

angry14-rulesComment: If you understand the rules, you will know when to follow them, and when to break them — a very powerful tool at your disposal.

MacQuarrie Email Program #14 — The Rules

Question: Why do you get angry? Please sit with this question for a few minutes, and give serious attention to the question. Why do you get angry?

The task for this email is to write down some examples of when you have had specific emotions, and then to examine the underlying mechanisms. Specifically, and without reading further, briefly write down one or two examples of when you have been: 1) angry, 2) guilty, 3) resentful, 4) embarrassed, and 5) ashamed. For each example, write down the belief that contributed to the emotional experience. Question: What are the common features of the experiences?

Now, work your way through the rest of this email, and check out whether (or not) my explanations fit the above experiences. Other instructions follow.


I said in Email #1 What is Anger? that emotions are “energy to which I give meaning and direction.” Emotions describe what is happening in your body; feelings describe what is happening in your relationships. From my perspective, the above energetic words (anger, guilt, …, all of which are emotions or feelings) are anger words, and the meaning is that someone has broken the rules. In each experience, you are pushing against something — the rules.

[A sidebar that will become important later. In each example, you are likely pushing against the third limb of the emotional triangle (external or internal) that characterizes the situation.]

But what are the rules? In each example that you wrote down, you can possibly identify what specifically you were angry about in that specific example. However, I want to go deeper; I want to explore the general characteristics of the rules that were being broken.

How do you know the rules? How did you learn the rules? What are the rules?

Imagine you are a two-year-old, playing with mommy or daddy. As a two-year-old, you are now in the Why?Why?Why? stage, repeatedly asking Why. for every experience, and when answered, returning with another Why?. Essentially you are attempting to make sense of your world, and to learn the rules of how to interact with others, specifically your parents (or your other major caretakers).

If mommy or daddy are in a good mood, they answer you, and perhaps chuckle at your persistence in asking Why. But what happens if they are not in a good mood (“a bad day at the office,” et cetera, as we all have). Then it gets tricky. Mommy and daddy are likely to be impatient, if not irritated, and at the extreme, highly critical, or worse. (The closer to worse, the more the following becomes important.)

You are a two-year-old. You are vitally dependent on mommy and daddy for security, and as a human being, you are also a pain avoider. You need to avoid mommy and daddy being critical! But how? The simplest way is to stop asking Why. But then what? How do you learn the rules?

And anyway, you are a spontaneous two-year-old; asking Why is deeply engrained. To cope with this, you bury the need to ask below consciousness, so that you indeed stop asking — you stop thinking about the rules. So, Rule #1: Don’t think about the rules!

But you still need to learn the rules! Therefore, in order not to break rule #1, you make up a second rule. Rule #2: Everybody has the same rules!

Everybody has the same rules, don’t they? It makes sense to the two-year-old. He or she looks around the family and sees that everybody is acting out the same rules, more or less, so “Everybody has the same rules!” In the family, it works.

But what happens when baby grows up, and finds a new somebody so as to form a new family, or when baby meets people from other families? Well, they have the same rules, don’t they?

No! But in order to really grasp this, baby has to break Rule #1 and think about the rules. Tricky!

But this is fundamentally how we function. And the more pain we have had in childhood, the harder for us to think, especially to think about the rules. Because it lead us into our pain. It is far easier to avoid awareness, and thus avoid pain. (Somewhat! It creates another kind of pain!)

So, now on to the emotions I asked about: anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, shame.

When angry, you are relatively conscious of what rules has been broken. Relatively!

Next, imagine the following conversation. Sailor #1 (S1) does something, or wants to do something. Sailor #2 (S2) says “Don’t do that!” S1: “Why?” S2: “You’re breaking the rules.” S1: “What rules?” S2: “Don’t ask! You’re breaking the rules again!” There is no exit from this — an exit requires that the rules be broken, which breaks the rules. Crazy, eh! This conflict between S1 and S2 is called guilt.

If instead, I imagine that you are going to criticize me (S1), I then displace S2 onto you, and again there is no exit. This conflict is called embarrassment.

As well, if you break the rules (my rules), I cannot tell you that you are breaking the rules. That would break the rules! And besides, you know you broke the rules — we have the same rules, don’t we? But I can’t ask — that breaks the rules! This conflict is called resentment.

And if in all this, I make myself bad for breaking the rules, I call the experience shame.


The exit from all of these states is to name the rules! Make them conscious, and make a clean choice as to whether or not you wish to live your life based on this rule. If you want this, make a clean choice as to whether or not you will break the rule on this occasion. It is a choice.

I maintain than anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, and shame are useful for ten minutes. In ten minutes, I can identify that I am in the state, that I have broken a rule, and that I can make a choice about the rule. It takes practice. With time, it becomes easier, almost automatic.

[A sidebar. Imagine that you have swallowed the rules, and they are sitting in your gut, undigested. And you don’t want to think about them. What then would you do with them? This is called introjection, one of the primary blocks of awareness. Otherwise, the fermenting mass can contaminate your body (retroflection), it can contaminate your mind (confluence), or you can vomit them out onto someone else (projection). Or you can digest them! It’s a choice. Incidentally, it was my experience in my own work that on occasion I actually needed to vomit.]

Coming next: Sloppy Language

Anger #13 Who Are My Sailors?

