CONFESSIONS OF A CLING-ON If a man is walking in a forest and makes a statement, but there is no woman around to hear it, is he still wrong? Or if a woman is walking in the forest and asks for something, and there is no man around to hear her, is she still needy? These Zen koans capture some of the frustrations people have with the opposite gender. And where is the dividing line between someone simply having a need, and someone being a needy person? Is it written in heaven somewhere what is too much need, too little need and just right amount of need for the “normal person?” Ask pop radio psychologists Dr. Laura, or Sally Jessie Rafael, or any number of experts who claim to know for sure, and you’ll get some very different answers. And isn’t it fun to see the new sophisticated ways our advanced culture is developing to make each other wrong? You better keep up with the latest technical terminology or you will be at the mercy of those who do. Whoever has read the latest most recent self-help book has the clear advantage. Example: Man: “Get real, would you! Your Venusian codependency has got you trapped in your learned helpless victim act, and indulging in your empowerment phobia again.” Woman: “When you call me codependent, I feel (notice the political correctness of the feeling word) that you are simply projecting your own disowned, unintegrated, emotionally unavailable Martian counterdependency to protect your inner ADD two year old from ever having to grow up. So there!” Speaking of diagnosis, remember the codependent. Worrying about codependency was like a virus that everyone had from about 1988 to 1994. Here’s a prayer to commemorate the codependent: The Codependent’s Prayer by Kelly Bryson Our Authority, which art in others, self-abandonment be thy name. Codependency comes when others’ will is done, At home, as it is in the workplace. give us this day our daily crumbs of love. And give us a sense of indebtedness, As we try to get others to feel indebted to us. And lead us not into freedom, but deliver us from awareness. For thine is the slavery and the weakness and the dependency, For ever and ever. Amen.
and self-responsibility can only occur where the child is surrounded with moral behavior and allowed to grow her own understanding of the ideals of integrity, interdependence and interconnectedness. He put it this way, “Moral autonomy appears when the mind regards as necessary an ideal that is independent of all external pressure.” But this moral autonomy is not supported in our topsy-turvy school and family systems where respect for authority actually means fear of authority. Where there is fear there cannot be respect. Although a child may envy or fear the power a parent or teacher wields over them, their feelings do not include the sacred, essential quality of loving reverence which makes respect, respect. It is akin to the battered dependent wife saying she loves and respects her abuser, when her daily experience is fear. Jerry Jampolsky, author and founder of the Center for Attitudinal Healing, reminds us that it is fear, not hate, that is love’s opposite. If, however, a truly educational atmosphere is created based on respect for autonomy instead of intimidating indoctrination, children can then deeply understand that rules are needed to maintain the social order, and do not have to be obeyed out of a blind acquiescence to authority, but are followed on the bases of mutual agreement. At the same time, the needs of the individual are protected and respected. Nice “Guise”and Gals It is at this Stage Six—Universal Ethical
Anyone want to help me start PAPA, Parents for Alternatives to Punishment Association? (There is already a group in England called ‘EPPOCH’ for end physical punishment of children.) In Kohn’s other great book Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, he explains how all punishments, even the sneaky, repackaged, “nice” punishments called logical or natural consequences, destroy any respectful, loving relationship between adult and child and impede the process of ethical development. (Need I mention Enron, Martha Stewart, the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal or certain car repairmen?) Any type of coercion, whether it is the seduction of rewards or the humiliation of punishment, creates a tear in the fabric of relational connection between adults and children. Then adults become simply dispensers of goodies and authoritarian dispensers of controlling punishments. The atmosphere of fear and scarcity grows as the sense of connectedness that fosters true and generous cooperation, giving from the heart, withers. Using punishments and rewards is like drinking salt water. It does create a short-term relief, but long-term it makes matters worse. This desert of emotional connectedness is fertile ground for acting-out to get attention. Punishment is a use of force, in the negative sense of that word, not an expression of true power or strength. David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. author of the book Power v. Force writes “force is the universal substitute for truth. The need to control others stems from lack of power, just as vanity stems from lack of self-esteem. Punishment is a form of violence, an ineffective substitute for power. Sadly though parents are afraid not to hit and punish their children for fear they will turn out to be bank robbers. But the truth may well be the opposite. Research shows that virtually all felony offenders were harshly punished as children. Besides children learn thru modeling. Punishment models the tactic of deliberately creating pain for another to get something you want to happen. Punishment does not teach children to care about how their actions might create pain for another, it teaches them it is ok to create pain for another if you have the power to get away with it. Basically might makes right. Punishment gets children to focus on themselves and what is happening to them instead of developing empathy for how their behavior affects another. Creating
