An Interesting Point of View

Do you have a person in your life that you tend to get into arguments with?  Imagine changing your approach to that person by agreeing with them.  Arguments lose their energy in the face of agreement.  Now, you may not be able to honestly agree with some statement or belief.  One approach is to respond with the phrase “That’s an interesting point of view.  Let me think about it.”  You are not agreeing and you are not arguing. 

Its probably safe to say that no argument ever ends with one person changing their opinion.  Arguments tend to solidify a person’s point of view, entrenching them in their opinion.  My meditation teacher, years ago, when asked about arguing with your spouse, suggested a similar approach.  “Let me think about it.”  And then wait 3 hours to bring it up again, with “I’ve thought about what you were saying and I think….”  The idea is that when someone has an opinion they are sharing with you, behind their words is a lot of energy.  Disagreeing will increase that energy.  Instead, wait for 2 or 3 hours, until the energy has dissipated.  You stand a better chance of having your point of view heard if the other’s energy has settled.

I have a mental trick for this.  I imagine someone angry at me as holding a fire hose and blasting me with water.  In my imagination I pivot sideways and just allow the water to flow past me, not resisting.  I say to myself “This is not about me; they are really feeling strong about this.”  And I wait.  When the energy drops, I might say “Is there more you think I should know?”  If they feel complete I respond with “Let me think about this.”  And wait 3 hours.

I think of this as Verbal Aikido.  In Aikido you don’t block a punch or attack.  You move with the energy and redirect it.  So someone can try to argue with me, and rather than push back, I can be curious about their point of view.  I might agree or say that I need to think about it.

Another fun quote; “You can either be in relationship or you can be right.  You can’t be both.”

R.A.I.N. Meditation

For further exploration of emotions that seem difficult I want to share a tool I learned from Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance.

R – Recognize that you are having an emotional storm – you might name the emotions you are experiencing

A – Allow – open to the experience and allow your body to feel this experience. Now is not the time to fight or resist, just breathe in the feelings and be aware of the body.

I – Investigate –  spend some time looking at the thoughts in connection to the emotion.  Are your thoughts making the emotions stronger, or allowing them to pass?

N. Nonidentification –  You are not your emotions.  There are energy flowing through you and your body.  By not taking ownership you allow them to pass more easily.

The idea here is to provide yourself with some Compassion.  Yes, you are experiencing uncomfortable emotions.  Perhaps they have something to teach you.  Most of us, in the past, have pushed the emotions away by distracting ourselves or using substances.  A new, radical approach is to go with the emotions, and to wonder, what is happening, and what is there to learn from this experience.

Breathing consciously during this practice is of great help.  Taking notes between each step may help you stay separate from the emotions, and provide some space to wonder at the depth of these emotions.  The key component is curiousity.

Tara offers additional articles and meditations on her website:

More Resources on RAIN here.

Free download of Tara’s 10 min meditation:
Mindful Breathing: Finding Calm and Ease
and: 8 Essential Tips to Nourish Your Meditation Practicewhen you join her email list.

Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of R.A.I.N.

Having a strong emotion? Let it RAIN.


Connecting with Empathy

I wrote earlier about my telephone conversation with my friend Steve, and how I thought he got upset and hung up on me. So I went through this process of NVC with Steve, observed my Feelings and Needs and made the Request, “What are you feeling?” And Steve tells me, “Dude, look, it’s not about you. I was at work on Friday night. My boss comes over and says, that project of yours is two weeks overdue. You’ve got the weekend to get it done or you’re fired.”

Now what do I know about Steve’s headspace? I told him that I was feeling hurt and annoyed and I needed understanding. What’s Steve probably feeling? I can guess the feeling would be anxiety or fear and the Need would be financial security. 

Financial security, because he didn’t want to lose his job. This process is called Empathy. This is the definition of empathy. Understanding what a person is feeling and needing. Notice that I don’t have to feel Steve’s anxiety. I don’t have to feel his fear, but I can understand it because at some point in my life I have had the same need and had similar feelings. So it’s about understanding what he’s Feeling and Needing. 

Make sense?  I want to be empathetic, but not sympathetic. How I define sympathy is that I am feeling what Steve is feeling. If he’s feeling scared then I’m also scared.  That matching I think of as sympathy, where I’m aligning with his feeling. Whereas empathy is just understanding his feelings, but not actually feeling them. By the way, I put Empathy in a heart, because in Nonviolent Communication groups, classes and workshops, we call this process the Language of the Heart or the more fun name is called Giraffe Language. It’s called giraffe language because a giraffe is a land animal with the largest heart.

The average heart for a giraffe is 26 pounds. That’s a big heart.  

If you go to a nonviolent communication workshop, you’ll be talking about these processes and this style. Here they invite you to use Giraffe language and they have this giraffe puppet, that’s talking in the giraffe language and going through the steps. And the person who’s doing it the old-fashioned way, they call this Jackal language. They have a jackal puppet and they’ll associate the two and have them talking to each other. They even have little headbands with Jackal and Giraffe ears that you can put on so that you’re listening in Giraffe. So it just makes it kind of silly fun as a way to learn. In Germany, they don’t call the opposite of Giraffe as Jackal. They call it Wolf language.. And this is a whole new language, a new way of speaking and thinking. And it takes a while. I tell people, honestly, it takes a couple of years of practice to get this mastered, because we’re so used to evaluating, telling a person what we’re thinking, telling them how they should act and then making a demand. That’s how most of us are raised. 

What is the difference between Requests and Demands?   Separated by the ability to say that without getting in trouble, without a negative consequence, needs and behavior, Needs would be universal and behavior would be an action. You’re trying to achieve. Yes, the action. What’s the separation line between feelings and thoughts? 

A feeling is an internal emotion and thought is an intellectual evaluation or judgment. So a thought is something I am I am placing on someone else. Yeah, projection.  And a feeling is something I’m having happen internally. experiencing internally. 

There is also a distinction regarding observations.   A behavioral observation is just the facts without any evaluation.  Steve was on the phone talking to me, and then he hung up. Probably. But if I don’t know that he hung up.  That’s an interpretation. That’s a really difficult distinction, that we not to jump to interpreting something that is not in evidence. It takes practice. So the evaluation is an assumption rather than fact.

You can be in integrity and say “no” and understand clearly that you are operating based on your needs. You can’t be responsible for how the other person is going to react.  

 Well, first of all, I’m not responsible for how they’re going to react. I’m responsible for me and my actions and reactions. So how I do know that I am clean about my part of it? If someone requests me and I want to say no, I identify my feelings and how the request doesn’t meet my need. Interestingly, in nonviolent communication, “No”, by itself, is a violent word because it doesn’t let the person that was happening inside of me. So how we do a “No” when you ask me to go dancing with you might look like,,” I feel scared and uncomfortable and a little annoyed because I told you that I don’t like dancing.