Comment: If emotional triangles are the most important and useful concept I have encountered, the concept of Sailors has been the second.

MacQuarrie Email Program #13 — Who Are My Sailors?

I closed the last email with the request that you review Email #05 The Role of The Other-Than-Conscious Mind wherein I first described Sailors On A Ship. I also suggested the possibility that there are also internal emotional triangles within you — triangles between your sailors concerning the internal issues with which you personally struggle.

To repeat the metaphor of Sailors On A Ship:

Sailors in mutiny
The internal mutiny by which we live.

The human mind is very much like a ship where the sailors have mutinied, and locked the Captain … in the cabin [brig]. Each sailor believes himself free to steer the ship as he pleases. First one sailor and then another takes over the helm, while the ship travels on a random and erratic course . . . these sailors cannot agree on a goal and, even if they could, they do not know how to navigate the ship to reach it. . . . The task of the individual is to quell this mutiny, and release the Captain . . .  Only then is he free to choose a goal, and steer a direct course to reach it.

This metaphor is said to be from Plato’s Republic (a somewhat loose interpretation from my perspective) — my primary source comes from Lori Gordon’s Passage to Intimacy: Key Concepts and Skills . . . wherein she devotes three full chapters to identifying these sailors. I recommend the book for those who want more detail than I provide in this email. [Gordon’s work is the most practical example of which I know concerning the general description of subpersonalities — yet every therapy I know describes the existence something like sailors.]

There are several tasks to be done as part of this email, but essentially they all revolve around identifying and characterizing your sailors. Please remember in using the metaphor of Sailors that it is a metaphor — it both describes imaginary characters and at the same time something very practical in usage. What you are seeking is common reproducible emotional states. For example, how are you consistently different when you are at work compared with when you are at home? Can you flesh out one or two consistent sets of characteristics to which you might give a name like “this is my parent state,” or “this is my boss state,” et cetera. These are the sailors.

Exploration #1. Consider the following questions; write down your answers in detail. Who are you (what are you like, what do you believe, how do you behave) when:

  • you are nurturing a child or caring for someone who is ill?
  • critical of someone who has made a stupid mistake?
  • thoughtfully planning a project or fixing a broken machine?
  • needing to get your own way when others object?
  • excited by a wonderful playful opportunity?

Give each of these “sailors” names, and flesh out each of them as if they are real people, independent from each other. In addition to the specific states of the questions, when else do these people exist within you? What else triggers them to show up?  How old do they feel? Do they have specific locations within your body? Collect as many details as possible, so that you can learn to recognize when they are prominent within you.

These questions describe the five ego states (or sailors) that are commonly explored in a therapy called Transactional Analysis (TA), a very useful therapy popular in the 70s and 80s.TA was the first theoretical model to which I was expose in my own therapy. In TA, these sailors are named Nurturing Parent, Critical Parent, Adult, Adapted Child, and Natural Child. However, you can give them any names that assist you in recognizing them when they are acting within you.

Exploration #2. Here is a second way to start identifying your sailors. In Email #10 The John James Game Plan, you identified three examples of being in conflict, caught with your anger. Question: What happened within you that you got caught? What was that conflict within you? There were external circumstances and people, but as well there was something happening within you. This conflict will be representable by sailors struggling with each other.

Give them names; explore their characteristics as follows.

Arrange a number of chairs (2-4 chairs) around you, and sit in one of the chairs. In your imagination, associate back into each of the conflicts in turn (see Email #09 The Pointing Finger). Notice what you are feeling, what you are saying to yourself, what you are seeing in your internal visual. Notice the familiar character of each state.

Compared to your state when relaxed (whom we could call sailor A), who is doing the feeling (who is sailor X)? If you are talking to yourself, who is doing the talking (sailor Y) and perhaps who is listening (sailor Z)? As you identify each “sailor,” shift from chair to chair, so that each sailor has a specific chair. When ready, explore each sailor using questions similar to the ones you considered in the first exploration above.

The sailors you identify in the second exploration may be the same or different from the sailors of exploration #1. In general, My experience is that most people have somewhere around six to ten common sailors within them.

When you have finished exploring these conflict situations, and have identified a number of sailors, notice how the sailors talk to each other. Notice the voice tone each one commonly uses. Notice the beliefs of each sailor. As above, write down all the characteristics that you find so as to have a detailed study of each sailor.

As a final exploration (#3), have an extended conversation between any two or three sailors that you have found in any of these exercises. Imagine a conflict within you. What do they say to each other? How do each of you act. You can do it sitting in chairs, or standing/moving about the room. But act it out, with movement! Don’t just think it out! There is always vastly more information available in the action than there is in passive sitting.

Now: stand outside this conversation as if you are observing it from a neutral perspective. Associate into the state we named above as Sailor A, your relaxed state. From this calm perspective, what can you say about this conflict? What do you see? What do you hear? What emotional triangles are present (the internal triangles)? Who is powerful in this conflict? Who is powerful in a subtle way, perhaps in a sneaky way?

And consider this question: In this conflict, is anyone else present? Is there a sailor (or two) present, but sort of hiding in the background? If so, who is this sailor?

Continue to explore. These are the crew members of your ship, and almost certainly there are a few mutineers present. Who are they? And tentatively, who might the Captain be? [Over time as you explore further, the Captain will gradually emerge.]

