Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Growing up in a home where I seldom witnessed the expression of anger, I was taught by example and more directly that a person should not express negativity.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” was the household mantra.  Seems to make sense to a fresh young mind that has not yet been filled with the countless choices for responding to the behavior of others not brought up under the same set of rules.  I was taught that a person should use reason in arguments rather than emotion.  Again, that seemed a sensible alternative to getting the living daylights beat out of me by the neighborhood bully.  “Turn the other cheek” definitely did not work out too well for me!

As I grew older and more observant of what went on around me, I recognized that the anger in my home had simply been visibly suppressed for the most part.  It was still there and there were occasions where I did witness angry verbal exchanges.  Fortunately, there was no physical abuse in my home among any of the family members that I knew of.  Sadly, many families with anger issues cannot make that claim.  I learned by anecdote that my brother was subject to some corporal punishment.  He was the first born and arrived at a time of severe economic stress to young parents probably ill fitted for marriage.  (This is a conclusion I came to as an adult long after my parents ended their twenty-five plus years of marriage.)

So, here I am today, a person who almost without exception refuses to fight with others.  In some cases that even means “I don’t want to talk about it.”  This behavior is considered passive-aggressive.   Those who DO like to fight because that is how they learned to get their anger out of their physical bodies have applied that label to me on occasion.  I don’t like labels especially when they are used in a dismissive manner.  To me that is no better than assumed passive-aggressive behavior.  I literally wilt and become immobilized by hateful verbal attacks.  When faced with such behavior, I find that I have not developed the proper tools to engage in successful resolution.  I tend to withdraw and try to gather some more positive sense of myself.  I have discovered this only make the other person even angrier!  It is a “lose/lose” situation.

It isn’t that I have not attempted to learn how to “fight fairly” when confronted with verbal attacks, often directed at me as a person rather than at my perceived behavior.  I have come to an “interim” conclusion that I cannot effectively communicate with someone playing by a different set of rules.  If rage is what was learned, then rage tends to become the manner by which differences are confronted.  To those of us brought up under rules of non-aggressive behavior, we will lose every time unless we learn how to engage others in some middle ground of agreement.

I wish I could tell you that my long years of experience in working with others who had many types of problems has taught me how to better handle my own.  Of course, I have learned many positive ways of dealing with my issues, but I have not yet learned to effectively deal with the rage of others directed toward me.  I can only say that I am glad such cases are very few and far between.

You may have noticed the absence of any mention of the part love plays in resolving issues between persons.  That is partly due to the fact that it is a subject worthy of its own essay.  That said, love is an all-important part of any process of resolution.  Without love there can be no recognition of the intrinsic value of the other human being with whom there is some inharmony.  It is through the eyes of love that we see through the discord to the real person who is currently feeling hurt or unloved.  That is the starting point, I believe, for wanting to work things out, to want peace and good will.  There may be things no two people will agree on, but that does not mean love has to be absent from the relationship.

Finally, as to the subject of passive-aggressive behavior, my research has shown that few people can escape this label at some point in their lives.  So much for the “label.”  Time to get on about developing patience, forgiveness, acceptance and love, all of which are necessary for harmony to exist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Asking The Right Questions

This morning, as I reviewed the "hits" to this blog, I discovered that someone had made a Google search for: "asking the right questions." The number one item in the responses to this request was the article below that I first posted in May 2009.  As a reread it, I found myself in a similar quandary as the article addresses.  I am posting it again with the thought that it may also be applicable to other readers at this time.  I have often recognized that life seems to run in cycles.  As we become more aware of them and seek further understanding of them, our growth into our fuller, richer True Self may be realized.  I am continuing the process!

When I wrote that I was going to take a sabbatical in order to consider some “new” questions about my life and my purpose I didn’t know at the time just what the “new” questions were going to be.  I think I expected them to simply be a rehash of questions I have asked myself most of my life.  That is the way the journey began, but it is not how it turned out.

It seems there are points in the lives of each of us where we feel a greater need for introspection, meditation, or contemplation because we feel a bit like a boat without a rudder.  A boat without a rudder may sail along just fine, unless you want to go somewhere specific.  Then you discover that without the rudder you aimlessly drift along with little satisfaction or sense of accomplishment.

I have come to points like this several times in my life.  These plateaus where we find it necessary to take a break for a while are not necessarily negative events nor do they indicate a lack of life value.  They are simply places where we have the opportunity to review our priorities and consider altering our direction.

