Saturday, December 13, 2014

Heads up

Hell is others

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on Reflections about a friend who jumped into deep water to save another man’s life.   He did so without thinking, based on trust, the heart of altruism.

In this blog post I am going to talk about the man my friend tried to save, the one who was drowning, who grabbed my friend and pulled him under. 

For some of us, relating to others is fraught with danger.  Maybe we were abused as children, or our caregivers’ love was conditional on their own satisfaction and we were used to make them feel good.  Or maybe we were just born that way: afraid of losing ourselves.  Whatever the reason, some of us grew up with the feeling of a hole where our hearts are, a void that remains difficult if not impossible for us to satisfy. 

Where relationships represent an answer to existential isolation- promising connection, love and fulfillment-, for those of us with a sense of void in our hearts, relating to others only deepens the wound, and increases our sense of alienation, of feeling separate and alone.
Desperate for healing yet unable to heal in relationship, we may search for palliative remedies in the form of extraordinary states, extreme feelings and heightened levels of consciousness.  But none of these permanently fills the void within us, and we end up in a constant, fruitless search for that elusive fix.  Like Sisyphus, we are damned to constantly push a boulder up a steep incline only to return to the bottom every time we reach the top.  We may turn to drugs, meditation or other means of transcending our misery.  The word depression means to dip or press down, but ours is a particular kind of depression: a dark and bottomless pit, the converse of our infinitely steep climb.

Because we are so heart-weak, we use others for an emotional transfusion to fortify us.  This makes us feel good.  But when we get into a conflict and stop feeling good, we have a hard time owning any thoughts, feelings, stories, and especially any errors, that remind us of that gaping inner lack.  We cannot compromise.  Someone else will have to do that.

Basically, since our fix must be in terms of an increase in our personal power, giving that up is simply not an option.

Altruism is a form of the word alter meaning other, l’autre, as in “ l‘enfer, c’est les autres.”  Altruism is the hallmark of those stable enough to put themselves aside and show up for someone else.  This is relating.  For those whose constant focus is themselves, others are hell, a drain on scarce resources.  There can be no relating.

What is your focus, where is your center?  Do you tend to be the donor or the receiver?  And perhaps more importantly: do others agree with you?

Monday, December 1, 2014

But I love him

Many people come to my office confused about whether or not to stay in a relationship.  They report a sad, conflict-filled marriage with neither person feeling very fulfilled and say they want to leave, but cannot because they still “love” their partner. 
Here is what I say to them.

There are three legs supporting any relationship: attachment, compassion and happiness.  A relationship can stand on any of them alone or on all three, but only one of them can sustain a good relationship.

Attachment is the quality of being psychologically intertwined, sometimes to a very deep level, with another person.  Being attached can elicit oceanic feelings of connection or completion.  But it can also cause us to panic when the person we are attached to leaves, or fly into a rage when he or she pushes our buttons.  Attachment can run deep, but it doesn’t always give us the warm fuzzies.

Compassion is the selfless love of a mother for her child, the kind of love embodied by Christian love or by what the Greeks called agape.  It is quite simply the unconditional love that would make you stand in front of a train or gun to save someone else.  It is a beautiful heart-wrenching love that tenderizes our hearts and makes us human.

Happiness is the quality of feeling fulfilled.  In a happy relationship, you get along well on a daily basis.  Not only do your values fit, your routines do.  The relationship works because you are happy, and vice versa.  And happiness would be the leg to stand on, if you have the choice.  The other two, attachment and compassion, are intense but are not necessarily fulfilling, let alone predictors of relationship success.   

When you are with someone that makes you happy, you stay because you like being with him or her, not because you feel like you have to look after him or because it is too hard for you to leave her.  

So, instead of asking yourself if you love him, better to ask: Are you happy with him?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sorry (no ifs, ands or buts)

Your partner wants an apology.    

You begin:
“Sorry, honey...“
Then add:
“If I hurt you”
“But I didn’t mean to”
“And It wasn’t my fault”

Better to stop at sorry than to tag on an if, and or but.  These make your apology about defending or excusing yourself, wiping the slate clean for your own sake rather than your partner’s.

