Category Archives: Love

What Does It Mean To “Fight Fairly”?

When we think of conflict, do we think of fighting and arguing? Some of us do. Sometimes we do. Do we think of yelling? Some of us do and sometimes we do. It really depends on who we are, how we handle conflict, and with whom we are having our conflict.

In sound conflict resolution methods, we approach the conflict as an opportunity for learning, growth, resolution, and perhaps even a more positive outcome. However, we know this works best when both or all parties are using sound conflict resolution methods. If both or all parties are NOT using sound conflict resolution methods, it is very easy for the one or ones who are trying to use them to become “de-skilled”.

This is also true of learning and developing EI and NVC (non-violent communication). If we are the only person in the situation or conflict using and trying to integrate our study into real life, it is very easy to become de-skilled. NVC groups often offer practice groups because practice is necessary to be ready to use these skills in real life.

They ARE skills, and they are also muscles that most of us have never or rarely used. It makes an awful lot of sense to practice with others who are also studying, learning, growing, and practicing so that we are all speaking the same language and can provide informed and helpful support to each other as we practice, make mistakes, make progress, and improve.

It is said that the more one practices NVC, the easier it gets. This is great news and not always true of the multi-faceted development of EI skills and learning and practicing of sound conflict resolution skills.

When we talk about fighting fairly, we are talking about the golden rule: doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us.

We are talking about being honest, not omitting information even if it makes our “adversary” look good or ourselves look less than great. It means saying things like, “well, to be fair, it is true….” That’s it, BEING FAIR.

It means being intellectually honest. It means not fudging facts or details. It means admitting when you’ve made a mistake or an incorrect assumption. It means getting out of any emotional grooves you may be stuck in (see my previous post about being stuck in emotional grooves), and it means telling the truth.

It means NOT playing television (or real-life) lawyer and spinning the facts in your favor. It means telling the real truth, the real whole truth, and the real nothing but the truth. That is fair fighting.

It also means expecting the very same from others that you would allow of yourself behaviorally. This is huge. This is about having behavioral standards. If you are allowed to have a bad day, then so are others. If you are allowed to become de-skilled but then catch yourself and do better, then you must allow others these same imperfections and treat them as learning moments with graciousness. If you are allowed to totally blow it with your communication skills for an extended period of time, then so are others.

If you are allowed to slip and yell but then calm yourself down, then you must also allow others this same imperfection. If you are allowed to slip and curse, then you must allow others this same imperfection and learning moment.

This is very much about trust, fairness, and mutuality.

You cannot very well go around saying that it is not acceptable for others to curse but it is acceptable for you to curse. You cannot go around and say it is not acceptable for others to yell, but it is okay for your to yell. You cannot go around and say it is not okay for others to get worked up and have a hard time calming down if you yourself do or have done this same thing.

If anything, you now share even more in common and can choose to use these moments as mutual learning opportunities so you can share greater understanding, empathy, shared-reality, and compassion.

There have been lists written about “fighting fairly” and sometimes these lists include well-intended suggestions such as:
No yelling
No raising any other issue
No name-calling
No walking away

And many of these can be very useful and very good suggestions in certain situations.

However, there are times when it is okay and even necessary to say “I really want to connect with you, and I really want to continue this conversation with you but right now I am afraid of what I might say; I need to cool down and take a break. I can talk to you about this in a couple of hours. How about 4pm?”

The very important message here is not just that it’s okay to do this, but that you are not completely walking away. You are STILL committed to connecting, having the discussion, and resolving the conflict. If you think this is a free pass to get out of the discussion entirely, you are mistaken; as that is the complete opposite of connecting and resolving and is a statement on the value you place on the relationship.

When someone tries to get out of the discussion entirely and does not want to continue it, they are no longer participating in the relationship. This is simply not acceptable within important personal relationships. For work relationships, it is also not acceptable; however, whoever has the greatest authority (unless there is a conflict resolution policy), will call the shots on this kind of issue in the workplace.

So, if you are having a conflict with someone, AND WE ALL WILL–SINCE CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE, it is best for us all to:

1. Learn as much as we can about Emotional Intelligence and our own personal development of our own EI.
2. Learn as much as we can about sound conflict resolution methods and find others who are learning these same methods and practice.
3. Learn as much as we can about NVC (non-violent communication) and find a practice group in which we can practice, grow, and learn.

