In April Change Matters presented a talk called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ at the 8 o’clock Club. One of the concepts we unpacked to the audience was how can we change a behaviour that has become so entrenched in our lives that we do it without thinking – we just reacte and Voila there we go again!
The kind of behaviour we were referring to are habitual reactions to unacceptable or intolerable situations you find yourself in on a regular basis in your relationship with others such as the following examples:
- You shout and scream to get your way when your partner, children or work colleagues are doing something that you don’t like or want
- You nag, whinge or whine to get what you want
- When someone has hurt your feelings or done something that you find unacceptable you withdraw, maybe sulk and give them the silent treatment
- You take over a task from someone in midstream who is either doing it too slow for your liking, not doing it the way you think it should be done or is about to or has made a mistake
- You do everything yourself because you believe you are the only person that can do it right and then complain how tired and stressed out you are so that people feel guilty.
At Change Matters we say that these habitual reactions started somewhere – usually when you were young and that the first time you did this you got away with it.
An example that comes to mind is the kid in the supermarket with Mom. She just wants to get the basic groceries and get out. You on the other hand are probably tired or bored. You spy the sweets, the chocolates, the ice-cream section or the latest toy. Suddenly being stuck in the supermarket with your Mom doesn’t seem such a bad idea as long as she rewards you for your presence. You point out what this reward can be. She is distracted. She is in a hurry. She only has X amount of money. She doesn’t want to give you what you want because… She says no or she just ignores you.
You feel thwarted. You feel frustrated. You feel hard-done-by. You start to plead and eventually you raise your voice and begin kicking and screaming. Your Mother is horrified. Who is this monster? What will people think of her? How can she continue getting what is on her list in peace?
She then gives you what you want and so you now know that when you want something all you have to do is to behave in this manner. Yelling and screaming works!
You begin to use this behaviour whenever you are ignored or not getting your wants met and more importantly you buy into the belief that this is how to behave. It becomes a habit, a pattern, a reaction you use without thinking to feed your desire of having your own way.
Now you are an adult. Your partner does something you do not like or doesn’t do what you want. So you repeat this habitual behaviour pattern. Except this time your partner does not react like your Mother did – he or she stands their ground or threatens to leave.
The pattern doesn’t work anymore. Nevertheless, because this pattern has become such a devoted habit for you and you haven’t explored or tried a different way to get what you want you feel devastated when this happens. Your whole world is falling apart and you experience a sense of disbelief. How is this happening to me?
This makes you feel very anxious, confused and vulnerable. When this happens we get scared. We can’t think clearly so we reacte. We continue to lash out because we are frightened. We enter into a vicious cycle of our own making and our relationships become unmanageable until we do something different.
At Change Matters we take our clients through a process where they unpack their old belief and value systems and old patterns of acting out. We help them to see how this old behaviour feeds into their anxiety or sense of entitlement and how it perpetuates their relationships with themselves and others to remain unmanageable.
When clients get to the point where they have to do something different we introduce The Monkey Concept.
There is a lovely story about how to catch a monkey using an open jar and peanuts. The monkey jumps down onto the ground and puts his hand into the jar, grabs the peanuts but is unable to get his fist out of the jar unless he learns to open his hand
The only way to stop being a captured monkey with your fist in the jar is to let go of the peanuts. Those peanuts are your entrenched patterns of behaviour.
What you need to do is be like the monkey who is living free in the trees. They are the ones who eat the fruit and leaves grown in their natural habitat. They might be attracted to the open jar and the peanuts but they have learnt that this is a trap
The process of adopting of a new habit is like an action of metaphorically avoiding the quick fix of the peanuts, getting off the ground, going back to swinging through the trees, of letting go and grabbing onto a different vine to get you where you want to be – to the source of natural, nourishing food obtained by your own efforts of delaying gratification.
So, we might ask you to make a conscious choice to delay your need for instant gratification, self soothing or self justification by holding off on your old habit and do exactly the opposite of what you normally do in the situation when you find that your wants/desires are not about to be met or fed.
Victor Frankl said that the only thing we have that cannot be taken from us is personal choice over how we behave in any given situation.
So the challenge is – are you ready to let go and to grab something different other than peanuts? The choice is yours. You can either be a captured frustrated monkey or one that is free.
What do frozen grapes and toes have in common? Usually absolutely nothing, nevertheless a magical musician called Michael Franks once wrote a song called ‘Popsicle Toes’. It was a love song that travelled down his lover’s body using the imagery of traversing from the top of North America down to the icy regions of Tierra del Fuega in the southern most tip of that continent. He equated this region with her toes. His song was slightly risqué in those days. It hinted and evoked.
Recently Change Matters attended two celebrations. The first was a luncheon party in honour of friendship. At the end of this delicious meal a fruit salad was presented with an accompaniment of a separate bowl of frozen grapes (you will remember that this was the recipe; we like to take our own advice).
What Change Matters found interesting was that this dish actually split the party into two camps – those who were prepared to try something new immediately and those who were cautious and had to be gently encouraged to take a risk.
What we mean by taking a risk is trying out something new, exposing yourself to being different, getting out of your comfort zone, being out of your box, extending yourself or not taking yourself too seriously.
The second celebration was a ‘Toe Entanglement Tea Party’ and you might add – ‘what the bleep is that?’ Well it’s a tea party to celebrate the engagement of two dear friends but the twist was that you had to come with your toenails painted; otherwise you wouldn’t get in the front door.
Apart from the mountains of homemade scones, cream and jam there was a prize offered to the best set of painted toes. What Change Matters found interesting as they eavesdropped on some conversations was that there were actually some young guests who didn’t attend because they were not prepared to risk exposing their toes for the sake of art, fun and the opportunity to receive a prize. Admittedly these non-risk takers were teenagers but what was sad is that they not only missed out on a beautiful day but also being part of a celebration of love and friendship because they would have to expose something of themselves in a different way.
Risking exposure in whatever form it takes is a challenge. As one enters into a process of self-discovery and healing there are many risks involved. Risking exposure makes one feel vulnerable. It challenges how we see ourselves or how we like to present ourselves to others.
The image we hold onto of who we think we are is one of the most difficult challenges we face when our lives present us with a ‘curve-ball’ or an opportunity to take a risk.
Who we think we are is often a role we play in life such as a dutiful daughter of a family unit, a loyal friend within our social circle, a high powered business executive at work, an aspiring artist in our world of play and a sufferer of low self esteem in our private inner world.
When one of these roles is not in sync with or impacts on another role we find ourselves playing we are unable to function effectively and our ability to confidently take the risk of exposure is impeded. Often the role within our private inner world is the one that upsets the apple cart. It is this role that we so often fear being exposed.
It is this role that needs to be healed albeit a sufferer/victim, a rescuer or a persecutor before we can move forward or through our lives by risking to take the opportunities available for us.
At Change Matters for those who are struggling to identify who they are and return to a space where they feel comfortable within their own skin we offer a mapping exercise. This tool helps to identify all the roles we play in the different areas of our lives. It also assists in revealing how these roles are played out and what happens when there is a clash.
We undertake this exercise to assist us to increase our awareness that the roles we play, the defence mechanisms or protective measures we use in situations that make us feel uncomfortable such as not risking exposure are not actually who we are. In a sense they are the outer garments that house our Authentic Self.
Once we can recognise this we have a choice to explore further and to get to know the real you – The You that is joyous, at peace, creative and fun, the one that risking exposure is no longer an issue but an expression of Authentic Self.