Friday, July 4, 2014

Living PowerLife's Hold or Fold

Bow out and move on or remain and work for improvement? Cut my loss or invest more in the outcome? Will I rue the day I walked away? Will I lament the moment I decided to stay?

Relationships require hard work and consistent care. They either can fill our lives with love and inspiration or be the distractions that keep us from maturing. In this post, learn how stay/leave thoughts, fueling emotions, and value doubts come together to form Living PowerLife’s Hold or Fold method for developing healthier relationships and gaining new personal insight.

My childhood is full of fond memories from the Saturday mornings my father and I spent together cultivating our lawn. Just about every weekend we would till, plant, water, and weed the small patch of land around our home in Detroit. This was our ‘together time’ and I loved it. To this day, one of my favorite hobbies is tilling the earth and growing plants for beauty and nourishment. Working to build and maintain positive relationships with people is similar to growing a garden. We nurture them with our time and energy. We understand them as reflections of who we are.

Relationships: Mirrors for Our Psyche 
All of our relationships reveal the feelings, needs, expectations, and wants that shape our lives and inform our decisions. This is why consistent evaluation of the relationships that we have is an important exercise for gaining personal insight. See Living PowerLife II: Friends or Lovers for more. Each relationship has the capacity to be either a source of beauty and support or distraction and pain in our lives. Knowing which is which, along with having the tools to respond effectively, is the difference between knowing flowers from weeds and having the ability to nurture the garden that we want. 

Stay/Leave Thoughts 
Stay/leave thoughts are the first indication that there are problems in a relationship. As adults, many of us have had vague questions about the value of staying with a person or group. Maybe we wondered whether to remain friends or lovers with someone. Or, we spent sleepless nights weighing the pros and cons of leaving a community. In the presence of stay/leave thoughts, we can use our power to respond in two different ways. We either can consciously consider the thoughts and allow the feelings beneath to surface or dismiss the thoughts and avoid the feelings altogether. As has become the Living PowerLife custom, we will look at a few real-life examples for illustration.

Years ago while I was distracted by a dysfunctional relationship, I had stay/leave thoughts. In retrospect, I can see that I consistently responded by ignoring them. Today, a response that I regretted for years highlights an important lesson; when having stay/leave thoughts, pay attention. Perhaps if I had known then that my stay/leave thoughts meant I was in trouble, rather than a needless worrier, I would not have been so consistent in dismissing them. On the same token, if I had understood the importance of the feelings beneath, I would have gained the insight needed for my growth sooner rather than later. 

Fueling Emotions 
The fuel for stay/leave thoughts is emotion or feelings. Think of fueling emotions as the momentum for progressing from vague stay/leave thoughts to specific questions to evaluate a relationship. They are how we move from stay/leave thoughts to value doubts. When we identify our fueling emotions and use them to make connections to past and present experiences, we learn about the places where we are emotionally stymied. In addition, we learn more about what causes us to stay or leave. There are several main fueling emotions.

Sometimes we are afraid and want to run away. This feeling should be explored first; real danger in the form of abuse could be present. If this is the case, get help. Go to ‘related links’ at the end of this post to get started. Other fueling emotions are feeling trapped, helpless, disappointed, sad, or angry. We may feel trapped in a relationship or helpless to find a way to improve. These feelings can be an indication that we are holding on to a relationship that should be released because we are afraid of the unknown. We may feel angry or sad because we are disappointed. These feelings reflect that we are stuck trying to resolve past mistakes or hurts. We recreate relationships that represent past conflicts in hopes that we will find a resolution. We become disappointed, sad, or angry when this method ultimately fails. 

Value Doubts 
Value doubts are how we assess the benefits and detriments of remaining with a group or person. Value doubts are also an effective means for developing deeper personal insight. This means that they have the capacity to improve our lives on both the interpersonal and personal levels. There are two main incentives for value doubts. Determining incentive is where we gain knowledge about how past experiences shape present decisions. The two possible incentives are avoidance and self-preservation. Avoidance means that we want to evade addressing behavior that is inhibiting growth. Self-preservation means that deep down in our ‘gut’ we know something in the relationship threatens our health and well-being.

In every relationship, there is an exchange. We spend our time, give attention, and invest emotions in relationships that either yield positive or negative results primarily. A relationship can enhance our life, threaten our well-being, or serve as a distraction. Examining the quality of, along with our reasons for cultivating, a relationship leads to consciously building a network of support while we become free from efforts to redo the past. When using value doubts remember the history of the relationship. Look for ongoing successes or struggles and decide if there is an overall theme. In addition, consider the personal changes the relationship has engendered. 

Determining Incentive: Avoidance or Self-preservation 
We have a need for value doubts because something is either missing or present in a relationship. Either we have a need that is not being met or an aspect of the relationship represents something we want to avoid. Often we recognize needs far easier than the things we want to avoid. Being sexually aroused, for instance, is easier to recognize than understanding the connection between anonymous sex and loneliness. This means that when evaluating relationships and determining incentive, expect to be able to identify some aspects more easily than others. For instance, recognizing a need for more hugs from someone might be easier than understanding what intimacy means to us in the context of personal history. 

