What makes you angry? Wrong answer!

 Years ago my uncle Geoff and I were walking in his orchard. Taking a bite out of a big Satsuma plum he asked me casually, ‘What makes you angry?’
  I knew I was being set up for something but I couldn’t guess what, so I answered, ‘Traffic jams. Traffic jams make me angry.’
  He smiled and said, ‘Wrong answer,’ and gave me one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. He pointed out that traffic jams don’t make me angry. Instead, I become angry in traffic jams.
  In other words, the traffic jam doesn’t make me angry. I do.
  You might be nodding your head saying you knew that already, but I bet you often say things like, ‘That makes me angry’ instead of saying, ‘I feel angry with that.’ Or you might say, ‘That makes me happy’ instead of ‘I feel happy with that.’ It’s the language we use that gives us away, because most of us do believe on some level that the outside world creates our emotions.
  It’s not semantics. There is a big difference between ‘Traffic jams make me angry,’ and ‘I become angry with traffic jams.’ The first statement says the traffic jam makes me angry, the second says I do. Big difference. We undermine ourselves when we get it wrong.
  You might argue that it’s just a figure of speech, that we all know what is meant. That has to change. That figure of speech reinforces our belief that incidents in our life make us happy, or unhappy.

‘If we are careless with our words we will be careless with our thoughts.’
     Andrew Toth.

  The truth is: the outside world does not create our emotions, we do. And we should say so when we speak. When Uncle Geoff asked me what makes me angry, the only correct answer I could have given him was, ‘I do.’
  What makes me jealous?
  I do.
  What I makes me fearful?
  I do.
  I create all my emotions. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get angry, or fearful, or jealous. I might have a good reason to feel those emotions. I just need to be aware that I create them.
  We all need to be aware that we create our emotions. Why? Because if we go through life believing that the outside world makes us angry, or jealous, or joyful, or whatever, we disempower ourselves. We become like a pinball in a pinball machine, reacting to every stimulus we encounter: ‘Oh, you make me so angry!’   ‘What you said hurt my feelings!’   Can you see how disempowering that is? But when we realise that we create our distress we also realise that we are the solution to it. We start to draw upon our resources. We focus on what needs to change – in us, or in the situation.
  Or, we might decide the situation isn’t worth getting upset about. Either way, we start to handle that traffic jam, because we know the traffic jam isn’t causing our distress, we are.
  When we fully accept that we create our emotions, we get good at dealing with them. And the best way to fully accept that we create our emotions is to change our language to acknowledge it.
‘I feel angry with that,’ instead of ‘That makes me angry.’
‘I feel foolish when I am with him,’ instead of ‘He makes me feel foolish.’
‘I feel happy when I am with her,’ instead of ‘She makes me happy.’
‘I feel offended,’ instead of ‘that offends me’.
It’s okay to feel all those emotions.We just need to be aware that we are creating them. It’s the awareness that is important, because once we fully accept that we create our joys and our sufferings, we gain an inner authority and add to our resilience.
  To change our language takes practice and diligence. (I slip up occasionally.) But once we are in the habit, you can almost palpably feel the inner authority.
  Thanks, Uncle Geoffrey.

Q. ‘You’re saying that a traffic jam doesn’t make me angry, that instead, I create the anger. But if there were no traffic jam I wouldn’t get angry.’
Yes, of course. That doesn’t change the fact it’s your thoughts about the traffic jam that create the anger. Thoughts create chemicals in your brain to make you feel angry. A different set of thoughts would create different emotions. It’s your thoughts about the traffic jam that make you angry; not the traffic jam itself.
  Both Fran and Beth are sacked. When Fran thinks, ‘A new chapter in my life begins’ she creates in her brain the chemicals of boldness and curiosity. When Beth thinks, ‘This is awful’ she creates the chemicals of fear and despair.
  I’m not saying Beth should think differently. For all we know she might have fourteen children to feed and no prospects of another job. She would have every right to be upset. Nevertheless, if she knew she was creating her distress she would have a better chance of coping with the situation, because she would focus on drawing upon her inner resources. She would still feel distressed, but be less likely to be broken by the experience.
  I’m not asking you to change your thoughts – that’s way too difficult – I am asking you to accept that you create your emotions. That’s all. It’s the awareness that matters, because when you have that awareness – when you fully believe it – you will realise just how much power you have. Then, when you feel distress you will cope better with it. The intensity of that distress will be ameliorated.
  Yes, you are correct: if there were no traffic jam you wouldn’t get angry. But if you accept that you create your emotions, one day you will be in a traffic jam and you will ask yourself, ‘Why bother making myself distressed?’
  So, change your language. Avoid saying things like, ‘Traffic jams make me angry.’ Instead, be in the habit of saying, ‘I get angry in traffic jams.’ Get good at that, and your life will change for the better.

Q. ‘I don’t agree. Jack hurt my feelings. Why isn’t Jack to blame for how I feel?’
Yes, Jack created the incident and should be held accountable, and you created the hurt.  It’s easy to blame Jack-the-jerk because you feel miserable, but blame him only for what he did, not for how you feel.
  And, don’t blame yourself for the misery you feel. Although you create your distress (your brain registers the incident and creates the appropriate chemicals) that does not mean you are to blame for your distress. Blaming yourself for being hurt, or upset, or jealous, is a cop out. All self-blame is a cop-out. There is a big difference between self-blame and taking responsibility. When you are in the habit of taking responsibility, you develop that feeling that whatever happens – that whatever Jack-the-jerk does – you will handle it.
  See the difference? The phrase, ‘Jack hurt my feelings’ is weak and disempowering. Jack says something and so you feel hurt. Jack can play you like a puppet. If instead you knew that you felt hurt with what Jack said, you then realise that the power rests with you. You can then focus on dealing with the hurt, and look for ways to prevent yourself from becoming hurt again. You can start asking questions like, ‘Why did I feel hurt after Jack said that? Which of my insecurities has been breached? Which of my shoulds has been violated? Why is Jack trying to hurt my feelings? How will I express my hurt?’ So, the next time Jack is a jerk you will have a better chance of coping. Jack might even give up trying to hurt your feelings, because he has lost his power over you. Or more accurately, you have regained your power. By realising that you create the hurt, you have empowered yourself.
  It’s not about eradicating unwanted emotions, it’s about dealing with them. When we fully understand that our distress is in our hands we can experience the pain without the panic. We won’t shatter. That’s because on a fundamental level we know we can deal with our distress, because we are the source of it. That knowledge, that liberation, adds to our inner authority.
  That’s why I’m suggesting that from now on, change your language. Say, ‘I feel upset with what Jack did’ instead of saying ‘Jack made me upset’. It will be awkward at first, but once you develop the habit it will become easy. And as I say, no matter how good your life is now, it will improve.

Q. ‘Are you asking us to apply positive thinking?’
No, I’m suggesting you accept that you create your emotions. Not on an intellectual level, but fully believe it. And, you will only fully believe it when you have habitually changed your language.
  Once you fully accept that you create your emotions you will realise the power you have in shaping your world. Then you won’t need to apply positive thinking – it will come to you.
  It’s the people who believe their distress is caused by the outside world who have trouble thinking in a positive way. How can anyone think in a positive way if they believe the rest of the world can make their life difficult? But, by taking responsibility, by accepting the fact we create what we feel – we automatically make positive choices.

Q. ‘I knew this already. You’re just pointing out the obvious.’
Knowing that we create our emotions is not enough: we have to know it so well that it becomes reflected in our language. ‘I feel sad seeing that’ instead of ‘Seeing that makes me sad’.

Q. ‘You say we draw on our coping skills. What’s a coping strategy?’
It depends on the person. For example, when Fred fully accepts that he is creating his anger, not the traffic jam, he might remind himself that things go wrong in life, and that the traffic jam is simply ‘one of those things’. Or, he might teach himself another language. (A friend of mine is learning Italian, one word at a time, at each red traffic light.)
  We all develop coping skills as we grow up. We need to apply them. But if we subconsciously believe that the outside world creates our emotions, those coping skills atrophy. As a result, we blame other people, or incidents, or ourselves, for how we feel. And, we continue to believe that we can only feel better only when the traffic jam eases.
  By refusing to mature, we continue to feel stressed.
  ‘From where do we get our coping skills?’
  We develop coping skills as we mature, but we let them atrophy when we get into the habit of blaming.

Q. ‘What exactly are you suggesting?’
Fully accept that you create your emotions. The best way to do that is to change your language. From now on say things like, ‘I feel hurt with what you said’ instead of ‘You hurt my feelings’. Make that change in your language a part of your life and you will come to fully accept that your emotional state depends on you. That’s when life gets better.

