The Parable of the Omelet

Did you know that at Golden Corral, you can ask for a whole-egg omelet instead of having them use that pre-prepped egg mixture? Not many people must request this. I watched, both fascinated and appalled, as one girl smacked a raw egg against the edge of the bowl about a dozen times before finally letting the innards slide into the bowl. Then she’d peer in and pick out all the shards of eggshell one at a time and throw them away. I assumed that with the second egg, she’d alter her method, but no. CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK. PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK. As she did the same thing all over again with the third egg, my mouth was literally hanging wide open. WHY would she smash each egg to smithereens, if she knew she’d have to pains-takingly extract each tiny piece of shell after?

As an expert egg-cracker myself, I know that you only have to gently strike a raw egg against a hard edge ONCE and then pull the two halves apart, and you don’t get any shell pieces in with your egg. It really doesn’t seem like an advanced concept. But maybe she never had her mother show her a better way to do it. Maybe she never really thought about optimizing her method and just assumed that everyone has to pick half the shell out of the slippery mess every time.

I’ve been thinking about how often we beat ourselves up for every perceived failing, thinking that we must be hard on ourselves in order to “force ourselves” to get the results we want in life. Our society teaches us that shame is an effective motivator, and we may not even realize that better methods are available. In my life, I’ve found that being kind and gentle with myself produces a much more favorable outcome. Not only do I feel comforted, loved, and soothed, but my results are better too. I naturally behave more skillfully in the areas that I once shamed myself for, as well as relating with more compassion and love to others, because I have started with myself.

This process has been slow, but I’ve made several shifts in the way I talk to myself. Instead of saying, “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you said that! You ruin everything. When will you ever learn?” (CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK) I say gently to myself, “It’s okay. You didn’t realize. Everything’s going to be fine. You’re doing the best you can. I love you.” I still “learn my lesson” and make the changes I need to make, but this way, there’s no sharp eggshells in my omelet. I don’t have to go back through and tediously repair the damage I’ve done by contriving to build myself up when I need to have confidence in moving forward with my goals.

I’m far from perfect and often fall back into old shaming habits, both with myself and my family members, but I’m becoming self-aware enough to realize when I’m doing it and make a shift. I’ve learned several tools for self-compassion as I’ve studied this topic, which have revolutionized the way I treat myself, and it’s starting to positively impact all my relationships.

I hope that you will start seeing yourself in a new light, shifting from a critical, judgmental eye to seeing the beauty and greatness that God and others already see in you. If I can support you in some way, please comment or message me. I would love to be your guide on this beautiful and important journey.

The Silver Lining–Pure Gold

What if there is NOTHING WRONG with anyone? Could it be that every perceived flaw, failure, weakness, or limitation points toward our highest gifts and qualities? What if every hangup we have is the very energy of our life’s purpose trying to express itself?

I was privileged to gain this insight from the wise Gary Acevedo a week ago that completely turned upside-down my view of other people and myself. Although he expressed it so much better, I feel compelled to share it.

If you take some time to reflect on every upset you’ve had in your life, you will recognize some common threads woven throughout each. This just may be the key to recognizing your message in this life, your gift to the world, your mission. Every victory and defeat you experience will revolve around your message. Have you ever noticed how little difference there is between your successes and “failures?” It all comes down to mere perspective and whether or not our expectations were met.

Take any negative or limiting label we give ourselves and others and try to see it in a new way. Can you see how the noble energy of the person’s life message may have been turned inward or somehow warped by the circumstances of life?

– A depressed person may have shut down inside because they’ve thrown out the old meanings in life and the new meanings just haven’t shown up yet.

– A shy person may possess incredible clarity and insight, but may be hesitant to let that be seen.

– An overweight person may be wanting more from life and just hasn’t found it in the right place yet.

– An anxious person may possess great power to accomplish, but fears have shut down their ability to access this power.

– An emotionally sensitive person may be keenly perceptive and sensitive to other people and their feelings, but without opportunities to safely express this, it has turned in on themselves and become magnified.

– A critical or demanding person may hold to higher standards than anyone else and may be the best equipped to optimize processes.

– One who harbors self-doubt may hold the greatest insight to their true self but have been caught in emotional “black holes.”

– Those with abandonment issues may be the very ones who will never leave you.

– Those who think they’re stupid may be the most brilliant in the room.

– Those who think they’re unloved may be the most lovable in room.

Are you willing to look beyond the limitations of people’s personalities, successes, and failures to see the higher self shining through? With this higher vision, can you discern the message and purpose underlying every person’s choices? It is all there, waiting on a silver platter, if we only open our eyes and see.

“I Saw You Suffering”

Am I the only one who has kind of a morbid fascination with suicide? Well, with not the act of suicide itself, but the mindset of someone who would make this kind of drastic and irreversible choice; the factors and environment and thought processes leading someone to no longer want to exist on the planet anymore. In college I did a lot of research on suicide in literature. And whenever there are public suicides reported in the news, I haven’t been able to resist being drawn in.

Last week was another case of a well-known and successful person choosing suicide: 52-year-old Chris Cornell, best known for fronting the rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave. I’ve immersed myself in his music for days, ever since I first heard about him taking his life by hanging. I recognize in him the soul of a poet–a deep thinker, a deep feeler.

“Choosing suicide” has been called into question by Cornell’s widow, Vicky, whom he called his “soulmate.” She insists that he never would have intentionally committed suicide, and that he wasn’t himself that night after taking too many prescription anxiety pills, which the shy loner needed in order to perform in front of large crowds. If that really was the case, it adds another heartbreaking dimension to this tragedy, and goes to show to extent to which drugs, even legal and prescription, can alter one’s mind and personality. But that’s a topic for another time.

