Emotional Self-Defense

When I was younger my fantasy was that, if I could sufficiently master some self-defense style, I would never have to worry about getting into a fight because I would be able to block any punch that was thrown at me.  

I could always punch back if I had to but I wouldn’t have to.

If I successfully blocked all incoming attacks, my  opponent would give up in frustration and walk away.  My “victory” would be assured.

I say this was my fantasy because, while I did get into an occasional fight when I was younger, I didn’t hang around situations which would evolve into physical combat.

I have, however, been involved in some verbal altercations.  But, that is another issue.

As The Emotions Doctor, I started thinking about how emotions are viewed as contagious.  

  • An emotion gets “started” in a crowd and it escalates through the group.
  • Someone approaches you from a particular emotional “orientation” such as anger and you tend to react with anger.  The situation can easily escalate and get out of hand.
  • Have you ever become emotional in a movie?  There is no “real” situation but your emotions are very “real”.
  • The notion of an Amygdala hijack is quite real.

Now, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with “catching” an emotion.

What I am saying is that you, as a strategic deployer of emotions, should be prepared to master your emotions so that you are not blind-sided by the situation.

Every year at Christmas, I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  And, every year, I cry when the community comes to Jimmy Stewart’s rescue.  

Do I want to prevent this from happening?

No.

  •  I know the cause of the emotion and I am a willing participant in it.
  •  The emotion is part of the experience of the movie.
  • I don’t catch anything. And, I am not blindsided.
  • In short, there is nothing I need to manage, control, or master.

Emotional Self-defense.

So, let’s explore what is involved in emotional self-defense.

Emotional Awareness (Mindfulness)

You will need to be consciously mindful of the situation you are in. 

Mindfulness means you are in the moment.  You are focusing your attention on yourself and the other person, or people, in the situation.

In other words, you will need to be aware of BOTH the emotional state of the other person and your own emotional state.

You

In other posts, I’ve written about how you need to be aware of your body and the physical signs it gives you that inform you that you are experiencing a particular emotion.

For you, this might involve muscles tightening, changes in body temperature, thoughts “speeding up” or “slowing down” and so forth.

Sometimes, you may experience an emotion in a specific situation and not really know what is eliciting that feeling.  In this case, consider the idea that you are reacting to another person.

Them

For another person, you might have to infer, or “guess” what they are feeling from their actions.

  • Do they appear to be angry or sad or anxious in how they stand, gesture, distance from you or look to you?
  • Do they sound like they are experiencing a particular emotion in their words, volume, inflection, pauses and so forth?

Emotional Self-Mastery and a Mastery Mindset

As soon as you become aware of an emotion, either in yourself or in another person, you want to go into a mastery mindset.

A mastery mindset involves..

  • taking a deep breath (psychological safety)
  • taking a step back from the situation (physical safety)
  • assessing the emotion and
  • deciding how you want to respond to it.

Note: You might recognize this from the Anger Mastery Cycle       

As long as you are in response mode, and not reaction mode, you are engaging in emotional self-defense.

Your own emotions.

If you become aware of your own emotions first, you can assess the situation and determine the extent to which you are either responding to what is going on or reacting.

A response is a choice.

If I am angry with you and can identify what it is about you that I perceive as a threat, I am responding to the situation.

If I experience myself crying, getting sad, becoming angry and have not chosen this response, I am reacting. 

When this happens, I need to go into response mode.

Response mode gives me the opportunity to decide what I want to do.  It does not mean I have to do anything.

The key to emotional self-defense is choice.  The particular emotion is not the issue, per se.

Going back to my original fantasy,  I didn’t think about what kind of punch or physical aggression I might face. 

In my fantasy, it didn’t matter. 

I would block whatever you threw at me whether it was a punch or a round-house kick.

If I am mastering my emotions and yours as they impact me, the emotion is irrelevant. 

I will do whatever I have to do, in the situation, to control the situation by strategically deploying my emotions in the context of that situation.

All of the above are “blocking” strategies.  Sometimes, you want to take a more active approach to mastering the emotions of others.  This involves asking questions. 

I have addressed this approach and other relevant issues in previous posts.

Click on the title and you will be redirected to the post.

 

ALL of my posts dealing with Relationships and Emotions.

My last post completed a series of four posts which explored in some detail the Basic Relationship Rule.

These posts were an in-depth exploration of the idea that relationships and emotions are interconnected.

Over the years , I have written several posts on relationships and emotions as well as other topics.

Below, I have listed all of my relationship posts starting with the oldest so you can explore this topic in more detail if you choose.

Relationships and Emotions                                                                                                 (conflict resolution, empathy, living in an emotional world, and more.)

Click on the title and it will take you to the post.

 

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 4: Skill Sets

This is part 4 of my 4 part series on understanding others and ourselves in the context of our relationships with them utilizing the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

The BRR states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

The three elements in the BRR which comprise the basis for understanding another’s behavior are:

  1. Their psychological state
  2. Their Model (or perception) of the situation
  3. Their skill sets.

In this post, I will discuss element #3 … skill sets.

