Love Shouldn’t be a Prison, and True Love Isn’t

love-prison

 

Since this is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d dust off one of my favorites from several years ago that seemed to resonate with many people. Even if you’ve been following me from the beginning, this one’s worth a second look:

One thing that assures a long-lasting relationship is kindness—each partner treating the other with the same respect, courtesy and gentleness that characterized their mode of relating in the beginning.

Unfortunately, our human tendency after settling in is to relax those standards. We drop those nicer habits. Not good. A relationship should be a place where flowers grow . . . not a place where we’re constantly encountering prickly nettles.

Another crucial element is freedom. Love shouldn’t be a prison, and true love isn’t.

Go to my column titled “The Grander Version of Love” where you can read about Carl and Lynn. I go into more depth about kindness, freedom and two other components that comprise a healthy relationship.

I welcome your views! 

“Making marriage work is like operating a farm. You have to start all over again each morning.”

— Anonymous

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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You’re not Crazy!

frustrated-woman

Ever been around someone who makes you question your sanity because there’s no working things out? Every attempt to reason with them fails miserably . . . nothing works. Presenting facts doesn’t work. Even staying composed doesn’t work.

Those hair-pulling moments can reduce a person to a pitiful pile of frustration and self-doubt in a flash.

That’s a fairly typical response, according to Dr. Alan Godwin, author of How to Solve Your People Problems. In a seminar I attended, he pointed out that the world is populated by two groups of people—those who can be reasoned with and those who can’t . . . or won’t.

Those who can be reasoned with, he says, possess three psychologically healthy traits. They self-observe, self-monitor and self-correct.

That means they’re willing to take an honest look at themselves. They want to know their flaws and they want to monitor them. They admit to being wrong, and readily take responsibility for their actions and shortcomings. Then they go that next step—they make things right.

Godwin says that when such people see their wrongness, they cringe.  Call it a healthy dose of feeling ashamed of oneself. It’s a response rooted in a fully developed conscience. When they violate their own standards of character—how they want to be—they cringe.  ( I like that word 🙂 )

The opposite of cringing, he says, is shrugging. Shrugging is an expression of no conscience. In other words, they couldn’t care less.

Godwin states loud and clear: “If personal wrongness doesn’t bother us, we’ll do nothing to correct it.”

So true. In fact, we may deny its existence, gloss it over with elaborate excuses, or simply shrug it off.

It’s clear to me that shruggers don’t care about the quality of the footprint they leave on the landscape of humanity.

So here we are. We find ourselves living among cringers and shruggers—reasonable and unreasonable people. It’s good to know the difference, especially for those who believe they will be understood if they just exert enough effort. Those same people are certain that reasoning will inevitably transform any feud or misunderstanding into a harmonious state of connection, compromise and appreciation.

That’s all true . . . if you’re dealing with a reasonable person. But, according to Godwin, “You can’t reason with unreasonable people.”

It’s also helpful to know that unreasonable people are chronologically older than their developmental age. That is, you may be trying to communicate with a twelve-year-old who’s walking around in a forty-year old body. So your attempts to reason can only go so far. Have realistic expectations.

How to know if you’re in the presence of a reasonable versus an unreasonable person?  You’ll know them by their willingness to hear contrary opinions. They welcome feedback and are open to changing how they see and do things.

In contrast, if you try to talk to an unreasonable person, they’re likely to distort the meaning of your words and not allow you to correct any misinterpretation. They hear what they want to hear.

Reasonable people embrace truth. They don’t deny or distort it in order to avoid their own wrongness. That’s not the case with unreasonable people. Being right and winning is all they care about. Enhancing a climate of mutual cooperation, problem-solving and goodwill isn’t even on the radar.

Blaming is a characteristic of unreasonable people. When they argue, Godwin says, “They play the ‘blame game,’ absolving themselves of responsibility and attributing exclusive blame to the other side.”

What to do about these people? Godwin suggests we avoid them when we can and if that’s not possible, establish firm boundaries. This includes guarding our buttons and accepting the fact that our relationship with them will be limited—lacking depth and a level of intimacy that accompanies open and honest sharing between two people.

Godwin sums it up in a nice package:

“Superficial and light is better than bitterness and strife.”

One of my clients decided to do just that with her difficult sister. “There’s no point in trying to reason with her. I might as well save my breath because she’ll twist things to fit her world anyway.”

Needless to say, my client is feeling much freer and more peaceful these days. Her hair-pulling moments are a thing of the past.

If you’re in her shoes, take comfort: you’re not crazy. It’s probably just the company you keep.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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The Making of a Narcissist

narcissism-in-leadership

 

Letting people experience the consequences of their actions is the loving thing to do. Rescuing people interferes with the lesson plan in the classroom we call life.

Sarah wishes she would have had that valuable piece of information when her son, Colby, was a toddler. But today he’s 22, and she’s paying a hefty price for habitually sheltering him throughout the years.

Colby is notorious for mismanaging money, and Sarah is equally notorious for bailing him out. He always promises to pay her back but fails to deliver. Invariably, Sarah seethes with resentment over having her trust betrayed. And as for Colby, he doesn’t grow up.

Instead of learning from his mistakes, Colby repeats them. For example, he has wrecked more than one vehicle, resulting in costly repairs. But he doesn’t pay for the damages—Sarah does. So by escaping the full brunt of his reckless driving, he misses out on the lesson.

When she’s not rescuing him financially, she begrudgingly assumes other responsibilities that should fall squarely in Colby’s lap. These include doing his laundry, cleaning up after him, balancing his checkbook, setting and reminding him of his appointments.

