Monthly Archives: February 2016

A challenging week

I was told it was a “Virgo full moon” where old conflicts were supposed to come to head with a potential for resolution. Whether there is some truth to this or it was simply synchronicity, I don’t know, what I am clear on is that situations came to a head which focused on issues that I have “borrowed” from my parents – worries over money and boundaries. Let me side step for a moment before coming back to this –

One concept that many therapists are familiar with from Bowen’s Systems theory is that of Multi-generational transmission of symptoms. What this means is that the areas that our parents struggled in are often the same issues their parents struggled with as well as the same concerns we are now being challenged with in our present lives. The “symptoms” in the form of limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging actions, and the repetition of ineffective choices become “transmitted” from one generation to the next.

Another way of saying this paraphrases from another spiritual belief system “Our sins travel for seven generations”.

I will say that I don’t believe that our “sins” need to be transmitted for the next seven generations – however the transmission of limiting beliefs and thus poor choices and ineffective actions makes sense. We model our lives and what is possible or not possible upon the environments we grew up in and the people who most influenced us. Often when you hear about someone “breaking the pattern” they will attribute it to a coach, teacher, mentor, or other individual that was outside of their family or immediate environment.

It was the simple fact that someone took a stand for them and believed in them more than they did themselves. I want to be clear – for many of us our parents were consistently taking stands for us – however they may still have unconsciously transmitted their beliefs which may prevent us from taking actions that are different than the one’s they took.

Let me step back to where I started this; so for me this week issues of money and boundaries both jumped into my life in the form of a sudden debt that needed to be paid that I was unprepared for and in the supervision of an individual who had violated a basic norm of the therapeutic profession. What I realized in the course of the week was that neither challenge was really that challenging. One was simply a fiscal issue that I can balance within a couple of months and the other – once I let go of the emotional loading from my family – was handled with a simple conversation outlining both the violation of the behavioral norm, the expected future behavior, and with a clear discussion of natural and logical outcomes if the norm were violated again. What initially gave these events “emotional loading” was historical, and to be more specific, someone else’s history, not mine.

As you move forward in your own life I encourage you to consider what issues you are holding that are, in fact, not your issues. What has been transmitted from one generation to the next, not because your parents or grandparents did anything wrong, but simply because as developing human beings we are incredibly impressionable and “imprint” both the things that make these people wonderful as well as the struggles they hold which often have pushed them to become those incredible people – but struggles they themselves would not want us to hold onto in our own lives. Struggles they, in fact, may have chosen to endure, so that we would not have to.

Solution Provider

This morning in asking what to write, the response is simply, write what will provide service to others. This isn’t always easy because it can get confused by my ego with write what will get noticed or write what you can turn into money. However I remember being told by Tiffany Peterson that we are here to provide solutions. That I am a solution provider.

Then my ego wants to go the other way. Do things for free. Do them because money is not important and it changes people. However when that voice comes forth I remember the words of Spiderman, more precisely of his Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There is nothing wrong with money – it should change us, just as all responsibilities that we take on in our lives change us – it is up to us to ensure that if money comes into our lives we are respecting the power that it brings.

All things have power. Even toys have power, in fact, toys may have more power than the things of “adults” for toys inspire those who engage them in creating possibilities that are beyond them in their current lives. Toys inspire us to play our values transparently and to shape those values until we ourselves find our niche in the world where we are now a solution provider for others.

There is no requirement to provide solutions for others, whether it’s washing the dishes for our family, assisting others with financial planning, counseling another through suicidal thoughts to create a safety plan, or designing a board game that allows others, temporarily to try on new values and to move themselves outside of their own “box”, or any number of other potential solutions. No, there is no requirement – however when we are not creating solutions, when we are not identifying ways to make the lives of others better we become bored, apathetic, depressed, anxious, angry, and irritable.

It is not so much that we are designed to solve problems, as we are designed to find solutions. So today I encourage you to generate solutions for others and when money comes to you, allow it to, it just means that you are in a position to be able to generate even bigger solutions. Go forth and be a solution provider. Do what you love, follow your passions, and by doing so you will ensure that you are Being the Difference.

Emotions as Feedback

As a therapist one of the most critical tools I have is my own emotional response to other people. Just like everyone else my emotional filters limit the “accuracy” of the information I get ; however as long as I can step back and observe the feelings that I have instead of allowing myself to be controlled by my emotional response they provide amazing opportunities for effective action.

If I feeling frustrated as I work with someone – if I step back and look at the whole picture I may see an individual who has experienced a pattern of learned helplessness and disempowerment. If I find myself getting triggered with anger I might observe that I am working someone who has a tendency to blame others for their results and who has been unwilling to take responsibility for the results of their choices. If I feel tired and exhausted when someone leaves the room when I step back I may notice that the person seems to have a constant need to be affirmed for the smallest of things and is constantly trying to “win” me over to their version of events.

