Archive for August, 2015

Political Hyperbole: Screaming Matches in an Echo Chamber

August 27, 2015

I don’t know what you think, but as far as I’m concerned, the sharp elbows and obfuscation that have become pro forma here in DC have gotten exponentially worse now that jockeying for position in the presidential primary season has begun. The fact that these races start so far in advance of the actual election makes me feel as though we’re almost never off cycle. It’s exhausting. For that reason alone, I would probably avoid ever moving to Iowa or New Hampshire. Aside from the handful of journalists who live for the scrum, what I am observing from people of a wide variety of political perspectives is cynicism and resignation. Nobody believes anything they read, see, or hear, anymore.

From my perspective, the fact that the media choose to focus their attention on stories which perpetuate a sense of anger, dissatisfaction, and victimization does a grave disservice to us all. I’m not suggesting we gloss things over, but why the relentless promotion of stories about outrage? How can everything be so bleak? It can’t be! We’re here, not in Syria! Where is any positive message? The image of the shining city on the hill has been deliberately obscured in an attempt to “face the truth” about our country. Sure, we have serious problems to address, but nothing gets accomplished when all we’re told is that society sucks, it’s “their” fault, and America has nothing to look forward to or be proud of.

I certainly don’t believe that, do you?

Whether it’s Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, or anyone else equally determined to get them airtime, the only voters who show enthusiasm for these candidates are either colossally naïve or impress me as the sort who deliberately seek out echo chambers where their own righteous indignation gets reflected back. The issues and proffered “solutions” these candidates offer are so distorted it’s like a fun house mirror. I’m just waiting for one of them elected and then Ooops! Now that they’ve had time to reconsider, to better understand how “complicated” the issue is, well, they’ve decided to take the country in “another direction.” President Obama did exactly this after he was elected. A few weeks ago, the Clinton campaign released a “fact sheet” about her Benghazi emails. Yeah, right, it’s a fact sheet…

Simultaneously, we are throwing away strong leaders, like David Petraeus, for personal failings that have little to no impact on their ability to be executives. The reactions to so much these days is knee jerk. The speed at which righteous indignation and loud mouthed opinions get shared results in less and less thoughtful deliberation and common sense solutions. While I abhor any abuse of power by the State, there’s a direct relationship between telling the police to back off enforcement efforts and the sky rocketing homicide rate in Baltimore this summer.

Is feeling insulted or “disrespected” the worst thing to ever happen? Why would you ever give somebody else that much power over your personal dignity—no matter what they say? They’re just some asshole who said something stupid! Has anyone’s life ever been enhanced by looking for slights and injuries?

These days, we are bombarded with reports of “crises” relayed in terms and tones that convey they are all of equal importance. How important is it for us to watch an entire press conference about Jimmy Carter’s cancer or how many rounds of golf the President plays during his vacation? What does catty speculation about a candidate’s weight or hair style do to enhance the public’s understanding of relevant issues? As sad as it is that a child gets abducted, why does anyone outside the local viewing public need to know about it? Why is it that (at least in DC or Santa Barbara), more often than not, when urging the public to be on the watch for a suspected assailant, the news anchors often omit any description of the suspect’s skin color? Things that are unimportant get dissected in detail while things that may make a real difference get glossed over.

What in the world is going on?

None of what I’ve written has anything to do with re-booting except for the fact that, as overwhelmed and fed up as we may feel, as re-booters, it is incumbent upon us to exercise calm, common sense, and critical thinking when it comes to assessing the information we are being fed. Echo chambers, yelling matches, or sticking our heads in the proverbial sand get equal billing when it comes to the Theater of the Absurd which constitutes today’s political and media arenas. We must think for ourselves. There will be no perfect candidate. There will be no issue that gets resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. But if we don’t work together, if we don’t seek out examples of the things that are going right in this country, we really will lose out. People of integrity and good will can hold very different views, but if our respect for one another continues to erode at the pace it already has, we all lose.

