Tag Archives: anger

Latest Wow: Ripe for Manipulation

puppet

“I don’t like to confront, so I’m easy to manipulate.”

That “WOW” came from a mid-fortyish male client. He didn’t realize it, but he nailed a common human problem. Many of us don’t like to confront.

Why are we so squeamish about confronting someone … even when it’s appropriate?

There’s a wide variety of reasons. A major one is the fear of setting off a fireworks display or, to put it bluntly, the fear of making someone mad.

And the problem with that is:

If we’re afraid of upsetting others, we give them power.

Not everyone will elect to use that power, but others won’t hesitate to take full advantage. They’ll use anger or the threat of anger to control you. They don’t want to hear what you have to say.

Angry responses stifle us, and that’s exactly what the manipulator counts on.

We see this form of manipulation among couples, among friends, at the workplace, and between parent and child. Sometimes we witness parents being manipulated by their angry child or the other way around. It happens.

I say our purpose in life doesn’t include sticking pacifiers in the mouths of those who might get upset.

The solution? Let them be upset. For example, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t get his way, you let him throw the fit, right? Versus giving in. This advice applies to adults, too. Remain unaffected.

If we don’t care about someone’s angry reaction, manipulation isn’t possible. If a confrontation is done respectfully, it needs to be said. Pure and simple.

To avoid being manipulated by someone’s angry flare-ups, we have to be willing to brave the storm instead of trying to prevent it. Doing so is far less costly to our dignity than mindlessly appeasing. And besides, once we do it, we realize the storm was far less scary and draining than sacrificing the truth of our being.

It’s our fear that sets us up. Just like a dog cowering in the presence of a cat … guess what message he’s sending? Guess what position the cat is likely to take?

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The Latest Wow: “Get over it!” Really?

chasm

According to the late theologian Paul Tillich, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

I rank listening right up there at the top of requirements for a well-running relationship. This includes love partnerships, parent-child relationships, friendships … you name it.

Listening is a lot bigger than the mere act of hearing with our ears. It entails reining in our straying thoughts, our knee jerk assumptions, judgments and impatience. It entails listening from a heart-space, not solely from an intellectual space.

It’s hard to master. I find that true both personally and professionally. One couple comes to mind—Ross and Sara. Ross expressed … no, he wowed me with a complaint common among many of my female clients:

“Just because someone says, ‘Get over it,’ doesn’t mean it stops hurting.”

He directed that comment to Sara after she discounted his feelings in our counseling session. He was sharing a painful incident, and instead of taking his pain seriously, she trivialized it.

Another client, Mindy, feels exactly like Ross. Her husband, Sam, not only discounts her feelings, he’s frequently sarcastic and has an explosive temper. In one of their marital sessions he said, “She cries over anything. I’m convinced she’s incapable of controlling her feelings.” I challenged him: “You accuse Mindy of being too emotional and incapable of controlling her feelings. Isn’t anger an emotion?”   Read their stories here.

Whether the one we love is our partner, our child, a friend, relative or acquaintance, statements like “Get over it,” “Why let that bother you?” and “You’re too sensitive” fail to relieve the hurting heart. Not only that, they can create a chasm between two people—a chasm that, if allowed to continue, may not be bridged.

I welcome your thoughts!

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Keeping the Peace Backfires

Hand covering wife's mouth

“It has to change!  I can’t take it anymore.”

Liza was referring to her marriage. “If I don’t conform to how Stuart wants me to be, or if I don’t agree with how he sees things, he get’s furious,” she said.  “And if he doesn’t get his way, he get’s stormy.”

Liza was describing life in a prison—her soul constricted to keeping the peace. She learned a long time ago that airing her wishes or complaints simply made matters worse. “I can’t talk to him. I’m always on edge . . . not sure how he’ll react.” For years, Liza pretended—even to herself—that nothing was wrong. “I wanted to avoid the pain I felt, so I blinded myself to the mistreatment.”

The day she stopped trying to fool herself, the day she faced her buried anguish, change became a possibility.

Liza began a journey inward, starting with examining why she doesn’t stand up for herself. She learned it as a child. With both parents, she learned it was best to squelch her real self and become agreeable, self-sacrificing, and always nice. She described her father as a “rageful tyrant,” and her mother as basically uncaring. Like Liza, she too walked on eggshells around her husband.