ourselves with is an opportunity to create the cultural climate that we want. We can create a climate of compassion or one of fear, depending on what we do with our mistakes and our judgments of ourselves and others. Because I wanted to create a climate of compassion in the microcosm of my couplehood, I hunted in my memory for the tools with which to accomplish this. I remembered what Dr. Marshall Rosenberg said: “All judgments are the tragic expressions of pain and unmet needs.” Perhaps this might even apply to my oh so right, sophisticated, clinical judgments? So I started to look for the pain in my body. Oh, there it is! Outrage! And what is the universal human need underneath the outrage? The need for respect, gentleness and safety. What else is in there?—because I know that anger never comes alone. There is always hurt or fear or something under it. Now I can feel it: Devastating hurt. A need for reassurance that I am valued. -§ I may be the detonator but I am never the dynamite. I may be the trigger for another’s pain but the cause is their unmet needs. -§ As I lay there giving myself empathy, (i.e. paying attention to, and feeling into, what my reaction was all about) I start to feel a relieving shift in my body. The shift came as I allowed my awareness of my feelings to lead me into a reconnection with the life force within me. As soon as I am fully in touch with my true need, like the need to feel valued, I immediately feel the beautiful strength of it. (This is much different than staying up in my head meditating on images of the ‘lack’ or the hunger to feel valued. This only produces more fear and pain.) I began to wonder if my friend was experiencing the same thing—hurt, and the need for reassurance that she is valued. I know that if I had tried to play lifeguard earlier, attempting to save her from drowning in her distress, it would have been a double drowning. I know that the undertow of my own unconscious reactions from my unhealed past would have prevented me from really being present. I had been drowning and needed to get myself to shore first before trying to throw her a line. Or as a wise man from the Middle East once said, -§ When I am in pain I want to wait till I am clear what I want back from you before I speak. -§ “Get the dirt out of your eye first, so you can see clearly to help someone else do the same.” After giving myself empathy, I was moved by compassion to go to my friend and see if I could offer her the understanding that would restore our connection. I am glad that I waited until my desire to connect with her came from my need to understand and reconnect, instead of from fear of abandonment, or guilt about abandoning her. I am glad I remembered the first commandment of nurturing relationships: Me first and only. I waited until my giving came simply from my heart, without any fear, shame, or guilt. Once this shift happens, the energy I give from is the same joy and innocence a child has when it feeds bread to a hungry duck. “When I heard you call me a jackass a while ago, were you feeling angry and hurt because you were needing reassurance that your need to be heard mattered?” Her eyes started to fill with tears and a faint outline of a smile started to creep across her lips as she said “It’s about time, jackass.” “Yes, I’m guessing that was painful for you, and you would have liked this quality of listening earlier.” I said. “Yes” she said, the tears now flowing freely. “But I am also relieved that you waited till you were really in a position to do so instead of trying to give me empathy
a. From one of the other parents: “Don’t try to manipulate us with those phony crocodile tears!” My response (hopefully): “So you don’t trust my sincerity?” b. From a big burly man: “Oh God, give it up!” My response: “Sounds like you are disgusted with the show of emotion and would prefer we all discuss this practically and logically?” c. From a psychologist in the group: “You are just a little out of control, aren’t you?” My response: “Are you concerned about straying from the agenda for the meeting? The psychologist’s response to the above: “Yes, you are monopolizing the meeting.” My response: “So you would like others to get equal time to speak? Yes, I am willing to give up the floor now.” (Or, “I would like to make two more points if that’s okay with the group.”) Ways to Feed Your Attention Hog Honoring and owning your Attention Hog is a learned habit and skill. It must become a conscious and willful act in order to counter the cultural training we have received to pretend we do not want the attention. You will also be honoring others’ needs to have their attention and appreciation received fully and gracefully. 1. When you are talking with someone and there is a radio or TV playing in the background, ask that it be turned off and not just down. 2. Ask groups to hear you play a new song you have learned. 