Q. ‘Please give me another example of how we can change our language.’
Here are four:
1. Instead of saying, ‘Jill makes me nervous,’ try ‘I become nervous when Jill is around.’ That places the focus on you, so you can ask yourself: ‘What is it about Jill that prompts me to make myself nervous? What is it about me that is sensitive? What can I do to alleviate my nervousness in future?’

2. Instead of ‘He made me angry’, try ‘I became angry after what he did’. Then you can ask questions such as: ‘Was I justified in becoming angry? Or was I too touchy? How can I deal with my anger in a less intrusive way? How can I use my anger to make a positive change?’

3. Instead of ‘That stresses me out’ try ‘I become stressed when that happens.’  Hopefully that will prompt you to ask questions like: ‘Should I in future avoid a situation like this? Do other people get this stressed, or is it just me? If so, why is it just me? Is my stress justified? What can I do to relieve this stress? Or prevent it?’

4. About the traffic jam you might ask yourself, ‘I feel angry. Why do I keep getting angry? What buttons are being pressed? Why do I get angry in traffic jams when my friend doesn’t? Why does it bug me? What can I do to be less angry?’  See how empowering those questions are? But if you blame the traffic jam for making you angry you will simply feel powerless and upset. And possibly act irrationally. Worse, nothing will change.

When a person truly accepts that the ‘ball is in their court’ they draw upon their resources to deal with the emotions they’re feeling. But someone who believes that the world has to change before they can feel okay again will continue to feel powerless. Because most of the time the world won’t change.
  Knowing ‘the ball is in your court’ empowers you. The more power you feel, the less anxious you become and the more resilient you become.

Q. ‘So, if I’m being tortured I just have to remember, “the torture isn’t creating my misery, I am.” Is that what you’re suggesting?’
No one could have that resolve, but that’s the idea. In day-to-day life it’s an easy habit to adopt.
  ‘That’s awful! A girl gets raped and you’re saying it’s not the rapist who makes her upset, but her thoughts about it?! That’s shocking! Do we let the rapist go free? Because according to you, it’s not the rapist’s fault she’s upset!’
  But —
   ‘Should we be telling victims they are making themselves upset? Of course not! Many victims can’t stop blaming themselves! Your advice will only reinforce their self-blame. If someone believes they are creating their own misery it could set them back even further. Your philosophy sounds disempowering!’
Initially yes, let’s blame the thief or rapist for the misery we feel. Let’s feel the outrage and the resentment. That’s an important part of healing. However, when we are ready, we need to stop blaming the perpetrator for the pain we feel, and acknowledge that we are creating the pain.
  The perpetrator created the incident, and we can always blame them for that, but it is an inescapable fact that we create the pain. We create all our emotions. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a philosophy. It’s fact. All I’m suggesting you do is at some stage acknowledge that fact.
    ‘Now you’re saying ‘at some stage.’
    If I were attacked, blaming my attackers for my distress would be a far healthier response than employing my philosophy, I agree. But do I maintain my anger for the rest of my life?
    ‘I don’t know.’
    I believe I would be better off if I could at some point let the blame and anger go. When that moment does come, when I am finally ready to make that choice, that’s the time to acknowledge to myself that I am creating my pain.

Q. ‘When my cat was run over I was distraught. Are you saying Booger’s death didn’t upset me?’
I’m saying you were upset. You became upset when Booger died.
  ‘His death didn’t upset me?’
  That’s right. His death didn’t upset you; you became upset with his death.
  ‘However you put it, I feel upset.’
  To be expected. The aim isn’t to eradicate unwanted emotions, it’s to help us deal with them. If you fully understand that your distress is in your hands you will learn to experience the pain without being broken by it. You will know that you will at some point come to terms with your grief, because you are the source of it. That knowledge gives you that inner authority I keep talking about. It leads to resilience
  ‘Even though I might be terribly upset?’
  There will be tears, but you can experience the pain without the panic, without the yawning abyss.

Q. ‘You say my life will improve. When will I notice the difference?’
When you have changed your language in your everyday life, so that you automatically say, ‘I feel angry with what she did’ instead of ‘She makes me angry.’
  When your language automatically reflects your choice to take responsibility for what you feel, you will notice you are more confident and self-assured.

Q. ‘Alright. I know I am the one who is making me angry, but it’s not helping any.’
A man said that to me at Speakers’ Corner. I responded by pointing out that he was still saying things like, ‘people’s rudeness makes me angry’, which indicated to me that he still believed that other people made him angry.
  It’s only when we fully believe that we create our anger and automatically express it in our language, that we start to reap the benefits.

Q. ‘If I have something important to me stolen and feel unhappy about it, what am I supposed to do? Let the thief off the hook and blame myself for the distress I feel?’
Blame the thief for the theft, but not for how you feel. The thief can’t force you to think or feel anything. If you blame the thief for making you feel unhappy, it might be a while before you get over the incident. That’s because you have no control over the thief, or the theft, and that power imbalance will remain. And certainly don’t blame yourself for how you feel. That’s a cop-out. Just tell yourself, ‘I’m creating my distress.’ That’s all you have to do.
  ‘That’s it?’
  You won’t suddenly feel good, obviously, but if you make that observation each time you feel distress, over time your life will change.
  ‘In what way?’
  When you realise the source of your distress is you, and not the other guy, you will feel more in control of your life. You will find it easier to cool down, and in that calmer state of mind you might find a solution to your problem.
  ‘To the theft?’
  To your distress.

Q. ‘You say it’s important for me to be aware that I create my distress. Give me an example of why.’
If you become anxious when you encounter a spider you can either:
1. blame the spider for making you anxious, and keep fearing spiders every time you encounter one. Or,
2. acknowledge that you are creating your anxiety, in which case, you can take steps to become less anxious with spiders and increase your confidence with them.
  Which view is more empowering? Which view will decrease your anxiety? Which view will prevent you from growing?

Q.‘Without doubt there are stressful occupations. Doesn’t that mean we are stressed by outside forces?’
  Yes, those occupations have stress triggers, but it’s the person who becomes stressed. There are people in those occupations who remain unstressed. If you accept that you are creating the stress you will look for ways to feel less stressed, but if you assume it’s the job making you stressed nothing will change.

     In short, what makes you curious?
     You do.
     What makes you happy?
     You do.
     Nothing makes you angry, or envious, or joyful, except you.
     To fully accept that, change your language.

Exercise 1. 
Both sentences express what we mean, but only one says the truth. Which one?
‘That stresses me out’   or    ‘I feel stressed.’
‘I become angry with what my spouse says.’    or    ‘My spouse makes me angry.’
’Seeing cruelty upsets me.’   or    ‘I become upset when I see cruelty.’
‘That gets up my nose.’     or      ‘I don’t like that.’
‘I became irritated by his antics.’  or     ‘I became irritated with his antics.’
‘The accident ruined my life.’  or  ‘I feel that my life is ruined.’
‘Her jokes make me laugh.’   or    ‘I find her jokes funny.’
‘I feel annoyed by that.’    or    ‘I feel annoyed with that.’
‘I feel hurt with what you said.’  or   ‘I am hurt by what you said.’
‘I am puzzled by your decision.’   or   ‘I am puzzled with your decision.’
‘Her mocking led him to cry.’   or    ‘He cried after she mocked him.’
‘It pleased His Majesty.’  or   ‘His Majesty was pleased with it.’
‘He was crushed by the decision.’   or   ‘He felt crushed when he heard the decision.’
‘You offended me with your comment.’  or    ‘I’m offended by your comment.’  or  ‘I found your comment offensive.’

Yes, the incorrect sentences above are well used and well accepted in society, and we know what the speaker means. Nevertheless, when we use them they reinforce our belief that outside forces create our emotions. Consider not using those old, misleading sentences. Or if you use one and notice it, rephrase it. Your friends will barely notice the difference.

Exercise 2.
From the previous exercise did you notice the difference a few words can make? For example:
‘I am pleased with it.’  versus  ‘I am pleased by it.’

  How would you rephrase the following sentences?
‘You make me feel worthless.’

‘You make me so annoyed.’

‘Winning the lottery would make me happy.’

‘I was hurt by what you said.’

‘It makes him mad when she does that.’

‘He does that to make her feel jealous.’

‘It irritates him.’

‘She makes him feel special.’

‘Philosophy interests him.’

‘He was unnerved by the question.’

