Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Well, I’m delighted to report that my son completed all his exams last week – and is confident that he did well. Recognizing his ability to respond to the challenge, he did everything within his power to make the most of the situation, staying calm and able to think as clearly as possible in a highly pressured situation. So, regardless of what happens next (the results are published in a couple of weeks) the fact remains that he’s done his very best, and it’s over.
Which is why, this week, I decided to expand on the subject of blame and responsibility. There’s a huge difference between thinking in those two opposing terms. There’s also, of course, a huge difference when people choose to use those kinds of behaviour – with a sociopath of course, the blame is always placed on another person. There is always some reason why the job fell through, why their last relationship was so difficult, why they need to borrow money or whatever else may have happened to justify their murky past. And when it all blows up, of course, well who is to blame? Their trusting, loving partner of course… us, and all those like us!
So the way in which they use the power of responsibility and blame, is not healthy – it’s deliberately manipulative. It works so well because mastery in recognizing and harnessing the difference is such a powerful tool. The fact is, though, most of us have no reason to learn these kind of communication skills. Most of us go through life with the basic understanding that if we “do as you would be done by” then all will be well. Which accounts for why, in my opinion, any encounter with a manipulative or abusive person comes as such a shock to the system. And why we automatically ask ourselves the “where did I go wrong?” type of questions.
Communication Is Key
In business, however, particularly in managerial levels, it is very important that people have a more thorough appreciation about the impact their communication can have on others. This, as you know, is the arena where I have chosen to work in my professional career. Communication, self-responsibility, motivation and personal development skills have all been practiced, taught, and practiced again over the years. Indeed, it was living by so many of those skills I have taught that helped me survive and heal from my own situation.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been countless times when all those practiced abilities went out of the window, as yet another boulder crashed in to me. Many times it was all I could do just to make it through to the next minute – let alone to the end of the day. Thoughts of anything more than that were just too much to handle. So in those times I would just let myself be, slowly learning how to be gentle on myself while my shattered emotions began to heal. And that process alone, of course, taught me more lessons; adding, not detracting, from everything I’d learned before. But those are stories for another day.
So, OK then, what am I talking about when I say shifting the blame…? Well, this is based on some of the training I use within groups. This particular subject is the notion that we can consciously choose the way we approach a situation. Specifically, whether we decide to think about a situation in terms of blame, or in terms of responsibility. I am not talking about the kind of ‘blame’ that all of us here will have experienced. Nor am I talking about the kind of ‘responsibility’ that we may well have thought we should have been feeling when faced with those kind of accusations. You know the sort of accusations I mean? The ones that go along the lines of “It’s your fault I did this, you made me do it!” The ones that are then more than likely followed by this kind of thinking on our part “Why did that happen? Where did I go wrong?”
It’s All About Noticing – And Then Choosing
I would imagine that it’s pretty easy for most people to identify the blaming behaviour being demonstrated by the accuser. I wonder whether it’s quite so straight forward, then, to notice how the blame-thinking is then continued by the person who has been accused…?
Let me do my best to explain more clearly what I mean. In workshops, people usually discover that their automatic response reflex to most situations is to ask themselves why it happened. Now ok, I actually believe that’s all well and good in many cases – so long as people are aware of the results their questions will achieve. If they think along the blame-style lines of “What is wrong?” “Why did it happen?” “Whose fault is it?” then they’re directing their brain (and internal resources) to explore the cause – and only the cause. What’s wrong with that? (notice the deliberate blame-style question by the way!) Well, nothing per-say is ‘wrong’… it’s just that by staying in that style of thinking and questioning, they hamper their ability to either find a solution or just to move forward.
OK, so how might the question or thinking behind the question be more useful? What could they ask instead and how might it affect what happens? Put in simple terms, I would typically invite people to think about the problem in terms of future rather than the past. Just by asking a few responsibility-based questions (thoughts that are firmly rooted in the future, in terms of what the person or group would like to happen) people can start to work through the situation, making the most of their ability to respond.
