When are you going to have kids? Are you going to have another child? Have you thought about adoption? What about IVF? Are you going to get married? Did your house sell? Did you get the job? Why do we insist on asking questions that are highly likely to trigger embarrassment? We may think that it’s just friendly concern or polite interest in other people’s lives to ask such personal questions. But the couple trying to conceive or stuck in the adoption pool dread these questions and can even start to withdraw socially to avoid being put on the spot once again.
I am often asked by clients how to respond to these intrusions into their private lives. They want to say None of your business, but they don’t want to cause offence. So here you have people who are worried about upsetting the ones who are being pretty thoughtless. No wonder they start to keep to themselves.
Surely it would be better to have a general policy not to ask personal questions, even if they are a close friend. We can all assume that if there was news they wanted to share, we would hear about it. They wouldn’t be waiting patiently for us to ask the question before they tell us that they are pregnant, have finally sold the house, are engaged, or have been told that there is a child for them to adopt.
We may have the best intentions – to be supportive and enthusiastic, but an even better person keeps their interest and curiosity in check until someone has something they want us to know.
It’s perfectly normal to be frustrated by our partner’s behaviour or that of a colleague or friend. Many of us believe that we understand why the other person behaves the way they do and know what they have to do to change. But as the saying goes, we can only change ourselves so it might be time to focus on what you can do to change their behaviour.
Perhaps your partner is a poor communicator and you wish that he or she would tell you why they are looking so unhappy or at least whether they will be home for dinner or not. But what if your reactions are making it harder for your partner to open up? What if they are worried that if they tell you the truth, it will start an argument that they would rather avoid? In other words, what can you do to make it easier for your partner to be a better communicator?
Maybe a colleague is driving you crazy because they are disorganised and approach everything in a chaotic way. It might be obvious to you that they should slow down, think through things carefully and work as part of a team. But what if your attitude towards them is very negative? What if they feel like you’re a giant handbrake, which is making them want to push harder or be unrealistically positive? When we zoom out and look at the dynamic within our relationships, it can be empowering. We can feel less helpless if we work out what we can do to improve that dynamic. Instead of complaining that your workmate is all over the place, why not allow some of their enthusiasm to rub off on you and resist the urge to point out the problems straight away. Try to praise their efforts and then suggest what you could do to address the gaping holes that you can see.
You might have a friend who seems to always want things to go their way. You see the movie they want to see or go to the restaurant they way to try. Over time, the resentment builds up and you start to feel the power imbalance. Instead of waiting until the resentment destroys the friendship, consider what role you’re playing in this dynamic. Maybe you hesitate to make suggestions yourself. Perhaps you are a little passive-aggressive and wait to be asked for your opinion or give subtle hints that go unnoticed. Your friend may be oblivious to the fact that you have a clear idea about what you want to eat or what movie you want to see. Even if you do speak up and your friend still tries to overrule you, be assertive and insist that next time it’s your choice. Once you change the dance steps, the other person can’t help but follow.
How often have you felt annoyed that your efforts to please another person weren’t appreciated? Perhaps you offered to help someone move house only to receive little thanks at the end of the day. Maybe you spend hours dreaming up fabulous meals to cook for a partner who’d be happier eating meat and three veg. Or perhaps you go above and beyond your role as a parent by driving your children and their friends all over town, buying presents for their friends when they earn their own money, or volunteering to tutor your child for their upcoming exams while trying to ignore their glazed eyes..
When we feel unappreciated, resentment builds up. In an argument, out comes the list of things we have done for the other person without any thanks. It can be infuriating when our partner or child points out that they didn’t ask for help in the first place. Hold on a second?? What?? Oh yes, that’s right – I offered. But shouldn’t we still receive thanks when we do a good deed? Shouldn’t our efforts be rewarded? Most people say that they don’t help others to get the thanks, but it’s amazing how often we forget this fact.
For everybody’s sake it would be good if we all tried to:
- Give without the need for thanks
- Consider who we’re giving what to – does this person really want what I’m offering?
- And remember to thank others for their effort even if we didn’t ask them for it
Altruism increases our own level of happiness by giving us a sense of meaning and purpose. We don’t need thanks to feel good about being charitable. But we shouldn’t martyr ourselves by being everything to everyone only to end up feeling used.
