Great Expectations

When was the last time you were disappointed or frustrated because life did not happen or turn out as you had expected? How often does something of this nature happen?

That bad, huh?

Don’t frown! You’re not alone. These disappointments may not be happening because you’re mismanaging your life, your world, or those around you. Instead, it may be that you are attaching emotion to outcomes for which you have no control. And make no mistake: Whether to and how to react to a situation is your choice.

For example, I was just as guilty as other students of being overly invested in grades. I must get an A. I get anxious and stressed about the assignment, and upset if the grading does not go my way. That reaction is just likely to decrease my performance (and health, if long term) and increase the likelihood I’ll get more unsatisfactory grades.

Consider these sentence fragments and fill in the blanks. Depending on how strongly you believe that sentence, that belief may have emotions attached to them. Next, consider how you might react if you objectively and dispassionately observed the situation, yourself or others instead of having a negative emotional reaction.

  • My relationship should be …..
  • My family should be….
  • My job should be….
  • My world should be ….
  • Life should be…..
  • Life is….
  • I should be …..
  • I am powerless to …..
  • I deserve/don’t deserve …
  • I am not ….
  • I don’t/can’t…..
  • Others (or a specific person or group) don’t/can’t….
  • Others (or a specific person or group) are not….

If you were to be able to let go of the above thoughts without attaching negative emotion, how would you feel? What emotion would take its place? What would you do if you did not have those negative feelings or those beliefs?

Remember, your beliefs are not cast in stone. You can change your belief and, with practice, diminish the automatic and powerful emotional response to your belief.

I feel freer without my emotion-laden beliefs. Because I’m so accustomed to them, it’s sometimes hard to let them go. They’re safe. They’re familiar. Be brave and see what takes their place when you let them go.

Signs That YOU Are The Difficult Person

One of the hardest things about being an emotional grown-up is taking ownership for one’s own behavior. It’s not that we are irresponsible or unwilling to take responsibility for our shortcomings and mistakes. Instead, it’s hard to be objective about our own behavior. We have a tendency to be focused on what others are doing wrong and what we are doing right. Some are the opposite: they only see where they are at fault and others are blameless. This dynamic is equally counter-productive and harmful towards oneself and relationships.

“Why do you look at the speck in your brothers eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” – New Testament

Pointing the finger at someone else almost always says more about the speaker than the person at the other end of the finger. Hypocrisy falls into its own unique category because the irony is usually lost on the accuser. For example, when I accuse someone else of hypocrisy, I fail to see my own role in the dysfunction and thus, my own hypocrisy. I’m hypocritical about hypocrisy. It’s like plagiarizing an essay about plagiarism (I’ve seen those too, unfortunately).   It’s like sending someone a text while driving that reprimands them for driving unsafely. You get the idea.

I don’t know what to call these phenomena of being trapped in logic loop of irony and self-delusion.   There’s no way to see through your own delusion. If you do, all you can do is to dig yourself out gracefully by laughing at the human condition.

“One man’s folly is another man’s wife” – Helen Rowland

Moral of the story: if you find yourself commenting about someone else’s hypocrisy, stop immediately to prevent yourself from digging yourself into an even deeper hole. Hypocrisy is not the only sign that you’re creating trouble.   Here are some other statements reflecting disastrous logic loops that suggest that it is you who is misbehaving.

  • You’re so judgmental
  • You don’t even know what you don’t know
  • She doesn’t know what’s best for her
  • You need to examine your own behavior
  • He’s really unforgiving
  • He thinks he’s better than me
  • She’s so smug and arrogant
  • She’s so selfish
  • He’s always complaining and negative
  • She should mind her own business
  • (What did I miss?)

Have you said any of these things lately? If so, what does the statement say about you?

Toxic, Disruptive People

My inner toddler

My inner toddler

When working or living with toxic, difficult people, our tendency seems to be to use labels (b*tch, pr*ck, evil, toxic, etc.) as a shortcut to understanding them. Though convenient and expeditious, not unlike a handful of trail mix for dinner, the problem with labels is that we stop seeing the other as a complex person who is struggling, just like we are. Instead, the label tends to homogenize and minimize their essence to nothing but negative. The extreme ‘evil’ label implies that the other is irredeemable and is deserving of whatever ill fate that may befall them, intentional or otherwise.

I haven’t had enough coffee this morning to debate whether evil exists, or whether evil is more appropriately viewed through a mental illness lens. Most people that we encounter in our daily lives fall far short of that diagnosis, though it is often tempting to box someone in with that label.

Here’s what I do know about difficult people. Remembering these concepts helps me to deal with them and my reaction to them more constructively.

  • Difficult people are our teachers. We learn patience and perspective by being in their midst.
  • No matter how sure you are that they are to blame, we always have some responsibility in a failed relationship.   Explore flipping your story to gain some useful perspective. For starters, we are often blind to our own need to be right or lack of forgiveness which tends to invite bad behavior in others.
  • Everyone has a valid perspective, even if you disagree with or can’t understand it. Remember, disagreements often stem from different ethical priorities, not from an absence of values or a moral compass. Learning anothers’ perspective will help you understand and forgive while also making it more likely that they will be motivated to understand yours.
  • We often confuse being lenient or soft on others with doing the right thing. Martyring ourselves or our team to accommodate the perceived needs or demands of a toxic person is not doing anyone any favors in the long run and is not likely to keep the peace for long.   Behavioral issues should be dealt with early, firmly and with compassion.   For example, despite repeated interventions, some students continue to have performance or behavioral issues.   They are not unintelligent or lazy; instead, they are often a poor fit for the program. Helping these students to find the right academic environment will allow them to grow and shine. In contrast, enabling them to persist in a program that does not match their strengths or interests only prolongs the issue for them. Avoiding the problem for extended durations can result in incalculable losses of time, money, energy, productivity, and peace of mind for both the student and those around them.
  • A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. I did not believe her at the time, but I believe this statement to be 100 % true. Laziness is synonymous for lack of engagement. In the work environment, lack of engagement is strongly associated with being ignored or getting negative attention. Conventional wisdom concurs with respect to children that act out at home because they are being ignored. It’s easy to blame the child or lazy employee but the root cause is usually the parent or manager (see bullet #2 above).

It’s not easy turning the lens from the difficult person back on oneself. When tired or stressed, this task seems pointless or nearly impossible.   But here are your options: allow someone else to make you feel frustrated and emotionally out of control or by take constructive action that will help improve yourself, your family or you organization.   The latter may seem harder, but consider how uncontrolled emotion is the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum, even if you think you’re controlling it externally.

Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. However, finding someone else who agrees with your or is in the same boat is not a good excuse to avoid dealing constructively with that difficult person in you.