Changing Your Life – Do Something Small

There’s no safe or effective way to wipe the slate clean and begin again. And, frankly, you wouldn’t want to. Do you really what to repeat all of the lessons life has given you? Do you have any reason to believe that you would do anything differently if you were to start over without holding onto the lessons of the first time round?

So, you want to change your life for the better. Great, below is a list of things that you can do that will improve the quality of your life. Copy the list onto a sheet of paper and a few times throughout the day do a couple of things. Keep the rest of your life the same. Basically, leave your life as it is but add in a few good habits. Add items to the list as you think of them.

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Eat a piece of fruit
  • Eat a green leafy salad
  • Give someone a heart felt compliment
  • Talk to someone without using “I” or “me” for 5 minutes
  • Hold a door for someone who really needs it held for them
  • Brush or floss your teeth
  • Use moisturizing cream on your face and hands
  • Turn off a light that doesn’t need to be on
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Listen instead of waiting for your turn to talk
  • Write down your goals
  • Try to remember the last 3 things you learned that made your life better
  • Leave for work, school, etc… 15 minutes early
  • Read 5 pages of a book
  • Write and mail someone a letter
  • Make your bed, do some dishes, tidy your house
  • Wash your hands
  • Smile
  • Call a parent, sibling or friend who you haven’t talked to in a while
  • Think of 3 reasons why you are grateful
  • Garden, cut the grass, water the flowers, do some yard work
  • Go for a walk or a hike
  • Spend some time with children
  • Go to a toy store, release yourself from the fear of judgment and play with some toys
  • Sing or dance
  • Skip the social media and have a real conversation with someone
  • Recycle some garbage
  • Pick up some trash
  • Observe some of the lies you tell yourself
  • Take a dog for a walk and let them lead you
  • Simplify your life by eliminating from it something that you don’t need
  • Write something
  • Make a To Do list
  • Clear off an item from your To Do list
  • Clean your kitchen, bed room, car, living room or do some laundry

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are doing something. Improving your life requires action and often, any action will do. We all has stuff that would make us feel better or that is on our minds that we’d benefit from completing. If you want to feel better, close off some of these loops, but basically, just do SOMETHING!

Toxic People – Controlling Communication = Control

A common experience reported by individuals who are in abusive and toxic relationships is that of a strong effort by the abuser to control the communication that the victim has with their friends and family. Often disguised as a sincere attempt to protect the victim, the abuser will subtly imply that a friend or family member isn’t exactly as the victim believes they are – the suggestion of a questionable work ethic may come-up, questionable morals, or a general statement of disgust or just “not liking them”. This is great ammo for toxic people as victims in these relationships are prone to believe what the abuser says. It’s a war of attrition and over time it’s the small things that help to give an erroneous or controlling notion traction.

The abuser does have a lot to lose in that their illusion of control may hang in the balance; at the very least, the abuser will need to escalate their manipulation attempts once the victim begins to talk to other people usually starting with stronger efforts of character assassination once the victims communication with an objective outsider increase.

What is the abuser afraid of? Simply put, they KNOW there is something not entirely right about the relationship dynamics and they know that in a group of two, their influence has at least 50% of the impact and more likely much higher than that given their overbearing, controlling and manipulative nature. They are also aware that adding a third perspective into the mix can dramatically reduce the level of control they have as this will dilute their influence, particularly when the opinion goes against the abuser – check out Solomon Asch experiments on conformity – were one person agreeing with the victim is often enough for them to break free from the grip of the abuser.

Speaking to other people also affords the victim an opportunity to clearly define what is going on, and this is often very effective at helping someone see what is happening in their life. Friends and family tend to ask lots of questions about things that don’t make any sense so the practice of explaining these can help add some objectivity to an unclear situation. Objectivity is NOT what abusers want so they will often try to limit and control the communication of their partners.

People in healthy relationships do not fear their partners talking to other people because they have nothing to hide. If you find your partner, or yourself, trying to control the external communication, you should take this as a warning sign that the motives may not be as pure as they should be. Take some time to examine the reasons given for discouraging the communication and make whatever adjustments you need to in order to address the situation appropriately.

