Things that I’d rather not be honest about but when I am, it makes me less judgmental and easier to be around:
I am disgusting sometimes too. It’s not just the people I criticize.
I have lied and manipulated facts when I was scared of getting in trouble.
I have made myself look better than I actually was.
I have feared rejection and looking unworthy to others.
I have sometimes done things to get attention.
Sometimes, I have even wished awful things upon cable and mobile phone companies (whom I perceived to be arrogant).
I have screamed at family members like a crazy woman and would have killed my sister if I could have gotten away with it.
We may not have killed people, but most of us have thought about it.
That makes me more prone to forgive people who actually fall off the edge.
Today, I found encouragement in the messages of The Glass Castle movie (in theaters August 11, 2017).
The message that we don’t have to be ashamed of those things over which we had no control.
The message that there is hope for kids and employees and spouses who are under the thumb of crazies.
The message not to give up on the escape plan.
The message that there are essential things to love about everyone.
The message that we can survive (and somehow thrive under) radical pain and confusion.
The message that all of our stories hold much more mystery than we ever dreamed.
Our health, relationships, jobs, and special concerns have a (significant and scientifically-proven) statistical advantage of survival if…wait for it…we learn to state our opinions on emotionally-charged issues honestly and respectfully.
Most of us don’t, and skillfully blame the other party for our failure, i.e., “They don’t listen to me,” “They think they are always right,” “I tried,” “It doesn’t do any good,” etc. When the actual truth is: our approach fails to provide a safe place for the exchange of real information.
Getting better results is easier than we think. We just have to be humble enough to learn, prepare, and practice new skills.
If, instead, we choose to do what we have always done, we must accept the consequences…
- The costly games we play sabotage our jobs, relationships, and plans.
- Relationship stress and frustration break down our immune systems.
- 75% of all violent crimes are committed against family members, coworkers, friends, and neighbors.
“Most true breakthroughs in life are break-withs; creating a break with the mediocrity or mistakes of the past.” -Stephen Covey (from the forward of Crucial Conversations)
Breaking with our mediocre behaviors (especially when it comes to emotion-laden relationships) takes resolve and the humility to learn new techniques, but this is our best chance for the lives of our dreams.
A few “breaks” that have radically improved my quality of life:
Break With New Technique
Playing the victim Setting Boundaries and Contingencies
Getting defensive Healthy Emotional Detachment
Arguing Active Listening
Judging Giving the Benefit of the Doubt
When we hear ourselves complaining, criticizing, whining, or attacking it’s a good sign that we have settled for a mediocre existence.
I had a dream that I totally went ballistic on a family member who suggested I needed to lose weight. So glad it was a dream.
Yet, my relief dissipated when I imagined what I would have done if that person, accidentally, said something so cruel. My reaction wasn’t that far from reality.
I tend to react defensively when I feel…
When I am brave enough to face the truth about myself, I can detach my emotions enough to learn from criticism instead of…
- Biting someone’s head off
- Criticizing back
- Getting depressed
- Expunging the challenger from my life
Prevents wasted rides
Not many people look forward to being around boring, uncaring, or shallow people, but we often feel roped into these situations to fulfill work, social, or family obligations.
Or we might find ourselves in other painful environments where our opinions don’t seem to matter, we are treated like a number, totally ignored, disrespected, or criticized.
To avoid the energy drain of these scenarios, I developed a three-step fix that really works for me (and also stops my complaining about these experiences):
- Focus on what energy I bring with me rather than what lack I perceive exists in others. Everyone is looking for ways to feel valued. How can I alleviate the lack of that for others?
- See myself as a force for good in the world wherever I am. I have the power to make a difference with a genuine smile, a compliment, a resource, or a benefit of the doubt.
- Think partnership; when someone else loses, so do I. Rather than get defensive or aggressive, can I take a minute to recognize the source of my antagonist’s pain and turn a disagreement into a win-win instead?
Just today, I noticed the fifty-year-old scar below my knee and, for the first time, realized I had never even thought about thanking my mother for getting me to the hospital and paying the medical bills required to repair my leg after a bicycle accident.
It’s a little late now.
But, it’s not too late to use the lesson. What a reminder of how easy it is to take things for granted when wrapped up in our own drama and life is all about me. (Sorry, Mom. Sorry, friends. Sorry, coworkers. Sorry, other family members. Etc., etc.)
And what a reminder to come down off my high horse when tempted to complain about others acting “entitled.”
Alec Baldwin started and ended his autobiography with “Nevertheless,” admitting his screw-ups, the unfortunate things, and the heartache, but saying, “Nevertheless, it had all been worthwhile.”
I’m not too crazy about his anger issues. Nevertheless, parts of his story are very encouraging and instructive.
- Baldwin achieved fame and fortune. Nevertheless, his happiest memories came from the days before his success.
- His dad was a hardworking high school teacher who never made enough money to support his wife and six kids. He sacrificed everything (including rent) to send his kids to college. He died without relief and unaware of his impact. Nevertheless, his life made a big difference.
- His mother had a tedious, hopeless, and strenuous existence for decades. Nevertheless, things radically improved for her later in life.
It’s about perspective.
As I was laughing at my own jokes recently, I realized that my ability to write sick quips and funny dialog had come from my family; not always in the best of circumstances, my mother, sisters, and brothers contributed to my proclivity for absurdity (along with a steady diet of Mad Magazine).
Each of us owe much to people who have helped us identify our gifts…however painful the process. Along with using our unique gifts, showing them appreciation is the right thing to do.
Today, I write in memory of my mother’s whacky life, my sister, Angela, the master jokester, and for my brother, Ronnie, who bought me my first MAD Magazine.
It’s too late to thank them any other way.
(originally posted 2012)
Faced with the necessity of caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s, I was completely distraught: This will never work! How am I going to take care of her? Why can’t my siblings do it? I have no time and no money for this!
Then, these words came to my mind: “Do you want your mother to be cared for?” “Of course I do,” I answered. “Then, accept the responsibility, do it with joy, and don’t worry about the “how.”
I did, and contrary to my fears, everything did work out, and with unexpected gifts along the way.
I now know that playing the martyr, despairing, or arguing with reality is a waste of time; when I do the right thing, help will come.