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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

True Success: Ideas About Living and Loving In An Unbalanced World

By James S. Wells, Jr., M.D.

First published in 1991 by Center For Creative Balance


This book has been partially excerpted from a previous publication by the author entitled A Psychology of Love. Both books encourage the day-to-day practice of principles which can help us secure our daily supply of life's necessities and secure that supply in ways which are more loving for ourselves and equally for others.  It is not the intention of the author to advocate any particular religious or political creed.

It is hoped that you will contemplate each page and focus on evaluating its relevance for you personally.  If a particular page has special meaning for you, you may wish to open the book to that page and leave it in a conspicuous place.  Please also feel free to duplicate a page and put it up somewhere as a frequent reminder to you of a particular helpful idea.

It is also recommended that if you have found the material helpful, systematically re-read it on a regular basis.  The author in fact, reads several pages daily in order to reinforce the principles which he has found to be helpful.  Meditation following reading opens our spirits to more fully learn what we need to about loving ourselves and others and getting what we need in positive ways.

That which is true in these pages is believed to be a gift from a Power greater than the author, as well as from the author's many teachers who are fellow travelers through this life.

True success is being able to obtain our day-to-day basic needs while maintaining a loving attitude toward ourselves and others.

This implies that in our day-to-day living, we will attempt to balance work, recreation, comtemplation, and sharing time with others.

It is desirable for all of these aspects of our lives to reflect a loving attitude toward ourselves and others to the extent of our current ability.  Among other things this would mean that we do our work in a way which is satisfying to us and helpful to others.  It also means that obtaining more than we need does not make us more successful.

By this definition, we can all achieve success.  The severely handicapped may need extra help from others, but even so, we all can feel competent and loving within the framework of our own particular gifts.

Emotional turmoil (and much physical illness as well) is usually a manifestation of our fear that we will not be able to get all of what we need. We are often driven to conform to the prevailing values of our society (even when this is not really in our best interests) in hopes that we can be more secure.

There are, of course, biological factors which may be sufficient to cause illness or contribute to illness.  Even in those instances, however, if we feel insecure or inadequate, these feelings can be made worse by our inability to be what our society values most.  And this is likely to intensify an emotional or physical problem or provide a major obstacle to its resolution.

Our western society values and rewards people who are:

MALE (the more "masculine" the better--if female, then the more pleasing to males the better)
HETEROSEXUAL (happily married with "successful" children)
WHITE (often in the USA and UK also must be Anglo-Saxon and Protestant)
YOUNG (and healthy without handicaps)
BEAUTIFUL (tall, thin, and well-dressed)
WELL-EDUCATED (at the most prestigious institutions and have an appearance of sophistication)
WEALTHY (with impressive house, cars, boats, vacation home, luxurious dining, impressive club memberships--to name a few of the often sought signs of wealth)
POWERFUL (prestigious position)
EMOTIONALLY PERFECT (without anger [unless righteous indignation], without tears, without depression, without anxiety, and without negative thoughts)


Success in our western culture is believed by most of us to be determined by the extent to which we fulfill these characteristics or at least appear to fulfill them.

The frantic pursuit of these social values or characteristics is maintained by a fear that without these characteristics we cannot secure our supply of life's necessities.  We also fear ridicule or more subtle rejection from parents, authority figures, and peers if we are not these things.

We as a culture have come to value maleness because males have been physically stronger on average than females and could defend us against attack from other men or wild animals.  We value power because we believe that if we have it, we will be safe from everything but death from old age.  We believe that if we are all the things listed above, we will be able to provide for all our needs, including being safe from intimidation, humiliation, and embarrassment.  If we are sufficiently powerful, we believe no one can rob us of our home, food, clothes, or toys.  We believe no other men will steal a powerful man's possessions or women (which men have traditionally considered possessions).

