Tag Archives: don’t take this personally

Lucy


I’d like to tell you a story about Lucy the dog

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. While married to my first husband, we owned two female German Shorthair pointers. I had not been familiar with the breed prior to owning them, and in fact, was even a little intimidated by their size and muscular build. But I immediately fell in love with them because of their gentle and lovable nature.   Things were great until we decided to add a third dog into our household.

Lucy was the runt of her litter. We selected her in part, because she was so tiny and that seemed initially to only add to her adorableness. She was timid and cuddly and I carried her in my lap the whole ride home in my lap to introduce her to her new family. But almost immediately upon introducing her to the other two “girls”, we saw a side of Lucy we had not yet seen. The tiny little ball of white fur began hissing and snapping at our other two dogs almost like she was possessed. We snatched her up and tried again at different intervals with little success.

Within a day or two we took Lucy to our vet, the same one who had cared for our other dogs and knew us fairly well. Our vet checked Lucy out despite Lucy’s lack of cooperation. Our vet deemed Lucy to have a poor temperament and recommended we take her back to the breeder as soon as possible. We were stunned and confused as to why we had not seen this side of Lucy before.

Not yet willing to give up, we took Lucy to a doggie behaviorist. Yes, I’m still a little embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true. I was grasping at straws about what to do with Lucy. But as it turned out, the behaviorist turned out to be incredibly smart and helpful. She told us that Lucy’s temperament was just fine. The problem as she saw it was that, Lucy was so tiny, that in the presence of two big dogs (who had obviously arrived at the party long before her and knew the routine) Lucy felt frightened and intimidated. And so, she protected herself with the only productive resource she had: hissing and growling. It’s not as if she had the skill to take either of them on in a physical fight. The behaviorist suggested we separate Lucy from the other girls until she got a little bigger and stronger before leaving them together again. We took her advice and ended up in a short time with three dogs who loved being together.

I am often reminded of this story when I work with some people. I especially recall a family from a few years ago. The husband and son viewed their wife and mother as aggressive, bitter and controlling. It was clear when we worked individually, that this woman, not only did not see herself the same, but felt rather helpless in the relationship with the other two. Similarly, a newlywed woman told me recently that, she often feels like a burden to her husband and not worthy of his time, even though he describes their relationship as her not wanting to be around him.

When I hear these types of stories, I am reminded of Lucy. It describes for me that, it is often a sense of helplessness and insignificance that fuels people into behaviors that, come across as powerful and overbearing to others. When we are the recipient of such behavior, we want to shut them down. Unfortunately, that is the very approach that reinforces their starting feeling and spawns more of the behavior from them that we don’t want. It becomes a perpetuating cycle.

The behaviorist suggested we help Lucy become bigger and stronger to feel less intimidated. It’s hard to think of how to find the willingness to do that with/for an individual that feel is already emotionally pummeling you. The key however, is to try and consider that their outward strength, may possibly be a reaction to feeling vulnerability, intimidation or fear. This shift in your thinking doesn’t require that you put them on the couch and psychoanalyze the other person. In fact, you don’t even have to be “right”. By simply shifting how you respond to the other person you interrupt the cycle. When you aren’t resisting, there is no need to keep fighting. I’m not suggesting you lay down and take a beating, but rather, you use the encounter as an opportunity to learn something more about the other person and what is motivating their behavior. Questions like “I can see that you are really upset, can you help me understand how it feels like I may be contributing to that for you? This is an example of Stephen Covey’s “seek first to understand and then to be understood principle. I genuinely believe it’s one of the single most effective tools in developing and maintaining strong communication with another person.

 

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Why won’t you pay attention?


messy room

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click the link below

I saw an E-card on Pinterest the other day. It said “I went to the internet to learn about my ADHD, but I couldn’t wait for the pages to load”

The joke is kind of funny, but only because it’s true. ADHD, on the other scores pretty low on the humor scale. There is a lot of information about ADHD, and much of it conflicts with itself. There are many theories about the origins, prevalence and treatment strategies of ADHD.

It is sometimes difficult for people who don’t understand ADHD to take it seriously, or to realize the magnitude with which some people are impacted. It is also equally difficult at times for people with ADHD to fully realize the impact their way of thinking and behavior has on those around them who are not afflicted with ADHD.

I remember when my eldest son was in second grade. He could clearly describe how difficult it was for him to stay focused in class. He said the sound of kids using pencils on their paper around him distracted him. At our request, his teacher agreed to move him away from the other children. Unfortunately, due to his lack of understanding, he moved our son next to the door, right under the pencil sharpener. If the pencil sounds were distracting, imagine how distracting it was to have every second grader in the class sharpen their pencil or go in and out of the door.