“I have a need for space; I would enjoy respect(the Need, space and respect) for my feelings about dancing. Would you be willing to go by yourself or find someone to go with? ”(Request”)  I’m saying no. and I’m saying it while the same time I’m telling them what’s happening inside of me, how I’m feeling about the request and what my need is. You also didn’t make a clean-cut No. You were asking how if they could find a different way to meet their need. 

I am saying a clear cut “No”.  But I’m just not using the word. I might say “When you asked me to go to a movie, I’m not willing to go to that particular kind of movie. I hate those kinds of movies. If I go to a movie, it needs to be a lot more relaxing, a lot more comfortable. And I want to walk out feeling fun, so we can either go to a different kind of movie or you could find someone else to go.”  I’ve actually had that almost exact conversation in my relationship. Is that compromising then? It’s not at all. No, it’s negotiating. In fact, in the case of a movie, sometimes I’ll go to a romantic comedy and then we will go to an action movie as a way of sharing, doing it together.

But there are times when one or the other will just say, “I’m going to this movie, and it would be fun for you to come along., I’ve taken my wife to several chorals and concerts. She loves acapella music. She loves choir and choral and things like that. And I’ve been to probably four or five. And then she says, “Let’s buy season tickets. And I’m saying, not no. Hell no, internally.  So how do I use this model?  I might say “I’m feeling uncomfortable doing that because I don’t enjoy the music. (my Feeling of discomfort” and say “Why don’t you find somebody else to go with? (Request) Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll even buy a pair of tickets. Season tickets. I’ll pay for them. You find somebody that likes the stuff and you go with them”  Notice that my “no” is identifying my reasons for saying “no” by identifying my feelings and needs.  I’m respecting her need for culture and diversity. And I’m also saying that for me, it doesn’t work.  That’s checking in, internally and being true to my feelings and needs. 

If I were to say to myself, I really should go with her because I have an obligation as a partner to support her. So I go to this piano concerto or whatever, and I’m sitting there in the theater with her, looking at my watch and wondering if it’s stopped because it’s just moving really slow. A little light comes on and then I pull out my phone, figuring I check my e-mail or play a game.

And she nudges me because the light comes on and I put my phone away. I’m clearly not enjoying myself. Is she enjoying herself? No, probably not, because I’m fidgeting. I’m restless. I’m uncomfortable. She’s probably not enjoying herself. The people sitting around us are probably not enjoying themselves because I’m fidgety and the lights coming on and I’m whispering. 

When you go against your feelings and needs, everybody suffers. Because there’s going to be some kind of passive-aggressive resentment, discomfort, unhappiness. So it becomes the art of paying attention to your needs and being able to communicate in a way that’s not about the other person. 

“When you ask me to go to a concert, I love the fact that you’re thinking about getting season tickets because you will save money and you could do it on a regular basis. But it also feels uncomfortable for me because I don’t like that stuff. ” (I honor your need for culture and I require some space. )  So the request I make is. “How about if I buy tickets for you and a friend?”

 She did that. She went out and connected with a friend that she hadn’t seen very often. They get together every other month to go to dinner. They go to the concert. They stop by for dessert and tea afterward. They have a fun night out and I get to do what I want. That is truly a win-win situation.

Internally, what I do is ask myself “Does it feel better to you, is it representing your needs or what doesn’t meet your needs?”  If you have that ability to somehow build a healthy boundary, then it gives you a better barometer of whether you are compromising or whether you’re creating resentment.  

Because you don’t want that resentment coming in.  Resentment arises because you’re no longer honoring your needs. You’re not authentic.. 

Okay. Final exam. I’ve gone through my process with Steve about  how I’m feeling, what I’m needing and I ask Steve what’s going on for him.   Steve tells me that he’s terrified of losing his job.

What’s the very next thing to do, from my side? Now, I want to tell you, be careful. This is a trick question. The question again, he just told me what he’s feeling and needing that he’s terrified of losing his job. What’s the very next thing I should do? 

 Think about it for a minute. Some people are going to say, well, I should help Steve. Did you catch the swear word? “Should”? 

I should help Steve.  

The reason this is a trick question is  because people think, what’s my next behavior? But before you do a behavior, you have to check in with your Feelings and Needs. What’s my Need right now?  If my Need is supporting Steve, I’ll say, “Can I come over and help you with your project?”

 But in this instance, my Need was play. I wanted to go to the movie, and if I “should” on myself, there is a danger that I’m going to be resentful. So I say, “Dude, that sounds really horrible.  I understand you’re upset.. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.” Then I hang up and call somebody else to go play with because I’m honoring my Need. If I have the belief that is my “duty” as a friend, that I “have to” help Steve. I run the risk of resenting Steve later. 

Imagine; I go out and buy a couple of pizzas and I buy a couple of 6-packs coke and I go over to his house and I get there and he is watching football.

Already the resentment is coming up because I’ve given up my movie and he’s not working on his project. He “should” be working on his project. That’s why he’s two weeks behind. The point is, my resentment is because I “should” on myself. I set up an artificial “have to” instead of honoring my needs.  People can do this to you or you can do it to yourself if you don’t pay attention to what your Needs are in each moment.

Now you could probably get, this is kind of transformative for the brain. Your brain might fritzing out right now, because it’s nothing like we’ve ever understood or heard. But my experience with most groups I introduce to that it quickly begins to make sense.

This is the way I want to have relationships. Where communication and respect is given mutually, not using emotional blackmail with demands. Then when somebody gives you something, you know that it is integrous. They’re doing it because they had fun doing it. They’re doing it out of joy not out of a sense of: “I have to”.  

My process of learning about NVC started when I went to a two-hour training and liked it. That weekend they did an all-day Saturday training. Two months later, I did a 10-day intensive and I came back excited and pumped and could already begin to figure out how I was going to use it at work. And I tried it at home and the poop hit the fan. My wife said something about  “I’m feeling abandoned.” And instead of listening and being empathetic, I went to “Well, that isn’t really a feeling.  Abandoned isn’t a feeling, it’s a thought.” And then it got worse. It got ugly because I tried to educate her rather than being empathetic. And so my experience was that it was easier to do it with friends and work than it is to do in your personal relationships. It takes more practice. I have about a four-hour presentation with PowerPoint, and my very last PowerPoint slide, tongue in cheek said, “don’t try this at home.” And then I would explain how I tried to do it at home and got my head bit off?  Because I was new to this language, I didn’t empathize. I skipped a step.

You want to try it out on your outer circle friends and workmates, and then, once you get better, you can get to the inner circle. That tends to be the best way to learn how to do it. And in fact, NVC is taught all over the world. 

Here in Portland, we have 10 or 12-week groups you can go and you’re practicing on each other.  You can bring something from your work environment, or your home environment, and role-play the issue. Somebody plays your boss and you give them the script, suggest the kind of words that your boss would normally say. And then you practice putting on your giraffe ears and not hearing it as a demand, but hearing it as a request., is the local website and they have 2- and 3-day training groups, and they have ten-week groups and twelve-week groups, all fairly inexpensive. 