The fear of losing what we need has set up a vicious cycle of feelings of powerlessness, prompting efforts to gain power.  We will try to gain power directly or through any means available to us.  sometimes we may even act weak in order to gain power over an intimidating person who needs to feel strong.  We may use sex to gain power, or we may dominate those weaker than we are.  Those who are weaker than we are are fearful too and try to gain power in the same ways over those who are weaker still.  Unfortunately, this is often a child who grows up afraid and tends to repeat the cycle in one way or another.

Fearful men tend to dominate women, other men, and children.  Fearful women dominate children and less powerful women and men.  The cycle only ends when love, sharing, cooperation, enlightenment, and forgiveness replace fear.

True success is not achieved by being male, heterosexual, white, young, beautiful, well-educated, wealthy, powerful, and emotionally perfect but rather by being able to obtain our daily basic needs while being loving toward ourselves and each other.

Pretense is an effort to avoid embarassment or humiliation over not being what we think is expected of a "successful" person.

In other words, if we aren't what we think we should be, then there is a tendency to pretend to be what we think we should be.

William James didn't see much value in pretense and suggested the following equation:

                               SUCCESS (actual accomplishments)
SELF-ESTEEM    =      _______________________
                               PRETENSE (unfulfilled expectations which
                               we are pretending to have accomplished) 

Obviously, in this equation as pretense goes up, self-esteem goes down!

When thinking of being loving toward ourselves,

Love is patient and kind.
I am patient with myself;
I do my best for myself;
I do not resent myself;

Love is not ill-mannered or irritable.
I do not belittle myself;
I donot have unrealistic expectations of myself;
I am not discourteous to myself;
I do not get irritated with myself;

Love is not jealous, conceited, or proud.
I do not isolate myself from others;

Love does not keep a record of wrongs.
I do not identify myself with my bad points;
I am never condemning of myself;

Love does not like evil
(hurtful, excluding behavior)
I am not grimly satisfied with myself when I do wrong...

But is happy with the truth.
...on the contrary, I am pleased when I do right;

Love never gives up, and its faith,
hope and patience never fail.
I am always loyal to myself;
I am always hopeful for myself;
I always bear with myself.

Adapted from Today's English Version of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-7 and from a personal letter from Roger J. Corless dated December 17, 1986.

The Golden Rule:

Do unto others 
as we would have them do unto us,
is essential, and so is its corollary:
Do unto ourselves
as we would do unto others.

If we would not be rude, disrespectful, unkind, or irritable to others, then why should we be rude, disrespectful, unkind, or irritable to ourselves?

A positive restatement of both the Golden Rule and its corollary might be:

Be loving toward others as we would 
have others be loving toward us, 
while being just as loving 
toward ourselves as we are toward others.

We are so sensitive to criticism and often are excessively critical of ourselves because from birth we began to scan the world around us and were especially sensitive to the facial expressions and voice inflections of our parents and other caregivers for signs of approval and disapproval.

Because children respond to parents and caregivers in this way, learning occurs about what is safe or dangerous, what is acceptable or unacceptable, what is appropriate or inappropriate, and what is helpful and unhelpful.

Caregivers (parents or otherwise) will contribute through these interactions toward shaping our behavior and value system.  If the predominant response to us is DELIGHT, and the predominant attitudes of our caregivers are characterized by patience, kindness, and tolerant acceptance of our attempts to learn helpful from hurtful behaviors, we are likely to feel valued and acceptable even if our behavior falls short of that desired by the caregivers.  Clear limits on (and clear explanations of) potentially hurtful behavior with age-appropriate and behavior-appropriate consequences, which are consistently applied when the limits are exceeded, are also helpful to our learning while maintaining our sense of acceptance as a person.  In other words, we can keep our acceptance as a person separate from approval or disapproval of our behavior or performance.

