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

Relationship School

1348 Relax and Succeed - Relationship School

This fall I will be starting the latest round of my course, The Principles of Healthy Relationships. I won’t pretend to know who or what is right or wrong for someone else. But I do know that by learning how to clear our heads and change our perspectives, we can learn to more clearly see what defines a healthy relationship for us.

Each of us comes to our relationships with unique histories, unique circumstances and a unique personality. Those factors in turn lead us to date in unique ways and to create unique relationships. We even have unique breakups. And yet within us there is a certain consistency that we see emerge as patterns.

The differences between us derive from small differences in how we weight our values and our preferences, and our patterns emerge because those rarely change. But what is helpful is that we all share a set of helpful principles that we process our values and preferences with, and we can become conscious of that process.

We all know it’s possible for us to be attracted to certain kinds of unhealthy situations, and we often have the same conflicts with multiple partners, both of which are indications of the invisible set of rules we have been using in our relationships. Yet, we cannot function wisely within them if we’re not even sure what those rules and boundaries are, where they came from, or if they’re helpful.

It is possible for us to be more conscious of what we bring to a relationship, both in terms of how we foster them in healthy ways and how we unwittingly undermine them. Because we not only need to know how to find joy, we also need good strategies for how to manage our particular brands of trouble.

Every good relationship runs into problems –even serious ones. But the healthiest relationships succeed precisely because they have calmly thought out good strategies for dealing effectively with the patterns we create with our lives.

If we understand our Selves and how we truly operate, we are then able to tell the difference between when our ego is over-reacting, and when we have an issue that truly needs a healthy resolution.

By slowing our dating, relationship and breakup processes down, and by seeing them in new and insightful ways, it is much easier for us to find healthy new routes into better quality relationships.

1348 Relax and Succeed - Being single dating being in a relationship

If we’re single we can benefit from gaining a better understanding of the differences between solitude and loneliness. That way we can avoid both hiding from relationships, as well as being pushed into unhealthy ones. (It’s no surprise that we often make better choices when we’re feeling healthy and not under stress.)

If we’re dating, that’s often through websites which match qualities and interests, and yet people in good relationships will sometimes share those and other times not, so clearly those are not the secret. Qualities and interests are important, but in the end what we are with in a relationship is someone’s true character. Knowing how to recognize it early helps us to figure out much sooner if someone is destined to cross one of our relationship limits.

And if we’re in a relationship, or if we’re thinking about leaving one, we gain by establishing much more clearly what our personal needs really are, and why we are with the person we are with. This can can facilitate very helpful dialogue and can just as often lead to a beautiful relationship renewal as it can lead to a compassionate and healthy break-up.

Whether we avoid someone, unite with someone, sacrifice to stay with someone or decide leave someone, in any case our actions should be motivated by the same underlying principle: because that choice will lead to a greater quality of life.

We can share our lives with others and we do not have to surrender ourselves completely to do it. At least not all the time. But we do need to know where our own balance points are, and how those correspond to our partners or potential partners. Without that we can easily see things tumble.

No one is ever wrong or right for everyone, but finding who we’re right for is certainly much easier when we have a clearer and more principled idea of what it is we’re really looking for.

peace. s

Senior Isolation

I had a horrifying realization the other day. It’s one of those things that you should spot right away because it’s right in front of you, but somehow even with all those clues I was maintaining an old and dangerous idea.

778 Relax and Succeed - It's the oldest story in the worldIf you were to ask me how my essentially never-unhappy father could possibly be depressed, I would answer that the only thing I could imagine doing that would be prolonged isolation. He just loves people too much. He loves to talk, he’s a great joker and he’s just a generally super-helpful person. And then it struck me.

There had been a bit of a pattern forming around Dad. I can always feel when one of those realizations is coming–it’s quite distinctive. A few times while I was over doing my daily visit I noticed that Dad wasn’t participating like he usually does. He hadn’t added many jokes lately. Just something was… off.  At first I attributed it to his stroke and then I realized that he looked sad for the first time in my life.

Sadness was so odd–so strange, so baffling–that it really stood out. And then I realized that through body language he’s told us what’s happening. He used to try to participate, but with his hearing aids that’s hard. We can use our brains and ears to hone in on individual speakers in a busy room but people with hearing aids generally can’t.

778 Relax and Succeed - The quietest roomThey aid delivers a different sound pattern to their brain than their ear did, and so they can’t do the filtering with their old wiring. And so my Dad–and I’m sure many others–eventually gave up. So now that he’s not making the effort we didn’t know we needed to change what we were doing. We have left him essentially alone in every room even if he’s with people. And I said, the only thing I can ever imagine making my Dad sad is if he can’t engage with the human beings he’s always loved so much.

The moment I realized that I was driving to my parents to play cards with my Dad. It’s one on one, he can hear me no problem, and he loves beating me at crib–which he often does. Two deals in and there’s my smiling Dad back, making jokes, teasing me, teasing my Mom and seeming younger and less like a stroke victim every hand. My only regret was that I couldn’t plan for it and I only had time for one game. But I’ll be playing against him again tomorrow.

I now know at family gatherings, my Dad hasn’t lost interest. It’s just too difficult. So from now on I’m his crowd-Sherpa. I’m going to lead him through those events so that he knows what’s going on. Even if it’s mostly just him and I–at least we can still have the same fun we always had.

778 Relax and Succeed - Remember that everyone you meetI don’t think older people would decline anywhere near as much if they were engaged with often. Too many institutional seniors homes look like warehouses and not enough like activity centers. We should stick playschools and kennels in the same facility as seniors and get all the love-sharers and fun-havers in one place.

When you see older people on the street remember: there is a lifetime of wisdom there. They’ve felt all the highs you’ve felt and all the lows too. As we age I think we like to think that things get easier but life is pretty consistently steep throughout all ages. A great attitude helps, but you might still have to carry your urine–or your lungs–in a container with you. Getting old is not for the weak. It’s some heavy lifting.

I’ve always been sensitive to seniors, but this situation with my Dad has really raised my awareness. So from this point forward I hope you will join me in trying to acknowledge and engage with more people who are not only younger than me, but older than me too.

We all have a lot to offer each day just by being ourselves. We should take more opportunities to do that. And we should make sure that wheelchairs, distorted voices or even hearing aids never get in the way of us being connected, generous and caring.

Have a wonderful day connected with everyone around you today.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.