Wednesday, October 26, 2016


 I've been teaching anger management and conflict resolution for nearly a quarter of a century. What makes me so successful in my work is that I do not lecture on any subject matter that I haven't personally experienced and mastered. In that regard, people find me authentic and know that if I've succeeded at healing my anger and being at peace with my surroundings, they can achieve the same or more. For the most part, I'm a pretty easygoing and relatively calm person. For certain, I'm never rude or disrespectful even when I am upset. When I do get angry, I carefully choose my words so as not to offend or hurt anyone. Well, until this past weekend that is.

Brief synop: I have a family member who has had a serious issue with me for many years. Try as I have to resolve things with her, I've been unsuccessful. For the sake of my own inner peace, I no longer have contact with her. However, due to a change of family circumstances, that has recently changed as well. As a mutually close family member approaches the final stages of her life, we have been brought together to make some end of life decisions for her. Needless to say, this is a stressful  and unpleasant situation for both of us but one that must be what it is. 

At one point, I needed to address a very sensitive issue of the disappearance of personal items that belonged to that particular family member. These items were to be given to specific family members upon the death of our loved one. This person was the only one who had access to them. I respectfully stated that I was aware that they were missing and requested that they be promptly returned until the appropriate time to distribute them. I knew that in doing so, I was putting myself at risk for her wrath, as she has great animosity towards me. My instincts were correct as she came after me with a vengeance. Spewing hateful comments, she resorted to calling me names. I immediately drew on my arsenal of conflict resolution strategies to diffuse a volatile situation. "You misinterpreted what I said." But she cut me off with more accusations. Suddenly she came towards me in an aggressive manner. I immediately backed away. She became even more hostile. Sensing that I could be in physical danger, I quickly exited the premises. "I have nothing to say to you. Leave me alone." I repeated this over and over but to no avail. Her insults were relentless. Within less than two minutes, I had reached my breaking point, turned to her, and release some hurtful comments of my own. Immediately, I felt shame and regret for what I had done but proceeded to my car in order to protect myself and leave.

A short time later, I discussed this incident with a few family members who were all too aware of the volatile behavior of the other party. All offered their support and reassured me that I was perfectly justified in the way I handled myself. One even stated he was proud of me for finally standing up to her. I felt no satisfaction nor pleasure in the manner in which I handled myself. In fact, I felt nothing but shame and remorse. As a Christian and as one who is proficient in anger management and conflict resolution, I was deeply disappointed in my performance. My daughter reassured me that sometimes anger management simply doesn't work.

Why is that? What were the critical mistakes I made that caused me to be ineffective in this situation?

Where did I go wrong?
1. I knew going in that I was taking a risk. This was a sensitive issue that had the potential to incite her. Knowing that she has nothing but contempt for me and a volatile temper, I was sorely prepared for the rage she was about to impose on me. I should have more seriously contemplated her anticipated reaction, my response, and how I was going to handle the situation. Having a plan provides a sense of authority, confidence, and personal power.
2. Knowing full well that any discussion of this issue would most likely not be well received, it would have behooved me to have a neutral third party present before engaging in a dialog with her. I failed to even consider this from the get go.
3. I allowed her hate filled comments to get to me. I failed to remain centered, paying careful attention to my inner dialogue which ultimately controlled my feelings. I gave away my personal power which left me feeling vulnerable. This ultimately enabled her to push my buttons and trigger an angry, out of control response from me. 

What I did that worked.
1. Initially when the attacks began, I refused to engage with her. I clearly stated that she had misinterpreted what I had said in an attempt to clear that matter up. When she was unreceptive and escalated her assaults, I repeated diffusing statements in an attempt to calm her down as well as enable me to keep my cool. "I have nothing to say. Leave me alone." I repeatedly stated these with confidence as I continued to make yet another smart choice.
2. Realizing that any chance for a productive discussion was futile and that I was in a potentially dangerous situation, I quickly removed myself from her presence. Even as she aggressively followed me in a very intimidating and threatening manner, I refused to make eye contact with her but rather kept my focus on my vehicle, which was my source of escape.

Where do I go from here?
1. When one mishandles a situation such as I did, it's important to review the events as soon as possible thereafter. Be completely truthful about your role in the failure of the process.
2. Identify more effective ways to handle things next time. Write them down, post, and review often.
3. Extend an apology to anyone you have offended, even those who mistreated you. You are not responsible for their behavior but you are responsible for your own. Their disrespect of you does not justify yours towards them.
4. Forgive yourself for your indiscretions. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn from them and vow to do better next time.

I've been practicing what I teach for as long as I've been teaching it and it does work. But every once in awhile, even an expert like me makes a critical mistake. It's hard for me to forgive myself for ever hurting another human being but I am trying. I do know that next time, I will more closely follow my own advice and am confident I'll see much better results.

Peter 3:9 "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Diffusing Family Tension

I've spent over twenty years working with families as a spiritual life coach. Many of my clients divulge painful or embarrassing situations that their families are struggling with, believing there must be something wrong with them since other families they know appear so well adjusted. I assure them that even in the most seemingly normal families there are often veiled matters of concern. Dealing with tension and strife in our family units can present unique challenges. In our social environments we can more easily disengage or remove ourselves from problematic circumstances. But when your sister marries someone who defines the very essence of drama, exiting may not be a logical option. Is there a way families can reduce the amount to tension between them? While we may not be able to completely eliminate it, we most certainly can take measures to make family interactions more enjoyable.

1. Always be polite and cordial to every family member, even those you may not be particularly fond of. Avoid ignoring or showing favoritism as it can easily lead to hurt feelings, jealousy, and resentment. 