Skill Sets

One’s skill sets are the abilities each individual in the relationship brings to the situation that they can access when they need to decide what they will do to “move the relationship forward”.

These skill sets include..

  • how they handle emotions (emotional intelligence skills)
  • their level of self-control (intrapersonal skills),
  • how they interact with others (interpersonal skills)
  • how they analyze a given situation (critical thinking skills)
  • how they approach solving problems (problem solving skills)
  • how they communicate with others (communication skills)
  • how they deal with perceived risk (risk management skills)

Your skill sets are the behaviors you have learned over your life span to deal with different types of situations.  Skill sets are influenced by different environments including family, work, school, the military and so forth and become habitual over time through practice.

You learn how to act by…

  • watching others in different situations
  • observing the reactions of people to what others do
  • making decisions about what to do based on how others respond to you.
  • being challenged to solve  a problem
  • having someone teach you a specific skill
  • etc.

When an individual behaves inappropriately in a given situation, you can usually attribute their actions to a skill set deficit when..

  • their Model of the World (perception of what is going on between you and them) is accurate  and
  • you can account for their psychological state

How do you identify “skill set” deficits?

You get the feeling that the behavior you are observing just doesn’t “fit”.

In other words the observed behavior may be too much or too little in terms of..

  • aggressivness,
  • verbalizations (what they say or don’t say),
  • dealing with the issue at hand,
  • listening skills,
  • empathy

Looking at a person’s behavior as the “best” they can do leaves you open to exploring whether the actions of another comes about because, if their model is accurate and their psychological state is not a factor, they don’t know any other more appropriate way to handle the situation.

If this is the situation in which you find yourself, you have to weigh your options.

  • Perhaps, they need to  acquire new skills.

If this is the case, then educating them about their actions and the consequence of the choices they have made and suggesting alternatives such as being assertive (or any of the other skill sets mentioned above) may be all that is needed.

  • Perhaps, you need to adjust how you deal with them.

A few years ago, I asked professional women what kind of responses they received when they appropriately expressed anger. I received over 2000 responses which clearly indicated that these women were demeaned, devalued, or discounted when they expressed their anger.  I suggested that they needed to use their anger to motivate their pursuing needed changes but that they needed to express their anger in a more indirect manner.

  • Perhaps, you need to get out of the relationship

An example might be a friend or family member who is addicted to drugs and who tends to be agitated and defensive in their interactions with you.  All your efforts to help them change have  been unsuccessful and the relationship is taking its toll on you. You might decide to continue “loving” them and to be “available” if they choose to change but to keep your distance from them.

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems.  The issue might be their behavior or yours.
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.

Summary

In the last four posts, I have introduced you to the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

I have also discussed each of the elements that comprise the BRR and given some examples of how to implement the Rule to improve your relationships.

While my focus has largely been on you attempting to understand and accommodate  the actions of those you have to relate to, it is important to note that sometimes the issue may be your behavior and their attempts to deal with and understand you.  The BRR is equally relevant and powerful as a tool for critically looking at and understanding the actions you take.

So, when you are attempting to build a relationship with others or a relationship you already have isn’t working, your first step should be to apply the BRR to yourself and then apply it to others.

As Steven Covey put it..seek first to understand and then be understood.

Or, as it applies to the BRR… Seek first to assure that you are not the problematic issue and then look at the other person’s behavior as an issue.

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 3: Their Model

This is part 3 of my 4 part series on understanding others in the context of your relationship with them utilizing the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.

The Basic Relationship Rule states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

In this post, I will discuss the part of the BRR which asserts that the behavior that is observed is based in part on one’s Model of the World.

Recall that in my last post, I noted that, in the context of a relationship, the job of both parties is to move the relationship forward.  This might involve improving the relationship or resolving conflict, completing some task at hand, etc.

Problems typically arise when one person in their attempt to complete the “job” doses something that is viewed, in the context of the relationship, as  inappropriate.

I am suggesting that the BRR gives you a starting point to begin to understand the basis for the other person’s actions.

In deciding how you want to respond to any situation, you first need to do an assessment which includes”

  • what is going on,
  • what is needed to accomplish your goal in that situation and
  • what tools are available.

The Assessment:

The lens through which we determine what is going on around us is the Model we have, in our minds, for understanding our situation.

Let me give you two examples.

1. For most of my career, I was a staff psychologist in an institution run by the Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division.  I had a collegial relationship with the other psychologists in the Institution.  We interacted well and, when I perceived that something irregular occurred, I pointed it out.

When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, however, they reacted to me differently.  I tried not to change who I was or how I interacted with my colleagues in terms of ethics, recognizing them as individuals and so forth but they clearly viewed me differently and their interactions with me changed.  My Model of them had not changed from colleague to “boss” but their Model of me as “boss” clearly was different then their view of me as “colleague”.

2. As I write this, there are numerous stories in the news of what is viewed as excessive use of force by police.  Whether or not the force used in each situation is excessive or not is not the issue here.  That people have lost their lives in the course of an arrest clearly indicates that the actions of the police officer, in each case, stemmed from their Model of the situation and the behavior that was appropriate, in that situation, to deal with what was going on (to resolve or move the situation forward).

