A+B=C (The Downward Slope)

This is an old psychology formula that makes good sense. “A” is the Activating event or the trigger that gets stuff rolling. “B” is the Belief system or judgment(s) that makes things worse (or possibly better, depending on your beliefs). “C” is the Consequence or outcomes.

This is how the formula works. Mostly the A or activating event (the thing that triggers you) just happens. You can’t control most circumstances and you are not immune to being hurt or upset. It is the B or belief system that produces the C or consequence.

Here is an example from a couple I saw a couple of weeks ago. The male partner was enraged for what he experienced the weekend just prior. This is the A – what he thought his wife did to him. He accused her of shaming him in front of his friends at a really fun party. This is the B – that he felt judged and that he should not be. The C was his rage and hurt and his spiteful behaviour for days following.

This is what went on: she asked him not to drink any more beer that night. He was getting pretty loud and acting “drunk-ish,” she said. She was worried by his disinhibition: flirting, bragging, over-laughing. She asked him quietly to stop the beer, she said. He thinks she publicly shamed him.

A bit later in the session, I asked about his thought processes and what triggered him. “I don’t need her to control me. She is not so perfect. I like to loosen up with my friends. She is so uptight.” That is the B or the belief systems that fueled his fire.

The B (or belief system) produced the C (or consequence) of several days of his swearing and anger, and spitefully threatening a divorce. Her C was to disappear from his sight, visit with her friends in the evenings, make him a Nespresso in the morning.

Here is what I said: “Your problem might be beer – I don’t know that – but it certainly is your belief system. You think that your partner is ruining your life. Where did you get that idea from?”

It still surprises me how hard we hold on to our unhelpful convictions. He needed to be right. He needed her to be wrong. He needed me to validate his narrative.

And then he saw it, reluctantly and thoroughly. He said, “I guess if I didn’t feel ‘small’ with her, I could have handled this differently. Maybe not right away but certainly within a couple of hours.” He apologized to her. She gladly accepted.

Now the therapy begins. He has to sort through his bloated belief system and find out something truer about himself and his partner. (More to come.)

[You are invited to make any comment you wish on this post or anything else on my site by emailing me at life@theducklows.ca. Thanks.]

Pat-Pat-Pow

“True friends stab you from the front” — that is was Oscar Wilde said and presumably he had some true friends.

In my work, I might say, “I’ve got your back but watch your front.” By that I mean, I will “pat-pat-pow” and it might cause you to stumble a bit. 

I think that 80% of confrontation is finding the good and pressing it into my client-friend. That is the “pat” and I do it lots because there are lots to affirm in most everyone. And about 20% is the “pow” or the zinger. Watch for the zinger.

I think of pats a lot in my work. This is finding good and commenting on it. Clients say “thanks” and I say, “It’s not a compliment; its an observation.” Not candy-floss sweetness but what is visible to me but unseen by them.

I think of pows a lot in my work. What will provoke the deepest and most lasting change? How do I de-concretize his thinking or believing? How can I help her get unstuck without harming her? Can I maintain empathy all the while stabbing them from the front like a true friend? And sometimes I think, “WWJD” (as in, “What Would Jesus Do?”).

Normally, I am not too anxious about tension and conflict, but I sure hate harming someone. In fact, I think my job is to create tension and conflict as in, “true friends stab you from the front.” But I will not stab you in the back.

Emotional Triangles: when elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets crushed.

I think I would lose a bunch of my business if my client-friends figured out emotional triangles. I usually suggest they read Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Rabbi Edwin Friedman. A tremendous book that is one of my top 10 resources.

You can also read from a presentation I made in New Orleans some years back. I entitled it “Illusions of Power” and it focuses on the three predictable roles of emotional triangles: Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim.

The basic principle of triangles is that when any two parts of a system become pained or stressed with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus upon a third person, or issue, as a way of reducing the pain in their own relationship with one another. This is what gossip is; blab about somebody else and their deficiencies to make your dyad seem somehow better.

In families or communities, a person may be said to be “triangled in” if he or she gets caught in the middle as the focus of some unresolved issue. This happens when couples fight and then triangle around finances, or sex, or their kids or some other hot issue.

Triangles typically happen when there is too much closeness, as in parent-child relationships — we call this “fusion.” A teenage client that I have seen for a couple of years gets a lot of criticism unloaded onto her. Now she is no innocent but the crap that gets dumped is beyond reason. Makes one think that the parents have a few issues that they project. Of course, she will act out to the measure of their hostility — and she does.

A Swahili proverb states, “When elephants fight, it’s that grass that gets crushed.” I also like Proverbs 26:17 that says, “Getting involved in an argument that is none of your business is like going down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears.”

De-triangulating in these conflicts is complicated and takes some practice. (I guess I will have my job for a bit longer.) Mostly it is about not getting involved in the triangle in the first place. But do you know how hard it is to not gossip? I remember when I was building up a gossipy story that prejudiced someone I didn’t care much about and the person I was talking to interrupted me with “she is one of my best friends.” Well, I shut up really quickly.

Another way of de-triangulating has to do with writing a fresh narrative. If I think of myself as life’s “Rescuer” (see above), I might want to re-think that. Or if I anticipate most people rejecting my interest in them, I might want to approach people differently. I am probably doing something that causes the rejection I so dislike.

When kids grow up, parents have to de-triangulate, especially when they marry or have kids of their own. Benevolent disinterest is a difficult grace indeed.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Bark, Bitch and Belittle: the bitterness of microaggressions in intimate relationships

A microaggression is a term used for commonplace verbal or behavioural indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any person or group. That’s part of what Wikipedia says, and I believe it because I see it.

But mostly microaggressions are unseen by the aggressor. It is just what happens and no one stops to look at it. There is no interruption or time out. So the bitterness just carries on because it is viewed as ordinary.

Oftentimes, to end the bitterness, one or both will attempt an apology. Apologies are often superficial, social constraints. (I have written about how to apologize in another posting.) Mostly, as I see it, the attempt at an apology maintains the structure of continuing microaggressions.

This is what I see. A husband has been barking (shouting), bitching (criticizing) and belittle-ing (demeaning) his partner of 7 years. And it is unremitting and it has become the background to everything that goes on between them. And then something happens: she has an affair or an emotional breakdown. And she is impugned to be promiscuous, or weak, or her having faulty genetic wiring.

Then the triangle happens. The community (family, church, neighbourhood, etc.) colludes with the barker, rallying against the weaker member. The community offers reprobation and saccharine consolation in about equal measure. Oftentimes, the actions of the community push her back into acquiescing to her bully spouse. If she does not comply, she will be further judged or ostracized or perhaps hospitalized.

I love my job. I get to see what others can’t. I get to see through the eyes of the bully what he or she sees and I get to show him another way of seeing and being. And I get to see through the eyes of the bullied and see hopefully and realistically what can change.

Someone once said, “I see men as trees walking,” as if she sees “through a glass darkly.” It is good to help people look again and, perhaps, see for the first time.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]