Managing Difficult Emotions (freebie) — Conflict Mediation Coach

In my ongoing zeal to respond to each of the recent survey responses I’m giving away another handout, “Get Unstuck by Thinking about Thinking.” It’s a cognitive approach to managing anger, anxiety, depression, and grief. I did not address regret but after seeing this photo I wish I had. Click the link below to get […]

via Managing Difficult Emotions (freebie) — Conflict Mediation Coach

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Managing Difficult Emotions (freebie)

In my ongoing zeal to respond to each of the recent survey responses I’m giving away another handout, “Get Unstuck by Thinking about Thinking.” It’s a cognitive approach to managing anger, anxiety, depression, and grief.  I did not address regret but after seeing this photo I wish I had.

regret.storm trooper

Click the link below to get a free 15 page doc (handouts used in a public talk I gave a couple of years ago).

Get Unstuck by Thinking About Thinking.4.6.18

If you like the papers I’m making available you’re going to love my new website when it’s up and running. You’ll have access to a library of several hundred of these papers, not to mention notices about book launches, new posters, arty “works in progress,” and other fun stuff.

I’m still working out the bugs of the website. It’s like building the Space Needle one molecule at a time. Slow, but when it’s done it’ll spectacular. That’s the plan, anyway.

Enjoy!

 

Marital Mind Reading

 

frames

Sensing what others might be thinking or feeling is a good social skill. But believing we know for sure what another person thinks, feels, wants, or needs is dangerous.

Four examples of mind reading.

1) If your spouse is silent and you say, “You’re mad at me!” that’s mind reading.

2) If your spouse is late getting home and you say, “You’re cheating on me!” that’s mind reading.

3) If your partner forgets to buy milk and you say, “You did that on purpose!” that’s mind reading.

4) If your partner cleans the kitchen and you say, “You don’t think I’m capable of doing this myself!” that’s mind reading.

Two factors that fuel this bad habit.

1) anxiety.

2) depression.

Two ways to look at this phenomenon:

1) negative mind reading leads to anxiety and depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed if we thought our spouse had such negative feelings, motives, or thoughts?

2) anxiety and depression lead to negative mind reading. Looking at our partner’s through a negative lens colors everything negatively.

Two things make this habit highly vexing.

1) the tendency for the mind reader to conjure up negative motives, negative thoughts, or negative intent in their spouse.

2) the tendency for the mind reader to believe they are absolutely, 100% correct.

Two reasons counselors find breaking clients of this habit very difficult.

1) Nobody likes to be told their beliefs might be wrong. The mind reading client then reads the mind of the therapist, “He’s minimizing my fears,” “He just doesn’t get it.” “He’s a jerk.” “He doesn’t know my spouse as well as I do. I KNOW I’m right!!”

2) If the spouse is not guilty as charged this means the mind reader has issues to work on. It’s much easier to blame others for our unhappiness.

Two ways to get out of this dysfunctional pattern.

1) drive each other so crazy with false accusations, negative spins, and erroneous mind reading that one of you leaves. You can’t mind read if there’s no mind around to read.

2) Get so fed up with poor communication that one of you admits, “My interpretation might be wrong.”

Two ancient Proverbs on this topic.

1) “Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

2) “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”

Four practical things a mind reader can do to break this habit.

1) Check the accuracy of your speculations, “I have a feeling you’re mad. Am I right?” If they say no, believe them.

2) Get in the habit of coming up with alternative explanations why your spouse does what they do. “He’s silent because he’s problem solving.” “She cleaned the kitchen because it was messy.” “He was late for dinner because of traffic.” “She forgot the milk because the kids were distracting.”

3) Look inside yourself and see if mind reading is a subconscious plot to provoke your spouse, reinforce negative self esteem, feed your anxiety monster, or conjure certainties in a world of uncertainty.

4) Look at the lens through which you look at life. If it’s negative, change it. If we can’t change our spouse we can change our view of our spouse.

Marriage: A Shopper’s Guide

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SPRING CLEARANCE SALE on POTENTIAL MATES

Wise car shoppers kick tires and consult Consumer Reports, Kelly Blue Book, or Motor Trend Magazine before buying a used car.

Choosing a vacation spot is easier when we read reviews, ask friends, or talk to a travel consultant.

Wise business owners conduct extensive interviews because they know it’s easier hiring the right employee than retraining a wrong one.

Even going to the movies or choosing a restaurant is easier when we ask what others think of the plot, the service, or the value.