If, on the other hand, the caregivers have equated their own worth or sense of acceptability with adherence to prevailing cultural standards of acceptability, then the caregiver will tend to exhibit a lack of tolerance, patience, and kindness toward us and themselves when the standards aren't met.  This This is likely to result in a tendency by us to equate the parental disapproval of our behavior with disapproval of us.  Our sense of self-worth will be diminished, and we are likely to either stribe intensely to attain the prevailing standards or rebel against one or more of them.  In either case, however, we will measure ourselves against these standards in one way or another.

It desirable to respect our parents as people in a position of responsibility who probably have done and are doing the best they can given the circumstances of their own lives.  It is important, on the other hand, not to embrace any of their values which do not reflect a loving attitude toward themselves and others (especially toward their child).  This means it is helpful to reject any hurtful behavior by our parents while trying to the best of our ability to accept them as people who have acted hurtfully out of their own immaturity, fear, or ignorance.

Being patient with ourselves and avoiding condemnation of ourselves are especially important and very difficult,

particularly for any of us who have not been treated patiently and kindly or who have experienced frequent negative (condemning) criticism.  This criticism may have been either verbal or nonverbal through body language.  Abusive behavior of any kind by a parent toward a child is always experienced as degrading and condemning.

We can know we are lovable when we have once seen it reflected in the face of another.

If no one has ever delighted in us for simply being, it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to know that we are lovable.  We may believe we are appreciated for what we do, yet we may still feel empty and unlovable.

If we frequently experienced parental distress and ndever had anyone who delighted in us for simply being, we may even think: "If there is a God, and God loves some people, then for some reason God must not love me."

When we don't feel lovable, we often work real hard looking for love, and often "in all the wrong places."

Modern-day Pharisees look for love in a wrong place.
Those of us who are into strict adherence to some kind of religious doctrine seem to be trying to find acceptance through the competitive devotion to the rules of religion.

Yuppies may look for love in a wrong place.
We seem to be trying to find acceptance through prestigious jobs, homes, care, club memberships, graduation from prestigious colleges, having our children take music, horseback riding, dance, tennis, and more.

Do-gooders may look for love in a wrong place.
We seem to be trying to find acceptance through ostentatious (or this may be contrived humility instead) and often frenetically pursued good works like participation in a shelter for the homeless, Meals on Wheels, outreach to prisons, and more.

Academicians may look for love in a wrong place.
We often seem to be trying to find acceptance through a display of our industriousness and our knowledge by acquiring degrees and writing papers and books for a vitae and acclaim.

Fastidious housekeepers may look for love in a wrong place.
We often seem to be trying to find acceptance through extreme attention to maintaining cleanliness.
Health enthusiasts may look for love in a wrong place.
We often seem to be trying to find acceptance through our adherence to what we believe to be the rules of fitness; for example, exercise, meditation, weight control, vegetarian diet, and more.

All of the activities mentioned above may have beneficial personal and social effects and are not undesirable in and of themselves.  They will not alone, however, provide us with a sense of being acceptable no matter how vigorously we pursue them. 

What we in these categories haven't discovered is that we can be lovable--we can be acceptable--without the excessive pursuit of these activities.  Being more relaxed about what we do, can still allow for an experience of agency in the world without diminishing our acceptance.  This will also allow us to enjoy more of what we do.

In our quest to gain love or acceptance through frenetic activities, all of us in these and similar categories can inadvertently contribute to our own suffering and to that of others in our various communities.

Joy is a gift worth celebrating and enhancing wherever, whenever, and to whatever extent possible.

It is important to look for joy in everyday experiences.  Hurry and lack of patience make it difficult if not impossible to see the joyful aspects of our everyday lives.

According to Henry David Thoreau.  "We have lived not in proportion to the number of years we have spent on the earth but in proportion as we have enjoyed."

Happiness and inner peace come from:

Solving problems creatively.  

Solving problems in cooperation with other people.

Appreciating with all our senses the beauty of the world around us.

Doing our chosen work skillfully and faithfully.

