Sharp Tempers and Social Challenges

1369 Relax and Succeed - You are not alone

You know who you are. And somehow, by reading these posts, you can sense that I can speak your language. This means that, over time and without really intending to, I have developed somewhat of a sub-specialty of working with very capable –often female– individuals who struggle with issues around friendship, work relationships, and their romantic lives.

Unattended, these effects tend to increase with age, and these issues all largely stem from people’s sense that they simply do not ‘fit in.’

How that plays out in daily life is that you will often have your mind focused on other things, which can lead you to mis-reading some social cue or other. You’ll also often be disliked simply for your preference for focused solitary work at the expense of many group activities. Many of you also talk about others being threatened by your temper, which often comes on suddenly, but fades remarkably fast.

A short list of some common traits that people that like this often –but don’t always– exhibit are things like:

  • You are always a pleasure to talk to because many of you share excellent verbal skills.
  • Your emotions can often feel disproportionate to the situation, and you can often have strong all-or-nothing feelings and those can often make friendships difficult to maintain.
  • Despite the fact that you will often endure hardship longer than most people, you will often reach points of frustration first but then be fine afterwards.
  • A version of your over-emoting is that you will often feel you have over-shared by misreading social cues.
  • Most of you, whether educated or not, are quite intelligent, with impressive natural, logical thinking skills. You are also often very good at tasks requiring long periods of focused work.
  • You will often be viewed as controlling youngsters, but as adults they you’ll often end up in leadership or organizational roles because you are good at tough decisions, (although your ability to focus and your iconoclastic style can also see you end up making your tough decisions as an artist).
  • Your sense of intellectual rigour means you see complexity in pretty much anything you look at, so you’ll often want to calculate all the angles. That same busy-minded quality will also often lead you to avoid crowds or general busy-ness.
  • You tend to naturally gravitate to things that require precision, like accounting, or engineering, or the law, and you’ll often enjoy the sciences in general. STEM subjects often are appealing, as are fields that involve difficult either-or decisions made by experts or administrators. For instance, very few teachers are like this, but the ones who feel they would make good principals often are.
  • Forgetfulness is common, you are often late and mix up times, and many of you pay with anxiety, stomach issues and clenching teeth.
  • Unless you know how to stop them, you can get caught up in obsessive, repetitive thought-loops.
  • Music, repetition or tactile sensations will often offer comfort to you.
  • You tend to be fashion, car, and even holiday iconoclasts, and you are often dismissive of many social norms.
  • Rather notably, you often have a favourable view of people who dislike you and you find it difficult maintaining any grudges.
  • Many of you have also had a childhood that required you to grow up quickly.
  • You are often viewed as self-centered, but other than a distaste for not being liked, you generally feel that you are neither important nor unimportant, and you have fairly healthy ego –except for the suffering associated with trying to explain everything on this list.

There is no question that some of those qualities are challenging in society. Others are significant advantages. And some can go either way. So as scary as that list might look if you’re on it and struggling, it’s really no worse than any other kind of person’s list –as long as you manage your life accordingly.

1369 Relax and Succeed - You don't have to be someone else

Like anyone, people like this just need to know how to maximize who they are and how to manage the prices associated with being this way (as opposed to the prices paid by people who are other ways). No one gets through life without some crosses to bear. But you can still be like this and be enlightened.

It makes sense if you feel alone. It makes sense that you find life frustrating because I know you all come so ready for answers, and you’ve all worked quite hard to understand your situation. But it’s one of those things that’s hard to see from the outside, and I’ve seen many people get all kinds of wild diagnoses that they could not relate to.

Particularly if people are young, their entire lives can end being defined by an early misdiagnosis that then follows them through life. Each new professional meets them by starting with a false premise that they rarely, if ever, let the ‘patient’ influence or change.

That approach and sense of reality on the part of doctors then means that any time the ‘patient’ resists their ‘definition’ or ‘diagnoses,’ their behaviour is viewed seen as resistance to the truth, rather than as evidence that the original diagnosis may have been wrong.

This leaves the otherwise healthy person in a weird loop where they know they need help to understand the way they are, but they don’t feel mentally ill in any way, shape or form.

At worst most feel misunderstood, which likely explains why they are often so comfortable with me. I generally admire them. To me, they all seem like the only thing ‘wrong’ is that they need to know how to manage the sort of person they are.

When I ask them if they would take a pill to be more like others –one where they could find socializing much easier and they would feel more understood– they all find that idea attractive. At the same time, they all say they would only want that for one day or one week, just to see what it’s like. But so far no one actually wants a pill that permanently steals what they have always perceived as a strength.

You are right. Those are strengths when managed well. In certain fields, these sorts of people are often seen as exemplary professionals, and in some professions that benefit from these people’s abilities, they can even outnumber ‘normal’ people. So do not feel like you cannot belong.

If that list feels even partially familiar to you, please do not hate yourself. The negative feedback you get does hurt, but it also makes a kind of sense. But you can feel better once you have a better understanding of why these things are happening, which in turn allows you to be able to see those reactions as being less personally meaningful.

By discovering who you really are you can free our own mind. By surrendering your need to ruminate on all of the why’s behind the reactions you get, you can instead focus on using your considerable abilities to take your life forward.

Keep the faith. You aren’t broken, but you are special. And that can be a very good thing if you’re living your life in accordance with who you really are.

peace, s

Old Books New Covers

1331 Relax and Succeed - Know your enemy

Our egos are active when we are sitting in judgment of ours or other’s thoughts and behaviours. To avoid this enervating activity it is often helpful to have an external focus for our attention. For this reason let’s begin the week with a meditation and exercise that might take moments, or days –but for however long it lasts we won’t be thinking about ourselves, and that’s a healthy thing.

