Tag Archives: conditioning

It’s a Ducking Habit

 

duck

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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You Have a Choice: Walnuts or Apples

apples and walnuts

 

Once upon a time, a walnut tree decided to start producing apples instead of walnuts. He was shunned by some and admired by others for his raw courage.

He had defied his programming.

No question, if this had actually happened, the news of this free-thinking walnut tree would have received world-wide attention in a matter of seconds.

In truth, we all know that it’s impossible for walnut trees to grow apples. They’re genetically programmed to produce only one thing … walnuts. And just like walnut trees, we humans are genetically programmed. Take our physical appearance. It’s directly influenced by genes passed down from our ancestors.

But unlike walnut trees, we also undergo parental programming that shapes our behavior, our thoughts and attitudes. That we can change! And if we choose to do so, we will be shunned by some and admired by others. 🙂

For example, Cheryl has been programmed to put her mother’s needs before her own. If her mother requests something or manipulates Cheryl through guilt tactics, Cheryl drops everything and caters to her wish. Even if it’s hugely inconvenient. Even if her own family suffers.

I’m happy to say that’s all changing. Lately, when Cheryl has the impulse to drop everything and do her mother’s bidding, she stops and asks herself: What do I think is the best use of my time right now? How do I best take care of me and my family?

In other words, what do I choose to do?

Then there’s James. He gave countless examples of his father yelling at him when he was a boy and telling him how worthless he was.

“In his eyes, I sucked at everything . . . I couldn’t do anything right.”

For 40 years, James bought into that piece of damage. He even picked up where his father left off. As an adult he would mutilate his own self-esteem with the same messages he got from his dad.

Not long ago, he chose to see himself in a new light.

Katie was programmed to tough it out. Instead of comforting her when she got hurt—either physically or emotionally—her parents would sternly say: “You’re alright.”

Her programming failed to prepare her for understanding and working through her emotions. So she was at a loss—to the point of panic—when her dog died, when her car broke down on a busy highway, when her boyfriend cheated on her, and when she became the target of cyberbullying.

By the time I met her, she was inches away from suicide.

Today, she’s choosing to embrace her feelings. By doing so, she’s on the road to learning how to manage them.

Each of these individuals chose to defy their programming. They’re to be admired.

Walnuts or apples? To break the spell of programming, make it apples. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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The Golden Rule in Reverse

resepct two way

“Don’t let other people treat you the way you wouldn’t treat them.”

This is what I recently said to Stanley, who never objects to disrespectful treatment from key people in his life. He swallows it … and suffers for it.

Kind-hearted by nature, he’s respectful in all his dealings with others. He wouldn’t, COULDN’T, hurt a flea if forced to. But there are those in his life who don’t mirror that characteristic. When I asked him why he doesn’t stand up for himself, he said, “It’s what I’ve come to know.”

Said so well! Stanley’s succinct comment speaks to all of us. Programmed from early childhood, we tend to behave and react in ways that echo what we’ve come to know. To step outside that box takes us out of our comfort zone, and as we all know, leaving our comfort zone isn’t one of things we crave in life—we resist it like the plague.

For the remainder of our session, Stanley and I explored the ways his comfort zone existence has hurt and hindered him. I knew we were getting somewhere when he said, “I can see that I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the only way I’ll dig myself out of this hole.”

Click here to read about Deanna with a similar problem and the advice I gave her . . . .

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“Waste” Some Time

Dandelion at Sunset

Carlie is  an  over-achieving teenager. She’s  driven to excel academically, athletically and socially. She has trouble with that word “relax.”  But in a moment of clarity, she wowed me with this:

“I would like to know my future to see if I’m wasting my time, because if I am wasting my time, I want to waste it better.”

It’s sad that a stressed-out state can feel normal to us, so much so that it feels wrong to  be free of it.  Let’s face it, our culture values and encourages busyness over taking time to smell the roses. Busyness is easily equated with productivity, purposefulness and meaningfulness. To do otherwise is  deemed wasting one’s time.

This is all wrong! Squirrels are incessantly busy—aimlessly darting here and there—but I wouldn’t necessarily call that busyness productive, purposeful or much less meaningful. The same applies to us humans.

In contrast, soaking up  a sunset can be one of the most productive, purposeful  and meaningful things we can do.

It’s not a waste of time to waste some time!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Don’t Grin and Bear It!

smile outside

 

Out for a walk one day, I was struck by how natural it is for animals to protect themselves from harm. Their survival instinct doesn’t seem cluttered with emotional logjams such as second-guessing, guilt, or denial. At the first sign of danger, without the slightest hesitation, a bird will take flight. Likewise, rabbits hop away to safety. I think birds and rabbits have something to teach us about boundaries.

Cassandra, a distressed client, comes to mind.  She once asked me, “Is it okay to skip being nice to people who mistreat you?”

“It’s more than okay, Cassandra!”

I pointed out that, just like birds and rabbits, we’re supposed to be invested in self-preservation.

Unfortunately, Cassandra’s boundaries crumble when the programming of her childhood overrides the instinct to protect herself.

Cassandra’s parents downplayed her brother’s bullying behavior and sarcastic remarks. Instead of protecting her, they excused him. The message conveyed was this: “Boys will be boys. And you—being a girl—should be nice.”

Because we’re drawn to what seems familiar and normal to us, we tend to surround ourselves with people who psychologically resemble those from our past. So, not surprisingly, Cassandra’s in a relationship with a man who treats her like her brother did. And instead of objecting to his hurtful behavior, she takes it. The result is a dampened spirit and constant knots in her stomach.

