Monthly Archives: March 2015

Dealing with fighting parents

Instead of a long post, this time I came to share a genius solution which one of our training students in Zagreb, Croatia came up with when either of her parents tried to turn her against the other.

Her parents continually tried to argue through her, such as, “Your mother did that”, “Your father said that” etc. This is sadly common. When fighting parents use such passive-aggressive strategies,  this often creates huge problems for young children, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, responsibility problems and chronic inner conflict. How did she deal with this in her younger age, we didn’t ask at that time, but here is what she came up with as an adult:

She told her parents: From now on, if you insist on telling me what the other one said or did, you have to refer to the other one as “my chosen one”. No more “your father” or “your mother”. If you want me to listen, you can only say, “My chosen one did this”.

Genius, isn’t it? Such a simple expression that makes it very clear whose is the responsibility. Non-aggressive, truthful, argument-proof, although, sadly,  not necessarily fool-proof. Do your parents fight through you? Try this! And let us know what happened.

Are you able to face pain?

Unwillingness to face emotional pain makes us shallow. We might avoid experiences, especially if they are unfamiliar or a bit risky. With every experience we avoid, we deny ourselves learning and wisdom, as well as liveliness and sense of wonder.

If we are not willing to face pain, we will look for instant solutions for our emotional and relationship problems. We might believe manipulative promises that offer magical benefits without effort and thus waste enormous amounts of time, money and energy. We won’t be willing to learn, challenge ourselves and grow step by step.

Yet such “magical” solutions are not like taking aspirin for a short term headache. They are much more like taking a painkiller to avoid toothache; the more you ignore it, the worse the problem might become.

Some people might even avoid compassion, as compassion is sometimes painful. That might lead to hypocrisy, victim blaming and outright selfish behavior.

Unwillingness to face emotional pain might make us try to control our lives and external circumstances. We might be intolerant to our own and other people’s “mistakes”. We might try to manipulate people into doing what we want. We might criticize and condemn whatever challenges our preferences. Our efforts to avoid pain might cause pain for us or others (such as with people who abandon others so that they wouldn’t risk being abandoned).

Avoiding pain might have different roots. Perhaps you experienced so much pain in childhood that you blocked all of your emotions because it was too much to bear at the time. Parts of you might be unaware that you are not a child anymore and that such emotions are not likely to overwhelm you as if you were a toddler.

Perhaps your family set an example of avoiding pain, whether by pretending that everything is rosy and wonderful when it wasn’t, or by overprotecting you and discouraging you to face challenges. If children perceive parents as afraid of pain, pain becomes much more powerful in their imagination than it actually is.

Perhaps you are afraid of mistakes and punishment. Imaginary punishment might appear worse than the pain you already know. Some people might avoid even a change for the better, even if they pay a high price for their current behavior (such as toxic relationships, arguments, anger…). Subconsciously, such a person can feel that if they try something new, they might make a mistake – and mistakes are unforgivable and create a feeling such as “I’m a bad person!”.
Such beliefs are usually learned in childhood and carried on a deep, instinctive level. They might be obviously unrealistic; they might cause obvious suffering to ourselves and people around us. But if we are conditioned to avoid mistakes, it might feel like a posthypnotic suggestion; we don’t really know why we do things, but we feel unable to resist the urges.

Yet pain can sometimes motivate you more than anything else. It can make you understand other people. It can make it obvious what is truly important to you. Sadness can motivate you to search for what is missing in your life. Even guilt and shame mean that you have learned a lesson and will know better next time. Growth is almost impossible without some pain. And when you allow yourself to feel pain, you will probably discover that it’s much more tolerable than you thought it was.

If you can support yourself through pain, you build the kind of relationship with yourself that can carry you through any challenge. It can give you courage to take risks. With willingness to take emotional risks, you can open yourself to experiences that will make your life worthwhile. You might end up “on the top of the world” instead of hiding in a cave.

 

 

Personal courage

For sensitive people, it can be difficult to express an unpopular opinion. You might write something publicly – an article, a comment – only to find out later that your words were twisted to extremes and savagely attacked. You might pour your heart and longings in front of the world, only to be mocked or dismissed with artificial, cold politeness.

You might object to generalizations of all sorts – generalizations against Muslims, against Western society, against hypocritical “patriotism”, against the passive-aggressive lamentations about “humans being so much worse than animals (author and his/her friends excluded, of course)” etc.  You might object to pseudoscience and extreme views. You might feel that you are trying to be friendly and helping people let go of prejudice and come to a mutual understanding. The problem is, this is not what many people want.

We are wired to defend our prejudice. We are wired to defend people we feel close to, even against evidence that they might have done something wrong. Those generalized, extreme ideas help people feel more powerful and better than others. They will not take it lightly if you try to take them away. They will easily find excuses to attack you. You might write about people being kind and compassionate – and somebody will always find a way to interpret it as if you suggested that their dear old grandmother should be strangled in her sleep.

Should you give up and stop bothering? The pain of rejection might make you feel that it’s not worth it. Your need to belong, your instinct to be a part of a group, might scare you into avoiding trouble, especially after many unpleasant surprises already behind you.

But it’s not about changing other people – or at least not specific other people, or at least not quickly. It’s about being true to your conscience and your values. You are putting your thoughts out there, not to elicit a specific reaction, but to be at least one voice in midst of many, perhaps a voice that might make some small difference here and there. Even more than that, it’s about supporting yourself in face of fear and pain.

Some people will hide between artificial, oversimplified “political correctness” to avoid talking about complex problems. Some people will misunderstand your words, whether accidentally or semi-deliberately. Some might try to insult or frighten you into submission.

But it’s not about fighting them. It’s about gently, lovingly challenging yourself to be brave, to own your words, to make mistakes and learn. That is courage. Sometimes you will choose wrong words. Sometimes you will make assumptions based on inaccurate data or rumors. Sometimes you will be perfectly correct and reasonable, but people just won’t like what you say. And twisting words is so easy.

Yet for every person who attacks you, there might be three that are silently considering what you said. Perhaps they cannot find courage to approve you publicly, but it doesn’t mean that you were unheard and unappreciated. Aggressive people are usually the loudest, and gentle people are more likely to observe in silence. Still, they are there and they are many.

If you expose yourself, you will often be attacked. Sometimes you will be wrong, even if you take care to write with highest integrity. Your mistakes will be used against you. Yet, every mistake means that you are building wisdom. How could you become wise if you avoid experiences? Slowly, you might become slightly more bulletproof, even if expressing unpopular opinion might never be easy. But you will feel alive – much more alive than if you were hiding like a hermit crab in its shell.