When it comes to getting married, however, some people don’t put a lot of thought into one of the biggest decisions of life. They feel the urge and take the plunge! Over the years I’ve heard many different reasons why people got married.

She is smokin’ hot!
He’s rich!
I wanted a big wedding because I was skinny and wanted to be ogled and envied.
I was drunk.
I didn’t want to be alone.
I wanted to get away from my parents.
She’s pregnant.
I was pregnant.
Why not? If I get unhappy I’ll get a divorce and find a new partner.
Our sex is amazing!
I was a single parent and this person was willing to help me raise my kids.
I didn’t want to get married but we already sent out the invitations.
They make me look and feel good.
They’ve promised to meet my every need.
I found someone who will give me what my parents never gave me.
I can control this person.
An imperfect mate is better than no mate.

If I were to write an instruction book for people “shopping” for a marriage partner, I’d suggest the following checklist. Some of these marriage criteria are counter intuitive but I believe courting couples ignore them to their peril.

How does this potential partner treat their parents? It’s not uncommon for old relational patterns to return once the glow of hormones wears off.

How long have you dated? We recommend at least a year so you can see what your future partner is like during every season. Summer lovers can become winter Grinches and vice versa. Better to find out sooner rather than later.

What are your prospective mate’s life goals? It’s hard to feel close if you’re headed in opposite directions.

What common values to you share? If you love risk taking and your partner is risk averse you’ll struggle. If you’re a saver and they’re a spender you’ll struggle. If you’re a dancer and your partner is an irredeemable klutz, somebody’s going to be unhappy.

How adept are the two of you at resolving disagreements? It isn’t conflict that tears marriages apart, it’s poorly managed or avoided conflict. I often give love struck couples in premarital counseling the following assignment, “Go have a fight.” It usually gets a big laugh but I’m serious. Why wait until the honeymoon to discover how well or poorly you handle stress, anger, and fear?

What are you and your partner’s expectations about marriage? This isn’t easy to answer when we’re infatuated, love struck, and just getting to know each other. But unmet expectations are one of the biggest conflicts couples have.

What did your criminal background check reveal? This is a painful reality: some people lie. Better to find out sooner rather than later the truth about military service, degrees, awards, debt, criminal records, affairs, previous marriages, or kids. I’ve been shocked to learn how sneaky some people can be. Check ‘em out!

What about your partner are you hoping to change? The person who thinks they’re going to help their partner eliminate their irritating mannerisms or character flaws, change their weight, hair style, religion, or personality is in for a huge disappointment. Making personal changes is hard enough. Feeling pressured to do so is almost guaranteed to fail.

How do you manage your anxiety? A person often chooses a mate because they believe their spouse will become their “anti anxiety drug.” Rather than dealing with fears, worries, and anxieties themselves, they make their future partner responsible for their moods. This puts tremendous pressure on a marriage. A future partner may be willing initially to be that anti-anxiety drug but will eventually poop out.

What do your family and friends think of this person as your potential life partner? If those close to you have doubts about how well suited you are for each other, pay attention. Those who are objective see what we in our love struck subjective state can’t.

How tolerant of differences are you both? Many people go bonkers when their partner voices a contrary opinion or expresses a preference that differs from their own. Two becoming one does not mean two becoming the same.

How willing are you both to work at making a healthy marriage? Even couples who agree on the above questions will go through marital stages. And each stage requires adaptation, compromise, and negotiation. Marriages put on “auto pilot” often end up in counselor’s offices because good marriage don’t just happen. They require attention, conversation, and new skills.

God puts us in marriages partly to make us better people. If we’re single we don’t have to learn how to get along in intimate relationships. But if we share a bed, budget, or kids either the marriage will work on us or we’ll work on the marriage. I hope these questions will help you kick a few tires before signing the marriage license.

Some Thoughts About Anger

anger cartoon NYKR

A while ago I received the following email.

Hi Mr. Johnson, I am a reporter for Klipsun Magazine at Western Washington University. I am writing an article on anger management and I would love to have your point of view on the subject. Such as, how to handle anger, why it happens, and gender differences….Thank you so much for your help, (name).

Hi, (name). Here are some thoughts re. your great questions.

1. How does anger management develop?

A person either realizes their anger is not serving them well and undertakes a plan of self improvement on their own initiative, OR family and friends convince them to get help, OR (worst case scenario–violence) the court requires people to get their anger under control. Once the angry person is on board with the goal of reducing their anger I work with clients to engage in three tasks: 1) list all the benefits of controlling anger (rather than it controlling us); this keeps us motivated when the battle gets hard. 2) Track the five stages in the anger sequence [trigger, thought, physiological responses, emotion, and action]. By identifying and separating these five stages we get more power over them. 3) Work on the primary culprit in anger, namely, our thoughts. The counseling term for this is cognitive therapy.

