Tag Archives: communication

The Unhappy Chameleon

chameleon2

Doug wowed me with this in one of our sessions:

“I always wanted to blend in . . . like a chameleon.” Then looking away reflectively, he added, “You know, it takes a hell of a lot of energy to change my colors.”

He’s right. So why do we do it? It’s all about making sure we’re liked and loved. If we don’t make ourselves acceptable, we fear rejection. And rejection is a very lonely place.

We all do our share of adapting and approval-seeking. It only becomes problematic when we lose sight of our true selves. In the book, The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner describes that condition as being “submerged” or “de-selfed.”

Here’s one of Doug’s examples: In the midst of ordering chicken from a menu, his wife interrupted, “You don’t like chicken—you like roast beef!”

He remembers his meek, defeated response at the time: “I guess you’re right. I don’t like chicken.”

Sadly, Doug didn’t really know what he liked. He was used to being defined by the outside world.

When I first met Doug, he described himself as unhappy most the time. That makes sense because de-selfed people can’t be happy. They live a compromised existence which includes spending endless amounts of energy pleasing and accommodating others. The end result is often depression, a depleted interest in life, and hidden anger forever percolating just below the surface.

Adrian was a card-carrying member of the de-selfed club when I started seeing her. Her comments echoed Doug’s:

“I’ve spent most of my life adapting to others,” she said, “disguising and burying myself to get approval. I’ve done it so well for so long, I now have difficulty grasping who I really am.”

“Who is the real me?”

“I’m a chameleon and I don’t know my real color.”

Adrian started submerging her true self at an early age. “My mom’s love would turn off if I didn’t say and do what she wanted,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to have a self.”

Adrian’s habit of self-denying followed her directly into her marriage … beginning, actually, on her wedding day. Her father handed the newlyweds $500 with special instructions. “He insisted we use the money for having a good time on our honeymoon—and nothing else,” she said.

“Well . . . that didn’t happen,” Adrian said with a defeated sigh.

That incident was a snapshot of things to come. Adrian listed off a series of comparable incidents that took place throughout the 23 years of their marriage. She then lowered her head solemnly and said, “I think my mantra has always been: ‘Yes dear, anything you say.'”

Adrian so needs to speak up in this relationship. She needs to share the person she really is with her husband—not just with me. How else can she relieve her depression and resurrect her actual self? And how else can the relationship possibly change if she doesn’t change?

When Adrian first started therapy, she thought her problem narrowed down to two people, her mother and her husband. Her thinking: If only they would change. But she has moved beyond that and is realizing it’s not what others have done to her, but what she’s been allowing. Until she realized that, she was powerless to change things for the better.

Something very interesting happens when we communicate directly from the depth of our natural being. Our total person comes forward. Call it our true self.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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It’s a Ducking Habit

 

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Tish shines when she’s with her friends and coworkers, but around her boss she loses that shine.

“I go small the minute I step into her office!” she said. “I’m just like someone who’s been physically abused—I duck!”

Tish’s boss and her parents have some things in common.  Her parents didn’t invite or make it safe for her to express her views. It appears her boss is the same way.

Tish grew up in a home where working through problems—talking things over—just wasn’t done. Instead, powder-keg overreactions were the norm. Tish found shelter in laying low . . . or by ‘ducking.’ It became her coping mechanism.

Ducking can be more than a physical response. It can also be a psychological one. Whenever we walk on eggshells or cater to someone’s moods, we’re ducking. When we’re anxious about someone’s reaction and it causes us to stifle ourselves, we’re ducking. Keeping our mouth shut when something ought to be said is a form of ducking.

Being direct, honest and straightforward can seem just too risky and threatening. But the alternative doesn’t serve us very well, either.  When we make a habit of ducking, we desert ourselves. Our true self gets buried. Call it a recipe for life dissatisfaction and depression.

For example, ducking is hurting Tish’s chances of moving up in the company. It inhibits her from getting her needs met and her concerns heard and resolved.

By ducking, she’s guaranteeing she won’t be listened to.

Ducking behaviors served Tish as a child. They protected her. But today, such behaviors are a mere habit—a conditioned response—and do more harm than good.  She can change, and she must, if she wants to cultivate a better scenario for herself at work and elsewhere.

I explained that the first step is to realize that there are people out there who welcome open dialogue. They don’t mind being disagreed with, and they don’t blow up or make people walk on eggshells. They care about the points of view of others, and they respect the fact that problems will crop up.

