Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor
Ending Vicious Cycles
Ending Vicious Cycles:
"Betrayal defiles our sensitivity toward others;
Christmas Collusion: Glen's Story
When I married her, my wife Becky was just about perfect. In fact, that was her one fault -- her perfection. She was determined to do every "supposed to" she had ever heard. She could not rest, enjoy life, and be easy, until every one of those "supposed to's" got done, and she couldn't let her husband rest either. It was clear to me that she could have been more happy and less frustrated if she hadn't been dragging around her lengthy list of "supposed to's."
The most memorable item from this list is Christmas. In Becky's mind, you could not give a gift unless you made it yourself . . . from scratch. To buy a gift was cheap. It didn't show you really cared I cooperated with this policy before our brothers and sisters got married and we all started having children. But pretty soon there were dozens of presents to make. Initially, we would begin in October; later we started in September, then August -- then even June! The black hole called "Christmas" was widening and swallowing up the entire year.
Nor could we buy Christmas cards like other people do. We had to make them -- dress the kids up in shepherds' costumes, with the littlest one as baby Jesus, gather hay or straw for the manger, and take a picture for the card. I'm the fellow who scavenged around New Haven, Connecticut, every year looking for straw or hay in October. And once we got the card printed, we couldn't just sign it and send it. We hadn't contacted all those people in a year. We had to write a letter on each card. Many are the nights when I've stayed up, groggy, my head bobbing sleepily over the desk, composing personal letters by my own hand, to folks I could sometimes barely remember.
But what bothered me most was Becky's saying, "I'm the only one who cares about Christmas. If it weren't for me, we wouldn't do anything nice." Then we started exchanging gifts with other families. Don't ask me what got into us. The other families would give a book or some jam or a box of cookies. We made raspberry yogurt, with raspberries we had grown ourselves in the summer and frozen, or granola loaded with chopped dried fruit, which we had also produced and dried ourselves. (Berries, apricots, and prunes are supposed to taste different when they're homegrown.)
And of course we couldn't just take the stuff to people's houses. We had to sing carols on the doorstep. In parts. That meant rehearsals. Some of our children have toured the world in choirs; some are near monotone and hate to sing. On the doorstep one child or another would get stepped on or pushed out of his or her turn to ring the bell, so there would be a hassle right up to the last second, and then we'd display our smiling lips to hide the hard looks sideways, that kept everyone in line. It took many cold nights for our irascible little band to finish spreading Christmas cheer.
Don't get me wrong. There was nothing about any of this that wasn't first-class. But as we'd sit in the kitchen helping the children decorate the bottles or boxes for the food to go in, or glare at each other on somebody's doorstep, I would think that here we were, night after night, doing all the peripherals, the showy stuff, the trappings of Christmas, without any of the spirit of Christmas, which was what my wife said this was all for. We'd be exhausted and grumbling, I'd think of what this was costing me professionally.
Again, Becky would complain that she was the only one who cared about Christmas. She'd say, "I feel like I'm dragging everyone through Christmas. If it wasn't for me, no one would ever get a present ready or even think about making Christmas nice." More than once I've lain in bed, too tired and irritated to sleep, mentally composing a brilliant, Pulitzer-prize caliber short story entitled, 'The Woman Who Destroyed Christmas."
But there's another side to this story, and it is Becky's. When we set her version side-by-side against Glen's, we see his claims of patiently putting-up with a "maniacal Christmas fanatic," in a different light. About ten years after the Christmas troubles had ended, Becky wrote her account.
Christmas Collusion: Becky's Story
When we were married I had looked forward to building family traditions that would hold our family together, and Christmas was the best opportunity to do that. Since the essence of Christmas was sharing something of oneself, making gifts was important, especially because in those days we didn't have much money. Because he did things like that before we were married, I had every reason to think Glen would share this commitment.
But then I discovered that he was content to postpone what had to be done for Christmas. He didn't seem to want to put himself into it. He was clearly anxious to get the preparations over with; his work seemed to matter to him more than the family. He was willing to dash out at the last minute and buy objects that weren't meaningful. That was the very opposite of the meaning of Christmas. It's not that I would have minded buying gifts, if they could have been picked out thoughtfully and prized by the people we gave them to; I would have felt fine about that. But we couldn't have afforded buying nice gifts, so in order to give people presents that would show we really cared, we needed to make them.