2. How can anger management be maintained?

Keep reviewing the benefits of conquering anger–lower blood pressure, less cost for broken items, fewer doctor bills for broken hands or feet for hitting or kicking stuff, longer lasting friendships, more free time in our brains to use for productive stuff, etc.

3. What is the difference between getting angry and having an anger management problem?

Getting angry is a good and proper response to injustice, cruelty, oppression, etc. Think MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. They channel their anger and hurt into traffic safety laws, etc. If I had the magic ability to make all anger vanish I wouldn’t use it. We need anger to inspire battling the things that need battling. But there’s a thin line between healthy anger and problematic anger. Anger becomes a problem when we’re angry in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons (this is my paraphrase of a quote from Aristotle). Anger problems can creep up on us and because of denial or cluelessness we don’t know why we lose friends, get in so many fights, or need so many prescription drugs (or alcohol) to calm down, etc. So when family and friends suggest we may have an anger problem it’s a good idea to consider that what they’re saying might be correct.

4. What would you suggest to your patients to deal with their anger?

In addition to the steps above, we deal with practical matters like stress relief, healing the hurts, fears, and jealousies behind much of our anger, and capturing those distorted cognitions that fuel anger. “That motorist cut me off on purpose” vs. “Maybe they’re on the way to the hospital to have a baby.” “If a person criticizes me my life is ruined” vs. “Hmm, they’re sure having a bad day,” or “I demand that life be fair!” vs. “Oh well.”

5. What is the difference between female anger and male anger?

To be honest in my experience both genders get angry with only a few subtle variations. Stereotypes bug me but anecdotally I believe it takes longer for guys to calm down once elevated and it takes longer for women to let stuff go. Other than that, both men/women explode, hit, fume, stuff, scream, etc. And the strategies for de-escalating are the same. Here’s a recent blog post on this theme which is only partially tongue in cheek.

Wow! Thank you so much! Anger is an interesting subject, I’ve gotten a lot of different feedback on how people deal with their anger, such as some may yell and others might bottle it up. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts. It has really helped my article. (name).

What Builders, Boomers, Millennials, and Gen-Y Have In Common

generation boy

 

Point and click just about anywhere on the web and you’ll find an article about the animosities, antagonisms, or incompatibilities of people of different ages. People born in the 1930s and 1940s see life differently than those born in the 1950s and 1960s who see life differently than those born in the 1970s and 1980s who see life differently than those born in the 1990s and 2000s. Rather than rehash all the ways people of varying generations see life differently here’s a list of what people of all ages have in common.

We all like feeling good. While our activities, foods, clothing styles and entertainments differ, we all share the pursuit of happiness.

We all like avoiding pain. There are very few locations where generations mingle. The exception is for medical needs: Emergency Rooms, doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, and hospitals. Age differences vanish when it comes to toothaches, broken bones, or appendicitis.

We all want to be “liked.” Teens count their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Instagram “likes,” and elderly shut-ins count the number of visits they get. Even scoundrels, criminals, and cads prefer negative attention to no attention.

We all want meaningful lives. What fuels the pursuit of religion, science, hobbies, sports, work, money, or fame? A desire to feel like our lives matter.  People have different pathways to meaning but the motive is same: an aversion to obscurity, futility, and wasted lives.

We all want kindness, respect, love, affirmation. My clients range from 12 to 80. What they have in common is an aversion to conflict and a desire to create healthy relationships.

We all love air. Artists, novelists, poets, musicians, film makers, and marketers want to create content that will be the next “big thing,” smash hit, or viral Youtube video. But in reality the only thing humanity universally embraces is breathing. This being the case it makes more sense to  view younger and older generations as fellow passengers on space ship earth rather than aliens.

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” George Orwell

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” Henry David Thoreau

“Rather than seeing different generations as square pegs in round holes let’s enlarge the hole.” Erik Johnson

 

What Was I Thinking?

"I've tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn't so hard."

“I’ve tried to manage my irrational thoughts but needed a hobby that wasn’t so hard.”

 

I recently watched two movies about Hitler’s confiscation and destruction of the world’s great art, The Monuments Men and The Rape of Europa. My sadness, anger, and hatred for Nazis grew until I realized I was crying over paintings and not the horrendous evil of gas chambers. What was I thinking valuing paintings over people?