There are many books on NVC, but there are two books I recommend most.  One is the original book where this comes from, Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg.  The other one is a workbook taking each chapter in this book and having assignments and exercises. That one is by Lucy Leu.[1]  Some of the group leaders who run the 12-week groups use the workbook as it gives you something to work with at home.  

In the 12-week group they go through the workbook, each week practicing another step. So you’ll spend a whole week reading and practicing the distinctions between Observing vs Evaluating. And then you’ll do a couple of weeks on Feelings vs Thoughts, then Needs vs Behavior and then Requests vs Demands.

There’s even a chapter on how you express gratitude. Using this model, it’s really fun to say thank you to someone because, instead of just saying “That was a great group,”  you make a clear statement about what you got out of it. When someone just says “great group” I, as the receiver don’t have any information. I don’t know what I’m going to do to continue making it a great group. But if they come up to me and say, “When you talked about the connection between partners, I felt really clear and excited because it met my need for understanding.   And you use stories which helped me to make sense of it.”  

Now I have some data to use in future workshops; more stories, more visual pictures. ” I know specifically what the person found valuable.  You can use this model for gratitude and you can also use it for grieving. “When you say that you were scared because I came home an hour late, I’m really sad. I don’t want you to feel scared. My need is for you to feel safe and heard. And so please let me know or even call me if you start to worry,”  I’m using the same model in communicating.  My sadness is that I scared my partner because I came home late.

For more on Nonviolent Communication check out:

[1] NVC Companion Workbook: A Practical Guide for Individual, Group or Classroom Study by Lucy Leu.

Requests versus Needs

It becomes quite helpful in all relationships to understand the difference between a Request and a Demand.

And it becomes even more important in our relationships. Harmony comes about making Requests of people rather than Demands.  We learned earlier, when you make a Demand, you are only going to get resentment or rebellion. 

My Dad didn’t Request me to get him coffee.  It was a polite Demand.  When my dad asked me to get him a cup of coffee, I sure as heck got up and got him that coffee because I didn’t want the consequences. I wouldn’t be watching television for the rest of the night. So, the politeness has nothing to do with the distinction. The words had nothing to do with it. It is simply, can you say “no” and not get into trouble? That’s the distinction between Request and a Demand and that is an Aha for most people.

Many people walk through life asking for something with strings attached. “If you don’t do what I asked. I’m going to feel hurt. I’m going to feel like you don’t care.”  These types of questions I don’t consider to be Requests but subtle Demands.  The subtext is “If I don’t get what I want there will be consequences.”

So the person asking is feeling hurt; or disappointed.  Do you see how there are strings attached?  A “No” triggers some pain on their part because they have an agenda.   With this new awareness you begin to look at the distinction. 

How do you make a clean request? If you have the awareness that your desires, your Needs, are your responsibility then you ask, or request, help but know the bottom line of the issue is that it is your problem not someone else.  And, if the person is saying “No” it is because they have Needs of their own that take priority.

I love it when someone says “No” to me because it means they are taking care of themselves and not helping me out of any sense of obligation.   

Pretty simple.  A woman that I work with worked with, a client, told me that her husband was a contractor. It’s an interesting thing about being married to a contractor. Turns out when your husband’s a contractor, you typically have projects going on around the house all the time and they’re always getting put off because they have to go out and earn money.

“No” means they are taking care of themselves

So there’s always that part of the house is under repair. There are projects that are not getting done. So she was complaining about the fact that her bathroom hadn’t been fixed and had been in a state of disrepair for months. We talked about this. She said “When I ask him, it comes across as a demand. As a “have to.”  And then he just kind of gets annoyed and doesn’t do it. So how do you make a Request?” 

“First,” I said, “we have to identify who’s Need is the bathroom.”  “Mine” she said.  He’ doesn’t seem to mind the mess.”  “Okay,” I replied “and who’s job are your Needs?”  Here she realized that her Needs are her responsibility, and not her husband’s.  If she insists she runs the risk of getting resentment from him.

“Here’s how I might suggest it.  Honey, I know you’re really busy and, still, I am “frustrated with the disarray in the bathroom (Feelings)  I would really enjoy getting it fixed and being comfortable in the bathroom (Need). I want to be able enter the bathroom, not have to worry about stepping on a nail and have everything working. So I’d like to have you finish the bathroom in the next two weeks. (Request) And if you can’t finish the bathroom in the next two weeks, that’s OK. I’ll can hire somebody to come in and do it.” 

See, there’s no Demand there. It’s like I understand you’re busy and if you’re unable to do it, it’s  OK. I’ll pay for it. I’ll have someone come in and we’ll get it done.” because my need is my job, not yours. That makes sense? It begins to change relationships, when you begin to think in this way, “it’s not my partner’s job to meet my needs.” It may be their joy, but it’s not their job.

What Marshall Rosenberg, the guy who taught this, would say is that I only want you to do something for me, if you can do it with the joy of a little girl feeding hungry ducks. 

Imagine standing on a lakeshore with a little toddler, a little girl. She’s got a handful of bread and she’s tossing bread to the ducks. And they’re coming in. They’re gobbling. You can imagine her having a great time feeding the ducks. And that’s the joy he talks about. Do something for me only if it gives you joy. So that the local group here in Portland, we made a business card.  I’ve been carrying my wallet since 2003. And after being asked for it a few times, I made a copy. 

This is a business card in my wallet. 

That’s the way I want my relationships. “Don’t buy a present for me because you think you have to buy a present for me.  Only get a present if you have fun shopping and looking for something which you think I’ll like.” It changes the dynamic, and I’ve committed to my kids that that wasn’t I going to raise them in a state of fear and I wasn’t going to scare them into doing things. I was going to talk. Talk about feelings and needs. It’s amazing how the dynamic changes in our relationship when it becomes safe to be who you are and to say “No” if you don’t want to do something. 

Now, why would anybody say “No” to me? I am way too charming, right? Because it doesn’t meet their needs! And I want them to be meet their needs. So I love hearing “No” because it means they’re taking care of themselves. They’re meeting their needs because I don’t want to ever find out later that it was done out of a sense of “Have to,” a sense of resentment, or fear; Make sense?  

Communications continued

So what happens is we begin to think in terms of other than ourselves and begin to get curious about why people do what they do. So let me give you a classic example. This is a little interaction between me and a best friend, who I’ll call Steve.

I called Steve up and said “Let’s go to the movies tonight.  I really want to see this movie.”   And Steve Says “No!” and hangs up on me.   What might you do?  Get angry and call Steve back?  Get hurt and think that you’ve offended him?”

OK. So I’m going to call Steve back. 

Steve’s behavior triggered my upset, so my reaction I call a “behavioral storm” because I’m reacting emotionally to something Steve did. 

That line in the graphic is lightning coming out of my storm. Now, how does Steve respond to my loving phone call? When I tell him off? Not well, right. He has a behavior storm and he lashes out at me. And that is the essence of every argument you’ve ever been in. Every war, every argument. I don’t like what you’re doing. And I tell you about it. You don’t like what I’m doing and you tell me about it. And we’re at war. 

