Archive for ‘Difficult Relationships’

January 19, 2021

Questions and discussion points for leadership development

by Rod Smith

A brave leader – elected, unelected, volunteer, paid, official or unofficial – who wants to grow and wants his or her organization to succeed will allow his or her leadership to be challenged and assessed by a random cross section of the people whom he or she leads. Here are a few sample questions and points for discussion that can be used as starters:

  • What am I doing well and should do more? I am not seeking affirmation. I want to know what is and is not working for us as a group/school/church/business.
  • What am I doing poorly, or not at all, that I should improve upon or include? People get used to poor leadership. It becomes normal. I don’t want that. I want us to be exceptional. I need your help and your valued assessments. 
  • What do I do that may drive you and others in our organization crazy? Don’t hold back. I am an adult.
  • Offer me realistic suggestions about how we can improve our workplace. With your experience you will know what is and is not possible.
  • Integrity is important. Where may I need help with mine? What don’t I seem to see about myself? 
  • Do you know you are a valued employee? How do you know? What indications are there that point to your value?  
January 11, 2021

Name it, write about it

by Rod Smith

You can do some things to relieve your loneliness.

Find the loneliness within yourself.

Name it.

“Tag” it.

Describe it.

It’s impossible to deal with something you resist exploring. “Reduce” your emotions to a few sentences – or more if necessary. 

“I am lonely – afraid, vulnerable – because my life has changed so much.” 

“I am sad because my adult children seldom contact me.” 

“I feel cut off because I have not seen trusted friends for a long time.” 

“My divorce has hit me hard even though I wanted it.” 

Write it down, whatever it is, so you know what you are working with.

Writing it will help you get your “head around it.”  

Use your pen – pencil, computer –  to understand what you are feeling by expanding on what you have written. 

“This makes sense. My loneliness is understandable,” one may write. 

“I have faced substantial loss. It would be unusual to not feel confusion and loneliness.” 

This is one of many reasons writing in a journal is so valuable. 

It helps name and deal with strong and uncomfortable emotions. It offers an opportunity for larger perspectives. It leads to understanding and self-acceptance and often provides a series stepping stones to a brighter future.     

January 7, 2021

Beautiful moment

by Rod Smith

I had a beautiful moment in rural Poland.

The boys and I were at an annual “art” conference, a gathering of 5 or 6 thousand people. Many of the people attended year in and year out. They camped in tent villages on open lands near a long-abandoned monastery.  

My only responsibility was to teach a late afternoon class and so I found the time to be most relaxing. I especially enjoyed breakfast at a little outdoor restaurant near the monastery gates. Since everyone was attending the conference it was easy to strike up a conversation. The difficulty was finding someone who could speak English. 

One day I met a young man who told me he’d been attending for years. 

“Do you have one outstanding beautiful memory from all your visits?” I asked.

He thought for a few minutes. 

“One night,” his English, stilted but perfect, in the manner of one who had studied the language without speaking it. 

“I came to my tent very late. Middle of the night. I had been practicing my violin. I was being very quiet. I banged my strings by accident and woke up people. From inside a tent someone called out, asked me to play my violin.

“People from other tents joined in. I couldn’t see anyone. I could only hear them asking me to play.

“I played. All around people began to sing. In English,” he chuckled. 

“It was very beautiful. They sang all the verses. We finished. They all clapped and cheered. I went into my tent to sleep.” 

“Wait, wait,” I said, “What did you play? What did the people sing?”

“Ah,” he said, “Elvis, of course, ‘Love me tender, love me true’.” 

Tent city — in the early morning:

January 6, 2021

Box 3 / the place – in your brain – to hang out

by Rod Smith

Move on to the Think Tank (Box 3) where you can get some useful work done.

Box 3 is your Neo-Cortex and it is larger than the stem and the limbic put together. This is the creative, distinctly human dimension of your brain. It governs  – or tries to govern –  the stem and the limbic. It is your “Think Tank.” It’s the Art Studio, the Creative Center. Here you’ll find Einstein posters, wild lists, Far Side cartoons, and drawings reminding you of all the possibilities you have seen for your life plastering the walls. It is from here you engage in creative discussions (“I think therefore I am”) about marvelous possibilities.

This is communication central, the clearinghouse of ideas large and small, this is the funny farm, the place you get your funniest thoughts and ideas. This is where humor, spirituality, appreciation of the finer things in life, and prayer, begin and thrive.

No matter how much you love your pet mammal he just cannot share your spiritual space with you. Like you pet snake, he doesn’t have the brains for it. The developed neo-cortex is reserved for humans only. Visit this, your “seize the day” room as much as possible and try to have all your “thoughts” about your reactions, feelings, and actions walk around this room for examination before you make a move.

Time spent in Box 3 is  – usually –  good for you. It’s your humor center, your envisioning center – it’s a platform of endless possibilities and the place from which you greatness will really emerge.