None of these emotional habits that I am observing are necessarily “bad”, they simply reflect where that person is on their journey. If I can maintain this framework instead of attributing gross personal flaws to these individuals then my emotional response helps inform me about what it is I can potentially provide that person as a “catalyst” so that if they choose to move forward they can take effective action.

For the person who has learned that they have little or no power when I start to feel frustrated and helpless myself I can simply recognize that these feelings are not mine – that I am in fact holding the feelings of the other person. With this knowledge I can explore the formation of their limiting beliefs and assist them in identifying the smallest actions they can take to begin the process of recognizing the power and influence they have over their own lives.

If I am triggered with anger I can step back and hold my boundaries clear without the expression of anger. Instead of becoming a bull charging head to head with another bull I can simply observe with the other person “These are your results. Here are some options for different results – however choosing to blame me or others in this situation will result in the same outcome.” And if that person continues to engage in behavior that does not reflect integrity – I can step away from the relationship altogether – not in judgment – but in simple recognition that this particular individual does not offer what I need in an ongoing relationship. I

If I find myself exhausted each time the other person leaves the room, I can redirect that person to engage in processes where they can see their own worth and value. I can clearly validate what I see regarding their potential while still being clear that I won’t forfeit other relationships or allow that person to monopolize my time and attention so that they can have their sense of self validated.

Our feelings are not always “accurate”; however they are always one of our best sources of information about our interactions with others and ourselves. When we use our feelings as feedback and let them inform our actions – instead of triggering reactions – we have amazing power to positively influence others, set clear boundaries (which when done well also promotes growth in the other person), and appropriately validate and connect us to opportunities where we can thrive.

In therapy this process would be two processes – transference and counter-transference – however in life it is simply the ability to use our emotions as they were intended – to inform ourselves about what is happening in our environment so that we can make the best choices possible – to enhance both our lives and the lives of others. When we integrate our heart’s ability to feel, with our head’s ability to think, our voice and our actions become powerful agents for Being the Difference.

Something to Chew On: Fundamental Attribution Error vs. Mutual Growth Environment

The Fundamental Attribution Error vs. Mutual Growth Environment:
When we make mistakes or errors we tend to attribute our failure to circumstances. Example: I was late because there was traffic.
When others make mistakes or errors we tend to attribute their failures to character flaws. Example: They were late because they are poor planners.
The challenge is that in both cases we lose the power to influence the outcomes. If we rely too heavily on circumstances to explain our failures we may fall into habits of justification. When we rely too heavily on the attribution of failures of others to character flaws we stop recognizing our own ability to practice assertive communication to influence the course of events i.e. though positive and clear statements of desired change and/or observation to the other of the cost of continuing to engage in their current pattern of behavior.
In truth, while from the typical perspective these two areas – failure due to circumstance or failure due to “character flaws” could be argued to account for 99% of all failures (the last 1% being the odd circumstance that truly was unavoidable such as a natural disaster ) I might argue for an atypical perspective.
Most failures simply come from habit. Habit which develops from the ongoing interaction of external and internal factors. In schools studies have shown that students with historically low grades can show substantial improvement when they are provided with material that shows them that their ability to do well is not due to their circumstances or inherent character flaws, but in their ability to develop a mindset that their mind is a muscle. Once this concept was learned and integrated, students with previously poor performance ignored the circumstances they had previously used to justify poor performance and stepped away from the stories others had been providing them that they were “lazy” or “bad” and showed an ability to do well and engage in new habits that provided positive results.
The challenge is that while we may tend to use circumstances to justify results, those circumstances are often based upon assessing those around us has having character flaws that we can not change. We engage in a double process of attributing the failure of others to blame them for our circumstances. This is Lose/Lose thinking – for us!
When we simply acknowledge our own failures as a combination of habits that don’t work or that we are “in the middle of a learning process” where failure in the middle is the normal path to developing mastery and combine this with the idea that those around us are also dealing with their own combination of habits and at different places in their learning process we step into a world where we can interact powerfully with other to both influence the learning of others, be influenced by what others have learned and in which positive change is the hallmark of our daily life.
So… we can continue to engage in justifying our failures with our circumstances, blaming others for their character flaws and continue to get the same results which may be comfortable but not what we really want, or we can start to see others and ourselves has having immense potential with physical muscles, emotional muscles, mind muscles, and spirit muscles with those around us being our training partners.
It’s a different lens that doesn’t allow for a “fundamental attribution error” but instead focuses on the creation of a Mutual Growth Environment. It’s a lens that encourages us to Be the Difference, and to encourage others in their journey to Be the Difference as well.

P.S. The fundamental attribution, in my experience, is often magnified in close personal relationships or in work relationships between levels – i.e. provider to supervisor or supervisor to provider. It is only through the consistent application of a Mutual Growth Environment lens that these differences don’t turn into “blaming patterns”.