Why do athletes practice? Why do we practice public-speaking? Why do we ask children to practice learning the ABC’s?

Because that is how we learn. With the ABC’s it is using an easy-to-remember song.

With athletes, it’s learning to respond to any number of situations using the skills, muscle, endurance, memory, and clear head needed to succeed.

With public-speaking, it’s about knowing one’s topic, being prepared for questions, and knowing our speech well enough that we’re not just reading it.

With conflict, we are using EMOTIONAL and INTELLECTUAL MUSCLES that many of us have never ever used. It’s alot like trying to wiggle your ears or roll your tongue when these are new things for you. You may be looking for and trying to physically feel a muscle you’ve never used before, and it may be hard to even find the muscle to begin with. In moments of frustration, you may ask yourself if you’re even capable of this and if you even have this muscle!

Once we find the muscle, once we know what it is to give and receive empathy, once we know what it is to approach someone else’s anger with curiosity and not a blast of anger or defensiveness back at them, we begin to develop incredibly powerful and useful muscles that become easier and easier to use each time we need them.

Once we find others with whom to practice, we’ve found a safe community of others to become better and better at this with.

Ideally, we’d have everyone on earth learning and practicing EI, NVC, and sound conflict resolution skills. Someday, I believe we will. Imagine a world in which all schools, houses of worship, workplaces, athletic teams, families and other groups regularly practice and then use in real-life conflicts all of the excellent skills in these disciplines!

What a world!

Fighting fairly means allowing others to be as imperfect as you allow yourself to be in your processing of, responses to, and expressions of feelings. It is also a commitment to addressing all feelings, needs, and issues. Many times a fight will include overlapping issues, and that is okay. Fair-fighting also means a commitment to always working to doing better and always connecting and resolving when the relationship matters.

Fair-fighting also means having as much awareness as possible about how we have tended to handle conflict in our past and making a commitment to never using methods of coercive control, power-over others, or any other behavior that is found on the Power and Control Wheel that is used by professionals who research and work with issues of relationship violence.

Relationship violence is not just physical; how we handle conflict can easily become violent and unhealthy if either partner responds with behaviors that meet the definition of coercive control, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, or emotional blackmail. These behaviors are not limited to conflicts that occur between romantic heterosexual partners; these abusive behaviors can occur between homosexual partners, between family members, between friends, in the workplace, on sports teams, in houses of worship, or within any group or people that numbers two or more.

Please keep reading as I explore how issues of unhealthy and abusive issues of power and control can affect us in every area of our lives – UNLESS – we choose to consciously recognize them, name them, address them, disconnect from persons who behave in these ways, and do everything we ourselves can do to ensure that we conduct a fair self-examination and get whatever training, therapy, education, and practice we can to ensure that we do not engage in these behaviors and consciously choose to replace old dysfunctional behaviors with new healthier behaviors such as NVC, emotional intelligence skills, and sound conflict resolution skills.



Layers and Layers and Layers of Emotional Intelligence ~ It Seems to be Everywhere!

Having just returned from the third International Emotional Intelligence Conference (IEIC), I am inspired, amazed, and feeling very sanguine.

My flight was delayed more than seven times, my gate for my flight was changed three times, I was charged $15 by American Airlines just to check my normal-weight bag, my flight finally took off five hours after it was originally scheduled to, and my luggage was lost.

Unlike the very understandable response from Ben Stiller’s character in a “Meet the Parents” clip shown at the conference by David Caruso, Phd, I managed to remain calm, happy, and enormously appreciative of the truly inspiring scholars, researchers, practitioners, coaches, trainers, and consultants who presented at the IEIC.

There is enormous hope for the world, I think. I’m sure there will be moments when I don’t feel or think this way, but for now, I do.

William Blair, the Chief of the Toronto Police gave a keynote speech that brought tears to my eyes, a lump in my throat, a more palpable heartbeat, and goosebumps on my skin. Chief Blair has transformed his entire police force into a learning organization that encourages the development of emotional intelligence, embraces diversity, and is an open system that flexes, changes and learns as necessary.

Heather Anderson is doing compelling work with CEOs and other business leaders, convincing them of the critical importance of Emotional Intelligence and how their own EI directly impacts every aspect of their businesses.

