Sunday, October 5, 2008

Emotions Follow Behavior

I was in the shower, where I do my best thinking, earlier today, thinking back on a session I had with a client last week. She wants me to "Fix her".  If only it were that easy. Actually, she is a very intelligent young woman and knows it is not that easy.
I was reminded of a book I read as an undergrad in a General Semantics class, by S.I. Hayakawa. I really ate up that book, I recall, but the one thing I will never forget is how Hayakawa talks about emotions following actions. I thought about this a great deal at the time and over the years. I really think he was right. Of course, he was talking about behaviorism, which I was not a huge fan of at the time, but I really grew to understand the different situations in which it can be useful.

For example, my client wants to stop being so passive aggressive with the people, mostly men, in her life. She applies this even to her boss. While I do believe we need to understand what underlies this issue, I also think that she needs to try new behaviors now. The ones she is employing, well, aren't working for her. Do it differently, try something new and see what happens. See how you feel.I explain to her. As you might expect, we are working hard of family of origin issues and other things that are popping up. But I just find that knocking your head against the same brick wall, just isn't helpful. It makes you feel the same way and perpetuates feelings. I think Hayakawa really was insightful. 

A little example out of my own life:
My birthday was in August.
I am my father's only daughter. Longer story here, but he has me, my brother and a son he had with another woman he eventually married. Yup, he got trapped, but I digress. But you must be used to that by now!
Anyway, I use his office to see clients, which is an important fact later.
My birthday rolls around and I get a voicemail.

"Hi Laura, it's Dad. I was just writing in a patient's chart and I wrote the date and realized it was your birthday. Happy Birthday."

Ok, not sure what he said after that as it was such a slap in the face. Come on, I am your only daughter! You can't bother to remember? If you can't be bothered, do   you really need to mention the fact that the only reason you remembered was that you were writing in a chart? You big jerk!
I have three kids and I would never forget their birthdays.
To top it off, when I told him just one week later that it was my middle boy's bday he said, "Oh, that's nice."
No, Happy Birthday, no nothing. He doesn't even speak to my older brother or contact his kids.

So his birthday was the following month. I spent some time planning my payback. I sat and thought of all the ways to hurt him back. I even thought the topper on his bday cake could be that my youngest boy thinks he is his uncle! We live two blocks away and my son does not know him. How very sad is that. Then I cleared my head and realized I had allowed myself to sink as low as he is.I would not want to feel like he does nor would I want to perpetuate the way I feel. I really can't help how he feels or who he is. I have no control over that. So I decided to purchase a card and sign it from all of us- myself, my husband and my boys. My sons refused to sign it. They all said he does not call them or remember their birthdays so they have no desire to sign this card. I respected that. 
I went to work that night, the night before his birthday and left it on his chair. 
The next day, I called and and lied a bit, saying the boys and I wished him a happy bday. 
Truly, had I said anything else I would have felt awful. I am glad I did what I did. It felt clean and made me feel like a better person.

I don't know why I told this story, other than, I think it does illustrate how behavior effects emotions. I think we can make positive change by doing what we know is right or just doing something differently in some cases. Sometimes it might take several tries as it might take steps to get there.

A former supervisor tells a story about a woman learning assertiveness. She was a huge  push over. One day someone at work asks to borrow her stapler and she cusses him out. That is a little but extreme... is different and I am sure she felt a

I've just been thinking is all....


Tawnya said...

I know all about beating your head against the same wall... I did it for years in the men that I chose, much like your client, however, I realized that I had to change something and I went for a guy that was total opposite what I normally chose. Not sure how it will work out or if it will, but the change feels great! Lets me know that I can change if I want to...

Yasmin said...

Hi Laura thanks for your comment on my journal.
Could you please send me your full link as the one I had is for someone



you are so the right when someone wrongs you...they don't understand..and you feel great....

Michelle said...

OMg - are we related lol.

I have to remind my father yearly when my kids and my bd is - it is every other day starting March 19th to the 23rd. And he still doesn't call! My brother has to remind him.

And for years my kids thought my dad was my uncle Tony - lol - it was sad really - but they would call him this because even though they lived close- they rarely saw him.

Life's too short to stay bitter - they surearen't going to change lol

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

So glad that you decided to avoid the payback :o)