Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year - No Anger

Here it is: the beginning of another new year. All around the globe people are making New Year's resolutions to lose weight, be happier, spend more quality time with their families and so on. I find it rather odd that in a world filled with anger and violence no one makes a declaration to "not be so angry". While it's realistic to think we can be less angry, is it reasonable to expect that we experience no anger at all? And if so, it is even wise? After all, anger, as with all emotions, is a necessary and useful feeling. So why would anyone want to eliminate it completely?

Anger is a symptom of deeper rooted emotions: it originates from being hurt, feeling frustrated or experiencing fear. In a nutshell: our feelings get bruised when we take personal offense to what others are saying or doing. Frustration occurs when we try to force others to conform to our demands and/or expect that life be fair. Fear emerges when we lack confidence in our own abilities to handle life's ever changing circumstances. In essence, when we quell the root, the anger cannot manifest.

So is it possible, then, to live without anger?

First: Practice objective observation. View all situations from an neutral standpoint. Do not assign value (good/bad, fair/unjust) but rather accept that things simply are what they are. On a personal level, refrain from taking offense to what others are saying or doing. Their behavior is about them, not you. Likewise, do not allow others feelings or beliefs about  your or how they treat you to define your worth. Only the One who created you assigns your value. Similarly, remove all judgments from others. How you label them determines how you feel about them and if it's unfavorable so will your feelings be. Allow people/things to simply be.

Secondly: See all of God's children through His eyes. Each is a sacred son/daughter of the Most High God and held in the highest esteem by the Father. And in our temporal human condition each of us struggles with our own personal demons as we search for Truth. Separate the person from their behavior. They are two unique entities.  As an extension of Divine Love, I am ordained to respond to each member of my holy family with the same perfect Love that God bestows on me. Compassion, understanding, patience, tenderness and kindness:  none has to be earned - each is a God-given right. 

Thirdly (and most importantly): Spiritual evolution - every situation, every experience, every loss, betrayal, injustice, and trauma has a Divine Purpose. While many have arrived at the awareness that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I'm suggesting that these events have a much deeper significance. In each we are given the opportunity to turn towards God, to come to know His goodness and mercy, to rely on Him for guidance, strength, awareness, and healing. We are given the opportunity to utilize the spiritual principles He has blessed us with that support our true nature, which is God-like. When someone is unkind, we learn to forgive. When we suffer a devastating loss, we learn gratitude. Betrayal of the most intimate nature teaches compassion. Each brings us into closer communion with God if we so choose. 

Consider your best friend or intimate partner: the true assessment of their integrity and the nature of your relationship is found not in the sharing of joyful times but rather when you enter your darkest moments. All that they have professed to be is put to the test when you reach out to them in desperation and they forsake everything to assist you in whatever way you need. Their love and commitment to you is exemplified by their unselfish actions and your relationship is transformed forever. So it is with God: I can know Him intellectually but only in my pain am I receptive to cultivating that intimate bond that solidifies us for all eternity.

I'm not suggesting that we live in a fantasy world and ignore the challenges that occur around us. I am recommending that we still address the issues but without judgment, resentment, fear or anger. Appreciate all that enters and leaves your life knowing that each has infinite value. Trust in God, confident in the knowledge that your higher good is always His top priority and if it were not bringing you closer into communion with Him then He would shield you from it. 

If you adopt and follow these three spiritual tenets, you can exchange anger for peace and live the joyful life God intended for you. Try it. You'll see.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Your Relationships C*A*N Last Forever

For me, one of the saddest things to see is a relationship between two people who previously professed their deep love for one another now entering its final stage of dissolution. The divorce rate in this country is tragically high. When I was young and naive I believed that all you needed for a happily-ever-after life was love. After all, that is what the Beatles told us. But with life comes experience and hopefully wisdom. Having recently celebrated my eighteenth wedding anniversary with my second husband, I've learned that it takes more than just love to make a marriage(or any important relationship) last a lifetime. 