I don’t write about politics very often because it’s become such a volatile subject and re-booting has nothing to do with it, but given the political slant given to just about every topic under the sun, I had to say something.

Political quandry

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Taking the Next Step: Six Questions that Help

August 25, 2015

With the kids back in school, summer vacations concluded, and autumn not yet arrived, now is a propitious time to gain some clarity about what next steps you might take towards resolving whatever dilemma or project you’ve been itching to undertake. These issues can range from how to convince and reassure a reluctant, aging parent to move out of their home to figuring out whether to invest serious effort in that project you’ve always wanted to tackle to strategizing ways to rejuvenate a relationship that’s seen better days. Insight, answers, and progress rarely occur when we’re in avoidance mode…

All too often, we wish to move forward in our lives, but aren’t sure how to proceed; we feel there are too many alternatives or none whatsoever. Either way, our ability to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or at an utter loss is understandable. We confuse ourselves with conflicting priorities, pressing responsibilities, and a nagging distrust of trading our imperfect known for a vague but undefined something we think we want. The result for all too many is to remain fixed in place, made jittery at the prospect of enduring the status quo but hesitant to move forward. Nevertheless, a nagging sense of needing to do something buzzes about like an annoying gnat.

Any of this sound familiar?

Whatever your challenge is, the key to the solution is to act from your strengths. This is an adage that serves us well in all situations and at any point in our lives. We may not always “win,” but we’ll perform a heck of a lot better acting out of strength than weakness. Think about that experiment where the guy tells himself his extended arm is really strong before another person tries to push it down versus when he tells himself his arm is weak. Huge, huge difference in results!

So, as you are tooling about town, doing whatever it is that you do, I want you to ask yourself the following questions (writing down your answers makes it that much more effective, I promise):

  1. How can I make a unique difference?
  2. What do I do exceptionally well?
  3. Where/how/when do I shine?
  4. What do I care about?
  5. Where do I see myself one year from now?
  6. What would [somebody you respect and admire] do to achieve this goal?

When you reflect on these questions, don’t limit or edit yourself in terms of your answers. Whatever pops into your head—write it down. Once you have run through all the questions, then go back and examine your answers in light of the problem or challenge you want help wit; it’s highly likely that some new strategies or solutions may pop into your head! When you act from those aspects of yourself in which you already have confidence, the entire project starts to feel more manageable, thus gaining credibility in your mind. This is your chance, so take it! If not now, when?

And, as always, pay attention to your omissions—those things you consistently forget about or fail to do. Such glaring gaps will convey reams of information about what it is you actually don’t want to do (no matter what you say). For instance, for me, I routinely avoid or forget to check a subscription job posting service. Even scanning the position titles depresses me, let alone reading through the job description. No matter what I say about wanting to return to a paid work environment, is it any wonder I haven’t managed to land an office gig? (It makes me groan and shake my head when typing these words. Jesus, I really don’t want that.)

Then, there is a last step to this little exercise I’ve set out: I want you to make a list of the things you have achieved this year. I don’t care what it is. I know you’ve done something you’re proud of (whether you “had” to or not); situations that are not yet fully resolved count, too. For instance, I know that the time and effort I am investing in healing my relationship with my dad is paying off. Nobody but me can see what it is I do, but I know. I also know that managing to post on my blog twice a week is a goal I’m proud of—especially when there’s little proof that anybody who reads it finds it worthwhile. But, the reason I continue to post is because it’s important to me. You’re doing something similarly important. What is it?

Homework assignment: after you write down your answers, let me hear from you about some insight you’ve gained or goal you’ve achieved. After all, school’s back in session, so you may as well get with the program.

Blackboard

Live In Your Strength

August 20, 2015

I get my ideas for my blog from many sources, but this one happens to come from my tea bag. “Live in your strength,” proclaimed the tag in flowy purple ink. Actually, it’s a useful reminder. In my most recent post, I focused on ways in which we can manage, enhance, or refine our personal strengths and weaknesses as part of a lifelong effort to enhance our interactions with others. Today, I wish to shift perspectives somewhat and explore the primary motivations we summon when taking action.