Toxic People – Controlling Partners

Even in healthy relationships, there will be a time when one partner needs to control the behavior of the other – usually in times of crisis when the objectivity of one is severally impacted. In a true partnership this is what needs to happen – we table the decision making process to someone who will look after our best interests when we are not able to see the world clearly. When I heard about Natalie dying, I immediately called my father to tell him because I felt that I only had a few minutes before I lost perspective and I knew my father would look out for me better than almost everyone on the planet. It was tough on him, but he held it together, he held me together and he worked with my mom and my brother to help me through it. I handed responsibility for me over to him so I could just fall to pieces. The thing is, he didn’t try to control my actions very much. He just needed to be sure I didn’t do anything rash that I would come to regret or worse, die from. I think he and the rest of my family did a great job!

So that’s the ideal, an empathetic and compassionate partner who guides you through a crisis without projecting their will on you. They help you objectively engage the world in your terms. So, in this regard, there is rarely a time when a partner should try to control your behavior.

Sadly, this isn’t the case in number of couples. Drawn to me are a lot of people who are in controlling relationships with partners who lack the awareness to objectively observe and control their own experience of the world. Given the dissonance these individuals experience between their understanding of the world and the objective reality of the world, and their inability to see that through effort they can alter their understanding, the only form of reconciliation they have is to force the world to conform to their world view. This is impossible given the size and interdependent nature of the world so they are only able to control a few things about their immediate world and most often it will be their partner and their children.

Controlling the actions of someone who loves you simply because you do not wish to put the effort into learning how to see the world objectively is immoral because it causes suffering and drastically inappropriate because it uses ones love again them. Because they love you, they give you the power to hurt them and because you have very little self awareness, you use this power to make them feel something unpleasant (hence the term toxic) that isn’t actually there.

The common scenario has the abuser (the immature control partner) feeling out of control when it comes to their partner’s actions or thoughts. Since they don’t want to put the effort into transcending their lack of understanding – or even put some time into considering that they may be able to adjust their understanding or that their understanding is based on something other than reality – they set about to create guilt within victim so they feel bad and motivated to change their actions.

Guilt is very effective only because of the compassionate love the victim feels towards the abuser. It doesn’t work with people who don’t care about them. Statements like “you are breaking up our family” or “I am going to kill myself” don’t have any impact on people who don’t care about you. But if you care about the person who says it, you are sure as hell going to feel something horrible. Toxic people are really good at making compassionate people feel badly about their benign actions.

Cycle Of Abuse

I was chatting with a friend the other day about the cycle of abuse. There has been a shift in her thinking about a few people in her life recently and as the world changes, she is seeing things a lot more objectively. She’s seeing abuse were previously she saw herself as the cause of the actions of the abuser.

The theory isn’t entirely comprehensive but it does an effective job at describing a lot of abuse situations. There are 4 stages that those caught in abusive or conflict prone relationships will cycle through at various speeds:

  1. Tension building phase – communication is starting to breakdown, the victim begins to modify their behavior in an effort to avoid triggering their partner to act abusively.
  2. Acting-out phase – the abuser does or says something that hurts the victim physically or emotionally. It could be a punch in the face, the threat of violence or a manipulative technique. The goal of the abuser is to control the thoughts, emotions or actions of the victim.
  3. Reconciliation or honeymoon phase – this marks the end of the abusive behavior and the start of the apologies. It is paradoxical in that the abuser is trying to control how the victim feels in order to restore the relationship back to *normal*. The abuser will often be extremely nice, apologetic and kind during this phase, or they can use psychological manipulation to win back or coerce the victim back into the relationship.
  4. Calm phase – this is the phase between the acceptance of the reconciliation and the start of the tension building phase.

This isn’t entirely earth shattering, but it is a fairly good model for what happens in a number of abusive relationships.

The conversation moved towards the calm phase and how it never seemed to last very long. In fact, my friend had noticed two disturbing things about the temporal nature of the cycle.

The first is that over a period of a few years, she noticed that SHE never really entered into the calm phase or the honeymoon period either as she could never get past what had been said to her by someone who apparently loved her and she couldn’t understand how the abuser had put it behind them so quickly e.g. “how can he not still feel horrible about saying or doing that to me?”

The second was that the calm phase was getting shorter and shorter as she related her awareness of the cycle to her partner. He didn’t respond well to being made aware that the behavior was automatic, as he claimed to have no awareness that is was happening and objected to her suggestion that he was in control of his anger as it was clearly a response to something she was doing. The thing was, after the acting out phase, he always apologized and admitted that his behavior was out-of-line. She was able to circumvent the honeymoon portion and the calm phase and go directly to the tension building phase simply by letting him know which state they were in.