It’s common for people to look for suicide messages in everything the victim had said or done before the death, or in this case wrote and sung about. I certainly saw some things in his music that can be read that way, such as this portion of “Worried Moon:”

Yeah if it all goes wrong
And I’m a heart without a home
Maybe you can talk me out
Of doing myself in

But since we all have our moments of depression, heartbreak, and despair, I decided to look for other kinds of messages he may have been trying to convey. Because he produced dozens of albums and hundreds of songs with four different groups, I’ve decided to limit myself to just his most recent solo work: Higher Truth. (Just the album name itself conveys importance and meaning.)

To start, enjoy the lyrics to his song “Misery Chain:”

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain?
Keep it to remind you of a long-forgotten time or a place,
So that you recognize its shape, when it’s near,
Any time or place this misery chain should appear.

Take the locks and shackles, and melt all of it down.
Shine a light upon every shadow, every acre of ground.
The hidden corners on it all around,
Any way you feel this misery chain should be found.

When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done,
What will we leave?
Stories told, will they speak of us, when God only knows
What those words will be.

And if I should fall, from the top of the world
To the depths below, so far below where our belief could exist,
Down further still will be the one who hides the key.
And there to try to put these misery chains on me.

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain.
Keep it to remind you, of a long-forgotten time or a place.
So that you recognize it, ’till it’s understood
That every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.
‘Til every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.

There’s a lot of meaning here, but what I took was that we need to hold on to just a small piece of the painful experiences in our lives. Not enough to cause us to relive the pain over and over again, but to be a reminder of it, so that we can learn from it and avoid going through something like that again. This allows us to “shine a light upon every shadow” and see things as they really are. We don’t want to hold on to the whole chain, because it’s too heavy and would enslave us in misery, but just one little link of that chain, in order to be equipped to rid ourselves of any future misery chains.

I also love the idea in the chorus of this song: “When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done, What will we leave?” It’s so empowering to think about the mark we’re making on the world because most of us are typically more focused on the daily trivialities of life. But we must all depart eventually, so hopefully by that time, we leave the world better off for us having lived. Also, it’s only God who knows the full story of our lives. We may think we know enough of certain people to speak of them and tell their stories, but our view is limited.

Here’s a portion of another song along similar lines: “Before We Disappear:”

Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast,
Taking everything that you ever had,
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth.
If there’s a door to every cell
A pearl inside of every shell then
How hard can it be
To share your love with me?
How hard can it be
To rise with me each morning?
I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time will hide the years.
Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard,

It’ll show you who you truly are,
Knock you down when you get too tall
Till you’re spun around in a free fall.

But somewhere out there past the storm
Lies the shelter of your heart.

I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time can hide the years
Like we were never here,
So hold on tightly my dear
Before we disappear.

He was clearly thinking a lot about his mortality and the short time we have to be alive. There’s a sense of urgency in the title “before we disappear.” Sometimes we lose touch with just how temporary our mortal existence is, and we waste time because “it feels like we will live forever.” But this song speaks to me of the importance and necessity of our relationships. Are we letting time steal the years we have, “like we were never here,” or are we making the effort to truly love each other?
This life is far from easy. In fact, it’s meant to be hard, to “show you who you truly are,” and to keep us humble. If it were easy, we’d gain nothing from it. It’s such a blessing that through it all, our loved ones can give us much-needed shelter from the storm.
Along similar lines to these songs is the chorus to “Our Time in the Universe:”
Save the dying arms of midnight
For the patience of the lapse of light
Cuz it’s our time in the universe
Well I don’t mind
If we’re blessed or cursed
And it’s our time in the universe
Yours and mine
Just being here and alive is something to be celebrated. At times we may consider ourselves either “blessed or cursed,” but that’s only a matter of perspective. Our existence here must eventually come to an end, so seize the day! As another lyric in this song goes: “So don’t worry on what tomorrow holds for you,” but live in the present moment.
The lyrics that resonate with me the most come from these selections of “Through The Window:”

I saw you suffering
Through a foggy window in the rain
When you thought no one was watching,
Going through your memories
Like so many prisons to escape
And become someone else,
With another face
And another name
No more suffering…
I saw you suffering
Through the cracked and dirty window pane
I was ashamed that I was watching,
Going through your imagination
Looking for a life you could create
And become somebody else,
With another face
With another name
No more suffering

…spit the ashes from our mouths
And put the grey back in the clouds
And send them packing with our bags
Of old regrets and sorrows
‘Cause they don’t do a thing but drag us down
So far down
The past is like a braided rope
Each moment tightly coiled inside

I saw you suffering
Through the yellow window of a train
With everybody watching,
Too tired for imagining
That you could ever love somebody else
From somewhere far away
From another time
And another place
With another life
And another face
And another name
No more suffering.

So many around us are suffering. Do we see them, through those foggy, cracked, dirty, or yellowed windows? They may think that no one’s watching. Do they know that you are there for them? Or are you too ashamed that you were watching them in their pain? Our culture teaches us to value independence above all, so we hide our pain and struggle from others, and assume that they want to hide their pain and struggle from us. When someone is “caught” looking, it can seem like a humiliating thing, for both parties. But is it really? There’s something so vulnerable about seeing through those windows into the pain of another. Anything vulnerable can seem scary, because our culture teaches us that in order to be strong and safe, we must keep our shields and defenses up. But is this really so? What if true strength is found in being ourselves and connecting with one other’s hearts?
What causes our suffering? It almost always results from being removed from the present moment. You may be stuck in the past, “Going through your memories, Like so many prisons to escape.” Or you may be living in the future, “Going through your imagination, Looking for a life you could create.” Either way, you will suffer. Memories and imagination serve important purposes, but they’re abstractions, and when we spend too long there, we become removed from what’s real and productive: right now. Anytime we want to be something other than we are, in another place than that which we’re in, or yearn to have another life or place or name, we are going to suffer.