The root causes for actions we take can be widely diverging, despite the fact that the deed itself remains the same. For instance, there are many reasons why I might pick up the phone: I may call someone because I genuinely want to connect with them, I may do so out of guilt and simply want to get it over with, or because I want to achieve a certain outcome and the fastest way to get there is by talking to this person this individual. Three very different incentives, but the telephone still rings. It’s not that we can’t have a variety of reasons for doing what we do; what makes the difference is whether or not our agendas are hidden.

Looking at this from a slightly different angle, let’s take a situation where an individual returns a lost item: the finder who returns it gladly with no expectation of anything versus the finder who feels resentful or cheated when all he receives is a “thank you” by the proper owner. The gesture of returning the item is the same, but the takeaway energy differs radically.

Whenever we engage in any activity or exchange, we bring to it the energy of our intention and it is this intention which can makes such a difference. It’s almost irrelevant whether the other person is aware of our agenda, what counts is what we know in our hearts and mean to achieve. It’s this inner knowing that I write about today. While there are innumerable instances in life where we are required to do things we’d just as soon not do and must grin and bear it, there is an enormous difference in the quality of overall energetic exchange if we can find some tiny kernel of positive that we can appreciate. Doing so doesn’t guarantee that every moment will feel worthwhile, but finding a modicum of satisfaction helps a lot—besides, much of life isn’t pleasurable. Whoever told you life was fun?

Taking the time and effort to be genuine and positive in what we do is a perfect example of living in your strength. For instance, I don’t always feel like preparing dinner. Although there are a wide variety of alternatives I could choose, I know that preparing fresh and nutritious food is a way I can contribute to the household (while sidestepping one of my father’s horrible spaghetti numbers). When I start grumbling about this chore, I remind myself that sharing this time together is far more important than what food is on the table. Slamming pots around or silently resenting having to sit there while I hear the same story repeated for the 16th time defeats the purpose of our breaking bread together. No matter how good an actress I am, the energy of my attitude gets communicated. Remember the film Like Water for Chocolate?

The same is true for you.

If I can pull myself back from my impatience and identify some aspect of the meal for which I am truly grateful, the end result will be radically different because the energy I’m transmitting changes. The same goes for my dad: if he arrives at the table disappointed by the menu or conversation, I’ll be able to sense that. Does what I’m suggesting make sense?

This energetic level from which we operate is where so much of our integrity comes from. The intentions we bring into any exchange make a huge difference in the long run, even if they don’t seem to impact the short term result. We can see this over and over in marriages where each pretends to like what the other is doing when it really drives them crazy. It’s not that we have to engage in full frontal honesty 24/7, feelings should be spared from time to time, but what happens when the pretending gets to be the norm? You know what happens. The exchange feels incomplete or dishonest; eventually, the two grow further and further apart.

Back in Santa Barbara, I had my world turned upside down by an astoundingly manipulative person who took thorough advantage of my naiveté. Now, while I bear responsibility for my willingness to turn a blind eye, hindsight has provided me with the perspective that despite my errors, I know, deep down, that the role I played in this relationship was one of good faith. I know that the intentions and efforts I made toward this person were genuine, the energy out of which I acted was positive. Even in the worst of it, I tried to summon something that I could believe in, that I respected and valued. I lived in my strength. Regardless of my efforts, the end result was the same, but how I feel about differs radically than had I decided to give as good as I got. I cannot tell you how much this knowledge has comforted me over the subsequent years. And the converse is, whether they ever admit it to themselves or not, the deceitful way they behaved with me will haunt them. Remember the Ghost of Christmas Past?

Living in our strength makes us better people. A commitment to bringing integrity into every interaction is the sort of navigating star we need when confronted by people or situations we’d rather avoid.