Listening to God's spirit which affirms that our life matters and that we are loved by God.

Asking forgiveness of and making amends to those whom we have hurt if doing so will not hurt them more.

Accepting that there are some situations we cannot change--at least for now.

Helping others.

Living within our time and energy  means.

Spending time with friends whom we appreciate and who appreciate us.

Living within our monetary means.

Taking care of ourselves physically through a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Touching lovingly and being touched lovingly by someone who shares in our life and accepts us as we are.

Some loving ways in which we can shift toward taking better care of ourselves and thereby be more prepared to experience joy and happiness include:

sensible eating, 
regular exercise 
     (with stretching before and after),
study and contemplation, 
adequate rest, 
and in general seeking moderation 
     (avoiding extremes).

It is very important, however, to avoid condemnation of ourselves for not doing the above or only partially doing so.

Being truly loving toward ourselves actually makes it easier to share love with others.

Sharing means giving of our resources to someone else in need.

This can have real value for the recipient(s) and the giver.  It feels good to share.

It is important, however, not to deplete ourselves to such and extent that our own needs are are not being met.  This leads to burnout.  Balance is the key.  It is important to remember that no one person is the sole repository of goodness in the world.

Sometimes giving to someone who doesn't really need our help can foster excessive dependency on us, which is not helpful and may even be harmful.  It can inadvertently rob someone of an opportunity to experience their own ability to solve problems.  Giving just enough help and not too much is the optimal way to share.

Freely given service to others is usually not so much self-sacrifice but, rather, self-renewal through sharing.

We have probably all heard it said that we gain our lives by losing them.  What does this mean?  Well, whatever else it may mean, it suggests that we receive a sense of renewal and purpose if we give up our self-centered brooding about what isn't the way we would like it to be and focus at least part of our time on voluntarily serving the needs of others without any expectation of payback of any sort from anybody.

There may be times when one of us will make a self-sacrifice of some kind in order that another of us can receive something especially needed.

There are some situations in which the sacrifice of a few (from giving up dinner or sleep or some other relatively small need or comfort to the voluntary risk of or even loss of life) is desirable.  This may be a loving and needed way for one person to respond to another.  A parent, for example, may give up sleep to attend a sick child.  Those individuals who worked to contain the nuclear reactor disaster at Chernobyl are an example of necessary and desirable voluntary self-sacrifice.

It is not helpful to us, however, when we have been self-sacrificial in some way to think that we are more or less worthwhile than the person or persons for whom we have made the sacrifice.  We have simply been able for various reasons to provide something which was needed at a time when it was needed.

If we are a "martyr," we tend to derive our sense of self-worth through a pattern of excessive voluntary self-sacrifice.  If we are a "scapegoat," we may also eventually come to derive self-worth from self-sacrifice, though initially at least it was imposed upon us by others.

The only truly satisfying relationships are those in which we convey and perceive mutual respect and value without one of us being self-sacrificial any more often than the other (unless one of us has an excess supply of something really needed by another, and this would be more like sharing than self-sacrifice).

When thinking of being loving toward others,

Love is slow to lose patience.
May I be content to wait without becoming angry when others fall below the expectations I have set for them.

Love is kind and constructive.
May I be cautious in my judgments towards others and honestly seek to be a healing rather than a hurting presence in my relationships.

Love is not possessive.
May I not have to be in control of every conversation and situation.

Love is not anxious to impress.
May I relax with whomever I am associated and not feel I have to be the life of the party in order to feel secure.

Love is not arrogant.
May I have a balanced view of my  place in the body of humankind.

Love has good manners.
May I respect the rights and dignity of others enough not force thoughtless behavior upon them.

Love is not self-centered.
May I find pleasure in the happiness of others.

(Adapted from a responsive reading which was part of a worship service at The Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC, in March 1984.)

Women and men in general and men in general and men and women as individuals have differences and equal value.