3. Ask groups to listen to you read or recite poetry or prose. 4. Ask to be on TV or radio. 5. Submit articles for publication in magazines, newspapers or ezines. 6. When speaking to a group, and people are talking in the background, say “My attention hog would like everyone’s attention please.” 7. When you are not getting the eye contact you would like from someone, ask for it. 8. If you want someone to call you more often, tell them specifically how often you would like to be called. 9. If you are not getting the recognition you want at work, ask your boss to write down a number of things that he sees you contributing to the business. 10. When receiving the applause of a group, take it in. Stand there looking at them until the entire wave of appreciation has passed. Chapter FILLING THE HOLE IN THE SOUL I used to think that the need for approval was a misunderstood
Negotiating Needs From a Group Many of us live much of our lives engaged, in various ways, with all sorts of groups: families, work groups, organizations, churches and social settings. We need to develop skills for negotiating our needs in relation to such groups. Because we were never taught how to powerfully and non-violently assert and negotiate our needs in a group, many of us either become resentful, suppressed sheep, or raging bulls running roughshod over others. We either “bowl over” or “roll over” in relation to others. We “bowl over” others out of the fear that we will not otherwise get what we want. Or we “roll over” out of hopelessness, feeling that we will never be able to get what we need. It can be scary to ask for attention from a group because so often the group members are afraid to express their true feelings about your request. And most of us understand that when true negative feelings are withheld there will be some sort of consequence. In a group the consequence is frequently shunning. (In every case of school shootings of which I am aware, the perpetrator was being shunned by most of the other students.) Here are some tips to help you negotiate in groups: 1. Practice presenting your requests for attention from a group confidently, so others can sense you will not be crushed if there is an objection. 2. If you are scared when you are asking the group for something, be sure to say so. If you do not, it may be perceived as aggressive, because unexpressed fear often gets perceived as aggression. 3. Be sure to give others time and space to check within themselves how they really feel about your request. 4. Be ready to empathize with whatever the objection is. Don’t get hung up on the content of their response. Instead, hear the feelings and needs behind the content. For example: You: “I would like to share a story. Is that okay with everyone?” Group Member: “No.” You: “Is that because you would like reassurance that it would take less than five minutes?” Group Member: “No, it is because we have not made the decision yet about when our next meeting will be.” You: “Thanks for telling me. I would be happy to wait until after that decision is made. Would that work for everyone?” 5. As in the example, after empathizing with the group member’s response be prepared to check back within yourself to see if you have shifted. Have you changed your mind about what you requested? If not, either stay with the dialogue, or allow a solution to emerge that meets both your needs and the group’s needs. Notice that in the example, the solution suggested is synergistic and would meet both your need to tell the story and the group member’s need for the meeting time decision to be made. 6. Be careful not to give in or give up after empathizing with the other’s objection. If you do give “in” or “up” on what you want, you will resent the group for seeming to oppress you, and you will likely withdraw your participation. Or you will start gossiping about those that objected to your request and begin to build a splinter faction group that will weaken and sometimes even destroy the group. It is often the “nice” people who are so scared of conflict that do the gossiping that tears the group apart.
-§ But just because we grew up in that kind of a culture does not mean we need to keep creating it in our present relationship. I recommend we ask different questions, like, “How could I make your life more wonderful?” and “Would you like to know how you could make my life more wonderful?” and “What are your needs right now?” and “Would you like to know what I need right now?” Now if none of this appeals to you because you prefer a relation-dinghy to a relationship, here are some suggestion to help you prevent your relation-dinghy from growing into a relationship: 1. Keep your attention focused at all times on who is right or wrong in a discussion, fair or unfair in a negotiation, selfish or unselfish in giving (it helps to keep a list of who has done what for whom), kind or cruel in their tone of voice, rude or polite in their mannerisms, sloppy or neat in their dress, and so on. Be careful not to realize that your attempt to be right is really an attempt to protect yourself from thinking you are wrong and then feeling shame. 