Specifically – questions like “What would I like to achieve?” “How will I know when I’ve achieved it?” “What can I do right now to help?” are all questions that help people to move forward. It opens up possibilities, and increases positivity.
I remember my ex asking me those kind of questions in the early days. He would, of course, use the questions in terms of “we” thereby ensuring that I was actively involved in designing our future – and feeling excited about it at the same time. Clever. Then, of course, when the blame and accusations came, along with the “It’s your fault, this is what you said you wanted!” I went automatically in to typical blame-style thinking –“Why did this happen? What did I do? Where have I gone wrong?” and so the cycle continued. But I didn’t know it was happening. And that’s my point.
Looking back it is now so very clear to me. Yes, I know, I am a trainer in all these things. And yet still I didn’t spot what was happening. I’m sure you can imagine, therefore, just how hard on myself I was when the whole thing came out in the open! As I started looking at myself, and weighing up my situation (yup, it was tough… many times I winced at the dawning realization of yet another example of how I had been manipulated) I actively started to choose my the direction of my thinking and my questions. Regardless of how difficult the particular dilemma might be – varying from irritating to full-blown crisis – I started to train myself to actively ask supportive questions that would move me forward.
In order to do that, I kept my focus on the future. I had to believe that I would get through. Because if I didn’t, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. That meant that during those darkest times, I consciously chose to keep asking myself “Where am I choosing to go? If I don’t like the way I’m feeling right now, how would I like to feel instead? What can I do right now that helps?”
It wasn’t easy. There are still days now when it isn’t particularly easy. But you know what? Each time I flex my decision-making muscles, and deliberately choose future-based responsibility-style thinking – well, somehow the problems start to lose their grip.
This is powerful stuff. And I know from personal experience that it can be used with great effect against people. I also know that the more we become aware of what has been happening, and start to practice these tools in positive ways, then it lessens the opportunity for others to continue using them to manipulate or negatively influence us. Of course I can’t speak for everyone, but so far as I’m concerned at least, that can only be a good thing, eh? :-)
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Thank you for your continuing comments after my posts. I feel deeply honoured to be here, and I am so glad that my stories seem to help in some way - it makes all the bad experiences worthwhile! As each new week arrives, and the time comes to writing an article, I look back and search for something that has hit home in some way shape or form. Something that has made a difference to me and that, therefore, I hope will be of value to my friends here on Lovefraud.
This week there have been a couple of things – a photograph that a friend sent to me was one of them. It was one of those quotes that tends to do the rounds on social media sites. One with a photograph and a motivational or poignant phrase. This one was a quote by the author Anne Lamott, and this is what it said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
And that, of course, is what I’m continuing to do. Even when it appears that getting the truth heard and acknowledged is sometimes harder than it was living through the reality! But I’m continuing. Because if I don’t, then I am guilty of allowing the bad stuff to carry on regardless – and I simply cannot allow that. I’ve spent too many years staying quiet, letting things go, keeping my head down and generally doing my best to please people who, as I now realise, viewed kindness as weakness, and silence as stupidity. It’s taken many years to find my own courage. So there is no way that I am going to back down now – heck no. For goodness sakes, the fact is I’ve only just started!
Home Truths And Inspiration
So along with that comes the second thing that hit me this week. As has been the case many times before, I have once again been inspired by my son. Dylan has been through his own fair share of difficulties over the past three years. Like me, he has had to make sense of what happened, and survive through the emotional and financial devastation that happened as a result of my husband's betrayals. It’s a huge ask for anyone – let alone for a boy who at the time was only 13 years old and in the middle of a hugely important school year. Yet despite the odds he has come through. He has excelled in his studies and this week is the week of his baccalaureate exams (the French equivalent of “A-Level” or sixth-year studies), which will determine whether or not he can continue his education in the way he has chosen. He has already been accepted in to his university of choice, now he just needs to get the grades.