Coming next: Blocks of Awareness

Anger #12 Emotional Triangles

The basic emotional triangle.
The most important diagram of my life.

Comment: As noted, this is the most useful concept I have encountered, in over twenty-five years of researching emotional issues.

MacQuarrie Email Program #12 — Emotional Triangles

The concept of emotional triangles, what I also call the Three Laws of Relationships, is the most important concept that I have encountered in my personal growth work. The laws seem simple, but they are also incredibly subtle in how they operate.

Before describing them, I want to describe what I call the Three Laws of Experience, again very simple but very subtle. (Usually these laws do not show up in obvious fashion, but they are often in the background, so watch for them.) These laws supplement the Laws of Relationships.

  1. All human beings want positive experience (love, respect, acceptance, et cetera).
  2. It is easier to get negative experience (conflict, pain, et cetera) than it is to get positive.
  3. Negative experience is better than no experience.

Consider: if you put two kids alone in a room with fifty toys on the floor, what is predictable? They will fight over one toy, right! Why? The mechanism is hidden in the Laws of Experience.

Put one child in a room with 50 toys. The child will play quietly for a while, and then will “bug” the parents — “I’m bored! Come play with me.” Right? The child wants more energy (attention or experience). The parents will then play with the child (positive) or criticize the child (negative: such the child becomes quiet — negative is better than none). Add a second child — more energy; the two children will play together. But sooner or later, one child will want to do one thing, and the second something else. The two kids will not know how to negotiate a resolution, and rather than separate (no energy), they will fight (negative is better than none).

angry12b-emotionaltrianglesThe Laws of Relationships

Now, emotional triangles. A triangle is a geometric figure, with three sides and three apices. An emotional triangle is any two people and a third person or issue (the apices); the relationships between any two are the sides. An important concept is what is called the 3rd limb, a relative term for the relationship opposite any given person. In the first diagram above, I show my 3rd limb; your 3rd limb is the relationship between me and the issue.

Furthermore, human beings exist always within a network of thousands of overlapping emotional triangles, a system. Each of the dots of the accompanying diagram belongs to many triangles. And any system is, by definition, designed to remain stable, until a big enough change shifts its equilibrium, to a new semi-stable position. Note: big change needed!

The Three Laws of Relationships (with corollaries) state, for every triangle of the system:

  1. I can only change that to which I am connected (myself, and my direct relationships).
    • But if I get anxious about what others are doing (my 3rd limb), I likely attempt to change them. The results of my attempts are neither predictable nor guaranteed.
    • What is guaranteed is that, the more I persist, the more others will resist my attempts, and the more pain I will encounter.
  2. If I change, others must change.
    • They have no choice — we are connected. The stable response time of the system is approximately three months. Systems require time for change to occur.
    • If my change is significant (big!) to the system, others will not like it (even if my change adds health to the system), and they will in some way attempt to sabotage.
  3. Change requires I stay connected.
    • My life energy impacts others, and I must stay connected to allow my change to impact over time. Can I stay non-anxious while I stay connected?

For now, just pay attention to the three primary laws (1-2-3): I can only change that to which I am directly connected; if I change, others must change; and change requires I stay connected. They sound simple, don’t they? Yet they are an operational definition of the Serenity Prayer.

SerenityIf you are not aware of it, the Serenity Prayer is one of the most popular poems of the entire world, often used in 12-step addiction programs. I first heard it when I was about 28 — I liked it, but quite frankly I didn’t know what to do with it. What the concept of emotional triangles has done for me is to give me a way of living the serenity prayer (a so-called operational definition!).

God grant me:

The Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can, and

The Wisdom to know the difference.

(The popular version, not quite the way Niebuhr wrote it, but essentially the same.) As mentioned above, there are many subtle aspects to emotional triangles, and I will be covering some of them in future emails.

Now, your task for this email. Take a piece of paper and write down two lists:

  • the many people that you encounter on a daily basis (both personal and work) , and
  • the many issues you deal with on a daily basis (organizing kids, problems at home or work, plans for the future, et cetera), both your own issues and those of others.

Now circle those you consider most important, people and issues. Especially circle those aspects where you encounter anger, your own or that of others towards you.

Using the items you have circled, make a diagram similar to the second diagram above (a system of overlapping triangles). Preferably make the diagram on a full page, with color, and mark in red those relationships wherein there is anger. Post it on your wall.

A general statement for you to consider: Anger is always about the 3rd limb. (There may be exceptions, but they are not common.) My anger always references that I am angry about something that belongs to the limb about which I do not have direct control. Management of anger always requires living into the Serenity Prayer.

Now, what do you personally need so as to live into what you can change, rather than focusing on what you cannot change. If necessary, refer back to Email #09 The Pointing Finger.

I’ll explore how to deal with other people’s anger in a later email.

Finally, remember Email #05 The Role of The Other-Than-Conscious Mind where I described Sailors On A Ship. Consider the possibility that there are many triangles within you — triangles between your sailors concerning the internal issues with which you personally struggle.

Coming next: Who Are My Sailors?

Anger #11 The Checkbox of Change

Comment: The task suggested seems simple, yet it is profoundly powerful in initiating change. The other-than-conscious body-mind wants to be healthy, and will do so if allowed!

MacQuarrie Email Program #11 — The Checkbox of Change

As awareness is tracked, relief occurs.

