WHY WE SECRETLY LOVE TO HATE
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you woke up one morning to find all your problems with your partner had disappeared? Instead of arguing, criticising or ignoring each other, you could just get on with being happy together.
Relationship theory has been dominated by the premise that when we fight, it is because we lack the skills or insight required to resolve conflict. But what if it’s not that we don’t know how to get along – we just don’t want to?
‘Many couples I counsel aren’t interested in change,’ he claims. ‘They’re more interested in bashing each other’s heads in.’ The reason, he says, is that our ego competes with our ability to live harmoniously.
Think of someone you don’t get along with. Now imagine you can press a button to transform your interaction into a close, caring and supportive friendship. Fancy it? Not many people do.‘Sometimes we just don’t want to get close to the person we’re at odds with,’ says Burns.
He gives his own example of a hostile colleague: ‘A close relationship with him is the last thing I want. What I need is for him to admit how self-centred he is.’ He believes this ‘joy in hostility’ is rooted in the animal side of human nature we seek to suppress.
In order to improve our relationships, we have to focus on changing ourselves – not the other person. ‘You are 100 per cent of the problem, just as they are,’ says Burns. ‘The moment you change, the other person will change too. You can’t not change someone else: everything you say and do impacts on the behaviour of those around you.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself, “What do I want more: the rewards of battle or the rewards of a close, loving relationship?”’
The 12 causes of conflict
1 Power and control
Like animals, we have a primal desire for a pecking order, even within our close relationships. ‘Wanting to have power over people is part of human nature,’ says Burns. ‘We enjoy feeling superior to others – it means we get what we want from the relationship.’ Ultimately, though, we are hurting someone we are meant to care about more than anyone else. Instead of trying to control your partner, try putting yourself in their shoes. Intimidation drives out intimacy, while empathy and respect encourage it.
If we shoulder all the blame in our relationship, we are, in fact, rewarded, because we are preventing the other person from criticising us – because we’ve got in first. However, that takes lots of energy, and as a result, we’re not much fun to be around, says Burns. Instead of self-blame, consider sharing the responsibility for things going wrong and take an adult, neutral stance rather than an emotionally charged one.
Heavily pregnant Helen was so angry when her husband Adrian stayed out late without telling her, she switched off her mobile. ‘I knew he’d worry if he couldn’t get hold of me,’ she says, ‘and that was what I wanted.’ It is easy to dwell on what another person has done to us, overlooking our own provocative behaviour, but, according to Burns, the urge for revenge too often overwhelms our desire for a loving relationship. ‘It doesn’t make us happy – it just gives us a sense of righteousness. The most protracted international conflicts have been fuelled by revenge – nobody wins, nobody wants to stop. At some point, somebody has to break the cycle.’
4 Justice and fairness
If someone doesn’t meet our expectations, we feel we have every right to punish them. How many times, in the heat of an argument, do we hear ourselves say, ‘It’s so unfair’, when what we mean is, ‘This isn’t what I want’? This is a distortion, says Burns – it is reasoning informed solely by how we feel or an assumption that our feelings reflect the way things are for our partner too. It supports the erroneous belief that it is the other person who needs to change and allows us to justify hurtful behaviour. The key is to realise that what we said wasn’t actually anything to do with fairness or justice. ‘When we are annoyed with someone, we flood our minds with negative thoughts that may seem valid at that moment, but that inevitably contain errors,’ says Burns.
Although a little self-absorption is acceptable, if we find ourselves becoming enraged at the slightest hint of criticism and flying off the handle, we are succumbing to the seductive power of narcissism. Burns suggests trying a disarming technique called the law of opposites: ‘When you try to defend yourself from a criticism that is irrational or unfair, you instantly prove it to be valid. If you agree with it, you prove it wrong.’ For example, if our partner claims, ‘You never listen to me’ and we respond with, ‘You may be right about that,’ we are already proving that we are listening to them.
‘Everyone wants to win,’ says Burns. ‘However, the desire to win only keeps the battle alive.’ After years in an unhappy, physically abusive relationship, Annemarie finally found the strength to leave her husband, Phil – only to go back to him a week later. ‘We were arguing on the phone and he said to me, “I never thought you were a quitter.” I went back just to prove him wrong.’
