Posts tagged ‘change’

December 30, 2013

Change Your Old Script for a New One

Contributed by Dr. Alicia La Hoz

scrabbleListen carefully to yourself and you will recognize a familiar script that seems to automatically roll off your tongue. Your spouse and children easily recognize this script. Instead of mobilizing them toward action, your words seem to touch off a trigger point, causing them to roll their eyes or to aggressively assert their point of view. You find yourself repeating yourself over and over again because people haven’t done what you have asked them to do.

Working with families and couples, I have heard variations of the same script; “I have to watch out for myself because no one else will”; “You are selfish”; “You don’t listen so I . . . “; “I have to do everything myself”.

We seem to carry these phrases around and launch them to our spouses or family members during stressful conversations, during moments of exhaustion or when things are not working out. Tension acts like a magnet during these situations, drawing out phrases that would be better left unsaid. These words keep the argument fresh in the mind of all parties involved, creating a toxic environment charged by negative emotions.

This phrases, or scripts, hide some of our most basic needs; the need to be loved, valued, recognized and respected. Instead of meeting these needs, however, they can keep you and your spouse stuck in a cycle of perpetual conflict.

You may keep falling back to this script because you are frustrated from not being listened to and at things not changing.  The reality is that each time you fall back on the same script, the opportunity to initiate change in behavior dissipates. As shown from past experience, your trusty script doesn’t inspire or motivate anyone to change.

I challenge you during 2014 to take on a new script. Get rid of the old script that you have nurtured over the years. You can do so by replacing your script with one of forgiveness and grace. Start with, “I am sorry”; “I am thankful for who you are in my life and all you do for us”, “let’s try to work things out”, “How can I support you in all of this?” It is time to recognize that the old script only leads down the trail of bitterness and resentment and has no resolution in sight. Choose to adopt a script that empowers, engages, and forgives. As you recognize and validate others, your ability to listen and connect with others will improve. You will model an attitude that shakes away the bitterness and embraces love and grace.

This New Year, start with a clean slate and become a source of inspiration and motivation to those you love. Become a cheerleader and champion for the dreams of your friends and family and nurture their gifts along the way. As you focus on raising others up, you will transform your home into a place of cultivation rather than destruction, of renewal rather than exhaustion.

January 27, 2012

Being Reactive or Proactive In Relationships: The Choice is Yours

Contributed by Nadia Persun, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Another marital session with Mary was spent discussing her frustration with her husband. She told once again how he lacks empathy and ability to listen, has poor communication skills and messes up most of the things he does. In the last few months of therapy, her husband was trying hard to yield to the wishes of his wife, to hear her concerns and to reform his behaviors to her liking. Despite his trying, his efforts were fruitless. In fact, the harder he tried, the more faults his wife was able to identity. The more Mary confronted her husband, the more he withdrew, thus, allowing Mary to add an extra item to her complaint list: “He never talks to me!”

Watching this couple disagree and grow increasingly disheartened with each other, I began realizing more the limitations of trying to control another person’s actions and behaviors, while overlooking the power of examining and controlling our own. Every person can recall instances when blaming the situation or other people served as a convenient way to justify why their own actions and behaviors failed. There may be some truth to finding problems on the outside: the environment may indeed foster or impede our efforts. However, there is certainly a limit to the extent of how outside factors control us. We are still responsible for our reactions and free to choose our actions and behaviors. We have the freedom of being “proactive”. Proactive control means finding the sense of responsibility within ourselves, feeling in control of the choice of own actions, even when the outside conditions are not favorable.

People failing to take the proactive type of control over the situation commonly resort to being “reactive” in their response. They don’t attempt to examine how they may be at least partially responsible for the situation. Instead, they channel their time and energy into noticing and complaining about their disappointments, becoming more irritable and dissatisfied. Busy criticizing others, blaming the circumstances, complaining and ruminating, reactive people are left with no energy for examining the situation with the intent to generate plans to improve it. Therefore, they get “stuck” in the very situation that they dislike and wish to escape.

There is a drastic difference in the choice of vocabulary between proactive and reactive people. Proactive people say “I can; I chose; I want.” Reactive people tend to say “I wish; if only; I have to.” Being a proactive person does not imply overlooking or ignoring an unfavorable situation. On the contrary, it includes a careful examination of the circumstances and events that led to disappointments. It may also include a period of inactivity and grief. However, at some point, a proactive person makes a choice to transition to an active phase, examining the situation from a new angle and trying to understand own contribution to the problem. Next step includes mobilizing personal resources to generate a new plan and act differently, and not wait for others to change.

Reactive people begin with a critical review of the negatives of the situation they find themselves in and never abandon their “frustrated examination.” They convince themselves that the change does not depend on their own beliefs and actions but is contingent on the changes outside of them. They blame their partners, the circumstances, wishing they would change. Reactive people gradually start feeling like victims: helpless and hopelessly immersed into a never ending cycle of problems. Their problems seem grave and permanent and reactive people start believing that they do not have the control or power to change anything. Facing this sad realization, they get further immersed into a pattern of chronic complaining and blaming. This unattractive habit pushes people away and creates more relationship problems and disconnect. Thus, reactive people get trapped in the wicked cycle filled with sense of misery, hopelessness, and disappointment with the world and behavior of other people.

