October 18, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 4: The "Dr. Phil" Question

Sometimes we just love our beliefs because we are convinced they are working for us, evidence to the contrary. Let's look once again at the belief, "My husband shouldn't have affairs." The client says that if she didn't believe this thought, it would be akin to condoning her husband's affairs. Therefore, he would only continue to have affairs, and she'd be a doormat.

Now for the "big duh" question: Does this thought bring peace or stress into your life? The client is aware that this is a stressful belief and yet she can't make herself not believe what she beliefs...which is as it should be.

I ask the question, "Why do you hold this stressful belief; how is it serving you?" This is a nicer, and more thoughtful, way of asking the famous Dr. Phil question, "How's that workin' for ya?"

Is the thought "My husband shouldn't have affairs" doing the job my client wants it to do?

It's not preventing her from feeling like a doormat right now, never mind the future.

It certainly isn't giving her any control over her husband's behavior.

It isn't providing her with a roadmap to the future.

It's not protecting her, because she's still married to a philandering husband.

So, while the core beliefs underlying this one—the ones about relationships being sacred and people shouldn't cheat on their spouses—may have served this woman in the past, it doesn't look like they are serving her very well now, except to hold that stance of "I'm right, you're wrong" with a husband whose behavior she is tacitly condoning for now. That's enough for some people. Those people don't bring this particular belief to inquiry.

"Is there a peaceful reason to keep this thought?" The client can't find one and is now ready to move to question four, "Who would you be without this thought?"

What she finds is, as a woman whose husband is having affairs in reality, she can be in charge of her own life (which is what she wanted frim the belief, and couldn't get from it). She is free to stay or to go, to discuss the situation rationally with her husband (whether or not he is rational is none of her business and, again, not something she can micro-manage). She can state her needs and observations without shame and blame (instead of "You cheating #(*$@(*&!!, how dare you? You are dishonest, you don't love me, you want to hurt me, you broke our vows, this marriage is based on a lie!"

Instead, her conversation with him might begin with "I am aware that you are having sex outside of our marriage. I value fidelity and honesty in intimate relationships. I want to stay married to you and I don't know if I can if you are not going to be monogamous. Would you be willing to discuss what's going on for you and how we can move on from here?"

Try asking "How does this stressful belief serve you?" the next time you hit a sticky one...and let me know how it's workin' for ya.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

October 14, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 3: Unmet Needs, or a Tantrum?

Our reasons (which are sometimes motives) for keeping a stressful belief can also be seen as a list of unmet needs: "I need to be right." "I need to be in control." "I need a purpose." "I need you to listen to me."

It's not a problem to have needs; it's fine to find ways to fulfill them. It's only a problem when we expect that the world will meet our needs when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary that this isn't going to happen. That's when you know that you're not experiencing the stress of an unmet need; you're throwing an inner tantrum.

Fighting with reality in the form of attachment to stressful beliefs that do not serve you (or no longer serve you) can never fulfill our needs. Identifying our needs (as opposed to our desires) is the first step towards understanding the source of a problem, as well as the first step towards the fulfillment of our needs.

Byron Katie likes to say that fighting with reality is about as effective as trying to teach a cat to bark. If you want a barking animal, how much easier would it be to simply get a dog! (Or, if you're allergic to dogs, a burglar alarm. Need fulfilled, cat off the hook!)

This has evolved into a cliche among people who do The Work: "How do I know I don't need ____? I don't have it, and I'm still breathing." That's true, but for most of us, it's not so easy to shrug off a perceived need with a "Katie-ism." We have to see it for ourselves. Still, the word "need" can be problematical.

I give workshops with a teacher of Nonviolent Communication who has a Buddhist background and also does The Work. In NVC, they use the term "need" a lot, especially around authentic communication of said needs. I told her that I wasn't comfortable with the word "need," as I could see where I always have what I need in the moment, that "I need" is a story of the future and therefore never real right now. She agreed that, from a Buddhist standpoint (and a Worked one), there are no real needs, so I could swap out "needs" with "values." For example, "I need connection" becomes "I value connection." That feels truer to me.

So, "I value a serene work environment," communicated peacefully, isn't "You play that stereo too loud! You should be more considerate of your neighbors!" That's a tantrum. Rather, as a practitioner of NVC, or anyone who has identified what they value, would say, "I am upstairs working and finding it difficult to concentrate. Would you be willing to lower the volume on your stereo? " This respects the needs, or values, of the person who likes loud music, without making them wrong. There's no manipulation in it; it's a request, one that may or may not result in the fulfillment of your needs.

If I've done my Work, and I'm clear that I don't need my neighbor to do what I want, and she doesn't turn down the bass, I have a choice to put on noise-reducing headphones, work somewhere else, ask her again...and not go to war with her or with my life, even if it means that eventually I will call the management company to let them know there's a noise "problem."

Next, how a TV cliche can help free us further: Part 4, The "Dr. Phil" Question.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.