Monday, 28 September 2020

Sow the Seeds of a Higher and Happier Life

Was I just that weak, that hypersensitive? If so, what right did I have to be there as June's therapist? One of my clients had discovered the bodies of her parents following their murder/suicide; Another client lost her mother to cancer when she was four years old, and her mother was barely mentioned again as she grew up in a household with a stepmother who insisted on being called Mom. In my opinion, the best support will come from a therapist who is skilled in helping you work through the plethora of feelings that will inevitably come up. To be effective, confrontations should be dignified, controlled, and direct. Don't concern yourself with treading gently or sugar-coating your words. Your parents have lived many years and have gone through many hardships. They may not like what you have to say but they are strong enough to handle it. If they cannot, it's not your problem, it's theirs. You should be straightforward and say whatever you need to say. Focus on facts and feelings. You have every right to speak your truth. Be mindful to stay focused on your agenda and in control of the encounter. This is what is happening in the microcosm of the thoughtful thank-you note: The kindness of your dinner party inspired your friend's gratitude. That gratitude inspired her kindness to you. Kindness--and the gratitude that follows--has a ripple effect. Pema Chodron advises, Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world. In our daily encounters, we want other people to be kind, compassionate, and giving toward us--who wouldn't?

Studies have long shown that attitudes, behavior, and even health are contagious within our social networks, but what hadn't been clear was whether this is true simply because we tend to be friends with people who are like us. So two researchers from Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, set out to find out whether kindness is contagious among people who don't know each other. They set up a game where they arranged strangers into groups of four and gave each person twenty credits. Each player was instructed to decide, in private, how many credits to keep for themselves and how many to contribute to a common pot that at the end of the round would be divided evenly among the players. Spending $50 on big bags of rice was fine because that money came from a general grocery account, but money for matsutake came from the precious and smaller luxury account, so this was not a decision to take lightly. We also assign our money to different timeframes in our minds. Money for today, money for tomorrow and money for a rainy day. Through the creation of mental accounts, we are able to make quick judgements about when to buy something and what it's reasonable to spend in different situations. They help us to exert self-control over our spending. Some people go as far as to set up separate bank accounts to reflect these mental accounts, even if that means paying interest on the debit in one while others are in credit. It's irrational in one way - overall you are losing money; Banks do offer mortgage deals where the interest you earn on savings is offset against the interest on your mortgage, but still 98 per cent of people in the UK in 2014 chose to separate their savings and their debts. Our use of mental accounts also helps to explain why we make judgements about the value of discounts within the context of the total price. It all depends on which mental account the money comes from. I have worked with clients who lost adolescent children to suicide. And I cannot count the number of clients who were physically and emotionally abused throughout childhood. What I have learned is that this is not a simple matter of comparing what happened to me with what happened with June, or what happened with you. In fact, evaluating ourselves according to that kind of comparison is one extremely effective way of stopping forward progress dead in its tracks. I have heard this expressed in a very concise form: compare and despair. Insisting on comparison as a way of either justifying or denying our right to have pain is useless.

We can always find someone who has had it better than us and someone who has had it worse. My childhood was better than June's, but worse than someone else's. Even then, the evaluation is subjective. I'm not sure June would agree that my childhood was the better of the two. This is your time, not your parents'--they have already had their turn. Do not allow them to resort to denial, excuses, or pity parties. Direct confrontation is done face to face, electronically, or over the telephone. To be most effective there are some important things to consider: When confronting your parents, judgment, finger pointing, and guilt will get you nowhere. If you cannot restrain yourself from doing these things you are well advised not to attempt a confrontation. It will be pointless and futile, and it will only escalate the problem for all parties concerned. You may feel the temptation to get back at your parents or even the score for whatever injustice was done to you, but that is not your job. It is never your job to judge or exact punishment on others for their transgressions. It is unlikely that your parents will ever acknowledge or take responsibility for what they did to you. At the end of each round, the players were shuffled, so they never knew from game to game who was generous, but they knew how generous others had been to the group. As the game went on, players who had been the recipients of generosity from teammates tended to give more of their own credits in future rounds. Kindness begets kindness. When you are part of a kindness-gratitude exchange, you will inevitably find yourself on the receiving end of gratitude. When we receive thanks, we must be mindful of our egos. It's easy to get lost in the fantasy of our own greatness.

When monks are praised, we detach, remembering that whatever we were able to give was never ours to begin with. To receive gratitude with humility, start by thanking the person for noticing. Appreciate their attention and their intention. Look for a good quality in the other person and return the compliment. When my husband and I bought our house and failed to shop around for a solicitor, it was partly because these fees seemed inconsequential in comparison with the price of the house. But it was also because we were chalking the fees up to a particular mental account, in this case a special one - the `once in a lifetime buying a house' account. In reality of course the money we were shelling out to the solicitor was coming from my actual current account, which was rapidly looking very empty. It is very important that we can assign money mentally in this way. If we didn't do it, we wouldn't take risks or make long-term investments, and we wouldn't have the economic activity and the prosperity to show for it. Mental accounts allow us to escape from the crippling financial caution that could otherwise grip us. In this sense, our evolving psychological attitudes to money allow modern economies to function. But difficulty sometimes arises in trying to force our minds to put money into the appropriate psychological moneybag. Around 15 years ago, my husband and I decided to get rid of our car. Living in London, we found we were using it less and less, not least because parking spaces where we lived at the time were so precious that we were reluctant to surrender the one we had by using the car. You may have endured horrendous abuse in your life, or you may be the product of the typical neurotic American family. You are probably somewhere in between. It doesn't matter. What matters is that we are all equally deserving of whatever help we need in order to heal the wounds of our past. And what matters is that we are all equally responsible for tending to our own wounds. What lies beneath the comparisons are the questions of why me and not them or why them and not me.

What lies beneath those unanswerable questions are feelings of either shame or anger. Maybe you feel shame because of your abuse, or maybe you feel shame because someone else suffered abuse and you did not. You may be angry at your abusers, or even angry at the fact that child abuse, in all of its many forms and gradations, is a daily occurrence in our world. But keep going. Abusers rarely admit to having abused. When or if they do they tend to minimize what happened. It is unlikely that your parents will ever accept accountability. If this is the outcome you are expecting you will only set yourself up for disappointment. Confrontation is something you do to vent your feelings. Do not do it hoping to receive any particular outcome. If your parents do accept responsibility and sincerely want to make things right with you, accountability, not remorse, should be the end goal. Forgiveness can be given with or without the other party's accountability, but trust must be earned. If you are fearful of a direct confrontation but still feel compelled to say your peace, it is just as effective to put what you have to say in writing. With that approach, you avoid having to face the rapid emotional backlash. Then take the gratitude you are given as an opportunity to be grateful to your teachers. THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS Monks put our gratitude practice into action through all the small interactions of the day. I hopped into an Uber once, in a hurry and distracted. The car idled for an unusually long time, and when I finally noticed and asked the driver if everything was okay, he said, Yes, I'm just waiting for you to say hi back to me. It was a wake-up call, and you can bet I'm more careful about acknowledging people now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.