Archive | March, 2012

Sticks and Stones are Secondary

30 Mar

Did you grow up in the era of  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

Childhood memories can be brutal – especially if you were ever accosted by a bully.  It didn’t happen more than a couple of times to me, but I remember yelling these words hoping the bullies chasing me would somehow get tripped up by some magical force that the words conjured up! They never threw punches, but the unkind words they flung could be far more damaging.

“Ugly duckling!”  “You look like a boy!”  “Pigeon toes!”  Words thrown in haste that decades later, for most of us, can still sting.

Names and words can be powerful weapons that can inflict pain, rejection or verbal “spanking” of others.  I believe that words can turn into W.O.M. – weapons of mass destruction, and cause widespread damage to whole societies.  (Hitler used words to effectively control a nation and alienate the world.)

I recall the story of a bully whose father caught him taunting the neighborhood kids. As punishment, he made his son put nails into a fence for each name he had yelled.  The fence was covered with nails by the time he was finished, and the father talked to his son about the damage he was causing.  The son recognized the bad behavior and promised to stop bullying.  When a day that passed without name calling, the father allowed the son to remove some nails from the fence, until it was finally clear of nails.  The lingering message came on the last day when the father showed the son the holes that remained in the fence.  The son then realized the lingering damage of careless words.

Today, many parents refrain from corporal punishment (physical spanking), but fail to recognize the harm they inflict by the verbal spankings they unleash with their words.  (It is oft quoted that children hear the word “no” around 67,000 times by the time they reach the age of two, and the word “yes” far less!)

What is worse – physical or verbal abuse? 

If you believe the opening line of this post (sticks and stones…), you may not agree that words and tone can cause damage.  But I would bet that unless you have the most confidence and the most wonderful parents in the world, you probably still cringe when you recall harsh words of grownups from your past.  Why do we convict those who use physical abuse as their weapon and not those who use words to the same effect?

This week, a new documentary called “Bully” opened in select theatres across the country.  The filmmakers chronicled the life of a teenage victim, in the hopes of raising awareness and curtailing bullying in schools. I agree that it is time we take action to stop school yard bullies so that all children can concentrate on learning (a good strategic move for our nation!)

Next steps…

Maybe the next step after that will be to face the less obvious, but sometimes worse, cyber bullying and verbal abuse.  But, first, we as adults, need to stop and recognize the power of words to cause harm.  Guilt, shame, rejection, and embarrassment… these are but a few of the emotions we can stir up with pointy words.  We would never poke someone’s eye out with a stick, but we don’t think twice about stabbing them with words.

(Sidenote:  sometimes parents even use these tactics on their grown children to coerce or manipulate them into submission.  I’ve seen plenty of examples of this from friends whose parents don’t realize they are no longer children.)   

Perhaps the first step towards healing our societies is to reword the childhood adage… to maybe “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will ever hurt me.”

Just food for thought…

Carol

Fear is a four letter (F) word…

27 Mar

Fear plays a huge part in society today, and our public media knows that creating a frenzy based on fear sells newspapers, increases advertising and makes millions!  Globally, fear is a part of almost every society – and it motivates governments, countries, groups and people to take often irrational actions.  Fear is a scary thing!

Pick up any newspaper or listen in on conversations and you’ll find an increasing (and sometimes irrational) list of fears around us.  It is amazing that we get anything done when this mountain of fears are waiting to block our way:

  • Fear of terrorism (globally – and “we” are not necessarily on the friendly side worldwide);
  • Fear of God and eternal damnation (the religious right think they “know” the future);
  • Fear of differences (the Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Bisexuals know this more than others);
  • Fear of the unknown (what if the world ends on December 2);
  • Fear of what we think we know (we believe too much of what we read on the internet);
  • Fear of the past repeating itself (which can paralyze us from taking a change on new things);
  • Fear of new experiences (what if I don’t like it);
  • Fear for our children (what will the world be like in 30 years);
  • Fear of change (this one is wide open!);
  • Fear of turning into our parents;
  • Fear of being alone (how can I live without him/her even though it is bad);
  • Fear of being lonely (will I ever finding true “love”);
  • Fear of not being alone (or being stuck in a bad relationship);
  • Fear of losing our house or job or security;
  • Fear of the future (what if’s);
  • Fear of other religions (we do not understand);
  • Fear of other cultures (how can they live like that);
  • Fear of losing face (what will the neighbors/family/friends think);
  • Fear of loss/gains/failure/success;
  • What fears could you add to this list?

I could go on and on with the phobias and fears in daily life, but there is one item missing on this list:

  • Fear of the four letter “F” word: FEAR !