2. If you need some support for this I recommend certain selfhelp groups who can give you the latest scoops on the most powerful, politically correct labels with which to overpower and confuse your partner. Members of these groups will collude with you in validating that your partner really is a man or woman who is commitment-phobic, emotionally unavailable, counterdependant, needy, spiritually unevolved, dysfunctional, immature, judgmental, sinful, bi-polar, OCD, clinically depressed, or adult-onset ADD. It is important to keep your consciousness filled with such terminology to prevent any fondness from developing. This also helps in keeping you caught in the “paralysis of analysis” and clueless about what you or your partner are needing from each other. 3. Adopt this test for love: If your partner really loves you, he or she will always know what you want even before you know—and then give it to you without your having to go through the humiliation of actually asking for it. And your partner will do this regardless of the sacrifice it requires. If your partner does not give you what you want, choose to believe it means he or she does not love you. 4. Ask for what you do not want instead of what you do want. I heard of a man who asked his wife to stop spending so much money shopping. She took up gambling on the internet. 5. In case your relationdinghy starts to grow, here are a few torpedoes guaranteed to sink it again: “It hurts me when you say that.” “I feel sad because you…fill in the blank (won’t say ‘I love you,’ or ‘I’m sorry,’ or won’t have sex, or won’t marry me, etc.)” If you really want to choke the life out of any relationship meditate on “I need you.” Then you will know how I felt for about thirtyfive years of my life. I felt like a drowning swimmer and I would grab hold of anyone who came near me and try to use them as a life raft. Now I want relationships to be flowers for my table instead of air for my lungs. When I Come Gently To You by Ruth Bebermeyer When I come gently to you I want you to see It’s not to get myself from you, it’s just to give you me. I know that you can’t give me me, no matter what you do. All I ever want from you is you. I know your fear of fences, your pain from prisons past. I’m not the first to sense it and I’m plainly not the last. The hawk within your heart’s not bound to earth by fence of mine, Unless you aren’t aware that you can fly. When I come gently to you I’d like you to know I come not to trespass your space, I want to touch and grow. When your space and my space meet, each is not less but more. We make our space that wasn’t space before. Chapter HEALING THE BLAME THAT BLINDS
One by one, in a methodical clockwise direction, each person gave their individual reaction to my playing of the song. The first person said he was soothed by the melody, the second that she was inspired by the words. The third person said she had felt touched as it reminded her of someone precious that she loved. And on around it went, each person telling of a different need that was met, or another way he had been touched by my song. Dr. Rosenberg said he had felt inspired because I had mucked up the song a little in one place and had kept playing and finished it. When everyone had shared, strong feelings began to pour into my body and up into my throat. Gratitude and relief? No. Joy? No. Sorrow. Great sorrow, for all the years that I had not been playing. For all the people that could have been touched or inspired, had I given them the chance. For all the attention and connection I could have received but did not. As the sorrow eventually subsided like a passing rainstorm, warm powerful rays of sunny resolution began to radiate in my heart. It was a resolution and a clarity of commitment to myself to “perfect my selfishness.” In a moment, I saw how playing the miserable martyr’s role, sacrificing my passion to avoid disturbing other people, had too high a price. It also ripped other people off, by denying them what I had to give them. I swore then and there that I was not going to do that to me again. I Don’t Want To Do That To Me Again by Ruth Bebermeyer No use wasting life saying that I should have known better. No use wasting time regretting what has been. I just know I felt uneasy and I couldn’t settle down, Like my picture couldn’t fit into that frame. And I don’t, don’t want to do that to me again. No use wishing now that I had not had to learn this way. No use wasting time regretting what has been. I just know I wasn’t easy and I wasn’t who I am, But I guess I had to do it to see plain. And I don’t want to do that to me again. I just want to go on singing the same tune I’m playing. I want my self and my doing all the same. And I want to walk in rhythm to the beat of my own soul. When I’m out of step with me I’m into pain. And I don’t don’t want to do that to me again. The Treasure of Transparency Recently I held a potluck dinner at my house for a group of friends, most of whom had been learning and practicing the techniques of Nonviolent Communication. After we had finished eating, a woman asked if the group would like to hear a story she wrote. At first no one answered, but then a couple of people asked how long the story was and whether the essence of it could just be told to them. Finally an agreement was reached about how the gift of the story could be given so that the group’s needs for connecting with each other and relaxing at the party could also be met. I was struck by how rare it is in this culture for individuals