She left Phil for good six months later and has remarried. Her new relationship couldn’t be more different. ‘I’m still competitive,’ she says, ‘but not within my relationship. My husband’s my biggest fan – not my opponent.’
7 Anger and bitterness
Anger can provide us with a sense of purpose, particularly if we are in a relationship that is draining our energy. Burns explains that anger can be expressed in three ways: active aggression (seeking out confrontation), passive aggression (unhelpfully avoiding confrontation) or by calmly and respectfully sharing how you feel. The last is the least popular, says Burns, but the most effective. Overcoming anger requires us to work on our ability to listen, he advises. The ‘one-minute drill’ can help. For 30 seconds, calmly allow the other person to make their point, saying nothing and ensuring your body language is open and positive. Then, for the next 30 seconds, paraphrase back as accurately and respectfully as you can what they said.
It’s hard to give up the belief that it’s not our fault. Burns suggests using a ‘blame cost-benefit analysis’. Draw up two columns on a piece of paper: the advantages of blaming the other person versus the disadvantages. Advantages might include: ‘I don’t have to feel guilty, I don’t have to change, I can feel morally superior.’ Disadvantages might be: ‘I won’t be able to get closer to my partner, I’ll be stuck in a cycle, nothing will change.’ If the advantages list is longer, you have definitely succumbed to blame as a motivation for conflict. If your list is more 50-50, it’s really tempting to want the other person to shoulder half the blame. But if you want a better relationship, says Burns, you must concentrate solely on changing yourself.
Labelling someone as inferior or defective has the advantage of giving us a clear, if inaccurate, explanation for all our relationship problems. Statements such as, ‘You always do this’ or, ‘He’s so stupid’ are easily made, but cause us to seek evidence to support our labelling. Then we reinforce it by repeating such statements to others – and, like a good gossip, it is a process we often secretly enjoy. But there will always be evidence to support exactly the opposite statement. Seek this out and the power of scapegoating is diffused. For example, instead of saying, ‘He’s totally unreliable,’ ask what evidence there is to support the opposite statement, ‘He’s very reliable’. This draws attention to their positive behaviour and gives us a more balanced picture of their track record. We may enjoy recounting their failings, because it creates drama and paints us as the victim, but what about the times they were there for us?
10 Pride and shame
Being forced to look at our faults, especially by someone we love, can feel too painful, so instead we put up a wall and become defensive. The key to dealing with this, suggests Burns, is to rethink what it means to be vulnerable. ‘When you are totally vulnerable, you are totally invulnerable, because you have nothing more to hide – your vulnerability becomes your greatest strength.’ True intimacy requires us to face up to our failings.
When we fight with someone, the subtext is usually ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’. But what if you’re both right? Take this stance, and the majority of conflicts are dead before they start. ‘Anything that anyone says has some truth in it,’ says Burns. Try to seek that out instead of disregarding their views completely.
12 Hidden agendas
Of the 12 motivations for conflict, this is the hardest to face up to, says Burns. What is your hidden agenda? Do you settle for your relationship’s shortcomings because, deep down, you benefit from it? Samura is the main breadwinner in her relationship and frequently works till 10 or 11pm. Despite his often-expressed annoyance, her partner Jake is secretly pleased that he has his evenings to himself and can eat, drink or go out as he pleases. According to Burns, there are always rewards to the ‘problems’ in your relationship, which means that they aren’t really problems. ‘It might be that you like things the way they are,’ he says, ‘but the price that you pay for not being honest is a lack of intimacy. Admitting your hidden agenda is the first step in putting that right.’
What does it take to let go in our lives? To allow for loss – of a loved one, a cherished object, a known and familiar feeling or experience. How do we go about surrendering and letting go?
My experience is that most of us will cling to that someone or something, refusing to let it go completely. We make excuses, rationalize and bargain with ourselves. Confronted with the event of loss we tend to grip, to cling, to wrap ourselves around the very thing we need to let go of.
It is human nature to fear surrendering what we most love, what we have grown accustomed to. It is human nature to fear surrendering and letting go, period. It frightens us, it makes us feel vulnerable, makes us feel alone, existentially doomed to loss.
What will we have once we let go?