And interestingly, nobody is talking about feelings and needs; which is the core of every behavior.  That is up until now. Once you get this, you realize Steve’s behavior is not about me. What’s it about?

 “His Needs.” Exactly. So what happens for me is I become really curious. Now, this model that I’m talking about is coming from the work of a man named Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who wrote a book called Nonviolent Communication. He made up a communication model often referred to as OFNR.  Observations; Feelings; Needs, and Requests.

Observations, Feelings; Needs, and Requests.

So I’m going to use this model to figure out what the heck’s going on with Steve. And I start by observing “What just happened?” 

So I call Steve up and I say, “Dude, I called you up. I asked you to go to the movie. You said “no.” And then there was a click and you weren’t there anymore.”

Now, that sounds fairly reasonable, fairly normal, but interestingly, it’s not how we typically do it.  How we typically do it looks more like this. “I called you up in a good mood and you got in my face and yelled at me, and hung up on me.” 

The problem is we don’t know some of that data. The definition of an Observation is to state  “What did I actually see, or hear?”  The Observation is more of what might be called an evaluation or interpretation.  

For example; I don’t know that Steve was yelling. It sounded like yelling to me, but he might not think of it that he was yelling and he’ll argue.  All I know for a fact, what the Observation is, is that He said “No.”  

I don’t even know if he actually hung up on me.  That is an interpretation of the silence that followed his “No.”

He might have been on a cell phone and gone through a dead zone and just lost a signal. And if I tell him he hung up on me he gets mad at me again. So I avoid evaluations and just relay the facts, unarguable facts because I want to connect with Steve, not fight. So I state a clean, behavioral Observation.  just what I heard or what I saw. “I asked you to go to a movie. You said “no”. And then there was silence.” 

Those are facts. Nothing he can argue with. Next I name my Feelings. I say “Ouch! When that happened I felt hurt, disappointed, frustrated, even angry.” Feelings are inside of me, emotions that I’m having.

But we are not trained to do that.

Here’s an interesting thing. I recognize that I have a need and I do a behavior. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work. There’s a chance that I do a behavior and it meets my needs. There’s also the possibility that that particular behavior didn’t work. My need wasn’t met. How do I know if my need is being met?

Turns out we have an internal mechanism. A built-in loop called feelings. It lets you know if your needs are being met. 

But sometimes naming a Need under the Feeling is too complicated. There’s a little test you can give yourself called the “Y” test. Anytime you’re doing a behavior, to check and see if your needs are being met, you give yourself the “Y Test”. It looks like this,  



If your needs are being met, you feel yummy.  If your needs are not being met, you feel yucky. Pretty simple. If you’re having a yucky feeling, what’s going on? ” There’s a need not being met, right! Whose job is that feeling? Yours! Exactly. 

Stop blaming other people for your feelings. It’s not their job.

Stop blaming other people for your feelings. It’s not their job. They’re busy taking care of their feelings and needs. Your feelings are your job. Now, if someone in your life wants to help you. Beautiful. 

But the minute you insist on someone else meeting your Needs, you run the risk of damaging, of making the relationship toxic. 

What’s the basis of everything Steve is doing?  “His Needs!”. He’s got the same feedback loop, called feelings.  And what triggered Steve’s emotions? Steve’s Needs, right?

His behavior is not about me!  Freedom!  

First we Observed.  Next we move to Feelings.  And in this particular case, we want to go inside and say, “Ouch!” How does this feel to me?  

“So I asked you to go to the movies and you said, “No!  When that happened I felt a lot of pain; a lot of frustration, a little bit of irritation, even anger.” Notice; I’m not blaming Steve; I’m just talking about my experience, my feelings.  

Stop blaming others for your feelings! Your feelings are not their job!

And the fourth step, Request.  What would I like to ask for from Steve in this moment?  “Would you be willing to tell me what just happened?” 

That is the Request. 

This is the new and improved means of communication.  The old way would have been, instead Observing, naming my Feelings, Sharing my current Need, and making a clear Request, what we’ve learned to do is tell the person how they should have acted, what their behavior should have been, and it would look something like, “Hey, I called you up in a good mood and you got in my face and yelled at me.  Nobody talks to me like that; especially not a friend.”

The problem with the old way of communicating is that it increases the distance between people.  Steve’s behavior storm triggers my behavior storm and we are at war.

This is clear communication, without blame or judgment. 

More to follow….

P.S. if you want to see a video version of this talk check out my Youtube site.

Relationships and Needs

A 15-year-old boy robs a liquor store at gunpoint. That’s the boy’s behavior. What’s his need?  It can’t be for alcohol, because alcohol is not a universal need.  “For the rush?”    Maybe.  It could be that; you know, excitement. But what I might guess, for a 15-year-old boy, is Acceptance. He wants to be seen as cool by his peers, by his gang, by his clique. He wants some Recognition or Acceptance. That’s a really common need, particularly for a boy at 15. Another possibility is to get money to buy food for himself and his siblings.   That’s a need.  Does that make sense?   Interestingly, money isn’t a need. I think most of us, if we had a sugar daddy or sugar mom or we wouldn’t care about money, as long as we were getting fed and housed. Money, also, isn’t universal.  Not every culture uses money.  It turns out that money is a behavior to get our needs met, our needs for comfort, safety, and security.  I want to see a time when our judicial system searches out the needs underneath the criminal behaviors and helps those people find healthier, legal ways to meet their needs.  Currently, we punish behaviors and don’t even consider the underlying needs.

I was giving a lecture at a high school and I’m standing there with the teacher. Kids were coming in and in walks a boy wearing a gray fedora hat.  And the teacher doesn’t like it. The teacher scolds the boy for wearing a hat in the classroom and the boy is defensive and they get into a clash, into a power struggle. And it’s uncomfortable because they’re kind of yelling at each other.

But if we analyze that event, based on our new understanding of needs, we see the teacher is scolding the boy for wearing a hat. That’s the teacher’s behavior. What could be the teacher’s need?  I would guess Respect.

Now. Some people will guess control.  In fact, out of every group of 15 I teach, at least one guesses Control. But it turns out, as I survey people, not everybody believes they have much control.

Some of us realize we have very little control.  And we don’t want or need control over other people. We seldom have very little control over our thoughts and emotions.  So Control is not universal, hence, not a need at all.  But, because it so often comes up as a guess,  I had to wonder what Control is about.  And what I came to is that Control seems to be a behavior. Control is an action. And, when does control come up (what is the need?)  When a person doesn’t feel Safe.  Remember the movie As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson?  Jack’s character has OCD and doesn’t feel safe in the world.  So he is doing all of these controlling behaviors in an attempt to create a feeling of Safety.  He behaviors of counting 5 times he locks the door; of bringing his own plastic ware to the café, of sitting at the same table every time; these are components of trying to control his environment; to feel Safe.  

So the teacher might not have been feeling safe about allowing the boy to wear a hat because it might create chaos in the classroom.  So yeah, I think Respect for the rules is the Need.   