The implication is that the police will view you as a “citizen” if you are white and a “threat” if you are black.

In order to begin to make some sense about what explains the other person’s actions, you need to gain some insight into their Model of their world in that moment.

This model includes the assumptions they are making about:

  • the context of the interaction
  • gender issues
  • race issues
  • power issues
  • safety issues
  • task issues
  • you, as an individual, within the context of the interaction

More specifically…

  • context: work, home, business/professional, relating to a “clerk” in person, by computer, or over the phone, dealing with a service person such as tech support
  • gender: beliefs about men and women and what is “appropriate” for each gender.
  • power:  work related including a boss to a subordinate, positional related such as a police officer to a citizen or a perpetrator or a doctor to a patient
  • safety: what is the risk within the situation
  • task: what is going on that may be related to accomplishing a specific task such as working on a project at work or at home with your kids
  • you: are there some assumptions about you specifically including what type of person you are, how assertive you are, how needy you are and so forth.

Looking into how others perceive their relationship with you gives you an opportunity to look at how they perceive you and the situation and how the actions they’ve chosen to exhibit make sense to them.

Perhaps, their actions reflect a misunderstanding of something you have done or said, how they perceive themselves relative to you, or how they understand what is “appropriate” within the context of the current relationship.  If this is the case, helping them change their perceptions may alleviate the challenge to the relationship.

One example might be a co-worker who violates a “personal boundary”. This boundary might be a physical boundary, an ethical boundary, a gender boundary, or a rule violation. The questions to ask yourself involving his model of the world include:

  • Is he being aggressive and ignoring the “rules”?
  • Has he misunderstood something you said or did?
  • Is he unfamiliar with the rules?
  • Is his model unjustified or is this a skill set issue where in he just does not know how to say what he wants?

A personal example:

When I promoted to Senior Psychologist, one of my staff was “clearly”, but not egregiously, violating the rules regarding time spent doing his job.  I knew it and he knew it, but I couldn’t “prove” it, given the tools available to me at the time.  So, calling it to his attention directly wouldn’t have been beneficial.  As I was a new supervisor, I asked for some help from “headquarters”.  It was suggested that I put out a general memo about the “rules” and include, at the bottom of the memo, some general “boiler plate” disclaimers that failure to follow the rules could result in “disciplinary actions”.

After the memo went out, one of my staff barged into my office and accused me of inappropriately “threatening” her with disciplinary action especially in light of her exemplary work history.

Now, I need to add that she was not the “target” of the memo and that I had never said anything negative about her.  In fact, early on I had told her that she was a valuable asset to the department.

At first  I was confused.

When I considered her actions from the point of view of her implied Model, I realized that her actions had very little to do with me, personally, and very much to do with her view of “supervisors” and her own sense of inadequacy.

Her Model reflected her view of “reality” as…

  •  “the Man” was unfair and “out to get her”.
  • I was “the Man”
  • her relationship with me was aggressive and self-protective

Once, I explained the “boiler plate” and reestablished that she was a competent and valued staff member, she was fine.

I do need to add that, after this incident, my Model of “headquarters” changed.

Another example might involve interacting with a police officer. Keeping in mind the implied Model of the World of someone whose job involves  a risk to his/her safety and the inability to really “know” what the next person they interact with might do, if I am pulled over, I won’t do anything to raise a red flag.  As an example, when I was younger, I used to think that it was a good idea to get out of the car when stopped so the officer could see me.  When I had police officers as students in a class I was teaching, they explained that a person getting out of a car was viewed as a possible threat and advised to stay in the car with my hands on the steering wheel.

This is using their Model to insure that their interactions with me, in the context of our current relationship works out well for the both of us.

In summary, if your goal is to make the most out of your relationships with others, understanding and accommodating their behavior (when appropriate) is critical.

The first part of this understanding (discussed in my last post) was that they are doing their best.

The second part provides a context in which to interpret what they’ve done and this context involves their Model of the “World”.

Their actions reflect how they view you (their Model) and how this view impacts how they will interact with or relate to you (your relationship with them).

In my next and last post in the series, I will discuss the concept of skill sets.

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 2: Doing Their Best

This is Part 2 of my 4 part series on Relationships.

The four parts are:

  • Part 1:  Overview
  • Part 2: Assume Doing the best and psychological state
  • Part 3: Understand their Model
  • Part 4: Look at their skill sets and summary

In Part 1, I discussed what constitutes a relationship and introduced you to the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR).

To review:

The BRR:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person.
  • applies to both the actions of another person and you

The Basic Relationship Rule states:

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

Applying the BRR:

  • facilitates your understanding others and yourself and
  • is  the key to building (or improving) your relationships

In this post, I will discuss the second part of the BRR which asserts that everyone ALWAYS does THEIR BEST.

This is the part of the BRR that most people find problematic.

It is also, I would say, the most important part of the BRR.

The concept of Best is problematic.

