Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #8
People are often surprised when I say I don’t change people but that I change their awareness. They wonder how that can help if, for instance, a couple doesn’t change whatever behaviour patterns are leading to their difficulty. I would agree in the cases of physical or emotional abuse, but there’s not always a need for anyone to change their behaviours so long as better understanding exists. Things will never be perfect, so it’s important in any relationship that we have ways of dealing with the harder, darker parts of our partner because every partner will have those, including you and me.
I was trying to think of a good example of how this awareness affects your perceptions of what’s really going on and how that awareness makes your responses much wiser and more informed. I was surprised to run into such a good example. A client reminded me of one insight that he and many other clients have noted as being very helpful. In their cases, each of them found their relationships improved a great deal when they had a better understanding of lalochezia (lalia, speech + chezō, to relieve oneself). It’s often used in a medical context, but it’s how–when you’ve hit your finger with a hammer–screaming a swear-word can actually help you feel better. In those cases, yelling is an attempt to equalize pressure in much the same way that a race-car is designed to have parts fly off to help dissipate accident energy. It can be a good method of quickly getting rid of unpleasant and negative chemistry.
A recent example of where an increased awareness of this helped someone was a very quiet and relatively diminutive boyfriend who was struggling with worry because he found his girlfriend’s angry screaming so threatening. His parents were British and went to the right schools. If anything life was maybe a tad cool, but it was always highly civil. He’d seen plenty of cold shoulders but he had never heard a person yell at their partner until he started dating.
His wife on the other hand came from an embattled house where the parents and children routinely screamed insults at each other. The boyfriend knew her family as much closer and warmer than his, so when they shouted at each other it always felt like violence to him and he would shrink back in fear. I was fortunate enough to be on the phone with him one night when she went off on one of the rants he dreads. Having finally heard one myself I was able to meet with them and help them a great deal.
I explained to him that there were two types of yelling and insults. One is cutting and deeply personal and it’s designed to hurt the person listening to it. This is the very lowest and most destructive form of exchange. Fortunately there is also a version of yelling and even insults that is almost therapeutic. I explained the concept of lalochezia to him and then told him about this example:
Before he moved away I used to have a friend who would phone me on occasion. Sometimes he would call and say, “Hey do you have a moment to talk? I’m upset.” And I would ask him if he wanted me to change the course of his thinking or should I let him be angry? Sometimes he would choose the latter.
On those days it felt better to him to express his anger so he was looking for a safe place to do that where no one would get hurt. How respectful. So on those days I would tell him to go ahead and then he would start complaining about whatever had first upset him. If it was bad, he would chain it into other problems and in the worst cases he would even start attacking me. But when I say worst case I don’t mean that I was attacked. I mean that he felt so horrible that he attacked someone I know he knows loves him. That made my heart go out to him. And that is precisely my point. By having this empathetic view, what would make a lot of people angry instead made me even more compassionate.
So why not demand that he behave better? Because then I’m asking him for something and he’s already in trouble. If I do that I want to be right rather than wanting peace with my friend. I’m not mad. I feel good. By demanding that the other person grow a whole new personality you are throwing away a gift.
There’s a dude yelling at me, bringing up mistakes I made five years earlier and saying those events define me as this ugly thing or that useless person and am I getting angry? Do I feel attacked? No, I’m in love with my friend and I understand. And I know how much he appreciates that he has this freedom with me and that after he calms down he’ll remember I’m the only friend he has that can do that. Eventually he burns the chemistry out of his bloodstream and rather suddenly he’ll shift. We’ll both be able to tell it happened by the sound of his breathing and his voice. I’ll ask him, “Are you good?”
He’ll take a moment to be sure. “Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s it. Thanks. Everything okay for you?”
He wants to make sure he hasn’t hurt my feelings. He hasn’t. “Yeah, hey, no problem, but I gotta go okay? I’ve got a deadline.”
“No problem. Thanks again. I owe you one.”
We’d hang up and, despite the fact that I just listened to negativity and anger directed toward me personally, I would still feel good that I had been useful to a friend I love and care about. His day was better because of our friendship. That feels good. The yelling didn’t make my day worse. It made it better. That whole thing took 15 minutes. 15 minutes. Things are what you think they are. And, in a beautifully poetic way, by calling me in that state of mind where I could model the opposite State of Mind, wouldn’t you know—he started absorbing that state himself. So the thing I would have tried to force into him via convincing ended up there naturally through listening. Voila.
So it’s important that I teach a client to take stock of the reality being experienced by the person they’re talking to, because they cannot apply their reality to the other people’s reactions. They have to listen to the type of angry words they’re hearing and make sure that the situation isn’t the opposite of what they’re assuming. Rather than them needing protection it may be that their partner than needs love and support.
Only with practice can the entrance to that process be as clear as with my buddy and I, but if you know this is what to listen for then you can watch for these situations shaping up throughout your day. Once you identify that they’re struggling, you go voluntarily right down there with them and then your natural buoyancy reminds them of their own. You feel where their energy is at and you harmonize with them and invite them higher, to greater perspective and more internal peace. But you do that by simply staying strong in the face of their experience. Just be sanguine and in love with them, regardless of what they say in that crazy State of Mind. I swear, they’ll love you for it. Just make sure you start bowing out as soon as it stops feeling like you’re doing something helpful.
Much love, s
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.