I believe that so many people feel they live a life that is out of control (and dominated by factors they have nothing to do with), that fear moves in.   By seeking and needing to control aspects of our life that we do not, we sometimes allow (or even create) fear to paralyze us and become the excuse that we don’t take action. Sometimes we even use fear to rationalize our irrational behavior!

Moving forward from our past…

Certainly, our experience plays a big part in our present fear – we want to avoid repeating behaviors that caused us pain in the past – but that is like driving forward by looking in the rear view mirror.  When we are soaring over the cliff (we were not watching for the “bridge out sign” ahead of us), we reassure ourselves that at least we were not rear-ended.

I believe that Fear is a Four Letter “F” Word that has no place in an optimistic vocabulary or our psyche.  Maybe we ought to start to ‘wash out our mouths’ for using this four letter F word?  It simply does us little good, and furthermore it clouds our judgment.

If I allowed my past together with fear to decide my future, I would never go out with another man, I would never trust another friend, I would never move to a foreign land, I would stop trying and dreaming and hoping… and that would be, frankly, irrational!

For me, the only way forward in life is to face my fears like the same way I would confront a bully – with strength, determination, and sheer guts.  My hopes, dreams, thoughts and life is too important (to me) to allow a little four letter F word to run amok.

Have a good week!

Carol

Childlike is not Childish…

26 Mar

What a joy it is to watch confident children under the age of 10 at playgrounds or at social events!  They make new friends quickly, are color-blind (to race and gender), approach adults with sincerity, are uninhibited, and look at the future with wonder.

When I take my 8-year-old granddaughter out to a playground or the beach, it amazes me how quickly she makes new friends with other children.  There is no judgment, no hesitation, no sizing up of the other -a simple sharing of time, energy and fun for the duration.  It is nice to see children who are color-blind (not sensitive to racial differences) and gender neutral playing together as fast friends.

Somehow, between childhood and the teen years, we lose this trait of accepting others at face value, replacing it with judgment, scorn, racism, sexism and “society” rules that keep us from easily mixing with people we don’t already know.

It also amazes me to see how freely children will dance to music – they seldom care whether anyone is watching or judging their moves.  Somehow we gain so many inhibitions when we grow into adulthood. Inhibitions stick with us for a lifetime – at least until we are so old we no longer care.

Any newspaper I pick up (globally) is filled with stories about disagreement and hate in today’s world, and I long for and wonder what happened to the children we were yesterday.  Can you remember what it was like to be uninhibited and free of judgment? Can you imagine what our world would be like if adults were more childlike and could accept each other at face value?  Racism, sexism, ageism, and other biases are learned behaviors – can you imagine how incredible life could be if we fostered acceptance instead of discrimination?

We need more childlike behaviors in our world today (not the childish ones we so often see).  What do you think?

Just food for thought on the first Monday of spring.

Have a good week,

Carol

Friday Folly

23 Mar

What if, just for today, everything was perfect in “your” world?

  • If all your thoughts were happy ones free of worry about yourself or anyone else?
  • If every cell and muscle in your body were pain-free and excited to be alive?
  • If every person you meet today is happy to see you?
  • If every sensation from your six senses (including intuition) was positive?
  • If you felt gratitude just for being alive?
  • If your soul felt optimistic about your future?

Author and sage, don Miguel Ruiz, says:

The dream of the planet is just a dream. It is not even real. If you go into the dream and start challenging your beliefs, you will find that most of the beliefs that guided you into the wounded mind are not even true.

Spend the next 24 hours Dreaming that all the above are already true – just as a Friday folly – and see if your Saturday doesn’t turn out to be just as awesome…

Have a great weekend!

Carol

Walking on Eggshells… Source of Back Pain?

22 Mar

First off, this post is not about physical back ailments, so I apologize if you came here to read about disk failures or arthritic conditions.  The back pain I want to talk about is the pain from having to look back and watch what you say or do because someone else explodes or behaves badly (and blames you)!

You probably have people in YOUR life who expect you to “Walk on Eggshells” (i.e., you have to be careful what you say because they explode if YOU say the wrong thing) – and it causes you grief!

Not only do you have to be careful what you say or appear to say for fear of negative retribution (often explosive) – you have to plan/rehearse/replay what you might say in your head to hopefully avoid a similar outcome. Even then, with careful planning, explosions invariably occur “because of what you said or did”.  Think about this for a moment along with Einstein’s definition of insanity:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So, if makes sense that if you constantly try to do something different (such as saying things in a different way) and you get the same explosive results, maybe the result has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

People who expect special treatment from others are the prima donnas, narcissists, sociopaths, and bullies of our society and invade our work, play, and homes.  If you love someone who does this, you might feel responsible when they explode (especially when they blame you) or treat you badly.  (This is a classic model of abuse: the abuser blames their victim for inciting the abuse.)

