Archive for July, 2012

Can You Get Another Person to Change?

The short answer is “no.”

BUT, you can change that person’s behavior – quite a lot – if you know how.

Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are widespread problems in relationships. The workplace bully and the boss from hell are people who have taken emotional abuse tactics to work with them. You can’t always get away from these people, but you can make sure their control tactics affect you less.

There is plenty of information about controlling people and why they treat others as they do. Chances are, if you have to deal with such a person, you don’t care why they are intimidating or critical; you just want them to stop. You probably also know how unlikely it is that such a person could suddenly become happy and kind. You would be pleased if they simply stopped being unkind.

Most advice about dealing with bullies and abusers will advise you to get out of the relationship. This is the optimal solution, but it is not always feasible. In times of double digit unemployment, it may be difficult to leave a job before the boss from hell affects your reputation. It may also be difficult to leave a spouse without financial hardship or the (statistically very real) risk of losing child custody.

But you can change a person’s behavior, if not their nature. There are actions you can take which make you less susceptible to abuse or intimidation. A woman I know changed her behavior at work and had the office bully suddenly asking her out to lunch and wanting to be her friend. Another woman very quickly conditioned her angry boss to express himself far more respectfully. (Note: If you are in a violent relationship, don’t attempt such changes as they could provoke more violence. Consult a shelter; make a safety plan, and a strategy for leaving.)

The most potent defense against bullying is the personal power you project physically. When you project physical strength and power, you send subliminal messages that say, “Don’t mess with me,” regardless of your size, age or gender. Participation in sports helps build physical confidence, but the most effective way to cultivate and project this power is martial arts – even a meditative martial art like t’ai chi.

Make sure you also maintain powerful, centered posture and keep your consciousness in the present moment and centered in your body.

Emotional detachment also prevents you being sucked into control tactics, buying into criticism or accepting inaccurate versions of reality.

Whenever possible, put time and space between you and an emotionally abusive person who is on the attack. Use that time and space to double check their “facts.” Emotional abuse is geared to define you as powerless and incompetent and this may be accomplished with small exaggerations or out and out lies. Check the accuracy of others’ evaluations of you.

Another way to detach, when you find you must be in the presence of abusive anger, blame or criticism, is to cover your solar plexus (above the navel and below the ribcage.) You can fold your hands over this nerve center and it will help you emotionally detach from criticism, blame or anger.

When you are upset and off center, a bully or abuser gets a shot of energy from having power over you. If you detach and stay centered, you deny them that power and you will find that you get a shot of energy from the interaction. Finding it difficult to manipulate you, that person may just take his or her toxic self off to greener pastures.

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Whose bad mood are you mirroring?

People who hang around together tend to vibe together. Moods and emotions are contagious. Your brain registers the emotional changes of people who are nearby, whether you are conscious of it or not.

Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., in an article in Scientific American describes how the non-conscious mind mimics facial expressions of others. Mirror neurons record other people’s facial expressions and body movements and cause one to mirror the expression and posture. This triggers a similar emotional response.

When two people get together, who mirrors whom? In relationships of equality, it seems that moods would average out in most cases. My experience supports this notion.
Experience also tells me that relatively empathic people tend to mirror those with less empathy. And, it stands to reason that those with limited empathy are either not picking up emotional signals from others or ignoring those signals.

This can be bad news if you are regularly close to a controlling, manipulative, or even moody person with limited empathy. People with personality disorders that have little or no empathy tend to pair up with people who feel more empathy than the average.  So guess whose mood you end up reflecting?

Are you partnered with or related to a controlling or cranky person? Do you work for one? Take time away from them on a regular basis. Vamoose whenever they are in a horrid mood.   Most people can be cheered up, but if someone always drags you down, get out of Dodge!

If your boss is on the warpath, develop a sudden illness or a crisis to attend to.  If your angry husband needs therapy, have him call a professional.  Meanwhile, have some family crisis or work project that takes you out of his orbit for a while.  If your parent makes you feel blue, visit another time or at least get out of the room they’re in for a bit.

You might want to act as if they have a contagious disease, because…they do.

Is Someone Conditioning You to Feel Bad?

Watch out now!

Dana drives to work feeling cheerful after a great weekend with her children, but suddenly, as she crosses Main Street, her stomach knots up and her happiness seems to blow away on the wind.  She wonders what disturbing surprises await her at the office.  Will she find that her supervisor changed her schedule?  Will there be last minute changes to her 10 a.m. presentation?  She drags her feet through the parking lot and starts to feel a bit short of breath as she clocks in.

Take care, beware of thoughts that linger, winding up inside your head;

John is starting a business after losing his job with an automotive supplier. He’s doing well, considering, and feeling quite optimistic. His father calls and talks at length about the economy and business failures. John hangs up and finds he can’t work on his business for the rest of the day. What was he thinking of starting up a new venture in this economic climate anyway?

The hopelessness that lingers in the dead of night,

Irene has had a productive day and found a new client.  She hears her husband’s car coming up the driveway and her heart feels like lead in her chest.  She wonders why she should feel that way about someone she loves.  It just seems so hard to get anything done when he’s around, and she had hoped to get a lot done this evening.

One thing that the controlling people in your life do is subtly condition you to feel bad; to feel hopeless; or perhaps, to feel incompetent.  You don’t see it coming because it happens gradually.  Unless you have a particularly thick skin, the result of this conditioning is usually failure.

Dana’s boss often changes her presentations at the last minute, so Dana is always in a state of feeling unprepared.  She no longer enjoys presenting.

Irene’s husband interrupts her when she’s working.  He’ll want her to see something on TV, or ask where the ice cream scoop is, or where she put his boots, or if she took his screwdriver.

John’s father is afraid John is making a mistake and makes sure he knows how risky it is to start a new business venture.  He thinks he is helping John and hopes he comes to his senses soon.

All of these actions are manipulative.  All of them are an attempt to control others.  All of these people are being conditioned, over time, to feel that what they want to accomplish is difficult, risky or even impossible.

It is difficult to be motivated to pursue a goal if you feel bad every time you think of it.

Beware of sadness.

How do you avoid this conditioning?  The first thing to do is to become aware of it.  Then you can detach a bit.

Don’t bother trying to reason with manipulative people.  They will look at you with big innocent eyes and ask how you could think such a thing.  They may even think they are trying to help you.  Unconsciously they are doing anything but.   However, you won’t convince them.

The very best and easiest way to deal with these saboteurs is to avoid them.  John can excuse himself from the call whenever his father talks about the economy (and condition Dad to find another topic.)  Irene can plan to work when her husband is not around, or lock her office door, or feign deafness – at least in the short run.

Dana has less control because she is dealing with her boss.  She should be looking for another job before she loses all her enthusiasm.  Meanwhile, all she can do is anticipate her supervisor’s last minute crises.

If someone is conditioning you to feel bad, you need to seriously consider whether you want to maintain the relationship in the long run.  If you think you cannot leave the relationship, control the conversation or get a new job, that hopelessness may also have been subtly conditioned by the manipulative person.

Watch out now! 

Take care, beware of thoughts that linger,

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of night

Beware of sadness.

           – George Harrison