Chapter FEEDING YOUR ATTENTION HOG I was once at a New Age party and wanted to get the attention of some particularly lovely sari-wearing, belly-dancing women who were floating in and out of the various rooms. I had discovered that I could move past some of my fear and make a connection with people through singing. So I pulled out my guitar and started playing a song I had worked particularly hard to polish, Fleetwood Mac’s “A Crystalline Knowledge of You.” I was able to make it through without too many mistakes and was starting to feel the relief that comes from surviving traumatic experiences. Then one of the belly-dancing goddesses called to me from across the room, “You are some kind of attention hog, aren’t you!” As soon as she said it, my life passed before me. The room started to swirl, as a typhoon of shame began to suck me down the toilet of my soul. “Embarrassment” is an inadequate word, when someone pins the tail on the jackass of what seems to be your most central core defect. I am usually scrupulous about checking with people when I make requests for attention. But this time I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar up to the elbow. I remember slinking away in silent humiliation, putting my guitar back in its case and making a beeline for my car. I just wanted to get back to my lair to lick my wounds, and try to hold my self-hate demons at bay with a little help from my friend Jack Daniels. After that incident I quit playing music in public at all. Several years later I was attending a very intense, emotional workshop with Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Our group of about twenty people had been baring and healing our souls for several days. The atmosphere of trust, safety and connectedness had dissolved my defenses and left me with a innocent, childlike need to contribute. And then the words popped out of my mouth, “I’d like to share a song with you all.” These words were followed by the thought: “Now I’ve gone and done it. When everyone turns on me and confirms that I have an incurable narcissistic personality disorder, it will be fifty years before I sing in public again.” Dr. Rosenberg responded in a cheerful, inviting voice. “Sure, go get your guitar!” he said, as though he were unaware that I was about to commit hara-kiri. The others in the group nodded agreement. I ran to my car to get my guitar, which I kept well hidden in the trunk. I was also hoping that I would not just jump in my car and leave. I brought the guitar in, sat down, and played my song. Sweating and relieved that I made it through the song, my first public performance in years, I felt relief as I packed my guitar in its case. Then Dr. Rosenberg said, “And now I would like to hear from each group member how they felt about Kelly playing his song.” “Oh my God!” my inner jackals began to howl, “It was a setup! They made me expose my most vulnerable part and now they are going to crucify me, or maybe just take me out to the rock quarry for a well-deserved stoning!
Creating “Correct” Children in the Classroom One of the most popular discipline programs in American schools is called Assertive Discipline. It teaches teachers to inflict the old “obey or suffer” method of control on students. Here you disguise the threat of punishment by calling it a choice the child is making. As in, “You have a choice, you can either finish your homework or miss the outing this weekend.” Then when the child chooses to try to protect his dignity against this form of terrorism, by refusing to do his homework, you tell him he has chosen his logical, natural consequence of being excluded from the outing. Putting it this way helps the parent or teacher mitigate against the bad feelings and guilt that would otherwise arise to tell the adult that they are operating outside the principles of compassionate relating. This insidious method is even worse than outand-out punishing, where you can at least rebel against your punisher. The use of this mind game teaches the child the false, crazy-making belief that they wanted something bad or painful to happen to them. These programs also have the stated intention of getting the child to be angry with himself for making a poor choice. In this smoke and mirrors game, the children are “causing” everything to happen and the teachers are the puppets of the children’s choices. The only ones who are not taking responsibility for their actions are the adults. Another popular coercive strategy is to use “peer pressure” to create compliance. For instance, a teacher tells her class that if anyone misbehaves then they all won’t get their pizza party. What a great way to turn children against each other. All this is done to help (translation: compel) children to behave themselves. But of course they are not behaving themselves: they are being “behaved” by the adults. Well-meaning teachers and parents try to teach children to be motivated (translation: do boring or aversive stuff without questioning why), responsible (translation: thoughtless conformity to the house rules) people. When surveys are conducted in which fourth-graders are asked what being good means, over 90% answer “being quiet.” And when teachers are asked what happens in a successful classroom, the answer is, “the teacher is able to keep the students on task” (translation: in line, doing what they are told). Consulting firms measuring teacher competence consider this a major criterion of teacher effectiveness. In other words if the students are quietly doing what they were told the teacher is evaluated as good. However my understanding of ‘real learning’ with twenty