The activity of the last email, the John James Game Plan, is very useful for exploring patterns, but in general, is less useful for creating change — this is simply because other-than-conscious actions are difficult to change.

This activity, the Checkbox of Change, expands your awareness and options.

Consider any simple behavior that you would like to change. Take a piece of paper and write about it. Be very specific. Identify how you will know when you are doing the behavior: what is the body sensation or sensory information that you will use to recognize the behavior.

For this activity, you will also need to have some way of briefly recording day-to-day events as they occur. As you think about this task, consider how you can achieve it. My suggestions are:

  • carry a small notebook and pen or pencil, or
  • get an app such as Dragon Dictation on your smart phone.

For starters, pick a behaviour that has little emotional significance for you. I’ll use my desire to go to the bathroom as an example. Everybody has this need, and everybody knows when they need to do so — but how do they know when. For me, I get a brief (but distinct) sensation of fullness low in my abdomen, just where my bladder lies. As soon as I get that sensation, I say to myself “Oh, where is the bathroom,” and then I go to the bathroom to urinate.

For this current example, what I would want to monitor is the specific brief sensation low in my abdomen. When I get that sensation (the checkmark sensation), I take the notebook out of my pocket, find my pen/pencil, and write down a simple checkmark (nothing more). I then put the notebook and pen/pencil back in my pocket, and go looking for the bathroom. (Alternatively, I take out my smart phone, activate Dragon Dictation, and speak “Checkmark” or some such phrase. Then I put my smart phone away, and seek the bathroom.)

A simple task (the Checkbox of Change) — that is all I do, but it interrupts the pattern briefly to make the checkmark. And I do that every time during the day that I have the body sensation of fullness. At the end of the day, I might have six checkmarks, more or less.

Task #1: Think of a simple pattern that you could monitor ,and do this checkbox activity for a few days so as to practice the routine.

Task #2: Now make the task more complicated. Pick an activity, a difficulty, that has some emotional significance for you. For me, I might use my pattern of criticism of others, a pattern that I generally hide from others, but it goes on via my internal speaking to myself. When I do, I also notice that my facial tone becomes slightly tight, again a sensation that I easily recognize.

I could monitor either my internal voice being critical, or my facial tone. The task is simply to make a checkmark any time during the day that these sensations occur. At the end of the day, I might have two checkmarks, or I might have twenty. It doesn’t matter.

Task #3: At the end of the day, or at least several times during the week, identify one checkmark, and complete the John James Game Plan (Email #10) for that specific checkmark.

Nothing more. There is no need to plan alternative actions.

Simple, yes. Complex, also yes!

Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy said that awareness in and of itself is therapeutic.

This activity is one of developing awareness. As you do so, especially as you briefly interrupt the other-than-conscious pattern, you will automatically find better outcomes for yourself.

Suppose the difficulty that you pick is very troublesome to you. It is likely that the behavior you chose as the checkmark sensation is very close to the end of the pattern, the outcome that you do not desire. It may seem as if there is no possibility of interrupting the pattern. It will seem this way especially if the process happens very quickly, in seconds or less.

Fair game. Simply do your best to record checkmarks, even if it is after the outcome that you wish to avoid. Simply put down a checkmark as you are able, and do the JJGP a few times a week.

As you monitor the specific sensation, you will also begin to notice that there was also some other specific sensation that occurred just before the checkmark sensation. When you are confident that you can monitor the original checkmark sensation, switch your attention to monitoring the sensation that precedes it, making this new sensation the checkmark sensation.

Continue to do this as you become aware of earlier and earlier sensations, making each in turn the new checkmark sensation. As you do so, you will find that your ability to interrupt the undesirable outcome improves in major ways. Whereas in the original situation, you may have easily become confused, or angry, or whatever outcome that was troublesome, you will now find that there are many different tools you can bring to the difficulty, obtaining better outcomes in many different ways.

It takes work; it takes time, but you can be in charge of your patterns, instead of feeling out-of-control and overwhelmed. You can have a better life, and better relationships with both yourself and with others.

Coming next: Emotional Triangles.

Anger #10 The John James Game Plan

Finding our way will be difficult!

Comment: In order to make effective changes, data is needed. This task from Transactional Analysis is one of the more effective ways of obtaining data concerning patterns of behavior.

MacQuarrie Email Program #10 — The John James Game Plan

The John James Game Plan is a set of questions that can be applied to any emotional issue. Such questions provide the data necessary to allow further change, so that the patterns can be identified and alternative actions chosen. (It is named after one of the lead therapists in the field of Transactional Analysis (TA). TA was very popular in 60s to 80s; it was the first therapy where I was introduced to the concept of Sailors On A Ship.)

Be aware that the possibility of change requires specific details to be described (when, where, what, how, et cetera). When generalities are explored (he/she always …), you might be able to explain the issue, but there is much less opportunity for change; you are much less likely to get a different outcome. Change exists in the details.

Your task for this session is to apply the questions below to at least three examples, and explore your responses. What are the consistent features that allow you to predict the outcome (even though you do not like the outcome)?