All three “brain boxes” can be “visited” in an instant. 

Let me illustrate: I enter a shop and search for an item. I cannot find what I need or anyone to help me and I am in a hurry. 

My Stem (the fuse box) wants me to “blow a fuse” and walk out never to return! 

Limbic, which feels abandoned, kicks in. I tell myself, “After all my loyalty. After shopping here for 20 years, you’d think someone would recognize me, and care.” 

Then Cortex pipes up and says: “Ah! You are a bright, resourceful person. As you can see, everyone is busy. You can find anything you need on your own. Seize this great opportunity!”

[I am deeply influenced by Rabbi Friedman, Peter Steinke, and Murray Bowen. All have written profoundly on these matters. Peter’s book “How Your Church Family Works” was my primary influence in revolutionizing how I see and understand my own thinking. I give Peter full credit for any resemblance you may see to his work. While it is neither copied nor “lifted”, one cannot read something and love something so much without it reverberating in one’s work.]

January 5, 2021

Metaphor about your brain – Part 2*

by Rod Smith

Box 2 is the Limbic Box and it is much larger than the stem (BOX 1) and feels, yes, feels, it is much more important.

It is not.

It is different.

This is the “feelings” or “emotion center.” 

Linger in your limbic and you will hear country music blaring from all sides. You’ll see “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books everywhere. You will be in tears in no time. Linger in the limbic too long and you will feel overwhelmed. Sit around here and you will be paging through memories with joy (on a good day) and singing “Nobody loves me everybody hates me,” on a bad day.

It is an essential place to visit but you don’t want to live here. 

This is a place reserved for mammals and humans. No matter how much you love your pet alligator and how much fun you have with it, it simply doesn’t have fun. It doesn’t have the brains for fun. Your dog does. That is why fun with your dog is really a mutual (but not equal) experience. Throwing a ball in the yard might be fun for you but it is the pinnacle of joy – every time – for your dog.

Have you ever felt really sorry for yourself? Like absolutely no one cares, especially after ALL you’ve done? Do you find yourself singing “I’m-so-lonesome” songs and “I-feel-so left out” songs? You have been spending far too much time in your feeling or I-Need-Empathy Box. 

This is a warm and welcoming place but it is not built for thinking. 

*I remain influenced by Rabbi Friedman, Peter Steinke, and Murray Bowen. All have written profoundly on these matters. Peter’s book “How Your Church Family Works” was my primary influence in revolutionizing how I see and understand my own thinking. I give Peter full credit for any resemblance you may see to his work. While it is neither copied nor “lifted”, one cannot read something and love something so much without it reverberating in one’s work.

January 4, 2021

Metaphor about your brain – part 1 of 3

by Rod Smith

 A helpful metaphor* 

Think of your (human) brain as three living boxes, placed one inside the other, residing inside your skull. 

Mammals get the “inside” two boxes. 

Reptiles, poor things, get only one, the very inner one.

The smallest box, the stem, doesn’t think. It works. Protects. It reacts. It’s humorless. 

The Stem is not the “feeler” or “thinker.” It has no room for such nonsense, actually, it never even thinks about it. 

Every time you want to EXPLODE, when you get anxious, feel like hiding, or hitting, your stem is trying to dominate! 

The greater your anxiety, the more your inner-reptile will want to break out.

The stem, your primal, instinctual, reptilian center, serves to protect you and keep your vital organs running. It will throw you under a table if there’s an explosion and put you into attack mode if you (or someone you love) are threatened. Turtles, snakes, polar bears, and dogs have stems. Their stems serve them similarly. Your stem is not creative; it doesn’t have the brains to be. It’s not “reasonable” – it is not supposed to be. 

You might have had to invite a friend, on occasion, to step out of his or her stem. 

But be careful, stem-bound men and women are humorless! 

They bite.

If you want to punch someone who disagrees with you, or run away from all “stupid” people, you are probably, in that moment, stem-bound. You’ve allowed your stem (your Reacting) to dominate. I’d suggest you shift gears (shift boxes) before you hurt someone or lose your job. 

When you find you are overly reactive you have to tell your stem “to get back in your box! Do your job. Stop trying to think.”

I’ll continue this metaphor tomorrow.

*I am deeply influenced by Rabbi Friedman, Peter Steinke, and Murray Bowen. All have written profoundly on these matters. Peter’s book “How Your Church Family Works” was my primary influence in revolutionizing how I see and understand my own thinking. I give Peter full credit for any resemblance you may see to his work. While it is neither copied nor “lifted”, one cannot read something and love something so much without it reverberating in one’s work.

January 3, 2021

Is this you? How do you cope?

by Rod Smith

Four scenarios – let me know how you thrive in tough circumstances….

It’s one thing to be single and lonely – there’s at least some expectation that if someone is alone he or she might occasionally feel it. But to be married and be lonely must surely come with unimaginable pain. If this is you, please let me know your coping strategies. 