So, when it comes to your life, how might you do a better job of living in your strength? What sorts of perspectives can you call upon which makes it easier to deal with challenging people or situations? What can you find about this relationship or situation for which you can feel genuine gratitude or fulfillment that you are there?

Refining and Enhancing Our Skillsets

August 18, 2015

Sorry to break it to you kids, but with half of August already behind us, we’re careening into the final few weeks of summer. Soon, the languid warmth will give way to clear October skies, frost on the grass, and nightfall closing down around us. We’ll stare in wonder as Canadian geese form their v formations, heading South for the winter.

Such reminders of how fast this year is whizzing past aren’t all bad because they prod me to pay more attention to what it is I’m doing with my time. Nothing happens if we don’t invest some concentrated effort, whether that’s emptying the dishwasher, shedding that five pounds, or coaching yourself to change how you respond in situations that make you uneasy. Whether you’re consumed with family activities, work projects, or outside commitments, managing our responsibilities has a lot in common with managing our personal strengths and weaknesses—we have to work at it.

Now, what do I mean by that?

We all come into this world with certain, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to us, as re-booters, to learn to manage these qualities better than we do today. Reading these words may make you groan, but I’m here to tell you that our work never ends, there’s always more to learn. Where adults get into trouble is when they tell themselves they know enough.

Do you think you know enough?

It may sound strange for me to suggest that you need to learn how to manage your strengths, but too much of a good thing can turn out to be not so good. For instance, say you’re the retiring, quiet type: there’s much about such qualities to be commended—so often, silence is a way better option than responding–but when you consistently fail to push yourself to speak up, rationalizing that, “they already know how I feel,” or whatever it is you tell yourself, the silence can go on for too long or be radically misinterpreted. It may feel safer not to say anything, but you’re missing a chance to remind those you care about that, yes, you do give a damn. Don’t underestimate the cumulative impact of your omissions.

Now, let’s examine the converse: the chatty types who assume more than their fair share of conversation. Your willingness to talk can be a great asset and can help smooth over certain awkward situations, but there comes a saturation point when others tune out your prattle. Even if you are the most charming person who ever walked the planet, nobody wants you sucking up all the oxygen—no matter how much they may laugh or smile. Yet another instance of how a strength can be bungled. I’m confident you can think of others

What’s to be done about situations where there is nothing “wrong” with what we currently know and are doing—isn’t it best to leave good enough alone? No, it’s not. As I said earlier, there is always more to learn! We can examine our strengths and work on refining our technique or enhancing our understanding to achieve greater levels of insight, finesse, or subtlety. Think of a professional golfer who pushes himself to gain even greater strength and dexterity, setting out for himself the goal of designing a master golf course, not just playing one. Too many adults consign themselves to fetid pools of stagnation when they fail to push themselves (reminiscent of that mildly stale or outright rank smell you notice around crotchety old people).

Telling ourselves that where we are now is where we can happily remain is a huge mistake. First of all, it’s arrogant. Secondly, it’s lazy. And thirdly, refusing to test out ways we might do a better job eliminates the possibility of introducing greater fulfillment or joy into our life. Over these past four years or so, I’ve had plenty of temptation to tell myself that I did nothing wrong, that I was doing everything possible to seek out work, move past old hurts, and carve out a new and better life here in Washington. But that wouldn’t be true. There’s always more to do and better ways of doing it. During this prolonged re-booting phase of my life, I have had the opportunity to reexamine my perspective, to reconsider aspects that before I dismissed, to learn how to control certain of my personality quirks. None of its been easy, but I am way ahead than if I had decided I didn’t need to change.

For instance, (aside from this blog) I am far more restrained in telling other people what to do or how to do it. If they ask, I am happy to provide feedback, but I am far less of a know-it-all than I used to be. Also, I recognize more and more that as engaging a conversationalist as I can be, there are many times when I need to zip it, to hold back on my storytelling. I have taught myself to be much more aware of my tone of voice and have changed the way I modulate it. Although nobody told me I needed to change how I spoke, I did it because it occurred to me that I might have better results if I spoke differently. And I have.