Annahid Dashtgard and Shakil Choudhury from Anima Leadership have some important national partners in Canada; The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Crown Corporation with a mandate to fight racism, and the Canadian Policy Research Networks, a National think tank with a specialty in public policy development through deliberative dialogue processes. Shakil and Annahid’s presentation was powerful, inspiring, contemplative, and transformative. Their work is exceedingly important and valuable. And I now understand why Shakil said that as they do this work, he feels more hopeful about the world.

Mark Skalski, PhD from England, gave a brilliant and stimulating talk on how change is difficult for humans, why that is, and yet how vitally important it is in the workplace to make the business case for the development of EI, for the budgeting towards improving EI in serious way, and ultimately for the bottom line of business.

The IEIC is a conference that I wish happened regularly so I could take everyone I know both personally and professionally to experience at least parts of it.

Change is hard. People – WE – can be resistant. But we can also bring awareness to ourselves, we can ask what we want to be different and better, we can explore what is in our power to adjust, change and improve. We can make changes. We can define what our gold medal is.

Some trainers asked about winning. Do you want to win? We have to understand that “winning:” is different things to different people. What is winning to you?

We also had the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. When an exhibit draws you into it so deeply that you imagine yourself as a part of history tens of thousands of years ago, you’re in a zone of contentment and learning, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

When you see how far we’ve come from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls until now, you realize just how much change, growth, and development are possible. Skalski points out that with more options, we get more stress, which we need to be aware of and manage.

I’m typing this on a computer while I have a gorgeous view of Manhattan. I can see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Tomorrow night, I’ll be able to see the July 4th Macy’s fireworks over the Hudson River.

I have all the food and drink I need, and am taking a break from writing a book. My dreams are coming true. We have so much to be grateful for.

Where is evidence of emotional intelligence in your life? In yourself? In your family? in your workplace? Among your neighbors and friends? I am very grateful for those around me who work on self-development. And for those who don’t, I am grateful for my own self-development to help me deal with those challenging moments, situations, and people I encounter.

I still don’t have my luggage. I am optimistic (though grounded in reality-testing – Thank you Dick Thompson!) that I will get it back. And if I don’t, I will survive.

There are those moments, days, situations, and people who challenge us to bring awareness and regulation to our emotional responses. There always will be those. The practice is never-ending.

There will be those leaders who don’t want to hear Henry L Thompson’s brilliant message on “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” and who don’t want to understand how it is they wound up there. There will be those business leaders who are too frightened or ashamed to acknowledge that they’ve mishandled something important. They will keep it a secret. They will view all those around them who try to do things differently than them as their enemy.

Employees who are hard-working, innovative, creative, ethical, but who aren’t “yes-men” or “yes-women” will either grow bored and leave or they might even get fired for not being “yes-people”. Leaders who fail will exclude quality staff from meetings, decisions, and processes because they don’t want to share power, to share success or to share failure – they don’t want to share learning. They may continue to make quite bad decisions and not even be aware if they are violating the law or creating more and more serious problems for themselves because they only want to be surrounded with those who agree with them – or – because they will only accept disagreement and critical thinking from a select few. Catastrophic Leadership Failure can be a downward spiral. Those who don’t want to allow others into an in-group that for whatever reason needs an out-group wind up cutting themselves off from valuable resources in their own midst–on their own team. But leaders who fail do not see those who think critically of their decisions as team-members but only as enemies and threats. Perhaps someday they will be willing to examine why that is and make different and better choices. We can only hope.

There will be those business leaders who refuse to share organizational power and consider that the skills, knowledge, and abilities of someone else on their staff may actually be exactly what they need in order to handle something well. There will be those business leaders who keep glass ceilings and walls firmly in place as they remain unaware of or unable to acknowledge their overwhelming shame or disgust or anger or threat of allowing appropriate others truly INTO processes, C-Suites, decision-making meetings, and other critical operations. Becoming overwhelmed by primal brain, as Skalski puts it, is how this happens and is something EI development can explore, examine, and prevent.

Inclusion and Exclusion are hugely significant in every aspect of the operation of an organization and are also very related to emotional regulation. Most leaders will say they are not racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, or otherwise bigoted, however, a closer look at exclusion and inclusion can show otherwise. There is hope for those who are willing to regularly look honestly at their practices, at who they exclude, at who they include and to honestly ask and answer the question: WHY? Once there is awareness, a rational cost/benefit analysis can be done and better choices can be made that will not create liability exposure, fraud, civil rights violations, retaliation claims, unlawful privacy invasions, and a lack of integrity in chosen actions – all symptoms of leadership failure with great consequences financially, publicity-wise, and operationally.