Once we surrender? It takes a leap of faith, a belief that once we release our grip we will be able to continue our life in a different, and perhaps even fuller way. We build our lives around loved ones, family, things, objects, habits, beliefs, you name it. And letting go of “it” whatever “it” is, threatens our very sense of being.
Talking with a patient about her struggle letting go of her persistent binging, and of her tendency to isolate and sleep, to wrap herself in familiar patterns, her fear that she will always have a black hole inside, she tells me a Buddhist story:
To let go is counter intuitive to us, and yet, we cannot advance without doing so. The very act of clinging keeps us immobile, tightly wound around the thing we cling to. Even when we want to let go, we fear… the precipice. I think this must be akin to what Sartre had on his mind when he described existential angst.
A man slips and falls down the side of a mountain, he begins to fall quickly, the end of the precipice thousands of feet below. He manages to grab a branch, and as he clings to it for dear life, he begins a dialogue in his head:
“Dear lord, if you get me out of this one I promise I will pray and I will never do wrong again.”
“SURE” a voice replies, “THAT’S WHAT THEY ALL SAY.”
Startled, looking for the source of the voice and glancing down at the precipice below, the man continues, “No really, I will, I promise, just help me get out of this one, and I will do anything you want, anything really!”
“EVERYONE SAYS THAT IN YOUR SHOES.”
“Please, I promise, I will, I will do anything you say.”
“ARE YOU SURE, ANYTHING AT ALL?”
“FINE….THEN LET GO!”
Very unlike the next example, which celebrates letting go as part of the natural order of life.Around Christmas time of 2009, I heard a beautiful sermon on WQXR radio (by Reverend Bruce from the Unitarian Church in NYC) on this very topic. He was speaking on the need to let go with gratitude and an open heart. He shared an experience, which was recorded by an observer in the Metro section of the New York Times newspaper. It went something like this:
A woman steps out of a subway car and starts to put her gloves back on when she realizes that she is missing one. She turns to look at the subway car and sees one lonely glove on the seat, the companion to the one she is holding in her hand. It is now too late to retrieve the glove from the train, so with a shrug of the shoulders she throws the glove that is in her hand back into the train as the doors close. She smiles and walks away.
Surrendering with gratitude and open heart.
My colleague, Dr. Mark Epstein (Open to Desire) talks about the difference between holding and clinging. Holding is done with an open hand, so that whatever we hold near and dear to us is free to move and be.
Clinging is more akin to gripping- tightening our hand around something so that it lies prisoner within our grasp.
Surrendering with gratitude and open heart requires an open hand. It requires a lightness of touch, a lightness of being. Openness rather than tightness. Think about what we do when we are afraid: we tense up, tighten up every muscle we have; we crouch, cross our arms, we close up. We grip and hold onto ourselves. We do this to try and protect ourselves. The question is: from what? Some fears, perhaps most fears, come from within, even if they are triggered by external events.
In the case of letting go, it is our fear of not having, of looking into our own precipice, of losing our (known) sense of self, that makes us grip and hold on.Once we think of surrendering with an open heart we are immediately confronted with the fact that to do so requires an act of faith on our parts.
I do not mean of the religious or spiritual kind, I mean of the personal kind. A personal leap of faith. The woman on the train platform did exactly that when she threw her remaining glove into the train: she released her grip with a smile. Her act of faith exemplified in her release of the glove – in her belief that she could let go, and that she was better off throwing it back into the train to join its companion, rather than bemoaning her loss, or worse – attempting to retrieve it.
The act of letting go creating new possibilities of ownership (anyone need gloves?) as well as freedom. Can any of us disagree with that?
Surrendering has to do with acceptance. Acceptance of who we are, of all of those parts of ourselves that we spend much our lives not wanting to know, but nevertheless know of. Acceptance of what we do, how we think, what we say, and of course, of what has happened to us in our lives. Acceptance of our limitations and our not so nice parts.
Years ago, a patient described what it took for her to stop smoking. “I finally surrendered” she said, “finally gave up in acceptance that I could no longer fill myself with smoke, while telling myself I was soothing myself”. She surrendered to the idea that she wanted to live despite the inevitable suffering that might come as part of really living. This took accepting the fact that her addiction was not to nicotine, but to the way smoking filled her loneliness and cradled her agitation. Twenty years later, she tells me that she still believes that smoking is the best anti-depressant, and that when she gave it up, she had to deal with not being able to instantly fill that space up. She had to accept her loneliness and even her depression, and do something to address those. She had to let go.