I’m sure you can give numerous examples of things people have done which you viewed as:

  • inappropriate
  • wrong
  • misguided
  • outrageous
  • stupid
  • insulting
  • and so forth

Given the behavior you observed (or displayed), these descriptions were probably very fitting.  And, because the behavior was so egregious, it is very difficult to accept that the behavior in question is the Best the person could do in the moment.

Possible versus Available

The reason most people find it difficult to accept that what they or others have done is their best is that they fail to consider the difference between the best possible with the best available behavior.

Problems arise because people assume that what they observe should be the best possible.  And, since what you observe isn’t the best possible, the other person isn’t trying to do the right thing. 

Another way to look at this issue from the point of view of the individual is the difference between capabilities and abilities.

Capabilities vs abilities…

Your “capabilities” are the behaviors that you can exhibit under ideal conditions.  These are, indeed, your absolute best actions.

Your “abilities” are the best behaviors you can exhibit in any given situation.

Situational characteristics which can impact what one does include being stressed or anxious, feeling physically sick or impaired in some way, being distracted, and so forth.

In previous posts, I noted that what you do in a given interaction is the based on how you view what is going on (you Model) and the extent to which your psychological state impacts or impairs what you do.  Given these “constraints”, what you choose to do stems from what you are capable of doing (your skill sets) but reflects what you are able to do in the situation.

The individual’s actions are the best available to them in the moment.

There are at least three elements which impact how an individual responds in any situation…

  1. Their psychological state
  2. Their Model (or perception) of the situation
  3. Their skill sets.

Observed Behavior

When you try to understand the behavior of another person (or yourself), the BRR notes that we always do the Best given our Model of the World and our skill sets.

Let me dig a little deeper.

The situation in which you find yourself with another person whose behavior you view as inappropriate given their relationship with you involves an interaction between you and them.

The characteristics of that situation include their (and your) assessment of what is going on and what is needed to move the situation forward. Moving the situation forward is the task at hand (or, as noted above, the job).

The only assumption I am making here is that it is important to the other person to “move the situation forward” which might involve:

  • resolving an interpersonal conflict
  • upholding some rule
  • accomplishing the task at hand
  • etc.

Given their goal to move the situation forward, they will assess what is happening and choose the best available response that they believe will enable them to effectively handle the situation they are facing.

I noted above that the idea that this is their best behavior in the moment was the most important part of the BRR.  This is true because making this assumption is the the only way we can  begin to understand the behavior of the other person. Clearly what they have done  is not the best possible.

To put it another way, of all the options available to the person in that situation, the behavior you observed is what they chose to exhibit in order to deal with what was going on.  It was the best choice available to them at the time.

While it is possible that the other person would choose an “inferior” behavior, given the situation, this assumption won’t help you to understand the other person with the goal of improving your relationship with them.

And, think about it. Unless they, are engaging in some form of self-sabotage, they will default to doing whatever they can to  deal with the situation in which they find themselves.

This is the Best action available to them.  Not the best possible. So, if this is the best possible, in the moment, it is fair to consider what elements led up to the choice of the behavior that came out.

Or. to put in another way…

  • How they could act in such a manner?
  • What were they thinking?
  • What were they trying to accomplish?
  • and so forth

To be sure these are all excellent questions.

I mentioned three elements above. I will discuss element #1 psychological state below.  and I will address how they view the situation (their Model) in my next post (part 3) and what they are capable of doing (their skill sets) in part 4.

Element #1: Their psychological state.

The other day, I had to make a phone call in which I had to give some unwanted information to another person.

I clearly understood the situation (my Model was accurate) and I clearly had the interpersonal skills (my skill sets) were more than adequate.

The conversation did not go as planned!

I got nervous and my stress negatively impacted my actions.

Stress is a psychological state. Another word for stress is anxiety.

I have written about both stress, per se, and anxiety, specifically in other posts including:

  • Mastering Stress (December 2016)
  • A Three Part Series on Anxiety  (February and March 2020)

By the way, you can access ALL of my posts by category, title and date by clicking on the Index tab in the upper right hand corner of the home page.

When you are impacted by stress or anxiety, you are nervous and it is difficult to think straight.  Under these conditions, your decision making and your choices for how to act can be impaired.

This is what happened to me.

The point here is this:

In the process of understanding the behavior you observe (in others) or exhibit (in your own case) and moving the relationship along, it may benefit you to assess, as best you can, the psychological state of the person you are interacting with.

Do they appear to be stressed, sad, anxious, or angry?  If so, you might consider disengaging if you can or minimizing how you engage with them.

A prior post:

You Are The Target of Someone’s Anger A Three Part series. (February and March 2017)

Remember that nothing I say is designed to excuse the behavior you observe (or exhibit).  I am attempting in these posts to give you some guidelines for understanding the behavior in question.

Part 3 will appear in 2 weeks and will cover the concept of one’s Model

Understanding Others and Ourselves to Build (or improve) our relationships. A 4-part series. Part 1: Overview

This is the first of a 4 part series of posts dealing with the topic of relationships.

We all have relationships with others.  Some are healthy, others not so much.

The reality, however, is that we don’t think much about or really understand what relationships are.

