Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Intercept Anger Before It Begins

We all get angry. It's a normal part of our human experience. Anger is neither wrong nor bad. As with all emotions, it serves a valuable purpose and in this case alerts us to the fact that something is amiss and needs our attention to correct. It is how we choose to express and apply it that determines whether or not it will be a beneficial force in our life or a destructive one. 

People sometimes act inappropriately: they disrespect us or can be just be plain mean at times. It's not uncommon to take personal offense to their rude behavior and respond with anger. This, however, is the handiwork of ego, that self-serving part of the human experience that values the self above all else and creates a fabricated division of humanity by assigning false values to specific individuals. 

Ego justifies a hostile response by judging and labeling the "offending" party as a jerk, ignorant, nasty, etc. By devaluing them it becomes easier to react with aggression. But an angry response benefits neither the perpetrator nor the object. So how then can one respond to the wrong-doer?

Several years ago, I was traveling southbound on a major highway. An upcoming jug handle provided access to the northbound lane where I needed to be. To those unfamiliar with this particular intersection, the turn can be deceiving. Sparing you the confusing details, as I proceeded to enter the northbound lane, a driver to my right made a sharp illegal left hand turn cutting me off and nearly causing a collision. A quick honk alerting him to his mistake resulted in him giving me the finger (no, not a thumbs up). Immediately I felt a surge of rage! How dare he disrespect me! He's the one who committed the infraction. If it weren't for my quick reflexes there would have been an accident and he would have been completely at fault! We continued up the highway, he in the lead, me directly behind him. I could see his anger becoming more intense as he glared at me in his rear-view mirror, ranting uncontrollably while flailing his arms about like a gorilla swatting swarming mosquitoes. I said nothing. I did nothing. I simply observed. And the longer I did, the more I felt sadness for him. What could possibly be going on in his life that would cause such a severe and prolonged reaction over a relatively minor incident?  

In my work at the battered women's shelter, I had a client early on who very reluctantly attended my anger management classes on Monday evenings.  She was clearly unhappy to be there and each  week  made it apparent by her passive/aggressive behaviors. I was annoyed and somewhat offended. I needed to speak with her and decided to give myself a week to carefully choose my words, letting her know exactly how upset I was with her. When that fateful evening arrived, I approached her but immediately felt a change of heart. "Would you like to have lunch with me on Wed," I asked? Her face softened into a smile as she responded, "Yes, thank  you." Two days later, as we sat over platters of grilled chicken and salad, she revealed her very painful story of losing her husband and eventually everything they owned. "I came to this shelter with nothing more than a small bag of clothing. I lost everything and I'm terrified about what's going to happen to me." Fear manifest as anger - classic case. 

What I learned from both of these experiences was simply a reinforcement of what I've known and taught for years: behind everyone's perceived inappropriate behavior lies unresolved issues of pain, loneliness, fear, insecurity, loss, etc. Ego takes personal offense to the expression of their suffering; spirit seeks to understand and soothe it. It's called compassion: the ability to feel another person's pain coupled with a sincere desire to alleviate it. I can choose to live in ego and respond with anger. Or I can live authentically, as Spirit, and choose the benevolent response of compassion. In doing so, the anger never manifests and the cycle of rage is broken. In each moment, God changed my heart and I was given the opportunity to bring healing to those who are hurting. And what greater privilege in life is there than this? 

"Be kind to everyone you meet for each one is fighting their own battle." ~ Plato

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Family Feuds, Quick Tips to Resolve Them

Families: they can be our greatest source of joy or a never ending cause of stress. Some might like to have a few parts replaced, others may prefer to trade theirs in for a more suitable model. Some are grateful to have a family regardless while others would prefer to travel through life solo. If you're a member of a family, then  you know how challenging it can be to deal with the wide scope of personalities, quirky behaviors, opposing viewpoints, different needs, beliefs, and values, along with varying  methods of how members doing things.  Being unskilled at even the most basic aspects of resolving conflicts, as most of us are, can result in minor differences  escalating our stress levels and causing tempers to flare. 

Below are some simple suggestions on how to fix family feuds. However, before engaging in the process, ask yourself the following questions: What has my role in this situation been? How have I contributed to the breakdown of our family unit? Is it my attitude, actions, words, or lack thereof? On every level, we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I must first take inventory of my nonconstructive contributions before I can expect to achieve any degree of success with other members. 

Assuming I have successfully completely this task and corrected any transgressions , I can now proceed using the following strategies: 

1. As respectfully as possible (it is always possible), clearly and succinctly identify the area that needs attention.
2. Remove all distractions such as all technology, small children or any projects you may be working on. This enables all parties to be fully engaged with one another.
3. Allow each party ample time to state what is on their mind without interruption. In this way, each individual will relax knowing they will have adequate time to express their thoughts and concerns.
4. Validate their perspective. Consider their feelings, needs, desires, and such as valid, even if you vehemently disagree with them. Listen with your heart, not simply your ears. It's called compassion.
5. Ask questions to gain deeper insight into what they are saying.
6. Avoid criticizing or making fun of them. Be respectful at all times.
7. Avoid blame or accusations. Both are destructive and will sabotage any progress from occurring.
8. Inquire as to what they need from you for this issue to be resolved. Listen open mindedly and non-defensively. Discuss whether or not you will be able to accommodate their needs. Make any necessary adjustments.
9. State your position, needs, feelings, wants, etc. Express what you need from them in order to put this issue to rest. Make certain your requests are fair and reasonable.
10. Compromise. A "winner takes all" mentality is not a solution. All parties must feel satisfied in some way in order for the issue to truly be resolved once and for all. Thank them for taking the time to work through this issue. 

