Getting Past the Right or Wrong Impasse

In the previous post we looked at how dominant the motif of seeking to be right is in our culture. It is one of the most singular influences on our behavior and our relations. Now we’ll turn our attention to understanding just how this prevailing compulsion to be correct came into being.

The way that we see reality is very influenced by what is known as Aristotelian thinking. Aristotle’s philosophy held that things were or were not, is or is not. This duality very much filters how we picture reality operating. This is known as either/or thinking. It structures our beliefs into a very simple posture. We therefore know of something only by including its opposite.

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Why Is it so Important to Be Right?

One of the most prevalent – and damaging – themes in our culture is the need to be right. It’s one of those essential memes that we take for granted. It is so deeply embedded in our belief system and in our collective psyche that we never even pause to consider it. It would really serve us to inquire why it is so compelling. Before we begin to look at that, let’s just reflect on how it impacts our lives.

From the more personal and mundane battle over who said what in the midst of an argument to the larger issues of politics, religion, abortion, health care, gun control or climate change, being right is mandated. It quickens our pulse, causes us to shout and can sever relationships. It is the raison d’etre for most acts of hatred, violence and warfare. Read more

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The Paradox of Confidence

As with many goals that we struggle to attain, we tend to go after them in a way that blocks our success. Quite often I find that individuals who quest for more self-esteem — more internal security and confidence — actually get in their own way. Typically, they are prone to measuring and judging themselves against others.

Such individuals attribute more confidence to others and arrange to always fall short in their comparisons. They see their vulnerability as a weakness and try to mask it. That is the source of the problem. We are all vulnerable and insecure in one way or another. When we accept that vulnerability and no longer seek to hide it, we are actually strong! Read more

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Coming into Balance

A few summers ago I broke my foot, the fracture occurring as I missed a step on my front porch. The break occurred on the outside part of my foot — the fifth metatarsal. My doctor provided some good news in that I wouldn’t need a cast, and I proceeded to adjust to my broken foot. Or so I thought. In deference to the pain on the outer perimeter of my foot I shifted my weight toward my other side, compensating for the break.

By the following week I had developed a new and more painful problem. I had stressed the unbroken part of my foot by placing an excessive amount of pressure on it. I actually experienced more acute pain in that area than in the break itself. A month later the broken bone had essentially healed — but the damage I caused to the inner part of my foot still lingered. This is an issue of compensation. I had come out of balance, quite literally. And nowhere does this tendency provoke more havoc than in our emotional and psychological lives. Read more

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Who Am I?

who am I?who am I?This question — asked so often — suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our being were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their identity and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn’t be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you’d like to experience.

Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?
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Can Your Feelings Be Wrong?

This question comes up so often in my therapy sessions. The greatest source of invalidation comes from denying our feelings — whether we do it ourselves or others do it to us. People really struggle with the question of whether their feelings or right or wrong. Wrong question! Feelings are neither — they just are. Imagine saying that you feel hot. Can someone tell you that you’re wrong? That you’re not feeling hot? Of course not. They might argue that it isn’t hot, particularly if you’re sharing a bed together. But indeed if you feel hot, you feel hot.

Now if you’re overdressed  or the thermostat is set too high you might make an adjustment and no longer feel hot. In that case what your feeling changes. Similarly, if you feel angry, unloved or disrespected, some meaningful communication might assist you to reconsider what you’re feeling. Learning not to be reactive also helps in re-framing what we’re feeling. But this doesn’t suggest that you weren’t feeling what you were.
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What is a mistake?

Most people try to avoid making mistakes. In fact, many people experience considerable stress and anxiety around avoiding mistakes. We may labor and fret over this fear, which tends to block and paralyze us. Surprisingly, we don’t typically pause and consider exactly what we mean by this word–mistake.

Generally, a mistake is a decision, action or lack of action that we come to regret. We label this a mistake because it may cause us pain, struggle or loss. Most often, it takes us well out of our comfort zone and introduces uncertainty. We typically don’t care for the consequences that have befallen us and this is what we refer to as a mistake. The irony is that these occurrences we try to avoid are often exactly what we need to experience.
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Breakthrough or Breakdown?

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

With rare exceptions, we seem to struggle in our desire to breakthrough. Yet, exactly what are we trying to breakthrough? Typically, it’s about our desire to change or to become unstuck. The groove of old thinking, feeling and the rut of old behavior become deeply embedded. The older that we get the more anxious we may become that we won’t be able to break free from the entrenchment of the familiar zone.

Somewhere beyond the limitations of the familiar lies the new terrain that we imagine we’d like to experience. This desired place may be specific or general, but it holds the promise of something that we yearn for. This is the promised land of the breakthrough.
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Self-Esteem or Other Esteem?

self-esteemAfter some consideration and many years of practice as a therapist, I have come to believe that the term self-esteem appears to be a misnomer. The first half of the expression, “self,” would seem to imply that the esteem is derived from one’s self. Yet, if we look closer, we may find that very often that self-esteem is actually attained from outside of one’s self. For a student it might come from good grades, for a business person or employee, a promotion or a raise. For most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide an increase in esteem.

Although all of the above are understandably positive, it is essential to note that they depend upon things external to one’s self. Since the esteem is externally derived from the outside, we can see how we might be inclined to alter our personality and behavior to achieve more of this reward. Admittedly being approved of or valued by others is a natural desire, but we must be cautious not to betray ourselves in order to achieve these results. If we don’t receive the desired outcome, or if it is suddenly removed, how do we then feel about ourselves? If a mediocre performance or lack of praise – or even criticism – diminishes how we feel about ourselves, it becomes evident that the esteem is indeed not from self; it is actually what I call other-esteem. Read more

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Doing the best you can

Doing the Best you Can

Is it always a good idea to do the best you can do? Moreover, can we ever be sure that it’s really our best? These questions came up recently in a therapy session and catalyzed my looking more deeply into the nature and implications of this common expression.

The man with whom I was working felt it essential that they were always doing their best. In his case, this inclined him to constantly measure himself, as to whether he had acted at this optimal level. He confessed that very often he was stuck in analyzing the past, debating whether his words or behavior were the very best choice. When he wasn’t stuck in that groove he was typically fretting over future decisions, concerned that they might not be the very best choice. The nature of his inner voice was highly self-critical, addicted to measuring his actions. Read more

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