My goal in this post is to offer some perspective on relationships.  This information should be useful if you are trying to build a relationship with someone, improve a relationship that isn’t working, or, perhaps, survive a relationship that exists and impacts you but which you can’t really change.

The four parts in this series are:

  • Part 1:  Overview
  • Part 2: Assume “Doing the best they can”
  • Part 3: Understand their Model
  • Part 4: Look at their skill sets and summary

Part 1:  Overview

Your view of relationships.

If I ask you to tell me about your “relationships”, what comes to mind?

Do you think about specific people:

  • spouse,
  • a co-worker,
  • friends,
  • teammates on your sports teams,
  • a teacher,
  • your in-laws

Are there specific individuals you don’t think about:

  • the “clerk” behind the counter at the store, the airport, the office, or on the tech support call
  • the cop who might pull you over
  • your doctor, mechanic, or gardener
  • the neighbor with the noisy dogs
  • the in-law you don’t particularly like
  • your boss or subordinate at work

I’m suggesting that all of the above are “relationships”.  And, it is in your best interest to adjust your thinking to this point of view.

A Working Definition:

An interpersonal relationship can be understood as a “significant” connection or association which exists between you and another person.

What does this mean?

The term significant refers to any connection which:

  • has some value or importance to you or influences you (as you define it) in some ways
  •  could have a negative impact on your “life” because you failed to recognize the connection as “significant”

Examples of “significant” others include:

  • your spouse
  • your girl/boy friend
  • your parents or siblings
  • your boss
  • your co-workers
  • your landlord
  • the policeman who pulls you over
  • the clerk who is processing your “materials” at the airport, the store, the courthouse, the DMV, the Social Security Office, on the phone (tech person)
  • professionals (doctors, nurses, accountants)

The term excludes any interaction in which you and the other person are mere “placeholders” and have no meaningful “value” to each other in the situation.

Examples of “place holders” could include:

  • standing in line with other people at the grocery store
  • saying “good morning” or “How are you?” as a passing greeting

The term relationship only refers to a connection between you and the other person.

The term does not:

  • imply any positive or negative qualities inherent in the relationship
  • tell you anything about the individuals in the relationship
  • include any reference to other elements which may define a specific connection

Relationship Rules:

There are many different so-called Rules about relationships.

The one you may be most familiar with is the Golden Rule which states:

Do unto others as you would like them to do unto others.

Or, Stephen Covey’s “rule”:

Seek first to be understand and then to be understood.

Or, maybe, what I call the Platinum Rule which states:

Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.

While each of these rules has both advantages and disadvantages, I am suggesting that there is a Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) which has several important advantages over these other rules and which can be applied to all of your relationships.

The Basic Relationship Rule (BRR)

Everyone always does the best they can in any situation given their psychological state, their model of the world and their skill sets.

  • Everyone: Every participant in the relationship including you and the other person.
  • Always: The assumption is that, if the action is personally meaningful, each person will default to an action that will be maximally productive in the situation.
  • Best: The best they can do in the moment. Not the best possible.
  • Psychological State: any obvious indicator of strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety or anger
  • Model: Their personal perception of the current event.
  • Skill sets: The behaviors they can use to deal with the situation.

The advantages of the BRR are that it:

  • aids you in building a relationship with another person
  • informs you where to look if the relationship isn’t working or is having problems
  • helps you navigate through a relationship which could have important negative consequences for you if not handled well
  • sets a standard for how you view the actions of another individual within the context of your relationship with that person
  • applies equally to both the other person and you

Judging, validating, and/or condoning…

The basic relationship rule is intended to help you avoid judging the actions of another participant in the relationship so that you can validate and understand the behavior you are observing.

It does not require that you condone or accept the other person’s behavior as appropriate.

  • judging: labeling the behavior in such a way that eliminates further understanding and can exacerbate any problems which might exist in the relationship. Judging the behavior of another person in a relationship can effectively end any further constructive interactions.
  • validate: accept as their best, at the moment, NOT the best possible.
  • understand: gain some insight into the behavior you are observing.
  • condone, accept and appropriate: imply a set of standards that can, if necessary, be applied later to the behavior

Validating  helps you maintain the relationship, if this is your choice, while you devise a plan to intervene and facilitate any changes which might improve the relationship.

Validating also allows you to continue to accept the other person while you might not accept their behavior.

Understanding can provide some direction in choosing an intervention.

I will explain this in more detail below.

The Role of Emotions in Relationships

As I have written in other posts and in my two Amazon best-selling books, I view emotions as tools which provide you with important information about how you perceive your surroundings and which can be both mastered and strategically deployed.

Emotions are important in the context of relationships because they are:

  • a source of information about how you perceive what is going on between you
  • the filter through which you are interpreting the other person’s actions
  • a window into how they perceive what is going on.  tells you where you need to focus your attention to improve the relationship

So, you now have an overview of both how I will define relationships going forward and a familiarity with relationship rules including the Basic Relationship Rule which I will discuss in detail.

Part 2 will be published in two weeks and will cover the idea that we need to assume that others are doing their best.

 

 

Happy 2021

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.

We are on the verge of a brand new year.