The thing is, he is still only 16 years old – whereas his contemporaries are 17 or 18. He was skipped up a year in junior school (despite coming in to a foreign country and having to learn a foreign language) and has managed to maintain his grades since that time. So, as I said, it’s a pretty major achievement and this week is a pretty major deal. Assuming everything goes to plan, he will be moving away from home in the autumn and settling in a new town a couple of hours from here. So, as you can imagine, I have been concerned to make sure I’ve been giving him as much guidance and day-to-day skills as I can while he's still living with me so that he can flourish as he starts his new life.
Well, I needn’t have worried. It turns out that my son is light years ahead of me in so many ways. How do I know? Well, it was a conversation we had this morning. It is Sunday afternoon as I write this, and today I am flying out to the UK for one of my regular work projects. Before leaving, Dylan and I shared a coffee and a chat (around my newly refurbished table - the one I talked about a couple of weeks ago) as I was keen to give him some final words of encouragement for his big week. He told me that last night, while lying in bed, he had felt suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of what he was facing. He explained how it had hit him that this was the week that his entire school-life had been leading up to, and he’d found himself thrown in to a minor panic.
Yet when he was explaining this to me, he was very calm. So I asked him what he had done to abate his fears.
“Well, it’s quite simple really” he said “As soon as I recognised what was happening, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and give myself some space. Then I decided to just imagine myself as a teacher, so that then I’d feel really confident about taking any exam! That made me smile, and I fell asleep.”
Now, here’s the thing. It would have been so easy – understandable even, given the circumstances – for him to have allowed his fears to grow and overwhelm him. It might arguably, then, have been perfectly reasonable if he’d tossed and turned during the night, restless with worries and concerns. But instead, he slept soundly and felt refreshed the next day. So what happened? What did he do that made the difference…?
The simple answer, so far as I can see it, is that he took a decision based on his awareness of the situation. First of all he recognised what was happening, then he decided to do something about it. Now then, of course he couldn’t actually do anything to change the situation he was facing – as is very often the case with things that worry us. But what he could (and did) do something about was to adapt his response to the situation in hand. I know I’ve spoken about this before, and I feel it’s worthy of another reminder here. If we look at it, the word responsibility, can be broken down to mean a person’s ability to respond. So when we take responsibility, it simply means we take control of our personal responses in a given situation. By doing this we can stop letting other people and situations control us, and instead start to reclaim our power.
All it takes is a decision. A decision that says “No, I’m not willing to feel this way any more!”or “Yes, I’m ready to start feeling better!” And then, even if it seems impossible (and to start with it may very well be tricky to achieve any significant changes), the fact that the decision has been made means that we are so much more able to find a solution.
Focus On What’s Already Within Our Control
What kind of things can we control? Just as Dylan did, we can choose to control our breathing. A few slow deep breaths can work wonders in times of stress. We can also choose to control our thoughts and focus – granted it takes practice. The fact is, though we can ultimately direct our mind to focus on thoughts of our choosing. In fact, I’ll bet that when we really start to think about it, there are many more things we can choose – or at least influence! Whether or not to have milk or sugar in coffee. What food to put on the plate, and how much of it to eat. What underwear to put on. Which station to watch on TV – and even if the choice in that instant may not be ours, then we can still certainly choose whether or not we allow ourselves to focus in on the programme!
Little by little we can reclaim our power – no matter how hopeless the situation may seem at the time. How do I know this? Because not only have I learned how to do it myself, I’ve also witnessed the results in others. Just the other day I was talking to a young French lady I often chat with. I don’t know her that well, but through various conversations we discovered that we share some similar childhood pain. Hers came from cruel treatment by her stepfather, who would regularly beat her mother and had started to do the same to my friend and her sisters. For a while she adapted to what was happening, learning how to walk on eggshells and keep the peace, particularly after he’d had a drink or two.