Why do we create rules?  Nobody needs a black box hanging in the sky that’s got red and yellow and green lights. That’s not a need. But we have them everywhere. What’s the purpose of the box? Safety. Safety on the highways? Exactly. So the people are taking turns on the road.  It turns out that everything that you see, all these actions, all these things we create, all revolve around getting needs met.

This becomes kind of fascinating. What comes up for me is curiosity. Anytime I see someone doing something, you know, I don’t understand or agree with, I get really curious about what the Need is. Because another person’s behavior is never about me. What’s it about? It’s about their needs. Exactly. And sometimes when their needs are up, they don’t much pay attention or care about your needs.

If you’re at home and the school calls and says that your baby fell on the swing set and is on the way to the hospital with a broken arm, you’re going to get in the car and you’re going to drive like crazy to  get to the hospital and you don’t much care about stop signs and red lights. Often we forgo rules when our needs are up. We kind of put blinders on and we just go for it. I’ve taken this a little bit further. So when I saw someone weaving or swerving in traffic, I got to wondering what could their need be? And I came up with several. One is the McDonald’s Dance. I remember when a woman sued McDonald’s because the coffee was too hot. And I had then I remembered spilling coffee in my lap when I was driving. And if you’ve ever done that. But when I got hot coffee on my lap, I started holding my pant legs away from my skin because it’s scalding. But if I’m holding my pant legs, I’m not holding the wheel. It’s out of control. And the likelihood of the car drifting increases. Another one is the Bee Maneuver. You’re deathly allergic to bees, right? So there’s one in the back seat of your car and you get your newspaper and you lean over the seat, rolling down the window, trying to shoo the bee out of the car as your car drifts across there lanes of traffic. Again, survival, you’re interested in your survival. You’d don’t think about other people’s needs at a time like that.

You see someone’s speeding down the highway. There’s a funny little thing that they say that if someone is driving slower than you, they’re stupid. And if they’re driving faster than you, they’re crazy. And it doesn’t matter what speed you’re going.  That’s Relativity.  If they’re not doing your speed, then there’s something wrong with them. And so I got to thinking, why would a person be driving fast? Well, it’s not because they’re crazy. It’s because they have some Need. Maybe they’ve been late to work three times this month and they were told that they’re late to work again, they’re getting fired. So they’re trying to get to work before they are late. They perceive this as a need for them at the time. Now, the interesting thing is that I’m not justifying their behavior. I’m just pointing out that it’s not about me.  It’s about the person’s perceived need at the moment.  I am using empathetic guesses to wonder about their needs.  Because I know it isn’t about me. Another person’s behavior is never about me, it’s about their needs.

The boy robbing the liquor store. That behavior is not okay.  But it’s his need of acceptance; Completely normal because we all have it. The teacher, scolding the boy with the hat. I’m not necessarily OK with the teacher’s behavior, but his need for safety in the classroom. I’m completely on board. So I will always defend the need, but not always defend the behavior. By the way, how about that boy wearing a hat? The grey fedora hat, in the classroom? That was his behavior. What was his need?

My guess is Autonomy, individuality.  He wants to be seen as cool. Nobody else in the school is wearing a gray fedora and he is, so he’s a little different. He’s a little cool.  We’ve probably all been there and bought a car or a purse or a T-shirt or something that is unique,  different, that would stand out. It’s human nature.

OK, so a true confession now. When I was in high school, and all my friends were smoking cigarettes, I started smoking a pipe. I was the only kid in my high school smoking a pipe. That’s autonomy, right? Well, I’m also a Leo, so I had two pipes.  I had a Sherlock Holmes pipe, it was kind of an S-shaped pipe with a leather wrap around the handle. And then I had an English country squire pipe with a little tiny bowl and a foot-long stem. I remember when I put the bowl in my shirt pocket, the stem would arch over my shoulder. That’s some serious autonomy needs, right? I was seeking some attention. A way to be different.

Does it make sense?  That four-year-old standing in front of you, saying “you’re not the boss of me” is not wanting a fight. It’s not about arguing.   You need is to get your daughter to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and she is resisting. It’s not about rebellion and it’s not about being confrontive. It’s about having a sense of autonomy, independence.  And if you understand that, you can say to the four-year-old, “honey, you can’t stay up till midnight just because your older brother is up until midnight.  I don’t feel safe. But I’ll tell you what. Because I know it’s important that you.  Tomorrow morning you get to choose what you’re going to wear, what socks you’re going to wear, what dress you’re going to wear to daycare. You get to choose what you want to have for lunch. And I’ll make whatever you say if you want to have banana nut muffins or if you want peanut butter and jelly or if you want to have pizza, you tell me.  You’re in charge of what’s for lunch and what you’re going to wear.”

I’ve given her some autonomy, some sense of power in her life, some sense of self-direction. That teenage boy wearing the hat is another example. All the teacher would have had to do when the boy entered the classroom was to say, “Wow, that’s a cool hat.  And you look really good in that. That’s a real styling hat.” Validate, validate, validate.  Acknowledge in front of the whole class how cool he looks.  And he’s gotten his autonomy needs met. 

And then talk about his needs. “I love the hat. And I would like to request that you take it off while you’re in the classroom because we kind of have a rule that revolves around respect for the classroom and not creating chaos, by not having a lot of different kinds of hats coming in. So would you be willing to take it off? But it’s a nice hat. So put it over there by the door. Hang on the pencil sharpener where you won’t forget it when you leave.”

 So, again, validating his needs and also expressing your needs, the chance of an argument would have dropped dramatically.   If we just begin to realize that it’s not about me, we can look for and validate people’s needs.

The teacher probably was taking the hat personally and felt like it was an affront to his control over the classroom, his classroom management, when it had nothing to do with the teacher, had all everything to do with the kid wanting to be cool. Make sense?

So what happens is we begin to think in terms of other than ourselves and begin to get curious about why people do what they do. And you begin to be curious about the underlying Needs when you observe people’s behaviors.

Mindful Being vs. Mindful Doing

Mindful meditation, or Mindful Being, is an inner process, where our attention is directed inward.
Mindful Doing is more active.  It is the doing of something, some one thing, with our full attention.

In Mindful Doing we focus our 5 senses on the one task and pay attention to each moment, to each change.

Mindful eating is a pleasurable activity.  It is eating without talking, reading, watching the television, being on the phone.  This is a time to smell the food, notice the shapes and colors, notice the thoughts about each type of food.  Perhaps noticing the mouth, watering in anticipation. 

Then, feel the fork or spoon in your hand. Notice the hand moving the utensil towards the plate or bowl, and notice how the weight of the utensil changes as you engage with the food. 

My favorite Mindful activity is doing the dishes.  I start with an empty sink, putting in the plug, and hearing the sound as it fits in place.  Then, turning on the water, listening to the splashes, first on the ceramic sink, and then splashing on the water as the sink fills. 