Place “loneliness” in the email heading.

Feeling caught or trapped in the middle of any relationship triangle can grind a person down. If it’s you, your children, and their other parent, or you, your parents and your spouse, or your boss and the other employees, whatever the trap, let me know how you nonetheless cope. 

Please place “feeling trapped” in the heading.

If you are the sober party in a relationship dominated by addictions, let me know how you cope. What specific strategies do you have to keep yourself functioning in a place of stress and pain? 

Please put “living with addictions” in your heading.

Some people always think they love others more than others love them. They initiate everything and end up feeling that if they did not initiate things there’d be no relationship. If this is you, please let me know how you cope. 

Place “initiator” in the heading.

Email: RodMFT@mac.com

January 3, 2021

Cajoling and remaining neutral

by Rod Smith

Most people know every action will get an equal and opposite reaction 

This knowledge does not seem to stop the parent of an adult son or daughter from trying to “push” and “pull” an adult son or daughter out of a relationship the parent may think is unfit or unhealthy. Pushing, pulling, coercing, will result in resistance. Accepting, embracing the relationship paves the way for open conversations. Coercing closes dialogue. 

Loyalties are invisible, often confusing

The loyalties which connect people will often make “no sense” to outsiders or even insiders. Thus, if anyone “messes” with a pre-existing relationship, even if invited, he or she will pay the price. This is one reason healthy stepparenting is so extraordinarily difficult. The stepparent will always in some ways be an “outsider.” Attempts at “getting between” parent and child, or child and parent, will carry a price tag, even if intervention is invited. As tough as remaining neutral – staying out of the middle –  maybe it is your best call if you are a stepparent, even if you are recruited, begged, to intervene. 

There are always anecdotes to prove me wrong. I get them a lot. 

These are general family systems observations. 

Stepdad’s interventions may work when Johnny is 3, but it is when Johnny is 13, 23, and 33, that “staying out of it” right from the start will pay rich dividends.  

December 31, 2020

Listening, Empathy, and Challenge

by Rod Smith

Incomplete thoughts re Listening, Empathy, and Challenge – as promised 

Listening to another, really listening, is evidence of love. It’s love in action. Being heard is being loved. Listening, and being heard, holds therapeutic power in itself. It stands alone. But, being heard does not necessarily lead a person to desired change. 

Change comes from being heard and being challenged and responding to the challenges. 

Empathy is identifying with another so accurately that both parties know what at least one person is experiencing. Empathy is impossible without Listening. 

It’s as if they  – Listening and Empathy –  go hand-in-hand for a long walk. Listening leads, guides, pulls, until they are strolling side-by-side. 

When I know you empathize with me, or are empathizing with me, I’m aware that you know, as much as is humanly possible, what it is like to be me. When you hear me and empathize with me I know you experience my world almost as I experience it. We are together. I am not alone. My world feels safer because you are safe and you are with me in my world and you understand. 

Empathy, too, stands alone. It, too, in itself, is powerfully therapeutic. 

Empathy in itself, too, does not necessarily lead to desired change. 

Change comes from being heard, understood, and from responding to challenge. 

Challenge – to recall our metaphor – is the third sibling to Listening and Empathy. I think of it as an older brother or sister.

Listening and Empathy are a powerful duo but Challenge can help to seal the deal. Challenge pulls them both along toward new adventures. Listening without Empathy is nothing more than an interview. Empathy without Challenge leaves me understood, accepted, warm, comforted – all good things. Empathy with Challenge gives me hope, helps me to see the possibility of greater health and the joy of seeing and embracing new options. 

There are therapeutic encounters – expensive ones – that go on week-by-week and year-after-year that reek with beautiful empathy and where the client is fully heard. 

Then, the client leaves warmed all over but, unChallenged. 

Empathy without Challenge is (somewhat) useless if it is healthy change you wish to see.

December 30, 2020

Some things are impossible

by Rod Smith

There are some things a person simply cannot do for (or to) another person, no matter how much commitment there is, how deep the love may be, or how noble the goals. This is so even if the helper is overflowing with determination, and the helpee is hungry with need. This is especially true when people are in love, a time when people are most inclined to be convinced in their power to change another person.

It is impossible to make another person:

  • Love you, want you, need you, miss you, or trust you.
  • Love, want, need, miss, or trust someone else.
  • See, feel or think in a certain manner for an enduring period.
  • See the light, or get some sense into their lives.
  • Lose or gain weight, save money, want, or not want sex.
  • Use or stop using drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or bad language.
  • Become healthier.
  • Be happy or fulfilled, be angry, want change, succeed or fail at anything. 

The above are “inside” jobs. Until the motivation is self-generated within the one in need, the helper will work harder than the helpee and ultimately drain the helper of all enthusiasm and energy.