There are three common denominators that successful long-term couples possess.  I refer to them as The C*A*N Elements. They are:

Commitment: Most couple's make a critical mistake of basing their relationship on feelings.  But feelings are fickle and can change at the drop of a hat. Yesterday I wanted to send you back to your mother; today you're everything I live for. Many years ago I was watching the Oprah Show. Her guest was Dr. Harville Hendricks, considered to be the most successful marriage counselor in the country. He suggested basing your marriage on commitment rather than feelings. Commitment is that force that gets you through the tough times; the determination that fuels the fires of success; that voice inside your head that says, "You mean to much to me. I'm  not willing to quit. I'll try one more time, and then one more after that." Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place - what qualities did you find so attractive in him/her? They are still present. Focus your attention on those. 

Anyone who's ever achieved a significant goal in life has relied on their determination to succeed. As Yoda said, "There is no try. There is only do." In other words, never quit. The rewards are great when you remain faithful  to your promises.

Acceptance and Appreciation: We all know that it's not ok to try to change our partners. However, many will make a valiant attempt only to discover that it leads to tension, conflict, and fighting. The covert message we send is "You're not good enough the way you are. I can fix you and make you better." There is no more hurtful message to convey to our spouses than one that diminishes their worth. (Caution: hurt is a root cause of anger so consider yourself forewarned.) Acceptance of that which we cannot change nor have the right to change allows us to be at peace (with our partners and circumstances). However, acceptance is sometimes accompanied with sadness. "My wife nags me but that's just the way she is. I'm not happy but I can't change her so I'll just accept her the way she is." But sadness does not make for a happy marriage. Appreciation, on the other hand, does. Find every opportunity to appreciate each endearing characteristic of your spouse no matter how inconsequential. And let them know - frequently - even after that fact. 

The number one complaint I hear from my clients is "I put my heart and soul into my marriage/family/job and no one appreciates what I do. They take me for granted." Too often, a partner will find someone outside of the marriage who truly values them. Let that person be you. This one simply practice completely transformed my marriage.

 Negotiation: Challenges and conflicts are a normal part of every relationship. They simply represent each person's unique perspectives, needs, beliefs, desires, etc. Conflict is beneficial for the growth of any relationship and yet for the average couple it causes arguing, fighting, hurt feelings, and a breakdown in communication. By learning good negotiation techniques, individuals can learn to navigate their way through any changing circumstance that presents itself over time. Knowing there are multiple solutions to every situation affords the couple hope for change, thus alleviating despair (the very definition of anger). 

Savvy skills enable couples to resolve their differences peacefully and permanently. Customize your style of negotiation to suit your spouse. Make it easy for him/her and always keep their best interest at heart. A few good skills can avoid a lot of heartache. 

The Beatles had good intentions when they wrote "All You Need is Love".  And while love is a necessary  foundation for marriage it has proven insufficient in making them last forever. By adding three key elements, you, too, C*A*N  have a happily-ever-after life with your partner. I'm living proof. 

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How to Stop People From Hurting You

If I posed the question, "Who in your life has hurt you?", you might respond with, "Must I limit it to only one?" We've all been on the receiving end of someone's thoughtless behavior - their anger, sarcasm, back stabbing or betrayals. We've been hurt by those we know and love and even some that are complete strangers and it appears that we are powerless to stop them. Some tell themselves that they don't care if their boyfriend found someone else. After all, he's going to regret it when he finally comes to his senses and realizes you were the best thing that ever happened to him. For those who have been profoundly wounded by someone particularly close to them, their pain runs deep and their trust has been so severely damaged that they may choose to distance themselves from anyone of the human variety in order to protect themselves from ever experiencing such heartache again. 

Technically people don't have the ability to hurt us. Our suffering occurs as a result of several factors: first, we take personal offense to what they are saying or doing. Reminding ourselves that a person's behavior is an expression of their personal issues and has nothing at all to do with us prevents us from being offended by their actions.
Second: we all have expectations of those around us. When those expectations are not fulfilled we experience disappointment and hurt. Removal of all such demands allows us to simply experience others as they are. Acceptance of that which we cannot or should not change allows us to be more at peace with others.  No demands, no disappointments, no suffering.
And finally, remembering that all emotions, including hurt, result from our thought process. Our internal dialogue (that little voice inside our head) is actually responsible for our suffering or lack thereof. 