“And they look forward to jointly resolving them with you,” I said.

The next step is to stand tall. “Be the strong person you really are, Tish!”

It’s in her. She listed off plenty of examples of being her bold and bigger self. In fact, when Tish isn’t ducking, her strength, wisdom and drive are forces to be reckoned with!

Her boss needed to see that. As it was, Tish was selling herself as a pushover. Her boss couldn’t respect her because Tish wasn’t respecting herself.

Shortly after that session, Tish told me how she successfully confronted her boss about a problem—one that her boss had been refusing to address for a long time. It’s getting resolved.

Yes!

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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The New Normal?

tigers fight

The spectacle we call the debates has me in a constant state of revulsion and bewilderment. What happened? What has gone awry?

We all have our theories and there’s probably an element of truth to most, but what concerns me is our apparent collective departure from courtesy and kindness. Call it good old-fashioned respect. Instead, what we’re witnessing among our presidential candidates is quite probably—and alarmingly—the new normal. Blasting and bludgeoning others, verbally or physically, seems to be our newest sport.

It’s prevalent in the movies, the social media, and on television, including the nightly news.  We’re not apologetic about it, either. Instead, there’s an almost haughty pride that accompanies such acts.

My concern raises many questions, such as: How are we influencing future generations and shaping our national character? We teach children how to treat each other, including how to tame their automatic—animalistic—reactions, but the “grown-ups” model the exact opposite.

Do the children in our country witness mature ways of handling disagreements? Are they observing tolerance for differences . . . including differing opinions? Are they seeing alternative ways of handling disputes, healthy ways of reacting when provoked? Are they witnessing what anger management looks like? No. They’re witnessing people who are out of control and wholeheartedly engaged in attacking.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t call this civilization–I call it living in the jungle. Self-restraint and respect may be lacking there, but I do expect to see it between human beings.

 

 

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Call it Parent Power!

colorful explosion2

Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.

While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.

As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.

I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”

“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”

In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.

As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.

Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.

When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.

Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:

  • Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
  • Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
  • Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
  • When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
  • When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.

I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:

  • Keep up the good work!
  • You can do it!
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you’ll do the right thing.

By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.

I call that extraordinary power!

 

Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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“How Do I Fix Us?”

stitched_heart (1)

 

“Why am I the last to find out? I didn’t know my wife was unhappy. She never told me!”

I had to tell him the truth. “Yes, she did, Todd. There were clues. You just weren’t seeing them.”

Beth had grown quiet and distant in his presence. In contrast, she was lively and talkative around her friends. Passion and affection were gone. She constantly seemed sad.

She was.

Where did Todd go wrong? Simply put, he didn’t do a good job of listening. Early on, Beth tried to open up and express herself but such attempts were abruptly shot down by his defensiveness. Eventually, she quit trying to be heard. So . . . the slow erosion of a relationship was underway.

Genuine listening is more than mere cerebral activity. Central to listening is the state of the heart and the mind. Are they both open?

Todd treated Beth’s grievances as one would a debate. Determined to defeat her, he aggressively attacked her opinions, concerns and feelings. His goal was to win by convincing her that she was wrong.

Instead, he convinced her that he wasn’t there for her.

When an exchange of thoughts ceases in a relationship, so does the intimate connection.

“You may be a winner when it comes to debates,” I said, “but your style doesn’t keep a marriage intact.” I pointed out that the goal in a relationship is to have two winners.

Downcast, he asked, “How do I get her back?”

“Todd,  you must start by narrowing the emotional distance, and you do that by listening to her . . . truly listening to her.”

Listening with the heart.

When that’s occurring, the listener is sincerely engrossed and curious about what the speaker is saying.  The speaker doesn’t  sense impatience, irritation, judgment or disinterest from the listener. And there’s no fear of being pounced upon.

More than the desire to win her back, I urged Todd to let his love for Beth translate into a yearning to understand her and remove her distresses.

A few sessions later—when I knew Todd was ready—I arranged a session with the two of them. His role was to listen. Leaning forward with warmth emanating from his eyes, he invited her to tell him why she was considering leaving him.

She talked and he listened. She was able to say all that she wanted without being interrupted or attacked. Nervous at first, she steadily began to relax as he remained calm and caring. Beth felt free and safe to express what was on her mind.

I was particularly touched by something Beth said near the end:  “When you listen to me it lets me know I matter, and as a result my heart opens up a little wider.”