 

This reminded me of my childhood love of sci-fi movies and how I’d cheer when Godzilla leveled Tokyo but cried like a baby when Old Yeller died. What was I thinking valuing dogs over people?

 

This reminded me of other ways my mind plays tricks on me.

 

Last year I bought a tablet without batting an eye. I paid dearly for it. A short while later I donated some clutter to a local second hand store and received a coupon, “$3.00 off if you spend $10.00.” Sweet! I went inside and found $9.00 worth of stuff to buy but couldn’t find that last one dollar item to earn the $3.00 savings. I agonized over this, passing by two dollar items because I only needed a one dollar item. I must have spent a half an hour sweating over ways to spend one dollar in order to earn a $3.00 savings all the while forgetting I spent one hundred times that for the tablet. What was I thinking?

 

Hand me a revolver that holds a million bullets saying, “Spin the chamber and play Russian roulette,” and I’ll say, “Forget it! I might lose!” Hand me a lottery ticket with the odds of one in a million and I’ll say, “Thanks! I might win!” What am I thinking?

 

I often write in my journal, “I’ve got too much paper! I’ve got to get rid of this clutter!” and then file that stupid note with millions of other pieces of paper on which I’ve written, “I’ve got too much paper!” What am I thinking?

 

Decades ago I took a kid (not my own) fishing and we didn’t catch anything for hours. But just when that kid adjusted his baseball hat he caught a fish! He said, “I’m going to adjust my hat again and see if I get another one!” Wouldn’t you know it, he adjusted his hat and caught another fish. We spent the rest of the afternoon stupidly adjusting our hats convinced there was a relationship with hat adjusting and fish catching. This is how superstitions are born! What were we thinking?

 

It’s embarrassing to admit how many times on-line I’ve clicked, “I have read and agree to these Terms and Conditions” without reading a word of it. I sometimes leave the house with the radio and porch light on to create the deceptive illusion that I am home. For a guy who values the truth I sure lie a lot. What am I thinking?

 

I grouse when I pay extra for organic fruits and veggies, whine when I pay $5.00 for one measly teabag and a squirt of vanilla at a coffee shop, and complain when gas prices go up ten cents. These are all tangible products I use and enjoy. At the same time I shell out way more money for intangible products I don’t enjoy and will likely never use: car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, home insurance, professional liability insurance, cell phone insurance, and insurance on my office rental. Isn’t this called, “Straining at gnats and swallowing camels?” What am I thinking?

 

Against all evidence to the contrary, I entertain the fantasy that someday my collection of hand made paper round charts (volvelles), clipped New Yorker cartoons, and mixed metaphors will be worth money. The hope that springs eternal isn’t always rational. What am I thinking?

 

My consolation: at least I know I am irrational. It’d be really sad if my brain was on the blink and I didn’t know it.

 

How about you? What are you thinking?

 

The Parable of the Stingy Scuba Diver

In our ongoing quest to demystify how to achieve marital happiness we offer another one page cartoon. Before a partner drowns because of unmet needs we hope this analogy will nudge people into action. Share the oxygen!

scuba.4

Annoyances in Marriage, Pt. 3 (and a free book!)

Managing Marital Irritations.cover

Glynn Wolfe might win the prize for history’s most irritable husband. According to his daughter in law, Vikki Wolfe, Glynn left his wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. But wait, there’s more. Wolfe divorced another wife for using his toothbrush. But wait, there’s still more. Wolfe is famous for being a wife collector. All counted, he married and divorced a total of 29 wives. Click here for his bizarre story. I’m not sure who needed counseling more, him or his 29 wives!

If you’ve asked your partner to quit eating sunflower seeds in bed or using your toothbrush and they refuse you can do like Wolfe did and file for divorce.

Or, you can become more tolerant of your partner’s irritating mannerisms. If you can’t change your partner, change yourself. Here are some tips.

1. List the things your partner does that irritate you.

2. Ask them to list the things you do that irritate them.

3. Compare lists and negotiate. “I’ll put down the toilet seat if you stay within our budget.”

4. Don’t give your partner negative labels. If you’re convinced your partner is a “self absorbed, cheating, immature, lying, slob” you’ll look for evidence to back up the label…and of course you’ll find it.

5. Re-examine the stories you tell yourself about your partner’s bad habits. Our interpretations play a bigger role in our frustrations than our partner’s behaviors. “As a man or woman thinks, so are they.” Here are some common stories that deserve challenging.

