Advice from the Animal Kingdom

 

Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, pinpoints how perfectionism impacts us negatively: “Not being perfect, we reject ourselves,” he writes.

It’s true. Many people condemn themselves for failing to live up to the often inflated, sometimes impossible expectations they set for themselves.

This can include failing to get a perfect performance review, a perfect score, a perfect grade, or keep a perfectly neat house.

Many of us put ourselves down for our lack of discipline, for losing things, for failing to accomplish goals or make deadlines.

Momentary disappointment in ourselves is understandable … even endurable. What doesn’t serve us is the prolonged self-badgering and self-loathing–dwelling on our imperfections and mistakes.

Ruiz comments on how we differ from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake.

“The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.

“If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.

“If we have a wife or husband he or she also reminds us of the mistake, so we can judge ourselves again, punish ourselves again, and find ourselves guilty again. Is this fair?”

Where does perfectionism spring from?

Rick, a client, was told by his boss that he should learn Chinese. Doing so would result in a promotion and new opportunities. But fear of failure—any failure—stood in his way.

In one of our sessions, Rick and I took a look at his past.

“As a child, I wasn’t praised for trying, “he said, “I was praised for getting it right.” Consequently, he refrains from attempting new things. The fear of being less than perfect has handicapped his life.

New findings suggest that teachers get better results when students are praised for merely raising their hands—for trying—instead of nailing the right answer.

Mastering anything requires patience and practice. We seem to forget that even something as basic as learning our alphabet was an evolving process—one that started with nothing but a bunch of perplexing symbols on a chalkboard.

Check out this illuminating TedX talk by Carol Dweck, a Standford University professor of psychology and researcher on mindset. She shares her findings on a fresh new model that activates ambition, motivation and confidence. The success rates suggest that it has the potential for being a game-changer in the classroom as well as in the workplace.  The results are promising—kids persevere in the face of “failure” and allow mistakes to motivate them instead of paralyze them. The meanings of effort and difficulty can be transformed to create a pathway to success rather than discouragement.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Don’t be Bullied by Guilt

 

Just as there are good and bad bacteria, good and bad cholesterol, there’s also good and bad guilt.

Good guilt guides us in making wise choices. Bad guilt is the bully in our head that has a knack for running our lives…and sometimes right off the rails.

Tessa is a perfect example:

She’s been embracing healthy eating lately. “I gave up gluten, dairy and sugar…and I feel better!” she said. Unfortunately, her restaurant options are limited. But she’s learned where to go—what works for her.

Now then, as we all know, life has an uncanny way of presenting us with challenges as soon as we make a decision to overhaul ourselves in some way.

Tessa is no exception. Not long ago, her family invited her out to celebrate her birthday. They chose a nice restaurant and made the reservations. But the restaurant they chose was on her no-no list. She had plenty of time to suggest another one, but guilt got in her way. You might say it sabotaged her better self.

“It was a gift,” she said, “I just couldn’t disappoint them…I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

That’s what bad guilt does to us—it makes us not matter to ourselves.

“So who got disappointed instead?” I asked.

“Ahh,” she said, “me!–of course.”

Disappointment was only one part of it. She went into detail about how miserable she felt the next day.

Clearly, Tessa’s birthday was less than it could and should have been. Her guilt was misplaced. Where was the concern for her body? For abandoning herself?

Bad guilt bullies us into saying yes even when it compromises our health—even when it compromises our integrity.

Warm-hearted people like Tessa are experts at meeting the needs of others but amateurs at identifying their own. Life is presenting Tessa with an opportunity to become an expert at both identifying and then honoring her own needs.

I predict that the guilt-bully is in for a surprise!

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under General Interest, Get Free

Outsmart Your Guilt

 

 

Things go wrong when guilt’s the driving force behind our actions. That’s because guilt doesn’t do a good job of steering us in the right direction. It lacks intelligence.

Dru, 17, is a prime example. She didn’t want to hurt her boyfriend’s feelings, and as a result became pregnant. In our counseling session with tears streaming down her face, she expressed what was going on in her head the night she conceived:

“I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t feel right about it, but I would’ve been consumed with guilt if I let him down!”

The desire to give to others, the concern over disappointing or hurting someone, stems from a kind heart. That’s a good thing. It’s not such a good thing, though, when we hurt or disrespect ourselves in the process.