It is about willingness. It is not about ability. It is about either being willing or refusing. EI is now proven to be a hard skill. It is far from a “soft skill” or a fun work-shoppy diversion from work. Development of EI IS the work in every moment, in every decision, in every interaction or non-interaction. It is the work in performance evaluation. Rater-bias is a huge problem in organizations whose leaders are in a downward spiral of failure and who are not bringing critical awareness their decisions with the knowledge that all decisions are driven by EMOTIONS. Emotions – an extremely important part of the workplace. There is now agreement that not only do emotions belong at work but they are THERE whether we like it or not. Every decision is made using emotion whether we realize this or not.

I am personally fascinated by workplace systems in which only certain people are allowed to express certain emotions or allowed to express them in certain ways. Why is this? Have you seen this? Where have you seen it and who was or wasnt’ allowed to express anger? What happened if someone who wasn’t allowed to express anger did so? Why do you think some organizational systems try to limit who can and cannot express anger?

Skalski talks about expressing anger as being related to POWER. This is why. It is an issue or organizational power. What happens when those who aren’t supposed to express anger or aren’t supposed to express it overtly do so? What is the response of those who try to make rules about who can and cannot have or express emotions in the workplace? How many of you have actually seen a performance evaluation that instructs a person to only express positive emotions?

How is employee A thought of and how is employee B thought of? And why? What is the criteria? What are the standards? Are there conflicts of interest? Are there ethical issues to be addressed? What are the emotions that are affecting these performance evaluations and why?

Steve Stein, Phd. announced that MHS will soon have a measurement instrument for testing INTEGRITY! How exciting is that? Should the Dow Jones require leadership Integrity test scores to be on the CNN and MSNBC crawls? Shall we require the public integrity test scores for our elected and public officials?

I am still feeling extremely joyful and with a cup that runneth over with inspiration, knowledge, teaching, hope, tools, research, and incredible passion for and commitment to the developing field of EI. Mark Skalski taught that joy is elusive and is only in existence when fear, anger, sadness and disgust are NOT present. I guess I’m in one of those rare moments!

Given how life is, it is only a matter of time before I am confronted with my own or someone else’s fear, anger, sadness, or disgust, and when that moment comes, I will dig deeply into my EI skills and find that self-awareness, practicing the skills, exercising these brain muscles, and hoping I do my best.

What a privilege to be part of a self-reflective community that values integrity, scholarship, solid research, and an impressive spirit of generosity of ideas and learning.

“Let us all do something today to make someone else’s life better “(-Bob Anderson)


Respecting Our Own Needs AND the Needs of Others

We all have needs. I think we can agree on that. In NVC – Non-Violent Communication – we learn how to be aware of what our needs are and we also learn to be aware of all the feelings we have as a result of our needs. In studying Emotional Intelligence, we also strive to have greater self-awareness and to express our feelings and needs and wants in ways that are fair for ourselves as well as for others. In learning sound conflict resolution methods, we also learn the difference between needs and wants.

One of the most wonderful aspects of NVC – Non-Violent Communication – is that we say that we want everyone to get their needs met. We want to get our needs met, but not at the expense of anyone else’s needs. And, we expect and hope for the same strategy from others, though we realistically know that there are people in the world who, for various reasons, only care about their own needs and even get those met at the expense of others’ needs.

NVC TOOLS For Men and Women:
Please click on the letters “NVC” (below) to learn more about how NVC can help us all:


View more presentations from UCSC.

NVC Feelings List:

NVC Needs List:

A very simple example of this is here:

Imagine there is a disaster and two people are trapped in an elevator. They’ve been told they will not be rescued for 3 days. One of them has a fresh meal he just got from a nearby deli as well as a bottle of water. The other person has no food or drink on him. What are some possible outcomes?

One outcome is that the person who has the water and food says he will share it with the other person.
Another outcome is that the person with the water and food says he doesn’t care about the other guy’s needs and he eats all the food and drinks all the water himself.
Another outcome is that the person without food negotiates or trades with the other person to get some of the food.
Another outcome is they fight each other for all of the food.
Another outcome is they agree to flip a coin to see who gets all of the food or which parts of the food.