Recently I had a session with a husband and wife who are trying to improve their communication with each other. I asked the wife (who does not have ADHD) what she wanted from her husband in a particular situation. She began to explain. And explain and explain. I stopped her about two minutes into her explanation and told her I thought she had lost her husband about 90 seconds before. He affirmed with his eyes glazed over that this, was in fact, the case. I helped her narrow down her wish list to a 30 second bottom line, which he could take in much more easily and is therefore, more likely to remember and follow through.

An explanation I like to use for describing the difference is this:

Think of the brain like a dwelling. The non ADHD brain is like a regular house. It has various rooms. When you are in the bedroom, there might be something going on in the kitchen, but you are not likely to hear it or see it. You can stay focused on what is going on in the bedroom. The walls in between insulate you.

In contrast, the ADHD brain is more like a large studio apartment. It’s all one room. And so from wherever you stand in the room, you can see everything and anything taking place. Therefore, even though you might be near the bed trying to choose what to wear, you can see the dishes in the sink, the cat crossing the kitchen table, the TV in front of the couch and so on. Since you can see everything equally, it means that everything has the same priority. You can be focused on something, but the next thing you encounter gets equal attention from you.

One other piece of information I’d like to share is why I’m using the acronym ADHD instead of ADD. In the old coding book that psychologists and physicians use, there were 2 categories. With the next to last revision, ADD was eliminated and there is now only ADHD, although there is a “predominantly inattentive” subtype available. The primary rationale for this is that we used to think of hyperactivity as little boys who couldn’t sit still in their seats. More current thought is that hyperactivity also describes the kind of racing mind that many people in this category experience, especially at night time when they are trying to shut down for sleep.

This article is only meant to skim the very top surface of somewhat complex condition

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. ADHD is not diagnosed with a blood test definitively, but is somewhat subjective. Therefore, it is important to have this adequately diagnosed by someone with expertise.

 

 

 

He’s just not that into you.. and she may not be either


 

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below- On a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the bottom of the message and click on the sound icon.

Several years ago I wanted to do a little remodeling project in our house. I wanted to add in some bookcases to separate a wall between the living room and my office, and add French doors to close the office from the foyer. And I wanted to have this project done before my son’s upcoming birthday party.

I got a recommendation to use someone at the church we were currently attending. I called up “Joe” and asked him to come and bid the project. He said he would be there Sunday after church. Great! Except that he didn’t show up.

My husband (the logical Aspergian thinker) said “That’s not a good sign”.

But I said (the non Aspergian, emotional based decision maker).

“Well, he probably got busy, let’s give him another chance. “

And so we did. He came out another time, proposed a bid and we mutually accepted. He scheduled to begin on the project within a few days. And he did. See how smart I am?

But then the project started to linger. And linger. Bad weather caused the trucks bringing the doors to be delayed, and he scoffed “Didn’t I know he didn’t work on Sundays?” (hmmm, had he not originally scheduled to bid the job on a Sunday?) His helper has the flu; he was having trouble getting the right color paint mixed.

My son’s birthday party came and went

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. Coincidentally, it was a “Bob the Builder” theme and the little boys were going to be building bird houses in our garage. When the guests arrived through the front door in the foyer and saw the bright yellow “DO NOT ENTER” tape hanging over my door-less office, they thought it was merely part of my extravagant decorating scheme to create a construction themed ambience.

But I was growing increasingly less enchanted with my contractor. And I had recently finished reading a book that was popular at the time called “He’s just not that into you” by Greg Behrendt.

 

Greg is a pretty funny guy and was working at the time as a writer for Sex and the City. He wrote this book as a reaction to hearing his female co-workers, talk endlessly about this guy or that, whom they were sure would call. Greg was certain (from a guy’s perspective) that, the men in discussion around the break table, had long moved on. Greg garnered his hunches from his own behavior and from that of his male friends. He felt in a nutshell that men made up all kinds of lines that they fed to women—- largely because they could. The book was his “coming clean” of sorts and saying “Girls- if you don’t expect better behavior, you won’t get it. See the excuse he gives you as just that–àan excuse, and probably a pathetic one at that- and move on. Quit giving men the ammunition to beat up your heart by believing that if you just become a really good doormat, he’ll see the error of his ways and come back and give you the treatment you deserve.”

Now, in case I sound horribly sexist—I believe this goes for BOTH genders. It’s what we do as people. We always set the “rules of engagement” in our initial contact with people. We tell people from our first interactions what we will and won’t tolerate. Consciously, unconsciously, verbally and non-verbally. Sometimes it’s a romantic partner or a casual friend that’s not into us. And instead of letting go, we try to do 100% of the effort to accommodate the relationship? Sometimes it’s any number of the people we try to do business with. Do you ever find yourself settling for a lot less than you intended to accommodate the person you are trying to give your business to?