No question, Dru would be paying a hefty price for being dominated by guilt. Her future suddenly looked quite different, because the demanding responsibilities of motherhood would place her dreams, interests and much of her freedoms on hold.

Dru’s pathway for getting healthy entailed learning that self-neglect is wrong. She cared too much for her boyfriend and too little for herself. Her fear of letting him down resulted in letting herself down.

I remember her telling me that he would have acted hurt if she had said no to him on that fateful night. In the months ahead, Dru came to understand that hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. We all need to be told ‘no’ on occasion and to learn our limits with other people. How else do we become sensitive and respectful of others? We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts, angry outbursts, or other manipulative ploys.

Dru finally ended the relationship with her boyfriend.

I asked her: “In looking back, what did that experience teach you, Dru?”

“That I can’t let anybody have control over me again,” she said. “I can’t let someone suck my spirit from me. It drains me.”

“Exactly what drains you?” I asked.

“Worrying about people, needing to make them feel better,” she said. “I have this problem of wanting to make everyone happy even if it costs me my own happiness. It’s all so draining! But I’m getting stronger.”

I agreed—Dru was getting stronger. She found a new relationship and to her delight, she isn’t obsessed or burdened with worry about what he’s feeling, thinking, or needing. She describes the relationship as “freeing.”

“How will you know if this relationship turns unhealthy?” I asked.

She thought for a moment and shared her newfound insight—that pleasing someone else at the expense of her own well-being would be wrong. “If that happens, I’ll feel trapped and guilty for not taking care of him.”

She learned that guilt shouldn’t be in charge–she and her intellect should be running things.

It made me smile to see that Dru was “getting it.” Smart girl. 🙂

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Don’t Be Nice All the Time

 

Over and over again, while growing up, Kari heard: “It’s better to give and be nice than it is to receive.”  Valuing the other person more than yourself was expected. So, today, she tends to be nice to everyone but herself. No surprise. When people mistreat or take advantage of her, she gives them a free pass. But Kari’s been waking up to that unhealthy pattern—seeing how it’s not serving her very well. Her current relationship is a perfect example, and right now, she would like to end the relationship but guilt stands in her way.

Guilt over caring for herself blocks her from doing the right thing.

Doug, another client, received the same training. “The way I feel good about myself is by being a good guy … doing for others.”  He gave me an example.  When an acquaintance of his, John, needed a phone, Doug agreed to sell him his $250 phone for $80. He even agreed that John could pay him later. Doug didn’t hear from the man for several weeks. Finally, when they bumped into each other somewhere, John paid Doug … but he paid him $50 instead of $80. When I asked Doug how he felt about that, he said: “I wanted to do the right thing.”

“Is it right to let others take advantage of you?” I asked. “How do others learn the same morals you were taught if you rob them of that opportunity?”

We talked at length, then Doug arrived at a realization:

“I should have stood up for myself,” he said. “Sometimes it’s right to upset people.”

Several years ago, I created a little story for the sake of illustration:

Imagine a classroom of small children—crayons in hand—each thoroughly absorbed in his/her own drawings. Jenny is sitting beside Joey, and at some point, he reaches over with his crayon and marks on her paper. Jenny objects, “No Joey!” while pushing his hand away. He stops, briefly, then repeats the offense. Again Jenny protests but this time she briskly moves to another spot in the room, taking her sheet of paper with her.

This scenario would have played out quite differently had Jenny been indoctrinated with the directive to always “be nice.” In that case, she would have wilted when Joey marked on her paper, letting him have free rein. Believing that objecting is hurtful, she would be ruled by restraint. Striving to be nice is a worthy ethic to teach children, but it should be a two-way ethic.

Niceness should run both ways.

Yes, Jenny should be nice to others, but she should also hold the belief that virtue applies to everyone else as well. Joey wasn’t being nice and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jenny’s actions preserved her well-being and dignity, but she also did Joey a favor. She gave him the opportunity to learn an important lesson: If I mistreat people, I’ll alienate them. They won’t want to be around me.

Had Jenny folded, submitting to Joey’s will and disrespect, she would have sent the opposite message.

We humans don’t grow when others are placating or pretending to go along with us. The best mirror we have available is the authentic response given by other people. No, it’s not always easy to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. It can be painful, but some deeper—truer—part of ourselves finds it gratifying to be shown the truth.