It’s not long until TheCarousel.com presents the Moral Maze at The Vitality Show in Sydney. The themes of the Vitality Show are health, wellness and beauty and the aim is to give women the tools to look and feel their best. The show runs over three days from Friday 10 October to Sunday 12 October at the Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park, Sydney.
On Saturday 11 October, I will be hosting some fascinating conversations we at The Carousel like to call The Moral Maze. I will be chatting with Chris Bath from Channel 7, Karen Lawson from CareerOne, and Nedahl Stelio from The Carousel. The sessions will start on the Canon Main Stage at 10.30am.
Come along and hear us discuss:
- Improving your relationships will improve your health and wellbeing
- The impact of stroke on young Australians
- Getting ahead in Australia’s hottest new industries
- Getting your mojo back after motherhood
With such a wide range of topics, there’s sure to be something to tempt you to join us. More information on the Vitality Show can be found at www.vitalityshow.com.au and visit TheCarousel.com to watch previous Moral Mazes.
My daughter is finishing school this year. She has enjoyed school, but like most 18 year olds, she is more than ready to leave. She has a clear idea of what she wants to do next. Her dad and I are right behind her and will support and encourage her dream. The trouble is, she is receiving minimal support from anywhere else because shock, horror – she doesn’t have any interest in going to university. Why is this such a problem? Her friends, her friends’ parents, her aunts and uncles all seem to struggle with the idea of her not wanting to get a degree.
When did this happen – this insistence that the only way to success and happiness is via university? Is this the case everywhere, or just where we live? In the past, you needed a degree to be able to do certain careers. The current attitude is that it doesn’t matter what it is, just get a degree. No wonder the drop out rate is so high. No wonder university graduates are no longer guaranteed a job when they finish.
My daughter is constantly being asked about her back-up plan. She is being told over and over again to at least apply to go to uni and defer for a year. And although she can see the path she wants to take, that’s not good enough for people around her. University is not free. It is not easy to get a degree if you are not interested in the course you’re studying and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll walk straight into a well paying job. So her dad and I will continue to help her defend her right not to attend university, just as we will support her if she changes her mind down the track.
Do you want to improve your relationship? Are there issues that keep coming up and never get resolved? Do you think it’s too late? Or maybe you believe things are pretty good, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Detox your Relationship explores ways to bring you closer to your partner. If there is no violence or abuse occurring, most relationships can be steered onto a better path with a touch of detox. Learning how to replace apathy, distractions, dependence, game playing, control and poor communication with a variety of helpful skills and strategies is not only possible, it’s often far easier than the alternative – splitting up.
If you’re at a crossroad or you simply want a stronger relationship, head to detoxyourrelationship.com and rid you and your partner of any toxic elements that may have crept into your life together.
When did quitting become the worst thing in the world? Parents often worry about a child wanting to stop learning the piano or finish their swimming lessons once they have become competent swimmers. Adults can stay in jobs they loathe because they don’t want to feel like a quitter. They can baulk at taking up a new interest or studying later in life for fear of dropping out if it doesn’t work. First year university students don’t seem to worry about quitting – they’re leaving in droves, but perhaps that’s because university has become the norm, instead of an option for those who are really interested in doing a specific course.
Why are we so concerned when our child wants to quit something? Is it because we regret stopping piano or swimming lessons when we were young? Do we fear that they will never finish anything they start and will never be able to commit to anything? Why do we feel ashamed to drop out of a course or change jobs ourselves? Are we worried about how we will look to our friends and family?
Surely it’s important to keep making informed decisions and to teach our children how to make good choices. Why do you feel like quitting? If the activity or job really doesn’t interest you, what is the point in hanging in there? But if you want to leave because you’re afraid that you’re not up to the task or people will discover that you’re not as good as they thought you were, then you may be suffering from imposter fear and that should be addressed.
If you want to quit because your quality of life is really being impacted by the demands of the job or the course, then what’s wrong with aiming for a less stressful existence? But if you concerned that you’re not perfect – you’re not getting high distinctions or you’re not employee of the year, then your perfectionism may need be tackled.
If a child presents a good argument about why they want to stop learning to play the guitar or why gymnastics isn’t for them anymore, we need to listen. Telling them not to quit doesn’t really teach them how to weigh up all the information and make an informed decision. Encouraging them to come up with alternate ways to live and learn is surely a better life lesson than don’t be a quitter.