For each example (#1, #2, #3) —

  • What was the difficulty?
    • Give the difficulty a name. This allows you to come back to it. Especially if you give the same name to a variety of examples, there will be consistent predictable features.
  • What happened first?
    • What was the first clue that the difficulty was about to occur? When I took up downhill skiing 40 years ago, the instructor said “Put your energy into the first turn, and then enjoy the rest of the run.” The first turn determined the rest of the run!
  • What happened next?
    • What was the second clue (especially the response of the other person, or yourself if they initiated the first turn)?
  • What happened next?
    • By this time, the final outcome is usually predictable.
  • How did it end?
    • Details again — this is the most obvious predictability, but there will be others.
  • How did you feel at the end?
    • What emotion, what sensations? Where in your body?
  • Where was the focus of your emotion?
    • How do you know? Where in your body according to The Pointing Finger!
  • How was the emotion (or feeling) familiar?
    • What is the earliest memory you have of this specific emotion (i.e., these sensations, not just the general emotion)?
  • What did you do with this emotional energy?
    • How long did you hold on to the energy? How did you discharge it?
  • What was the positive intention of your emotional energy?
    • If you want to change this situation, it is usually essential that you find replacement ways to maintain the same positive intention.

I suggest that you do this exercise with at least three examples, especially three examples that already seem similar. You are seeking the predictable features where you can initiate change, so as to get a different outcome for yourself and the other.

If you are keeping a journal, I suggest you set up a section in which you continue to explore issues over an extended period of time. If you do so, you are guaranteed to encounter predictable features, and you maximize the possibility of bringing change to your life.

As you encounter predictable features, consider what else you could do so as to have a different outcome. Especially consider question #10 of the pattern — it is essential that you acknowledge and maintain the positive intention of the pattern you wish to change.

(Although the outcome you obtained with this difficulty may not have been desirable, all human behavior is always done with a positive intention. For example, if one person physically hits another person, the first person is usually afraid, and is attempting to shift from feeling powerless to feeling powerful. The action of hitting another person is almost never appropriate, nor is the intention to have power over another person appropriate — but the desire to feel powerful is positive. In this example, the means of achieving power is inappropriate.)

Imagine yourself in the situation provided by the example. How else might you be able to feel powerful? It might surprise you to know, as one possibility, that being able to admit that one is afraid and feels powerless can be a stance of great personal power.

Now step back into your own difficulty, and imagine doing new actions, behaviors that would still preserve your positive intention. How would the ending be different?

Plan at least three different actions that would give different (and desired) outcomes. recreate the difficulty in your imagination, and act out the process with the new behaviors. Feel the difference in your body as you achieve better results, albeit in our imagination.

Write these new actions and outcomes down on separate pieces of paper, and keep them in your back pocket. When you encounter the difficulty again, pause and take at least one of the pieces of paper out of your pocket, and review it.

Because you are attempting to bring conscious choice to other-than-conscious patterns, do not get stuck thinking that this activity will work all the time. It may, but it takes considerable practice to change other-than-conscious patterns.

The next email will give further suggestions for changing outcomes.

Coming next: Gathering more data — the Checkbox of Change.

Anger #09 The Pointing Finger

Comment: The skill described in this email is subtle, but powerful — it allows you to identify where you have power, and where you do not.

MacQuarrie Email Program #09 — The Pointing Finger

The Pointing Finger
Every issue contains these three components.

Hi again.

In these next eight emails, we are going to focus more on actual skills, skills that will allow you to gather data about your issues, and begin to make changes in how you respond. Be aware of two things:

  • the skills I will be offering will be applicable to any emotional issue, not just anger. (I hope it is apparent by now that anger is simply an emotion, like any other emotion — one that many people have difficulty with, but no different in mechanism from sadness, fear, joy, et cetera.)
  • depending on mechanism, you can make many changes in yourself. Alternatively, it may be helpful to work with a skilled therapist — often an outside observer can see much that is not apparent to yourself (partly this is because we are all past masters of avoiding our own deepest issues).

This activity, The Pointing Finger, is a way to explore any issue, a way that emphasizes where and how you have power. It is part of a larger context, called Emotional Triangles, which we will explore in more detail later (Email #12).

Your task: do the activity of this email.

Think about any memory when you were very angry with another person about a specific situation — make it very specific, a single situation (when, where, what, et cetera — the specific details).

Imagine first of all, that you are standing outside yourself watching yourself in this memory. As you do so, notice what sensations you feel in your body. (When I first did this kind of exercise, I was totally unaware of my body! If such is your experience, simply recognize it, and carry on as best you can — your skill will improve, especially if you continue to practice the Awareness activity of Email #03. Be patient!)

Take a piece of paper, and briefly write down your sensations. This process of standing outside watching yourself is called being dissociated. It is a very common way in which people experience their memories.

Give your body a shake — to let go of the experience (from your body, not just your mind).

Now step into your body, and experience the memory as if you are right there, right now. Notice how the sensations change. (Write them down again.) This is an associated position.

I am willing to bet that the sensations of the associated position are much more intense. Again, give your body a shake, and go back to the dissociated position.

Now I want you to step again into the memory in three different ways. When you do, notice your body sensations, write them down, give your body a shake, and go back to being dissociated.

  • step in, and notice how angry you are at the other person. Really focus on that person.
  • step in, and notice how angry you are about the situation, how it should not be.
  • step in, and notice your own body as you become aware of the other and the situation.