She told me that one day, though, she suddenly decided that she’d had enough. That she wasn’t going to put up with what that man was doing to her family. She was 14 years old at the time, and she described how what started as a little niggle gradually grew to become a huge “NO!” that coursed through her body. At that stage the decision was made. She confided in other family members and the police were informed. The process took a long time to yield tangible results, but ultimately the stepfather was jailed and the family was free.
“But that didn’t matter” she said, her eyes flashing at the memory “it wasn’t what happened in the end that was important. The only thing that was important was the moment in which I decided I wasn’t going to stand for it. From that instant, I started to become free”
I know, of course, that everyone of us has a different story and different experiences. I know that what works for one may not necessarily work for another. I also know though, that no matter how large or small the issue, and no matter what action follows, it’s the decision that counts. Step by step, breath-by-breath, decision by decision – we can reclaim our power.
With much love. Mel xxx
Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Let me put things in to context as best I can. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the libel issues around my decision to honestly share my story are still proving to be somewhat of a challenge. That’s putting things politely. And, to be brutally honest, there have been times last week when I’ve broken down in tears – gripped by feelings of frustration and pain. Frustration because of the limitations that are being placed on my freedom of speech (while there were no limitations placed on the inappropriate and cruel behaviours of certain people in my past – not to mention no recrimination for their actions) and pain because each time I am asked to prove beyond any level of doubt that what I am saying is the truth, it feels once again as though the knife is digging in to me. Although I understand that they are not intended that way, both nonetheless feel as though they are attacks. And it hurts.
Steam Train Ahead
Yes, I have spent a lifetime learning skills to deal with these kind of assaults – I’ve dealt with much worse – yet still I found myself feeling just a tad wobbly over the past few days. And I began to wonder what that might be about.
After all, the worst is all over, isn’t it? I’ve survived. More than that, I can now hold my hand up and say wholeheartedly that I’m actually thriving. I’m lucky enough to be living in a reality that on many occasions had seemed like an impossible dream. I’m happy with who I am. I am surrounded by friends and family who love me. I am thoroughly enjoying my work. And little by little I am reclaiming my home, turning it in to my own personal space. So life is good… isn’t it?
So how is it that something can come along with a side-swipe that knocks me off balance, leaving me feeling bruised and battered?
And then I got it. Crashing towards me like a steam train, and a great big “DOH!” as I smacked my forehead. Of course! I’d forgotten about the Lifters and Drainers. Those insidious influences that, if we’re not aware, can seep in to our reality and affect the way we respond. The thing is, from my own experience, I tend to forget about those little beasties when life is good. When I’m facing struggles, then my armor is up and I’m constantly poised for battle – and the Gremlins don’t stand a chance. But when I’m happy – well, then they can just sweep in unnoticed and catch me off-guard!
What am I talking about? Well, let me explain a little about what I term a Lifter, which can be many things but in this instance, either a person or a thought. Let’s imagine it as a person for the moment. Lifters are those people who are constantly encouraging you to do better. They’re the ones who will do their best to help you reach your goal when you mention your dream to them. They will instantly start thinking of ways they can help and support you, will be excited about your dream (maybe even more so than you are!) and will constantly remind you of it. If you like, they are the cheerleaders – the people who tell you to “Go go go!” and reassure you that you can do it, even when you doubt yourself.
Drainers, on the other hand, are those people who will give you all the reasons why your dream can never be achieved. They’ll tell you that you’re wrong, that your idea is nothing more than a hair-brained scheme, that you’ll only end up disappointing yourself, and give you the impression that you were foolish to even consider such a notion in the first place! Drainers can’t understand dreams and ambition – and when they see you fail, they take secret pleasure. Because your failure confirms their view on life.
When left unchecked and unrecognized, Drainers can weaken your defenses and literally drain your energy. Another great terminology for these kind of people is “Mood Hoovers”.