Protesting isn’t hurtful if done correctly. Being enlightened by truth is quite different from being punctured by it. When Jenny voiced her protest, she wasn’t being hurtful.

If Joey was hurt, he was hurt by the truth—not by Jenny.

When someone crosses a line, our instinct tells us to be self-protective. It’s the same instinct that protects us from eating spoiled food, stepping out in front of traffic, getting close to a raging dog. Psychological well-being is no different. Inner distress is a signal announcing the need for change.

Instead of just enduring, we’re supposed to listen to it and take action. Doing so is an act of love, both for ourselves and for the other person.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free

Love Me Tender

 

Some people believe they’re detestable. In fact, the thought of being worthy of love and accepted–even cherished!–for who they are at the root level seems unfathomable to them. 

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be content with ourselves.

So where do low self-opinions come from? Children internalize or see themselves as mirrored in their parents’ eyes. If that reflection is a positive one, then they carry around a positive attitude toward themselves. If that reflection is negative, then they acquire a negative impression of themselves that can last throughout their lives.

Two former clients, Mike and Lori, come to mind.

“My mother hated me,” Mike said in one of our sessions. “It’s oppressive to be hated by your mom. It takes the color out of everything.”

He’s right.

Mike’s mother never came right out and said she hated him. She conveyed it in subtle ways–through looks and in her overall attitude toward him. It wasn’t warm, caring, forgiving and understanding. Not at all. When he got in trouble–even for little things–she came down hard. She also seemed to never want him around. “Go away, don’t bother me,” was one of her favorite expressions.

Mike grew up hating himself and hating his life. No surprise.

Lori was raised under similar conditions. She and her siblings paid dearly–physically and emotionally–if they failed to toe the line.

That early conditioning resulted in anxious perfectionism, and when she would fall short of that unrealistic expectation, she would spiral down into a grimy pit of shame and self-loathing.

Lori would spend days immobilized, unable to socialize and unable to leave her home. It was a pattern spawned in early childhood–one she couldn’t shake until she sought help.

Both Mike and Lori were afflicted with shame.

Shame and guilt go hand in hand, but there’s a fine distinction. Guilt is what we feel when we break the rules, laws or violate parental or societal expectations. With guilt, we feel it’s possible to clean up our mistakes, learn from our misdeeds and move on. But shame is different–mistakes and wrongs are unpardonable.

In John Bradshaw’s book, Bradshaw On: The Family, he writes: “Guilt says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good.”

When we’re exposed to a steady diet of humiliating messages, those messages end up defining our being. Our pure sense of self gets lost in the contaminating process we call shaming.

Where’s the line between discipline and shaming? Healthy discipline guides and instructs. Shaming undercuts self-esteem. At an extreme degree it crushes the spirit.

Shaming communicates to children that they’re bad. How words are expressed is as important as the words themselves. For example, it’s possible to say: “You didn’t put the milk away,” but convey an attitude and tone that says, You’re bad!

I remember explaining to another client, Ethan’s father, that his son needed mentoring—not shaming. When 6-year-old Ethan kicked a cat, his father became furious. Among the nasty labels he shot at him was “cruel.” Instead of coming down hard on him, he should have viewed the situation as an opportunity to provide a lesson on kindness.

A non-shaming approach communicates that the action is wrong, not the child. It was appropriate that Ethan learned that it’s wrong to hurt animals. But he also needed his sense of self-worth to remain intact.

Ethan is but a tadpole–he’s just beginning to learn how to function appropriately on planet Earth. So the situation called for patient leadership, conveying: I’m at your side, son, ready to show you the ropes.

After all, it’s tender love that turns tadpoles into contented frogs.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

2 Comments

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Get Free, Parenting

Planting the Seeds

In passing, I overheard a heart-sinking exchange between a father and son. “Hey, Dad, what’s Grandpa’s phone number?” His father frowned. “What’s the matter with you? You know the number—you call it all the time! Are you a retard?”

If it pained me to bear witness to such harshness, I can only imagine its impact on his son.

I remember how strongly I felt the urge to ask the father how he would like his son to feel about himself in the years to come. Like most fathers, he would undoubtedly convey that he wanted his son to have a positive impression of himself.