As you study your sensations in each of these exploratory positions, I imagine that your sensations are different in each case, perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps in very dramatic ways. Just explore; don’t simply take my word that they should be different.

In my particular case, when I do this exercise, this is what I find:

  • when I focus on the other, my body sensations are mainly in my face. My face feels tight and hot, as if I am piercing the other with my looks.
  • when I focus on the situation, my sensations move back, as if they are inside the back of my face, much less intense.
  • when I focus on myself, my sensations move down somewhat into my neck and upper chest, and now as well as anger, I fell somewhat sad.

These sensations of mine are quite consistent over a variety of conflicts.

Your experience will almost certainly be different from mine.

Do this activity with a number of people and situations over the next few days. Explore whether or not there is a consistent pattern to your body sensations, that is consistent sensations for each of the three positions. As note, in my case, there is.

So what is important here?

Consider this:

  • Your experience changes depending on where you focus.
  • You cannot change the other person.
  • Nor can you likely change the situation very much.

But you can change yourself! That is where your personal power lies.

The basic emotional triangle.
The most important diagram of my life.

If you imagine this activity as your hand pointing at the other, in the typical pose of your index finger doing the pointing and your thumb in the air, there are also three fingers pointing back at you. These three fingers are to remind you to ask yourself:

  • where is my focus? On the other? On the situation? On myself?
  • how am I contributing to this issue?
  • what else could I be doing? What would allow me to live my own personal power, authentically caring to resolve this conflict?

(As a hint for later, this pointing finger is also an emotional triangle: any two people, and a third person or issue. The relationship between the second and third components is called the third limb, and it is always a place of powerlessness, and potential stuckness.)

An important adage:

The more something bothers me, the more I have to learn about myself.

Coming next: Gathering data — the John James Game Plan.

Anger #08r The First Eight Emails

Comment: Every eight emails, I add an extra as a review process, an opportunity to pause and assess how you are doing.

MacQuarrie Email Review #1 — The First Eight Emails

So sad.

You have now had the first eight emails of the thirty that I will send you. How are you doing?

Take a moment to write in a journal as to what you are experiencing after one month of these emails. Are they helping? Are you getting swamped? What self-care do you need to give yourself so as to minimize being overwhelmed?

Managing Difficulties

My difficulty is to make the emails concrete enough so that they are useful to you, and not so complex that you want to give up. But be aware that in any significant attempt to change your life, you will encounter times when you want give up — that is par for the course. Your skill is to persist. If necessary, send me an email, describing your difficulty.

If you are encountering difficulties, here are some suggestions:

  • Give yourself breaks during the day; do things that are fun for yourself? And then return to the process.
    • Start what is called a Kid List — write down a list of things that you enjoy, activities that might take anywhere between five and thirty minutes to accomplish, and keep it handy. When you need a break, do one of these activities. Activities could include: watch a sunset, go out in a garden and smell the flowers, hug your partner, read the cartoons in a magazine or on a website, et cetera. Start with ten items (and over time, expand the list).
  • Ask someone to tell you what they like about you — people are often very cooperative with this, and you will be surprised as to what they tell you.
    • Better yet, have them write something in a notebook, and periodically read what they have written.
  • Write a lot (free-flow, stream-of-consciousness, etc.)
    • It discharges energy, and creates clarity.
    • If you are worried about someone reading it, write nonsense or scribble, or start your writing with “This journal is filled with lies — read at your own risk!” Then deliberately put in a few lies (but mark them is some way so that you know they are lies — if you re-read them months from now, you may have forgotten they are lies).
  • Do anything, however small, to make a difference.

The skill is again to persist, and to realize that in some measure, it is a life-time journey.

What We Have Covered So Far

Thus far in these emails, we have covered the following:

  • The need for goals.
  • What are emotions?
  • The primary tools of awareness and discipline.
  • A number of simple ideas:
    • the triune brain,
    • sailors on a ship,
    • the pot, and
    • the blowing out model.

My role is to provide you with information and encouragement. Remember two things:

  • I am an expert in me — I know what works for me.
    • And I am an explorer of swamps, the stuff where other people get stuck. I think I am a good explorer, very knowledgeable of issues.
  • However, I have never explored your swamp. It is your job to explore it, and I can be a guide, but I am not an expert in you. Your job is to become an expert in you.
    • It sounds complicated, and yet as always, it is simply one step after another.

The most important skill of all is that of mindfulness, the discipline of awareness. Emphatically I encourage you to continue to meditate on a daily basis, for at least the duration of this email program (90 days).

And, although I encourage you to study all the tools I am offering, you may have neither the time nor the interest. So, pick at least a couple of tools to use each month, and explore them until you are satisfied that you know how to use the tool.

Then you can decide if the tool is useful, but do not discard the tool until you know how to use it. Remember the first time you picked up a hammer; you were not likely very skillful when you attempt to pound nails — you had to practice, and perhaps ask questions of someone who knew how to use a hammer effectively.

The Wheel-barrel Concept

Finally, remember that a decision is a verb, not a noun — you can change decisions at any time. Language is most fascinating and peculiar in this regard.