I love the idea of sending “old regrets and sorrows” packing. Other than the little bit of the “misery chain” that is constructive to hold on to, these regrets and sorrows “don’t do a thing but drag us down.” The braided rope of the past, containing each moment that has gone before, is a heavy thing to drag around. When we can let it go–relinquish, move on, surrender, forgive–that’s when there will be “no more suffering.”
Since I’m currently reading the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, I can’t help but read into this song a perspective of seeing ourselves suffering. Even if no one else can see through those windows, we can see it in ourselves. We can comfort and soothe our own pain. When we can do this, everything becomes so much clearer and we’re equipped meet our own needs so that we can let go of that “braided rope” of the past that’s dragging us down. And once we’ve seen our own suffering, we will see so much clearer in order to be aware of it in others. Sometimes just knowing that we’re seen is all we need.
Although it’s so tragic that Chris Cornell is no longer among the living, I’m grateful for the impact his music has had on my life. I fully consider this recent delving into his Higher Truth album to have been a mentoring experience, and I hope that you have found some gold nuggets here as well!

From Victim to Victor (Drama Triangle series, part 3)

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

– Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre

I hope that becoming aware of the dreaded drama triangle (part 1 of this series) and learning that you can shift out of the drama into the more empowering creator mode (part 2 of this series) has had a positive impact on your life. I have two objectives with this third part: First, to denounce the “victim-shaming” approach common in the personal development field, and second, to provide you with some questions to ask yourself when you’re ready to make the shift from the anxiety-based victim mindset into the passion-based creator stance.

Self-Empathy

I cannot stress enough that the #1 most important part of the process of change & growth is to be kind to yourself. Most people who are striving to improve themselves–which includes you, the audience of this particular blog–beat themselves up continually for every perceived failing. They think that this will motivate them to change. However, no good, no lasting positive effect, ever results from an atmosphere of shame. Unfortunately, our society has conditioned us to believe that shaming has a purpose and can be productive. Even the personal development field is rife with attitudes of putting victims down (under the guise of trying to help “motivate” them) and condemning them for choosing such an unskillful mindset. I hear you saying, “But victimhood IS an unskillful mindset!” I do believe this is so, as described in my previous two posts, and that there is a better way to live, but what I’m NOT saying is that people are wrong and bad for taking on the role of the victim.

Every time someone chooses to go into victim mode, it is because a deeper need is going unmet. It is those needs that deserve attention, not the victim behavior, which is only the symptom of the problem. When a baby is crying, telling him to stop crying does no good. We don’t turn up our noses at the child and say, “He’s making the choice to be a victim” and lecture him on why he should adopt a more positive outlook. That would be ridiculous. Nor do we punish him and tell him that he’s bad. No, we just try to figure out what the baby needs and then meet that need, because he can’t meet it on his own. We all are like that little baby sometimes when we have an unmet need and don’t know how to get it met. We may pout, sulk, throw tantrums, or lash out. When we see that we are reacting in these less-skillful ways, let that be a red flag to alert us to the fact that we have an unmet need, so that we can take the proper steps to get that need met.

This looking for our own unmet needs and trying to meet them in loving, constructive ways is self-empathy or self-compassion. We are so often told to love others, to be empathetic and compassionate to them. But our first responsibility is to ourselves. We cannot be of much help to others when we are broken inside and in need ourselves. Every time we take a flight, we are told that in the event of a depressurized cabin, we are to attach our own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Same principle. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. Check back on this site for future blog posts about core human needs and some tools you can use to cultivate self-empathy and to demonstrate compassion to yourself at the times when you need it most.

That being said…Moving on!

The Three Vital Questions

When you recognize that you’ve been playing the victim, and you’re ready to make the shift to a more skillful inner state, asking yourself these questions can help:

  1. Where am I putting my focus? Ask yourself, “Am I focusing on problems or outcomes?” Whenever there is drama in my marriage, it’s usually because I’m overly-focused on the problem. For example, I say things like, “You’re not spending enough time with me; I feel ignored and unloved; I wish we had a closer relationship;” etc. These comments usually make things worse because they activate shame and drive us apart. When I’m outcome-focused, however, I can communicate the same concerns in a more constructive way that actually leads to solving the problem. “Can we set aside 15 minutes to talk after the kids go to bed each night?” or “I’d like for us to start going out on weekly dates” or “When you’re finished watching the game, would you please help me clean up the kitchen?” This approach usually elicits a more positive response, free of drama.
  2. How am I relating–to others, to my life experiences, and to myself? We have a relationship with every person, including ourselves, and with every situation we’ve ever been in. Are these relationships constructive or destructive, positive or negative? Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m relating to others perpetuating drama, or empowering others?”
  3. What actions am I taking? Ask yourself, “Am I just reacting to the problem of the moment, or taking deliberate action? Are my actions helping to solve my problems and contributing to the outcomes I desire? Am I spending more time planning my steps than actually taking them?” If you find yourself paralyzed into inaction by the enormity of the tasks ahead of you, look out to next thirty days rather than over the next year, or out to the next day or week rather than month. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. After all, the Wright Brothers experimented with different ideas and didn’t have a set plan in place, and yet they were able to achieve their dream of giving mankind the gift of flight.

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I like this graphic (from David Emerald) because it shows how these questions each build on one another. If we’re focused on problems, we’ll probably be predisposed towards anxiety when looking at how we are relating and the actions we’re taking. And actions is the last question because relationships trump them. No action is independent of a relationship of some kind.