Exactly the same process can apply to thoughts. Lifter-thinking, for example, will include self-talk such as “I can!” “I am!” There’s always a way!” “Life is good!” – whereas Drainer-thinking will consist of “I can’t” “It’s impossible” “Things will never change”.
Now then, what I realised this week is this. When hit with some less than positive news, since my natural stance was ‘neutral’ (neither Lifting or Draining) because in general I’m in a good place, I inadvertently allowed the news to activate negative thinking. Rather than let the emotions I felt (frustration, anger, hurt) flow through, they instead triggered my thinking to go along the “it’s not fair” sort of powerless route. The fact is that it isn’tfair (not just for me personally but on a much more global scale) but if I allow myself to wallow too long in that thought, then I’m trapped. It’s cul-de-sac thinking so far as I’m concerned. Easy enough to turn in to, but once you’re in it’s equally easy to go round in circles and never get out.
Don’t Drown – Surf Instead!
So there I was, feeling more and more frustrated with the situation and in the process dragging myself still further down. Yes, as I’ve said before, I believe it’s good and healthy to acknowledge the waves emotions as they come in. The trick is not to be swamped by them – much better to learn to surf them if that makes sense!
Yet the Drainers had got me, and I was hurtling out to sea – and in the process getting ready to battle for survival again. And that was when it hit me. That was when I realised that, once back in battle-mode I could notice what was happening. And I saw crystal clear that I had got myself in to a much worse mess than was necessary – simply because I’d allowed my thoughts to hijack me! The Drainers had moved in and I’d forgotten to call in the Lifters. As I said, “DOH!” – it’s amazing how situations can suddenly become clear in a moment don’t you think?
So – from that moment on I’ve been actively choosing my thoughts once again. I’ve distanced myself from what is happening (because much of it is now out of my hands) and instead told myself that there’s a gift in everything, and that there’s a reason why the legal team are in place. Even with that very small change of thought, I have been able to take a much more objective standpoint, and feel much more positive about the process. Yes, there are still things that, in my opinion, are wrong not only about my personal experiences, but also about this approach in general. The point is, though, me getting upset about it is not going to allow me to influence the situation in any positive way. It’s just going to drain me of my resources.
What I’m doing now, instead of festering on the injustice, is I’m taking notes about what I believe is wrong about how we as a society are approaching issues such as abuse – and why it is that the bad people seem to get away with it. All of it is material for further books, talks, interviews and workshops.
That, in turn, is spurring me on and making me even more determined to continue speaking out and stepping up. So – once again I am grateful for what is happening, I am accepting of any natural hiccups in the process, and the Lifters are back in force. “Go go go! There is ALWAYS a solution!”
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
Allow me to explain by giving you a specific example. Outside my kitchen, I have a long wooden table. Over the years it has witnessed countless gatherings with friends and family – parties, barbeques, merriment, tears, heavy discussions and light-hearted banter. It has also seen my son and his friends develop from children to young adults – the Lego and Monopoly having been usurped by late night conversations and music with food and wine. Added to that it has been there throughout the twists and turns of my warped marriage – in actual fact, the table was one of the first things that we made together when we first moved to France. Crafted from a solid iron base, laid with long planks of wood we picked out from a local supplier, I still remember sanding each one, and then lovingly coating them with varnish before finally attaching them to the base.
For a number of months, now, it’s been niggling at me. It’s one of those pieces of furniture that holds a number of memories – and one, therefore, that was most certainly on my ‘should it stay or should it go’ list! It was made at least eight ago, and time and the elements had turned it a rather unattractive grey-brown colour. Peeling at the edges, with distinct patches of extreme water and weather damage, it really didn’t look very good at all. But, as I kept reminding myself, I had nothing else. So it would have to do. Until, that is, I decided to do something about it.
So, Saturday morning found me dressed in old clothes, outside in the garden with sanding machine in hand. It was decision time. Either this table was going to shape up, or it was going to end up on the fire.