We need to choose a person we generally avoid. Maybe someone we actively dislike, but it can even just be someone we wouldn’t normally ever choose to associate but we have no strong aversion to. It doesn’t have to be the way Steve Martin felt about John Candy at the start of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We just have to start from a place where we feel the impulse that this other person doesn’t ‘fit’ with us in some way.

The question is, do we feel that way because they don’t fit with us? Or because when we met them we unknowingly judged them based on our own random state of mind at that moment? Did our imagination place a mask over a person we actually don’t know?

Maybe we don’t like how they are in the world. Maybe they are clumsy, or too talkative, or too timid, or their beliefs clash with some of ours. Maybe we don’t like something they did or didn’t do, or maybe they just seem boring, or they remind us of someone who did something painful to us long ago and our reasons are essentially subliminal.

In the end, the reason we feel a disconnect with the person is less important than the following fact: the recognition of the inherent value of others is bestowed on others by us, it cannot be magically earned by the people we are judging.

1331 Relax and Succeed - The recognition of the inherent value of others

Once we’ve found this sibling, or co-worker or classmate or other person, let’s set about learning something new about them. We’re not prying into their lives, we re-looking at its public aspects like; who their friends are, or do they hold doors for little old ladies, do they make their own lunch? We can even just listen more closely to what they say and what it implies.

We may have to get to know them through various means in order to see them in a more three dimensional way, but if we have to do it in person without them realizing it, that can offer a lot of lessons to an aware person. A great deal can be learned by practicing the act of listening to someone super-closely.

We’ll all know we’ve completed the exercise when we find something that clashes with our belief about the person. We’ll feel that as a mild surprise. Maybe their favourite basketball player is ours. Maybe they love the same poem, or band, or idea. Maybe their sister is an alcoholic too. Or maybe they are one of the few people that understands how it feels to watch your mom die in Grade Four.

When we find this thing we’ll know it because we will –if we’re paying attention– quite notably feel the chemical shift in our bodies. As our minds change, our bodies will too.

Somehow we feel this shift in much the same way that most of use can feel the release of our white blood cells during an illness. In that case, we’ll will often say things like, “I think my cold is turning,” 15 minutes after the release. In this case, the realization about the other person will also release a form of tension within us.

That tension will have been created by us expending energy, thinking subconsciously limiting thoughts that served to restrict who that other person might be, even if all we were doing was not inviting them into our circle.

By relaxing our definition to fit our new information –by thinking different thoughts about them– we allow other people to more successfully be themselves near us, and that warms relations between us. This is what can make it such a useful exercise for society.

Remember: we find something we like about someone that we formerly ignored or didn’t like. Then we find a way to connect with them anyway until we sense that we really have changed our idea of who the person is (for the better).

The nice thing about this is, even if we fail at the exercise, even just trying it will have positive impacts as an exercise in compassion. Enjoy the process. This is us getting healthier.

peace. s

What’s Your Hidden Agenda?

1255 Relax and Succeed - The moment I saw youOur ego is sly. It’s been with us since we were little, so its voice is so ubiquitous that it just disappears into the background. But it has an agenda, and the problem for our soul is; that isn’t our agenda, it’s our ego’s.

Our ego doesn’t like challenge, or discomfort or pain. Avoiding those experiences means that our ego makes us pay for that resistance with anxiety, insecurity and suffering. It’s really not a very good trade; living in an ego state where you need things to be your way when your soul is fine with how things already are–including you.

A good example of this is when people are super upset. Presuming the experience isn’t common, people rarely see anyone extremely upset and it can be alarming at first because everyone’s family does that differently. Some people talk about suicide or destroying things, others go dark and silent for days, other attack those present with lashing words. Regardless of what it looks like, it’s when someone is in in an egocentric state and they are experiencing serious distress.

1255 Relax and Succeed - Never in the history of calmSo how does an ego react? Our ego isn’t really interested in the world, it’s focused on its own personal impression of the world, but our ego can’t even have a personal impression of anything because it is created by other people and experiences. It’s like a recording, or a Turing Machine, or set of levers. It’s not very flexible and it only has access to knowledge but no wisdom.

When someone is extremely upset our ego wants them to calm down quickly because it’s uncomfortable for our egos to be in challenging circumstances. Instead we generate anxiety as we struggle to figure out what to say to achieve our own agenda, yet when someone’s in distress, our agenda isn’t going to be relevant whether we want it to be or not.

Our soul has no agenda, so it needs nothing from the other person. It merely observes and responds by nature. This means rather than trying to think of the right thing to say, (which is like using our hand to smooth the ripples out of water), our soul can simply be present. It rightfully understands that it is present for the other person’s experience, but it’s not having the other person’s experience. That alone should generate some helpful gratitude.

1255 Relax and Succeed - To obtain satoriOnce we’ve taken away our personal resistance to the behaviour we’re witnessing we can then have our natural wisdom take over. When we’re in that state we seem to say just the right thing, even if it immediately might not feel like it to our ego. Rather than asking the person’s ego to find the soul that creates it, instead our soul invites their ego to surrender and be at peace in the chaos. Your ego wants them to feel better, your soul is prepared to join them in feeling badly.

It isn’t hard to see that if we’re prepared to feel badly then we get to avoid the anxiety, worry and second-guessing involved with trying to figure out the right thing to say. Sometimes there is no right thing. Sometimes the person just needs time while they feel loved and then the process can unfold. But no matter where anyone is in that state, no one is wrong, no one is lost, and no one is right and no one is found. We are all simply either being an ego or being ourselves and we will balance between the two as the act of living our lives.

Take time to be present with suffering even if it’s your own. Rather than fix it just observe it. Prove to yourself, that can be more comfortable being present than being happy, and in doing so, enjoy your day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.