An even more basic question to start with when you want to shift out of drama is, “What do I want?” Obviously, I don’t want a marriage full of issues and problems, but if that’s what I’m focused on, that’s exactly what I get. Instead, if I focus on what I DO want–a marriage of connection, passion, harmony, fun, and trust–I’m more likely to attract those things instead. Also, your mind notices more of what you focus on. The problems and issues may still be present in my marriage. But if my mind is focused on the positive aspects instead, I will notice those more than I would have, and notice the problems less, thus creating a happier relationship.

Other great questions to ask yourself in shifting into Creator mode are: “Why am I experiencing this? (Not asking with the intent of generating pity!) What is there to learn? How can I grow?” 

You may have already seen the following graphic in the previous post, but I’m adding it here for reference for the following section. Sometimes we may have already made the shift from victim to creator ourselves, but we need to shift out of being a part of someone else’s drama triangle. Asking yourself some other vital questions can help with that.

which-triangle

From Persecutor to Challenger

If you find yourself commonly perceived by someone else as a Persecutor, it’s time for some introspection. The vital question in this case is, “What is my intention here?” Is it to be right or take charge or look good, or is it to support others’ growth and learning? Basically, are you focused on elevating yourself, or on helping them? When you’re focused on yourself, it’s no wonder they view you as a Persecutor. If you really do want what’s best for them, and they still see you as Persecutor, look at how you can improve the way you have been relating to them, or whether it’s even appropriate for you to attempt to be their Challenger in the first place. If the person really does need you to be a Challenger for them, if you are their boss or parent for example, remain firm, but be fair. Preferably with their input, set some boundaries and outline the consequences of their actions with them, all with the intent of helping them learn and grow.

From Rescuer to Coach

If people are often turning to you to rescue them from their problems, remember that this does them and you more harm than good in the long run. Ask yourself: How am I viewing this person (that I’m wanting to support)? Do you see them as needing to be fixed or needing someone to take care of them? If so, you are probably viewing them as a Victim and yourself as their Rescuer. Instead of reinforcing their powerlessness, make the shift of seeing them as a creator in their own right. See them as responsible for their own choices and actions. Then you will have made the shift to being a Coach.

A Coach asks questions and helps someone clarify their vision rather than merely tells them what to do or solves their problems for them. Some questions you can ask the person are:

  • “What do you want?”
  • “What’s your current reality?”
  • “What are the possible baby steps you can take toward what you want?”
  • “What support can I offer you?

Choose Choice

The key point I’m trying to make with all of this is to choose choice. Having the ability to choose brings limitless power. Be aware of how you’re relating. Think the thoughts, say the words, and take the actions that will enable you and others to make choices rather than limiting choice. If you haven’t been skillful at this, no shame. Take it easy on yourself and go forward with a new mindset.

I’ll leave you with a powerful declaration that you can say out loud when you feel stuck in drama: “As a creator, I own my capacity to respond to my life experiences, even when I feel victimized.”

I love you all. Choose choice.

 

 

 

The Drama Triangle (part 1)

Six months ago I learned about a framework called the Drama Triangle. It’s been on my mind ever since, and now I see it everywhere. Those who I’ve taught about it have found value in the way it conceptualizes the victim mentality. It’s simple, yet profound at the same time, as all the truest things are. 🙂 I knew I had to share it on this blog. And since there’s a wealth of ways to extend and apply this framework to different aspects of life, I’m breaking it up into 2 or 3 separate posts. Be excited–there’s more to come!

Before diving into the content, I wanted to add context about my own ongoing journey from victim to victor. As a child and into young adulthood, I didn’t think I had much of a choice about the way my life unfolded. I thought that things just happened to me and that I didn’t have much control over my feelings and reactions. I was fearful around most people because I saw them as having power and myself as helpless. Either that or, with those I considered myself already having power over, such as my younger brothers, I’d manipulate and control them to make sure I kept the upper hand and got what I wanted. Even when people did nice things for me, I would suspiciously wonder what selfish motives underlay their actions rather than attributing it to love. I didn’t see others as REAL people with their own thoughts, feelings and perspectives. They were more like objects that were either roadblocks, saviors, or non-entities, because I only viewed them in relation to myself.

Although I cringe to look back on how I used to be, I have to give myself a break, for not really knowing better. Looking back at how I was raised, I don’t recall much instruction in emotional intelligence or social skills, either at school or home. The little bit I did get came from church, although the concrete tools taught were limited and seemed to only apply in isolated situations. So, I was largely left alone to navigate the complex worlds of emotions and of social relationships through trial and error.

The most difficult relationship of my youth was between me and my dad. Because we just couldn’t understand each other and kept triggering each other every time we tried to communicate, things were broken between us for a long time. For something like eight years, I neither hugged him nor told him I loved him. Although we have a good relationship now, I still feel sad about my part in the disconnect and to have missed out on what might have been.

I’ll come back to that story. First, here’s the Drama Triangle framework, which was first conceptualized in the 1960s by Dr. Stephen Karpman. David Emerald precedes it with “Dreaded” in order to acronym it D.D.T.–like the poison–because it’s toxic to relationships and to peace and happiness.

At the bottom point of the triangle, VICTIM is player #1. A person assigns himself or herself the role of Victim. We step into this mindset through the disempowering stories we tell ourselves and meanings we attach to others’ behavior and the experiences of life. Victims don’t see their own thoughts and actions as contributing to their circumstances. They see other people and situations as having the power over their lives. Because they don’t take responsibility for a given situation, they don’t take action to change it and just wait for others to change it for them, or manipulate them into it. Wherever there is drama, there’s always a victim.