And that, quite often, is similar to the kind of things I would say to myself during the early weeks and months after I discovered the truth about my situation. Sad, lonely, in shock, and desperately trying to make sense of what was happening, I would reach a point where I knew I had to give myself a shake. It was either that, or end up sinking further in to the pit of despair, where recovery and salvation would be even harder to achieve. I’m not saying it was easy – in actual fact, it was often so difficult that I was highly tempted to stay wallowing in self-pity. And sometimes I allowed myself to do just that – but just for as long as was necessary for me to honestly acknowledge the emotions so that then I could move forward; and by moving forward each time after first accepting the ‘bad stuff’ I found I felt more cleansed and determined to keep going.
Accepting The Imperfections
Back to my table. As I stood there, sanding away at the grime and fatigue that had become part of the furniture, I began to remember how much I actually enjoy working with wood. As the machine whirred around, doing its’ work, I began to look more lovingly at the stains, the bumps, and the cracks that bore testament to a life of service. I began to relax more in to the process, finding it cathartic both on a physical and spiritual level. Here I was, being covered in sawdust, but with the biggest smile on my face. Swooshing the machine backwards and forwards, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the kitchen window – instantly reminding myself of my own lumps and bumps that I have gradually learned to love. Looking back to the table I noticed that underneath the grimy surface, the wood underneath was in perfect condition. Better, in actual fact, than I had remembered it to be…. Aaahhh…. I felt the obvious parallel with my own life. And smiled some more.
Because I’ve found that despite everything that has happened, the real true person that I am underneath, is brighter stronger and more loving than I can ever remember being before. Maybe it’s the same as the diamond process – perhaps the pressure and stress made me that way? Or… as I prefer to think… perhaps I was always like that, but could never really accept it for myself.
Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” – how wonderful is that as a philosophy for life? I remember how often in the early days, I would cry myself to sleep, full of sadness and anger about what had happened to me. “Haven’t I already endured enough?” I’d wail in silent agony, clutching a pillow for comfort until the sobs subsided and I fell in to exhausted sleep. It’s only now, after taking countless small steps until those times are now just a distant memory, that I can appreciate the true value of those words. How might it have been had I been able to foster gratitude and forgiveness from the start? Well, to be honest, I really don’t know – and frankly, it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that the healing path I chose to take worked for me; I know that the strength of dark emotions helped me to eventually propel me towards the lighter side of life; I know that by intentionally searching for the gift in every situation, I have been able to work through the pain and fears to reconnect with who I really am. And through this process, I’ve discovered that underneath it all I am indeed a diamond. I’ve also discovered the gobsmacking truth that I always have been – as, I believe, are all of us here.
As for my table? Well, after careful sanding and re-fixing to the iron stand, I gave it three good coats of teak oil – and now it gleams more brightly than ever before. The colours and nuances in the wood are simply glorious, and it stands with pride, surrounded by four equally old but perfectly suited wooden chairs, that just seem to set it off beautifully. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but sometimes I’m sure I can see it smiling with contentment and joy…?
To finish this post, I would like to share an inspirational poem that I have often referred to – and have regularly shared with friends and clients alike. It’s from a great site that has numerous poems like this – here’s the link if you’re interested http://www.villagehero.com/inspirational-poems.htm The author of this particular one is unknown, but to me it sings of the beauty and ability that lies within each and every one of us. Today I’d like to share it here with you, because I believe with all my heart that you are already diamonds, shining through the darkness.
I Believe You Can Accomplish Anything You Choose
If you could see through my eyes,
I wonder what you’d be feeling right now,
Because I can see you standing
As you really are –
Powerful, sensitive, determined, and gracious.
I can see you achieving everything you choose to achieve.
I can see you being exactly who and what you want to be.
Look through my eyes for an instant,
And you’ll see yourself
Conquering all limitations.
Look through my eyes,
And see who you really are
And what you are capable of.
You can accomplish anything –
I know you can.
With love and blessings – have a good week Mel xxx