So, what qualities (good or bad) occur to you as worthy of some modification on your part? Time’s a fleeting! Before all the Canadian Geese have disappeared into Southern climes, isn’t this moment a perfect time to get started? You’ve got work to do…

Canadian geese

Understanding Those Around Us: The Mystery Next Door

August 13, 2015

My most recent post focused on the idea of exploring our indwelling mysteries—those aspects of ourselves which we know exist but aren’t totally confident we embrace or even understand. In this post, I wish to redirect your attention to considering the mysteries presented by those close to you so that you might cultivate a more intelligent comprehension of what makes them tick and what improved strategies you might utilize to support them.

As well as we think we know our spouse, our child, our colleague, or a lifelong friend, we will never fully understand them. But what we can do is strive to notice and appreciate more than is immediately apparent. It’s not a question of not having invested sufficient time, care, or interest in getting to know them, it’s that individuals come into this world with very different temperaments, ways of reacting to the world, and thinking about life. So different, in fact, that it’s a miracle we can communicate at all! People with whom I have spent thousands and thousands of hours with have done things that astonish me. Years later, and with loads of hindsight, their choices, strategies, and perspectives continue to confound. These are riddles which I’ll never solve.

Despite such ongoing uncertainty, not all of our interactions with others need feel like a black swamp of guesses and confusion. In fact, I believe strongly that with a certain amount of quiet observation, we can gain insight into what’s really motivating them to behave in a particular manner. Perhaps, if we think it through and watch closely, we can learn a little bit more about why they get themselves sloppy drunk, or why they pontificate to the point of being obnoxious, or why they so readily throw away anything of sentimental value. There’s probably more to the story if we’re willing to investigate. Should we be successful, these insights will open up entirely new worlds of comprehension to us.

For instance, a friend spoke rather firmly to a group of loud and rowdy teens when they could have been equally effective had they delivered the message in a quiet and even tone. The urgency of their delivery reflected far more about this adult’s expectation of being ignored than it reflected anger at the children. This might explain a lot about why they go about communicating in such a strident manner when stressed.

We need to ask ourselves why does X behave the way they do? What fear, guilt, doubt, or worry is underlying this expression of self? What might I do or say to encourage their stronger, more confident qualities?

 

Although “love they neighbor as thyself,” is an integral part of living in any community, we get into trouble when we assume that how we would want something done or how we would handle a situation is equally true for our somebody else. For instance, I am a straight shooter. I want people to be honest and direct—just tell me what you think and I can decide what to do from there. Pussyfooting around drives me crazy. But, as I have learned, a lot of people are not this way. Many prefer a spoonful of sugar with their medicine. My assumptions about how to deliver delicate news have often proven incorrect and wound up making a tricky situation worse. I would have been far better served had I taken a few moments to figure out what approach might work best for my intended audience. All too easily, we can find ourselves at cross purposes when we employ strategies that we prefer on individuals who operate with very different software.

When you think about someone who behaves in a manner that seems self-destructive or perplexing, who comes to mind? Instead of focusing on their behavior, look behind it, what might be the underlying belief that might be motivating it?

For example, here are three possible ways to assess a situation: 1) a drunkard may want nothing more than to be close to those around them, but is so afraid they’ve somehow failed and will, ultimately, be rejected that drinking is the default they’ve devised to drive those very same people away. 2) Their drinking could be for another reason entirely such as burying grief or despair. 3) Or, perhaps their drunken under-functioning could be a strategy they use to suck up more attention, to reassure themselves that they take priority.