PERSECUTOR is player #2. A persecutor inflicts their will on another person, usually in a dominating or blaming way. A persecutor can also be nonhuman, such as an event that creates a problem; for example, a recession or natural disaster. A persecutor is either real or perceived, from the point of view of the victim. (I don’t minimize the fact that real abuse happens in the world. There are actual persecutors out there; not simply perceived. And yet, it is possible to be actually persecuted without necessarily stepping into the Victim role or blaming yourself.) Although our society likes to blame persecutors for any drama that exists, I’m learning more and more that the persecutor doesn’t really have much to do with it. Stay with me here and read on.

RESCUER is player #3. The rescuer is any person, thing, or experience that the victim turns to to solve their problem or temporarily distract them from or numb their pain. The victim believes the rescuer can make the persecutor go away. A rescuer may not always be present or apparent in every situation, but the victim is constantly looking for it, yearning to be rescued somehow. Rescuers can show up in many forms–a friend who takes pity on you or gets indignant on your behalf; a parent, spouse or coworker who goes after and takes down your persecutor; distracting addictions such as shopping, eating, gaming, social media, substances, etc.; “feel good” literature designed to soothe and excuse–to name a few.

You may look at these three players and think: “Well, if I’ve gotta be one, I think I’ll be the rescuer. I’m a nice person and I like to help people, especially underdogs.” But know that nowhere in this dreaded drama triangle is a place you want to be. All three roles are disempowering and toxic by nature. Rescuers actually do more harm than good. Rescuers keep victims stuck in their own victimhood by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness. They say things like, “Oh, you poor thing! How awful!” or “I can’t believe he did that to you! What a jerk. I’d like to throttle him!” or “It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing else you could have done.” Although these may seem like nice things to say, all it really does is elevate the rescuer, making them feel important and needed, and keeps the victim stuck in their low place.

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What I’ve learned about the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer has helped me understand why things went wrong with my dad. Whenever he treated me “unfairly,” which I perceived as happening often, I saw him as my all-powerful persecutor and myself as a helpless, innocent victim. We had arguments when I wanted to spend time with my friends and he thought once a week was too frequent, or if I invited people to our house before making sure it was clean. I didn’t think I had any real choices besides reacting to his authority through yelling, crying, resisting, pleading, retaliating, etc. And despite my dad’s efforts to “teach” me through doling out severe consequences when I behaved in such ways, I didn’t see the connection between my own behavior and the way I was being treated. I viewed his “teaching” only as further persecution, so I defended against it rather than taking the opportunity to learn and grow.

If my dad was my persecutor, my sweet mother was my rescuer. I would give her sob stories about how unfair my dad was being, and she would try, usually unsuccessfully, to intercede on my behalf. I would listen to them argue with my ear pressed up against their closed bedroom door and feel a twisted sense of satisfaction that my mom was taking a stand for me. I had been pleased that I had an ally and that she loved me enough to take my side, but it made me sick inside to see what the contention was doing to their marriage. I felt guilty about being the thing that came between them and thereby weakened our entire family. But those guilty feelings weren’t enough for me to change the dynamic. And I hate to admit it, but I didn’t respect my mom very much when she was my rescuer. I didn’t see her as a real person with feelings, only concerning myself with how she could help me get what I wanted.

So the years went by. I convinced myself that I didn’t want or care about having a relationship with my dad. I had stacked up so much evidence of all the wrongs against me, and of my innocence and entitlement, that even when my dad wrote apology letters and left them on my pillow, I wouldn’t budge an inch from my victim stance. The letters pulled at my heart when I would first read them, but then I’d convince myself that he was just trying to manipulate me. In fact, I took on the persecutor role against him many, many times because I thought that that was the only way to avoid being the trodden-under victim. I was not myself. And I was so, so sad.

I took the victim mentality with me into other relationships, including my early marriage, and I remained sad and felt trapped. It was only when it finally sunk in that I am always at choice, no matter how other people act, that I started to change my thinking and behavior patterns. I feel so much more empowered now as I strive to take responsibility for my own part in the situations that arise. I still have a long way to go, but the peace I feel tells me I’m on the right track.

Friends, the drama triangle is never a place we want to be. The good news is, we can choose to step out of it and into more empowering roles. We can shift our focus away from problems and onto what we want to build and create. Part 2, my next blog post, will be about the Empowerment Triangle, and how the situations and relationships in our lives can help us grow and get us closer to our goals. Watch for it within the next few weeks. This information has blessed my life and I know it will bless yours as well. (*High five* if you actually stuck with this clear to the end!!!)

Avoid Shoulding Yourself

Deeply ingrained in our consciousness, should is a common and seemingly-innocuous word, but it’s one of the most destructive and tyrannical words in all of language. This four-letter word, and the patterns of thinking surrounding it, leads to guilt, shame, disengagement, disconnection, stress, and depression.  Not only that, but should represents only a perception of reality and is never anything more than an illusion.

When I ran a search in my digital journal for the word “should,” I found way too many phrases like these: “I should have done things differently. It should not be so hard to get to church on time. I look for excuses not to do the things I know I should. He shouldn’t have treated me like that. I know I shouldn’t care what she thinks of me, but I do. I should always remember what a blessing they are.”

I was astounded at how often I’ve been using this word to myself, and the extent to which it blocks out peace and happiness. Every one of these “shouldy” journal entries was a downer, even the ones that on the surface appeared to be positive attempts to find solutions and improve the quality of life. But at their core, they are all condemnations. Being a critic and judge doesn’t build up, but only tears down. Writing these things did very little good and mainly made me feel negatively about myself and/or look down on others.

Should ruins relationships, including our relationship with ourselves, by eliminating tender feelings of love, compassion and empathy. It is not possible to love and feel connected with others when we are blaming and judging them. And when “shoulding,” we use judgment to lay a rationale for assigning blame and instilling shame. How is it anything but arrogantly self-centered to ever think that other people should do such and such, or that we are any kind of authority over what they think and do with their lives?