Personally, I am at a point where I realize that the “walk on eggshells around me” person is simply unhappy in spite of or regardless of me.  It seldom matters how nice or kind or careful I am because the explosion is not predictable.  (I once asked my ex-significant other what words I to avoid so he would not react badly because it didn’t seem to matter what I said.  His response was “you think you are a good communicator – figure it out!”  The truth was that no words from me could change his behavior – only he could. )

People who use verbal outbursts to get their own way may or may not realize their responsibility for their own behavior.  Or they might have always gotten away with blaming their firework reactions on others!  Why change what works if it gets them what they want?

Is there an alternative to “walking on eggshells”?

When bad behavior is rewarded it continues.  Imagine a child screaming and ranting in a grocery store and the parent rewards them with candy to shut them up.  The same thing happens when grownup children rant and get their own way in board meetings or at home.  Bad behavior is like an addiction – and if we reward the abuser for outbursts (by giving in) we are enabling the behavior to continue.  Easier said than done especially when the other person is a spouse, a boss, a family member or a friend.  It is easier to avoid them or to give in to keep the peace.

I fell for this too many times in my lifetime and today I avoid these people when I can, and if I cannot, I work hard to realize that I am not responsible or a trigger for their outbursts. Still, no one including me, wants to be covered by verbal diarrhea or hit in the face with fireworks – and then be blamed for causing it.

Can you identify with these “walking on eggshell people” I meet or hear about from others?

Fireworks are fun to watch - if they are celebratory!

  • At work I used to work with a guy who huffed and puffed and got red when anyone challenged his authority as a self-appointed expert. Sometimes he even exploded in a room full of people!  I am grateful I no longer have to work with this person.  He eventually named his company after his first name (narcissistic), brags about his religious devotion, yet continues to huff and puff and literally explode when anyone disagrees with him. He is over 65 so one would think he’d have met his match by now, but executives and peers simply watch him pontificate and back away before the fireworks begin.
  • ParentsI see parents everywhere who bully their children into complicity using religious guilt, coercion, and downright  manipulation (“if you loved me/us you would think/feel/act the way we tell you to”).  Parents who are bullies create submissive children who can grow into embittered adults.  While their physical presence is temporary (child rearing years) their damage can be lifelong.  Parents whose behavior creates a “walk on eggshells” environment with their adult children often lose the very respect they “demand.”
  • Spouses/partnersIf you have/had a spouse who tells you that they only said xxx because “you made me say it” you know what it is like to “walking on eggshells.”  Should you dare to suggest that their responsibility for fireworks they ignite themselves, you might be “down the river without a paddle” so to speak.  I can tell you from experience that life can be grander without such a “partner.”
  • Children – We have the chance to influence a child’s behavior to a certain extent (personality weighs heavily here) by not allowing or rewarding tantrum-like behavior.  Even when corrected at an early age, there are plenty of adult children who use explosions and then hold their parents to blame long into adulthood.  I believe that we need to teach children accountability and consequences for bad behavior at a young age.
  • FriendsI have written about the types of friends who explode or behave badly when they do not get their own way (Do Mean Girls Grow up?) – and my solution is to walk away and find new friends.  On rare occasions when I confronted the person, it had  a good outcome, but more often it led to even worse outbursts.  These days I follow the advice of a New York friend who encourages me to say “Next” and move on to the next friendship.
  • People we do not knowIt is painful to witness someone verbally abusing another in public.  I do not believe that it is ever warranted to yell at another adult unless it is to alert others to a threatening situation or assault.  I see this happen all the time and I never know what to do.  When it is an adult verbally abusing a child, I often step in or alert a storekeeper for advice, but when it is adults involved, I am at a loss… I do not want to become a victim by confronting the offender, yet I do not want to show that I accept the behavior by complicity.

If “walking on eggshells” causes (back) pain why do we comply?

Is this an isolated situation confined only to me?

If you have found something that works instead of walking on eggshells, would you share them with me so I can also share them with others?

Wishing you a stress-free week of happy times!

Carol

Wasted, Invested or Well Spent… It’s all Relative

20 Mar

Life is seldom predictable, and when we look back at decisions we made, we are often overly harsh on ourselves about our choices. Hindsight is always 20/20, but… our judgment of whether the decision was a waste, a good investment, or resources well spent is anything but objective.