 

So with this knowledge in the back of my brain, I heard myself finally say the things my husband knew on day one. Our contractor, was just not that into…. Our project or us.

And so I called him up. And I gave him my expected completion date. I don’t care if it is you or someone else… but if it can’t be you, I’m moving on. I no longer care what the reasons are- I simply want it done.

Guess what? The work got finished on time. Even with storms, flu and uncooperative paint.

 

 

does it always have to be about me?


for an audio version of this post, click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

Is its always about me?

I picked up my son from school today. He got in the car, moaned a bit and turned his body completely away from me. I asked him if he was okay and he ignored me. I asked him again and he continued to ignore me.   I asked him if he was upset with me or if something happened at school. Still no answer. We sat in silence on the ride home.

He entered the house, put up his backpack and sulked into the living room. His dad greeted him, and he offered little if any response. About 10 minutes passed. I was preparing dinner in the kitchen. Andrew came into the kitchen and without saying a word, barreled into me with an 11 year version of a bear hug. I hugged back still not saying a word

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. He was fine the rest of the evening.

When my husband and I first married he had to travel frequently for work. I soon learned that when Ben is on a job site he is extremely focused and compartmentalized. He has to have reminders to check in, although after 15 years with me, this has become a bit more natural for him. But back then, it was like pulling teeth to get him to remember that he was now part of a team and the other half wanted to know where he was from time to time. He would give his all to the job and by the time he got back to his hotel, often late in the evening he was pretty much shot. By the end of the week I would be missing him and happily awaiting his return on Friday evening. He on the other hand, would walk in, barely grunt a greeting, and pass me by, almost as if I was a ghost. He would go bed and crash for the night. He did not seem happy to see me.

The first couple of times this happened I wondered what on earth was wrong. Was our marriage already over? What happened on the road? Was he mad at me?

But then on Saturday morning he woke up and was his usual self. There didn’t seem to be any issue.

And then it happened again. And again. But after a couple of times I began to figure out that he was neither having marriage remorse nor a split personality. It’s Ben. As I said earlier, when he works… he works hard. And so by the time Friday night came around and he returned home, he had nothing left to give to anyone… including himself. So he did the best job he could of taking care of himself, which was, to go right to bed. After a good night’s sleep replenished his emotional stock, he was himself, still in love with his wife and our relationship proceeded as normal.

Fortunately I figured out fairly early into this process that I had a couple of choices. I could be mad, hurt, retaliatory or a host of other delectable feelings that don’t resemble my adult self. I could be dramatic- and at an earlier time of my life I probably would have been. But when I thought about what was happening, it was easy to separate his need to work the way he did and our relationship. Whether or not he could/should have worked differently is a different subject. The reality is that if his work habits were encroaching on our relationship, then we might have needed to look for a different alternative. But instead, I was able to take the route of adjusting my own expectations. Instead of planning for an ultimately disappointing reunion on Friday, I told myself that my husband wasn’t coming home until Saturday morning. Because in truth, that is the soonest the guy I loved would be showing up, even though the grumpy imposter was sharing our space. The Friday night arrival was basically a zombie not capable of giving me a high five or a gee I missed you so.

I’m not suggesting my son’s behavior is a “chip off the old block” here. But the similarity is that I can now more easily see that people can have there own brand of muck going on that causes their mood to flatten and it doesn’t have to be about me, just because I am the one in the room at the time.

I used to get very frustrated at the phrase “don’t take this personally”. I couldn’t understand how when you are the only person in the room to receive the message, how do you take it any other way? But I realize now that in fact, someone can be telling you something about themselves and where they are and it doesn’t have to be about you.. or in the example above, … me.

My son obviously was having a hard day or a hard hour or minute or whatever. He needed space. More importantly, the LAST THING… and I must repeat here (for my own benefit), the LAST thing he needed was to take emotional energy away from whatever was bothering him to focus on my insecurity or guilt or whatever I could conjure up to feel responsible for his mood. That’s not to say that when we’ve truly caused a problem for another we shouldn’t try work to figure out if we need to repair something

This is a situation in which to apply Covey’s seek first to understand. We can ask the other “are you okay, is there something you need from me” rather than assuming it’s about us and we need to go into fixing mode, even if we don’t know what we are to fix. If the other person isn’t ready to talk, then we have to learn to be patient and wait to see if the problem gets resolved without our input. Sometimes, that is the hardest part of all.