When we are in the habit of accurately phrasing our sentences, and automatically say things like, ‘I feel angry with what she did’ instead of ‘She makes me angry’, then we come to fully accept that we create our emotions. Then, instead of blaming ourselves for those emotions, or being tossed about by them, we develop the resources for responding to them. We increase our capacity to ‘handle whatever happens in life’, and increase our resilience. That adds to our feeling of being safe, and therefore, to our core happiness.

Exercise 3.
You have correctly chosen to say, ‘I get the willies when I see a blowfly’ instead of ‘Blowflies give me the willies.’ What questions might you then ask yourself?

If you need a hint, here are three examples:
1. Instead of saying, ‘Jill makes me nervous,’ try instead ‘I become nervous when Jill is around.’ That places the focus on you so that you can ask yourself: ‘What is it about Jill that prompts me to make myself nervous? What is it about me that is sensitive? What can I do to alleviate my nervousness in future?’

2. Instead of ‘He made me angry’, try ‘I became angry with what he did’. Then you can ask questions such as: ‘Was I justified in becoming angry? Or was I too touchy? How can I deal with my anger so that it disturbs me less? How can I use my anger to make a positive change?’

3. Instead of ‘That stresses me out’ try ‘I become stressed when that happens.’  You can ask yourself questions like: ‘Should I in future avoid a situation like this? Do other people get this stressed, or is it just me? If so, why is it just me? Is my stress justified? What can I do to relieve this stress? Or prevent it?’

When a person truly accepts that the ‘ball is in their court’ the person draws upon their resources to deal with the emotions they are feeling. But someone who believes that the world has to change before they can feel okay again will continue to feel powerless. Because most of the time the world won’t change.

  Knowing ‘the ball is in your court’ empowers you. The more power you feel, the less anxious you become and the more resilient you are.

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An incident occurred and I’m angry!

Step 1. First, be aware of your anger. Label it. Tell yourself ‘I feel angry’ or ‘I feel miffed’ or whatever. Look for the right words to describe exactly what you are feeling.

Step 2. Remind yourself:
– the other person isn’t making you angry, you are.
– Has a button been pressed?
– Has a ‘should’ been violated?
– How important will this be to me in a week from now? Or a year?’

Step 3. Ask yourself:
– Are your facts right? Can you see the situation from their point-of-view?
– Remind yourself of the person’s good qualities and their past kindnesses, if that’s applicable.
– Is the other person in pain too? (We all want the same basic things: encouragement, recognition, affection . . . None of us want loneliness, rejection or anguish. If the other person is acting badly it’s because their method of finding happiness is mediocre. As the saying goes, we are all in this boat together, in this stormy sea.)

Step 4. Consider: What needs to happen from now on?
The purpose of your anger is to rectify the situation.

Step 5.
A) If it’s an incident requiring an immediate response:

– Slow yourself down. That will help you choose your words carefully.
– State how you feel and your concerns. Explain clearly what needs to happen now, or from now on.
   For example: ‘I feel angry with what you have done.’ & ‘Don’t treat me that way again.’
    (You won’t remember the steps, but if you have the gist of them . . .)

B) If you have time to prepare a response:
(1) Talk about it with a friend. (That in itself could make you feel better.)

(2) Prepare what you want to say by writing a letter, or by listing your complaints. You don’t have to send the letter, but it will help get your thoughts in order.
   In your letter, try to anticipate the other person’s objections.
  (i) You can send the letter instead of meeting with the person. That way, you can avoid escalating the  conflict, yet still ensure the recipient is clearly aware of your concerns. The recipient can digest your letter and hopefully give you a measured response.
  (ii) Face-to-face is good too. The letter you have written will prepare you, and you can observe the person’s body language.
  Before you meet the person face-to-face, visualise yourself calmly and firmly stating your case. (Expect to show some signs of nervousness, and forgive yourself in advance for them.)

In either instance, if your intention is to change the other person’s behaviour, that’s good. If your intention is to just vent, it may be cathartic but you might increase the divide between you.

Step 6. Recover. 
Praise yourself for the things you did right. You will be more likely to do them again next time.
      ‘I handled that well. I didn’t raise my voice too much and . . .’
  Then look for what you could have done better. But don’t be critical of yourself. Situations like this rarely go perfectly.

Step 7. You might later want to:
– aim to ‘let go’ of the incident. More on that in another chapter.
– Again ask yourself: ‘How important will this be to me in a week from now? Or a year?’ That might diminish the intensity of your feelings.

In short, get into the habit of following those steps and you will become skilled in dealing with anger. And, with that skill you will make positive changes in your life while earning people’s respect.
  It’s important because when you feel confident you can express your anger intelligently, you will lose your fear of being angry. That’s because you know you can use your anger to effect change, rather than be a victim of it. That confidence adds to your resilience.

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Be angry with yourself.

Let’s not confuse anger with oneself with self-blame and harsh self-criticism. Anger is a wonderful emotion to have provided we express it in a healthy, constructive manner. So, the next time you are angry with yourself, go ahead and be angry, but ensure you express that anger in a healthy, constructive manner. That means: no self-blame, no insults, no blurting, ‘Oh, I’m so stupid, what an idiot I am!’
  More specifically:

1. Vent, but not at yourself. That’s the important bit. Treat yourself like you would like to think you would treat someone else: with latitude. Express your anger, but don’t be nasty to yourself! No self-insults!

‘Self-criticism is like a dog barking: it’s trying to help, but doesn’t know when to shut up.’

2. If you do blurt out a self-insult, retract it.
    ‘No, I take that back. I’m not stupid.’
  Always retract those insults, whether or  not you think they’re true. After a while, you won’t bother insulting yourself because you will want to avoid the tedium of having to retract it.
  Besides, the retraction will help you move on.

3. Describe the situation. ‘I made a mistake. That happens.’

4. If you can, nurture yourself.
– ‘It’s not the end of the world. Mistakes can be rectified. Time will pass.’
– Take into account all the times you have done things right!
After all, in life you have done many things correctly. Just having come this far in life is an achievment in itself. So, treat yourself like you would treat someone else: fairly.

In short, if you want to be angry with yourself, go ahead and be angry, but ensure you express that anger in a healthy, constructive manner. When we do that, we fulfil our urge to be self-critical without actually being self-critical.
  What are the benefits?
(1) We can learn from the incident without beating ourselves up.
(2) By not insulting ourselves we come to accept ourselves more. We become easygoing and relaxed.
(3) Being less harsh with ourselves we become less fragile. We add to our resilience.

I also suggest you retract the judgments you make of other people. Instead of, ‘He is so stupid’, retract it, and then rephrase it to be accurate: ‘No, he isn’t stupid. What he said was wrong.’ Can you see the difference? Less harsh and less disconnecting.

Q. ‘We need to be self-critical. The harsher we are on ourselves, the more likely we are to not make the same mistake again.’
It doesn’t work that way. When you insult yourself you’re undermining your self-confidence, and that won’t help you avoid mistakes.

Q. ‘What if I dispute my self-criticism and say, “I’m intelligent!”’
If that works for you, do it. My concern is that if you try to dispute the insult you might hear an inner voice argue with you, and that’s an argument you may end up losing! I suggest you avoid buying into the argument and simply retract your insult. ‘I take that back. I’m not stupid’.
  Anyway, a simple retraction is neutral, so you are more likely to develop the habit of making that retraction.

Q. Why do we insult ourselves when we make a mistake? Why are we so harsh with ourselves?
Two reasons I can think of:
(1) We may have received harsh criticism in earlier years, and have come to think it’s approopriate.(2) It’s Shame visiting from the Dark Forest. When we make a mistake and say something like, ‘I’m such an idiot’, that’s Shame trying to help us not make that mistake again. But when we simply retract each insult, without trying to prove our point, Shame goes away and we get to move on.
  ‘Shame might persist.’
  Shame is a loyal friend, ever vigilant. Just keep retracting its insults. It will eventually stop visiting.

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Be vulnerable.

Some of us create judgments and expectations of the world, to create a picture of how we think the world should be. By knowing what to expect, we gain a feeling of control, of certainty, and as a result we feel a little safer. The trouble is, judgments are often wrong, and expectations are rarely met, so the ‘safe’ world becomes unpredictable, and not so safe. Anxiety results.
  But when we drop our judgments, drop our ‘shoulds’, drop our need to protect our image, we might initially feel weak and exposed, and vulnerable, but we soon come to realise the world won’t end. That’s when we discover we can cope with uncertainty. And that’s the gift. We discover that we no longer need our judgments and expectations to keep ourselves safe, because we now already feel safe.
  Remember the pygmy twins? We learned that the best way to avoid anxiety is not to avoid scary situations, but to learn how to handle them. In the same way, being vulnerable just means putting ourselves in scary situations, while trusting we could handle the end result. And, when we discover that, we come out the other side feeling a little safer in life than we did before.
  It’s about living with uncertainty.
  That’s why many of the tips in this book require us to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is a gateway towards gaining the feeling that whatever happens, we will handle it.
  When we can willingly allow ourselves to be in uncomfortable situations, knowing we will not feel shattered by the experience, we strengthen our sense of ‘I will be okay.’ Then anxiety dissipates and core happiness rises in its place.

