This might be the first of many posts about the magic of childhood memories. Then again, it could take another 6 months before I find the time and desire to write again. This post is about sharing with you one of the most magical and effective tools that you have with you all the time for solving problems. The tool is your childhood memories. If you learn to use your memories effectively, you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself and how much they can help you get unstuck in your current life.
Here’s how it works. Think of a problem you are currently having that you wish would get better or go away. Now think of any childhood memory and don’t worry if the memory is related to the problem. Trust that the first memory you think of is the one that will be filled with magical help you need. Write down the memory, including your age at the time of the memory, how you felt when the incident happened, what you were thinking, and what you were doing at the time. Usually what you were doing is what you still do to solve problems, even though you are probably a lot older and “wiser.” Sometime we refer to this part of the memory as what you were deciding (even though you weren’t aware you were making any decisions at the time). Memories that begin with, “I remember one time….” work better than memories that start with, “We always used to………..”
Here are some examples: A woman was feeling constantly unsettled about where she lived and thought it might be time to move, even though the thought of moving was scary. She was stuck in this emotional place for over a year. One day she asked herself what her memory was. Immediately, she pictured a time when she was 11 and her mother was yelling at her father asking where the check was. He was yelling back, telling her not to be a nag and that the money would be there tomorrow. She felt scared and worried and unhappy that her parents were fighting. She decided that her father was right and that her mother was over-reacting and that she’d never behave like her mother. When she examined what the memory was about, she realized that she didn’t want to live outside her means because she believed it could lead to the kind of problems her parents had. Since she was living outside her means and raiding her savings, she decided it was time to start looking for a new place. Though she still had moments of fear, the need to live within her means was much stronger than her worries about change and the unknown. She felt relieved and had direction for the first time in over a year.
In another instance, a couple was arguing over redecorating their home. The husband was a designer and felt angry that his wife didn’t take his word for what needed to be done. She was panicked, thinking that his suggestions might not work out the way he predicted. The argument was going in circles until she asked herself for a childhood memory. She remembered waiting at the mail slot in her living room watching for the mail to come. When letters would slip through the slot, she’d see her grandmother’s familiar handwriting and be excited knowing that Grandma had sent a letter and that the letter probably contained a stick of gum. She was 8 years old and felt anticipation and excitement. She decided that she had to watch closely so that she didn’t miss out on her grandmother’s letters. As she thought about the memory and how it related to her current issue, she realized that she had to see things and that all the conversations about decorating didn’t substitute for actually physically moving furniture around in different configurations so she could see how the new arrangements would look. Her husband made the connection, too, and though he hated moving furniture around physically, he knew how important it was to his wife. She didn’t possess his ability to “move” the pieces around in her mind the way he could.
In another instance, a woman was struggling over vacation plans, making herself and her family crazy with all her questions and changes. As she wondered why she was making herself so miserable, she remembered as a kid how her mother catered to her dad, giving in to him even when she didn’t agree. She realized that she had decided that was her job, so she was catering to her husband by going along with his wishes, but then changing the plans because they didn’t match what she really wanted. It was no wonder her husband threw up his hands and said, “You always get what you want!” She realized that it would be okay for her to say (when it was true), “I want my way on this.” Most of the time she didn’t have such strong feelings and was happy to do what the rest of her family wanted. By making this change, she experienced much less stress, as did the rest of her family.
In a different case, a client came to me with anxiety attacks and in the course of her work, asked why she was having these awful attacks. She thought of a childhood memory when she was 8 and her mother had to be hospitalized. That was very traumatic for her, and she didn’t know why her mom was in the hospital or if and when she’d be coming home. She decided she couldn’t handle things on her own and was a lost soul without her mother. It may seem like a stretch, but with help she realized that she gets into situations with her own children where she feels over her head and her “eight-year-old” who lives inside her is suddenly in charge. This is terrifying, especially if she’s driving her car with the kids in the backseat. Even though she’s behind the wheel, her “eight-year-old” is calling the shots, and she’s not even old enough or tall enough to drive. No wonder she’s filled with anxiety. Since she had this ah hah, she’s been imagining comforting that little kid within, letting her know that she won’t let her down and that she’ll be there through the tough times and together they’ll work it out. It’s helping!
This may all seem overly-simplistic or too confusing, but don’t give up. What is required is making that leap of faith that your memories are more than the stories of your past. They are also metaphors of how you think, feel, and solve problems today. The more you work with them, the better you’ll get at unlocking the clues and using them to solve problems.