I believe that living with regret is one of the most harmful and unproductive ways to spend our days.  It is like “crying over spilled milk” (where no amount of assessment will clean up the mess or prevent it from happening the next time). Another analogy is that we living with regret is like driving by looking in the rear view mirror. Both limit our ability to live actively (and happily) in the present.

Regret is a state of mind based on a (negative) judgment of our past decisions. If we judge that we wasted resources instead of investing them or spending them well, we stay stuck in the past wanting to change where we are today. (But we have no guarantee that a different decision would have played out any better!)

I believe that if we were kinder to ourselves and could quiet our inner critic, we could change our outlook and move past regret. Would it not be easier to live  positively in the present?

Moving past Regret

I find that a 3 step process works to move past (and reframe) regret:

  1. Replay the decision objectively: Given the limits on our time, energy, love and money, no one wants to waste it on bad choices.  In this step, I consider the “me” who I was at the time and am compassionate knowing that I made the best decision I could, given the information available at the time.  I realize that my responsibility ends with my behavior (and not that of others) and this helps me to be kinder when I consider the decision.
  2. Realize that I am only one person party in a connected world. When I consider how a decision played out in my life, I remind my inner critic that other people and circumstances were involved to affect the outcome.  Whether the decision involved love (another person was involved), finances (market factors and economic considerations), time (a constant outside my control), relationships, a move (factors outside my control), job (others involved), or a variety of other things, the outcome was only partly determined by me.
  3. Judge the outcome with kindness and integrity. don Miguel Ruiz outlines the first agreement (from his book The Four Agreements) as: Always live with integrity; which means that we must treat ourselves in the same way that we would treat a best friend.  When it comes to judging our choices, we need to consider what we would tell a best friend in the same situation.

Let me give you an example of how these 3 steps can work.  Consider that you lost your house due to foreclosure or are danger of doing so and feel the regret of “wasting your money”.

  1. Consider your decision to buy the house in the first place.  Real estate was historically considered a safe choice and an investment. Regardless of the price you paid, you likely weighed a number of factors before your purchase, and made the best decision you could.  Remember your state of happiness (and probably some trepidation) and optimism when you finalized the deal.
  2. Realize that the market and circumstances are variable. Even if you considered the risks, your involvement in the current crisis was likely minimal.  The real estate downturn, the economy, and your current employment status affect you, but they were not your doing. Give yourself a break.
  3. Judge the outcome with kindness and integrity. If you were talking to a best friend, you’d tell him/her that the decision was the best one at the time and life never unfolds as planned.  You would remind them of the good things that came with owning a house (even temporarily), and how the decision manifested things (like new friends, tax deductions, stability, etc.).  Undoubtedly, you would encourage your friend to look at the past objectively, and to be optimistic about the future.  Live with integrity and do this when you talk to yourself.

Reframing your past with the 3 steps allows us to move past regret and view our decisions properly as investments and resources well spent.  Certainly, we will still view some events as a waste (of time, energy, money, or heartbeats), but the more we can minimize these, the better our present and our future can be.

What do you think – would this work for you?

Have a positive week!

Carol

Drama Free Living

15 Mar

I do not know who said

Youth is wasted on the young;

but more and more I believe that this is true.

In our youth, we worry about everything: Will we have enough money?  Can we get ahead? Will my boyfriend/girlfriend be true to me? Who can I trust? What do people think of me? What can I do at work to make a good impression? Will I ever fall in love? Where should I live? What can I do to improve my career prospects? Will my children be smart?  Am I a good parent? And so on…

We spend so many of our youthful days (our 20’s and 30’s) worrying and engaging in drama-filled lives that we often miss out on the sheer pleasure of being alive.  I know I did.  I worried about family, loved ones, children, my children’s friends, my friends, the friends I didn’t have, career, my spouse, my spouse’s career, my career, schoolwork, field trips, out-of-town trips, you name it.  As a young mother, I was a master of creating and living in drama.  If there was not a crisis looming or imminent, I created one or allowed my children to do so.  What a waste of time, energy, and heartbeats!

Today, my life is much simpler and happier than the bygone days of worry about things I could not (fortunately!) control.  My children are grown and happily independent; I have the freedom to come and go as I please; my cat is happy and well fed; I have enough work and money to be happy; I enjoy lots of social occasions; I am healthy; and I am optimistic about the future.  What more could one want?

I wished for a drama-free life years ago – one filled with peaceful days free of conflict, happy times with my children, unconditional love and acceptance from myself, and supportive friendships.  Today these are no longer wishes but my reality, and I am truly grateful.

Youth may be wasted on the young, but the joy of youth is certainly not wasted on those of us who stay young at heart.  Wish for a drama-free life, and it too can be yours!

Have a great day,

Carol

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