Self-pity starts with anger. I write a story in the head about who is getting in the way of my efforts. I come very close to being like a dog, whose feet are shocked from the floor of the cage. My will saps with the expectation of getting more shocks, held captive within four walls of my making. Negative thoughts bulldoze any voice of solution. My anger takes an even bigger role in decisions and I float passively in the ooze of righteous indignation.
Who dares say that I can let go of the insane repetition of wasteful tasks and putter around in circles? How dare you tell me what I can and cannot do? And that face you put on while your mouth spews forth the proposal of a better idea. Worse! You say I should just walk away from it all! Can you see my face? And did you hear what I just said? Do you see my teeth flashing while I put down your way of life? Let’s repeat this again and again! I can do this all night long while laying in the dark with the covers over my head. I can come up with a million make-believe scenarios where I’m on the cross, bearing my wounds and saying “Just finish me”.
But screw it. I’ll sit at the table with my laptop and type every single word. A conversation in my head can be a story on the screen too.
First, I will ask the reader to look at the difference between “argue” and “debate.” Quite a few of us in American culture can run into some confusion, because of our pioneering spirit. We cherish our independence. A lot of early training in the families of this country, reflects the value in standing up for what we believe. Otherwise, there would not be much protest against government agencies trying to dictate how to raise the kids and run the household. We don’t like being told what to do, period. I for one, hope that this healthy attitude continues. Human beings are not sheep.
When a person is in debate of an issue, he does best when ready with a convincing set of facts. His platform for debate may not guarantee a win of the most votes, but he can at least pavé the road to a later credible battle. Unlike argument, which is a behavior based on emotional defense, the act of debating serves a purpose. The opponent is invited to share information and the goal here is to clarify the gravity of the issue. A solution is eventually reached. In arguments, there is nothing but an angry push from each person to see who is the strongest. And when emotion is ruling the behavior on each side, the information (if any) is only distorted and both parties are further from a solution. So another day goes by without anything productive happening. It’s just a cycle of futility. To argue needlessly is akin to climbing a mountain made of butter with cellophane shoes.
My way of helping to curb the impulse to argue or be led into an argument is simple and easy. Of course, this works best when there is a personal acknowledgement of the costs about such behavior. The method has to do with using physical cues to help monitor the rate of impulsive acts. Your job is to cut down on the number of times per day, that a disagreement or behavior triggers an emotional reaction. For example, if six-year-old Johnny says the “No T.V. after 7:00 at night rule” is stupid and you are starting in with “No it’s not” then go ahead and put a colored chip labeled “I argued again” in the designated can. I’ve been known to label the cans for this kind of process, with words that remind the client of what we talked about in the session. Bringing a souvenir home from vacation has the same effect.
Ever done the “pocket of rocks” exercise? It entails filling your pockets with rocks and only taking one out to drop it on the ground when you let go of a usual behavior. We’re talking about self-defeating behaviors such as avoiding the person who you have a problem with. In order to get rid of a rock, talk to the person and bring up the issue. There’s no guarantee of you and the person straightening things out right away, but the avoidance is over. The pain-in-the-ass action of hiding your feelings and thoughts is past, at least in this respect. To talk is a way to add dimension to the issue and offer yourself and other people with a choice of what to do on the matter.
Many of us assume that because our thoughts and feelings exist, the other people in our lives will automatically know how we stand on everything. Because of this, we expect these people to behave a certain way. But we end up being surprised and hurt on a daily basis. And it turns out that none of us have acquired the ability to read minds. People young and old, whether you think it’s right or not, are going to go about their business towards needs and wants of the moment. No amount of protest is going to make any lasting difference. An occasional demonstration of anger is much like hearing a car backfire while walking down the street. Some people might feel startled and look in that direction, but are soon continuing to walk on. So a noise was made. Big deal.
Most of us do pay attention to established rules. Rules are based on the costs and benefits of certain behaviors. The cost of my son yelling and screaming while I’m on the phone, is that I’m only hearing part of what the other person says. I’m missing out on information and have to ask the caller to repeat himself. Now I have to spend a longer time on the phone. More time on the phone, means less time doing something else which is important to me and my son. This means we lose all around. New household rule: Quiet when someone is on the phone. The consequence to disobeying this rule is…
The rule is made aware by discussing the costs and benefits with all household occupants and then posting it in a central place. Now it’s out of your head and on paper or poster board. Everyone can see it and you don’t have to rely on the fantasy of mind-reading.