There is a bonus: being vulnerable strengthens the connections we have we others, and that helps satisfy our other big innate need: the deep need to belong.
‘These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness . . .  What they had in common was a sense of courage . . . these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect . . . They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about it being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating . . . but it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first. The willingness to do something when there are no guarantees . . . The willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought it was fundamental.’
Brené Brown, from her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’.

The tips in this section might prompt us feel uncomfortable. But they’re worth it.

 Q. ‘What if someone bursts into tears at the drop of a hat, or desperately professes their love for someone? Things could get awkward. And at work, to display vulnerability might cost you your job.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean exposing the soft bits inside us. It doesn’t mean being weak, or delicate. It doesn’t mean blurting out every flaw, or every thought, we have. It means being involved in a situation while trusting ourselves that we can handle what happens. It’s about allowing ourselves to be present in uncomfortable circumstances.

Q. Some examples, please?
Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable can mean:
– allowing yourself be criticised, and feeling you could handle it.
– admitting to your mistakes, while feeling you can handle the consequences.
– Experiencing fear, or hurt, or embarrassment, . . .  and feeling you will not be shattered.
– being the first to bring an uncomfortable topic into the conversation, and feeling you’ll cope.

‘To practise gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we wonder, “Can I be this fierce about this? Can I love this much? Can I believe this so passionately?” To be able to stop, and instead of catastrophising about what might happen, say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive”.’ 
Brené Brown again.

Q. What about revealing a secret about myself?

‘Nothing makes us as lonely as our secrets’. 
Paul Tournier

If the secret gnaws at you then yes, consider revealing it to a trusted friend. But feel comfortable that if your trust were betrayed, you could handle the consequences.
  But be discerning. Disclosing too much of ourselves can at times be off-putting for others. It can unfairly burden them. We need to be sensitive to the other person’s interest and choose carefully.

‘Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it – it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is to hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.’
Brené Brown, in her book, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’

 ‘. . . keeping secrets reinforces the perception that their shame is justified, and that catastrophic consequences would follow should others find out. This maintains their anxiety and perception of defectiveness. One of the best ways to evaluate whether our beliefs are correct is to conduct a behavioural experiment . . . self-disclose to the relevant people and observe their responses. Once we ‘come out’, our anxiety drops because we no longer need to worry that people will find out. In addition, in most cases people do not react with the harsh judgment that we had predicted, and so we get immediate evidence that our perceived failings are not so bad after all.
  But what if they do? Behavioural experiments with self-disclosure always involve some risk . . . sometimes our fears are realised . . . However, we do not overcome our self-doubts and fears without taking risks . . . The most powerful learning occurs when we risk the possibility of disapproval and discover that in most cases it does not happen, and that even if it should happen, that we can cope.’
From Sarah Edelman’s book, ‘Change Your Thinking’

‘Secrets are the enemy of intimacy’.
Frank Warren, Postsecret.

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Allow yourself to be criticised

I once had a good friend called Tom, but we grew apart and didn’t see each other for years. Two years ago he lobbed on my doorstep wanting a place to live. He was about to lose his house to the bank after “investing” his money in racehorses.
  We filled the rooms of my house with his furniture.
  He stayed at my house for a week before he miraculously got his house back. Before he returned to his home I tried to discuss with him ways he could prevent the same thing happening again. He didn’t want to know. He did what you see children do: he stuck his fingers in his ears and sang, ‘La la la la la la la la la —’
  He was 56 years old.
  Admittedly, it’s also a reflection on my ability to give advice. I did the best I could, but a more skilled person would have found a way to assist Tom.
Have you noticed that a person not open to constructive criticism suffers terribly in life, in a variety of ways? Have you met people who, when you attempt to give them a helpful hint about their inadequate social skills, become defensive? Who, when you tell them they have body odour they become annoyed, or sulk, or become critical of you? Have you given constructive criticism to a person’s project and received a rebuff for your trouble?
  These are people not open to criticism.
  If we can’t see the faults in our thinking or in our behaviour, we miss opportunities to grow.
  It is understandable why a person would reject constructive criticism. After all, it’s not easy being human. We work hard in life to build ourselves a person and to feel comfortable with who we are, so we don’t want someone telling us our faults. It’s natural to feel resistant to ideas that contradict the way we see ourselves. However, if we want to grow we need to be open to criticism, and if the criticism has merit, we need to use that criticism to change our behaviour.
  There is an even better reason for accepting criticism: to reduce our fear. When we are in the habit of welcoming helpful criticism, our fear of it fades. So does our fear of another person’s disapproval. As a result, we reduce our capacity to become anxious.
  Think of when you were a young child and a doctor inserted a needle into your arm: what a violation! What fear! Over the years you learned to accept injections; you became used to them. And, although you still don’t like them, you know you benefit from them and can cope with them.
  It’s the same when it comes to being open to criticism. At first, criticism hurts. What a violation! What fear! But over time, most of us mature. We become used to criticism, and although we don’t like it we know we can benefit from it, and we learn to cope with it. But some people can’t get over their fear of criticism and recoil when they encounter it. When told their behaviour is inappropriate, or that their project is flawed, they focus not on learning from the experience, but on convincing themselves, and others, of their faultlessness. They don’t grow, and their work remains mediocre.

‘At the Australian institute of Sport, where Professor Klein teaches these concepts to Olympic coaches, they are recognising that a fixed mindset is not the best mindset to work with.
  “They say they would much rather pick a kid whose current ability is a little lower, like a sprinter who’s a little bit slower…but who responds to coaching and seems enthusiastic about learning, than a kid who seems brittle in the face of coaching.”‘
From the online article, ‘A fixed Mindset Could be Holding You Back‘, by Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Ann Arnold, for the ABC Radio National Program, ‘Best Practice’ 26 June, 2018.

If we tend to avoid or reject criticism:
– we miss out on a chance to properly get to know those ‘dark bits’. That means we are more likely be influenced by them.
– If we don’t accept criticism we don’t mature, because maturity involves embracing one’s faults and learning to manage them.
– If we refuse to see our faults, we can’t see how our faults affect others. As a consequence our social skills wane, and the bonds we have with people aren’t as strong as they could be.
– If we don’t accept criticism we can’t become inured to it, so it hurts as much as ever.
– If we rebuff criticism of our project we miss out on a chance to improve our skills. We remain mediocre. (Twenty years ago I went to a private screening of a lengthy film, entirely made by a man in his early twenties. The film was watchable. It was an extraordinary achievement for a person so young. Keen to encourage him, I mentioned the interminably long chase scene and suggested he shorten it. He became angry and defensive, and displayed no interest in even considering the suggestion. I was disappointed to see that his talent might be wasted. Even if my suggestion was a poor one, his inability to listen would nobble him.)

Instead of becoming impervious to criticism, be open to it. Don’t immediately defend yourself. Instead, be quiet and listen. Allow the person to finish what they are saying, no matter how difficult it is to hear it and no matter how stupid you think the criticism is. Ensure you understand the person’s point-of-view, and think before you respond.
     This isn’t about learning to accept criticism, it’s about learning to listen to criticism.
     Being open to criticism doesn’t mean letting the person have their say, it means actively evaluating what the person says, and, if the criticism has merit, acting upon it.

The best way to become open to criticism is to consciously search for evidence that will support the person’s point-of-view.

Harold: ‘Ali, you can’t bat, you can’t catch, and you can’t bowl.’
Ali:   ‘What about you? You’re hopeless at –’  INCORRECT. Ali is deflecting the person’s criticism.
‘I am good at catching! Remember how I —’   INCORRECT. Ali is focusing on what he can do, while ignoring the criticism.
‘You are right. I can’t bat, or bowl, but I can catch.’    CORRECT (let’s assume he honestly evaluated the comments, and that he can catch). Ali has acknowledged the points made.
’I’ll give your comment thought.’   CORRECT, provided he does give the comment thought.
‘I can see why you think I’m a bad batsman. My average is almost zero —’  GOOD, he has searched for evidence to support Harold’s claim.
‘I don’t agree with you —’  CORRECT, provided he has honestly evaluated the criticism. Just because we are open to criticism doesn’t mean we have to agree with it.