Taking the time to study and understand what might be prompting those around us to behave how they do will help both us and them. Looking beyond the first obvious explanation is key to demystifying our neighbors. There are many things that are none of our business, but when we care about someone and are impacted by their behavior, it is incumbent upon us to try to understand. At least a little. What I have found when I’ve made this effort is that my frustration level drops significantly and I am better equipped to respond with more patience and compassion. When I say this, I don’t intend to convey that all will be roses afterwards or that it suddenly becomes feasible to live with someone who insists on certain impossible-to-live-with behaviors, but cultivating this type of insight always helps. It just does.

Peering

What Are You Searching For?

August 11, 2015

It’s Mystery Week here at Dignitary’s Retreat: this week we’ll be examining mysteries within and without, so put on your best sleuthing cap and let’s start putting the pieces together! As regular DR readers understand, re-booting is all about solving some sort of puzzle in our lives, whether it’s a conundrum within ourselves or finding a better, more effective strategy to understanding those around us. The yearning to uncover, to know, to comprehend is a universal one, but pursuit of the answer can feel so terrifying, confusing, or burdensome that many adults simply shut down that line of inquiry.

What part of yourself are you afraid to acknowledge?

The thing about our personal, private mysteries is that they aren’t entirely unknown to us—we’re simply dreading finding confirmation of what we suspect. For instance, I like to think of myself as a fairly conventional person who enjoys schedules, predictability, and fitting in with the herd. This sort of group identity feels very reassuring to me and I stare in envious wonder at the mass of humanity who enjoy this sort of solidarity. Except, underneath my Regular Jane longings, exists an enormous risk taker who has stridently marched off in the opposite direction for most of her adult life, taking me kicking and screaming with her. She really is an enormously inconvenient person, and I can’t figure out why she insists on being so stubborn.

Alas, this indwelling rebel has staged a coup in my life over the past few years and appears to have no intention of letting her control slip. Believe me, I have tried hard to convince her to heel. She’s obstinate and ornery and doesn’t give a fig about my preferences. (We argue about this a lot.) What a pain. My point in sharing this with you is to demonstrate how this part of myself that I don’t fully understand is not entirely unknown to me. Though loathe to admit it, I know I’m a risk taker; I have been for a long, long time. I like exploring new territory, heading off in a different direction, thinking on my feet, and the thrill of crossing the line—you’d never know it looking at me

So, now let’s focus on you. What furtive part of yourself exists within? What part of you bobs and weaves inside? What does this hidden part compel you to do, however contrary to your regular existence or persona? Like me, you may not entirely understand this part of yourself, but you reluctantly accept the fact that these different elements occupy the same real estate.

In the privacy of your own mind, who is this mysterious person inside of you? Does thinking about it make you feel uneasy? Why?

What I am exploring has little to do with hypocrisy. As Shakespeare pointed out so many times, we humans are contradictory creatures. We want and don’t want. We long for predictability and acceptance while craving adventure and risk. The allure of the forbidden should not be underestimated—in any arena of life.

Is any part of what I’m saying making sense?

Life is complicated. We’re continually confronted with diverging paths, forks in the road which lead to entirely different destinations, and not all of us are clear which way we want to go, what our real priority is. And then, one day, we impulsively do something (seemingly) random that doesn’t fit with any of the things we say we want or value! We confuse ourselves while desperately trying to maintain a predictable presence for those around us. Don’t forget: the purpose of re-booting is to get a more full-bodied and honest idea of who we are and what we want beyond the superficial circumstances of our lives. Our contradictory thoughts and actions reveal more about who we are than we realize.

So, let me ask you again: what part of yourself do you know exists but you’re a little intimidated by? Under the still water that makes up your public persona, is this mysterious current flowing strongly? Is it responsible for some of your impulsive acts? Well, is it?

Uncovering the mystery that is ourselves is core to the re-booting process. You’re not an open book; none of us is, but it serves us well to try to pry open more of who we are beneath the cover. The truth is, we cannot hide from ourselves, no matter how hard we try. In order to make the best decisions for us and for those close to us, we have to know who we’re dealing with. But the more we acknowledge, the better our chances of reaching a place in our lives where things begin to fit better than they do today. And isn’t that why you’re interested in re-booting to begin with?