If our telephone requires repair, then a neurosurgeon who doesn't know about repairing telephones is not likely to be very helpful.

If our shirt needs mending, then a lawyer who doesn't know how to sew is not likely to be very helpful.

If our water pipe bursts, then a professor who doesn't know about plumbing is not likely to be very helpful.

If our child needs teaching, then an astronaut who doesn't relate well to children is not likely to be very helpful.

And so it goes.  We all need one another.  Sometimes we may need a certain person and their attributes more than anyone else, yet on balance, women and men in general and men and women as individuals have differences and equal value.

Patience (with ourselves and each other) is probably the most important characteristic of love.

Patience does not mean avoiding all confrontation, but it does mean letting go of (not sweating) the small stuff.  It does mean avoiding personal attacks and condemning intonations and expressions when confronting what we believe to be undesirable attitudes and and behaviors in each other (including our children and our mates) or ourselves.

It is helpful when attempting to be patient with others to think about how we would feel if our situations were reversed.

Sharing information about our preferences and opinions can be very helpful in our relationships with each other, while reprimands, admonitions, and condescending attitudes are less likely to be helpful and may even be very hurtful and harmful (the more severe and more frequent, the more hurtful and harmful).  When we have acted in these negative ways, an apology is almost always in order and can help temper the damage we have done.

It is important to remember that we get angry and lose patience out of fear that we are going to lose something we need.  If we can identify the fear, we often can regain our patience as we consider whether what we need is really currently threatened or whether there is some other way to obtain what we need.

Anger is a normal human emotion filled with energy.

Having a loving attitude does not preclude being angry sometimes.

Anger is always a response to frustration and fear.  Because of its energy, it can e an important component in changing attitudes and behaviors which are unhelpful, or it can be an unhelpful, destructive force which compounds our frustration, fear, or sadness.  It is what we do with our angry feelings which makes all the difference.  it is always important to transform our energy which coming form anger into positive rather than negative action.

It is sometimes helpful to transform our anger by vigorous physical exercise.  This can clear our minds and allow us to consider our options without the confusion of severe anger.  After vigorous exercise, writing down our angry feelings rather than exploding them verbally can often be a constructive way to express anger and perhaps understand its source.  After writing down our feelings, we may want to share what we have written with the person with whom we are angry and ask them to respond to us in writing.  This will often help diffuse the intensity of the anger and lead to a solution.

When we're irritable or otherwise feeling angry, it is because we are feeling threatened. It can be helpful to ask ourselves, "From where does my fear and anger really come? Is my life really in immediate danger?"

Anger always has beneath it frustration and fear.

This frustration and fear often have more to do with previous situations or with other people we have known than with our present circumstances.

Very intensely felt emotions usually are drawing their extreme intensity from past experiences.  We may fear (conscious or otherwise) that previous insecurities, hurts, or threats will be experienced again in the present or future.

Professions of love are truly meaningful only when accompanied by loving behavior.

If we tell other people that we love them, yet talk to them in a condemning, condescending, or perpetually dissatisfied manner, then our professions of love are not likely to be heard as sincere expressions of our true feelings.  If we say we love others and then put them down or fail to consider their point of view with respect, then we very likely to convey ill-mannered, aggressive, or passive-aggressive hostility rather than love.

If we say we love others and then ignore their real needs for food, clothing, shelter, safety, nurture, and acceptance, which we have the means to provide, then we will convey at the very least indifference rather than love.

If we say to ourselves that we intend to act in more loving ways toward ourselves and then persistently put ourselves down, overextend our resources, or avoid changing our unhelpful and harmful attitudes and behaviors, which we are capable of changing, then we are not likely to believe our professions of love for ourselves.

It has been said that "talk is cheap."  Our professions of love must be accompanied by loving actions in order for them to reach full or complete fruition.

Sincere expressions of gratitude are very important in loving relationships.

When someone we love does something we appreciate, it is very important to let them know of our appreciation.  Saying, "Thank you," only takes an instant; yet its impact is induring.