Q. ‘What if the criticism is patently wrong?’
Still look for evidence to support the view, even though that might take only seconds. Get into the habit of being open to criticism, instead of automatically rejecting it.
  Often the criticism we receive is poor. Some people provide opinions having put no thought into them. Note: I’m not asking you to use the criticism you receive, I’m asking you to be open to receiving it. That means, listening to it carefully to see if it applies to you.

‘Do not passively accept criticism or become a silent victim. If you do, you’ll appear to have little self-confidence and may lose the respect of others and yourself.’
Pia Christensen

Q. ‘Why don’t you make the distinction between criticism and constructive criticism?’
We first have to listen to the criticism and evaluate it before we can decide how constructive it is.
      ‘What is the difference?’
  Constructive criticism is focused on the future, so that we can do better next time.
  Destructive criticism provides no advice on how we can improve. It’s designed to make us feel bad and sap our confidence.
     Someone giving us destructive criticism might use emphatic words like always, never, should.
‘You always make that mistake!’
‘You never remember to do it!’
‘You should get a grip on yourself. You should wake up.’
     Or, they use harsh words:
‘Your script is hopeless.’
‘Your haircut is diabolical.’
     Constructive criticism is given with care and affection. And with respect. Destructive criticism is at best thoughtless, and at worst, designed to hurt and derail. At such times we might ask ourselves, ‘What does the other person fear? In what way do they hope to benefit by being so negative? Do I need to be around this person?’

Q. ‘Should we ask for criticism?’
Yes, but sometimes people are reluctant to give it, so when you ask for criticism be diplomatic. Say something like: ‘Can you please give me advice on to how I can enhance my project?’

Q. ‘What if the criticism hurts?’
Ask yourself why it hurts. Examine your ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’.

‘How do we listen to criticism?’
Step 1. Let the person speak without interrupting them. Don’t immediately defend yourself or change the subject. Don’t argue. Instead, listen. Allow the person to finish what they are saying, even if what they are saying is wrong. Aim to understand their underlying message. Ensure you understand their point-of-view, and if you don’t, ask questions until you do.
  Ask for examples, but if they’re not provided, don’t assume the criticism lacked merit.
  Few people take the time to give constructive criticism, so when you receive it, consider it a gift.
  It’s the needle going into your arm: this is the bit that hurts, the bit that violates. Your job is to get through it without reacting and without complaining.

Step 2. Summarise their point-of-view after they have finished speaking. Let them know you have listened and understood. ‘You are saying that     . . . Am I correct? Is that what you mean?’
  They might correct you, or repeat the criticism in a different way. Don’t worry about that; that’s a good thing. They are feeling heard. If they do repeat themselves, again let them finish, and again confirm with, So, you are saying that . . .     Am I correct? Is that what you mean?’
  When the person finally accepts that you do understand the criticism, they will (hopefully) say something like, ‘Yes, that is what I’m saying.’
The person will feel pleased that you have listened carefully and given thought to what was said. They might even feel good about you, and about themselves.

Step 3.  Pause. Give yourself a few seconds to compose yourself.
You are not obliged to respond immediately. If you wish, say to the person: ‘Thank you for that. I’ll give what you have said some thought and get back to you later.’ (Ensure you do get back to them.)

(If you are having trouble accepting the criticism, find the bit that is true and focus on that.)

Step 4. Look for evidence that supports the criticism.

This is the step criticism-avoiders miss. In their rush to reassure themselves they look for evidence that supports their own view and contradicts the criticism. For example: If Fred says you talk too much, do not look for instances in which you said little. Instead, look for times when you did talk too much.
  If necessary, ask questions to clarify what the person meant. Ask for examples.
  This is another ‘needle in the arm’. It’s unpleasant. It hurts. It has to be done. This is where we build resilience.

Step 5. Come to a conclusion. Now that you have both points of view, yours and theirs, ask yourself, Does the criticism have merit?

Step 6. Thank the person.  Few people take the time to give constructive criticism, so when you do receive it, consider it a gift and respond with grace. Say,
‘Thank you.’  or,
‘Thank you for having the courage to give me your opinion.’ or,
‘It might have been hard for you to bring this up, so thank you for doing so.’

Step 7. If you wish, respond with something like:
‘I can see your point-of-view. You are saying that . . .  However, I disagree because . . .’
‘I understand. You have changed my mind. Thank you very much.’
‘I see what you are saying. I will change my behaviour.’

Step 8. Congratulate yourself for being open-minded, for being open to criticism.

‘Use positive self-talk when dealing with criticism, such as, “I’m Ok. I may have made a mistake, but learning from this error will increase my professionalism.”’
Pia Christensen.

Step 9. If you wish, give the person feedback. Tell the person how their criticism helped you. Tell the person what you adopted, and about the changes you are making. Again, thank the person for having the courage to tell you.

Step 10. If the criticism is helpful, apply it. Use it to grow, to improve.

‘That’s a lot of steps just to hear criticism.’
When you are in the habit of accepting criticism the steps come easily.

Candice has received a complaint about her business. Although she doesn’t enjoy receiving complaints, she says the complainer is doing her a favour. Complainers are more valuable to her than complimenters, and more valuable to her than the people who refrain from complaining and vow to never return.
  Candice knows that if she finds the complaint lacks merit, she can simply shrug and move on. If the complaint does have merit, she can respond and create for herself an even better business.

With this page in front of you, ask a friend to reveal to you one of your annoying faults. (Other people are more aware of our flaws than we are.)
  Let’s assume your friend says: ‘You often interrupt when someone is speaking.’
(Be warned. Pick your friend and topic wisely, in case you are impervious to the tips below.)

Step 1. Listen to your friend’s criticism without interrupting. Look for the underlying message, and how your behaviour might be causing problems. Ask your friend to elaborate and give examples.

Step 2. Summarise the complaint to let your friend know that you have understood.
‘You are saying I interrupt people while they are talking, and it’s rude and annoying. Is that correct?’ You might even add, ‘I can see why it’s annoying. When someone speaks they want to be taken seriously, and when I interrupt they don’t feel that I am taking them seriously.’
  When your friend replies, ‘Yes, you finally understand’, you can move to the next step.

Step 3. Pause to collect your thoughts.

Step 4. Give your friend evidence that supports her criticism.
  ‘Yes, like last Saturday. I tended to dominate the conversation, didn’t I?’
  Or: ’I can’t think of a time when I interrupted someone while they were speaking. But that’s understandable: it’s not something a person would notice.’ (That’s fair. At least you have tried to find evidence to support your friend’s claim.)

Step 5. Come to a conclusion. Does the criticism have merit?

Step 6. Thank your friend for providing the feedback.     ‘Thank you for giving me your opinion.’

Step 7. Respond:     ‘I can see what you are saying. You are saying that —’
You might add: ‘You may be right. I might interrupt people when they talk. I’ll look out for it. Thanks again.’
     If you disagree with the person’s opinion you have two options:
1) ‘I disagree with you, because —’     Or,
2) Say nothing. Leave them with the Thank you.

Step 8. Congratulate yourself for bothering to do the exercise, and thank your friend.

Step 9. If you like, give your friend feedback.     ‘This will help me because . . .’
Step 10. If the criticism was helpful, apply it.


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Admit your mistakes

‘Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind”.’
Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.

Someone who will not admit to having made a mistake is not fully admitting it to themselves either. So, they are more likely to keep making that mistake.
  When pressured, they may become accusatory, evasive, or outright lie. When caught out, they lose the trust of others, and the bonds of their relationships weaken a little.
  However, when we are in the habit of admitting to our mistakes we come to realise we can cope with the consequences. So, we become less fearful of another person’s disapproval, and more likely to share our feelings and thoughts.
  And, by accepting our fallibility we come to realise we are not diminished by it. We become less harsh with ourselves, and replace self-blame with self-acceptance.
  So, paradoxically, each time we admit to making a mistake, we feel more comfortable (after the initial embarrassment), and like ourselves more. And, funnily enough, people respect us because we display integrity. That inspires trust. People know we are taking responsibility.
  Further, the more often we admit to being wrong, the more flexible and open-minded we become. We come to trust our judgments, because we know our opinion is not based on protecting our ego, but on seeking the truth.
  None of us like to be wrong, but if we can readily admit to being wrong we have one of the umpteen keys to resilience and core happiness.
  What am I suggesting? From now on, when you are wrong (and only when you are wrong) admit to it clearly and thoroughly. It will be difficult. It will feel like you are committing psychic suicide, but do it. Out loud. Actually say the words, ‘I was wrong. I made a mistake.’
  Then congratulate yourself for transforming a mistake into something positive.