When it’s not destructive, “shoulding” is ineffective. When we tell ourselves or someone else what they should or shouldn’t do, the person will usually resist. In Nonviolent Communication, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg writes: “Should implies that there is no choice. Human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy–our strong need for choice. We have this reaction to tyranny even when it’s internal tyranny in the form of a should.” This is the root of the reason why it’s so hard to follow through when we tell ourselves, “I should start eating better/exercising more/going to bed earlier,” or whatever change we’d like to make. It’s also why our spouses and children resist compliance when we tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

Even if the person complies for one reason or another, it won’t contribute to a lasting pattern of behavior. People need to have an emotional experience attached to their own beliefs about right and wrong, in order to have those convictions deeply seated enough to anchor their behavior throughout their lives.

What’s more, telling ourselves or someone else after the fact what they should or shouldn’t have done not only changes nothing about what happened, but prevents the person from learning a lesson or having a conviction about it because it focuses them on their wrongness rather than on solutions.

Musts, Shoulds, and Have Tos represent inflexible beliefs about how things ought to be. This is a characteristic of the fixed mindset and can lead to an addiction to perfectionism, which is shame-triggering and dooms us to failure, since being or even appearing perfect all the time is ultimately an impossible pursuit. You might ask, what’s so bad about shame anyway? Doesn’t it serve a purpose in motivating us to be better? This is really a topic for another day, but Dr. Rosenberg expresses it well here:

“If the way we evaluate ourselves leads us to feel shame, and we consequently change our behavior, we are allowing our growing and learning to be guided by self-hatred. Shame is a form of self-hatred, and actions taken in reaction to shame are not free and joyful acts. Even if our intention is to behave with more kindness and sensitivity, if people sense shame or guilt behind our actions, they are less likely to appreciate what we do than if we are motivated purely by the human desire to contribute to life.” from Nonviolent Communication

So what can we do instead of “shoulding” if we would like things to be different? Here are four suggestions:

1. Talk about your preferences using expressions conveying that it would be nice,  or it would be fun, etc. but it doesn’t have to happen that way. Nothing is actually a must because we always have a choice. Instead of “I should go and support the school,” tell yourself, “It would be helpful if I choose to go support the fundraiser.” Instead of “I shouldn’t have said that,” tell yourself something like, “It wasn’t very skillful of me to have made that remark. Next time I will be more effective saying something like ________.” But that’s all just semantics, you might argue. True, but the quality of the words we choose to use actually has a big impact on feelings and the way the message is received.

2. Practice using self-empathy. We often beat ourselves up with shaming thoughts like, “I should never have done that! I’m always messing up! How could I be so stupid? When will I ever learn?” Instead, focus your attention on the unmet needs underlying our unskillful behavior. Connect with your emotions and give yourself permission to really feel them. For example, if you’re feeling disappointed and frustrated about the extent to which you yell at your kids, instead of condemning yourself, try to figure out what your unmet needs might be and look for solutions. Maybe you need more sleep. Maybe you need more support from your partner. Maybe you need tools to offload your anger in different ways. Maybe you need diversions or hobbies. Pat yourself on the back for being a loving-enough parent that you want to show up better for your family.

3. Try the mental exercise of flipping it around in your mind. If you are really convinced that you or someone else really really should be doing something, try to find at least one reason that it might be in the person’s best interest to do the opposite. While this exercise won’t always result in altered rules or expectations, it can help you be more understanding if the person chooses not to comply. Here are some examples:

  • Why should my daughter NOT clean her room? Because then her toys are already out and ready to play with. Because she knows mother will pick up the dirty laundry for her, so why should she bother? Because she’d rather use her time and energy playing with friends than cleaning.
  • Why should my husband NOT take me out on dates? Because he’s too tired and stressed from work to worry about planning a night out in advance. Because he knows I’ll plan it if he doesn’t. Because he really would rather veg out on the TV at home than go out.
  • Why SHOULD my son hit his siblings or friends? Because his parents have modeled lashing out as an option when frustrated, or haven’t taught him other ways to handle these feelings. Because he needs others to understand just how frustrated and pained he feels in the moment. Because he can get his way quickly by ruling other kids through fear.

4. Use declarations affirming that you, or others, are completely acceptable the way they are right now. One I got from Carol Tuttle that I love and use often is: “I am enough; therefore, what I do is enough. What I do I choose to do, according to God’s guidance and what is correct for me and my family.” Repeating this daily can help you get rid of pesky thoughts of should and have to.

Readers, I’d love your feedback and reactions. Has should been hurting your relationships and happiness? What tips do you have to help those struggling with this?

Look to the Question; the Answer Lies Within

“If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer.” -Edward Hodnett

In life, we’re guaranteed questions, but not guaranteed answers. No problem, though. What if I told you that the answers to many of life’s questions can be found within the questions themselves? Asking powerful questions can help us understand the subconscious patterns of the mind that created the question, shedding light on the assumptions, stories and beliefs we hold. Enough insight can be found through analyzing these things that in so doing, the question can often be answered in a deep, personal and satisfying way.

This process, although simple, isn’t necessarily easy. The tricky part is to make sure you’re asking the right questions. According to Ursula LeGuin,

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.”

How do you know if you’re asking the right questions? The assumptions within the question have to ring true for you. I’ll show you how to break a question down into its assumptions in a minute. If you find yourself asking “wrong” questions, these can actually be insightful as well, if you really think about how and why you’ve asked them.