Today’s homework assignment: spend a few quiet moments allowing that inconvenient part of yourself to speak. Don’t run away from it. Don’t pretend it isn’t there. Try turning that page.

Turning the page

Emotional Tailspins: Calling Ourselves on Our Own Shit

August 6, 2015

Like the tide, this is a theme from which I can never fully escape. Over and over it crashes down around my ears, reminding me that more than anything else, I need to get out of my own damn way. As much effort and energy I expend on devising better strategies for dealing with the world, what would help most of all is to find a better strategy for dealing with myself! Despite all the work I have done and all the progress I have made in cultivating a more mature outlook, my worries and insecurities remain ever present. Intellectually, I understand how ill-founded and unhelpful they are but that doesn’t convince me to stop fretting. No siree, it does not. In fact, worrying these things to death the way I do never makes me feel better. Alas, so many of the things that trigger this personalized form of self-torment are molehills! They’re things we’ve fabricated in our heads, catastrophizing future events that may never come to pass.

Any of this sound familiar? What needless torture do you subject yourself to?

Not only do we burden ourselves with our worries, we burden those around us. Whether it’s our constant need for reassurance or our tendency to withdraw into silence or our all too frequent benders or whatever other way we find to drown our worries, when we pull this shit it hurts more than just us. We try our loved ones’ patience. We drive them to distraction. We provoke them with our incessant insistence that something’s wrong. They’ve got their own issues to manage and carrying on the way we do certainly makes it no easier. A glaring example can be seen in the sort of “clean up” work a spouse or family must do when coping with an addict. The addict makes a mess of sorts and the family cleans it up, covers it up, and tiptoes around hoping it doesn’t happen again. But it always does. Our insecure, needy, or distancing behavior isn’t too dissimilar on a psychic or emotional level.

And for what? Why do we do this to ourselves? What does this anguish achieve? (There’s got to be some satisfaction in it or we wouldn’t keep doing it.)

Over the past several months, I’ve been working with a career coach whose Sisyphean task is to help me untangle myself from my web of worries and formulate a rational plan to move forward with my goal of becoming a self-sufficient writer. As my coach points out, the conclusions I draw and actions I take when drowning in a sea of anguish are very different from the ones I make when thinking clearly. None of us will ever see the full path before us, but inventing possible future distress does nobody any good. So, the first thing I am learning to do is to recognize when I start to “go there” and try to put on the brakes. No easy task, I assure you! The fear or guilt that lies at the base of such “thinking” is hard to neutralize, but neutralize it I must. I really hate not having any answers, of not knowing what will happen, of having to figure all this shit out and then be responsible for making it work. Can you see how fast that line of thinking and resentment gets me into trouble? Yeah, that’s how these things go…

How often do you do this? Do you recognize it when you start down that virulent path?

At a certain point, all the navel gazing in the world is no replacement for some good old, practical tough love. Nobody can do this for us. We have to reign ourselves in—we’re the only ones who can. So, in that spirit, I recommend you watch the following:

https://vimeo.com/97370236

Stop it

Pointing Fingers at our Blind Spots

August 4, 2015

The sort of person who is drawn to reading this blog is the sort of person willing to undergo ruthless self-examination: narcissists need not apply. I’ve written about narcissism many times before, but this is a group that cuts so wide a swath and wreaks havoc on so many lives, that it’s valuable to examine what strategies and expectations we might employ on those occasions when they come into view.

Often times, when it comes to narcissists, we don’t always recognize them right off the bat. All too often they are charming and bright, drawing us in and making us smile, unsuspecting of what lies just beneath or the sort of toll getting close to them may inflict. Their ability to deceive us (let alone themselves) is astonishing. So, today’s post is dedicated to formulating a plan when dealing with such types, devising a new way to think about them and the role they play in our lives. I know a lot about narcissists. I’ve had a lot of experience with them and bear the scars to prove it.

