Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doorbells, Dishtowels, Ducks, And Cake Relieve Anger

Ducks, dishtowels, and doorbells: one wouldn't think they're connected to anger in any way. Cake, on  the other hand, is a no-brainer: when upset, eat some. Plain and simple. No one can be angry when  stuffing their mouths with a confectionery delight topped with butter cream icing and sugar roses. Yum! As tempting as it may sound to consume a sugary treat when angry that's actually not what I'm suggesting. Let me explain.

Anger is a feeling of powerlessness. Feeling helpless makes us feel weak and vulnerable. In an attempt to protect ourselves from harm, we may respond by becoming defensive. Anger, regardless of how it is used, is a very powerful force and momentarily satisfies that need.  In those incidences where anger actually manifests we need techniques, comparable to the SWaT Strategy*, to quickly and effectively manage it. However, there are occurrences where anger does not manifest yet the situation still garners our attention. 

How, then, can we can prevent ourselves from using anger as a response in any given situation? 

1. Dead as a Doorbell: How many of you remember door-to-door salesman? They would climb the steps of your front porch, ring the bell, and once you answered try to convince you that what they were selling was exactly what you needed.  Sometimes, the homeowner would surrender and spend money on something they may not have wanted, only to become angry and dismayed at the salesman for the intrusion into their domain or for not being strong enough to resist their pitch. One solution could be to simply ignored the persistent, annoying buzzer or another is to disconnect the doorbell entirely. In that way, the salesperson could press the buzzer for eternity and elicit no transaction. The homeowner does not react because they are disengaged from the actions of the salesman. One can train themselves to remain emotionally detached (not unlike doctors in an ER) and not react to an otherwise annoying or bothersome situation.

2. The Great Duck and Dishtowel Debate: Get a large bowl. In it, place a washcloth and a small rubber duck. Pour water (which represents life experiences) over both and observe what happens. The dishcloth absorbs the water and it's added weight causes it to sink to the bottom of the bowl. The duck, on the other hand, allows the water to roll off it's back, thereby staying afloat. In life, we choose to absorb our experiences increasing the risk of drowning in our own anger. Or we can mimic a duck and stay afloat by allowing them to simply roll off our backs. Simple image, powerful message. 

Now on to the cake:

3. The Big Birthday Blowout: The next time you feel anger begin to emerge, take a moment and stop what you are doing. Imagine it's your birthday. Envision the birthday cake of your dreams down to the smallest detail. Place the appropriate number of candles on the cake. In your mind, light each one. Then, take a deep breath, hold it, and before exhaling, sing (to yourself) the Happy Birthday song. Mentally blow out one candle. Repeat until each wax decoration is extinguished. Depending on your age, you may hyperventilate and pass out before you've completed this assignment (if you're as old as I am!). So you may want to substitute a child or grandchild's age for safety reasons. In any event, by the time all of the candles are snuffed out, you will have either 1) forgotten what you were upset about, 2) put it into perspective and realized it's lack of significance, or 3) become too exhausted to deal with it. Either way, you've prevented a melt-down and a potentially unfavorable outcome. The situation can always be addressed at a later date when you have given yourself ample time to think things through logically and unemotionally. 

Having struggled most of my life with anger, (from suppressing it to raging, back to suppressing, and finally finding peace with my surroundings) I realized that 99.99% of what we get upset about has relatively little importance. Address what you must, ignore what is trivial, accept that which you cannot nor or must not change, save the anger for the really big stuff (which is almost nil) and be at peace with the outcome. You'll enjoy life a whole lot more.

*SWaT Strategy from The Secret Side of Anger , order your copy below
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Forgiveness is Obsolete

My mother has always been an advocate of forgiveness. When I was a child she taught me early on to let go of being angry with people. If a friend hurt me she suggested that perhaps they didn't realize what they had done. If it was a family member, well, families don't hold grudges.  And as Christians, that is what we are told to do: forgive one another as God has forgiven us. Extending mercy towards others has always come easy to me. I've never been one to hold on to resentment or anger.

As a motivational speaker, lecturing on forgiveness is one subject I've always been passionate about because it holds the key to inner peace. We cannot experience joy, love, health, or gratitude if we carry within us bitterness from the past. We cannot experience the full abundance of God's blessings when we live with acrimony and hostility. There are many who want to forgive but don't know how. For those individuals, I show them the steps necessary to achieve serenity. 