Every day clients teach me more and more about how humans think and behave. Yesterday, a lovely woman I see explained why it’s so hard for her to feel grateful and see the positives in life. She told me : I have a lot to be thankful for, but no matter what happens, it will never be as good as I had hoped. For me, the penny dropped as she said those words – How can anyone see the positives if their expectations are always greater than reality?
Clients have been telling me this for years and I have only now truly understood what they were saying.
Of course I love my baby, but motherhood is so much harder than I thought it would be.
I know I have my health and wonderful friends and family, but this is not where I wanted to be at this point in my life.
In other words, it’s very difficult for people to focus on the positives and cope with the negatives before they have accepted reality. Positive psychology examines the benefits of thinking positively and being grateful. But many people find it hard to think positively and be grateful. Perhaps we have been skipping a vital step. We first need to accept that life rarely turns out exactly the way we imagined it would. There will be challenges and there will be pain. No amount of love and hard work will completely protect you from disappointment or heartache.
Once we have accepted that life is a series of wins and losses, successes and failures, pleasure and pain, we can find it easier to celebrate the positives and cope with the negatives. If we go into parenthood or relationships knowing that it won’t be easy, we can enjoy the rewards. If we enter adulthood knowing that life will take us down a series of different paths, we can feel better prepared for challenges and more appreciative of the luck and achievement.
Accepting reality provides a neutral baseline from which we can move up and down depending on what happens to us. If our expectations are too high, the only way to go is down. And if they are too low, we look for the negatives to support our dark view of the world. So in the end, being realistic makes it far easier to be positive and grateful.
Experts tell us that if we get caught in a rip when swimming in the ocean, we should not waste energy trying to swim against it. Instead, we should raise an arm to attract attention, try to stay calm and go with the current until we are out of its pull. Once free of the rip, it’s easier to swim back into shore. Let me use this analogy to address what to do when we’re caught up in an emotional rip.
If we are suddenly thrown into turmoil by circumstance, fighting the emotions can be just as counterproductive and exhausting as swimming against a rip.
Here’s what happened when a client of mine lost her temper with her boss. She’d told him where to stick his job and stormed out of the office. Minutes after that incident, she rang me in a panic. Through hysterical sobs, she explained what she’d done and was wondering where she was going to live now that she would be evicted for not being able to pay the rent after being sacked. Sacked? Evicted? She was whipping herself into a frenzy. Much to her annoyance, I simply kept asking her to focus on her breathing and on her physical symptoms. She wanted to fight me. She wanted me to debate the possibility of getting fired and being evicted. But when she gave in to her emotions and stopped trying to think her way out of her situation while the emotions were still too intense, she began to calm down. As soon as she stopped fighting and stopped trying to solve problems that hadn’t arisen, she was able to slow her breathing and she no longer felt panicky. By allowing the emotions to peak and then start to decrease, she began to see things more clearly. She then decided to go home and email an apology to her boss.
When our emotions are high, we can’t think properly. Our thoughts become irrational and we’re in danger of behaving in a way that could have serious consequences. The decisions we make in a highly emotional state may not be the same decisions we’d make in a calmer state. But it’s impossible to simply calm down. That’s why it’s infuriating when we’re told by another person to calm down or not panic.
Instead, it’s good to recognise that we are caught in an emotional rip and go with the current until the intensity eases off. Then we can find our way back to firmer ground – back to reality and back to safety.
A friend once advised me to always be myself, otherwise it would be impossible to maintain the act. He was referring to my very minor role as a psychologist on TV. It occurred to me recently that this advice also applies to my role as a parent.
For the twenty years that I have been a mother, I have wished that I was a better mum. My children are wonderful people but I have never thought that their fabulousness had anything to do with me. I blame myself for their faults of course, but their strengths are despite my mothering.
I have so often wished that I was that laid back mother who never gets phased by anything. When they were little, I envied the mums who couldn’t hear the noise and couldn’t see the mess. When they were at school, I felt guilty for not being that mother who was regularly in the canteen or on the school committees. As a parent to adolescents, I failed to always stand my ground and now that they are young adults, I still can’t completely relax when they go out or have friends over.
I have only now realised that I am who I am. I may not be the most relaxed mum in the world. I am certainly not the mother earth I wanted to be. But any attempt to pretend to be anything else has never lasted. It’s impossible to maintain the act. My children see right through me. They know when I’m worried. They know when I’m angry or upset. And they seem to have turned out all right anyway. I guess it’s because they know they are loved by an imperfect mum.