‘No matter how far you have gone down the wrong path, turn back.’
Turkish proverb.

In short, admit to your mistakes. Get into the habit of saying:
‘I was wrong.’
‘I made a mistake.’
‘I have changed my mind.’
‘I don’t know.’

Q. ‘After I have admitted my mistake, what then?’
Look at ways to rectify it, and for ways to prevent it happening again.
   Don’t be harsh with yourself. Being self-critical serves no purpose; it won’t deter yourself from making mistakes in future but it might dent your confidence.
  If you must be critical, criticise your mistake, not yourself.
  If you do catch yourself criticising yourself, retract it.

Q. ‘Does anyone else benefit?’
Sure. When you admit to being wrong the other person can feel heard, or vindicated. Plus, you are setting a splendid example.

Q. ‘When we admit to a mistake we undermine our confidence.’
On the contrary, we come to realise that making mistakes is normal and inevitable, and become less afraid of making mistakes.
 ‘If we are afraid of making mistakes we are less likely to make them.’
  And less likely to be bold. As W. C. Magee once said, ‘Those who seldom make mistakes seldom make anything.’

‘Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.’
Actress Sophia Loren.

Q. ‘If I admit to my mistakes I might get sued, or sacked, or miss out on a promotion. People in powerful positions don’t admit to their mistakes; that’s why they are in powerful positions.’
This isn’t about building a career, it’s about building person. But consider: when in business you (1) do admit to a mistake you can (2) apologise for it; (3) explain how you will be rectifying the mistake; and (4) explain what you will be doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. That must be a good thing. To do that in writing is even better. All four steps indicate that you are taking responsibility, and if your boss has any brains at all, they will recognise that and be grateful for it.

‘When you make a mistake, give the people you work with – including those you supervise – a shot at divinity. Admit your error. Own up. Then propose a course to correct the mistake. Never use your authority to mask mistakes. Admit them. Explain them. Apologize for them. Above all else, use them. Allow people to see how you accept responsibility and how you can learn from error. However, do not over-analyse mistakes or indulge in endless rounds of woulda, shoulda, coulda. Once you admit an error, look to the future. What have you learned? How will you keep this from happening again?’
From the book, ‘Patton on Leadership‘, by Alan Axelrod.


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Quality apologies are rare, and even rarer when it comes to adults apologising to children. Some of us might be afraid we will be seen as weak, and not worthy of being taken seriously in future.
  But when someone feels wronged or disadvantaged by inappropriate behaviour they need to feel safe in the knowledge that the incident won’t happen again. They require an apology: one that indicates genuine remorse and change in the person’s behaviour.
  Though let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting we apologise so that the other person benefits, I’m suggesting it because we benefit. This isn’t a book on ethics, it’s a book on how to build a person and gain resilience.
  By taking full responsibility for our actions, by fully acknowledging that what we did was wrong, we significantly increase the likelihood that we won’t make the same mistake again. (Shame has a lot going for it!) As a consequence, we become more competent and more self-assured, and bolder. We start to make better decisions. We earn back the trust and respect of others, too, because they also know we are less likely to make the same mistake again. That strengthens the connections we have with people.
  Further, by acknowledging our faults – to ourselves and to others – we can lance the ‘pus ball of shame’ within us and experience relief. Shame has done its job. It can now return to the Dark Forest.
  And, having allowed ourselves to experience that vulnerability, we remind ourselves that we can cope with the consequences, so we add to that feeling that whatever happens, we’ll handle it.
  That is why having the ability to give a full, considered apology (only when it is due) is a big confidence booster, and a key to resilience and core happiness.

Q. ‘How can I give someone a quality apology?’
Try here: ‘How to give a quality apology
and here: ‘How to give a lousy apology‘.

Q. ‘Some people apologise all the time. It ends up not meaning anything.’
Good point. Don’t over-apologise. Especially avoid the habitual ‘sorry’ some people murmur often.

Q. ‘I gave a written apology to my school teacher. How will I know if she accepted my apology?’
  You may not come to know. That’s none of your business.
  ‘Why not? I wrote the letter!’
  The recipient of your apology owes you nothing. Your teacher will decide whether or not she has accepted your apology, and whether or not she has forgiven you, and whether or not she tells you of her decision.
  The purpose of your apology is to take responsibility for what you have done, and to help your teacher feel better. Its purpose is not to earn her forgiveness. It’s not about you.
  ‘I don’t benefit?!’
  You do. Each time you take responsibility for what you have done you confront your own fallibility, and are reminded that you are not diminished by it. And, coming to terms with your own fallibility will mature you and grow your confidence in a healthy way. With your more cautious self-assuredness you will  make better decisions in life.

Q. ‘What if I don’t think I should apologise, but it is expected?’
Go over the incident thoroughly.
(1) Aim to see the incident from the other person’s perspective. What would they be thinking? What would they be feeling? How hurt might they be?
(2) What would you think and how would you feel if that were done to you?
  Then, if you still believe you should not apologise, don’t. If you like, politely explain your reasons.

Q. ‘What if the person is still not happy after receiving my apology?’
If your apology is a quality one, and you have done your genuine best to make amends within reason, there is nothing more you can do.

Q. ‘What if the other person is partly at fault?’
The part the other person played is irrelevant to your apology. Apologise for the part you played in the incident. Don’t qualify it by mentioning the part they played. Make that a separate discussion. An apology needs to be uncontaminated.

Q. ‘When can I demand an apology?’
Before you demand an apology ask yourself why you want it. Is it to exercise power over the person because you are in the right?
  ‘I want to make a stand. I want the person to think twice about doing it again.’
   You can demand an apology but you may not get one. That could make you feel worse. Don’t ask for one unless you are sure you can handle not getting one.
  If you don’t get one, don’t dwell on the fact.
  ‘I suppose if I do demand one and get it, it will be lousy and full of resentment.’
  Not always. But remember, most people aren’t practised in giving apologies. Usually they try to justify their position, so there is a good chance you will feel worse afterwards.
  A better idea is to make sure the person knows they have wronged you. ‘You are unacceptably late and I am inconvenienced‘, or ‘Your remark was cruel.‘ If you can state your case clearly and comfortably, you are sticking up for yourself and that will help you feel better. It can be a better reward than any apology you might receive.

Q. ‘If I throw a cricket ball at the stumps and accidentally break someone’s toe, do I have to give a full apology and intend to change my ways?’
We don’t need to make a full apology when we unintentionally hurt someone, unless it’s by negligence. When we say sorry in such an instance we are not apologising for what we did, we are expressing concern.
  ‘So, Jill tells me her father just died. If I killed him I give a full apology. If I didn’t kill him I can say sorry to express my concern that she’s suffering.’
  Er, yes.



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How to give a quality apology

You are asked to look after a friend’s meal while they answer the door. The meal sits on a coffee table. Your dog enters the room and scoffs your friend’s dinner. Your friend returns to find no dinner and a contented dog.
  In this instance you owe an apology.

Step 1. Use the words, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I apologise’.  These are important words. They establish a tone of respect and concern.

Step 2. Confess the crime. It is important for the other person to know that you know.
     This is the hardest bit. Let the person know you have taken the trouble to search for what went wrong. Don’t explain away your actions. Don’t mention that the other person was at fault as well. Look only at your own behaviour.
‘I am sorry, but —’  Wrong. Do not use the word ‘but’.
‘I should not have trusted Jill. She told me the dog was outside.’  Wrong. You are indirectly blaming Jill.
‘I was negligent. I did not ensure the dog was outside, and it ate your dinner.’  Correct.

Step 3.  Indicate that you understand the consequences of your actions.
‘I realise you are hungry —’
‘I understand that you have been hurt —’
‘I realise it would be upsetting —’

Step 4. Give the apology.
‘I apologise for not being careful with my dog.’
‘I am sorry because —’
‘I sincerely regret that I . . . and apologise for it.’
The recipient should feel you are taking full responsibility for what happened.

Step 5. Tell the person you are taking steps to ensure it does not happen again.
Explain the steps.  
  ‘I will from now on place your dinner where the dog can’t reach it.’
‘I will be taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. First, I will be —’
    Let the person know that their concerns are being taken seriously and are being addressed. That is important to them and it will aid reconciliation considerably.
 There are pluses for you: If you do in future take steps to avoid problems you will become more competent. You will become proficient at seeing potential problems and avoiding them. You will end up being more trusted.

