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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Thine Ownself Be True

One of the hardest things I've had to learn was the simple act of emotional de-investment. Moving to acceptance and learning to do that with a minimum of emotional distress.

That does not mean you "un-love" somebody.

Learning how to de-invest in someone is brought about by understanding. This is a situation where you have "done your best." If you can say that you have done your best, that is all that you can do. If you have not been met half way by your relationship partner, you are fast approaching that time when withdrawal is imminent. You cannot make someone else- do "your" best.

Some people are simply incapable of having meaningful and committed relationships. They simply do not understand what that is. I understand that now. This is a good point to define contextually what a meaningful relationship is.

It is a commitment to support another human being. To love and accept them. To be available when they need you most. To involve each other intimately. To make your partner a priority. To fight for them and never against them.

I have missed this unity of two people.

If you find yourself in a situation where those things are missing, that they were never there or they have since dwindled away- this is a relationship that is drawing to a close.

As I reflect back upon my life, I see those things clearly now. I have been in committed relationships and I have been in fractured types of relationships. I thank God that I have had both because that has given me the perspective to tell one from the other.

Tonight I was grocery shopping when I spotted a couple leaning on each other and asking what they should buy this week. They actually had a conversation where each one participated in the conversation and giggled back and forth. They had two young children with them. They had a gleam in their eyes. I saw them throughout my travels in the store and behind me in the check out line. They had a commitment. You just knew this couple was tight. I could see that and I smiled. I paused just a moment before I left. I remember how that felt. I hope I can feel that way just once more.

Over the past year I've had to emotionally de-invest in a number of relationships. They were emotionally unhealthy for me. The pieces, as I define them, were simply not there any longer- if they ever were. To do your best and accept that sometimes your best is not good enough is mature. You simply cannot make someone love you when they lack the perspective of ever having a committed relationship. They don't know what that is- or are missing- and you can't help them find that.

I've had to de-invest in family situations as well. That's not to say I have withdrawn completely. I simply have to accept that people are free to live their lives. I place no expectations on their success or failures. I've seen the best and the worst outcomes. I agree to accept either. I am not the conductor and I have to trust that everyone has a purpose here. Ultimately we all make decisions based on our standing within relationships. When it is clear that you are missing most of the pieces, or you feel significantly diminished, it may be time for a tactical withdrawal. This does not require any anger, or even an explanation. You do not have to feel ashamed nor do you have to blame others. You simply have to be true to yourself.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How To Manage Extreme Self-Centeredness

We are all born with the instinct for survival. We are exposed to punishment themes. We seek the love and support of others, not harsh words and unkind acts. We seek recognition, success, and material wealth. To that end, we want what we want.

Wanting and self centered behavior are kind of joined at the hip. Most often we cannot have one without the other. In fact, those people that value material wealth or recognition above all other things tend to also be the most self centered. Over time, we might refer to them as "spoiled." That's just been my experience. It is only my opinion. It may not be true for you.

It is our job to become aware of our own selfish behavior. To at least attempt some moderation. That's the first step. Recognize and become aware of your own self serving behavior. How does it effect others?

It is also my belief that the vast majority of people who place their needs above all else do so unconsciously. They do not do this with malice or intent. They don't even have a conscious thought regarding it. Some folks become so self serving that they convince themselves and others that they are not self serving at all. I call this heightened unconsciousness.

So we accept that some self centered behavior is a fact of life. It is when that degree of self seeking behavior becomes so intolerable or so extreme that it adversely effects us. That we consistently have to avail ourselves of our own self worth and in some instances, abandon our own values to simply accommodate and tolerate the self-centeredness of those around us. When self seeking behavior becomes consistent and extreme, when it causes us to abandon our core values, then it has become a problem. How do we know when enough is enough?

This is what I have learned. In the workplace, extreme self-centeredness is the leading cause of job loss and conflict. I am convinced of that. Selfish people, people who hurt and diminish others in the workplace, are virtually unstoppable. They will go to extreme levels in an attempt to get what they want. Generally speaking, eventually that extreme level of self seeking reaches such an obvious level, that action (long over due) must be taken. Many times these people must be confronted and disciplined. Very often it ends in job or career loss, perhaps in civil or criminal action. Occasionally, the extremely self centered person can be reasoned with. I was able to get through to a couple of folks like that. I consider those among my most valued successes. If you are on a level or subordinate role with these types of co-working hostage takers, you will find yourself practicing not taking what they say or do personally, internal discipline and restraint, and acceptance. Sometimes a lot of acceptance. Sometimes we have to wait out a chaotic person like that, but more often than not, they will "fire" themselves. They just never seem to do it as quickly as most of us would like. Sometimes we must throw in the towel.

In personal relationships, this becomes a little easier. Extreme self seeking in personal relationships is also unconscious. Sometimes the people we love simply want what they want. We make concessions and allowances for them. Often they consistently display an unwillingness to make any effort, concession, or allowance for us. We find ourselves in a situation where the self seeking partner has displayed absolute indifference. They simply lack any capacity, whether conscious or unconscious, to meet us halfway. What happens next occurs- as a direct result of the capacity you have for allowing that situation to continue. Intuitively, like the work place hostage taker, many of us stay in relationships well beyond that point. When you begin to feel diminished, when you find your core values being manipulated and ignored (and perhaps you are even abandoning them) it is time to consider ending the relationship. In this instance, you will not have to wait for a boss to intervene- you can take action yourself. You may simply reject the relationship and extract yourself from it. Because you understand it is never personal, you simply look for the exit.

