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Posts Tagged ‘healthy relationships’

… and, (if you haven’t read part I, jump to it now) real relationships require dials across time.

This same principle applies to emotional responses.  Maybe you are the “worst case scenario” type – you jump all the way to the extremely unlikely but possible options? Avoid the switch and seek to examine for more likely but less intense options.

It is ok to deal with the realities rather than attempt to borrow troubles that are essentially guaranteed to not exist. A doctor friend of mine likes to remind his patients that “it is probably horses.”

He makes the point that if we hear hoof beats outside, it could be zebras (they have hooves) but probably, it is horses. Sometimes when someone has a symptom that could be an allergy headache or a brain tumor, it is most likely an allergy headache… horses.

Could it be zebras? Well, technically, yes… but pretty darned unlikely.

When it comes to worry, keep the gauge dialed down as low as the common denominators allow.

I would encourage anyone to seek to develop the skill of measured emotional responses. In the past, this character trait was called “temperance.”

Temperance means to be the governor of your emotions rather than governed by them.   We have the capacity to affect the intensity of our emotions with our minds and hearts. Learning to understand our emotions maturely is fundamental. Then learning the way to talk to ourselves in emotionally rational terms…

These are us using the dial mentality. Rather than feeling sudden and extreme frustration or rage or utter despair or completely overwhelmed, we can feel annoyed or angry or discouraged or just stymied a little instead.

You can find some more tools about emotions here and there will always be more coming here.

So, do your best to develop the patterns and skills of engaging with dials. Avoid “switch” thinking. Feel a little more or a little less – not everything or nothing. Let your relationships grow a little or fade a little… pull back a little, step up some more.

There are no perfect relationships with humans. Don’t demand them to be perfect. Get better and better and cranking the volume dial up or down a few notches. There are better things than off or on all the way.

Showers are better integrating the hot and cold a little up or a little down. Take that skill and apply it to your relationships and emotions.

Note – I am not staying that anyone who has the switch mentality rather than the dial mentality has a personality disorder, of course.

However, the reason that I talked about personality disorders at the beginning of the article is so that you can understand the dysfunctional nature of the habit to engage with off and on only thinking when it comes to feelings and relationships.

Learn to make incremental changes in emotions and in relationships. Both will become more valuable and healthy aspects of your life.

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Switches or Dials

In the psychological world, there is an area of diagnosis called “personality disorders.” These include Narcissism, Borderline, Avoidant, Dependent, Paranoid, etc. There are 10 of three types (clusters).

The American Psychiatric Association describes Personality disorders as “ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”

The pattern includes at least two of these:

  • Way of thinking about oneself and others
  • Way of responding emotionally
  • Way of relating to other people
  • Way of controlling one’s behavior

I have done extensive work and writing on one of them, Narcissism. And, each year when I do training for future ministers, I teach about Borderline. Hopefully, I will be able to write about that material soon, as well.

There is something I dislike about Psychological diagnosis – and that is the false impression of diagnosis speaking identity into people.   At most, any diagnosis is a descriptor, not an identifier… and really all that a diagnosis is, is a shorthand for internal communication.

Medical professionals and insurance companies out there, please refrain from defining, cursing, or incarcerating someone with a diagnosis – psychological or otherwise.

Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, poses near the Wankel T. rex, in Fort Peck, Mont., in June 1990. Researchers estimate the dinosaur weighed between 6 and 7 tons.

Imagine a group of Paleontologists who get tired of saying “Hey, I found another one of those really big dinosaurs with big teeth, little front legs, really big hind legs…” So, they gave that dinosaur a name: T-Rex.

In the same way, mental health professionals got tired of saying “I saw another client today with a poor sense of identity and a sever fixation on abandonment and extreme emotional and relational responses…” and they gave that combination of traits a name: Borderline Personality Disorder.

Anyway, that was my two cents about diagnosis. They are nothing more than useful shorthand.  No extra charge.

Many of us – heck, maybe all of us – have some traits from the lists. The most severe problems come when a single person has multiple of the traits. That is what a personality disorder is.

Pretty much every personality disorder shares a tendency that I think is worth all of us examining in our own lives.

Do we have dials or switches when it comes to our own emotional responses? What about in our relationships?

If you are all-in with a friendship until that person disappoints you, and then you are all out, you are engaging with a switch, not a dial. A switch is either off or on. A dial can be turned up or down incrementally.

If a family member hurts me, I can draw a slightly tighter boundary around the relationship… or I can just cut that person off and stop speaking to them. Dial. Switch.

Dials are generally healthier.

When I hire a new employee, certain that they are the perfect person for the job, I can get behind them, be excited about them… the switch fully in the “on” position. 100% positive.

What happens when it turns out they aren’t the perfect person for the job (because there is no such thing)? A person with a dial mentality can continue to support them at 90% or 70% positive.   A person with a switch mentality is done.

Apply that to friendships and marriage.

I once read that we all marry an ideal person, but turn out to be married to a real person. In the end, we have divorce the ideal and stay married to the real, or we divorce the real and keep searching for the ideal.

But, there is more to come: part II

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