Sorry if I’m being repetitive, (but not that sorry!) I am so annoyed by conversations and lists in books that label feelings as negative and positive. It’s time to rewrite this fallacy. Feelings are simply feelings. They won’t kill you. They come and they go. They are like the warning lights on the dashboard of your car–here to give you valuable information about your thoughts and your actions or possible actions. Some feelings may be more uncomfortable or unfamiliar than others, but they are not your enemy. You can learn from them.
One of the feelings that has gotten the worst rap is anger. That’s probably because people look at behavior and think behavior is a feeling. If someone is ranting and raving or being a bully or abusive, that behavior is thought to be anger. It’s not. It’s disrespectful behavior, which can be generated by many different feelings. Some people want to eradicate anger completely, and insist there is no such feeling, that anger is only a cover-up for hurt.
Many people are out of touch with their feelings or afraid of them. Anger is one of those feelings that scares people and sometimes is referred to as a “negative” emotion. Anger is a human response to being out of control, over-controlled, powerless, having a lack of control, being bossed, or not getting what one wants. All of these relationship situations can be improved if you stop discounting the angry feeling. If you would like to understand more about your anger and what it is trying to tell you, try the following activity. With increased understanding, you can work on behaving more respectfully to deal with your feelings.
Hold up your hands in front of you. Imagine putting something you are angry about on each of your fingers. You don’t need to remember what is on each finger, other than the last three. This activity helps you get to deeply buried anger issues that rise to the surface after the smaller issues get unloaded. Some people can very quickly think of ten things they are angry at; others take longer; and for those out of touch with their feelings, it can take even longer, but is well worth the effort. Just be patient and encourage yourself by knowing it is okay to take as long as you need.
Here’s an example of what one person came up with for his 10 fingers of anger: I’m angry at my boss because he doesn’t appreciate me; I’m angry because I don’t make enough money; I’m angry because my wife is on me to help the minute I walk in the door; I’m angry because my children are spoiled and expect too much; I’m angry at my parents for not teaching me more skills when I was a kid; I’m angry because I never get to go fishing; I’m angry because when I go fishing I rarely catch any fish (this made him laugh); I’m angry at myself for not standing up for what I want; I’m angry because life isn’t turning out the way I hoped; and finally, I’m angry because I don’t see a way to make things better.
After the activity, ask yourself what you learned from the exercise. Take one of the last anger responses (from finger 8, 9, or 10) and explore how you handle that feeling in real time. Do you ignore it, hold it in, explode, drown the feeling in alcohol and drugs, etc. Any of those behavioral responses are disrespectful to yourself and others and won’t really make the anger go away. In the example above, this guy handles his anger by giving up and blaming others for his life.
There are many ways to deal respectfully with your anger. One is to simply acknowledge it, saying to yourself, “I’m angry, and that’s okay to feel that way.” Or you could say to the person you perceive to be making your life miserable, “I’m angry because__________and I wish___________. ” It’s a simple, yet effective release of anger. Another solution is to look for choices, as anger results often from the belief that you have no choices. If you can’t see alternatives, sometimes it’s helpful to brainstorm with someone else about choices you might have. You can also look for small steps to get yourself moving freely again. Although it may be hard to believe, no one is the boss of you except you, and the only person you can change is yourself!
Back to the example. The angry guy was shocked at how angry he was. He never thought of himself as an angry person, just someone who was unlucky. He decided that he would plan one thing each week that he wanted to do and then he would do it. Surprisingly, some of the things he wanted to do were with his kids and his wife. He told his kids he wanted to go fishing with them, and they agreed. He told his wife he wanted to give her a night off and that he would cook dinner and clean-up. Just from these simple steps, he started to feel better about himself and his life. He realized for the first time that he was more in control of his life than he previously thought. By zeroing in on his anger and acknowledging it, he was able to begin to make his life better.
The mind and body are connected. What we think leads to what we feel, and what we feel is the energy that drives our behavior. If we ignore any part of the human condition, we are missing out on valuable information that can move us toward a more socially interested and respectful, fulfilled life.
I noticed that I recently got a lot of new subscribers from Poland. That’s exciting and I’m glad to know that folks around the world are interested in the issues I write about. I’d love to hear from you, though I don’t speak Polish, to learn more about what brings you to this blog site. I’m not much of a techie, so I’m also wondering if folks comment, is your comment appearing on my blog. I haven’t gotten any comments for a long time, which makes me suspect that I’ve made some mistake on setting up the blog site. If any of you brave souls want to help me with that research by sending me a comment, I’d appreciate it. If there’s any subject you are interested in, let me know, and if I’m interested, too, I’ll blog about it.
