Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stand Up To Bullying

Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke
~ Benjamin Disraeli

Bullying has received a lot of public attention in the past decade and, while it is good that something is being done to try to prevent the dire consequences of bullying, which can go as far as murder and/or suicide, public initiatives tend to rely on the principles of conflict resolution as the basis of their anti-bullying programs.

Typically, for example, if a student complains that another student is bullying him, the adult or teacher in charge is likely to send both students to the office where, after both get to tell their side of the story, they are urged to graciously acknowledge their respective roles in the incident and then make up. The incident, in other words, is treated as a conflict and then dealt with using conflict resolution and peace-making strategies that suppose two equal parties that equally share in the responsibility for both conflict and peace.

Treating the situation in this way ignores the power differential created by intimidation and, as a result, bullying is not being effectively redressed or defused at its source.

The best way to curtail bullying is, quite simply, to fight intimidation with intimidation, not necessarily with brawn (although there is wisdom in the macho father's urging his son to defend himself against a bully by “punching his lights out”). Numbers will also do the trick.

When a child is a victim of bullying at school, we should instruct other children to gather round the victim and publicly denounce the behaviour as a group. By standing by the victim, you stand up to the bully. The bully, when outnumbered in this way, will be made to feel weak. No longer supplied with the power surge he was hoping for, he will retreat, defeated.

This is called solidarity or resistance, a united front. And this is what children should be taught at school.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Somebody Stop Me

The child whose home fails to give a feeling of security looks outside his home for the four walls
~ Donald Winnicott; Child

Extreme times call for extreme measures. That is why adolescents display the so-called impulsive behavior typical of borderline pathology: anorexia, self-cutting, alcoholism or other addictions, tantrums, suicide threats or attempts. On the edge of separation and independence, facing into the possibility of non-existence (picture the fledgling on the edge of the nest facing into the vast expanse of blue), she wants to jump yet with her behavior cries out somebody stop me!

Instead of jumping, she creates the limit she cannot feel by drawing blood, stopping menses, arresting the ebb and flow of normal expectations. This is not wanting to die. On the contrary. This is raging against non-being in it most virile form. Isn't it the same when you drop a penny to the bottom of a well and listen for the sound, or call across a canyon and wait for the echo? You seek assurance in the answer, the mirror, the edge, that calls back to you I am.

When your child by his or her behavior cries out “stop me!”, be the answer that contains, the arms that hold and soothe, that voice that coos lovingly back “I am here, and you are too”.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Freedom to reject is the only freedom
~ Salman Rushdie; The Ground Beneath Her Feet

As a parent, one of the hardest things to do is embrace your child's autonomy, especially when it means accepting things that you may disagree with. It is hard to let a child assert her independence, harder still when you think she is making foolish choices. Every bone in your body wants to protect your child. But this has to be tempered with allowing your child to make mistakes.

Unless the consequences are life-threatening, mistakes are precious learning opportunities and your child should be allowed to experience them. Your child needs to test her strength and find out what her limits are*. If you interfere with this natural process, your child may be forced to go underground to assert herself (rebellion). Worse, you may quash her will, becoming her inner compass and she may end up quite lost in a world that feels hostile and alien without you (anxiety).

Sometimes what is called for is non-action, calm abiding, just standing by your child and showing her you have faith in her ability to overcome adversity.

*Oppositional behaviour begins during the terrible twos, when your toddler says NO to everything, whether it is good or bad for her. It subsides a bit during the latter years of childhood but then rears its head again, quite violently at times, during adolescence. It is a normal part of becoming independent.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eros seizes and shakes my very soul like the wind on the mountains shaking ancient oaks
~ Sappho

We are constantly bombarded by an endless stream of information and opinions. Ads stare at us from every direction, clamouring for our attention and telling us what to wear, what to eat, where to go and how to get there. Our calendars are dictated by social conventions and obligations whose importance we don't even remember. But we have no time to question them. The pace of our days is so fast that, before we know it, the poetry has been sucked from our lives.

Ask your children to spend some time with you doing nothing. Go for a walk with them, take them for a drive, or just hang out with them in the living room with the TV off.