  • a noun is any word that makes sense when you say the word “the” or “a” before it
  • an adjective (or adverb) is any word that makes sense when used together with a noun (or verb)
  • a verb is any word that make sense when you say the word “to” before it

Nouns, though, are peculiar. They are either concrete or conceptual. Conceptual nouns are actually verbs in disguise. To tell the difference, imagine a wheel-barrel (perhaps a very large one), and place the noun in the wheel barrel. Can you do so? For example, can you place an apple in a wheel-barrel. Yes — it is a concrete noun. Can you place a decision in a wheel-barrel? No — it is a conceptual noun, a verb in disguise.

Concrete nouns cannot be changed without breaking them. You cannot cut an apple in half, and still have an apple — only two parts of what was originally an apple. In contrast, you can ALWAYS change conceptual nouns — they are actions (verbs) in progress.

So, if you have made a decision to do this course in a certain way or time frame, you can always change how you do it! The decision is a verb, always in transition.

So, don’t give up! You are worth having a better life.

If you are having a hard time, find a friend with whom to talk. Even if you think you have no friends, find a group of people who will listen. For example, even if you have no problems with alcohol, go to an AA meeting or an Al-Anon meeting. People will still listen, especially if you say you feel like drinking just to get away from it all (a little metaphoric emphasis to encourage).

Anger #08 The Blowing Out Process, Part 2

Blowing Out the energy, as in a candle

Comment: In emotional issues, the primary requirement is safety; ultimately we need to resolve the underlying difficulties to a place of peaceful resolution.

MacQuarrie Email Program #08 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 2

In the previous email, I introduced the Blowing Out process, and noted two essential features.

  • We get stuck because we do not manage our emotional energy.
  • Ultimately we need to resolve the conflict so as to be at peace with the issues.

Frequently we believe that we need to resolve the conflict before we can resolve our emotions. I suggest that this is nonsense — we can easily reduce the intensity of our emotions without dealing with the conflict directly, and in so doing, we are in much better position to manage the conflict.

Your task for this email: Answer the following question in your journal — How badly do you want to resolve the conflicts of your life? What follows requires that you sort your own contribution to conflict from that of the other person(s), and become accountable for correcting yourself, as well as apologizing for your own actions. Did I say this would be easy? No, just effective!

The Blowing Out Process, in detailSo, the rest of the Blowing Out Process.

The first part of the accompanying diagram is a repeat of what I presented in the past email. But note what follows!

To repeat, create safety; discharge the energy. This is overall a 10-minute process if approached skillfully (in later emails, I will be addressing issues such as time-outs and the specifics of how to release energy).

The Message

At this point, learn the message of the energy. When the energy is released, the mind becomes clearer. You are now able to recognize one of two states:

  • either the energy somehow has seemed familiar (“I’ve been here before”) — which means that an issue of powerlessness has been tapped, or
  • the behaviors of the other have somehow been inappropriate (They said they would do something, and they didn’t; or they lied; or some such). Such states are the issues of true conflict!

This learning of what I call The Message is key. Usually the distinction is quite clear cut: it might be 90% one and 10% the other; but seldom is it a 50-50 split. If it is, begin with the issues of powerlessness. There is an appropriate statement in the Bible (incidentally, the bible is a great manual of therapy): Deal with the log in your own eye before you deal with the splinter in your neighbor’s eye (you see better!). alternatively, in an airplane decompression event, put on your own mask before you put the mask on your companion. The work is then easier.

If it is indeed a self-issue, that of powerlessness, it may require extensive work, perhaps with a therapist. In any event, apologize to the other. Tell them, for example, that you have been caught in your own issues, and truly apologize. Indicate that you are working on changing the issue, and if necessary will keep them informed (especially needed if the issue is with a life partner). And get on with it — your own difficulties will recur until you have achieved some kind of resolution.

Notice the thick line in the diagram. I put it there to emphasize that everything above that line is 100% your responsibility, and within your power to change. Everything! Spoons do not cause carrots! Spoons only bring carrots to the surface.

What about the conflict?

True conflict means that in some fashion the behavior of the other has been inappropriate. (It may well be that your own behavior has also been inappropriate. If so, revert back to what I said about powerlessness. It is time to apologize, and correct your own powerlessness.)

Also note the distinction between resolution and solution. Solution means that the problem goes away; resolution means that all parties are at peace with the outcome (the difficulty may still exist, but it no longer bothers people).

Note two very important considerations:

  • most life issues (~70%) are not solvable; all of them are resolvable.
  • because I can manage my energy, I can always choose to cooperate. I don’t have to like cooperating in order to choose to cooperate; what I want is resolution.

The choice now comes down to whether or not the other is cooperative. (NB. If you do not apologize for your own inappropriate contributions, the likelihood of the other being cooperative is small. Other people listen better when you first account for your own contribution — so step up to the plate! You will frequently be surprised by how effective if you sincerely apologize.)

If the other is cooperative, I maintain that human beings are not stupid — just habitual. Explore together what are the issues, and plan possible resolutions that work for both of you (if it is not successful for both of you, one of you is sure to sabotage the efforts). It may require a number of trial resolutions, but persist, and manage your energy in the interim. This is what is called win-win solutions, and will be explored further in a later email.

If the other is not cooperative (and here, actions speak louder than words), attempting to make them cooperative will not be successful (more on this later). My standard is that I will make two attempts to elicit cooperation, and if unsuccessful, I then will shift to other skill sets. Again this will be the topic of a later email.