So, when you reflect upon this topic, who springs to mind for you?

I was speaking with a friend about their recent divorce when they said, “I just don’t get it. They (their ex) have so much insight into other people’s behavior, they’re so smart, but they refuse to consider their role in all of this. After all these years, they blame me for everything. How can someone so bright be so dishonest?”

This is a question I’ve thought about over the years and have developed a theory that, though incomplete, goes a long way to helping me cope with situations involving narcissism. While not everyone comes into this life attuned to observation and insight, there is a sub-sect of hugely bright narcissists who can accurately identify what’s going on with others while simultaneously having no awareness of their own agendas and faults. These types are particularly effective at striking us with devastating force, pointing out our weaknesses or failures, but have a brick wall constructed in their minds when it comes to acknowledging the role they play. It’s as if we are speaking two entirely different languages, despite using the same vocabulary.

As re-booters, we are earnestly trying to be honest with ourselves, striving to find a mature, compassionate, and effective solution to whatever the problem is. But when interacting with people such as these, it is nearly impossible to find a resolution because the only way they will allow peace is for us to roll over and play dead, accepting their terms 100%. Anything less would require them to acknowledge at least partial responsibility for the matter and these types will not go there. Ever.

Any of this sound familiar?

What a terrible position in which to find ourselves. In my case, I had to end things between us—there would be no peaceful resolution because I was not about to give up everything (I had already sacrificed so much). But, you may be in a position where you feel that you cannot walk away, entirely. So, instead, you find yourself in an excruciating détente with this whip-smart narcissist who never fails to pull a punch.

What can you do to manage the situation?

The first thing I recommend is to recognize this person for who they are, rather than who you thought or hoped they were. This realization doesn’t happen easily or painlessly, but it’s a critical first step towards figuring out a saner way to live. The second step is to look for patterns in their behavior—that what they do isn’t about you at all, but reflects their overall mindset. In other words, find a way not to take their accusations, malice, or artifice personally. Learning to do this is really hard but once you do so, you will see how powerful a coping skill it is. Their words or actions may be aimed at you but they’re not about you.

Does what I’m saying make sense?

Once you’ve reached this point in your assessment, you need to adjust your expectations as to what interacting with this person will mean going forward. This correction often involves a certain amount of mourning because you must face up to the fact that the relationship (now understood for what it is) will never be the warm, fulfilling exchange you yearned for and thought you had. Gone will be the loving grandmother. Vanished will be the coach who taught you so much. And, most painfully of all, you no longer see your spouse as that life partner who is there to help shoulder the burdens. That person doesn’t exist; their sole concern is themselves—You Don’t Count (except as a satellite to them).

Instead, we must become savvier in our dealings, prepared in advance to anticipate the sort of moves these narcissists may make, teaching ourselves not to get upset when they say or pull the bullshit they inevitably dish out. Further, as reflective re-booters, we are called upon to practice forgiveness and compassion for these people who refuse to see the distress and misery they cause. If we have made the choice to remain involved with these people, it is then incumbent upon us to find a peaceful way of coexisting with them, one where we are not burning up with seething resentment or frustration. If we stay with them—for whatever reason—we need to find a way to do so that promotes as much serenity as possible.

None of this is easy. In fact, it’s really, really hard. It requires us to practice restraint, maturity, and kindness when we don’t always feel like it—especially when it comes to someone who probably doesn’t deserve it. But, it’s precisely at such moments where we have to decide what sort of person we want to be. As flawed as we are, as often as we ourselves fall short of the mark, these challenging people have come into our lives to teach us something—something we need to learn, or we wouldn’t be asking ourselves these questions. We can see in them some of our own weaknesses and we want to do better. These teachers reflect back our blind spots, if we choose to see them.

Blind spot


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