Ask your spouse to sit facing you and just hold hands. Gaze at each other and see what happens.

Eros. Love. Desire. Life. Whatever you want to call it. It is why you are here. Make room for it and watch it shake things up.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Separation Anxiety

life empty of attachment is actually the opposite of true independence
~Steve van Bockern

It is very painful to see your child suffering from separation anxiety. Some children cry every time mom or dad leaves. This can go on for many years, making the parents feel like their poor child is being repeatedly traumatized, or that they have done something wrong to make him feel so insecure. But this is not usually the case. It is more likely that the child has a very secure attachment to parents and caregivers (this is why he does not want them to go), but that he has developed the bad habit of reacting to a situation in anticipation of an evil that never actually comes. After all, he survives the separation. He is not abandoned. Mom and dad return. Every time. Moreover, the daycare worker or teacher reassures you the tears last about 5 minutes at most.

So what is going on exactly? Why does he keep reacting this way?

Your child is facing into the fear of being alone. It is not so much that he is still emotionally dependent on you (on the contrary, children only ever feel this anxiety once they have acquired some measure of autonomy), but that he has become exquisitely aware of his own separateness, his existential solitude so to speak. This is all the more pronounced in a shy child for whom the distinction between himself and the world is felt more acutely.

There is nothing you can do to alter the reality of what he experiences, so it is no good trying to persuade him there is nothing to be afraid of. For him, there is. Never sneak away either, as that really is abandonment and will simply breed mistrust and insecurity. Instead, for every new separation, make a reasonable plan, a departure routine, and stick to it. Be loving but firm. And encourage your child. Tell him how proud you are because you know it is so hard it is for him and he is so brave. Remind him that he has survived the fear before and will survive it again. Before and after the separation, emphasize your child's courage. Help your child feel and celebrate this. Do this also when your child takes the initiative in other situations that he finds challenging, like letting go of the side of the pool for a bit when he is learning to swim. But never push a child or throw him into unpredictable situations over which he has no control. This will simply overwhelm him.

Your child may always be an anxious or timid child. But by anticipating and facing into fear, again and again, and by enduring and surviving it, your child will build courage. Courage is not fearlessness; it is endurance in the face of fear.

Finally, be proud of your sensitive child, who is feeling the raw emotions that make him a human being. And be proud of yourself as parents that have raised a child that can still feel this vulnerability.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Teachers, you are my mirror

When you get angry at me, I see myself as annoying.
When you lose patience with me, I blame myself for being too slow.
When you laugh at me, even kind-heartedly, I hold myself in derision.
When you evaluate my work, I measure my value by the grade you assign me.

Teachers, you shape my self-image daily. Be generous. Be kind.
The more you encourage me, the more I will thrive. Naturally.
You are the key to my learning self-acceptance, self-respect and self-love.
Teach me those and you will have unlocked my world more than any book ever could.

Enseignants, vous êtes mon miroir.

Quand vous vous fâchez contre moi, je me vois comme fâchant.
Quand vous perdez patience avec moi, je me blâme d'être trop lent.
Quand vous riez de moi, même gentillement, je me trouve dérisoire.
Quand vous évaluez mon travail, je mesure ma valeur par la note que vous m'assignez.

Tous les jours vous façonnez l'image de moi que je me donne. Soyez généreux. Soyez doux.
Plus vous m'encouragez, plus je m'épanourai. Naturellement.
Vous êtes la clef de mon apprentissage de l'acceptance, du respect et de l'amour de moi-même.
Apprenez-moi ça et vous m'auriez ouvert le monde plus qu'aucun livre n'est capable de faire.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Are You So Angry?

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about some of the social taboos attached to the expression of anger and I am not going to review them here. But I would like to talk about why people get angry or, rather, why some people are inclined to be angrier than others.

Angry people seem to have a combination of low levels of tolerance mixed with high levels of expectation. That is why temper tantrums are so common around the age of two: the terrible two-year old has zero tolerance and infinite energy. It is one frustration after another! The combination is similar for kids with ADHD. They usually have lightning-quick minds and feel thwarted by the slowness of the uncooperative world, beginning with themselves and their own limitations.

