On occasion, I will be posting thought related to our Journeys to find a life well lived on Psychology Today.
Recently, a CEO client of my coaching practice shared with me a long-lasting, deeply challenging relationship issue that he was having with an important colleague and friend in his organization. He shared how angry he was with the situation and the person. It had been going on for years, and there seemed to be no end in sight. More recently, the person who is his challenge shared some of his latest negative feelings with the CEO, and this sent my client into a “tailspin.” Almost all of his comments were about the other person noting things that he had done, or said, all of which seemed unfair, one-sided, and insensitive to the CEO’s feelings and needs.
Making a difficult situation all about the other person often is the default mode we take as we are very motivated to preserve our ego at the expense of others. While this seems logical to the ego, it usually does not yield the result we are after—that is, solving the issues, preserving the relationship, and growing our ability to live life in a positive, healthy, and resilient fashion.
Research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychological Association in a study by Barbara L. Fredrickson indicates that “ego-resiliency” is highly correlated with positive emotionality across numerous studies. Our ability to navigate challenges in relating decision-making or differences of opinion is strongly related to our internal state—that is, as the title of this post suggests, “looking inside ourselves” versus only and always looking outside to attribute blame and seeking to change the other person, not ourselves.
When would you benefit from slowing down to look inside yourself in a challenging situation? Experience and common wisdom inform us that when we first have an uncomfortable feeling about a situation or person, that is a time to slow down our outer critique and perhaps look inside for perspective. Slowing down means not sending that email or not making that angry, rehearsed phone call. It means getting quiet, perhaps journaling about the situation from both your side and the other person’s side. Another idea might be to talk with another person who can be objective with you and help you to be personally responsible as well in this situation.
The next question might be, “Where do we look?” for this ego resiliency and positive perspective. The answer is in the inner landscape of our inner self. You might ask, “Where is that?”; “What is it?”; and “How do I access it?” It is available to you if you summon it with an open heart and mind and leave your ego at the entrance to this area of your inner self. We do this by asking questions of ourself, digging deeply into the feelings that are being surfaced by the situation, to begin to translate what the inner voices of your reactive mind are whispering in your ear to keep your ego on track.
Usually, when we go to this place, we can access feelings that are very common feelings in our inner landscape that are ultimately related to our core image and issues from many significant personal building experiences and lessons of our life, many of which are from early years of our lives in relating to significant others. In the example of the CEO, when I coached him through this situation, he realized that his antagonist represented a core issue in himself that was related to his need to be perfect and control situations and decisions. This was learned as a coping mechanism to keep his ego intact and to feel safe. He was being triggered by this person, and his most reactive tendencies were taking the seat in the first row of this short play.
Why do we benefit from looking inside? We benefit from looking inside because only the symptoms are represented by the outside world and our relationships. Without looking on the inside, we are firmly entrenched in a doom loop that will keep getting the same result. By looking inside at ourselves, we can transform our relationships and transform our ability to solve problems at a higher and more creative level.
One of the ways to think about this dynamic is to consider the many various stimuli that come across our life screen over the course of any day or week. Some of these stimuli threaten our ego and our resilience because they tap into this inner core challenge that we have set up in our lives. When we can put a space or pause between that stimulus and our response patterning, we can choose different ways of reacting that are more based on our values and take into account more of the other person’s point of view and also understand the triggers that are being activated in our own bodies.
The following triangle is helpful in understanding the different forces at play in any given situation and how we can navigate them more effectively.
At the very top of the triangle, we can put the actions that we take; we might even call them habits if we take those same actions most of the time. Just below that top line, we might write the word “thoughts,” which actually are a representation of how we see the situation, and how we see the situation is based on our own unique perspective or paradigm, which is not necessarily accurate, but as seen through a prism that has been carefully constructed over the years and experiences of our lives. At the last level, at the very foundation of the triangle, we might put the word “tendencies” or these psychological beliefs or core issues that are operating in our particular lives. These represent the unique manner in which we have chosen to keep our ego intact and the day-to-day occurrences of our life.
Looking inside of ourselves to help to solve problems allows us to better understand our own personal responsibility for the issues that are being presented to us. It allows us to be more objective about the other person, to have more compassion for them and more empathy for their situation. In doing this, we raise the probability that we can maintain a positive point of view and achieve a level of resiliency.
The next time that you experience a challenging situation and have feelings that come up that seemed to be anger or frustration, take a pause, look inside, and ask yourself some of the questions that I asked in this post. Hopefully, as you do that, you’ll gain a greater perspective on the situation yourself and the other person and will make better choices about how to solve the problems and how to improve the relationship between you and this other person in your life.