While we have all experienced many challenges in 2020, my hope for you is that you will have HOPE in 2021.

Your thoughts are critical!

As readers of this blog, you know that it is not the events that we encounter that determine what we experience. These events are filtered through our perceptions and how we choose to interpret these events determines what we experience and the emotions that are elicited by the event.

In other words, while “shit” happens, its impact on us is totally up to us.

If I step in dog poop, it is upsetting.  If I change my grandson’s poopy diaper, it is what it is.

So, it 2021, my hope is that you will…

  • deploy mindfulness to keep you focussed in the moment
  •  master your emotions so that you control your life and it continues to move you closer to your goals.

Your Relationships Connect You!

How you interact with others can have a critical impact on how you live your life.

The Basic Relationship Rule is your guide to better relationships: Everyone in every situation does the best they can given their Model of the World and their Skill Sets.

So, it 2021, my hope is that you will…

  • deploy the Basic Relationship Rule so that your relationships with others continue to grow and bring you pleasure.

Be safe and Happy New Year to you and yours.

Looking at The Corona Virus through the lens of relationships with others.

The other day, I was in a Target Store and the sign on the door noted that facial masks were recommended.

I wondered why they were not mandatory.  But that is another issue.

As I walked around the store wearing a mask, I noticed that, while most people were masked, several people, usually young adults, had no masks.

While I did not say anything, I was a bit annoyed by their, to me, careless behavior.

Let me explain.

In many states, citizens are emerging from a total lockdown due to the contagious nature of the virus.  We are now in “Phase 2” with more places opening up and people venturing out.

People have been advised to continue to engage in  social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet away from others and to avoid large gatherings and non-critical travel.

Specific impacted group such as the elderly or the immune system impaired are still being advised to self-isolate until we get a better grasp of where the virus is (mass testing) and how best to deal with it.

But, let’s get back to the source of my annoyance in the Target Store.

I was annoyed because these people who were not wearing masks were thinking only of themselves.  They could be contagious, without knowing it or having symptoms, and could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

To put it another way, they were being selfish.  They did not seem to understand that there were other people in their world who could be negatively impacted by their actions.  In other words, they are, whether they know it or not in an implied relationship with those around them.

The Relationship Issue

I would like to look at our interactions with others (in the context of the virus) as a relationship issue.

The message that you hear repeated over and over when it comes to the virus is that “We are all in this together.”

While this is true, what does it really mean?

Well, there are two interrelated aspects to this message: the facts and our responsibilities.

I. The facts: the virus is easily spread between people.

The first, and most obvious, aspect of being in this together, is that we need to think of others because, given  the nature of the virus and the way that it is transmitted, we can unwittingly infect another person.

Or, they can infect us.

And, given that you can be both symptom free and contagious, your lack of being careful can end up killing your grandma or someone else whose underlying conditions leave them vulnerable.

So, if the virus is a boat, we are all in the boat—together.

Which leads us to the second aspect of “We are all in this together.”

II. Specifically: interpersonal responsibility.

Secondly, we live in an interconnected world where we impact, need, and are impacted by other people.

In other words, because we are all in the boat together and what we do impacts others, we need to think about the responsibility that exits between us and others.

This is called interpersonal responsibility.

I’d like to unpack the issue of interpersonal responsibility as it is implied in the notion that we are all in this together but is not often addressed.

There are two ways to look at the issue of our responsibility toward others.

  • On the one hand, we are responsible TO others.

and

  • On the other hand, we may be responsible FOR others.

These two aspects of interpersonal responsibility are not mutually exclusive and both can be operative at the same time.

Responsible FOR (obligation):

I’ll start with being responsible for others as it is the most common and easiest concept to understand.

If we have elderly parents or kids we are taking care of or friends with underlying conditions which make them vulnerable, the lines of responsibility are clear.

They may not be able to totally take care of themselves and need our help, support, guidance, and involvement. We know what we need to do and we do it.

Responsibility here is almost an obligation.

We take the necessary precautions including hand washing to insure that we do not transmit the virus. We parent our kids to help them get through this pandemic.

In one sense, then, we have an obligation to others not to spread the virus.

Responsible TO (do the RIGHT thing):

Being responsible to others is both less clear and often unacknowledged.

Our collective response to the Corona Virus challenges us to be responsible to others.

We do what needs to be done because they are the right things to do.

There are two elements to the concept of responsibility to:

  1. The first is that, because you are doing the right thing,  you do what needs to be done whether or not, at least initially, the other person does what they need to do.
  2. Secondly, in order to help you do this, I am suggesting that you consider “everyone” you interact with (for at least as long as the pandemic exists) as being in a relationship with you.

Note: Treating others as if you have a relationship with them will be equally as important after the pandemic but to continue to do this is up to you.

Other people as “placeholders”

We often do not think of the actions we take with others who have no meaning to us.

They are “placeholders” in that they exist and may come into contact with us but we ignore them and move past them without acknowledging them because they are, at least to us, insignificant.

Significant, or meaningful, people

Those people with whom we have a relationship have some value or meaning to us and we take the time we need to acknowledge them and choose how we can best interact with them.