I recently got a request from someone wanting help with her teen who had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. Duh! Let’s see, that’s like diagnosing a one year old with failure to walk perfectly disorder if they’re still falling down when attempting to walk. Teens by nature are oppositional. That is their developmental job, to separate themselves from their families to try to figure out who they will become as they grow up. Like the caterpillar who spins a cocoon to become a butterfly, teens spin an invisible web around them, and if you try to break it to regain control, they get very defiant. Is your teen the adult he will become? No! Like the caterpillar, he needs to go through a metamorphosis to become the adult (butterfly). Is this a disorder? Not in my mind. It is a human condition and it is a relationship issue. Your teen is struggling with his relationship with himself and his friends; he’s also struggling with his relationship with you and the rest of his family; you’re struggling with your relationship with him. Does this create “disorder”? Sure, because there’s so much change going on. But that doesn’t make it a “disease”.
So what’s the solution? Respect!!!! Since most of us weren’t raised with a whole lot of respect, Jane Nelsen and I wrote the book Positive Discipline for Teens to help parents figure out what the application of respect might look like with a teenager. In that book, you learn to respect yourself, your teen, and your situation, and in doing so, you can invite your teen to treat you more respectfully. The book teaches you how to move out of the pilot’s seat and become a co-pilot, helping your young adult make it through his or her struggles without damage that can’t be repaired to both the child and your relationship.
I rarely plug one of my books, which is ridiculous if you think about it. I only write when I’m trying to help folks make their lives easier. It takes a couple of years from inception to conclusion to put a book together that is truly helpful. I’m glad I wrote PD for Teens, because when I was parenting my first teen, nothing of the sort was available. I hate how many mistakes I made, but since mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow, I did a lot of that. The book is my way of giving back and making things easier for the teens and parents.
I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and it’s about time I got started. So many of my clients semi-jokingly tell me that when they get into a bind, they ask themselves, “What would Lynn say?” Or their children or spouses ask the same question. Or they email me, asking what I would say about an issue they are struggling with. I think it’s time I share some of their questions and my answers on this blog. I don’t think of this as an advice column, but rather me sharing questions and answers because you may have many of the same ones. When I write books, I use a lot of vignettes which are a compilation of many different clients, yet when my clients read the books, they are always sure I am talking about them. I’ll do the same thing in these entries so that I can guard my clients’ privacy.
Here’s the first question: My pre-teen told me he feels angry a lot and wants to annoy people. He says he can’t control it and wonders if there’s something wrong with him. What would Lynn say?
It’s easy to chalk up angry feelings in adolescents to hormones and maybe miss something else important that is going on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying adolescents aren’t hormonal, but often they have some very good reasons for being angry coupled with some very poor methods of expressing that anger. One of the questions I ask right off the bat is about what I call family constellation, because problems often make a lot more sense when seen in a context. For instance, if a child follows a “perfect” kid or a “good” kid and believes he or she can never be as good, that’s often cause for anger. Or if in a family one kid either perceives he is always getting in trouble while the other(s) are over-looked or treated like victim(s), or that is really happening, that’s also cause for anger.
In this case, there was a clear issue of good kid/bad kid stereotyping by the parents. My suggestion was to let the angry pre-teen know that it was okay for him to be angry and that anyone would be angry with that kind of favoritism going on and there was nothing wrong with him but he was making poor choices as to how he displayed his anger. He needed to know that he was loved and important and special and that his parents needed to stop putting him in the “bad guy” seat as a knee jerk response to problems. I also suggested that his parents ask him to say what was upsetting him without any judgments or defensiveness, expressing, “I hear you,” without trying to fix or improve the situation.
It’s not unusual for kids to think that parents love the other siblings more, especially if the other siblings never get in trouble and they always do. What kids don’t understand is that when these feelings aren’t validated or heard, they build up and are released with acting out behaviors.
It’s best not to make assumptions when people around you are expressing feelings. It’s really important not to label them, i.e. “He’s an angry person.” Rather, let the person know they are having a feeling, that a feeling won’t kill anyone, that you care how they feel, that you want to know why they feel the way they do, and that you understand. Understanding isn’t the same as agreeing that you feel the same way, but if you’ve ever felt understood, you know just how powerful that can be in helping you move forward in a more postive way.
Quite often I get a notice that someone has registered as a new user to my blog. Consider this a welcome to all of you who have signed on, belated as it may be. I would love to know what brings you here, but in the meantime, thanks for becoming part of this little slice of the Internet. If there are topics of interest, let me know. If you’d like more information about some of the things I write about, feel free to ask. I especially appreciate knowing that I’m not the only one reading my entries.