There are probably many other possible outcomes to this situation.

The bottom line is that we all have needs – and there are many ways to get them met and many ways in which we respond to our own and others’ needs.

I had a great party to celebrate my non-fiction book contract with McGraw Hill. Many of my closest friends were there. It was a wonderful night. One of my closest friends, Vicki, was unable to attend because she had an emergency – a flood in her apartment. She kept saying how sorry she was that she was missing my book party because she knows how important this book is to me. She also sent a beautiful Edible Arrangements fruit basket that was also delicious. When we emailed each other the next day, she was still apologizing to me that she couldn’t go. I told her that I completely understood her need to be home and attend to her flood. I knew she was there in spirit, and it was okay.

I would not want anyone I care about or love to deny their own crucial need to meet my own less crucial need or want. We must respect each others’ needs.

A few years ago, my sister scheduled her wedding for a date during a time period when she knew I would still be recovering from a major surgery I was planning to have during that time. The surgery required a 2-month healing process and had been planned for a day as of yet to be determined within the first two weeks of January. It was planned and approved by my two bosses, with my surgeon, with my parents who agreed to care for me during the post-operative period, and also with a federal judge, who was presiding over a federal medicaid fraud trial in which I was the whistleblower and main witness; there would be a subpoena for me to be present at the entire trial. The judge had been changing the trial date every few months based on requests from both sides in the case for about two years at that point, so I had to let him know through my lawyers that there would be a two-month period during which I would be unable to attend a trial.

I would up changing my surgery date when my sister set her wedding date as I was Maid of Honor, and I didn’t want to miss her wedding. Because I changed my surgery date, that meant I was now free for my 40th birthday and could plan a trip with my then-boyfriend. We planned a trip to Mexico. I had to squeeze this trip into a very crowded schedule, in between required work trainings, legal obligations having to do with the federal lawsuit, many doctors’ appointments, and work events. My trip was set! I was excited about my upcoming surgery and hoped it would solve a chronic health problem, I was excited about my 40th birthday trip, and I was excited about my sister’s wedding.

Then, my mother scheduled my sister’s bridal shower for the day after my 40th birthday and told me that they would be using my birthday as the excuse to get her to the restaurant and surprise her. I said it was fine with me if they used that excuse to get here there, but that I would not be able to attend, as I would be in Mexico.

Instead of understanding my need to make the many obligations in my very busy life work and work well – my mother went ballistic. She could have said what her feelings were about the fact that I couldn’t go, realized that she had forgotten to check with me to see if i was available, and just accepted the situation. But that is not what she did.

She yelled at me and told me I was a bad sister and a bad Maid of Honor. She told me I was selfish and self-centered. She yelled at me and hung up on me. Before she hung up on me, I very consciously used my calmest voice and reminded her that she knew my life was very complicated and that she had not checked with me.

Each time I tried to reason with her, she had an even larger emotional response. She could only focus on her own needs and she refused to consider that I also had needs. She also was so overwhelmed by her own needs that she frankly didn’t care about my needs.

I would say, “Mom, you didn’t check with me; how can you be angry at me that I’m not available’. And her response would be “But I thought you’d be there”. Or, her response would be, “But I thought you were happy for your sister”. I was happy for my sister, but that didn’t mean I did not also have my own needs and a very complicated life.

What she was really saying was that she thought I would be there NO MATTER WHAT. Meaning, no matter what else I had scheduled in my own life AND NO MATTER WHAT MY NEEDS WERE.

She of course denied that she meant those things, but that is what she meant. Her actions and words proved it.

I would say, “Why are you angry with me? You can be angry at yourself for not remembering to check with me and you can be angry at the situation, but it is not reasonable for you to be angry at me”. She knew she was angry, but she was unable to examine her anger and understand who or what she was angry at. Many times it’s easier for someone to be angry with someone else than with themselves. That was certainly the case in this situation.

There is yet another layer to this. My mother would insist that she was not angry at all. She was so unaware of her feelings that she refused to acknowledge that she was even angry even though she yelled and screamed at me on the phone, told me I was selfish, slammed the phone down several times on me when I tried to discuss this with her, and then proceeded to not invite me to one family holiday or gathering for 3 years straight (as of today). She and my sisters and my father also stopped telling me family news such as when my sisters became pregnant, when they had babies, when my aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer, when my cousin was in a nearby off-broadway show, and various other things.

