1. Maintain social connections that offer you support, nurturance and connection
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. ~ Albert Einstein
We are interdependent by nature. Human beings are engineered to live in groups, to rely on one another for survival. We do ourselves a disservice when we limit our “circle of compassion” (in the words of Einstein above) to only a few persons with whom we find comfort and safety. Personal growth, wellbeing, intellectual stimulation and an overall connectedness to the world around us requires that we interact with others and with the world. To achieve this goal it is essential to open ourselves to connections with new people, places and things, while nurturing the relationships that hold the greatest value to us.
2. Teach Others How To Treat You
“No one can hurt you without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
We have the power and the right to teach people in our lives how we expect to be treated and what we need in order to feel respected. We owe that honesty to others. Relationships of all types are ever-changing learning/teaching experiences. It is our responsibility to educate others about how we want to be treated.
One of the most ineffective expectations is to believe that someone “should know” how you feel, what you think, what you want, or how to treat you. To expect someone to know your needs without your teaching them is typically an act of passive-aggressiveness. This means that by not doing something (that’s the passive part), we are actually being hostile, or at a minimum disrespectful (that’s the aggressive part). So, the next time you sit and wait for someone to know what you want or need without taking any responsibility for educating them – even if you feel you’ve told them before – you are creating a situation where it is likely you will not get your needs met, and you have effectively set a trap for someone else to seemingly (but not really) fail you.
If, however, you feel you have been very clear with important others in your life about how you want to be treated and you believe they are not open to your ideas or respectful of your feelings, it is important that you evaluate what that person offers you, and whether or not you need to adjust your expectations for that relationship. There are times when we are faced with the realization that a part of teaching others how we want to be treated requires that we remove ourselves from relationships where the other person rejects our needs, dismisses our feelings, or denies willingness to treat us how we want to be treated. For example, if I have a sister who is not comfortable with my sexual orientation and she invites only me to her house for dinner with other members of my extended family, but not my partner and children – I may have to decline the offer in order to teach her how I would like to be treated. In response, my hypothetical sister would be faced with the option of not inviting me in the future, inviting only me and risking my same denial of the invite, or inviting my whole family. I can’t make someone treat me how I want to be treated, but I can teach them how I expect to be treated based on how I respond.
Think about your work environment. Are there certain people you feel more comfortable asking to go above and beyond the call of duty than others? Typically there are certain people in every work environment who feel “taken for granted” or burdened with disproportionate work loads. To really comprehend the power of teaching people how to treat us, just think about the people in your life that you would turn to in a time of need, people you would feel comfortable borrowing money from, people you feel like you can be cranky with and people you feel you can not. This is a function of what you have been taught by the people in your life.
4. Surround Yourself Well
- Seek others who share, or at least support and respect your core beliefs
- Surround yourself with those from whom you believe you can learn
- Avoid those who send you negative energy or work against your values
- Recognize that we have the power to choose our friends, and those with whom we share our tim
We have the power to choose the people we spend quality time with and that our social connections not only say a great deal about our character and values, but also provide us with a much needed life line to growth, change and understanding.
5. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.
Everyone has heard the age old saying, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. Family plays a very interesting and unique role in our lives. For some, family is a place of support, security, unconditional safety and acceptance. For others, it has become the source of pain, hurt, distrust, and as an adult, our excuse for who and how we are.
I would add to the saying, “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family” that “you can’t pick your family, but you can pick how much power you give them to define who you become.” One of the most difficult parts of growing up is making a break from our family – becoming our own person, with our own dreams, beliefs and expectations for our life. While growing up we are heavily influenced about what to believe, want and dream based on our innate desire to please our parents. However, to really “grow up” requires us to separate our parent’s wishes and expectations for us, from our own. If they are one and the same, great, that simplifies things. If they are not, we are faced with the painful prospect of disappointing our parents in order to live according to our own truths.
For gay men and women, the process of separating from our families can be more complicated than it is for our heterosexual siblings. It is common for parents to continue treating unwed (legally at least) children, whether gay or heterosexual, as “children.” In our society, marriage has become a rite-of-passage into adulthood and with it comes (not always, but typically) a formal transition from prioritizing our family-of-origin, to the prioritization of our newly created family. This is not without growing pains, mind you, however, for gay men and women, this transition is much more difficult to make and many men and women simply don’t make it.
In order for you to begin living your life, you have to first grow up. When you choose to not grow up, you are choosing to continue living according to plans and expectations that have been set for you, not by you. To have healthy social connections, we must evaluate where we are putting our energy and whether or not we are living a life created by ourselves, or by our parents.