Ever wondered about the reasoning behind remaining in a relationship long after time to leave? Or, recognized ‘red flags’ in retrospect? This could mean that we were na├»ve at the time and had lessons to learn. More often, we started or stayed in an incompatible relationship because we wanted to avoid the work of personal growth. Here is a real-life example:

In the earlier example we see the importance of paying attention when we have stay/leave thoughts. This relationship is also a good illustration for understanding the ways in which what we want to avoid affects our ability to make good decisions. One of the reasons why I stayed in the dysfunctional relationship mentioned above was an unacknowledged fear of being alone. At that time in my life, I avoided being alone at all cost. Indeed, one of my greatest fears was being alone in the world. Because I believed the relationship represented always having someone in my life, I refused to recognize my stay/leave thoughts and the feelings beneath them. Consequently, I avoided exploring the incentive for my value doubts. The longer I avoided this process, the longer it took me to understand why I was willing to keep people in my life regardless of how I was treated. 

Incentive Questions: Avoidance 
These questions reveal whether the incentive for your value doubts is avoidance. The goal here is to determine whether answers can be communicated through brief concrete sentences that are not emotionally based. When the answers cannot be written in short concise sentences, this indicates that in incentive is avoidance. Descriptive words such as ‘disrespectful’ or ‘confrontational’ indicate that the answers are emotionally generated which means the incentive is avoidance. For instance writing, ‘Luke treated me dishonestly’ or ‘Cindy was disrespectful’ reflects how we feel about the behavior of Luke and Cindy rather than anything they actually did. In addition, the statements need to be explained further, thereby they require more than a few short sentences. 

When I am with this person/group do I feel: 
  •  Afraid? Sad? Angry? Disappointed?  
  • Do I feel internal pressure to behave or speak in particular ways? 
  •  If so, what am I pressed to say or do? 
  •  Does this relationship remind me of others that I have/had?  
  • If similar relationship is from the past, how did it end? 
  •  If similar relationship is current, am I having stay/leave thoughts?  
  • Can I write (in short, concise sentences) the reasons why I am afraid, sad, angry, or disappointed?’
These questions have the fact that they focus on personal feelings and memories. Through considering and answering each, we obtain our first indication for the quality of a relationship as well as insight into possible feelings we are seeking to avoid facing. Your answers will be the starting point for the difficult work of connecting past experiences with the effects of present decisions. The following is a real-life illustration: 

Recently, I used Living PowerLife’s Hold or Fold method to determine the incentive for my value doubts regarding a small group to which I belonged. My stay/leave thoughts came after I experienced consistent and inappropriately hostile behavior mainly from 2 members in the group. Their behavior revealed that they both were living with a deep level of anger and denial. Considering the fueling emotions for my stay/leave thoughts revealed that I was very sad and somewhat afraid. When I tried to answer the avoidance questions in short concise sentences, I could not. My incentive was avoidance. 

Self-preservation as an incentive for value doubts means that our gut is warning us that something is wrong. Perhaps we have noticed the inconsistency and confusion that reveal the presence of dishonesty. Maybe destructive behavior is part of the dynamics of the relationship. The goal here is to understand that, while we may not know all of the particulars, something is harmful about the relationship. A very simple real-life example illustrates this: 
In Living PowerLife III: Ready. Set. Date! I mention using the information there to determine whether to continue to date a particular person. The process for this revealed that the person and I were incompatible which is how I came to the decision very early to end the dating relationship. 

Incentive Questions: Self-preservation 
Answers such as, ‘Luke lied to me while giving eye to eye contact’ or ‘Cindy sat across from me and yelled that I was not worth the trouble I was causing’ are examples of brief, concrete responses. These statements are emotionally charged but they are not emotionally generated. They reflect that the relationship should either end or change drastically. I have found this discovery far less complicated because the questions revolve around compatibility and safety rather than internal emotions. 
When I am with this person/group… 
  • Communication means we take time to both talk and listen. 
  • Our major values or standards  are compatible.
  •  Misunderstandings can be addressed together. 
  • There is honesty between us. 
  • The level of commitment demonstrated is comparable.

These questions have the facts that they are externally focused and have more than one person involved in common. Your answers will be the foundation from which you decide whether to continue, change, or end a relationship. 

From Me to You 
Understand that you’re in the middle of this relationship and your thinking may be clouded. In addition, if sex is involved your thinking and feelings may be even more difficult to clarify. Be patient and if you’re not sure what to do, take a break and give yourself time and space to think. If you have a trustworthy person in your life, talk to that person but only if this is comfortable for you both. Don’t make decisions that you will have to live with based on what another says, but do take what they think into consideration. 

If you are in a relationship, co-worker, boss, or family member for example, that requires you to stay for a while include a strategy for making the changes that you need without causing unnecessary hardships. While this type of change is never easy, try to make choices that reflect a balance between complete disregard for another’s feelings and being paralyzed by the fear of doing harm. Once you decide what to do, make sure that you can write down your reasons. Keep your written reasons where you can revisit them throughout the process.

Also, keep in mind that realizing it’s time to move on doesn’t equal defeat or failure. Deciding to remain isn’t a reflection of your weakness. Instead, making a conscious decision that is grounded in self-reflection and the result of personal growth reveals that you have the courage to face your fears and take steps to become free. As you move to better your life, resist feeling guilty. When you accept your responsibility in the relationship seriously and acknowledge the times when your behavior caused another pain or discomfort, guilt becomes what it is--a useless mental exercise that only has negative effects. 

Finally, as always, don’t hesitate to seek help if your feelings or thoughts become overwhelming. And remember, I’m just a confidential email away.

From my PowerLife to yours,

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