"Thank you," gives positive re-enforcement to our children when their behavior is on target; and, "Thank you," lets our adult partners, friends and coworkers know they are not taken for granted.  "Thank you", acknowledges the help of strangers, and, "Thank you," lifts the spirits of longtime servants who faithfully perform their duties.  These servants include our barbers, nurses, fathers, secretaries, physicians, waitpersons, tailors, clergy persons, cooks, housekeepers, lawyers, mothers, baby sitters, dentists, teachers, store clerks, and others.

Being loving toward others includes being kind and being helpful and does not include trying to think for others when they can think quite well for themselves or doing for others when they can do quite well for themselves.

Pitching in to help with a task is very different from taking over responsibility for the task.

Offering suggestions when they are requested is very different from giving unsolicited or unnecessary advice.

It is also helpful to remember that asking for or giving suggestions does not mean the suggestions have to be followed.  Our value as a person does not depend upon having our suggestions followed.

We have responsibilities TO others and few responsibilities FOR others.

We may have responsibilities to others for certain behaviors, either by convention or because we have willingly accepted these responsibilities.  However, we have very few responsibilities for the behavior of others.  We may influence but are not responsible for the thoughts and feelings of others.  All of us are responsible for our own thoughts and feelings, and all adults are responsible for their own behavior.  Adults have to be responsible for the behavior of very young children.  As children grow older, they are able to assume more and more responsibility for themselves, and it is helpful for adults to relinquish all age-appropriate responsibilities to the child.

Discipline when appropriately applied is loving. Being loving toward ourselves and others does not imply being permissive toward ourselves or others when what is needed is kind, consistent, and firm limit-setting.

Limits are needed whenever a behavior is likely to be hurtful in some way to ourselves or to others.

Rules and consequences are designed to help avoid hurtful behavior and are a form of limit-setting.  Rules and consequences which have already been discussed require very little, if any, further discussion at the time the rules are broken.  It is then time for consequences not discussion.  Further discussion about feelings related to the rules, and their consequences when broken, is always appropriate but only after indicated disciplinary actions have been taken.

Dicipline does not mean inflicting physical or emotional injury.

The old maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child" has been widely misinterpreted.  Would shepherds beat their sheep when they go astray?  Certainly not!  If for no other reason, they would not want to damage their valuable property.  While our children are not our property, most of us don't want to damage them.  If we damage them, it is generally done inadvertently by following the examples of our parents who were following the examples of their parents.  Most of the examples passed on to us by our parents are very beneficial, yet some of them cause us real pain and cause us to inflict real pain on our children.  The inappropriate use of a "rod" is one way we can unintentionally harm our children by following the examples of our parents.

A rod does not have to be used for inflicting or threatening injury.  It can be used as a prod to gently encourage a sheep or a child in the right direction.  This kind of rod may take the form of a non-injurious single spank to the bottom or the hands of a toddler, or it may mean losing the privilege of using a car for a time for a teenager.

Trying to humiliate children in order to get them to behave differently is never appropriate, for humiliation causes injury to the spirit.  This always makes a problem worse rather than better.

Constructive criticism begins with "I."

We are able to hear the helpful, critical comments of others if they preface their remarks with "I statements."  In other words, we are much more likely to listen to the opinion of someone else when it is stated as their opinion rather than as definitive, objective truth as perceived by every reasonable person everywhere.

When we, ourselves, are offering our opinions to others, we are more likely to be heard in a positive way if we begin our statements with phrases like, "I may be wrong about this, yet this is the way I see..." or "My opinion" or "I'm feeling...and would like to share my thoughts with you. Would you be willing to listen to what I have to say?" or "I would really like for you to hear my opinion about....  May I share it with you?"

It is further likely to be helpful if we conclude our critical remarks with sincere expressions of appreciation for something we believe the other person is doing or has done "right."

