APSGO Parenting Blog

(Notes from the Youth Group on Connecting/Disconnecting)

We talk about connecting and disconnecting behaviour in terms of relationships – with ourselves or with others. Fair enough. But what if you don’t like the other person? What if you don’t want anything to do with them? Then what?

In the workshops, we’ve been working with the idea that, when we get frustrated, we try to satisfy our need for power by trying to control everybody around us. When we’re unsuccessful (and we usually are), that leads to more frustration, which leads to escalating our attempts to control others, which leads to more frustration… You see where this is going. Our own behaviour becomes the source of our frustration.

We believe that we use disconnecting behaviour when we’re frustrated. But what if the reverse is true?
What if we’re frustrated because we use disconnecting behaviour?

I think of this now as the cart-before-the-horse syndrome: We claim our frustration causes our behaviour − but what if our behaviour causes our frustration? We believe the frustration comes first − but what if it comes second?

Most people will deny that their behaviour is the cause of their frustration, but I’ve seen it borne out time and time again in these workshops – if not in the doing, then certainly in the thinking!

The assignment last month was to refrain from using disconnecting habits for a week – in thought, word and deed. Tina returned the following week, glowing and beaming and lit from within, and said, “I can tell you now that when you assigned that as homework, I thought, ‘Wow. What will I say? What will I talk about?’ Things were pretty quiet! But then, as I started paying more attention and getting into it, I started feeling pretty good. After a few days, I was really, really happy. And I realized my partner is just the same as he’s always been, and the only person making my life miserable in my relationship with him was – ME!”

She laughs now to recognize that when she did these groups last year, she “realized” she was fine just the way she was, and only had to wait for everyone else to “get it” and change! And now she’s ready to start taking over the teen groups. There’s nothing else I can teach her.

Justin asked, “So about complaining? What if I’m not complaining to anyone? What if I’m just complaining in general to myself? See, this past week, I came home, and the house was a mess. I asked my roommates to give me a hand cleaning up, but they weren’t interested, so I went ahead and did it myself. But I was bitching and complaining all the way through. By the time I was done, the house was clean, but I felt miserable. I wonder what would have happened if I just cleaned instead of
complaining…”

He tried it out the following week, with great results. “The kitchen was a mess, and I wanted to cook dinner, so I started cleaning – and I started complaining. I caught myself doing it, so I said, ‘Look, I’m cleaning up so I can feel better – but if I keep complaining, I’m going to feel worse. So I won’t complain just this once and see what happens.’ And by the time I was done, the kitchen was clean and I was happy!” I’ve started thinking about these behaviours in terms of the need for power (because that’s what they’re about), and I break it down like this:

Power
power over power with
(attempted) control over others control over self
controlling accepting
competitive co-operative
behaviours that feel bad behaviours that feel good
win-lose win-win
I’m right, you’re wrong I’m right – and so are you
The teens agreed that “control over self” can be just as problematic as control over
others, though, depending on the language. We would never put up with a “friend”
who abused us the way we abuse ourselves!
Then we looked at “behaviour that feels bad” and further subdivided them:

I’m rightI’m wrong
Anger Guilt
RageShame
Righteous indignationEmbarrassment

Since feeling right is so compelling, we often choose anger over guilt. “If I don’t jump in and rescue my teen, I’ll feel guilty (wrong). So instead I’ll go pick him up and rage at him all the way home (right).”

Here’s the catch: Even though we know these behaviours are destructive to our relationships, and even though we may understand that these behaviours are harmful to us and make us miserable and unhappy, we will likely continue to use them.

Why?

Because tied up with our need for power and our insistence on using these behaviours is our belief that we’re right. And we believe we should use them, that we’re right to use them. And when being right becomes more important than being happy… Well, how many of us have gone down that road? There’s nothing wrong with being right – but not at someone else’s expense. But there’s a difference between feeling right/asserting that we’re right and being right/getting it right.

Expanded Behaviours That Feel Bad

  • Criticizing
  • Blaming
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribing, rewarding to control
  • Guilting
  • Advising
  • Judging
  • Manipulating
  • Coercing
  • Reminding
  • Lecturing
  • Correcting, “setting straight”
  • Ignoring
  • Shaming
  • Bullying
  • Should’ing
  • “Silent treatment”
  • Rolling eyes
  • Embarrassing
  • Crying
  • Sulking / moping
  • Mocking / making fun of
  • Teasing
  • Being sarcastic / making snide comments
  • Smiling with knife behind back (insincerity)
  • Lying
  • Insisting , demanding, ordering
  • Belittling, patronizing, condescending
  • Yelling
  • Withdrawing
  • Being indifferent or unresponsive
  • Minimizing, diminishing
  • Giving (inappropriate) permission
  • Getting in the middle
  • Taking sides
  • Rallying support / getting agreement from others (gossip, complaining)
  • Defending / Justifying / Explaining
  • Making excuses
  • Expecting of others
  • Walking out / walking away

Synopsis

Being of good character feels good. Exerting power over what we think and do feels great! It’s very satisfying. If we want what we want because we believe that getting it will feel good, then wanting to be of good character is a perfect thing to want, because nothing and no one can prevent us from achieving it. Every behaviour related to feeling good has to do with developing character.

We build character despite what’s going on around us, not because of it. We don’t use behaviours that feel bad because we’re frustrated; we’re frustrated because we use behaviours that feel bad.

This is what gets in the way of feeling good:

  • I’m right. (The very worst is righteous indignation and moral authority.)
  • I’m more important.
  • We can use behaviours that feel good because they feel good to others.
  • We can use behaviours that feel good because they’re good for our relationships.
  • But most importantly, we can use behaviours that feel good just because they feel good to us!
  • Sometimes we use behaviours that feel good to try to control others. We’re not using them for the good feeling they generate, but so we can get something back: love, appreciation, recognition, praise, etc. “I’m nice to you – so you should be nice to me!”
  • This is the realm of expectation, of obligation, of feeling owed, deserving, entitled.
  • We are fairly even-handed in doling out behaviours that feel bad. We target ourselves as readily as others. The problem, then, is not that we don’t love our neighbours as ourselves – but that we do!
  • We’re all willing to be the best human beings we can possibly be − kind, loving, genuine, compassionate and generous – just as soon as everyone else is. I’m ready – but you go first!
  • When you’re unkind to me, it’s uncalled for. You should be nice to me whether I deserve it or not. But when I’m unkind to you, it’s always warranted. I’ll be nice to you if and when I think you deserve it.

The only way to gain the respect of others:

  1. Respect yourself.
  2. Respect others.

Glasser’s comments (from a marriage DVD)
Go home and tell your spouse, “I’ve been thinking this over, and I won’t be nagging, criticizing or complaining any more.”
The spouse responds, “Oh. So now I guess you expect me to do the same.”
You reply, “You can choose to do this if you want. But no matter what you choose, this is what I’ll be doing from now on.”

Bill: “Be kind. Don’t say things that are hurtful.”
Carleen: “Even when you know you’re right?”
Bill: “Especially when you know you’re right!”

By Sue Kranz

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