As a younger man, I often practiced extreme self-centeredness. I am not proud of that achievement. In fact, in some instances, it has been the source of humiliation and shame. Somewhere, somehow, I found the divine inspiration and courage it takes to recognize that part of my life. At first my ego was highly resistant. It simply didn't want to accept that I was selfish, perhaps extremely so. My ego wanted to deny and rationalize. To justify my conduct. It even sought out others who would agree and support my selfish behavior.

Today, I am still self-centered. I have not been able to eliminate selfish behavior nor do I think it is possible. But I do not practice self-centeredness in the extreme. I try to include others, often thinking about their needs ahead of my own. I am fully aware of the wanting and damage that all of that selfish and spoiled behavior in me causes. I still make mistakes, wanting selfish people to be a little less selfish and a little more willing to meet me halfway. I get frustrated at their denials and their unwillingness to work on themselves. Today, I have been able to identify those people who are willing to understand this basic concept. I am also removing myself from those situations of extreme self-centeredness which have caused me to question my worth and my values. I can't take their actions personally. I have to practice tolerance along with a great deal of acceptance. I have decisions to make and that's how I find myself managing these things.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Managing and Eliminating Anger

One of the biggest hurdles in my life was overcoming anger.

The root cause of anger, like all negative emotions, is fear. Often our fears are entirely based on the belief systems we have acquired coupled with our false sense of self. Ego.

I had always been an angry person. I know how that came about. Most of the time, I was able to repress or suppress my anger. I have met people who actually believed they have "cured" themselves of anger issues when in fact- all they have managed to do is bottle it up inside. Some can't manage to even bottle it up or repress it. Still others think they are entitled to anger. They don't even try to hide it. They simply run around terrorizing the people they think are demonizing them.

Have you ever heard someone say, "I can't control my anger?" That is as ridiculous as saying I can't eat anything except potato chips. Completely false. More accurately, they may not believe they can control their anger. Or perhaps they simply do not know how to eliminate anger. Or they truly have acquired a belief system that enjoys being angry. They choose anger.

People without anger issues are no better at resolving anger for others than a piano teacher that can't play a piano but tries to teach people to play. Perhaps the best credibility- comes from us angry souls that have scaled that mountain. That's not to say we didn't learn a lot from the examples of people that don't have anger issues. Sometimes those calm people were my role models. Sometimes, we looked at those people quizzically. Sometimes those calm and serene souls looked back at us the same way.

One of the goals in my life was to eliminate anger. While I haven't achieved 100% success, I have come pretty close. As I look back over this past year, I can honestly say I have only been genuinely angry twice. Was I justified? Nope. In fact, both instances were avoidable. You see, I chose to be angry.

The absolute cornerstone to eliminating anger is an absolute refusal to take other peoples' actions and words personally. That must be coupled with the same absolute refusal to make assumptions. Those two things, when committed and practiced rigorously, will eliminate (in my case) about 90% of anger causing situations.

It is fine tuning that other 10% that takes a little extra work. Those tend to be long term situations where people have uncovered your "buttons" and enjoy pushing them once in awhile. I risk manage those situations by preparing and risk managing those contacts well in advance. It might be as simple as dinner at someone's home or a glance at caller ID to let me know who is calling. Other situations arise, traffic incidents or the neighbors' dog, or perhaps his rude owner. My other neighbor throws loud parties that last all night. In many of those situations, because those situations tend to rise suddenly, I use a circuit breaker. As soon as I feel a negative emotion or threat, I no longer act. I pause and reflect.

I will give you a real life example. Last week, my friend's truck was parked on the street in front of my house. He is in Hawaii and I parked the truck there while he is out of town. Although it was directly in front of my house, it's positioning causes my neighbor to have to parallel park. The neighbor cannot just swoop in the spot in front of his house because the vacant space normally in front of my home- is no longer available for swooping. So he has to back in. The next morning I found my friend's truck had been egged. No other cars were egged. Although common sense indicates my neighbor was mostly likely responsible, I chose not to make that assumption. Confronting the neighbor would have just gotten a denial, perhaps facilitating some future feud. Revenge or calling the cops would have the same result.

I took the truck and washed it before freezing weather set in. I parked it across the street and out of his way. I let him "win." He can now swoop in again. My neighbor has no idea who I am. Not bad for a 6'4", 260 lb. "girly" man who wrestled drunks and maniacs for 25 years. Hey, I didn't say this would be easy.

I am committed to the process. I meditate. I refuse to take any thing personally and I don't make assumptions. I prepare for and manage "high risk" emotional situations before they occur. I "circuit break" any time I feel threatened, attacked, or a negative emotion. I process it and remember- it's never personal. I can let people bonk my car with eggs, that doesn't have anything to do with me. I can't assume it was the neighbor. I can't control the thought processes of people that think doing things like that is a good idea. The only thing I can do is control how I perceive the world, accept it, and not spend my evening trying to figure out some way to extract revenge. It's a lot better way to live- this sleeping at night with a clear conscience.