Unsolicited criticism usually does little to change our immature thoughts and actions.

If we ask for the opinions of others about our ideas or behaviors, then their constructive criticism can be very useful to us.

Similarly, if others ask us if we would like their opinions about something we have said or done or anticipate saying or doing, and we say we would like to hear their opinion, then their constructive comments can again be very helpful.

Criticism, on the other hand, which is offered without having been requested or without our having acceded to hearing it, is more difficult to accept.  It can still be helpful, especially if it is constructive, but we are less likely to be open to hearing it with a positive attitude.

Unsolicited, negative, or derogatory criticism only tends to contribute to a hardening of our attitudes and behaviors even if we are thinking or doing something which is unhelpful or harmful and would have benefitted from what was being said.

Children often need the benefit of adult experience and more mature understanding to help them positively shape their attitudes and behaviors.  However, we adults have to remember that children also will be less open to hearing negative, derogatory criticism than they would be to hearing constructive comments which are offered at their request or with their permission.

Even with young children we can say, "Will you let me show you how I do that?"or "Will you let me explain how I think about that?"or "I'd like to tell you what I expect of you in this situation, would you please listen to what I have to say?"

While there may be times when we just have to correct a child without any preamble of this kind, we will get further with children, and adults also for that matter, if we use this approach as often as possible.  By doing this we are not giving in to another's inappropriate behavior, but rather showing our respect for their autonomy and a desire for them to show us similar respect.

If nothing a child (or an adult who is close to us) does is ever quite good enough for us, and we find ourselves constantly on their backs with negative criticism, then we will probably contribute more to their frustration than to their ability to alter inappropriate behavior.

Sarcasm and passive aggression are defenses which are dangerous for all concerned.

Initially motivated by fear of domination or humiliation, sarcasm and passive aggression easily become habits which are hard to break.  These interpersonal behavior patterns may develop in response to teenage peer teasing, parental modeling, or parental over control and excessive negative criticism.  Whatever the cause of the initial sarcastic or passive aggressive behaviors, their habitual use causes emotional pain and often induces similar responses from others in retaliation.

"I was just teasing," or "Can't you take a joke?" are frequent rejoinders when sarcastic remarks are confronted, yet the "teasing" or "joking" has already had its painful, sharply cutting effects.

Passive aggression is often disguised as efforts to be helpful to someone while actually being motivated by a desire to put them down.  "Killing someone with kindness" is in this category.  There's always the potential for deniability when confronted, yet as with sarcasm, the damage has been done.

If we have become habitually sarcastic or passively aggressive, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the likely negative consequences and find alternative, more direct ways to express our feelings of dissatisfaction and anger.  Constructive "I statements" are probably most appropriate in most situations.

It's not just what we say that's important, but also how and when we say it.

While our words may convey one message, our intonations, facial expressions, mannerisms, and timing may convey quite a different message.

If people around us don't seem to respond to what seems to us to be our reasonable statements, then it may be because of how or when we said what we did.

Sometimes we can express love and patience with words while actually conveying indifference, hostility, or impatience through our voice inflections, the glare in our eyes, and the tension in our body.  By like token, some of us with a rough exterior who profess indifference may express with our actions real tenderness and concern.

If there is no good reason to say "no" to a child (or an adult for that matter), then say "yes." If there is a good reason to say "no," then say "no" clearly, kindly, and firmly.

Children and others need to know that there are limits--that instant gratification of our wants and even our needs is not always going to be possible or even desirable.  We as individuals, and in communities with others, will not benefit from the excesses of action or inaction to which we might be inclined due to either biological or learned influences.

Good reasons for saying "no" include situations in which the behavior is likely to be hurtful directly or indirectly through the inappropriate use of scarce resources.

It is better to say "no" right away than to make promises we know now we cannot keep.

It is better to say "maybe" if the circumstances are really not yet clear, and we would like to say "yes" given the right circumstances which could possibly still develop.

