Tag Archives: control

Meet Your Roommate

roommate

 

Suppose you had a roommate who constantly scrutinized and critiqued your every move starting with the moment you got out of bed: “You should have gotten up earlier. Are you ignoring  today’s schedule? Your hair’s a mess . . . as usual. Don’t forget to contact Jonathan today. He expects a call, you know. You’re such a slacker.”

How long would you continue to live with such a roommate? Briefly. You’d throw that person out on the street in no time flat!

That’s what Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, believes we would do. But . . . BUT . . . he points out an exception. We’re not very likely to boot out the roommate who takes up residence in our head—our “inner roommate.” Our inner roommate says all the same things as any given external—actual—roommate . . . and more! We’re told what to do, what to fear, what to second-guess, and how to think about this person or that person.

Not only does our roommate devote its time to judging us, it judges everybody we know and everybody who streams on and off our path throughout the day.

According to Singer, “It has something to say about everything you look at: ‘I like it. I don’t like it. This is good. That’s bad.’ It just talks and talks. You don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it. You’re so close that you don’t realize that you’re actually hypnotized into listening to it.”

I can only agree. Call it a dictator we bow and pay homage to.  We listen to it and give it more power and authority than it should have.  I discussed this very thing with two of my clients, Dawn and Doug.  You can read about our sessions by clicking here.

“There’s almost nothing that voice can say that you don’t pay full attention to,” Singer states. “It pulls you right out of whatever you’re doing, no matter how enjoyable, and suddenly you’re paying attention to whatever it has to say . . . . That’s how much respect you have for this neurotic thing inside of you.”

Singer’s correct. We honor it over our own will, in fact. And therein lies the key to change and freedom. We must switch our allegiance from our inner roommate to our will.

 “Your will is stronger than the habit of listening to that voice.”

—Michael Singer

The first step in accomplishing that is to become aware of its existence. The very act of awareness sets you apart from the voice and places you in the role of observer versus blind captive. As an observer, you have control. As your roommate babbles on, you critique it rather than the other way around. And in the process, you think and act on your own beliefs, tastes, and opinions. You determine your own course of action.

Identify with the true you … the observer.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Life’s the Teacher

train tracks two kids

“Truth cannot be borrowed. It can only be experienced.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the hardest things to endure is watching a loved one suffer and being unable to teach them the life lessons we’ve learned.

We’ve all been there, and we all end up pulling our hair out in utter frustration when our best efforts fall flat. If only that exasperating spouse, friend, child or whomever would just cooperate. In Brandt’s case, the loved one is his sister.

“Her list of bad choices keeps growing,” he said. “She’s adrift—led by her whims and desires. She dropped out of college but assured us all that she’ll try again later. I wish I could believe her.”  Click here to read Brandt’s full story.

Situations like Brandt’s—that are beyond our control—humble us. Not only are we faced with the truth of our powerlessness, but with the understanding that life itself is the teacher. Knowing that fact, however, doesn’t make it any easier to endure. We’re left with a form of grief that we resist absorbing.

It takes courage to let go, and it takes courage to feel the grief that follows. It’s far easier to fight, push or get angry.

It also takes courage to keep our heart intact and resist pulling away in judgment. Though, in some cases we have to pull away because remaining connected would prove detrimental psychologically or physically.

But that’s not true of Brandt and his sister. He can and should continue to be closely connected as a caring and supportive presence in her life. And it’s from that space, ironically, that he can influence the most. I remember asking him: “Just where do you think Kylie would be without you as her foundation and anchor?”

Yes, we can advise, and even shout warnings when it seems appropriate, but the other person is ultimately the one in charge of the path they choose.

Only through our own mistakes and heartache do we develop the muscle and the insight to direct our lives wisely. Another person cannot give that to us.

However, they can stand beside us with understanding acceptance. That’s powerful!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Free to Leave

Free_Spirit

“A grain of sand becomes a beach in a millisecond.”

Marta—my client—was talking about her over-reactive, hot-tempered husband who makes mountains out of mole hills. Add suspicion, an appetite for power, and alcohol to the mix and you have a potentially dangerous man. Not long ago, he became just that.

It all started when she walked in the front door. There he stood, arms folded and wearing a scowl. The usual grilling began—demanding to know where she had been. Her explanation fell on deaf ears. He didn’t believe her—never does—that is, unless her story agrees with his. He was convinced she had been spending time with another man.

As is often the case, Marta tried—desperately—to get him to believe her. It didn’t work. He just got nastier . . . then . . . he hit her. Serious bleeding resulted. She did not file a police report. Why? Because she’s locked into the habit of appeasing him. He’s her priority.

There’s another reason. Marta second-guesses herself. When she’s the target of someone’s anger, or when accused or badgered, her knee jerk reaction is to believe it’s somehow justified. So, along with thousands of other abuse victims, she believes she can make him treat her better by changing something about herself.

In our session, Marta unloaded example after example of verbal and emotional abuse. But at the time of those incidents, Marta was in a state of denial. She didn’t want to see it so she minimized or excused it. She even followed his lead and blamed herself.

But fooling herself had now become an impossibility. He had crossed a line, and—long overdue as it was—it finally opened her eyes.

“Why have you put up with this for so long?” I asked. “I’m not a quitter,” she said.

I don’t call it “quitting” when we decide to leave an abusive relationship. I call it a much needed course correction . . . and an act of loving ourselves.

If Marta’s husband doesn’t love her enough to stop abusing her, shouldn’t she love herself enough to put an end to it? The answer is a clear “Yes!”

