BLACK ICE AND BANANA PEELS: Getting A Grip On Your Mind - Chapter 5 Excerpts

If I can't run away at least I can make you scared, too

Our mind continually misses the boat. It can’t be in the present because it has to rely on our senses to first receive the information. Then it has to filter out the parts that don’t fit its preexisting model, process it, figure out who’s right and wrong, good and bad, decide what problem has to be solved to control the situation and, only then, can it come up with some response or strategy, which will also miss the boat since the strategy is usually a repetition of some previous behavior done to ward off a perceived threat, which no longer exists though our mind is convinced it does. Sound convoluted or confusing? Yes, much of what we do, especially in relationships, is often inexplicable to ourselves and nonsensical or humorous to others.

In order for our mind to search for a suitable response, it reviews what has worked before. Time travel is not science fiction. We do it all the time. Our mind is the vehicle we use. Whenever our mind perceives a threat, it takes us back in time to what we did when we originally felt that threat and then responds in a very similar way. It does this out of programming and habit. Our mind, out of fear, simply reaches for the quickest way to defend itself and maintain some, hoped for, control of the situation. And the quickest response is going to be something that it’s already used. It doesn’t matter to our mind that this response doesn’t work that well anymore or that the situation is different or that the people are different. Unfortunately, with this kind of time travel, we rarely recognize what has happened. We’re simply operating as if we’re one or three or seven or whatever age the original strategy developed.

Strategies are a device that our mind uses, a preconceived solution to a problem of human interaction that our mind has identified. For example, if you yell at me, and that makes me afraid that I’ve done something wrong, I may tell you how bad or guilty or ashamed I feel in the hope that you’ll stop being mad at me and we won’t have to talk about it any more. That’s a strategy. I did it in the past. It worked at least once, or I thought it did. It sort of still works, due to my mind’s denial of what’s really going on, so I’m going to keep on using it because it’s quick and easy and I don’t have to feel or think or take responsibility. A strategy is a responsibility avoidance mechanism.

We have all felt the righteous indignation of victimhood at one time or another. Just think of anything in your life that you perceived as unfair and, at the same time, felt powerless to change. A relationship that should have ended but didn’t, a relationship you didn’t want to end but did, a traffic ticket, not being selected for a promotion, an achievement or hard work not recognized by others, having a chronic illness, not getting something that someone else got, in fact, just about anytime we feel stuck or powerless, our mind will identify us as the victim. Our basic feeling of unfairness comes directly from being a little child in a world of big people who have all the power and who do what they believe is best for us, even when we think and feel otherwise. The feeling of unfairness often increases as we get older and usually is most pronounced in adolescence, when we think we’re now old enough to make our own decisions but are still subject to the rules of others. That incredibly frustrating feeling of unfairness leads us right into victimhood. Once there, the only salve we can find for our wounds and pain is that sense of being special. Special restores some control to a situation that appears otherwise uncontrollable.

We have also felt the sacrificial empowerment of martyrdom at some point in our lives. Waiting to make sure everyone else get theirs, intentionally losing so someone else can win, not stating your desires and preferences, giving in instead of standing firm, taking the blame for something you didn’t do, holding out hope long beyond any possibility of success, are all examples of how we generate a sense of martyrdom. The common thread in being a martyr is putting yourself last. Yet this tricky way of being last ends up putting yourself first! You get to be special through your sacrifice. Your mind will tell you that, no matter what else is going on, you’re still a good person because of the way you take care of others. How do you feel about people you know who use this strategy? If you’re not too fond of it, you may want to look at finding another way for yourself.

There are many different strategies: Pick a time to talk about an emotional topic when you know the other person is tired or distracted. Exaggerate the importance of the topic. Use words like “always” and “never,” even though you know they’re not true. Come up with current or old complaints of your own in response to someone else’s. Insist that this thing be resolved, now, or the relationship is at risk. Pull rank by using education, age, money, experience or other factors to communicate your superiority. Dominate by refusing to listen. Use labels like childish, insecure or overly sensitive to distract from the topic at hand. Tell the other person that you know the real reasons for their behavior or their real feelings. Predict a negative future to undermine the need to work things out. Use sarcasm. Say you don’t remember what happened. Leave or threaten to leave. Give ultimatums. Reject compromise. Blame. Personalize what’s going on to keep the other person on the defensive. Keep them off balance by changing your position. Use any combination of these. Make up your own. If there’s a simple recipe for control, it would be to mix in a heap of judgment, a dollop of meaning, a handful of misperception and bake yourself up some tasty strategies.