However, I've since come to the awareness that forgiveness is actually not necessary at all. The reason why God gave us this gift of spiritual healing is because in our ego-centered brains we are quick to judge and label one another. "He's a dead-beat dad." "My sister-in-law is a real witch!" The moment we do so we trigger our own anger. We also make the mistake of comparing each other: "I would never hurt you the way you just hurt me!" "Your brother is a straight A student. Why can't you be more like him?" And we are quick to criticize others for their perceived faults: "You think you're better/smarter/prettier than everyone else." Add to that the expectations we place on others that are totally unrealistic and unfair: "You're an adult. You should know better than to get drunk when you go out." And to exacerbate matters even more we take personal offense to their words and actions. (Behaviors are merely an outward expression of an internal issue. They have nothing at all to do with the person being targeted.) Judge, label, compare, criticize, expect, take personal offense: add, mix and ingest for one lethal cocktail!

Here's the cycle most of us fall into: You say or do something. I place judgment upon you, compare you, label you, or take personal offense to your actions. I become angry and upset. In order to restore harmony within me I must put forth time and effort to forgive you so that I may once again experience the inner peace I had before this sequence began. Sounds a bit insane doesn't it? It's like having a new pair of shoes, walking through a mud puddle and ruining them and then spending time and effort to restore them to perfection. Why not simply refrain from soiling them from the get go?

So the question becomes: forgive you for what? For being human? For not being who you decided I should be? For not living up to my preconceived notions about where you should be in your personal journey in life? Sounds kind of arrogant and ego-driven to me. 

Here are some suggestions to make forgiving obsolete:
1. Do not take personal offense to what others say or do. There behavior is not about you.
2. Remove all comparisons to yourself or others. Allow each individual to be who they are and do what is necessary for their spiritual journey.
3. Practice patience, compassion, kindness, and understanding.
4. Remove all labels and judgments. Be an "objective observer".
5. Love unconditionally - all people, all of the time. 

When you achieve a state of full spiritual awareness you remove all judgment, expectations, labels, and demands from yourself and others. Anger and bitterness are replaced with simple observation. One is able to view the other party's behavior objectively and without opinion. It simply is what it is. By remaining impartial one avoids the entrapment of unsympathetic emotions, thus rendering forgiveness obsolete. And life becomes infinitely easier. 

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Silent Anger

In the late sixties, I married my high school sweetheart. He was a quiet person by nature so when we began having difficulties in our marriage and his response was one of silence I thought it was just his personality.  Little did I realize it was a manipulative technique that would eventually destroy my already fragile self-esteem.

Remaining silent is a strategy employed by many in situations where conflict arises. Your boss lashes out at your entire department, criticizing their poor job performance in general. You've only been working for this company for two weeks and feel he is being unfair to you. You're angry but fear of offending him and jeopardizing your position keeps you from standing up for yourself. Your wife makes inappropriate comments to your family and friends. This really bothers you and you want to ask her to refrain from doing so.  But she has a nasty temper and you are concerned about the ramifications of such a risky move. 

Very often people believe that they keep quiet in situations such as these because they are too nice: they don't want to hurt anyone's feeling by telling the truth or cause the other person to become upset. But the truth is that those who don't speak up are governed by fear. They are overly concerned not simply with the way the other party may react but more importantly with how that reaction will impact them. "I get really upset if anyone yells at me." "I wouldn't know how to respond if someone disagreed with or verbally attacked me." Their lack of confidence renders them temporarily mute. While this may momentarily deflect an awkward situation it rarely provides a long term solution.

But there is another form of silence that I was referring to earlier and that is giving someone the silent treatment. This was the case with my first husband. Whenever I needed to discuss something important with him or tell him something he did not want to hear he would respond by not responding. In essence, I was ignored. Disregarding someone when they speak to you is a blatant form of disrespect: it sends a very clear message that you have no value, that your worth is so minimal you do not merit a response. Years of being beaten down emotionally eventually led to feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, and feeling invisible. My fragile self-esteem was on the verge of collapse and I was dangerously approaching a point of what I referred to as non existence. I had premonitions of no longer being. 

Both modes of non communication are forms of passive and/or passive aggressive anger. Fear, a root cause of anger, fuels the examples I provided: fear of being hurt, fear of rejection, fear of facing hard truths, and so forth.  When one is capable and confident they know they can handle whatever challenges they encounter regardless of how the scenario plays itself out. 