Step 6. Ask the person how you can make amends.
What can I do to improve the situation?’
‘How can I make amends?’
‘May I cook you a dinner?’
 The person’s requests need to be reasonable. Some people might try to take advantage of your superb apology because they think you have relinquished your power. You have not. On the contrary, by taking responsibility for the incident you have empowered yourself. Use that power to negotiate a fair resolution.

Step 7. Don’t ask for forgiveness. The person is aware of the concept and can make that decision without your prompting. (If you must ask, declare you would like their forgiveness, but don’t wait for a response. Don’t wait for ‘Yes, I forgive you.’)
     Don’t expect an outcome. Do not expect to be forgiven. Your apology is not contingent on you being forgiven. You are giving an apology solely to express sincere regret. If the other person chooses to not forgive you, that’s their decision. They don’t even have to tell you their decision. It’s none of your business.
     But let the other person respond. Don’t, for example, immediately leave the room.
     The other person might take hours, or days to get back to you. If at all. When they do, don’t say anything that might negate or diminish your apology. Listen to them and put yourself in their shoes. Your job is to understand how they felt about the incident, or how they felt about your apology, not set them straight.

Step 8. Aim to let the incident go. Don’t punish yourself. If you have been sincere, and will be ensuring the incident does not happen again, and if you have done your best to rectify the problem, then you are on the right path and that’s good enough. Don’t dwell on the matter. Everyone makes blunders. This was your turn.

In summary:

‘I apologise.’   (The key word.)
‘I negligently let my dog steal your dinner.’ (Confess the crime.)
‘I realise you are hungry, and angry.’ (Acknowledge the consequences)
‘I apologise for not being careful with my dog.’ (Give the apology.)
‘I will from now on ensure the dog is outside when we eat.’ (Explain your preventative steps.)
‘In what way can I make amends? May I cook your dinner?’ (Rectify the situation.)

A troublesome student to her teacher:

‘Dear Miss Cohen,
I am sorry for my prank. It was wrong. I did not intend to hurt your feelings, I just wanted to get a laugh, but it was a cheap laugh and it was at your expense. I was wrong to do that.
I realise my prank upset you and I am sorry that it did. I apologise. I wish I had not done it. I will not do a prank like that in the future. I will consider the person’s feelings first.
     Please let me know if there is a way I can make amends.

The student giving the apology has:
– said she was sorry,
– explained what happened and why it was wrong
– displayed remorse,
– given the formal apology.
– has promised to not do it again,
– has offered to make amends.

Would you like to avoid making a mistake? Try: ‘How to give a lousy apology‘.



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How to give a lousy apology.

‘I’m sorry for what I did, but I’ve had a hard day.’  Nuh. That’s not taking responsibility. Avoid the word ‘but’ and don’t give excuses.  Try instead:  ‘I’m sorry for what I did.   Good. Then think of ways to prevent a hard day from having such an influence over you in the future.

‘I’m sorry for what I did. I didn’t mean to upset you.’  Wrong. You’re implying the recipient is thin-skinned, and that you really shouldn’t be apologising for something so minor.  ‘I’m sorry for what I did. I regret what I did and apologise for it.’  Good. That’s more honest.

‘I’m sorry for what I did. I’ll try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.’  Wrong. Do more than try.  ‘I’m sorry for what I did. I will ensure it doesn’t happen again.’  Good. And, ensure it doesn’t.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realise it meant so much to you.’ That’s not an apology, that’s a sneer.
‘I’m sorry. That was important to you and I was grossly inconsiderate. I’ll be more considerate in the future.’  That’s better.

‘I’m sorry, but all I said was . . .’   No buts! And don’t undermine your apology by trivialising the incident. If you don’t think your behaviour is worth an apology, don’t be disingenuous by giving one.

‘We are closed for renovations. We apologise for the inconvenience.’  Wrong. Keep your apologies for when you’ve done something wrong. An honest and non-patronising statement might be, ‘We are closed for renovations’.

‘I’m sorry for what I did. I thought you had a sense of humour.’  That’s not an apology, that’s an insult. And, you’re blaming the person for not seeing the incident in the same way you saw it.

‘I’m sorry. I thought you might find it funny.’  Wrong. You are blaming the other person for not finding it funny. Try: ‘I was wrong and I’m sorry. I can see you were hurt and I regret it.’

‘I’m sorry if you’re offended,’ and ‘I’m sorry you took it the wrong way’ and ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’  No. In each sentence you are not apologising for your actions, you’re simply regretting the way they interpreted it. You’re suggesting it’s their fault they’re offended.

‘I owe you an apology.’  Wrong, unless you immediately follow with the apology itself. Telling someone you owe them $20 is not the same as giving them the $20.  Try: ‘I apologise for —’

‘I wish to apologise for —’   Wrong. Wishing you were giving someone $20 is not the same as giving them $20.   Try: ‘I apologise for —’

‘I’m sorry, alright!!’ Obviously, no. That’s not an apology; that’s a demand to back off.

Here is a dissection of a real, but poor, apology.
I present it not to criticise the giver of the apology. He remains unnamed and I hope unrecognised. I don’t even know if the apology he gave was warranted because I don’t know the facts of the matter. You and I are examining this apology only because it’s a good example of a poor one.
For all I know, his apology might be perfect if we take into account the legal ramifications. I’m not criticising the man for not giving a better apology, I’m using his apology as an example of what not to do. In the legal world it can be a different matter, but that’s not our concern here.

‘I love the XX club. It’s been a part of my life since I was born. It was part of my father’s life, it was part of my grandfather’s life.
  And I am so sorry for anything that’s happened or that’s been done wrong to our players or been done wrong to our football club.
  I and we would never do anything intentionally to harm this club or to harm the game . . . that has given me so much and given so many people so much.’

Let’s examine his words.
‘I love the club. It’s been a part of my life since I was born. It was part of my father’s life, it was part of my grandfather’s life.’ 
  He is saying, ‘Please understand that I meant no wrong. I hope you will go easy on me.’ That’s acceptable.

‘And I am so sorry for —’
He apologises, but to whom? To no one. It’s as though he feels obligated to fling out an apology, and does so, without directing it to the people who might actually deserve it. We can feed someone either by placing the food in front of them, or by flinging the food onto the floor and letting someone find it. Which is the more sincere, the more respectful? Try instead:   ‘I apologise to A, B and C.’  That’s respectful, and it’s taking responsibility.
He could add something like: I realise this affects everyone in the club, including the supporters, and I apologise to them.’

Moving on:
‘I am so sorry for — (what has) been done wrong to our players —’
  He appears to be apologising for what other people have done wrong. No one can apologise for what someone else has done without being disingenuous and patronising. Try instead (depending on the truth of the matter):
‘I will not apologise for the actions of others. However, I deeply regret that I did not adequately oversee . . . and I apologise for not doing so.’

Or, ‘I knew what other people were doing and I knew it was wrong. I apologise for condoning their actions —’
Or, ‘I’m sorry for what I did wrong to our players.’
Or, ‘I cannot apologise because I have done nothing wrong.’

Now let’s look at his whole sentence: ‘And I am so sorry for anything that’s happened or that’s been done wrong to our players or been done wrong to our club.’
‘anything that’s happened —’ Could he get any vaguer?
‘anything that’s been done wrong —’ He uses the word ‘anything’ rather than ‘everything’, putting in doubt that there even has been a wrong. It’s as though he doesn’t know what has been done wrong, but is apologising for it anyway. He’s like a child admitting to wrongs he doesn’t understand, just to get the fuss over and done with and to keep people happy. He appears hapless, not contrite.
If his apology were sound he might say something like, I believe I have done nothing wrong and I apologise for nothing. However, I am distressed with how much suffering there has been in the club and I recognise that many people believe I am at least partly responsible for it. I will be doing everything I can to ensure — ’
  Or,  ‘I am sorry to A, B and C for —’ (citing specifically what he did wrong, one item after the other.)

Moving on:
‘I and we would never do anything intentionally to harm this club or to harm the game . . . that has given me so much and given so many people so much.’
He would not seriously believe that we would think he was intentionally harming the club or the game, so why would he say that? He says it because he wants to make himself look innocent, and to avoid taking responsibility. He could say something like (depending on the truth of the matter):
  ‘I and we have harmed this club and the game. On behalf of myself and (the others) I apologise for doing so.’ 
  Or, ‘With our negligence, I and we have harmed this club and the game. On behalf of myself and —’
  Or, ‘I and we would never do anything intentionally to harm this club or to harm the game, which is why I insist that we are innocent— .’