5. Take Responsibility
”Inasmuch as I blame you for a miserable vacation or a wall of silence – to that degree, in exactly that proportion, I lose my power. I lose my ability to steer the situation in another direction, to learn from it, or to put us in good relationship with each other. Indeed, I lose any leverage I may have had, because there is nothing I can do about your mistakes – only about mine.” ~ Zander and Zander The Art of Possibility
Power + Choice = Responsibility
For those of you who have read my previous newsletters, you are probably becoming very aware of the emphasis I place on the power of taking responsibility for as much as you possibly can. As I’ve stated before, I believe the single greatest life-changing action you can take is to assume responsibility for everything that happens to you in your life when you become an adult and have the power to care for yourself. How you view your situation, and your ability to take responsibility for your part, is critical to self-care and personal wellness. Taking complete responsibility for our lives involves the process of accepting that all of the choices we make open us to various consequences that are often times unpredictable. Some consequences are out of our control, others are not. In the end, however, that we made the choice we did, or engaged in the behaviors we did, renders us undeniably responsible for our outcomes.
For example, if I choose to get in my car and go for a drive I am consenting to the reality that there are other drivers on the road that I can not control. How they choose to drive their cars is not within my control, however, I am directly affected by other drivers when I choose to get in my car and join them on the road. If, by chance, my car is struck by another driver – and I have followed all of the rules of the road, it is not my “fault” that I was in an accident, however, it is my responsibility because I chose to get on the road with full knowledge of the risks associated with driving.
6. It is not what happens to us, but our response to what happens that hurts us.
Recognize and act on those things that you can influence. Language is a powerful indicator of how we feel about our lives. A very common misuse of language is found in the phrase “You make me feel” – the truth is more accurately put, “I let you make me feel….” Any way you look at it, the more responsibility we take, the more power we have. For every situation that does not play out as you had hoped or planned, examine your part in it. Figure out the source of your power – the thing that you can do to respond most productively to the unexpected situation and let your best self lead you to the next best place.
7. Outcome, Not Ego
Sometimes our need to be “right” prevents us from meeting our own needs. The best way to keep our egos in check is to always keep the end in mind.
- When in a conflict with your partner, is your goal to resolve the conflict (outcome-based) or to be “right” (ego-based)?
- When you feel mistreated by your boss are you focused on the mistreatment (ego) or the resolution (outcome)?
- When you have an opportunity that involves risk, do you pursue it with the hope of achieving (outcome) or reject the opportunity for fear of failure (ego)?
8. Keep a Positive (+) Relationship Balance
Relationships are the result of two people sharing their individual resources (be that humor, honesty, loyalty, incomes, sex, intelligence, etc…). The quality of the relationship depends on the quality and the quantity of the contributions each partner makes to their shared relationship. The relationship becomes like a bank account, of which either person can make deposits or withdraws. Every behavior, action or choice you make is literally either a deposit or a withdrawal from your relationship. When it comes to relationships, we are either moving forward or moving backward. If we feel we are simply staying in the same place, then we have probably found a delicate balance of contributions and withdrawals that evens out. Moving forward requires more deposits in our relationship than withdrawals. The key is to always keep a balance in the account. Danger results when one person continuously adds (or withdraws) more than the other – or when neither person adds and one or both consistently withdraw.
A Simple Relationship Formula
Person A’s contributions + Person B’s contributions = the Relationship
On the most fundamental level, relationships go sort of like this:
“Hey, (with hands cupped and held out before you), this is what I have to offer, I’m honest, funny, reliable and I know how to do this, and I like to do that, and this is the package I come in.” The other person replies with, “That sounds good, now here’s what I have (with hands cupped and held out before them) – I have wit and charm and adventure and spontaneity and a good stable income.” Together these shared resources are combined in different ways, in differing levels and a relationship has been initiated. The relationship becomes this separate entity from each partner, a thing of its own.
The relationship may be clear and direct, such as employer, employee, or it may be more fluid and less clear, like that of a coworker or acquaintance. The relationship may be with a family member, a friend or possibly an intimate partner. The level and intensity of each person’s contributions will affect the quality of and importance of that relationship. The greater the contribution that we make to any relationship, the more vulnerable we are. That is why our most challenging relationships tend to be our most important ones. To really allow ourselves to be known by another is the greatest form of vulnerability there is. The bare nakedness of who we are, both figuratively and literally, exposes us to all sorts of rejection, ridicule, and criticism. The reverse is true too – being vulnerable also gives us the unparalleled experience of being accepted and loved for exactly who we are – the real self.