So here I was trying to economize, and Glen was oblivious to that. He was willing to spend the money foolishly. It's really hard to try to create meaningful family experiences when the person who is supposed to be your partner is reluctant about the whole endeavor, and when he does participate is obviously resenting it. I could see the enthusiasm drain out of Glen whenever there was something about Christmas that needed doing.
Well, I decided if I went ahead and got Christmas started early he would get into the spirit of the thing and want to be involved himself. But that didn't seem to work; the more I did the more he was willing to let me do it. The projects he was in charge of, like making the Christmas cards, would get postponed and in many cases not done at all. And when they were done, I could see he resented the time it took. His heart just wasn't in it, that's all.
So you can see my predicament. In order to keep it all from being put off to the last minute, I would start early talking about Christmas, trying to get him involved in planning, but each year he seemed to want to do less, so I'd try even harder to start earlier to get the plans made so I'd have more time to do it myself, and more opportunity to try to get him interested and involved. And it also frustrated me because I really didn't want to be badgering him about what he was supposed to do, because I didn't want to be the heavy all the time. But it seemed that if I didn't pressure him, he wouldn't get involved at all.
Anatomy of a Vicious Cycle
How do people afflicted with anguished, accusing thoughts and feelings get along with others? And how do others react to them? The answer is that others, feeling accused, seldom respond gratefully, and as a result the self-betrayers' relationships become terribly entangled. This adds to the difficulties they experience in trying to escape from their negative thoughts and feelings.
Here is the general pattern in which self-betrayal turns a relationships into emotional bondage from which we typically can see no escape.
1. We adopt accusing and self-excusing attitudes and feelings.
2. We think we can hide them, but we can't. Our real attitudes and feelings toward others come across to them. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "We can lie with our lips, but we tell the truth with the face we make when we lie."
3. Feeling accused, others almost always take offense; they develop an accusing attitude and accusing feelings toward us.
4. Perceiving their response, we feel just as offended by them as they do by us. In our minds, this gives us proof that we're fully justified in blaming them.
5. Because we're so absorbed with our own feelings, we do not see what's going on. We do not see that instead of trying to hurt us, they feel mistreated and threatened. In their response to us they are only trying to deal with the judgmental person we have become. They are only responding to the kind of person we're giving them to respond to.
Here, then, is the overall picture of the interaction: We concentrate on their misdeeds in order to have proof that they are to blame and not us. And they focus on our misdeeds for the same sort of reason. Thus, we and they set in motion round upon round of edgy and sometimes hostile interactions, in which each blames the other and exonerates himself or herself. Self-betrayal invites more self-betrayal, which invites more self-betrayal.
Cooperative Conflict — Unwitting Cyclical Conspiracy
If you hear Glen and Becky tell their stories separately, you might think that two of them were scarcely living in the same world. How can two people experience the same events so differently? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the two stories complement one another; they are two halves of a single whole.
If in those early years you had asked Glen to identify the problem, he wouldn't have hesitated. He would have said: "Becky. Becky is the problem. I married a fanatic. She must have been born with an extra Christmas chromosome. Her relentless demands are making normal family life impossible."
Now ask yourself: How would Becky have answered the same question? How would she have described the problem? She wouldn't have hesitated either: " Glen's the problem. From the way he treated me and other people when we were dating, I expected someone completely different, someone more committed to our home life. He's not invested in our family projects. His mind is somewhere else half the time. He undermines everything. I don't think he has any Christmas spirit at all."
Glen thought Becky was the problem, and she thought he was the problem. Each blamed the other for the Christmas troubles between them. As a wise person once said, "Criticism produces results 180 degrees opposite what was intended." Trying to "fix" the other person almost always backfires.
Had someone told her that Glen's opinion about the cause of all their Christmas difficulties, Becky wouldn't have denied that she pressured him. Remember her words: "I really didn't want to be badgering him about what he was supposed to do, but it seemed that if I didn't pressure him he wouldn't get involved at all."