Angry people also tend to be idealistic and set their sights on outcomes that may be unreasonable. This leads to chronic anxiety. They stew, fretting over minor glitches that your average person dismisses without so much as a second thought. They may pace and cogitate, sit and cry, or wring their hands. Either way, they are pretty ineffectual problem-solvers and they know it.

Finally, angry people tend to be emotionally immature or naïve. They may fail to realistically anticipate the unfolding of a situation or their own reactions to it because they get overwhelmed by feelings that short-circuit logic. They seem not to know how to prevent a bad situation from getting worse or be able to walk away from a fight, even when it's a losing battle.

Angry people don't get a lot of sympathy from their friends and families. They possibly get the least amount of sympathy from their lovers who feel terrorized by their outbursts and may end up tip-toeing around their partners for fear of tripping a mine. But angry people are not mean people.

Hug an angry person today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do Unto Others

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
~ Udanavarga 5:18

One of the most common causes of communication breakdown in a couple is the inability of one or both partners to communicate their needs. Generally, rather than verbalizing what we want, we drop hints (sighing, dragging our feet, complaining) then get angry at our partner for not reading our minds. To compound the problem, since nobody is saying what they need, we rely on The Golden Rule and give our partners what we want instead of what they want, while our partners are doing exactly the same thing. So everybody feels like they're giving without getting and nobody's needs are being met and you both get frustrated and end up hurting each other.

As one client said, “I've treated my husband the way I would like to be treated and then I've expected reciprocity. This has led to so much disappointment because, well, he is not me. I have been so angry for so long and have said a lot of things that I regret.”

Give your partner a chance to meet your needs. Tell him what you want.

And, rather than doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, go Silver instead. Better yet, as my dear mentor Robert Misrahi once said: “Do unto others as they would have themselves be done unto”.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Paradise or Hell

The smaurai drew his sword and Hakuin said:
"Here open the gates of hell!"
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, put away his sword and bowed. And Hakuin said:
"Here open the gates of paradise".

~ from The Gates of Paradies (a Zen koan)

When you are hurt and want to tell your partner, say it gently, like someone who is hurting rather than someone who is demolishing a wall. Do not anticipate resistance by raising your voice or eyebrows, or wagging your finger menacingly because you fear your concerns will land on deaf ears. It is not necessary to shout to be heard (actually, whispering is more effective). Refrain from using you-statements and do not be afraid to expose your vulnerability just because you want to cut clean boundaries or expect impingement. If you brandish a sword or even sound defensive you are unlikely to meet with a sympathetic ear because you will have tweaked your partner's defenses.

Start with "I feel..." then really tell your partner how you feel, not what you think or what you fear or what you know to be true. There is no truth, just subjective reality, your inner landscape or vécu. Paint a portrait of it for your partner with your words and invite them in to take a look.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Exit

Closing your exits is essential to gathering vital energy into a crucible where transformation and sublimation occur. You want to pour your energy into a vessel without leaks. Without closing your exits, you have one foot in and one foot out, you spill your energy into secondary activities that blur your focus. Your efforts will be scattered and diffuse.

In order to strengthen your couple, it is necessary to make a conscious effort to stay within it when conflict and tensions arise. This means using negative energy in a constructive way, rising to the challenge you and your partner are facing, and finding a way out that is also a way in, going deeper into the relationship rather than avoiding it.

Too often, when the heat is on, we seek an out; we want to escape. But by avoiding the problem we just put it off to another time. We do not mend or transcend it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


This is the first in a new series of blog posts I have called "Contractions".
I have created it to briefly address questions that have been raised by clients in order to stimulate their own contractions.

Most of my couples have been coached on the finer points of listening adapted from Harville Hendrix ground-breaking principles of communication. The principles are 100% effective; the problem is nobody uses them!

One has to step out of the competing monologues that drive conflict. When you do this, the cacophony is arrested, stopped in its tracks, leaving us primed to really hear and respond to someone else.
Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.
~ John Cage