Like the man hanging on a limb in the precipice, most of us will do “anything” not to let go. We will bargain, get angry, deny, all part of the cycle that leads us to acceptance and surrendering. We all have much to learn from the woman on the train.
And one more, just because I think it's a cool list ...
What is it, I wonder, about our need to blame?
I have been thinking alot about this recently. In the news at the moment is a tragic real life event about a young four year old child who lost her life being attacked by a rescue dog. The mother, as I understand it, entered the room, tried desperately to get the dog off of her little girl, and had to kill the dog to do so. Her child still died.
Unfortunately the response from the public, from us, is one of two reactions. One is of huge compassion, feeling for the mother, horror at what the child has gone through, grief at the loss of such a beautiful, innocent life. Many also feel compassion for the rescue dog, who must have suffered horribly under previous owners, and reacted to an unknown trigger which ended so tragically.
The second reaction is, of course, blame. Somebody has to be at fault. Did the child do something unintentionally to scare the dog? Was the dog merely vicious and attacked without provocation (it was, I believe, a mastiff, which has a reputation that clouds this issue in many people's eyes). What about the mother? Should she have got a rescue dog, or been more aware of the issues? Should she have left the child alone?
There is something inside us that has to find someone or something to blame. If we can do this, we can somehow find closure. It makes us feel better.
But the truth is, blame doesn't matter as much as we think it does, and compassion matters far more than we often think. Compassion points us to the suffering of the child and the grief of the family and others. Compassion points us towards the rescue dog and what it must have endured at the hands of less loving people.
Things happen. Good and bad. We, as always, have a choice. We can choose to blame, making ourselves feel better, somehow justified, right, without doing anything else. Or we can choose to show compassion, understanding, gentleness.
This is true of tragic stories. It is true in our relationships with our parents, our partners, our children, even our friends and enemies. It is even true in our relationship with and view of ourselves.
I choose compassion (even though I am not always good at it). It is a work in progress.
What will you choose?
Easier said than done, but still consider the implications of the following story ...
How The Hate We Carry Can Burden Us.
A kindergarten teacher has decided to let her class play a game.
The teacher told each child in the class to bring along a plastic bag containing a few potatoes. Each potato will be given a name of a person that the child hates, so the number of potatoes that a child will put in his/her plastic bag will depend on the number of people he/she hates.
So when the day came, every child brought some potatoes with the name of the people he/she hated. Some had 2 potatoes; some 3 while some up to 5 potatoes.
The teacher then told the children to carry with them the potatoes in the plastic bag wherever they go (even to the toilet) for 1 week.
Days after days passed by, and the children started to complain due to the unpleasant smell let out by the rotten potatoes. Besides, those having 5 potatoes also had to carry heavier bags.
After 1 week, the children were relieved because the game had finally ended.
The teacher asked: "How did you feel while carrying the potatoes with you for 1 week?" The children let out their frustrations and started complaining of the trouble that they had to go through having to carry the heavy and smelly potatoes wherever they go.
Then the teacher told them the hidden meaning behind the game. The teacher said: "This is exactly the situation when you carry your hatred for somebody inside your heart. The stench of hatred will contaminate your heart and you will carry it with you wherever you go. If you cannot tolerate the smell of rotten potatoes for just 1 week, can you imagine what is it like to have the stench of hatred in your heart for your lifetime?"
|The fence : A Story about Anger
There once was a young boy with a very bad temper. The boy's father wanted to teach him a lesson, so he gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper he must hammer a nail into their wooden fence.
On the first day of this lesson, the little boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. He was really mad!
Over the course of the next few weeks, the little boy began to control his temper, so the number of nails that were hammered into the fence decreased.
It wasn't long before the little boy discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.Then, the day finally came when the little boy didn't lose his temper even once, and he became so proud of himself, he couldn't wait to tell his father.
Pleased, his father suggested that he now pull out one nail for each day that he could hold his temper. Several weeks went by and the day finally came when the young boy was able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.
Very gently, the father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done very well, my son," he smiled, "but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same."
The little boy listened carefully as his father continued to speak.