Yet even with this knowledge, it is easy to encounter those who seem to get pleasure out of hurting others. So is it possible to actually prevent people from hurting us? While I cannot offer an absolute guarantee, there is one thing many people overlook that acts as a shield to protect ourselves from being a target of someone's bad behavior. Think for a moment of a time that you had ever contemplated hurting someone. (Yes, even us really nice people  - we've all given it thought even if we would never act upon it.) Those who come to mind are typically those who have mistreated us, hurt someone we know and care about, committed horrific acts upon the innocent, or who are just plain mean (by our standards). We would never seek to deliberately harm those who consistently treat us and others with respect and concern. Those who are kindhearted and thoughtful win our respect and we desire only the best for them. We would rather bite our tongue than say anything offensive to them or die (figuratively speaking, of course) than inflict suffering upon them. In essence, it is harder to hurt those who are kind. Doesn't it make sense then that the reverse is true? If we were to consistently treat all whom we encounter with the highest form of dignity, then even when they are having a bad day and misbehaving, they would do their absolute best not to impose their anger on us. And we would remain unscathed. 

In the fifteen years  I worked with battered and violent women, I repeatedly witnessed vicious verbal and physical attacks between staff and residents upon one another - angry, nasty, hateful women taking their issues out on one another and not giving it a second thought. And yet never once was I included in their vindictive behavior. On the contrary: I repeatedly treated all parties with dignity and respect regardless of how they were behaving. Both residents and staff alike were very protective of me and at the slightest inclination that someone might possibly mistreat me, they'd jump to my defense.

No one deserves to be hurt. But let's be honest: it's easier to contemplate being unkind towards someone we don't like or someone whom we perceive to be mean. It is much harder to hurt someone who is consistently thoughtful and just plain nice. Be that person and you will protect yourself from much of the hate that abounds in this world. Kindness really is the key to a less painful existence.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Get Difficult Relationships on the Right TRAC

For the most part, I don't associate with people who difficult to get along with. Being a sole entrepreneur, I am not subjected to dealing with obnoxious coworkers, irate customers or demanding bosses (although I am tough to work for but fortunately I get along very well with myself). Socially, I am free to screen who I choose to spend time with and can distance myself from those who are problematic. Family, however, is where many of us face our greatest challenge. We may find ourselves in situations with a demanding parent, a selfish sibling, an argumentative in-law, a critical spouse, or a hostile child. Having more emotionally invested in our personal relationships can make dealing with them either easier or more challenging. Easier because our love and commitment to family allows us to tolerate and/or overlook their imperfections. Harder because we have higher expectations of family and often feel disappointed in them. In both social and business relationships we can emotionally disconnect or distance ourselves completely. Family, however, is typically held in higher regard and to sever a relationship can be too extreme a choice to make. So what is one to do? 

I always seek solutions to the diverse challenges life presents us with and difficult relationships are no exception. There are four key strategies to get these challenging relationships on the right TRAC. They are Trust, Respect, Appreciation, and Concern.

Trust: Every healthy relationship is built on trust. Requiring time and consistency to create, the basis of trust is honesty, integrity, and fairness. Couple that with being responsible and dependable and you have a solid foundation for a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Trust enables the other party to feel more comfortable and at ease with you and invites cooperation on their part. Trust builds trust.
Respect: The very definition of the word respect is "to value". When we hold others in high esteem we treat them with dignity, admiration, and consideration. They matter to us and it shows. Those who feel important are more willing to reciprocate in kind.
Appreciation: A primary need of all human beings, most feel severely deprived in the area of recognition. Acknowledging their kindness, thoughtfulness, talents, and efforts freely and frequently sends a message to the other party that we recognize and honor all that they are and do. Those feelings of being valued fuel their desire to do more.
Concern: Everyone needs to know that someone cares. Show an interest in how the other party feels, what matters to them, and how you can help. Validate their feelings rather than criticize or ignore them.  People who care are cared about.
Galatians 6:7 reminds us that "You shall reap what you sow".

When I built trust, offer respect, show appreciation, and express my concern I am more likely to attract back to me those exact qualities. By establishing a good TRAC record I invite transformation of a problematic relationship into one of ease and cooperation. Now both parties are free to simply enjoy one another's company. Such a simple solution, really.

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