I’ve been a bit silent these days because it is ski season. That means that when I’m not working or hanging out with my grandkids, I’m hitting the slopes. Hope you have something in your life you enjoy as much as I enjoy skiing. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and I look forward to it being part of my life for years to come.
I couldn’t be more excited to share an article with you written for Esquire magazine comparing Barack Obama’s leadership style to Positive Discipline. Here’s the link: http://www.esquire.com/features/people-who-matter-2010/barack-obama-father-0210. The author’s name is Tom Junod, and oh, to have his gifts as a writer. I love when someone else says what I think better than I could. I’ve been studying, teaching, writing about, lecturing, and living Positive Discipline for 40 years. I’m happy to see it get this kind of press. Regardless of your political leanings, I hope you can share my joy at having someone toot our horn!
It’s a hot topic, right? Don’t get stressed. Are you stressed? How do you feel less stress? Reduce stress! Live stress-free, and on and on and on. Here’s a simple explanation of stress. Think about it. If you think life should be one way and it is another way, the space in between those two thoughts is called stress. Different things stress different people and people handle stress in many different ways. The trick to reducing stress is to narrow the space between the two lines (see video below). That involves either changing your expectations or changing your life. Easier said than done, but possible, and it doesn’t take a pill to do it. What’s wrong with a pill, you ask? Maybe nothing, but for many of us, we’d prefer to work on the deeper issues rather than medicate ourselves. We like to know there are choices, which there are!
A client came to see me because he was experiencing what he called “a nervous breakdown.” We talked about what had triggered his panicked feelings and about his unmet expectations of himself and others and how the difference between his beliefs about how life should be and how life was were tearing him apart. He has always looked at depression as a biological event, but after our work together and his processing it, he’s came to find the power of his internal belief system and noticed the problems his old thinking caused.
I asked if I could publish his conclusions in my blog as I think what he came to could help others. He agreed saying, “You may definitely use it if you think it will be helpful; after all, it’s just a reflection of your great work.” What a charmer!
These days it’s too easy to look at problems in life as an illness with a corresponding pill to correct things. But the insight work this client did with his list of suggestions to himself will serve him well and get his life back. He’s gone the anti-depressant route for years without ever working on his deeper issues, so nothing really changed. If he reminds himself of his 4 conclusions and practices them, I expect that he’ll experience lasting change and a richer life. I hope blog readers can benefit from his work, too.
“Thanks Lynn. As you might expect, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said and what I’ve been going through and trying to make sense of it. I wanted to share my thinking with you to see if you think I’m on the right track. I’m a bit desperate to make conclusions/meanings, but don’t want to replace old bad conceptions with new bad ones. Here’s my current thinking:
1. Accept myself for who I am. I have been feeling like I can’t be successful while still being me, because I am not good enough. This has led me to push myself beyond my limits to be something I am not and has totally stressed me out. If I can be aware of this underlying insecurity and calm my inner critic, I think that might be a good direction to start with.
2. Establish healthy boundaries. This seems like the practical implementation of accepting myself, i.e. by asking for what I want/need and saying no to what I am not comfortable with, I can protect myself from unduly stressful situations. I really see now how I routinely give up my boundaries because I want so badly to be accepted.
3. Resist obsessive thinking. I never really realized it before, but if I look back on my life, I have always obsessed on some external desire as the basis of my happiness: success in sports, drugs, girlfriends, school, nature, and now work. Just living in the moment and putting one foot in front of the other is really hard for me, but the obsessing has always deprived me of the real joys in life: family, friendships, and simple appreciations.”
4. Resist grandiose and catastrophic thinking. I honestly have felt it is my duty to save the world from itself, and that I could be some kind of pivotal hero (like John Muir or Aldo Leopold). When reality hits me, I fall flat on my face and feel like a worthless piece of shit. And, as you noted, make great big meanings out of isolated events (e.g. I failed a test, therefore I will never amount to anything). I think this more than anything is what I am going through when I feel “depressed”. Monitoring my thought processes, and stopping myself was a good suggestion.”
If you’d like to know whether you are an eagle, a lion, a chameleon, or a turtle and what difference that makes, go to www.lynnlott.com and click on “Try This.” You’ll find out all sorts of things about your personality and why you do what you do, want what you want, think what you think, and feel what you feel. You can also click on the following link where I explain more about this personality profile game on YouTube:
Once you embrace the idea about personality differences or what we call top card you can stop looking at yourself and others as having disabilities, disorders, or diseases and realize that we all have differences and they make life most interesting.