2. In disagreements, refrain from using the terms right and wrong. Leave your ego out of all discussions and respect each person's position.

3. Don't second guess other people's motives for what they are saying or doing. If you are uncertain, either give them the benefit of the doubt or ask questions to gain further clarity.

4. Avoid engaging in hot topics. If someone initiates a discussion known to evoke intense emotions, redirect the conversation to a more neutral issue. Likewise in regard to fuel-injected statements, those comments that are designed to anger the other person: "You Always...", "I Never...", "You have a problem!"  "ANY" Words: Always, Never, and You can be toxic in conversations. Ban them from your vocabulary. 

5. If you have an issue with a particular family member discuss it with them in private. Do not invite others into the conversation. Respect their privacy. Remember: too many cooks spoil the soup. Be respectful by refusing to gossip or speak unkindly about the individual with others as well.

6. Never interfere with the relationship between one family member and another. If you do not care for someone, at the very least be tolerant of others who still do.

7. Leave the past where it belongs. Do not dredge up old issues or reopen past wounds. Address current issues only.

8. If you find yourself becoming upset with someone, stop and discern what is really troubling you. Very often it has nothing to do with the other party. They may be triggering an unresolved issue within you that needs healing.

9. Whenever possible and appropriate, use humor as a way of diffusing tension. -appropriate being the optimum word. 

10. In any situation, we have the option of being an instigator, participant, or healer of family tension. Always choose the latter. Be the voice of reason, the peacemaker, the example for others to follow. 

And if for some reason you cannot contribute to the well-being of your family then at the very least do not contaminate it further.
Family members may not always cooperate with your efforts. But remember: you are not here for their approval, you are here to please God. In the words of St. Francis: "Lord make me an instrument of your peace."

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016


We all seek to be powerful. I'm not speaking necessarily about having authority over others but we certainly want to have control over our own lives. Yet even the most well-intentioned, enlightened person wants to control a particular situation or individual at times. Certainly, parents impose their authority over their children which is not necessarily a bad thing. Children, especially those who are young and immature or who may be developmentally slow, are not fully capable of making responsible decisions for themselves and rely on the judgment and guidance of the parents to do so for them.  For those in the military, or other organizations responsible for the lives and safety of others, a leader must be in charge in order to keep all those under their command safe and to create the favored outcome for all. And we're all familiar with the person who is a control freak, the one who needs to feel powerful at all times, never letting their guard down or relinquishing dominance over others. 

But is there a connection between anger and power? The very definition of anger is that it is a feeling of discomfort or displeasure brought about by feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. Feeling powerless makes us feel vulnerable, susceptible to the whims of others. It takes an enormous amount of trust to permit others to have dominion over one's life in any capacity. Very few are willing to relinquish such authority. Humans instinctively protect themselves from any perceived harm or unpleasantness and anger is an appropriate tool to get the job done.

Think about what occurs when someone gets really angry: people pay attention. If my boss is screaming at the entire office, you can rest assured that most everyone is affording him their undivided attention. Anger makes us feel powerful in the moment because we generally get the attention we're seeking and very often the cooperation of others as well. 

However, this kind of power brought about by anger is an illusion. When we lose control and allow anger to dictate what we say or do, then in essence we have given command to the emotion itself. We are no longer operating from an intellectual, rational mind but rather from a place of tumultuous feelings. When one is in a highly emotional state they typically are not making rational judgments, therefore they are not thinking logically by collecting the necessary facts that enable them to make an intelligent decision. In this case, one becomes power-less (a victim) to the rage.

Here's the primary issue in the case of the boss: his anger evokes fear in his workers. When one is engaging in irrational or threatening behavior, others are uncertain as to what to expect. They feel at risk for any unforeseen consequences (such as an impromptu firing of a coworker or a cutback of privileges). They are unable to reason with a boss who is not displaying rational thinking and are hesitant top even try. In that moment, employees may comply with his demands but the long term and far reaching effects of his tirade create a breakdown of trust and respect, thus seriously undermining his effectiveness as a leader.

The authentic power of anger lies in our willingness to channel it in a constructive manner that will bring about positive change not just for the self but for all parties concerned. When the message of anger is deciphered, that is when we are able to identify what we considered wrong, unjust, unfair, corrupt, dangerous, disrespectful, and so forth, then the messenger (anger) has served its purpose. Much like an announcer who proclaims, "Play ball!", once the proclamation is declared his job is complete and the players commence the game. Anger is an announcer, it tells me that something is wrong.  Once I receive the message I can dispose of that specific emotion and put my energy into the solution. 

Here's an example: a young mother is outraged that her father-in-law favors their oldest son. Her younger children have noticed the nepotism and she can see the hurt in their eyes. "How could he be so insensitive and mean to my other children?" she thinks to herself. But rather than verbally lambast him, she sets out a course of action to create a more balanced family dynamic. She puts down the anger and addresses the issue with the grandfather stating that she realizes her son is a very special child and she loves the bond he has with him. She also knows how much her other children would cherish the same kind of relationship with him. She then offers suggestions as to how they can work on creating that as well as the benefits for all of them. In this regard, her anger motivates her to improve a family situation before any serious damage was done. The ability to make thoughtful, intelligent, positive decisions with extenuating benefits for everyone is where our authentic power lies.

Take great care when choosing anger for it can be highly deceptive. Never relinquish your authority to such a powerful emotion for once you do it has the potential to have devastating consequences. Like an announcer, listen to its message, set it free, and set your thoughts on a path to positive actions. And in this way, you will find the true power that is rightfully yours. 

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