Saying sorry isn't about dodging blame so I can feel better about myself.  It's about expressing regret that I've hurt you so you can feel better about me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

show some respect!

Respect yourself and others will respect you

How do I get others to respect me?

Answer :
I’m asked this question regularly; by parents in regards to their children, children in regards to their parents, by women in regards to men, and men in regards to women…

Everyone wants to know how to stop people from treating them in ways they don’t like.  They figure there must be something they can say or do to get them to change.

But they can’t.  Not anymore than posting the rules in my house can get anyone who enters my home to obey them.

I always ask people, “Who’s the only person you can control?”  And everyone always answers, “Myself” but then expects others to stop doing something they don't like when they ask them.

But it doesn’t work like that.  Even if you ask them politely, using your scary voice, or a megaphone.

So how do you get others to respect you?  By respecting yourself.

That means: if someone is treating you in ways you don’t like, then leave, end the conversation, hang up, go away, move into another room, whatever…  But don’t expect others to leave you alone, go away, shut up and do whatever you want them to.  Your boundaries are not their problem; they’re yours.   

Take care of your own boundaries and, if you don’t like how others are treating you, respect yourself and don't stick around.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

addicted to negative emotions?!

I remember reading something according to which negative emotions, as a whole, can be addictive, probably on a chemical level.  Apparently many therapists are agreeing and it seems to be the general consensus.  All the new age woo woo stuff aside, is that true? 

Thanks for tickling my brain!

Human beings generate all kinds of theories based on correlations instead of explanations!  The "addictive to negative emotions" theory may be one of those theories. 

I think that we can get addicted because of negative emotions but not TO them.  Think about it: how addictive would getting an electrical shock be? Smelling shit?  Getting screamed at?  Or ignored?  We may get addicted to what happens right after the negative emotion, like relief, a rush of warmth, silence, connection, etc...  Endorphins?  This might also explain why some people like to jog :)  As one runner friend of mine put it once: I am addicted to jogging because stopping feels so bloody good!
Negative emotions might get paired with positive ones, but that is another thing.  This might be the case in masochism.  Or it might be the case that someone needs to hurt in order to feel anything at all :( 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whose problem is it anyway?

There is a tendency to want to blame someone else for how we feel about them.  We’ll say, for example, that You’re annoying me rather than say, more truthfully, that I am annoyed by your behaviour, a semantic and cognitive tweak that shifts the onus for my feelings onto someone else in a moment of confusion about the source of my experience.  
According to infant psychiatrists, this is what babies do.  Before they are able to differentiate between themselves and the external world, before they acquire the sense of an “I”, infants confuse their bodily experience (inside) with what is going on peripherally (outside), in a symbiotic relationship with the world and those around them.

Once I acquire a sense of self, however, I can know myself as the source of how I feel such that, when others’ behaviour triggers bad feelings in me, I know that is not their “fault”, let alone their problem.  To hold them responsible for how I feel is a regressive delusion, not to mention counter-productive, particularly if others don’t have a problem with their behaviour, or don’t want to change just because I want them to.

What’s more, in blaming others for how we feel, we declare war against them, escalating an already problematic situation.  The origin of the word war is the German verwirren "to confuse, perplex" and, indeed, when the boundaries between your experience and mine become blurred or confused in this way, violence is a real possibility.

So, unless someone has misused a position of power with me or broken an implicit or explicit agreement, he or she is not responsible for my feelings and I cannot blame him or her for my feeling hurt or upset  by his or her behaviour.  My feelings are my own reaction, not universal signposts by which do judge others.  If we are involved in a dance that doesn’t work for me, like it or not, that makes it my problem.  

The only person I can change is myself and, if I’m not happy with how someone behaves, I’m the only one who can do anything about it.

Big disclaimer: This is not to be used as a way to push responsibility for an act of aggression back onto the victim.  Acts of aggression are not projections.  They also blur and transgress boundaries.