Noticing when I add the soap, how the sound changes, how the water changes, the shape, and color of the bubbles.

If you break a dish or drop something it is a reminder that your mind has wandered.  Again, mind wandering is normal.  Without judgment, return to the act of washing dishes.

“Before enlightenment –  Chop wood, carry water.
 After enlightenment – Chop wood, carry water.
”  Wu Li

The practice of mindfulness means watching the mind and becoming aware of how we are not present to what is happening around us. In simple terms, we can say that before I developed the true nature of my mind I could chop wood and carry water but my mind was everywhere-it was polluted with mental obstructions and worldly thoughts-it was not present. Once we begin to experience being present, we discover that thoughts get in the way of experiencing reality.  From the outside,-I still appear to chop wood and carry water but in fact, internally I am experiencing my body as it moves, the sound of the ax, the muscles I use to chop, the breath as I exercise.  Everything is different. Everything has changed. We realize that we have, often don’t see what is in front of us, but rather our thoughts about that person; the past associations, judgments and evaluations.

“Two people never meet.  But rather the thoughts, judgments and past experiences block our sight and cloud the present moment.”

“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit; but whatever you do, don’t wobble.”  Zen quote

An exercise in Mindful Being.  (Read this through and then try it on your own.)

With your wrists resting on the arm of a chair, or on your knees, allow the hands to dangle free, without touching anything.  Close your eyes and ask yourself  “How do I know my hands still exist?”

What we are doing is finding the feelings within our hands, the aliveness that exists even though our hands are not touching anything or moving.  The hands are at rest, but there is an aliveness, a pulsing sensation, or fuzzy feeling, that signals that our hands are still there. 

This feeling will be your Focal Point.  When the mind wanders, and it will, over and over, just notice what you have been thinking and put your attention back on your hands, and the feeling of aliveness within.

Over and over, thousands of times, the mind wanders off to the past or to the future, thinking about something.  You won’t notice the movement, but you will notice the thought “I’m thinking about …”  At that point just put your attention back on your hands, and that feeling of aliveness.

How long do I do this? 

It’s up to you.  I recommend 10 minutes to start but if you can only do 5 minutes, fine.  Before you start, look at the time, notice when you plan to stop and then close your eyes and find the feeling of aliveness.  When you think the time is up, peek at your watch.  If there is more time, close your eyes and just continue.  The idea is to allow whatever thoughts or feelings emerge to just exist, without resisting or changing them.  Notice them and then return to your Focal Point.

How do I know if it is working? 

The test of successful meditation is simple.  Ask yourself:  “Is it easy?” “ Is it relaxing?”  Nothing more. 

An Exercise in Mindful Being

With your hand open, notice the time.  Give yourself 2 minutes to slowly move the hand from open to closed, making a fist.  Do this as slowly as you can, taking the full 2 minutes from open to closed.  As you do this notice what your 5 senses are reporting.  What colors, shapes, spots, wrinkles and shadows do you see?  Which finger moves first?  Which joint bends?  Notice the feelings of movement.  Jerky or smooth?  Do you feel any sensations in your wrist, your forearm or your shoulder? 

At the end, notice, perhaps even write down what things you noticed.  And finally, did you notice that thoughts about your day, plans for later, thoughts about earlier today, all of that fell away as you focused solely on your hand?
That is Mindful Doing.  Putting 100% attention on the doing of one thing at a time.

Readings in Mindfulness
(in my order of enjoyment)

The Power of NowEckhart Tolle
A New EarthEckhart Tolle
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself  Michael A. Singer
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday LifeJon Kabat-Zinn
Chop Wood, Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life  Rick Fields and Peggy Taylor
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction WorkbookBob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein
Be Here NowRam Dass

Trauma Treatments

Addressing Trauma Successfully[1]

Over the years of therapy, I have studied most of the trauma therapy tools that have had success.  All of these listed below are effective and worthy of investigation.  The bottom line is to find one that suits you.  One cautionary note is to get experienced, professional help.  Some would learn a single technique and then profess to have the answer to every issue.  While they may have good intentions, I question any single approach to such a complex problem as trauma. Most have heard the quote:

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


 “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help you process upsetting memories, thoughts, and feelings related to the trauma. By processing these experiences, you can get relief from PTSD symptoms.”[2]

In 1987, Francine Shapiro was walking in the park when she realized that eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotion associated with her own distressing memories1. She assumed that eye movements had a desensitizing effect, and when she experimented with this she found that others also had the same response to eye movements. It became apparent however that eye movements by themselves did not create comprehensive therapeutic effects and so Shapiro added other treatment elements, including a cognitive component, and developed a standard procedure that she called Eye Movement Desensitization (EMD).

Shapiro then conducted a case study and a controlled study to test the effectiveness of EMD. In the controlled study, she randomly assigned 22 individuals with traumatic memories to two conditions: half received EMD, and half received the same therapeutic procedure with imagery and detailed description replacing the eye movements. She reported that EMD resulted in significant decreases in ratings of subjective distress and significant increases in ratings of confidence in a positive belief. Participants in the EMD condition reported significantly larger changes than those in the imagery condition.[3]

Does it work?

EMDR has a broad base of published case reports and controlled research that supports it as an empirically validated treatment of trauma and other adverse life experiences. The Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Practice Guidelines have placed EMDR in the highest category, recommended for all trauma populations at all times. In addition, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies current treatment guidelines have designated EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD (Foa, Keane, Friedman, & Cohen, 2009) as have the Departments of Health of both Northern Ireland and Israel (see below), which have indicated EMDR to be one of only two or three treatments of choice for trauma victims. The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline (2004) has stated that SSRI’s, CBT, and EMDR are recommended as first-line treatments of trauma.  Most recently, the World Health Organization (2013) has stated that trauma-focused CBT and EMDR are the only psychotherapies recommended for children, adolescents, and adults with PTSD. [4]

A Brief Outline of EMDR[5]

EMDR therapy combines different elements to maximize treatment effects. 

EMDR therapy involves attention to three time periods:  the past, present, and future.  Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events.  Also, it is given to current situations that cause distress, and to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions.  With EMDR therapy, these items are addressed using an eight-phase treatment approach.

Phase 1:  History-taking session:  The therapist assesses the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan.  Client and therapist identify possible trauma targets.  These include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress. .

Initial EMDR processing may be directed to childhood events rather than to adult-onset stressors or the identified critical incident if the client had a problematic childhood.  Clients generally gain insight into their situations; the emotional distress resolves and they start to change their behaviors.  The length of treatment depends upon the number of traumas and the age of PTSD onset.  Generally, those with single event adult onset trauma can be successfully treated in under 5 hours.  Multiple trauma victims may require a longer treatment time.

Phase 2:  Skill Building: the therapist ensures that the client has several different ways of handling emotional distress.  The therapist may teach the client a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques the client can use during and between sessions. A goal of EMDR therapy is to produce rapid and effective change while the client maintains equilibrium during and between sessions.