In this pandemic: Every interaction is a relationship..

Having a relationship with someone means…

  1. that they are more than just a placeholder to you and
  2. that they are a person who is serving a “meaningful” purpose in your life.

The definition of “meaningful” will vary from situation to situation.

When it comes to the virus, saving your own or another’s life should fit the definition of meaningful.

Indeed, the fact is that if we don’t all act together to “reduce the curve” of infections, people may die.

A very real scenario is that hospitals could get overwhelmed with too many cases and some person who did not follow social distancing and other recommended strategies, might infect you (or someone else) and the infected person dies because the hospital is too overwhelmed to provided treatment.

If we are indeed all in this together, then each of us is meaningful to the other.  By definition, this means that we are  in a relationship with each other.

An important element of being in a relationship is that you do the right thing whether or not the other person does what they need to do.

There are two elements here.

1. The first is that, in reality, the only behavior you have direct control over is yours.  You can always choose what actions you take.  You need to do the right thing both because it is the right thing to do and because you can’t decide what someone else will do.

So,I wear a mask and I maintain social distancing.

2. Secondly, it is also true that you can influence or indirectly impact what the other person does.

In the context of the virus, your doing the right thing  can indirectly serve as a Model for other people. They see you doing the right thing and may decide that also need to do the right thing.

The bottom line…

The point here is that you tend to do the right thing for you care about and those with whom you have a relationship regardless of what they do.

And, in these trying times, you have a relationship with everyone you come in contact with.

Or, to put it another way: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

I hope this has been useful to you.

 

 

How to Recover from Abuse Part 2

Because I am talking about the issue of abuse, I know that this post (like the last one) might bring up some feelings which are problematic for you.  With this in mind, let me repeat what I said earlier…..

If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help.  Therapy works.  When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic.  When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.

That being said, let me continue to lay out for you how you can begin to recover from your abuse.

I ended my last post by noting that while the process of recovery may be difficult, it is important to remember that it is doable.

And, because it is doable, how difficult it may be is nice to know but is largely irrelevant.  If the outcome you desire (to be free to move on from your abuse), and you know you can do it (it is doable), all that is left is for you to do the necessary work (whatever that may involve) and the outcome is yours!

We were talking about your thoughts…..

As you think about your past, you probably tell yourself something like:

  • It isn’t right or fair
  • It never should have happened

You are, of course, right on both counts.  But, it did happen.

So, IWBNI allows you to acknowledge both that it happened and that it is behind you.  When you tell yourself that it would be nice if it had never occurred, you are acknowledging that it did take place and that it is over.

This is the first step and begins the process of moving on.  You can always, if you choose, revisit your past.

Please note that using IWBNI does not excuse, diminish or pardon the past. It only acknowledges it and begins the process of separating you in the present from your past.

I will start my next post by discussing the second “element”…the perpetrators

The perpetrator(s)

These are the bad people (sometimes male and sometimes female) who victimized you.

Most likely, what you feel toward them is anger and hate.  You might want to hurt them.

Or, equally as likely (but more difficult to comprehend), you might feel love toward them and want to defend them.

Or, you might feel some other combination of feelings.

I can’t, in this space, provide an explanation of these feelings but I do provide this information on my website (TheEmotionsDoctor.com)

The key to dealing with your abuse through the lens of your perpetrators is forgiveness.

Yes, you will need to forgive those who hurt you.  But, before you cuss me out and stop reading, let me explain that…

what you think forgiving means is very different from what I am suggesting you do.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on forgiveness.

forgiveness.

Most people think that to forgive is to exonerate someone of any responsibility for their behavior.  This is what I call a biblical understanding as when Jesus forgave someone and they were born again.

Your perpetrator did what he, she or they did and probably do not deserve to be exonerated.

But, whether they do or do not deserve exoneration is not the issue here.

When you hold on to your (totally understandable) animosity toward your perpetrator, you bind yourself to them psychologically.  Wherever you go, they go with you. This is the reason that your recovery is difficult.  You are tightly bound psychologically to those who victimized you.

Forgiveness involves separating yourself from these bad people who hurt you.

Forgiveness says, “I hope you burn in hell (emphasis added) but I am done with you.  You no longer have any power or influence over me.  What you did will never be okay but I am moving on.”

Forgiveness is an act taken for you.  It has nothing at all to do with your perpetrator!

You

The third and final element is you.

Wait a minute, you say, I’m the victim.  How am I an “element” in recovering from my abuse?

A fair question!

While it may not be the case for you, many victims often blame themselves in part or completely for their victimization.

I worked with a young woman who was raped when she took a shortcut home to her grandmother’s house. Grandma had told her not to take the short cut as it was dangerous.  She was in a hurry, took the shortcut and was raped.

She reasoned that she was responsible for the rape because she had been warned, disregarded the warning, and suffered the consequences.

While it is true that she would not have been raped if she had listened to grandma, it is not true that she is responsible for the rape.  She is “guilty” of poor judgment.  The rapist is totally responsible for the rape.

