November 14, 2016
You may think that this week’s theme would be all about the election results, but it was not. Yet the theme may be just as much applicable to your reaction to the election outcome as it was to my client’s every day lives…
This week’s theme is: Go With, Not Against
This theme is very much a complimentary post to my earlier blogs, Acceptance is Not a Life Sentence and Top 4 Reasons to Feel Your Feels. As the “Liz’s Theme of the Week” blog continues to develop, you will find me dive deep into the many facets of previously discussed themes. So, let’s get into it!
Go With, Not Against.
Many times, the first response I hear in response to my proposal to Go With, Not Against, is something like: “No I won’t go with it, that means I am giving in!”
Truly this pathway is not about giving in!
Going With, Not Against is really about you seeing the bigger picture, playing the long game, and having foresight about how your energy influences the outcome of any particular situation you find yourself in. Sounds pretty cool, right? Dare I say…even… empowering??
One of my favorite times to offer Go With, Not Against is when I talk to parents about children. Having no children myself, I think I can offer a unique perspective to others. Since I am not emotionally involved, I can pose some good “what’s-in-the-best-interest-of-everyone” perspective, hence playing the long game. Additionally, I am unaffected by the all too common parent guilt and accompanying “parent projection” that seems to really shape reactions…
Let’s side track for a moment to talk more about guilt and projection, shall we?Parent guilt is pretty self explanatory. This when parents feel “bad” or “guilty” because they disciplined their child, or when the parent has witnessed (or perceived that) the child felt disappointment or some other negative emotion. Guilt is pretty straight forward in that most people know exactly when they feel it. Dealing with guilt however, seems to be another blog post for the future!
“Parent projection” is a little bit tricker, and harder for most to see.. that’s because projection is one of our most primitive defense mechanisms. Projection is a way that we (let’s say, Parent) assign to someone else (let’s say, Child), a feeling, an experience, or a relationship dynamic that is in actuality about something else entirely. The feeling Parent assigns to Child either belongs to Parent, or relates to a situation that Parent once experienced with someone else.
Easiest way to show you this is with an example:
Let’s say Parent grew up in a family who struggled with poverty and Parent felt an extreme lack of resources available while growing up. Say Parent’s childhood experience was one of feeling deprived, feeling left out, and in a place of lack. Let’s say it was really hard and truly is one of Parent’s biggest emotional scars. Now Parent grows up, has a stable relationship, stable income, and has a child of his own. Imagine Parent is faced with telling Child “no” when Child asked for a toy at the store. Child makes a sad face that reminds Parent, himself, of feeling deprived, left out, and lacking… the exact feelings that created the scars from Parent’s childhood. Parent has a remembrance of this feeling and assigns those same feelings to Child, as in, Parent assumes Child is feeling the same thing that he once felt. Parent assumes that those feelings must be what Child is feeling now…and this is just unbearable to think of. Parent then acts from the projection and gives in and buys the toy to “save” Child from the same scars and wounds he once endured. The Parent’s action was a product of his projection. Parent assigned his own feelings to Child. Projection is also protective mechanism. Parent may tell himself he is trying to “save” his Child from negative emotions, but truly he is trying to save himself from feeling those emotions again. Projection helps protect you from feelings you don’t want to feel or feelings you have not fully processed yet.
Let’s give you more examples:
Children are also great a projecting, especially teenagers. Teens are experiencing a ton of emotions, insecurities and moments of awkwardness as part of this developmental time. Imagine Teen says to Parent, “You are so embarrassing! You dress funny, and you wear your hair weird, and no one likes you!” This is likely a projection of how Teen thinks (or fears others think) about herself. Classic projection, classic protection. If you can get the feelings out without really having to look at them for yourself, then that is better then nothing! That’s why projection happens. We feel the feelings, we don’t want to acknowledge the feelings, but the feelings need to come out, so we tell someone else that it is they who have the feelings, still avoiding owning the feelings for ourselves. It’s kind of brilliant. Except for that fact that is not authentic to you and can create new problems.
Some other classic examples of projection is when someone accuses another person of doing the exact thing that he, himself does. We see this all the time. Watch out for these examples on television or in your surrounding social circles and you will be become more and more skilled at identifying projection!