Before making a decision which will affect other people, it is usually helpful to discuss the pros and cons with the people involved.

Whenever possible, this also applies to decisions which will affect children.

Whenever considering any behavior which will possibly affect another person of any age, it is helpful to ask ourselves how we would feel about the behavior if we were the other person.

We are all human. It is important to be forgiving of ourselves (not condemning of ourselves) for those times when we have had unloving attitudes and for those times when we have shown unloving behavior toward ourselves or others.

Evaluating ourselves for unloving attitudes and unhelpful or hurtful behavior toward ourselves or others is desireable.  It will help us have more loving attitudes and behavior in the present or future when faced with the same or similar situations.

It is not desirable, however, to be condemning of ourselves for anything. 

We all have impatient, unkind, possessive, ill-mannered, self-centered, jealous, greedy, and arrogant impulses as part of both our biological and learned natures.

There is no benefit in trying to deny that we have these impulses.  They are a part of us, and it is unhelpful for us to condemn these impulses.

We do need to control our unloving behaviors to the best of our ability, but we also need to be accepting of ourselves even with our unloving impulses.

We sometimes tend to project onto others what we most object to in ourselves.

In other words, we often complain loudest about the behavior of someone else (especially someone close to us) when it is behavior we have trouble controlling in ourselves.  We may even accuse others of things they have not done in an unconscious attempt to deny that very kind of behavior or associated attitudes in ourselves.  It is important to look at ourselves before blaming someone else for what we believe has gone wrong in our lives.

We may also project onto others threatening characteristics of our early caregivers over whom we had little if any control.  We do this in an effort to repeat the earlier trauma, this time hoping to gain mastery over the previously overwhelming experience.

All of us have behaved in hurtful ways because of our immaturity.

When we realize that we have acted in immature, unhelpful, or hurtful ways, it is important to forgive ourselves for this kind of childish behavior and live as maturely as possible in the present.

A Checklist for Evaluating Our Maturity

These are some of the more important characteristics of a mature adult:
  1. We do not automatically resent criticism because we realize that it may contain a suggestion for improving ourselves. 
  2. We know that self-pity is futile and childish--a way of placing the blame for our disappointments on others. 
  3. We do not lose our temper readily or allow ourselves to "fly off the handle" about trifles. 
  4. We keep our head in emergencies and deal with them in a logical, reasonable fashion.  
  5.  We accept responsibility for our acts and decisions and do not blame some else when things go wrong.  
  6.  We accept reasonable delays without impatience, realizing that we must adjust ourselves to the convenience of others on some occasions.  
  7.  We are a good loser, accepting defeat and disappointment without complaint or ill temper. 
  8. We do not worry unduly about things we can't do anything about. 
  9. We don't boast or "show off," but when we are praised or complimented, we accept the praise with grace and appreciation and without false modesty. 
  10. We applaud others' achievements with sincere good will. 
  11. We rejoice in the good fortune and success of others because we have outgrown petty jealousy and envy. 
  12. We listen courteously to the opinions of others and even when they hold opposing views, do not enter into hostile argument. 
  13. We do not find fault with "every little thing" or criticize people who do things of which we might not approve unless the issues of concern are likely to be seriously harmful to that person or to others (and then we find the most helpful way possible to convey our concerns).  
  14. We show spiritual maturity by:  
  • accepting the fact that a Power greater than ourselves has an important place in our lives. 
  • realizing we are part of humankind as a whole, that our fellows have much to give us, and that we have an obligation to share with others the gifts that we have received. 
  • obeying the spirit of the Golden Rule:  "Do unto others as we would have them do unto us."

Adapted from Moral and Spiritual Values used by the Los Angeles, California, city schools in their education program.  I first saw it in the AL-ANON booklet Alcoholism is a Family Disease.

    It is important to remember we are all uniquely special without being the best or better than anyone else.