What can you do if after reading this article, you identify with behaving reactively? The fact that you are able to recognize and admit it is the first and very important step reforming yourself toward becoming proactive. Change begins with a careful and non-defensive examination of our own behavior, realizing that in most situations, we are a least partially responsible for some of the difficulties we face. Next step includes focus on changing personal behavior, training self to react to others with greater acceptance and flexibility. Becoming proactive includes refraining from complaining about others but working to change our own expectations and behavior, and acting differently regardless of the circumstances or your partner’s actions. Being proactive means deciding to stop waiting for a perfect time or a rescue team to arrive. It comes down to the choice of simply going through difficult experiences with much complaining and lack of action, or growing through enduring the same experience by understanding that the secret of change is within each of us, thus becoming stronger and wiser as a result of this personal transformation.

August 16, 2011

I love you. Now, change!

Contributed by Nadia Persun, PhD

She married him because he was hardworking. She was considering divorce because he turned out to be a workaholic who was barely ever home. She loved his smile and sense of humor. Now she was blaming him for being bitter and sarcastic. She appreciated his easy going nature and laid back demeanor. It was maddening to her now that he would rather watch TV than talk to her about their relationship, that he did not help her to keep their house clean, and that he missed their bill payment deadlines on more than one occasion.

He married her because she was open with her feelings and straightforward about expressing her opinions. He now was irritated with her level of complaining, her blunt way of pointing out his mistakes and being overly focused on things that he considered small and unworthy of notice. He once loved spending time with her and telling her his deeper thoughts and feelings. He now was quietly terrified to bring up any issue of relative personal importance, as her tongue became sharp as a knife when it came to judging him. He would rather spend his after work hours watching TV and working on his car in the garage over the weekends.

She felt unhappy, lonely, misunderstood, and rejected. He felt hurt, criticized, unloved, and taken for granted. They both desperately yearned for love, respect, and appreciation, wanting nothing more but a hug. Unfortunately, their wicked way of negotiating their needs and expressing desires made them both decidedly unhugable. With perpetuating resentment and increasing distance, they were heading for destination called a Splitville. What has happened to this couple, so connected and loving only a few years ago, promising to each other with eagerness to love “till death do us part.”

Ironically, the qualities that initially cause love and attachment may, over time, morph into resentment and contempt. At the beginning of the relationship, our mindset is on building closeness. We focus on cooperating and seeking agreement. Over time, unfortunately, there is a shift in focus. Not because our partners change drastically and deteriorate in character as time goes by, but because we no longer notice what they do well. Such things become like air or water: much needed but taken for granted. We begin paying more attention to shortcomings. The focus perpetuates its motion: the more we zone in on the problematic habits and behaviors of another person, the more evidence of this sort we gather.

When picking on and criticizing our partners for their flaws and mistakes, we may even genuinely feel that our intentions are pure, that we point out these problems out of love, trying to correct things, and wanting what is best for the relationship. Despite good intentions, this approach has a strategic flaw. Trying to motivate someone to change, not by support and encouragement, but by bitter and steady criticism only creates hostility and a relational standoff. Unless we notice and disown this pattern, confrontation will become a habit, leading to the erosion of trust and making connecting conversations impossible.

In a safe relationship, partners can say awkward things, act conflicted, make mistakes, and still be forgiven. The opponent chooses to listen, support and connect, rather than judge, confront and correct. Feeling safe allows genuine communication and disclosure. On the contrary, when trust level is low, we listen to another person with increased guardedness and alertness. Most wisely chosen words and carefully selected arguments are easily misinterpreted. As conflicts increase in frequency and intensity and the negatives outweigh the number of good times spent together, partners not only avoid talking but become wary of each other’s company. The anticipation of spending time with a partner who is punitive and does not feel safe brings the same trepidation as the prospect of sticking hand in a mousetrap.

How do you end this bitter cycle and rejoice about the qualities that initially brought you together? The first step is trying to end the frantic search for self justice, tempering down the high expectations and judging stance. It is not about shifting to low standards but increasing patience and neutrality toward behaviors and points of view that disagree with your own. Examining your personal level of fairness and integrity in treating another person may be a painful but much needed introspective examination. Some of us may realize that instead of connecting and acting with integrity, we are having a one sided conversation about ourselves, our needs and preferences, while also being forceful, controlling, and even manipulative. Of course, personal goals and opinions are important. But in all honesty, they are a measure of preference, not superiority.

It is also important to keep the emotional intensity in check when communicating. Some people deliver messages to their loved ones acting like kettles at full steam. It only creates negative emotional contagion: partners retaliate with anger or retreat in defensiveness. The validity or goodness of the initial message becomes irrelevant as it can’t be received. Calm down and realize that your partner is a human being who just like you wants to be treated with respect and talked to politely, without demands and put downs. Maybe our imperfect partners can still be lovable.

Maybe this person next to you is not broken and in need of a complete personality and behavioral makeover. What if it’s your own emotional nearsightedness developed over time is to blame for honing in on the relational shortcomings? Relationships are complicated and couple’s circumstances are unique. Yet, it’s worth examining if some partner related frustrations are at least, in part, relate to your own compulsive cycle of digging in a bin of apples and acting increasingly frustrated about why you are not pulling out any tomatoes. This realization may lead to a new way of fixing the problem and improving your relationship: being more flexible and kind, having a more positive and forgiving attitude, rather than trying to perpetually criticize and and forcefully mold habits and behaviors of other person.

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