Phases 3-6:  In phases three to six, a target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures.  These involve the client identifying three things:
1.  The vivid visual image related to the memory
2.  A negative belief about self
3.  Related emotions and body sensations.

In addition, the client identifies a positive belief.  The therapist helps the client rate the positive belief as well as the intensity of the negative emotions.  After this, the client is instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation.  Eye movements are the main form of bilateral stimulation used for EMDR. Originally EMDR used only visual stimuli and the resulting eye movements to facilitate the therapy process. The creator of EMDR therapy, Francine Shapiro, postulated that eye movements, in particular, were a necessary part of the treatment. However, research found similar efficacy using other types of stimulation and other stimuli are now commonly used by EMDR practitioners.  These alternative stimuli include auditory stimuli that alternate between left and right speakers or headphones, and physical stimuli such as tapping of the therapist’s hands.  During the sets, the EMDR client is instructed to just notice what they are aware of happening.

Depending upon the client’s report, the clinician will choose the next focus of attention.  These repeated sets with directed focused attention occur numerous times throughout the session.  If the client becomes distressed or has difficulty in progressing, the therapist follows established procedures to help the client get back on track.

When the client reports no distress related to the targeted memory, (s)he is asked to think of the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session.  At this time, the client may adjust the positive belief, if necessary, and then focus on it during the next set of distressing events.

Phase 7:  In phase seven, closure, the therapist asks the client to keep a log during the week.  The log should document any related material that may arise.  It serves to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered in phase two.

Phase 8:  The next session begins with phase eight.  Phase eight consists of examining the progress made thus far.  The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that will require different responses.

Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR)

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Frank A. Gerbode of California developed Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR) therapy as a person-centered desensitization method for helping people to face traumatic events in their past that have a negative impact on their current lives and learn how to move forward positively. TIR is a nonjudgmental and non-confrontational method of easing the stress of events that have caused physical and/or emotional pain.

Traumatic Incident Reduction therapy is a therapeutic technique performed by trained professionals, called “facilitators,” in a highly structured manner. TIR is considered a rapid therapy form as it may not last as long as traditional methods. Sessions are typically 60-90 minutes in length and generally offered weekly. The number of needed sessions is determined by each individual and their specific needs and progress.

A TIR session will begin with an assessment step. This assessment will evaluate the specifics of what is to be managed during the session. The person receiving treatment will identify either a certain incident or a thematic item to be resolved. Thematic TIR will explore unwanted feelings and emotions that may be related to as-of-yet uncovered reasons or past events. A person may try to close off, or block, painful memories or experiences as a method of self-preservation and can, therefore, repress stressful events. These traumas lie below the surface and can cause a multitude of negative side effects. TIR can help to uncover these repressed traumas and guide people to work through them in a safe and controlled environment.

After the assessment, a TIR session will move on to the viewing step. During the “viewing,” a person will try to look at their life as if from the outside (kind of like watching a movie) in order to objectively see how feelings and actions interact and how the trauma is related to them. Emotions and memories may be distorted, and a person may not be aware of how much, or in what way, previous incidents may be affecting how they feel and act currently. This viewing step can help to provide connections and revelations into the self and why a person may act and feel the way they do. Insights and self-reflection come directly from the person involved and not from the facilitator directly, who is there to act as a guide.[6]

Somatic Experiencing

The Somatic Experiencing® method is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.

The SE Approach offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. It provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.

The SE approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.

Emotional Freedom Technique (or Tapping)

I’ve talked about EFT previously, as a coping skill for all types of issues.  It is my favorite tool to use for almost everything  It is the first thing I work with when I have any emotional issue, physical pain, or just difficulty getting to sleep.  In my clinical practice almost every client hears about this tool and, if willing, learns to use it for themselves.  What I like is that my clients can use this on their own, and not be dependent on another to solve their issues.  [7]

EFT or Tapping provides relief from chronic pain, emotional problems, disorders, addictions, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical diseases. While Tapping is rapidly revolutionizing the field of health and wellness, using the healing concepts that have been in practice in Eastern medicine for over 5,000 years. Like acupuncture and acupressure, Tapping is a set of techniques which utilize the body’s energy meridian points. You can stimulate these meridian points by tapping on them with your fingertips – literally tapping into your body’s energy and healing power.

So How Does It All Work?

All negative emotions are felt through a disruption of the body’s energy. And physical pain and disease are intricately connected to negative emotions. Health problems create feedback – physical symptoms cause emotional distress, and unresolved emotional problems manifest themselves through physical symptoms. So, the body’s health must be approached as a whole. You cannot treat the symptoms without addressing the cause, and vice-versa.

The body, like everything in the universe, is composed of energy. Restore balance to the body’s energy, and you will mend the negative emotions and physical symptoms that stem from the energy disruption. Tapping restores the body’s energy balance, and negative emotions are conquered.

The basic technique requires you to focus on the negative emotion at hand: a fear or anxiety, a bad memory, an unresolved problem, or anything that’s bothering you. While maintaining your mental focus on this issue, use your fingertips to tap 5-7 times each on 12 of the body’s meridian points. Tapping on these meridian points – while concentrating on accepting and resolving the negative emotion – will access your body’s energy, restoring it to a balanced state.

You may be wondering about these meridians. Put simply, energy circulates through your body along a specific network of channels. You can tap into this energy at any point along the system.

This concept comes from the doctrines of traditional Chinese medicine, which referred to the body’s energy as “ch’i.” In ancient times, the Chinese discovered 100 meridian points. They also discovered that by stimulating these meridian points, they could heal. Call it energy, call it the Source, call it life force, call it ch’i… Whatever you want to call it, it works.

In some ways, Tapping is similar to acupuncture. Like Tapping, acupuncture achieves healing through stimulating the body’s meridians and energy flow. However, unlike Tapping, acupuncture involves needles! “No needles” is one of the advantages of Tapping.

Tapping is simple and painless. It can be learned by anyone. And you can apply it to yourself, whenever you want, wherever you are. It’s less expensive and less time-consuming. It can be used with specific emotional intent towards your unique life challenges and experiences. Most importantly, it gives you the power to heal yourself, putting control over your destiny back into your own hands.

Because of this, thousands of people have used Tapping for illnesses and to resolve emotional problems. Tapping practitioners have studied the techniques and trained to take on more complicated and difficult cases, and these dedicated practitioners report more successful applications daily. More and more people are discovering and exploring Tapping. Many are discovering how Tapping can change their lives.

In conclusion

In addition to these primary tools research is being done using Art therapy, Yoga, Hypnosis, Neurolinguistic Programming, Group therapy and movement. I have explored most of these, with moderate success, so I tend to stick with the ones listed above.

[1] A cautionary note:  Any trauma technique should be facilitated by a trained therapist.  Self-processing is Not recommended.

[2]VA » Health Care » PTSD: National Center for PTSD » Treatment » Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD



[5] A full description of the theory, sequence of treatment, and research on protocols and active mechanisms can be found in F. Shapiro (2018) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:  Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd edition) New York: Guilford Press. 