I’ve yet to meet someone who was caught in the cycle of abuse who was able to stop it; this isn’t to say that it can’t be stopped, just that I haven’t met an abuser who as objective enough to see the cycle for what it was and be willing to see and take on their role in putting an end to the pattern. Which does, sadly, make a lot of sense given that objectivity is needed and in partnerships of abuse, it is sadly lacking. I have met a lot of ex-abusers who are filled with remorse for throwing away relationships, children, friendship and a lot of good times because they didn’t see the cycle until it was too late.

In the end it works out though. They learn their lesson and take care of their next partner while their previous partner moves on to deal with the residue from being treated like a psychological punchbag for years.

Testing Your Partners – Vetting Their Quality

I’m all for testing. When you have a need to for a highly qualified person to fill a particular role, you have an obligation to make sure you find a suitable candidate. The costs of not doing this can be dire if a critical skill is required and the chosen individual does not possess this skill. This applies to work, social, romantic and mentoring relationships. There’s a lot at stake, so you’d better be sure to find the right person.

But this only works if you have the ability to create a test that uncovers the critical skills you are seeking or require for the role. If you don’t possess these skills, your test is to validate something else, most likely your unconscious view of the world.

With professional endeavors, if you run a successful business you likely possess many of the skills needed to identify the ideal or a suitable candidate. If you are looking for your first employee, there’s a good chance that they will need to share some of your entrepreneurial or enterprising spirit. They will need to be hard working, committed to developing a successful business in spite of the slow return or no return on work effort and a strong ability to let go of that which no longer matters and move towards the new goal without taking anything personally. If you can find someone like that as your first hire in a start-up environment, you may just have found the second millionaire your company will create. And you likely have the skills to identify them because you already possess these skills.

But the vetting of suitable candidates is much tougher with romantic or life partners because, if you are looking for one of them, you HAVEN’T been successful at finding one of them and have no experience at creating a long lasting relationship. If you find yourself needing to create tests to vet your girl or boy friends, you may need to accept that they have already failed to prove themselves worthy of you. If you need to create a test, you already know there is something not fitting about them. Go with your gut and cast them away. They aren’t what you need if you are already setting up tests for them to pass or fail.

A friend recently admitted that they created these tests to find out how quickly their boy friends will cave to their demands. We didn’t get too deep into it, but at the time she seemed sad by the constant failure of almost every guy she tested. The test was simple, she would act in a way that was inappropriate and incompatible with a healthy relationship – tell them that they couldn’t hang out with their platonic female friends or she would connect with new male friends (in an equally platonic way). This created a double standard which forced the guy to do one of two things; tell her that he was going to keep hanging out with his friends or tell her that she needed to limit her contact with her new male friends. This twists how the guys would engage her as it creates a situation that doesn’t spontaneously come about.

3 outcomes are possible, the probable was that they would stop hanging out with female friends and let her hangout with her new male friends. These guys were weak but not controlling; not great choices for life partners but you can do a lot worse – she viewed them as losers though and she stopped respecting them but didn’t get out of the relationship. The second option is that the guy would keep hanging out with his female friends and this would make her angry, lose focus on what she was supposed to be dealing with and then shift her energies to making the boys life around his female friends as tough as possible. These guys passed her test as they remain strong in spite of her wishes, but she took their decision to not cave as an indication of them not loving her as opposed to them being strong and unwilling to have someone control their life. So these guys passed the test but in doing so, effectively killed the relationship. The third option was that he would stop hanging out with his friends and demand that she do the same, which she wouldn’t because “a life partner shouldn’t tell me how to behave, he should just accept me”. They failed the test too.

This pattern of behavior is self defeating because it sees one attempting to force their will onto another person. If they accept it, they fail her test and she is unhappy because she won’t leave them and if they reject her will she is unhappy because they don’t love her. We were too busy at the time to get into the unworkable nature of her vetting approach and  I have no reason to believe that she will change anything about it.

When it comes to long term partnerships, it is important to align yourself with the best candidates and it makes sense to use some form of testing to help identify the best people. But make sure your tests can actually reveal the best people and make sure you can end up with a win:win situation. Anything other than win:win, if it continues, is just fail:fail.