A “wrong” question I sometimes ask is, “Why are my kids being so annoying today?” Analyzing this reveals far more about myself than it does about my children. If I direct the question away from them and toward myself, it morphs into, “Why am I so annoyed with my kids today?” That’s a little better, but still not a strong question. When I try to focus my attention on the positive rather than the negative, the question becomes, “What is keeping me from treating my family with patience and love today?” And to make it really self-empowering, “How can I take the lead in creating an atmosphere of patience and love in my home?” That question is so much more powerful than the first one in creating change because I’m taking responsibility for my own role in the environment of the home, rather than passively focusing on the negative behavior of others.

Once you have asked a powerful, “right” question, you’re very close to arriving at the answer. Art critic John Ruskin said,

“To be able to ask a question clearly is two-thirds of the way to getting it answered.”

Are you ready for the tool? Get a paper and pencil and try this exercise. (Or if you’re like me, start typing on your computer.) No really, take action and do this right now. It’s powerful.

Start by asking yourself, What is the greatest source of dissatisfaction in your life right now? Write down the answer. Don’t just think about it!

Now consider this: If you could ask God just ONE question about this problem — and you were guaranteed to get an answer — what would that question be? Write the question down.

After you’ve done that, use these steps: (Credit for this tool goes to Stephen Palmer.)

  1. Identify the assumptions embedded within the question.
  2. Then, analyze the assumptions and ask of each of them, “Is this true?” Then, “If not, what is true? What am I missing?”

If you’ve analyzed your question rigorously enough, you should have been able to find several answers that you can use to create the necessary changes toward living a more satisfying life!

If you’re not quite sure what I mean by analyzing your assumptions, see the following example:

Greatest source of dissatisfaction: My marriage. Question: Why is my marriage such a struggle, and what can I do to make it better?

These are some assumptions embedded within this question, and an analysis of each:

  • My marriage is a struggle. (True, from my perspective)
  • There is a reason that it is a struggle. (True)
  • It should not be such a struggle/struggling is bad. (False—struggle is necessary for my growth. But there are more and less effective ways to struggle.)
  • It can get better. (True—hold on to faith and hope. There’s also a lot more that’s already going well that I’ve failed to notice or appreciate.)
  • I can do something or several things to improve my marriage. (True—There’s more I could be doing that I’m avoiding or putting off.)
  • It is up to me, not my spouse, to make it better. (Mostly true. I can always improve, but my spouse plays a role too and can make his own choices. I need to be patient and supportive while he works some issues out for himself. Something I can always do is to pray for him.)

Solution: Be patient, supportive, open and hopeful. Find peace in the knowledge that this experience will help me grow. Learn about and experiment with some new strategies and skills. Pray for my spouse’s hurts to be healed and for our trust in each other to be mended. Be grateful for the good things about our relationship.

See how that worked? These answers were actually embedded within the assumptions of the question itself. This 5-minute exercise ended up providing some valuable and helpful insights and have led to further soul-searching questions filled with more enlightening truths!

I hope that this tool can assist you in creating breakthroughs of your own!

We are Meant to Shine

A couple days ago I had the opportunity to meet and be taught by an amazing woman. She radiated light by being her authentic self, and I felt energized just being in her presence for a short time. When she looked into my eyes, I felt seen for who I really am. She’s out there in the world making great things happen by influencing people to be their best selves. I had the thought that I wanted to be just like her. But then I realized that the world already has a Rachel. The world needs me and my unique gifts. I have my own purpose and mission. I bring things no one else can. And so do you.

For years I thought that the goal was to blend in and try to be like everyone else, not standing out at all, staying in the mainstream and going with the flow. I didn’t really have anything I wanted to do or be, besides whatever everyone else expected of me. And at the time I thought I was pretty content. It wasn’t a bad life, but I didn’t realize until later that I had been living in a cage, the bars of which were the limitations I was placing on myself. Although being a schoolteacher, wife, and mother are all great things, I was playing small because I wasn’t striving for anything more. I knew I had more to offer but was too scared to venture into unknown territory.

And then, a couple years ago, I came across this amazing quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I was going to say that these words are so perfect that nothing I can say could add anything to it. But that would contradict the very idea of what she is trying to say here! The reason I put off starting a blog for so long was that I thought other people were so much better at generating original ideas and expressing them. I got over that when I realized that it’s not about me and my capabilities; it’s about the messages burning inside me and the people who need them. Although we all differ as to our diverse gifts, every one of us is a genius in some way, and we all shine with God’s light.

When we see others who radiate that light of fearlessness and authenticity, we step up as we recognize that we can be the same. Being in the presence of this woman I met, Rachel, had that effect on me, as have all the other luminescent beings like her in my world. Because I saw the light of God shine through her, I took down a little more of my own barrier in order for the same light to shine a little more brightly through me. It’s just like the New Testament scripture in Matthew 5: 14-16:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city which is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

If you are hiding under a bushel, come on out. Get on that candlestick and shine. It’s not about you; it’s about everyone else who needs to see your light. But as you do this, or rather, become this, you will paradoxically find great joy for yourself. I know I have found this joy as I’ve let my own bushel fall away. No more playing small. You are a brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous, powerful-beyond-measure child of God. Never forget it!

30 Things I Love About My Husband

This is a great time of year to focus on strengthening relationships. One of the best ways to do this is being mindful about what we love about the other person and why we’re grateful to have them in our lives. While writing this list of things I love about my husband, I found that my love for him really grew. It was such a simple thing to do, but made a big difference in how I see him.