Marta’s not alone. Scores of women (and men) are in abusive relationships. It doesn’t usually start out that way. Few people, if any, would go on a second date with an abuser. No, it’s a subtle, progressive thing. Suddenly, we’re there!

And just like Marta, we may shake our heads in disbelief and ask: “How did I get here?” The answers are varied, depending on the individual, but one universal cause is adaptation. If we’re exposed to something long enough, we start to get used to it. Cigarettes comes to mind. At first our bodies recoil—they reject the toxic substance. But with prolonged exposure, our bodies learn to adapt.

Dr. Steven Stosny shared his thoughts and advice on adaptation, anger and abuse in relationships with Oprah’s audience many years ago.  His words are as true today as they were then.

As Marta and so many others have discovered, the way out of such relationships requires courage, a hearty dose of self-love and an awakened belief in one’s own value.

Names have been changed to honor client confidentiality

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Dominated by Guilt

sad puppy

Guilt, just like anger, is often used as a tool to manipulate.

Last week I offered one reason why we refrain from speaking up or confronting another person. It’s the fear of igniting a thunderstorm.

Another reason is guilt. One of my teenage clients, Allie, put it perfectly:

“I don’t know how to stand up for myself without feeling really bad afterward. I worry about hurting someone’s feelings.”

Allie may be a teenager, but her concern is universal—she’s just not alone in this. Many, many people of every age—myself included—have trouble with this one.

Dru also suffered, and grew, through her struggle with this issue.  You can read about it here.

Allie wants to get a handle on this tendency because it sets her up to be taken advantage of. For example, friends frequently ask her for rides. During Christmas break she was driving people around for hours. She always says yes even when she doesn’t really want to.

Her friends may be happy with this arrangement, but Allie isn’t. “My gas gets used up!” she said in exasperation.

In our session, we talked about the common sense of asking her friends to help out with the gas, or merely opt to use the “no” word. She gets it, but it’s tough, tough, tough because she can’t bear the idea of letting someone down. A certain sad expression is all it takes.

We explored where her problem first took root. “My mom would act hurt if I didn’t give in to what she wanted,” she said. So understandably, Allie learned to water herself down and become putty in the hands of others. She tells me she’s so used to focusing on what others want that “I don’t even know what I want half the time.” Sad.

What I told Allie, was the same thing I told Dru:

Hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. Being denied, stopped or corrected is a part of life and necessary for teaching us our limits and how to be sensitive and respectful to others. We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts or angry outbursts.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality

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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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Our Favorite Illusion

apple tree

Some dreamy-eyed part of us clings to the illusion that through a sheer act of will we can change another human being. Such misguided thinking is as unrealistic as believing we can get a walnut tree to start producing apples.

For six years Sonya has asked her husband—who works in the remodeling industry—to fix the gaping hole in their kitchen ceiling. If it weren’t for a sheet held in place by thumbtacks, the studs and insulation would show.

The ceiling is just one of her many frustrations. My jaw dropped at some of the things she has put up with over the years. That’s the key point—she puts up with it. So how can she expect change? Sonya came to me wanting to know how she could change her husband. She’s at the end of her rope—change must happen or she’ll either leave the guy or die from frayed nerves.

She’s tried talking to him but that leads nowhere. “Instead of trying to understand what I think, he turns it into a conflict,” she said. Fodder for warfare.

Her husband makes approaching him with a problem an impossibility. The result: stifled grievances. Such things build to a point of creating a gap in the relationship equivalent to the hole in their ceiling.

Because he’s unapproachable, I told Sonya she must be the change she wants to see in her relationship. “You can’t make him change but you can.” Sonya must start by valuing herself more. This means acknowledging the things that rob her of happiness and negatively impact her well-being. She wants her husband to hear her distress and honor her needs. She has to start with herself instead of passively enduring.

Second, Sonya must empower herself to seek solutions—relief—from tormenting circumstances. Putting up with something that undermines her peace for six years is SELF-torture.

She followed my advice. His family was planning to visit in a few weeks so she told him: “Either take care of this before your family shows up or I’ll hire it done.” She was prepared to do just that.

He chose to fix the hole. The victory here isn’t that he finally stepped up to the plate, but that Sonya finally took charge of her own happiness.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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It Takes Courage to Feel

tear

Some people think that being tough has to do with muscle strength and detached emotions, but it’s the opposite. It takes courage to feel.

Brenna, a client in her 20’s, mistakes strength with being stoic—devoid of emotion like one of Clint Eastwood’s characters. Her mom matches those qualities, and Brenna feels weak in comparison.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry,” Brenna said.

In contrast, Brenna wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotions are right out there—she feels them all. In our sessions, she often gets teary-eyed and then immediately apologizes for it.

Not long ago she said, “I wish I were strong like other people.”

I had to tell her she’s got it all wrong. “Look,” I said, “compared to you, unfeeling people are lightweights. Quit apologizing for a strength. Quit apologizing for something that’s beautiful about you!”

We humans tend to avoid feelings of pain, grief, fear and annoyance, because the experience is like being in a small boat on stormy seas. It rocks our serenity. It frightens us and threatens our sense of control … meager as that is.

I explained to Brenna that it’s not unusual to discover that the people who are detached emotionally—who seem unfeeling—are actually submerged in a flood of unbearable emotions. Life has left wounds that are just too over-the-top to bear. For those people, detachment is a godsend—a means of coping.

Throughout her life, Brenna has suffered the effects of her mother’s detachment.  Wrongly, she misread it to mean her mother didn’t love her very much. That’s changing. Brenna’s coming to realize that her mother’s emotional detachment is actually an outgrowth of her detachment from herself . . . not to be taken personally.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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