When I saw him give the apology I got the feeling he was weary of the accusations, and was throwing apologies at us to get us off his back. His distress was sincere, but his apologies didn’t seem to be.
   Perhaps he was genuinely remorseful. If so, he could work on his ability to give apologies.
   If he believes (perhaps rightly) that he did not owe an apology, it might explain why he gave such a poor one.

Would you like to know how to do it right? Try : ‘How to give a quality apology


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Don’t lie to yourself

If we want to feel comfortable about ourselves and develop a feeling of substance, we need to be clear about what we think, and about what we feel. One way to do that is to avoid lying to ourselves.
  Most of us lie to ourselves because it’s convenient. A person generous with their money might, for example, conclude they are kind. It’s an easy and convenient assumption to make. It may even be right. But there are other possibilities: perhaps the person feels unworthy of having money. Or, they might feel responsible for other people’s problems, and feel anxious, and being generous would help relieve their anxiety. Or, they might be unable to refuse a request, fearful of being perceived as selfish.

‘If you find that you drink an unhealthy amount, you might tell yourself that you are choosing to relax and unwind with a few drinks after work and you just got caught up in the moment, but maybe the real choice you have made is to deny your alcoholic tendencies or to shorten your life expectancy.’
Domonique Bertolucci, in his book, ‘The Happiness Code’.

When we are at the mercy of motives we don’t fully understand, we can’t truly know who we are, and we can’t always make the right decisions. We might drift through life buffeted by our misconceptions, only dimly aware of what is going on. However, when we face the truth head on, it slowly becomes easier to see, and easier to accept. We then lose our fear of it, and begin to make sharper decisions.
  If the generous person were to know their true motives it doesn’t mean they will be less generous, or less helpful, but it does mean they will be aware of the forces driving them. That’s important. It’s important for all of us if we want life to run smoothly.

‘I think it bodes well for us to deal with difficult situations in truthful ways, facing discomfort, so that we build on forging a stronger, more secure voice.’
Anonymous, found in Gerald Dworkin’s article, How You Justified 10 Lies (Or didn’t).

Some of us tend to take the credit for things that go well, and find excuses when things don’t. Some of us fool ourselves into believing in New-Age guff like astrology, and psychic powers. Some of us even believe we have those powers! And, some of us believe in anti-ageing creams, weight loss pills, and internet scams.    
  We believe because we want to. We choose to not see the truth.

‘When we don’t want to see the truth we’ll lie to ourselves. These lies are the toughest to spot because they are our own. . . . Only the exceptional person is willing to look at what he doesn’t want to see, listen to what he doesn’t want to hear, and believe that which he wishes would not exist.’
David J. Lieberman, in his book, ‘Never Be Lied to Again.’

So, how can we avoid lying to ourselves? Simple: by not lying about ourselves. When we lie to someone about ourselves we also lie to ourselves. If we feel the need to hide the truth from someone it means we ourselves are not fully accepting the truth.

‘By lying to people I’ve been putting myself down too, just by sending a message to myself that I’m not good enough.’

We need to face the truth head-on, not hide from it. That can be enormously uncomfortable. Yet that truth will slowly become easier to accept. Then we lose our fear of it. And when we spend less energy hiding the truth from ourselves and from others, we can relax and go easy on ourselves. And feel less anxiety.
  There are exceptions. Disclosing too much of ourselves can at times be off-putting for others. We need to be sensitive to the other person’s interest, and choose carefully.
  Also, being too revealing might leave us open to persecution.
  Allow yourself to be vulnerable in the company of people you trust. Or always ensure that if your trust were betrayed, you could handle the consequences. What are the worst consequences possible? Could you handle them?
  If you want to refrain from disclosing information about yourself, fine. You were not put on this planet to answer people’s questions. Say, ‘I decline to answer.’

How to avoid lying about yourself:
1. Be honest about what you are feeling.
If you pretend to feel one emotion while feeling another, pretty soon you won’t know what you are feeling. We need a clear understanding of our emotions to avoid being led by them, and to get that understanding we need to know them. Lying to other people about our emotions will distort that process.     ‘Hey guys, I’m actually frightened.’
      ‘I am feeling irritated right now.’
A further benefit: you will connect with people on a deeper level. They know where they stand with you and feel comfortable being with you.

2. Be honest about what you are thinking.
If you don’t want people to know what you are thinking, decline to tell them. Don’t lie about it. But when you do disclose your thoughts, tell the truth.
‘Hey, I don’t understand.’
‘I do think . . . and here is why.’
‘I disagree, but prefer to not explain why.’ (That’s better than fibbing.)

3. Be honest about your achievements or your abilities.
Don’t exaggerate them, and don’t undermine them.
  If you exaggerate your achievements you are pretending to be a person you are not, and that will prompt a voice in your head to sneer, ‘phoney!’ You don’t want that. You might impress others with your exaggerations, but you’ll just feel like an imposter. And feel anxious wondering if you will be found out.
  Don’t undermine your achievements or abilities either. That’s not humility, that’s lying.

4. Be honest about your mistakes.
Having the ability to admit faults and mistakes is an attractive quality, as is the ability to laugh at oneself and not take oneself too seriously.

In summary, being truthful with others, about what you think and about what you feel, will help you be aware of what you really do think and really do feel. That understanding will ground you. Instead of becoming a composite of lies and mixed messages, you will become consistent, stable, and self-knowing.
  To lie about yourself can conceal a wound and let it fester. To tell the truth about yourself can open that wound and let the pus drain. It’s uncomfortable initially, but it heals.
  When you speak the truth about yourself you discover that truth, and discover yourself.

 ‘. . . keeping secrets reinforces the perception that their shame is justified, and that catastrophic consequences would follow should others find out. This maintains their anxiety and perception of defectiveness. One of the best ways to evaluate whether our beliefs are correct is to conduct a behavioural experiment . . . self-disclose to the relevant people and observe their responses. Once we ‘come out’, our anxiety drops because we no longer need to worry that people will find out. In addition, in most cases people do not react with the harsh judgment that we had predicted, and so we get immediate evidence that our perceived failings are not so bad after all.
   But what if they do? Behavioural experiments with self-disclosure always involve some risk . . . sometimes our fears are realised . . . However, we do not overcome our self-doubts and fears without taking risks . . . The most powerful learning occurs when we risk the possibility of disapproval and discover that in most cases it does not happen, and that even if it should happen, that we can cope.’
From Sarah Edelman’s book, ‘Change Your Thinking’.

Q. ‘Are you suggesting I tell people my secrets?’
You are entitled to keep secrets, especially when it’s no one else’s business. When making a decision about whether or not to reveal yourself, use commonsense – it’s no use unburdening if you will be persecuted as a result. But if the secret gnaws at you, and burdens you, consider revealing it to a trusted friend.

Q. ‘Should I reveal that I am . . . ?’
I can’t answer that. On one hand, you may feel better after revealing it, because you will no longer have to expend all that energy hiding your true self. You will find it easier to be the person you were meant to be, and be far more relaxed. On the other hand, if you reveal yourself you may encounter problems you might not yet be ready to deal with.
  Seek competent, helpful advice about whether you should reveal fruity stuff about yourself, and when. There are free counselling services available in some countries.

Q. ‘I’ve been lying all my life. It’s a hard habit to break. In certain circumstances I find myself automatically looking for a fib, to protect myself.’
It is like that for many of us. Monitor yourself. Persist. Be alert to your lies, and when you hear yourself lie, retract it. Say to the person, ‘No, that’s not true, I take that back— .’ After a while you will catch yourself before you get the words out.

‘The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others. So, I think that the more honest you are, the more self-confident you will be.’    
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

Don’t make excuses. For example, if you pirate music, don’t  justify your actions with excuses. Admit to yourself you are a thief. Be honest with yourself. It’s better for you if you come to terms with your behaviour.

Q. ‘What if someone aims to do something extraordinary? What if they decide to be an astronaut, create an empire, or become a talk show host? The chance that they will succeed is slim. Aren’t they lying to themselves? If they took your advice they would give up.’
  To aim high doesn’t mean we are deluding ourselves. If we think we can achieve something, but can’t, we are simply mistaken. Our judgment might be poor. We can’t assume we won’t succeed; some people do become astronauts or talk show hosts.
     Can you see the difference between the two views below?
     View A: ‘I can give up alcohol.’          (This might be a delusion, but it also might be true.)
     View B: ‘I don’t have a drinking problem.’      (This is a lie to oneself.)

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