30 Things I Love About My Husband:

  1. He is a very loving father to our four precious children.
  2. He is awesome at human resource management and has a great career.
  3. He cares deeply about all people.
  4. He has a darling, infectious laugh.
  5. He is a great soccer player and is an awesome coach for our kids’ teams.
  6. He has a talent for cooking without a recipe and throwing ingredients together in a yummy way.
  7. He single-handedly made me a fan of blues music.
  8. He expresses appreciation to me and others often for the things we do.
  9. He gives great hugs.
  10. He thinks about what he is going to say before he says it.
  11. He’s a great fly-fisherman.
  12. He likes to hike and enjoy nature.
  13. He follows through in his commitments to others.
  14. He can speak Portuguese and loves the Brazilian people.
  15. He willingly looks for and jumps at opportunities to serve others.
  16. He is very sensitive and gentle.
  17. He (usually) does the dishes after dinner.
  18. He is very generous and giving, especially when it’s a cause he cares about.
  19. When he cleans the house, he is amazingly deep and thorough.
  20. He stays connected with friends and family.
  21. He is unfailingly honest.
  22. He changes diapers.
  23. His chocolate-brown eyes can make me melt.
  24. He is conscious about what he spends money on.
  25. He has great taste and valuable input in decorating our home.
  26. He has always been respectful toward his mom and sister, which is actually one of the first things that attracted me to him.
  27. He is really fun to be around. (When he’s not stressed, anyway!)
  28. He is a great planner and is detail-oriented.
  29. He is a people-watcher and “gets” people.
  30. He is a great example to our boys of the kind of man to grow up to be and to our daughter of the kind of man to seek one day.

I could have gone way past 30, but you get the idea. Valentine’s Day is a great time to try an exercise like this, but it’s good to do any time of the year, especially when in one of those ruts of relationship negativity. You could also write down one thing every day that you love about your partner, which habit will prime your brain to look for and be aware of more positive things about him or her.

Whenever possible, share what you wrote with the other person, or shout it to the world, like I’ve done here! It made me feel so good when he wrote this list about me last year and posted it to Facebook:

On her birthday, here are 29 reasons why I love my wife:
1. She rocks (as in her great taste in music)
2. She loves me even when I do dumb things
3. She has such beautiful eyes
4. She is great at expressing her thoughts and feelings through her writing
5. She is better than anyone I know at finding a good deal on things we need
6. She helps our kids learn by getting out and exploring their world
7. She deeply cares about her friends and family
8. She gives a great back massage
9. She has a great drive for learning
10. She is very conscious about providing healthy food to her family
11. She loves the outdoors
12. She started her own business this last year
13. She strives to increase and improve her spirituality
14. She loves to explore new and different foods with me
15. She has put up with me for over 10 years
16. She is good at recording the cute and funny things our kids do
17. She is very empathetic and caring
18. She has a gorgeous smile
19. She supports me in both my wins and failures
20. She has caught a fish on a fly rod
21. She is committed to helping others improve themselves
22. She loves making her own sushi and sharing with friends
23. She helps keep me in check and remembering what is important
24. She likes staying fit and exercising
25. She helps me feel loved every day
26. She has a passion for traveling
27. Have I mentioned how beautiful she is?
28. She is great at serving others when they are in need
29. She is the best friend and wife I could ever ask for and I feel extremely grateful to have her in my life

When he saw that I had literally one-upped him when he read what I was writing tonight, he said “Game on.” I think I know what that means, and I like it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All Work and No Play…

“Always jump in the puddles! Always skip alongside the flowers. The only fights worth fighting are the pillow and food varieties.” –Terri Guillemets

Even though a husband and wife may be grown up, with jobs, college degrees, responsibilities, a mortgage, and kids of their own, they are really just a little boy and a little girl who want to play together and have fun.

This was one of my lightbulb moments last night at a marriage workshop series I attended with my husband. I realized that I have forgotten how to have fun and how to BE fun! When I’m around energetic, animated people, then sure, it’s easy to have fun in their company. But when it’s just my husband and me…hmmm. I don’t know what happened. We used to have lots of fun back back before we got married, so I know we’re capable of it, but somewhere along the way, something must have gotten broken or lost. I know I’ve got to turn this around, because having fun together is the secret ingredient in successful relationships.

Another lightbulb moment was learning about the Paradox of Efforting. Basically it’s that working too hard on problems and constantly focusing on resolving issues could actually harm your relationship rather than improving it.

Wait, what? Hard work and effort could be a BAD thing? Well, yes, if it’s done at the exclusion of creating positive experiences, such as having fun together and playing.

“Shared positive experiences build bonds.” -Dr. Randy Chatelain

It makes total sense, now that I think about it. Working on issues and problems are usually not positive experiences. Doing this rarely brings you closer to your partner, and creates stress and anxiety, which can increase the distance between the two of you and steal away your energy.

On the other hand, having fun together maximizes the energy between you and creates bonds as you form positive memories. These positive experiences, unique to the two of you, define your relationship as distinct and unique, providing a sense of mutual solidarity.

Without these positive experiences, you stop feeling like a couple, stop feeling like you’re on the same team. You start to doubt whether the other person really has your best interests at heart, so you start ascribing selfish and negative motivations to their behavior and stop assuming good intent. And from there it all goes downhill. Trying to resolve issues in this climate is worse than a waste of time. It becomes discouraging as more and more issues and problems begin to pile up.

In my marriage, for me so far, the answer has been to work even harder, to pour even more energy in to resolving these things so that then things will be good and positive between us. Has this worked? Absolutely not, and yet I have kept trying and trying to do this. I had it all backwards. Create the positive experiences first, and then a lot of the issues and problems naturally fall away on their own.

My recent experience has been that once I finally felt a connection with my husband, I was happy to forget past issues and grievances and just let them go, without dealing with them. And now, moving forward, the important step to maintaining that connection is having fun together. (So I need to start remembering how to play, ASAP!)

I’m not saying it’s not important to deal with problems; conflict and differences are a natural part of every relationship. Just make sure you have enough shared positive experiences so that when you choose to go there, you will care about your relationship and your partner enough to go through the unpleasantness of it.

Because it’s ultimately only satisfying to work hard on something that brings more value and good than difficulty and struggle!