[7] The one exception to this is trauma.  I strongly recommend that the client find a trained and experienced therapist to do trauma work.

Creating a life worth living.

Beyond Stress  —

Contentment is your birthright.  What’s more, its within your reach at any moment and at every moment.  The key to contentment is a simple concept, but can require a lifetime of practice.  The concept — Radical Acceptance….“It is What it is.”

Say What? 

Life can be divided into 4 elements:  People, Places, Things and Me.

What can I change?  Only Me.   Regarding all the people, places and things in my life that impact me negatively I do have choices.

I can change: 
My Perceptions:  how I think about it
My Reactions:  how I respond to it

If I cannot change my perceptions and I cannot change my reactions, I still have one choice.  I can change my Location.   Sometimes the only way to manage our happiness is to leave a toxic situation, person or environment.  It is not about judging them, just that they are not compatible with my happiness.  We remind ourselves that we cannot change another person.  If fact, trying to change someone often makes them defend themselves and dig in their heels. 

Radical means all the way, complete and total.  Radical Acceptance does not mean approval, passivity or tolerating abuse.  It is about recognizing “What is.”  And not what we wanted it to be.  It’s the first sign of wisdom, realizing that we are not in charge of reality. (It is what it is)

Rejecting reality or arguing with reality does not work. 
            “You can argue with reality and you will only lose 100% of the time.    Byron Katie.

Pain cannot be avoided.  It serves a valuable purpose, signaling that something is wrong. 

Fighting reality turns pain into suffering.  “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Acceptance often leads first to sadness, and is often followed by deep calmness.

Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger sadness, shame or other painful emotions.

Often the path out of hell is through misery.  We often must grieve that what we wanted, realizing that we are not in charge of what will actually happen. 
The tasks of grieving[1] include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Arguing with “What Is” means the ego is stuck on what it wants, rather than what is actually happening. 

How do you make God laugh?  Make a plan.

If you ask a cat to bark and the cat doesn’t bark, who has the problem?

What if everything you have experienced was essential to get you here; here where you are ready to change?

What if the universe is designed to help you along the path, giving you not what you think you want, but what you need?  
    (tip of the hat to Mick Jagger)

How would you be if every wrong thing from your past was actually necessary?  If the only problem was your thinking, that “it shouldn’t have happened to me.”

Okay!  I hear you screaming at me.  “You are crazy.  I should never have lost my legs,” or “My …. should never have raped, abused, violated, beat me!”  I understand.  If you can listen for just a moment, I want to talk specifically to you.

I am not justifying some abuser from your past.  However, is your anger, shame, guilt or pain doing anything to that person?  Are they suffering because of your emotions about what they did?  I doubt it.  Your emotions are not hurting them, but they are killing you!

There is a quotation from Zen; “Anger is grabbing a hot coal to throw at your enemy.”  Who gets burnt?  Not your enemy.  If you have traumas from the past that continue to influence or control your experiences today, go back to the section on PTSD.  There are specific tools to help you let go.  Then come back here and continue. 

You’re back?  Okay then.  Let’s start with a metaphor.  You’re playing poker.  5 card draw.  You have been getting crappy hands and most of your money is gone.  You’ve noticed that the dealer is only shuffling once before dealing the cards.  And, what’s worse; she isn’t cutting the deck before dealing.  You begin to tell yourself “that’s why I’m losing.  If she had been shuffling correctly; if she had been cutting the deck each time, I wouldn’t be down so much money.  I might even be winning. 

Looking at this current hand you, once again, have nothing.  Low cards, all four suits, nothing paired.  “It’s that darn dealer!”  Then you tell yourself, “And the room is too warm.  I’m sweating and that’s breaking my concentration.  If the room was warmer, I’d probably be winning. 

So, you run through your story.  all the reasons why you are losing.  And you look back at your cards and, low and behold, they are the same, crappy cards.  All the whining and what ifs haven’t changed the cards.

The message:  You have to play the hand you are dealt.  All the complaining in the world won’t change that hand.  You can’t play the hand of the person on your left.  You can’t play the hand of the person on the right.  You are stuck with this hand. 

Playing the hand you’re dealt.  That is Radical Acceptance. 

Radical Acceptance is the final step on the Path to Serenity.  It becomes the filter through which you view the universe.  Imagine, for a moment, that everything in this universe, in every universe, in all of creation, is moving forward perfectly.  That each and every leaf that falls, child that cries, and every star that burns out, is happening according to plan.  What we are left with is the realization that our limited understanding of any event fails to comprehend the vast plan that each event fits into.

We see a forest fire as sad, or horrific, and later realize that forest fires serve a valuable purpose to the forest and clear the way for new growth.  I went through a difficult divorce, suffering and praying that it wouldn’t happen.  Looking back I can see the reasons why it happened and even the value that came out of that pain.  My life today would be dramatically different should those events not have happened.  So, instead of regret, I look back with gratitude at the path that brought me to this place. 

Now, imagine every event in your life as serving a purpose that you can’t fathom.  Our limited, time-based consciousness does not have the ability to understand what the long-term consequences of most events in our lives.  What we are left with is Faith.  Faith and Trust that every moment serves a purpose, has a meaning that we can’t comprehend.  That is Radical Acceptance.  That is the end of suffering.  Pain continues, but suffering ends.

Is this easy.  Heck no!  is it life changing?  It was for me.  One of the most t powerful tools that helped me with Radical Acceptance was Byron Katie’s, 4 Questions.  I did her workshop, and then committed to 28 days of daily practice for an hour.  By the end of that month I had integrated it into my life. Now I can honestly say that I now longer have bad days. 

How can that be?  What I discovered is that, when I have a bad moment it is because I am believing some thought.  When I challenge the thought I realize that it isn’t true, and the emotion dissipates.  Wow!

My father was not an emotionally available man. The main emotion I remember from him is anger. As I got older I tried to connect with him, open up honestly. But to no avail. So I was hurt and mad at him. I went further, to take it personally. “If he loved me he would….” As I learned about Radical Acceptance I came to understand him. What if he had never learned how to express emotions? What if his own childhood taught him it was dangerous to open to emotions of himself or to the emotions of others? This is empathetic connection. Then I went one step further, from a question I learned from Byron Katie.

If you ask a cat to bark and it doesn’t bark; Who’s got the problem?

I was asking my dad to do something he didn’t know how to do. He probably got frustrated and embarrassed that he didn’t understand; perhaps angry that he was at a loss to understand me. I was asking the cat to bark. Duh! What I came to understand was that I was the problem; that I wasn’t accepting my dad as who he was, but rather, asking for something he couldn’t give and then getting upset because he didn’t give it.

Another tool I use often is the Release and Heal technique listed above.  I turn the thought over to my Unconscious Mind and trust it to resolve and release any residual emotions or thoughts.

[1] See “On Death and Dying” by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.  She defined these “stages” of grief, and later explained that they are not concrete, progressive or sequential steps.  Rather they are elements we will experience in our processing of loss.