Ok, so now do we apply Go With, Not Against in a projection situation….
Let’s say your child tells you that you are the most uncool person who has ever walked the face of the planet. This kid is outraged by the utter “mom”-strousity that they have to call “Mom.” What are you likely to say in return? “That is so disrespectful! I can’t believe you say that! Why do you say such mean things to me?” This is the parent working against the child. The parent is meeting the child’s projection with opposition. Child says black, parent says white. Where does this leave them? In a power struggle, that’s where!
What if the parent works with the child instead? This is where I offer the parent a long game perspective of, “Can you go with this? Can you go with the feelings, instead of against it?” I know, it may sound like you are giving into the child’s disrespectful behavior, but hang with me here, this is the long game…
What if you, as parent, say something more like, “I totally get it, I am embarrassing to you. I understand. I was embarrassed by my parents at your age to.” Go with the child, rather than against ….
So you probably sussed out that what we are really talking about with the Go With, Not Against plan is having Empathy and Compassion… And now we have come across two more of my life’s work pillars! These two concepts tend to be the things to do when there is nothing better to do! Also you may notice the Go With, Not Against tactic means that you don’t take things personally. If your kid is mean to you, it’s not personal to you. Your kid is being a kid, doing all the kid things; growing, making mistakes, being rude, testing limits, experiencing emotions, and all the other things that kids do as they try to figure themselves out. Not taking things personally is part of you playing the long game here. Recognizing that someone’s projection is not about you, is you seeing the big picture- and from that place, you are empowered so that you can influence the situation to move on in the best interest of everyone involved.
The Go With, Not Against plan is also not a passive one. Just because we start off with empathy and compassion, does not mean you can’t also follow up with a teachable moment. For instance, “I totally get it, I embarrass you. I totally understand that. My parents embarrassed me too. The best way I could deal with it is to write really angry letters that I never gave my parents. That way I could say all the things I needed to get out without being mean or hurtful to their faces.” Many times when you can start off with empathy and compassion, the intervention or suggestion you offer is much easier heard. The feelings that were acting up in the first place feel heard and responded to, and are more likely to take a back seat and calm down now that they have been expressed. I will always suggest this as a tactic moving forward when dealing with any situation: empathy and compassion first, then offer the intervention or correction. When we offer a correction in direct response to someone’s feeling, we are working against. We want to work with, playing the long game of what is in everyone’s best interest, including yours! Go With, Not Against will help you feel more calm, more in control and empowered!
Going With does not mean we need to give in, it does not mean we need to compromise ourselves or our morals in any way, it doesn’t even mean we agree. What it does means is that we realize that not much can get accomplished when we respond to a “no!” with a “yes!” When we do this, we likely find ourselves in a power struggle grid lock. We might find this happens internally, when we say “no” to a feeling or thought we have, we create an internal conflict, such as in the Parent Projection example. We might find this happens externally, when we have a reaction to something we see, feel or experience outside of ourselves, as in the Child Projection example. My proposal to Go With, Not Against is truly about creating more gentle ease internally, as well as in our relationships around us.
Like much of my therapy work, I have imagery that goes with the Go With, Not Against concept. This image is of a person with a horse. The horse is bridled with the person facing the horse head on. The person starts to pull the horse, and the horse doesn’t move. The person is struggling and cursing, and the horse stands firm. This is Going Against. If we switch the scene to a Go With, the person then moves to stand along side the horse, both pointed in the same direction. Standing side by side, the person takes a step, and then the horse takes a step. The person can still direct by how she leads the reigns. This is much more productive. The horse does not win, the person does not win, but instead they work together and they both win.
This is Going With, Not Against. Standing side by side one another, meeting each other exactly where we are at, and expressing empathy and compassion first in order to gently move us forward for the greater good. You will feel calmer and more empowered, the other person will feel heard and listened to, and there is greater potential for moving forward. You can see this isn’t about one person winning …this is about all of us winning.
What other situations in your life might you need to change your approach to Go With, Not Against? Can you find a way to turn yourself side by side to the situation and gently lead it somewhere else?
I would love to hear from you, feel free to leave your comments below!