This time around, my questions seem to center on getting a better understanding of my feminine nature.  I wanted to better understand my feelings, my empathetic nature and why deep emotions seem to surface so dramatically for me at times.
Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation—in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation.  The key question causes germination of consciousness.  The properly shaped question always emanates from an essential curiosity about what stands behind.  Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open.[1]
Somewhere within me there is an aching, a longing that has been expressing itself more and more often as deep feelings of connection with some of my fellow human beings, not necessarily anyone I know personally.  The feelings surge up when I see others hurting or feeling alone without the company of others who might be supportive in their time of need.  I may see this in a television drama, the evening news, and the newspaper or just about anywhere one hears about others and their difficulties.  It also wells up in me when I become aware of significant help someone extends to another, a random act of kindness.  Both negative and positive stories attract my sense of empathy.

The curiosity that stands behind the questions I ask myself about why I have these feelings and what I am supposed to do with them hopefully will open more widely the secret doors of my own psyche.

Often the creative life is slowed or stopped because something in the psyche has a very low opinion of us, and we are down there groveling at its feet instead of bopping it over the head and running free. In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we have done before. [2]

I find this notion particularly interesting.  Realizing that the blocks I might feel in my creative life could be an inner low self-image certainly is not a new notion, but seeing it in print gave me the opportunity to look at that issue again, perhaps opening the “secret doors” of my psyche.  For the most part I feel I am aware of the self-image limitations I have placed upon myself, so my questions were to get at how to handle the empathetic emotions that overwhelm me at times.  What is their productive use?  (My pragmatism and logic at work, which takes me away from the feelings and into my masculine mind.)

The larger questions to be considered are: What/who am I really?  What is my work in this life?  What do I hunger for?  What do I long for?  Additionally, I think I must come to terms with whether I believe in my ability to do what my life experiences require of me in order to enter into transformation.  Am I simply sitting on the sidelines because it is comfortable there and there is less to challenge my status quo?  Or, is my apparent sideline sitting really just an opportunity to consider new ventures and to find ways to utilize the skills and belief systems I have developed through the years?

As you can see, I have not finished my quest (and I don’t think we are designed to “finish” our quest anyway!).  However, I have gained some new insights that I plan to share in later postings, so stay tuned.

[1] Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, page 52
[2] Ibid, Page 70

Monday, May 9, 2011

What Goes Around . . .

In the Hindu society emphasis is placed on the cycles of life, death and reincarnation.  Simply stated this is the process of working through the varieties of conditions one faces as growth opportunities are presented to us.  The goal is to “get off the wheel” of life and death and experience the purity of a life lived without stain of discord, hatred or injury to others.  This is karma, or to put it another way, “What goes around, comes around!”

I could not help but think about karma in this somewhat humorous manner as I was exchanging emails with a long-time friend.  We were each sharing particulars of some life events and I automatically tried to see links in what I had experienced with something I had done to cause the event.  I first encountered the concept of karma while in seminary at Unity School in the middle 1950s.  James Dillet Freeman, then director of Unity’s ministerial school, was tutoring me in philosophy and religion.  We had extended discussions of the concept of reincarnation and I readily accepted the idea of having as many opportunities as one might need to come to a full expression of his/her true spiritual nature.  At that point one would be free of the cycle.

Through the years I have continued to develop my beliefs about the subject and of how karma works in my life.  As I was thinking about it today, it seemed almost humorous in how the concept is used to both accept and explain away a sense of current responsibility.  We can blithely comment “oh, it’s just karma,” when something happens in our life or in the life of a friend.  By that statement we are commenting, perhaps too casually, that a person is just getting paid back for something they did, usually in a previous life.  Thus, the notion, “What goes around, comes around.” 

Actually, there is much more to understand about how it works.  In the physical world, including our human experience, there seem to be “causes” and “effects” in everything.  When good things come about in our lives, we like to think we earned them through good karma.  However, it is often more difficult to think we deserve things that are less likeable in our experience.

It is about at this point in the discussion that I always realize I may have bitten off more than I can chew!  The subject does not lend itself to easy explanation, nor are the “unbelievers” likely to be convinced of my arguments!  So, I think to myself, why in the world did I start this essay?  I can only say that because I accept the principle of cause and effect in the world in which I live, I am always eager to understand how I can set into motion better causes and reap better results.  In the worst of times I just want to “get off the wheel!”  In the best of times I hope that perhaps this is the last time around.  Who really knows?

Lacking a more thorough consideration of the subject I accept that what goes around comes around!  (And I enjoy a good laugh at life’s foibles!)