Her learned behavior is the same in all settings, including her workplace. Wearing a smile despite being treated unkindly, Cassandra allows them to cross her boundaries.

Cassandra yearns to free herself from such programming. That’s a good thing, because trying to make something palatable that isn’t—enduring the unendurable—is not only exhausting, it’s also an act of self-betrayal.

In the weeks ahead, Cassandra and I worked on boundary-building. It began with her learning to listen to the truth of her feelings instead of listening to the programming that told her how she “should” feel. I recommended a book I would love to hand out on street corners, The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel.

Birds and rabbits don’t question—even for a second—their right to self-preservation. And the predators of the world have learned just how difficult it is to lay a paw on them. Why should we—thinking creatures—be any easier prey?

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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Safe or Confining?

old shed

 

“Most people talk about fear of the unknown, but if there is anything to fear it is the known.”  Chopra

You know . . . there’s truth to that. Not long ago, I watched the movie Room. It’s about a mother and her son, Jack, who are confined to a shed they call “Room.” Jack’s mother was abducted by a man when she was seventeen. Two years later Jack is born. “Room” is the entirety of his world until they escape shortly after he turns five.

The world outside of Room is foreign to Jack. Even though he has an abundance of new people and experiences at his disposal, he would occasionally ask his mom if they could go back. That tiny world—including fewer freedoms—possessed a powerful gravitational pull.

Why?

The good ole status quo offers the security of the familiar. It surrounds us with predictability.

Jack mirrors our natural resistance to change, even if it would be to our advantage. Let’s face it, the familiar often wins out, whether it’s staying glued to an unfulfilling occupation, an unhappy relationship, a self-defeating coping mechanism, an ineffective way of relating, a limiting belief about something, or a fixed way of doing things.

The known seems safe. But that’s an illusion. In reality, we’re captives of a habitual and stagnating existence, and that spells confinement.

Why should we be lured by the unknown?  I like Chopra’s answer to that question:

“The known is the rigid pattern of past conditioning. The unknown is the field of infinite possibilities, that field of infinite choices which we can step into every moment of our life, when we go beyond the camouflage of our past memories, our conditioning.”  

Yes, we’re conditioned beings and it takes a lot of courage to venture into new territory—to leave our Room. But to be free we must.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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Be Bigger Than Fear

Othersideoffear

 

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one’s self.

Soren Kierkegaard

Sad to say, many of us choose playing it safe over living fully.

Spencer Johnson, M.D., addresses this condition and offers a solution in a delightful little book, Who Moved My Cheese? The story’s setting takes place in a maze. Four characters, each desiring cheese—essential for staying alive, live in this maze.

Initially, all four hang out in Station C, a room where the cheese was plentiful. Therefore, no one had any motivation to leave Station C. An idle, settled-in existence suited them just fine . . . until, that is, everything changed: the cheese supply began to dwindle for no apparent reason.

Two of the characters, realizing that maintaining the status quo was riskier than venturing out, began searching for new cheese elsewhere in the maze. The other two, Hem and Haw, stayed put, torn between the need to seek new cheese and the desire to play it safe with the familiar. They let fear rule their destiny.

The story beautifully illuminates how we compromise the desires that spring from our core. Often preferring to remain snug in our cherished comfort zones, we have a tendency to resist change, even if our soul is suffering from malnourishment.

Figuratively, cheese can mean different things to different people. It can symbolize peace of mind, a rewarding job, a loving relationship, travel, health, a possession, running a marathon, taking up art—any of a myriad of things.

Johnson’s story highlights how our inflexibility can be our undoing, resulting in handicapping our spirit.

Stagnation occurs when we let fear rule us. Johnson poses this vital question in his book:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Finally fed up with stagnation, Haw decided to release himself from fear’s grip. Hungry and weak, he took the courageous step of venturing into the unknown in search of new cheese. What he discovered was astounding: when you move beyond fear, you feel free.

Sprinting through the corridors, energized with courage, Haw was now thinking in terms of what he could gain, instead of what he was losing. Invariably, “he was discovering what nourished his soul.” It had to do with “letting go and trusting what lay ahead for him,” Johnson writes.

Interestingly, after finding the new cheese, Haw was happy and fulfilled—not so much because his belly was full, but because he was no longer letting fear control him. Taking a risk brought him to the wisdom that “the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you’ll find the new cheese.” Haw wrote that statement—along with many other epiphanies—on the wall as he journeyed through the maze.

Recording his realizations on the walls served as a reminder to himself, but Haw had a secondary purpose in mind. He felt bad about his friend Hem, and was hoping the messages would act as a trail marker and also provide encouragement if Hem would choose to follow Haw’s example. He worried, though, that Hem would opt to stay hemmed in.

I like what Mark Twain had to say: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” We can’t ever expect to banish fear, but we can become bigger than fear. This was Haw’s ultimate triumph.

If you take a look at your life, you will notice just how many times you were able to get bigger than your fear. Up to this moment, your life has consisted of a series of advances that involved laughing at fear. You couldn’t have grown past playpen stage if you hadn’t exercised your courage. Just learning how to walk required you to overcome your fear.

Imagine the courage you mustered when you bravely raised your tottering self from a crawling position for the first time. That courage still resides within you!

Yes, we all have a Hem and a Haw inside. There’s always a part of us that wants to go forward while another part resists. But, in reality, we have little choice. The alternative is stagnation and a life without “cheese.” That’s not living.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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