Signs of progress don’t automatically usher in a fairy-tale ending. It was going to take time for Beth’s heart to trust and feel safe enough to freely open up. But I knew if Todd sincerely dedicated himself to change—and remained consistent with those changes—there was hope.

In the past, Todd had used his intellect to win. To his amazement, he learned that only the heart knows how to win . . . at love. How nice. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Love’s Magic

love (2)

The heart is a weapon of mass construction.

 

A light bulb finally turned on in my head one day. It was the wiser part of me saying: Okay, Salee, if you’re brilliant enough to know something isn’t right, then you should be brilliant enough to do something about it. In other words: Speak up!

I’ve learned to be careful when deciding to cooperate with such nudgings because opportunities start cropping up everywhere.

So yep, a challenge presented itself just a few days later. It took place while I was standing at a counter in a restaurant. I had just placed my order and the cashier told me what I owed. I asked her if I could write a check. “Oh no,” she said in her usual brusque and tactless manner. “You can only pay with a card or cash.”

Over the years, I had watched this woman’s attitude as she dealt with customers and puzzled over how she managed to keep her job.

I just couldn’t remain passive anymore.

Reaching out to something deeper in her, I asked warmly: “Can you say that with a smile?”

Blushing, she said: “I don’t like my smile.”

She was smiling.

“Your smile is beautiful,” I said. “It lights up your whole face . . . and besides, it makes me—the customer—feel good inside.”

The look on her face was priceless as she thanked me.

                                                    I felt hugged!

Increasingly over the years, I see that being forthright—when it comes from the heart— is a gift, even an act of love. Unfortunately, we tend to shy away from such directness because we fear it might seem rude, or it could inflict pain, or it may be a wasted effort.

All I know is I’m grateful for the people in my life who didn’t hold back telling me what I needed to hear.  How lucky for me they didn’t tell themselves: What good will it do? It won’t make any difference. Those bold people made me stretch. I thank them for that.

By the way, that employee I was talking about . . . she hasn’t stopped smiling.

Yes! We CAN make a difference.

 

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Real Strength

Rudeness - edited

I like what Sydney Harris, the late American journalist, had to say:

“People who are proud of being brutally frank rarely admit they are more gratified by the brutality than by the frankness.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything admirable about stomping on someone’s dignity. It’s easy to be offensive and degrading. It’s much more difficult to get a point across while remaining tactful . . . even kind.

Straightforwardness occupies two categories: assertiveness and aggressiveness. One is respectful while the other is anything but. Check out this website for more on the difference between the two.

Aggressive communicators aim to dominate and control. Their body language and words convey—loud and clear—“I expect to get my way,” and “I’m always right.”

Tom’s boss is a perfect example. According to Tom, he’s  abrasive and undermining.

“No one wants to speak up at meetings,” Tom said. “It’s the fear of being humiliated. Just last week, I was ridiculed for a less-than-stellar sales report.”

Tom refers to the company’s teamwork philosophy as a “joke. Nothing original is discussed in our meetings,” he said. “Brainstorming may be on the agenda, but our ideas and opinions are instantly argued down. Brainstorming is just another word for us nodding while he postures and spouts out his ideas.”

Not surprisingly, such an atmosphere stifles enthusiasm and commitment. So bosses like Tom’s might as well kiss productivity, creativity and innovation goodbye while they watch dedicated employees like Tom walk out the door.  “I can’t continue to be subjected to this kind of treatment,” Tom said. “When you have to literally drag yourself to work every morning—not because of the job—but because of a person at that job, then it’s time for a change.”

No question, we admire people who speak truthfully and boldly—who tell it like it is. Such people are cut out to be leaders, whether we’re talking about leadership in the office, on the football field, in the classroom or in the home.

I frequently hear parents complain about their child’s lack of respect. Respect is a noble quality, but it’s supposed to run both ways. It’s ludicrous for parents or anyone in a leadership role to expect to receive what he or she is unwilling to give.

successful leadersStudies show that the most successful leaders are those who empower rather than overpower, who inspire cooperation rather than foster alienation, who invite input and negotiation rather than dictate orders.

Here’s what one client had to say about her experience with both types: “I felt like I was working for my former boss, who acted like a dictator, but I feel like I’m working with my current boss.”

Let’s face it, force and disrespect may engender obedience and fear, but they don’t engender loyalty, trust and a desire to cooperate.

According the Wayne Dyer, leaders worthy of our admiration share a common principle: “How do we help influence those around us in ways that are going to make them better, us better, the world a greater place?”

Call it strength.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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