"When you say things in anger, they leave permanent scars just like these. And it is good to say you're sorry, but the wounds will still be there."
Life or Death
This is from one of my Tumblr contacts called The Angry Therapist. Sometimes I think he talks alot of sense:
"It’s really simple. If you strip everything down, you are either living or dying.
You are obsessing about the future, dwelling on the past. Holding onto expired relationships. Eating like shit. Feeding addictions and unhealthy patterns. Not sleeping. Weighing yourself. You are assassinating people’s character, taking hostages (making other people feel bad because you’re not happy), dreading work, getting annoyed by everything and everyone, exuding negative energy, fighting everything, verbally vomiting, taking, see life as a prison. You are filled with anger instead of hope. You are deteriorating. You are dying. You are dark.
You are creating, building, investing in yourself as well as others (relationships that are meaningful to you). You are drawing healthy boundaries. You are allowing yourself to be heard. Expressing your truth. Dreaming. Facing fears. Not judging, expecting, or labelling You sweat, stretch, eat real food, drink lots of water, and make sure you get enough sleep. You love hard and forgive often. You stay in today and try to seek joy in what and who is in front of you instead of chasing images and material objects. You don’t tie ability to worth. Think different. Breathe. You are regenerating, evolving. You are living. You are giving. You are light.
When you are dying, the world gets very small. You lose your vision. Everything gets heavy. When you are living, the world gets very big. You have nothing but vision. Everything is bright.
You wake up every day and you have a choice. You can either live or die."
I think that's very cool.
You wake up every day and you have a choice.
A couple of people have approached me recently with issues about their relationship with either children or mothers (this also applies, I suppose, to fathers, although no one has asked me about that yet).
The conversations usually starts with something like this ...
"I love my son/daughter/ mother/father, but we just don't get on. We used to talk all the time, but now ...". And what follows is a genuinely heart felt conversation about the breakdown of a close relationship and how sad the person is.
"What do I do" they ask. "They just won't listen" they say.
This is a hugely difficult area, but I will tell you something of what I said in these haphazard, unplanned moments (this is in fact a better thought out version of what I said, to be honest) ...
- We feel most hurt (and most hurt them back) by the people we love the most. That is because they are the people we care about the most, so we feel more deeply. We don't want them to get hurt. We don't want them to make mistakes. We rant and argue with them because we care. This is incredibly important to remember. If we didn't care about them, we wouldn't even bother to argue with them.
- In the same way, they argue with us because, yes they are as stubborn as we are, but also because they care about us. They don't want us to make mistakes, to get hurt, etc. Think about it ... the ones we hurt the most and the ones who hurt us the most are the ones who really care about each other, dare I say it, really love each other. You are loved.
- Therefore I invite you to do something really difficult ... put aside how you really feel for a short time and ask yourself:
'what have they been through?'.
'What do they feel?'
'Is it because they don't care, or because they do?'
Now I will share something intensely personal with you, to illustrate (so please don't stamp all over it):
I was badly abused and in some ways neglected as a child. I was not loved, and I was hurt in more ways than just not being loved.
For many many years I carried the scars of that on the inside. I withdrew. I was different to other kids. I wanted other kids mums and dads instead of my own. I carried a huge amount of anger and resentment against my parents (which in the end harmed only me).
But as I look back on their stories I understand more.
My mum went from one abusive relationship to another, from a domineering abusive father to an abusive marriage, to my abusive father. She left two young children in a previous relationship whom she dearly loved. By the time I and my brother came along she was burnt out. She didn't have much more love to give and was so afraid, afraid of being hurt again, afraid of committing to us (me and my brother) and losing us. I feel sorry for her (although she is long dead).
And my father was a rubbish dad, neglectful, abusive and lots of other things; but he was also incredibly lonely, although I never realised it at the time. I think he struggled with his family, and when he came to England they hardly kept in touch. I think he felt rejected and alone and powerless, and that's why he did alot of the crap things that he did.
The point is this. The more we understand the other person, the more compassion we have for them, the more we can forgive. In the end their faults may be different to our own, but we all have our faults and maybe we are not so different as we like to believe.
Understanding, forgiveness and compassion doesn't mean we have to ignore or accept the rubbish things that our loved ones do, but it can help to build the bridges again.
Now it's time for bed.
Have a good night.