So Liza’s manner with her husband is learned behavior. The good news is that learned behavior can be unlearned. I suggested she read The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel.

By our next session, I was certain Liza had done a lot of reading, because of the first words out of her mouth:

“I’m no longer a robot who wakes up in the morning and takes her daily punches.”

She confronted her husband with a bold truth: if change doesn’t happen, I’m out of here. He listened. She expressed her grievances and he listened hard and long.

Not only do I congratulate her, I congratulate him!

Companionship occurs in a relationship where two people are being themselves. Translated, this means each freely—but respectfully—expresses what he or she truly thinks, feels, wants, and needs, while the other makes it emotionally safe to do so. Each is alert to the unique needs and concerns of the other. Consistently, the couple practices frankness about what they like and dislike. Within a climate of acceptance, they freely exercise their capacity to disagree, refuse, and object. As individuals, they oppose all that threatens their integrity. And as a couple, they tackle—together—anything that threatens the strength and specialness of their relationship.

The formula for a successful relationship doesn’t lie in appeasing the other. Appeasing, in fact, can be just as destructive to a relationship as a steady diet of domination, hot-headedness, or bullying. That’s because dissatisfactions and complaints—on the part of the appeaser—are allowed to fester and accumulate to the point of bitterness and contempt. Eventually, love dries up and the appeaser may just walk away.

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Stuck in Anger

A client of mine—I’ll call her Anna—shared this tidbit by Garrison Keillor:

“When you’re angry at people, you make them part of your life.”

That’s so true! Prolonged anger usually has a focus, and that focus usually involves a particular person. I can’t imagine being angry at my printer for two weeks—20 minutes yes, but not for two weeks.  On the other hand, I can imagine—at an earlier point in my life—being angry at another human being for two weeks. And that encrusted anger didn’t free me in any way. It kept me mentally fused to that other person.

So the lesson is clear: If we don’t want bothersome people in our life, we have to give up the anger. How do we do that? By making a decision to either walk away—as Anna chose to do with an unkind friend—or by changing the way we think about that person.

This is what Sophia, another client, did. She doesn’t have the luxury of merely walking away because the unkind person in her life happens to be her brother.

“His nasty comments just leave my blood boiling,” she said. “How do you see him?” I asked. “As a jerk!” she said. I commented saying “As long as you see him that way, you’ll feel tortured by him.”  I went on to suggest she view him as a younger version of what he’s becoming. “If he were fully evolved, he would treat you with more sensitivity and respect.”

Ever notice that our well-being is never at risk in our encounters with advanced souls?

This way of thinking doesn’t excuse her brother’s behaviors. Disrespectful and rude behavior is never okay. I made sure Sophia understood that and advised her to be protective of herself. “It’s just that this different way of viewing him takes the sting out of it,” I said. “You suffer less.”

After Sophia and I talked back and forth about it all, she had an illumination: “Ahhh. That’s why forgiveness is important. It has more to do with what it does for us—not the other person.”

She’s got it!

I think this quote by Carrie Fisher, the actress, expresses what being stuck in anger does to us:

“Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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The Latest Wow: The Power of Love

Remember Beth? I mentioned her in an earlier post.  She and Sam got a divorce several months ago but then decided to give it another go. In that post I asked her, “What made you change your mind?” She said, “I’ve discovered that anger fades a lot faster than love.”

They’re living together now to discover whether the love that joined them initially is stronger than the issues that separated them.

In our last session, Beth talked about a recent ah-ha moment:

“It used to irritate me when Sam would leave lights on. Now, it makes me smile. I just see it as a quirk. Besides, I can find him anywhere in the house. All I have to do is follow the lights.”

Hmmm. Same issue, just a different way of seeing it. Nothing is changed, but everything is changed. Now that love is a dominant force in their relationship, the colors in their world are brighter.

Happy for them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Introducing ‘The Latest Wow!’

I’m setting up a new category of posts called, “The Latest Wow.”   Sometimes when I’m meeting with a client, I’m utterly moved by something they say.  That’s when I interrupt them with, “Don’t say another word, I’ve gotta write that down!”   So, without further ado, here’s the first ‘Wow”:

After getting divorced, Beth and her ex decided to give their relationship another try. I asked her, “What made you change your mind?” She said, “I’ve discovered that anger fades a lot faster than love.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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