  • “My partner irritates me on purpose.” This might not be true. They could be mindless, automatic behaviors. Don’t you ever do things without thinking? Give grace and the benefit of the doubt.
  • “I take this personally!” If we treat their actions as a sign they don’t care about us, isn’t prioritizing us, or doesn’t love us, we’ve turned a benign action (like how to load a dishwasher) into a moral issue.
  • “If you really loved me you’d stop driving me crazy with all your irritating habits.” To which your partner could answer, “If you really loved me you’d let me do what I do without nagging.”
  • “They should know what I like. I don’t need to tell them.” Maybe it never occurred to your partner that it bothers you. They aren’t mind readers.
  • “My partner is one big irritation.” Is that their only redeeming trait? Won’t you miss that irritating habit once they’re gone? If the marriage is that dysfunctional there are bigger problems than crumbs on the counter or leaving wet towels on the floor.
  • “They don’t respect me.” Maybe they do respect you but just don’t have the same passion for when dishes get washed, bills get paid, or floors get vacuumed. They could just as easily say you don’t respect their way of doing things.
  • “If they don’t load the dishwasher right I’ll leave!” That’s why divorce attorneys call marriage a three ring circus–engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
  • “Reasoning hasn’t worked. Time to explode!” Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • “I’ll fight fire with fire! If they don’t take out the trash, I won’t talk!” Welcome to the walled off marriage. Hard to be close to someone you punish with silence.
  • “Any request my partner makes is an attempt to control me.” Really? Where did you learn that? From a demanding parent, grandparent, or ex?
  • “Differences are not allowed in this relationship!” Um, oneness does not mean sameness.

Click here Managing Marital Irritations.1 for a free book, Managing Marital Irritations. (This book contains Bible references).

Annoyances in Marriage, Part 2

annoying-203x300 Two brave souls, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, did a scientific study of things that are annoying. They published their results in a book aptly titled, Annoying. They say a thing is annoying when it’s unpleasant, repetitious, and we don’t know when it’ll end. Think of hearing half a phone conversation, something they call halfalog (as opposed to dialog or monologue). It’s unpleasant because we don’t know what the other caller is saying, it’s repetitious because we hear a voice then silence then a voice then silence over and over, and every second the conversation continues past our tolerance level the more our agitation grows. The same goes for pesky mosquitoes, nails scraped on a black board, texting at the dinner table, snapping gum, knuckle cracking, pop-up ads, and someone clipping their nails in public. I read this book with fascination since I love doing two things: helping individuals deal with their partner’s annoying habits in healthy ways, and helping individuals eliminate their own annoying habits. With wit and humor the authors describe why spouses have a low tolerance for each other’s annoying behaviors but a high tolerance for the annoying behaviors of others–we can get away from others but we’re stuck with our spouses! Also, in public we know life is hard but at home we expect a comfortable environment with agreeable people! How do we protect ourselves from disillusionment and the annoyances we called in our last blog post, surprising reversals?

  1. Remember every good trait has its inherent down side; there can be too much of a good thing. Life wouldn’t be so difficult if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.
  2. Remember that a growing irritation might reflect our diminishing tolerance level more then our partner’s increasing irritations. Are they more irritating or are we more irritable?
  3. If our partner’s irritating mannerism occurs only occasionally, try to ignore it.
  4. Be mindful of our own irritating mannerisms and be willing to reduce their frequency. Reciprocating irritations escalate in a negative feedback loop. Decreasing irritations by one party can trigger decreasing irritations in the other.
  5. Seek equity. Make sure there is fairness in the amount of love each gives and gets in the relationship. If you get more love and your partner gets less, they’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Increase your deposits into their emotional love bank (be kind, generous, thoughtful) and decrease your withdrawals from their love bank (reduce the frequency of your irritating mannerisms). The old saying, “Love covers a multitude of sins” has merit. A full love bank can stand a few withdrawals. An empty love bank can’t handle overdrafts.
  6. If you get less love in the relationship and your partner gets more, you’ll be unhappy and easily irritated. Solution? Ask them to give more. If after several sincere and calm requests that doesn’t work, you’ve got some hard choices to make–separate bedrooms, separate vacations, separate lives?
  7. Accept your partner, irritations and all. Wanting a perfect spouse is like wanting see-saws that only to go up.
  8. Become boring. Some passive-aggressive spouses love to push buttons because they want revenge, drama, or entertainment. If you don’t want your partner to get your goat don’t let ’em know where it’s tied up. Wear an invisible Teflon coating. Become a duck and let the irritations roll right off. Be as impervious to their annoyances as a wind up alarm clock is in an electrical storm.

Next blog post: more tips and insights for Managing Marital Irritations (plus a free book).