I would then ask: Do you think your current treatment of him is planting those seeds?

As parents, whenever we lead, correct, discipline, teach or talk to our children, we need to be asking ourselves: Is my child’s spine bent or a little straighter as a result of this interaction?

Does my child hold his head up high or does it hang low?

A heart-opening exercise for the father would be to take a moment and imagine his boss standing over him making derogatory comments just as he had done to his son. Possibly—hopefully so!—it would activate some healthy soul-searching and trigger some serious renovation work on his part.

How could this scenario have played out differently? How could the father have been a force for self-esteem enhancement versus the opposite?

I visualize the father putting his hand reassuringly on his son’s shoulder, looking warmly into his eyes and saying: You know the number…I know you do.

And after patiently waiting, if his son is still unable to recall the number, his father would respectfully and kindly provide it.

Isn’t this the way we all wish to be treated?

Such treatment can’t help but cultivate healthy plants…everywhere!

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Contemplations, General Interest, Parenting

Shared Tears Heal

               One day, Heather’s parents discovered a suicide note          among her things.

Terrified and stunned, they sought help. It wasn’t long before their teenage daughter was admitted to a hospital. Looking back on that day, Heather recalls how hard she fought and argued with her parents when they said they were taking her to the hospital. “I soooo didn’t want to go!” she told me emphatically.

But Heather’s resistance didn’t carry any weight. Taking her by the hand, her dad promptly ushered her to the car, and off they went. The journey to the hospital seemed like an eternity for her. Far from being a casual trip, she was plagued with intense emotions, including raw fear. For the most part, the memory of that car ride is a blur. However, she clearly recalls tears streaming down her dad’s face throughout the ride. More than once, he told her, “I hate doing this, sweetie, but I have to.” His anguish was as great as hers.

Interestingly, she felt comforted by his emotions, interpreting them as caring.

Both parents visited Heather every day in the hospital, but the parent who had the greatest impact was her dad. On each visit, both parents told her how important she was to them. But words alone would not have made much of a dent for this girl who was at such a low point. Her dad cried with her on several occasions. That was the magic.

Emotions are the invisible medium by which we feel oh-so-connected with another human being. For those in pain, this simple remedy—connecting at the heart level—vitally assists the healing process.

Unwittingly, Heather’s father rescued his daughter from feeling isolated—from being all alone in her pain. Who among us would not feel cherished in the presence of such heart power?

What Heather received from her dad, she also desperately craved from her mother, Kate. But according to Heather, “My mother is usually matter-of-fact when it comes to my pain and troubles.”

Far from being cold-hearted, Kate has abundant love for all her children, and like most parents, when they hurt, she hurts. It’s just that she has trouble showing it. During the crisis, her own pain was immense, but she kept it all inside. Kate actually believed she was doing the right thing for her daughter. “I really felt that Heather needed for me to be strong . . . not to fall apart and be weak,” she recalled.

But her daughter didn’t need that. I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?”

Without any hesitation, she replied: “No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

Heather continued by tearfully expressing years of sorrow over her mother being emotionally detached, including this most recent example.

Kate suddenly burst into tears. It pained her that her daughter felt that way. “Heather, I felt I was going to lose you. I was terrified!” she said between sobs.

A wave of relief passed over Heather’s face. It was clear she felt consoled.

I said to Heather: “Your mom’s crying. Do you see her as weak right now?” Looking tenderly at her mom, she said,

“No, I see her as strong! Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

I so savor the fresh and clearly spoken wisdom of young people. I had no more questions. Stepping back, I let mother and daughter embrace uninterrupted for as long as they needed.

There is a clear distinction between crying with our children and leaning on them for emotional support. The latter is just too heavy for them to bear. Feeling responsible for a parent’s well-being is an enormous burden for their young hearts.

But crying with our children doesn’t rock their foundation. In fact, children learn an invaluable lesson when we model the strength of facing and moving through the depths of our emotional pain. Instead of being overwhelmed by the strong current of their own emotions, they feel powerful and capable of dealing with them head-on.

While in the hospital, Heather was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants. Today, she’s happily married with two children of her own.

Helping in that recovery, I’m sure, were two parents—not just one—who knew how to cry with her.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

© Salee Reese 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under General Interest, Parenting