So what was the reason for keeping all that pressure on? Glen was holding back! That was why she pushed him so. In her mind, she had to pressure him — otherwise he wouldn't do anything at all! So while Glen was holding back because of Becky's pressures, Becky was pressuring him because he was holding back. Glen's solution to the problem was the very problem Becky was trying to solve. And Becky's solution to the problem was the very problem Glen was trying to solve.
Glen's solution = Becky's problem
Becky's solution = Glen's problem
Collusion is a conspiracy of reciprocal accusation and resentment. For example:
"Certainly clumsy, embarrassing, and mean spirited things do occur
"It takes real feelings to create the illusion that others have power
A typical approach to solving a Vicious Cycle is for one or both parties to set "Boundaries." Here's how Boundaries are described in a Huffington Post article: Boundaries is the space you set up "between where you end and the other person begins."
1 - Recognize and acknowledge your own feelings.
Curiously, this approach is virtually opposite to the perspective of setting Inner Boundaries and Living by True Principles.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches approaches of irony.
The above approach to boundary setting is typical of a Self-Centered New-Age philosophy. Instead of getting in tune with your body, and what YOU WANT above all else, the superior approach calls for honoring inner boundaries, being true to Inner Principes (as opposed to setting up Outer Partitions); this means, getting in touch with what your Creator wants for you. Jesus set the example:
How do we know the Will of the Father? Truth is, everyone knows it, if they will simply quit resisting.
"Everything we need to know
Because the secret of life is everyone's possession,
"Keep thy heart with all
Because Heavenly Father is infinitely wise, He has provided a way for all His children to know Truth, and thereby receive a fullness of joy in this life and in the eternities.
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name,
"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel;
"Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me
"Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. ...
To clearly hear intuitions of Truth, impressions of Heart, every aspect of inner darkness must be identified and un-done; a person must be clean, to be clear. Pure knowledge is only perceived by pure people.
"Unto the pure all things are pure:
You've heard the phrase "this will be their undoing." Typically, an undoing is a bad thing: unraveling, falling apart, or breaking up — all these are bad. But consider a type of undoing that is good: the process by which we recover clarity of heart is actually more a matter of un-doing, than of doing.
Becoming Clean and Clear is not something
Most human problems come in three kinds:
Direct Control Problem — Problem with Self
Each problem has a solution that calls for change:
Problem with Self — Change your Habits
While some problems can be solved through determined will power or creative thinking, our most challenging problems in life require a Change of Heart — a profound and lasting change that naturally leads to a change in habits, a change in approach to others, and a change in attitude about events beyond our control. There is a reason why creative thinking and mental will alone cannot bring about lasting change:
"We cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking
The fixated state of being mentally stuck is a condition I call "Einstein's Mind Bind" — it means you can't change your mind using the same mind that needs changing, nor can you fix a situation using the same mind that needs fixing. The only way out of this cognitive conundrum is to experience a Change of Heart.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he"
Many misinterpret this Proverb by diminishing or removing the meaning of "heart" and emphasizing mind power: "As a man thinks, so is he." But the Proverb verifies that Self-Identity is revealed from the Heart; so to change Who You Are from your core, a Change of Heart must happen.
"The only change that matters is a change of heart,
We know that a Change of Heart necessarily precedes a change of mind, thus a change of perspective, due to truths Jesus taught: that our thoughts, words, and deeds flow from the good or evil treasures of the heart.
"How can ye, being evil,
Who are the Few?
Few will Follow Jesus and Walk the Strait and Narrow Way: (Matt. 7: 13-14)
To Walk in the Way of Truth, We must Know the Word (Matt. 4: 4)
Mediocre is not Black Sin, but Gray; It is a Failure to Give All (Revelation 3: 15-16)
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The Greatest Prize
The book, "Changing Your Stripes" presents principles for getting out of
"Mastering a challenging situation
"Changing Your Stripes," teaches you the principles that lead to lasting change,
If these ideas resonate and ring true,
Changing Your Stripes is a