A hint: the skills of managing non-cooperative conflict are very different from the skills required for cooperative conflict. Bottom line — overall, I will not violate others (I will not dump my energy on them), but I am not a doormat either — I do not easily tolerate people who will not cooperate with me (more later!)

Coming next: Gathering data — the John James Game Plan

(as well as a review email of the first eight emails)

Anger #07 The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

Comment: I suggest the Blowing Out process to be the essential means by which human beings can be both safe and emotionally authentic, without being trapped by the issues.

MacQuarrie Email Program #07 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

The Blowing Out Process, Part 1Two more emails (plus a summary email), and then we start the process of skill development as to how to explore and manage your anger. I hope by now you are starting to recognize that the concepts thus far allow you to get a handle on your anger, but I also imagine you want more specifics — this email is part of the specifics.

As mentioned, the concepts of the previous emails became the process I call Blowing Out®, a method of utilizing unpleasant experience so as to create positive outcomes. For most people, when something unpleasant happens, they get stuck. The something reminds them of their past (their values, beliefs, memories, expectations, what I call their VBMEs), and they feel powerless. They label the something as some kind of conflict, and they don’t feel safe. Perhaps they are angry, or some such emotion, but lacking safety, they are also afraid or say to themselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way” — the sailors in action. So they stuff their energy — but eventually that doesn’t work, and they become a time bomb of some kind (the pressure cooker). This goes on over time, and eventually they explode outwards (family violation or social massacre) or inwards (depression or suicide). Not a pretty scene, but common in our society.

Safety for all is absolutely essential.

In my personal pain, I too recognized that this process of getting stuck did not work, and that the most important aspect was safety — for all! Instead of blowing up or blowing down, I discovered that I could blow out, like blowing out a candle — but instead of blowing out the light, I could blow out the darkness of my pain (the basis of my first book Blowing Out The Darkness).

We get stuck essentially because we mismanage our energy! First, because we are not safe (both with ourselves and with others around us), and second because we do not safely discharge our emotional energy — we generally dump it on someone else in some inappropriate fashion. We somehow believe that we have to resolve the conflict before we can manage our energy.

Not only is this nonsense, it is also a recipe for disaster. We hold the energy inside ourselves; the conflict is outside. We can separate ourselves from the conflict, and manage our energy — in so doing, we can then decide if the basic issue is what others are doing (the conflict), or is it what we are doing to ourselves (our powerlessness) because we are caught in issues from our past.

I indicated in the previous email (The Pot), that as the pressure builds up, three things happen:

  1. the high energy interrupts the ability to think (we become very intense, and foggy).
  2. further intensity results in our not feeling safe, and we shift to Lizard Brain, and
  3. we lose the ability to distinguish what is happening outside (the spoon) from what is happening inside (the pot), thus shifting to “the spoon has caused the carrot.”

Don’t take my word for this. Think about how you feel and act when you get to the edge of your rage. In some fashion, is this not how you act?

Task: So your task for this email is to think about what else you could do with your energy. And test out these possibilities; don’t just think — act! safely! An important adage is: You cannot think your way into a new way of acting; you can act your way into a new way of thinking!

Re-read Email #2 What is Anger? so as to really get No SAD and STOP. (You have probably noticed that all the tasks I assign are really focused on observing yourself — not for the purpose of self-criticism, but for recognition of how you actually create your own experiences. Over time, this will become your most important skill.)

Some hints: you can discharge energy silently, or you can make lots of noise. You can discharge privately, or you can do it in the presence of others. But if you are going to do it when others around, those others must agree to the parameters of No SAD and STOP — otherwise, they will not likely be secure, and because of that, you will criticized (or worse)! As such, it is very likely that you will shut down, and the time bomb scenario will resume.

The second most important aspect of Blowing Out is that the conflict must be resolved. Even if you discharge your energy, all that you will be doing is emptying the pot. It is essential that you then stop the pot from filling again.

The Importance of Blowing Out

My stance is that I can empty the pot in 10 minutes (I likely need another 10 minutes to process what happened that the pot was stirred — powerlessness or conflict?). Stopping the pot from filling again may take weeks or months of work — but I can keep the pot empty while I do this work! I need not stay stuck with a full pot — ever!

The goal of this portion of the Blowing Out process is to empty the pot, such that:

  1. everyone is safe
  2. I can think more clearly about the issues, and
  3. I can distinguish the spoon from the pot, the present from my past.

Most important though, as I empty the pot, I start to recognized either that this experience feels familiar (my powerlessness), or I recognize that the other is behaving inappropriately (a true conflict exists). The message comes through even though my thinking may still be fuzzy.

A reflection of mine: I’ve worked with thousands of people using the Blowing Out method. It is effective. But in my experience, when first presented with the Blowing Out process, less than 5% of people really want to engage with it. We are incredibly conditioned in our society to avoid violence (yet we are a violent species — war, domestic assaults, football, et cetera).

I make a huge distinction between violence and violation. Violence is sudden force to create an impact. Violation is restriction of freedom without permission beyond public safety. What we call family violence is actually family violation (frequently the violations are not even violent). Blowing Out can be violent; it is not a violation. We can be safe with violence (e.g., pounding a nail in a wall is violent); we are not safe with violation.

The bottom line: you can be safe (with yourself and others), and you can be at a place of internal peace. The price tag is doing the required work.

Coming next: The Blowing Out Process, Part 2.