How does one deal with silent anger? I recommend the following:

1. Develop a healthy sense of self; know that you have the ability to handle anything with anyone at an time.
2. Relinquish any concerns of what others may think of you. Concern yourself only with being and doing what your heart tells you is right. Live to please God, no one else.
3. Develop good communication and conflict resolution skills. Rehearse possible scenarios with a trusted friend to build your self-confidence.
4. Enlist the support of others if you are going to address the other party. A strong support system enhance your authority.
5. Discuss any unresolved issues with a third party that you respect in order to gain deeper insights and awareness into the situation before taking action.
6. Know that you can respond after the fact. Not all issues need to be addressed at the exact moment.  Giving yourself time to think things through thoroughly allows for a better response.
7. You deserve better! Use your voice. Speak up. Say what's on your mind with confidence and dignity. Expect to be treated with the respect you deserve. 

If you are on the receiving end of silence, may I make the following suggestions?

1. Address the way you are being treated with the offending person.
2. Ask questions: "Have I done anything to hurt/offend you? Why are you ignoring me?" Encourage a dialogue to gain insight into the nature of their behavior.
3. If possible, resolve the underlying issues.
4. Set boundaries if necessary.
5. If no resolution can be achieved at this time, let it go and move on without anger, bitterness, or resentment. Pray for their healing.
6. #7 - This applies to you regardless of which side you are on.

Silence isn't always golden. Sometimes it is toxic. Know when it is advantageous to use the voice God gave you. If you do, say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It's as simple as that. 

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finding Joy in Your Darkest Moments

When I was fourteen, my godparents gave birth to a baby boy after twenty years of marriage. The most joyful day of their lives was shattered by the devastating news that their son had Down's Syndrome. Fifty years ago Downs was a death sentence and Robert was no exception. Three weeks later they buried their only child. I was deeply impacted by the response from my aunt, a woman of deep faith, when questioned about their loss. "I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience being pregnant and bringing a child into this world." Years later, when I became a mother myself, I found it difficult to fully comprehend her positive attitude. Losing a child is every mother's worst nightmare, I thought to myself. I would die if that happened to me. Little did I realize what the years ahead held in store for me.

Every day, humans face indescribable heartbreak: children being abducted, raped or murdered. Soldiers, having witnessed the unspeakable horrors of combat, return home with bodies that no longer function at full capacity. Six years of a declining economy have left families facing financial ruin. Yet amidst all of the misfortune, injustice, and loss there are those who miraculously find a way to maintain a joyful spirit. 

Why is it that some who face insurmountable hardships sustain hope and joy while others drown in bitterness and anger? There are ten behaviors common to survivors and "thrivers" that you can embrace as well: 

1. Don't dwell on the past. Know that it is a learning tool to further advance you in your life process.  
2. Understand that there is a higher purpose to suffering. Just as a pregnant woman experiences intense labor pains in order to bring new life into this world, so too must we sometimes suffer in order to create life extraordinaire.
3. Acknowledge and process your anger, fear, remorse, etc. to prevent it from turning into bitterness and resentment.
4. Reject feelings of self-pity and victimization. They serve no valuable purpose and, like quicksand, will only pull you further down, ultimately leading to your demise.
5. Remain positive: remember that every pile of manure was created by a pony. Seek and find the gifts that are await you.
6. Look for ways to use your new-found knowledge and situation to help others. Never miss an opportunity to make the world a better place.
 7. Focus on gratitude; search for and acknowledge the blessings that still remain in your life.
8. Remember: you are far more resilient than you realize. Reflect on all of the challenges you've overcome thus far and build on those strengths and attributes to pull you through yet another life surprise.
9. Use others as a source of inspiration. There are many who have been through worse than you.
10. Have faith in God that He always provides whatever is necessary to face the apparent and unseen challenges that life hands us. And at the exact right moment He will show you the necessity of this experience and reveal His Divine plan to you. 

I endured a ten-year estrangement from three of my adult children and subsequently two grandchildren. While it has never been my style to wallow in self-pity, the excruciating pain of being separated from my children nearly ended my life as I knew it. Yet the strength and love of my Heavenly Father upheld me. Once I learned to fully trust in Him and realize that my life was literally in His hands to do with as He saw fit, my worry and anxiety subsided and in its place I discovered a sacred peace that has sustained me ever since. Only then could I fully understand my aunt's response to the loss of her son. 

Trust in God. He will guide you through life's most terrifying moments and bring you to victory each time. Let go of the need to live life on your terms. Follow His directive. He is really all you need -  now and for eternity. 

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