They also chose to ignore events in my life – such as when I became very ill and was hospitalized and home from work for six weeks, when I got my first book contract with a major publisher, when I had very difficult work stress, when I slipped at work and broke my elbow, when I met my new boyfriend, and my entire second whistleblower lawsuit which was a dramatic four weeks in court. This, apparently, is their idea of “punishment” for my inability to attend a bridal shower. They actually believe that I deserve to be cut out of the family for having had my own needs and for having missed a bridal shower.

I would say, “Please explain to me why you remain angry about this”. And at one point she said “It’s a generational thing”. Meaning, that people of her generation believed that I should be willing and able to cancel anything I already had planned or needed to do in my life so that I could attend a bridal shower that nobody checked my availability for.

I said, “Don’t I get any credit for having moved my major surgery so my recovery would not interfere with the wedding date? Isn’t that the important day? I’m going to miss a bridal shower. A bridal shower. This is not a tragedy. Terminal illness is a tragedy. People killed by drunk drivers are tragedies. World hunger and starvation are tragedies. Missing a bridal shower is not a tragedy”. My mother said, “I just thought you would be there”. She was unable to get past this thought and feeling. She was unable to allow new information into her mind. She was stuck like a needle in the scratch of a record. She was unable to feel anything else besides anger and disappointment (which she wrongly displaced onto me instead of placing on herself) because she was unable to allow new information into her mind. She was unable to feel anything else because she was unable to be concerned with my needs and was only able to be concerned with her needs.

The word “able” in the two sentences above is one I am not completely comfortable using. Should the word be “willing” instead? I will not say I know for sure. Was my mother unable or unwilling to think and feel anything else? What do you think?

She also wrote to one of my best friends who is a licensed clinical social worker and insisted to me that this friend told me what she wrote to her. However, this friend did not tell me what she wrote to her, except for one sentence. My friend told me that my mother wrote to her and said “I am a good mother”. This was very telling. Apparently, my mother believed that my inability to attend the bridal shower somehow reflected on her goodness as a mother – OR – that she believed that she was such a good mother that I somehow “owed” her this because she wanted it. It’s hard to know, because my mother is unwilling to discuss any of it.

Sometimes in families, the group dynamics are such that someone is scapegoated as a way for the family system to respond to and deal with stress. This is what happened here. My father and other sister both insisted to me that I had to change my vacation. They wanted to know if I had purchased my tickets yet. They wanted to know why I couldn’t just reschedule it. The answer was no; I had an impossibly full schedule – the only other time I could go was the date of the wedding itself. As it turned out, I slipped at work and broke my elbow two days before I was supposed to leave for my birthday trip. I wound up working from home for three weeks because it was very icy and slippery outside and I could not slip again.

My father angrily asked me “If you didn’t go on your trip, why couldn’t you go to the bridal shower?’ He wasn’t really asking me the question which his words asked; he was really saying “I’m still angry at you that you didn’t attend the bridal shower and I think you could have because you didn’t go to Mexico!” When I told him I was under doctor’s orders to not go out on the ice because I could not slip again, he very quietly said, “oh”.

Again, he and they had no regard for my needs. They only knew that they wanted me at the bridal shower and that was it. That was the only acceptable outcome for them. My father also angrily told me that I should tell the judge to “shove it”. Nice. I told him that people do not tell federal judges to “shove it” unless they want serious consequences. I explained to him that I had a legal obligation. My father insisted that my family obligation came first above anything else.

Again, this is a very interesting layer to this whole conflict and to the subject of Needs. My father – and my mother and two sisters – actually believed they had a right to determine for me what my priorities were, which needs were more important than others in my life, and – in essence – to impose their will upon me, regardless of my needs, wants, obligations, health, job, lawsuit, etc.

This is an extreme form of unhealthy control – and their response with cutting me out of the picture as my “consequences” and “punishment” is very telling. Do these people love me? They probably think they do. Do they understand what healthy love is? No. Do they love in a healthy manner? No. What they did is what Susan Forward describes in her books Emotional Blackmail and Toxic Parents..

