These are particularly unsettled times. Depending on our desire and ability to self-reflect, we are likely to either progress or regress. We see mounting anecdotal evidence that our skills in this regard are evaporating rather than developing. We know this by observing our behavioral responses to the way life works today. We observe a marked increase in defensiveness, a compulsion, even eagerness, to be offended and over react to events which may or may not give offense. Hair trigger tempers shut down reasoning and thoughtful processing. This is the age of new descriptions for uncontrolled anger responses. Hear terms like “road rage,” “going postal” or “flame mail” spoken and we automatically know someone is either unreasonably angry or homicidally irrational. Our media both lead and follow this phenomenon. Media promote hot conflict (as opposed to rational discourse) and sell their emotional byproducts to willing mass audiences. (Callers to angry talk shows don’t send invoices for their services – as product components – to the businesses who exploit their anger for ratings and profit. Perhaps they should. But such a behavior would reflect mature reasoning.)
Snap reactions, black and white thinking and angry reactions are symptoms of a deeper decline. We are reluctant, or even afraid, to do the work of understanding ourselves; to learn about our own immature reasoning processes which are susceptible to emotional hijacking. Deep personal introspection processes scare us. They look painful. We recoil from the hard, lifelong work of changing our emotional posture to align more clearly with our rational selves. It’s easier to be angry at something, anything or someone. We use this method of directing anger outward to avoid knowing and confronting the whole truth about ourselves. We’ve gotten pretty good at victimhood.
The Energy Management Model (see below) can be a model for commencing an understanding of and developing skills for what should be lifelong work for each of us—the work of deepening understanding of our emotional makeup and how it aligns or misaligns with our rational selves.
The model encourages its practitioner to regularly deepen his or her awareness of self. This is accomplished by creating and regularly referencing a personal historical record, stretching back to childhood, wherein we map the origins, sources and triggers of and for the anxieties which hijack us.
When this mapping clarifies how our families of origin molded us, for better and worse, knowledge becomes power. The clarity of why we become paralyzed, at the very moments we should be calm and non-anxious, arm us for future moments when holding our fears in check will serve our better purposes. The vulnerability required to practice self-discovery leads to new strength and is the basis for creating a healing presence.
At the top of our list of exercises for this work is working with a challenge group.
The challenge desired from this group is consistently thoughtful mirroring. Its members must be people who share your desire for developing their own emotional maturity. They could be friends with whom you have fun and yet, easily move into serious dialogue about the world and its problems. They should be supremely curious people—inquisitive and discerning. They must be skilled in dialogue, meaning they are capable of asking penetrating questions designed to deepen introspection. (It is said that Sakichi Toyoda, when building his successful auto production facilities, disciplined himself to ask “5 why’s” before he could get to the real bottom of any business issue.)
Carefully consider the construct of this group. The work you do here may be more important than anything you do subsequently with the group. Start by considering emotionally mature friends and mentors. Ask them to serve and to supply names of others who might qualify. Networking to build this group can be vital. Vet your prospects with intuition and discernment. Choose members who share your dedication to become non-anxious leaders in their lives.
Above all, members of this group must themselves be committed to working through their own anxieties. They, like you, must accept that most anxiety driven behavior is displacement; a method for ignoring the truths about self by changing the subject. You might call this challenge group The Displacement Police.
Ironically, the greatest value from working with your challenge group will accrue not when its members give you feedback, but when they see themselves more authentically.
This group may not necessarily meet with you regularly for dinner (although that would be nice), given the likely diverse geographic locations its members occupy. You might talk with them separately by phone, email or Skype, sometimes individually or in smaller groups.
Use dialogue in your group to speak what you see and hear what you say aloud.
Use the Energy Management Model to guide the outline of your times together.
· Self-care: Your challenge group self-aware work will equip you with new processes designed to strengthen your maturing rational behaviors in response to moments of challenge and crisis. You have begun to learn about origins, sources and triggers for your emotional responses to paralysis moments, when rational responses would serve you better. Role play real scenarios with your challenge group. Review those moments when emotional triangles were formed and how you maintained (or should have maintained) the outside position.
· Self-dare: Now you begin to act with greater courage, in the face if heightened resistance – even sabotage – to your non-anxious presence, in times of stress and crisis. Note these moments – they are stories of your growth – and tell them to members of your group.
· Self-aware: Use members in your group to help you understand the origins of your authentic self. Go back to childhood. Tell your stories. As you talk, learn (again) about how your parents reacted to crisis and chaos. Recall how, when you were young, your family organized itself around challenges. What went well and not so well? Understand how you carried these reactions and behaviors forward into adulthood and how they serve you both well and badly. Ask members of your group for their insights reactions. Listen to these offerings with care, resisting the need to reply, particularly with defensiveness.