“I’m disappointed in him,” she said. “It took me a long time to admit that to myself.”

Who he is today doesn’t match the dreams she’s carried around in her head and heart. “I have trouble saying this,” she continued, “but I just don’t respect him, and I don’t like the person he’s turned out to be.”

She described his most disturbing personality traits:  “He’s rude, self-absorbed and insensitive. He doesn’t care who he hurts. He has a nasty mouth and a nasty temper. He can’t hold a steady job. If he gets annoyed with someone at work, even his boss,  he blows up and either gets fired or quits. He uses people, including his best friends.”

There are exceptions, Sarah noted. “He’s nice when he wants something,” she said.

Tired of having “sucker” stamped on her forehead, Sarah sought my advice. I asked her why she continues to overindulge him. “I would feel guilty turning my back on him,” she said. “And no matter what he does, I should love him unconditionally.”

So if Sarah stopped bailing him out, she would equate such action with being hurtful and neglectful.

I told her that letting someone struggle isn’t the same as neglect, and unconditional love isn’t about unconditional tolerance. I can love someone deeply, but this doesn’t mean I ought to tolerate their appalling behavior. Overlooking or accepting such behavior isn’t love. It’s neglect.

In its purest form, love is focused on what’s best for the other person at his or her core level. What’s best for the eight-year-old boy who approaches his parents with a long list of toys he wants? What will further his personal development most? Getting everything on his list or learning the hard lessons of discreet spending, coping with disappointment and facing denied requests? Character-building involves learning how to earn and manage money. It entails grappling with life’s difficulties, including those we create for ourselves.

Another vital aspect of the maturation process is social development. Colby’s an unabashed taker and is puffed up with his own self-importance. In contrast, others are completely insignificant. Consequently, respect and cooperation are foreign concepts to him.

The advice I gave Sarah was simple.

“Stop making things cushy for Colby.”

“So, I hear you saying I have to let him fall?” she asked, giving me a look of disbelief.

“Actually, yes,” I replied. “That would be the first step toward helping him.”

I shared with her a bit of wisdom from a former high school football coach, Don Armstrong:

“It’s so empowering when we love people enough to let them fail.”

I emphasized that to love her son in the truest sense, she must always ask herself what’s best for his character. It boils down to this question: “Sarah, how is doing his laundry hurting him at his core?”

She smiled . . . getting it.

In essence, I told her to stop doing his laundry for him, and quit doing everything else he should be doing for himself. Doing those things doesn’t teach him the lesson of personal responsibility. It just reinforces his self-centeredness, his sense of entitlement and his inflated expectations of how the world ought to treat him.

A few years back I learned of a father who parented his children with this guiding philosophy: “You won’t respect me for what I let you do. You’ll respect me for how I teach you to live.”

He nailed it.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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Don’t Step In It

 

BOXER PUPPY

 

Anyone who takes an occasional walk will tell you that poop is out there — count on it!

For several months we’ve been seeing a lot of it everywhere, especially flung between the presidential candidates. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to rise above the fray! Here’s an example:

A professor of engineering walked into his classroom the day after the elections and encountered a roomful of arguing students. Raising his hand to silence them, he calmly said:

I have only two things to say and then we’re going to talk about engineering. I have lived through nine presidential elections and what I’ve observed is that when my team wins, the results are never quite as good as I anticipated, and when my team loses, the results are never quite as disastrous as I imagined.

The situation was promptly diffused. His words were calming for both sides.

I call this The Poop Principle: you can either walk around it or step in it.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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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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Listen to Your Grumpy Self

grumpy-bird

“I was grumpy when I got up and then I took it out on my kids,” Lori said. “I was just lazy and didn’t want to get up.”

Lori had a good reason for wanting to stay in bed a little bit longer. She had worked late the night before. She needed the rest.

But something tells Lori she “ought to” spring out of bed full of sunshine and butterflies every morning, regardless of what else might be happening in her life.

Sacrificing herself for others is a common theme for Lori in every arena of her life. Saying no—or saying yes to herself—seems selfish to her.  “I can’t let people down,” she says. That mindset leads to exhaustion, and exhaustion is a recipe for guess what? Grumpiness.

Guilt’s the enemy here. It’s the driving force behind Lori’s failure to set boundaries and it’s the basis for her exhaustion and eventual grumpiness. She’s caught in a vicious cycle. Her grumpiness leads to guilt, which leads to overextending herself, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to grumpiness.

Lori needs to learn the language of grumpiness and kick guilt out of the driver’s seat.

Rather than being critical with herself, she needs to listen to what her body is telling her. It’s an unparalleled tool for communicating what we need. Young children don’t seem to have a problem with this. When they’re tired, they take a nap. When they need to play, they play. When they need time by themselves, they take it.

And interestingly, when they’re grumpy, they don’t judge themselves. That comes later . . . after the programming phase of their life is launched. That’s when they’re trained on how they “should” be and what they “should” feel guilty about.

Yes . . . we should be responsive to the needs of others, and oftentimes sacrifice is called for. But wisdom should be the driving force—not guilt. With wisdom at the helm, we take into account the whole picture including what’s best for our well-being. Balance is the key.

I think this quote from the Buddha sums it up perfectly:

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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Your Inner Judge Is a Liar

image-self-love

“Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love.”  

Brené Brown

Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.

Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. In time, we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and a loser for our failures.

What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as inaccurate.

The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.

Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.

That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she became determined to root out and destroy any belittling self-talk that deflates her self-esteem and joy. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of all thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she—not her conditioned brain—is the master of her opinions about herself.

I’m proud of her!

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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