to forty children is that it is quite naturally a bit noisy and messy. Otherwise children are just playing a nice game of school, based on indoctrination and little integrated retained education. Both punishments and rewards foster a preoccupation with a narrow egocentric self-interest that undermines good values. All little Johnny is thinking about is “How much will you give me if I do X? How can I avoid getting punished if I do Y? What do they want me to do and what happens to me if I don’t do it?” Instead we could teach him to ask, “What kind of person do I want to be and what kind of community do I want to help make?” And Mom is thinking “You didn’t do what I wanted, so now I’m going to make something unpleasant happen to you, for your own good to help you fit into our (dominance/submission based) society.” This contributes to a culture of coercion and prevents a community of compassion. And as we are learning on the global level with our war on terrorism, as you use your energy and resources to punish people you run out of energy and resources to protect people. And even if children look well-behaved, they are not behaving themselves They are being behaved by controlling parents and teachers. Dr. Piaget confirmed that true moral development
ever. Amen. Thank God for self-help books. No wonder the business is booming. It reminds me of junior high school, where everybody was afraid of the really cool kids because they knew the latest, most potent putdowns, and were not afraid to use them. Dah! But there must be another reason that one of the best-selling books in the history of the world is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray. Could it be that our culture is oh so eager for a quick fix? What a relief it must be for some people to think “Oh, that’s why we fight like cats and dogs, it is because he’s from Mars and I am from Venus. I thought it was just because we’re messed up in the head.” Can you imagine Calvin Consumer’s excitement and relief to get the video on “The Secret to her Sexual Satisfaction” with Dr. GraySpot, a picture chart, a big pointer, and an X marking the spot. Could that “G” be for “giggle” rather than Dr. “Graffenberg?” Perhaps we are always looking for the secret, the gold mine, the G-spot because we are afraid of the real G-word: Growth—and the energy it requires of us. I am worried that just becoming more educated or well-read is chopping at the leaves of ignorance but is not cutting at the roots. Take my own example: I used to be a lowly busboy at 12 East Restaurant in Florida. One Christmas Eve the manager fired me for eating on the job. As I slunk away I muttered under my breath, “Scrooge!” Years later, after obtaining a Masters Degree in Psychology and getting a California license to practice psychotherapy, I was fired by the clinical director of a psychiatric institute for being unorthodox. This time I knew just what to say. This time I was much more assertive and articulate. As I left I told the director “You obviously have a narcissistic pseudo-neurotic paranoia of anything that does not fit your myopic Procrustean paradigm.” Thank God for higher education. No wonder colleges are packed. What if there was a language designed not to put down or control each other, but nurture and release each other to grow? What if you could develop a consciousness of expressing your feelings and needs fully and completely without having any intention of blaming, attacking, intimidating, begging, punishing, coercing or disrespecting the other person? What if there was a language that kept us focused in the present, and prevented us from speaking like moralistic mini-gods? There is: The name of one such language is Nonviolent Communication. Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication provides a wealth of simple principles and effective techniques to maintain a laser focus on the human heart and innocent child within the other person, even when they have lost contact with that part of themselves. You know how it is when you are hurt or scared: suddenly you become cold and critical, or aloof and analytical. Would it not be wonderful if someone could see through the mask, and warmly meet your need for understanding or reassurance? What I am presenting are some tools for staying locked onto the other person’s humanness, even when they have become an alien monster. Remember that episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk was turned into a Klingon, and Bones was freaking out? (I felt sorry for Bones because I’ve had friends turn into Cling-ons too.) But then Spock, in his cool, Vulcan way, performed a mind meld to determine that James T. Kirk was trapped inside the alien form. And finally Scotty was able to put some dilithium crystals into his phaser and destroy the alien cloaking device, freeing the captain from his Klingon form. Oh, how I wish that, in my youth or childhood,