Families will always disagree on things but our differences needn't escalate to family feuds. Each member plays a vital role in the wholeness and integrity of the unit. When we learn to embrace the uniqueness and giftedness of each individual, we can utilize those qualities to strengthen and enrich the whole. And we can finally live in harmony with and enjoy our families, free from fighting. 

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The COLTS Method of Instantly Resolving Problems

We've all had our share of problems in life, some more than others but problems none-the-less. If you're anything like me, you eventually grow weary dealing with and finding solutions to unpleasant situations.  Rather than win the lottery, some might opt to have all of their problems vanish, never to reappear again - to live a life void of those wretched issues that devour our precious time, drain us of our emotional reserves, and sabotage our peace and happiness. Yet is it conceivable to think we can live problem free? Actually yes, it is. Let me explain.

Life is a series of events and experiences we must participate in for a number of reasons: perhaps we need to learn a valuable life lesson or the experience may be a necessary step in our journey towards a particular goal. Events may be intended to test our determination. Others enable us to tap into hidden potential necessary for our personal growth. Still others may appear simply to reward us for past efforts. Those we welcome with open arms, for sure. The others not so much. In any event, each plays a valuable role in who we become and the path our life follows. 

I think most would agree that life would be easier and more enjoyable without problems to clutter up our time and deplete our energy. What few realize is that problems only exist in the mind - they are not a reality but rather a label we assign to a perceived unpleasant situation. Consider this: my husband and I share a home together and each winter endure the same amount of snow as the other. It must be cleared from driveways, sidewalks, and porches for obvious reasons. For him it's a problem, for me a form of exercise. Same event, different experience. It's all a matter of perception plus the labels we place upon said incident. 

Consider using the COLTS Method of Classification (5 alternatives) to instantly resolve any future or existing problems. Is the situation a:

1. Challenge: is this experience here to challenge you to learn something new or to push you to achieve greater goals? Like a runner training for a marathon, accept the challenge with determination and enthusiasm, knowing you will emerge a better person.
2. Opportunity: perhaps God is ending one chapter of your life and directing you on a new path. Have faith, trust in His judgment over your own. "I  know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah
3. Lessons: we all need a wake-up call sometimes. A loss, setback or betrayal can often teach us more than any book or trained professional could. Appreciate the opportunity to learn.
4. Test: unexpected interruptions in our life are often testing us to enable us to determine how important something or someone is. Examine your priorities and values to ascertain what really matters. Eliminate or limit that which is secondary in worth.
5. Situation: some things just are, plain and simple. We needn't assign a classification or emotion to every experience we have. "It is what it is" can serve us well. 

Rest assured, I am not suggesting we deny or ignore the situation at hand. We must still address the issue but can now do so from an entirely different perspective, completely redefining what it is and how we allow it to impact us. 

I cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. However, by simply re labeling it, the problem disappears and I'm left with five other options - COLTS (which, by the way, are adorable baby horses and who can be upset with them?). I can maintain a positive attitude and transform a outwardly depressing situation into one that is innocuous. And that, my friends, makes my life a whole lot easier. 

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Our Greatest Fear

Ask anyone: they'll tell you that public speaking is a person's greatest fear. Yet according to a recent article by Steve Nash flying, heights, the dark, intimacy, failure, rejection, spiders, and commitment top the list. Add to that the fear of being alone, losing a loved one (especially a child), terrorism, getting sick, the economy, and dying and it would appear that mankind is struggling with daily anxiety. While it is true that people worry about many of the above, there is a much deeper area of trepidation plaguing the vast majority of humanity: that is, facing the hard truth about who we really are. People prefer to live in denial rather than acknowledge the unflattering facts about themselves. Instead of admitting  that we are overweight, we call ourselves "plus size"; we're not rude - just bluntly honest; not arrogant - confident. Sugar coat it all you want but we all know that sugar can lead to tooth decay and diabetes. 

Why are we so afraid to be candid and frank with ourselves? We certainly don't have an issue when pointing out the flaws of others. Ah yes, but the truth about them doesn't hurt nor are we expected to undertake the challenge of correcting said imperfections.
I do not subscribe to the cliché that ignorance is bliss. Truth is empowering. Living in denial is detrimental to our well being. If a friend alerts you to a suspicious looking mole on your back and you choose to ignore it, the growth may be malignant, thus costing you your life. So it is with personal issues: denial is toxic to our relationships, health, overall enjoyment of life, career success and more. 

I cannot know what my entire physical being looks like without the help of a full length mirror reflecting back to me my own image. If I want to look my best, I must employ the assistance of a looking glass. If I am unhappy with my likeness, I don't blame the mirror or curse it's maliciousness. On the contrary: I am grateful for now I can correct what I do not like. So it is with other's observations and comments about us. As unflattering and painful as they may be we can train ourselves to listen objectively and consider any relevancy to their statements. If in fact we are unable to ascertain any truth in what they're saying, we may simply allow their comments to fall by the wayside. However, if their observations are legitimate, we now have an opportunity to correct any flaws, strengthen any weaknesses, or be at peace with that which we cannot or choose not to change. In any event, the incident can prove to be a great blessing  for it inspires personal growth. 

However, one cannot embark on such a disconcerting endeavor unless they fully understand who they really are. We are not our behaviors and attitudes. We are sacred children of the Most High God who loves us beyond what our human minds can comprehend. I must separate my outward actions with my intrinsic worth. I am not my behaviors. I can love my Sacred self while disliking the way I act. I can love my Sacred self while working on improving my bad attitude. I can courageously face the truth about my inappropriate actions knowing they do not define me nor do they diminish my value. 

Only when I learn to see myself through the Father's eyes and love myself as He loves me can I relinquish any fear of self-realization. And in doing so, I can embrace my flaws and imperfections, resting peacefully in the awareness that I am unconditionally loved for who I really am.
Faith Defeats Fear.

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