Self-blame occurs for at least two reasons:

  • The victim is trying to make sense of an unreasonable event and focuses on themselves because the actions of the perpetrator are incomprehensible.
  • The perpetrator has told the victim the abuse is their fault. “If you hadn’t done XYZ, I wouldn’t have beat you!” or “If you weren’t so attractive, I wouldn’t have…”.

The “reason” why you might blame yourself is not critical here.  What is important is that you “forgive” yourself.

Forgiveness here means that whatever actions you might have taken which appear to connect you to the event did not cause or give your perpetrator permission to commit the abuse.  You are acknowledging any action you might have done and separating it from the event.

.

I hope this has been helpful and that it starts your process of recovery and gives you a roadmap to getting the help (professional or otherwise) you require.

How to Recover from Abuse Part 1

This is the first of a two part series on how to recover from abuse.  I decided to publish this early in the new year for three reasons…

  1. I know that dealing with issues related to abuse (current or past) can be difficult.
  2. This is a subject that is difficult for people to discuss.
  3. If abuse issues are relevant to you, perhaps you will take something that I say in this article, make it a “New Year’s Resolution” and implement the suggestion in your life.

Bur before I get into it, a serious note of encouragement….

If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help.  Therapy works.  When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic.  When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.

During my 30 year career as a Psychologist with the California Youth Authority, I treated young women whose history included multiple types of abuse including physical, emotional and sexual.  While some of my clients may not have been “abused” over time, many had been raped.

Let me explain that when I talk of abuse, I am referring to inappropriate interactions with parents, siblings and caretakers which occurred repeatedly and over time.  While the offense of rape may only have occurred on a single occasion, the distinction I make between abuse and rape in no way implies that one type of mistreatment is worse than or more difficult to deal with than the other as this is not the case.  Rather, I am attempting to include all victims of these abusive victimizing interactions as the way to recover from theses traumatic events is basically the same whether the abusive was perpetrated over time or occurred as a single event.

One caveat before I describe for you how you can recover from “abuse”.

While it is relatively “easy” to describe the recovery process, it is by no means easy for a victim to go through this process on her (or his) way to recovery.  The recovery process is often painful time-consuming and difficult (but not impossible) to do alone.

How past abuse keeps impacting you in the present.

Maybe, you’ve had the experience of sharing your history with someone who says to you (or you have said to yourself) something along the lines of “That (event) happened long ago.  Let it go and move on.”

Okay, maybe they were a little more caring than that.  But the idea that something that took place so long ago continues to impact you is often difficult to comprehend.

The reason that your past continues to bug you (and may even feel as if it happened yesterday) has to do with the relationship between your past and your present.

The best way to understand this was offered by Albert Ellis in his description of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

I explained REBT to my clients this way using the “formula”  E-T=>F.  In this formula, E stands for the event(s) you experienced, T stands for your Thoughts about the event(s) and F stands for the feelings which follow from those thoughts. This is a simplification of REBT but it works to understand Dr. Ellis’s approach.

By the way, just about everything you ever wanted to know about feelings can be learned by visiting my blog (TheEmotionsDoctor.com).

Dr. Ellis was one of the first psychologists to emphasize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.  It is your feelings in the here and now about the event which keep that event current in your life.  When someone says that the event was in the past, they are correct about the actual physical event (or events). And, it is factually the case that the past can’t physically impact the present.  However, the actual facts are not important here as we are talking about your psychological reality wherein your feelings about the past are in the present and they can (and do) significantly impact you in the here and now.

The important insight offered by REBT (which, by the way is one type of cognitive therapy) is that your feelings are elicited by your thoughts. The good news here is that you can change your thoughts.

And, when you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.  Changing your feelings allows you to move beyond your past and recover from your abuse.

Your Problematic Thoughts

There are three “elements” which define your abuse.

  1. The abusive event (or events): What you actually experienced and your perception of what took place.
  2. Your perpetrator: That person or people who victimized you.
  3. You: How you view yourself through the lens of your abuse, what you think about your “involvement” in your abuse, and your view of yourself post-event.

Now, I need to point out that while these three elements are, indeed, separate, psychologically, they may be experienced as interconnected in the same way that a red, a blue and a white strand of rope, while initially separate, become intertwined when we braid them together.  Ultimately, you can learn to separate these elements, as I will discuss them below, so you can change your thoughts about each and move on.

The event(s)

What happened to you is burned into your brain. Your “recollection” of these events may be very vivid (like it happened yesterday), detailed, or fuzzy.  What you remember may be accurate (in the details) or may not match a video (if one existed).

None of the above matters!

The reason for this is that your thoughts (memories) are real to you and combine to create the feelings which are problematic and which negatively impact your life.

I am assuming that some sort of victimizing event or events occurred and, as we are dealing with the “court” of your psychology and not a Court of Law, the “facts” are not critical.

The way to move beyond your past can be summarized in the acronym IWBNI which stands for (I) It   (W) Would (B) Be (N) Nice (I) If.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on IWBNI_s IWBNI’.

Again, let me emphasize that the process I am laying out is easy to describe but challenging to complete.

To put it another way….IT MAY BE DIFFICULT, BUT IT IS DOABLE!