Chapter DO YOU WANT TO BE RIGHT, OR HAVE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS? “Jackass!” she says like a champion dart thrower, throwing a bullseye. Then all in one motion, she turns on her heel and storms out of the room. Suddenly I feel like a hit-and-run victim. Shock waves of shame shoot through me as the mushroom cloud of my worthlessness rises inside of me. My female friend had just announced, with irritation and volume, “I want to talk to you right now!” And I, wanting to practice some newly learned communication skills answered, “You know, that tone triggers a lot of fear for me so I want to just continue to lie here looking at the ceiling.” How could my sweet, childlike honesty trigger such a verbally vile response? I was still lying down on my bed looking up, so I decided to project the “inner critic show” going on in my head onto the ceiling. The first character on stage was my original coping mechanism, my Neurotic, who blames himself whenever there is conflict. “Look at you, you are pathetic. You cannot even be there for your friend in her hour of need. And you call yourself a teacher of Nonviolent Communication.” As I started to put the shattered pieces of my ego back together, the roar of righteous indignation rose in my belly. Enter the character of my Character Disorder, who has graduated to blaming others whenever there is conflict. “Who the hell does she think she is? I’m not putting up with this rude, verbally abusive, boundary invading perpetrator behavior!” It was of some relief to have my inner critic focus on someone else for a moment. Then my education pays off as my Therapist Complex offers the final analysis, “She is obviously suffering from a pseudo-narcissistic personality disorder with paranoid borderline tendencies.” As I lay there reveling in the safety of my righteous rage it occurred to me that I was totally caught up in defensiveness. “What am I defending myself from?” I asked myself. “What is so scary?” The answer I discovered is that what is scary is the idea that “I may be in the wrong!” And my Belief System (BS for short) says that if I am wrong, I am a worthless piece of dirt, and therefore I deserve to feel the excruciating pain of shame that comes with this thought. My BS also tells me I deserve to be shunned and isolated from the rest of humanity, including my loved ones. No wonder people fight so fiercely to appear to be “right.” I believe that the bankrupt strategy of striving to be always right is a way to try to create a sense of safety, socially and psychologically. You might say this obsession with being right is a fear-based drive to protect us from appearing to be “wrong.” In a culture based on punishments and rewards, it is scary to ever be wrong for fear of various forms of punishment, like shunning, withdrawal of love, physical attack like corporal punishment, withholding of rewards, and other kinds of sanctions. Every experience of being wrong becomes psychologically associated with all the pains of punishments past. Most people in a “right/wrong” culture like ours are ever vigilant to protect from being cast as one of the wrong, bad people who are to be avoided, attacked, excluded, punished, blamed, and generally made into the scapegoats for the culture. This atmosphere of fear snowballs as people learn to quickly “find someone to blame,” rather than taking responsibility for their actions and learning from them. (Nurses have told me of thousands of horror stories about how this policy of ‘cover your rear’ perpetuates the same mistakes causing irreversible damage and death in hospitals.) In other cultures making mistakes or “being wrong” about something is seen as an opportunity for growing closer through forgiveness and for learning something more. Do you want to be right or have meaningful relationships? You cannot have both! Every situation, every relationship and every group we associate
the only thing the hero knows about the girl is that she is beautiful. He shows no interest in her intellect or personality—or even her sexuality. The man is either a ruler or has the magic power to awaken her, and all she can do is hope that her physical appearance fits the specifications better than the other girls. In the original Cinderella story, the stepsisters actually cut off parts of their feet to try to fit into the glass slipper. Maybe this marks the origins of the first cosmetic surgery. Besides romanticizing Cinderella’s misery, the story also gives the message that women’s relationships with each other are full of bitter competition and animosity. The adult voice of womanly wisdom in the story, the stepmother, advises all her girls to frantically do whatever it takes to please the prince. This includes groveling, cutting off parts of themselves, and staying powerless. I was heartsick to watch Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” with my three-year-old daughter. The little mermaid agrees to give up her voice for a chance to go up on the “surface” and convince her nobleman to marry her. She is told by her local matron sea witch that she doesn’t need a voice—she needs only to look cute and get him to kiss her. And in the story, it works. These are the means to her one and only end: to buy a rich and respected guy. Women are taught to only listen to an outside patriarchal authority. No wonder there is so much self-doubt and confusion when faced with the question, “What do you want out of your life?” This question alone can be enough to trigger an episode of depression. It often triggers a game of Ping-Pong in a woman’s head. Her imagination throws up a possibility and then her pessimistic shotgun mind shoots it down. The dialog may look something like this: “Maybe I want to go back to school.... No, that would be selfish of me because the kids need me…. Maybe I’ll start a business.... No I hate all that dogeat-dog competition…. Maybe I’ll look for a love relationship…. No, I am not sure I am healed ye….” and on it goes.
to be open and straightforward about their needs for attention in a social setting. It is equally rare for members of a group in American culture to honestly and openly express needs that might be in conflict with that individual’s needs. This value of not just honestly but also openly fully revealing the true feelings and needs present in the group is vital for it’s members to feel emotional safe. It is also vital to keeping the group energy up and for giving the feedback that allows it’s members to know themselves, where they stand in relation to others and for spiritual/psychological growth. Usually group members will simply not object to an individual’s request to take the floor—but then act out in a passive-aggressive manner, by making noise or jokes, or looking at their watches. Sometimes they will take the even more violent and insidious action of going brain-dead while pasting a jack-o’-lantern smile on their faces. Often when someone asks to read something or play a song in a social setting, the response is a polite, lifeless “That would be nice.” In this case, N.I.C.E. means “No Integrity or Congruence Expressed” or “Not Into Communicating Emotion.” So while the sharer is exposing his or her vulnerable creation, others are talking, whispering to each other, or sitting looking like they are waiting for the dental assistant to tell them to come on back. No wonder it’s so scary to ask for people’s attention. In “nice” cultures, you are probably not going to get a straight, open answer. People let themselves be oppressed by someone’s request—and then blame that someone for not being psychic enough to know that “Yes” meant “No.” When were we ever taught to negotiate our needs in relation to a group of people? In a classroom? Never! The teacher is expected to take all the responsibility for controlling who gets heard, about what, and for how long. There is no real opportunity to learn how to nonviolently negotiate for the floor. The only way I was able to pirate away a little of the group’s attention in the school I attended was through adolescent antics like making myself fart to get a few giggles, or asking the teacher questions like, “Why do they call them hemorrhoids and not asteroids?” or “If a number two pencil is so popular, why is it still number two,” or “What is another word for thesaurus?” Some educational psychologists say that western culture schools are designed to socialize children into what is really a caste system disguised as a democracy. And in once sense it is probably good preparation for the lack of true democratic dynamics in our culture’s daily living. I can remember several bosses in my past reminding me “This is not a democracy, this is a job.” I remember many experiences in social groups, church groups, and volunteer organizations in which the person with the loudest voice, most shaming language, or outstanding skills for guilting others, controlled the direction of the group. Other times the pain and chaos of the group discussion becomes so great that people start begging for a tyrant to take charge. Many times people become so frustrated, confused and anxious that they would prefer the order that oppression brings to the struggle that goes on in groups without “democracy skills.” I have much different experiences in groups I work with in Europe and in certain intentional communities such as the Lost Valley Educational Center in Eugene, Oregon, where the majority of people have learned “democracy skills.” I can not remember one job, school, church group, volunteer organization or town meeting in mainstream America where “democracy skills” were taught or practiced.
and confused if someone does not appreciate their niceness. Others often sense this and avoid giving them feedback not only, effectively blocking the nice person’s emotional growth, but preventing risks from being taken. You never know with a nice person if the relationship would survive a conflict or angry confrontation. This greatly limits the depths of intimacy. And would you really trust a nice person to back you up if confrontation were needed? 3. With nice people you never know where you really stand. The nice person allows others to accidentally oppress him. The “nice” person might be resenting you just for talking to him, because really he is needing to pee. But instead of saying so he stands there nodding and smiling, with legs tightly crossed, pretending to listen. 4. Often people in relationship with nice people turn their irritation toward themselves, because they are puzzled as to how they could be so upset with someone so nice. In intimate relationships this leads to guilt, self-hate and depression. 5. Nice people frequently keep all their anger inside until they find a safe place to dump it. This might be by screaming at a child, blowing up a federal building, or hitting a helpless, dependent mate. (Timothy McVeigh, executed for the Oklahoma City bombing, was described by acquaintances as a very, very nice guy, one who would give you the shirt off his back.) Success in keeping the anger in will often manifest as psychosomatic illnesses, including arthritis, ulcers, back problems, and heart disease. Proper Peachy Parents In my work as a psychotherapist, I have found that those who had peachy keen “Nice Parents” or proper “Rigidly Religious Parents” (as opposed to spiritual parents), are often the most stuck in chronic, lowgrade depression. They have a difficult time accessing or expressing any negative feelings towards their parents. They sometimes say to me “After all my parents did for me, seldom saying a harsh word to me, I would feel terribly guilty complaining. Besides, it would break their hearts.” Psychologist Rollo May suggested that it is less crazy-making to a child to cope with overt withdrawal or harshness than to try to understand the facade of the always-nice parent. When everyone agrees that your parents are so nice and giving, and you still feel dissatisfied, then a child may conclude that there must be something wrong with his or her ability to receive love. -§ Emotionally starving children are easier to control, well fed children don’t need to be. -§ I remember a family of fundamentalists who came to my office to help little Matthew with his anger problem. The parents wanted me to teach little Matthew how to “express his anger nicely.” Now if that is not a formula making someone crazy I do not know what would be. Another woman told me that after her stinking drunk husband tore the house up after a Christmas party, breaking most of the dishes in the kitchen, she meekly told him, “Dear, I think you need a breath mint.” Many families I work with go through great anxiety around the holidays because they are going to be forced to be with each other and are scared of resuming their covert war. They are scared that they might not keep the nice garbage can lid on, and all the rotting resentments and hopeless hurts will be exposed. In the words to the following song, artist David Wilcox explains to his parents why he will not be coming home this Thanksgiving: Covert War by David Wilcox