When I told my father that his response was emotionally unhealthy, instead of wanting to learn what that meant or learn how to have healthier emotional responses to the situation or to learn how I was being hurt in the situation, he angrily said “Then, I’m emotionally unhealthy!” He dug his feet into the ground and would not budge.

When I mailed my mother and sister Virginia Satir’s wonderful book, Peoplemaking, they refused to read it. Virginia Satir’s books are amazing tools for healthy parenting and improving families. I also sent my two sisters and my parents a very good small book on Catholic Conflict Resolution, which they all refused to read. They are not “unable” to read; they were UNWILLING to read these. They were unwilling to read, they were unwilling to learn, and they were unwilling to resolve the conflict.

When someone does not want to resolve a conflict, there is a tragedy and there is not much you can do about it. This was extremely disturbing to me. I even wrote to the pastor of their catholic church in Hicksville, NY, Father Mannion at Holy Family Church, and implored him to speak to my family, since I believed they would listen to him. He never responded to my letters or my phone calls even though I mailed him a detailed description of the conflict and a copy of the catholic conflict resolution book. His bio on the archdiocese homepage says he has a graduate degree in social work and that his goal at Holy Family is to bring people together. As far as I’m concerned, he is a failure as a priest, as a professional and as someone who claims to have a social work degree. He had an opportunity to mediate a severe conflict and he chose to do absolutely nothing.

The scapegoating took the form of projecting all of the anxiety and tension about planning a large wedding in 4 months (which is going to be stressful) onto me. All of the frustration and anger was pointed at me. Because I could not attend a bridal shower that nobody asked me if I was available for when they knew my schedule was extremely demanding and complicated.

Again, I reminded them that I had a very complicated schedule, that I had already moved my surgery for the wedding date, that I had work obligations, that I had legal obligations, and that I had obligations to myself that related to my own health.

Instead of hearing this and understanding it, they became angrier. They echoed my mother’s angry judgments of me that I was selfish, self-centered, a bad sister, and a bad Maid of Honor. They also embellished these with pronouncements that I was jealous and that I was trying to sabotage my sister’s wedding. My sisters even went so far as to say that my surgery was never actually scheduled for a date, therefore I did not move it. It didn’t matter that I pointed out to them that no surgery is scheduled four months in advance but that it was as planned as it could be with everyone in my life who mattered and depended on me: my two bosses, my parents who agreed to care for me afterwards, my surgeon, my surgeon’s office, the hospital, my then-boyfriend, and the federal judge and my many lawyers. However, this did not matter to them because they were too angry to see straight, to allow information to affect their feelings, or to acknowledge that they were insisting that their own needs were the most important thing in this conflict and that my needs were not important at all. My mother referred to my surgery as “facial surgery” as though it was some needless cosmetic procedure when in fact it was a necessary surgery that was hoped to cure my severe sleep apnea, which is a very serious condition which I’ve had for decades and which worsens over time.

My mother said “this is an elective procedure”. I reminded her that I had very stressful work situation and needed to do this NOW for my health and because I was not sure how much longer I would have this job and this health insurance. She didn’t care so much about that. She and they kept looking for arguments that would somehow prove their position that I should be at this bridal shower no matter what – regardless of what my needs were. None of them heard my needs. None of them seemed interested in my needs at all. If you have ever been in this position, you know how very painful it is to realize that people who are your family, to whom you have given greatly, do not care one iota about your needs; you exist for them in this situation only to fulfill their needs and nothing else matters to them. It is extremely painful and disturbing.

I reminded them that I had been minding my own business when these bridal shower plans were made by people other than me. I had been simply living my life, planning a surgery around a busy work schedule a federal trial. None of this mattered to them. When I asked my mother why my recovery time had not been worked around, she said it was because the groom wanted to be married as soon as possible.

Again, this is another very odd prioritization. In a healthier family, a statement would have been made by my sister or my mother that Denise was recovering during this period and so the wedding should be after that. In a healthier family, there would be scapgegoating. In a healthier family, it would not be an issue at all that I could not attend a bridal shower. There would be no “consequences” or cutting off. But there was here.

Why? Because they were completely focused on their needs and had zero regard for my needs. Why does this happen? How can this possibly happen? How can people who are family members and claim they love each other refuse to acknowledge and respect another’s needs?

Clearly, there was a conflict and a disagreement about what was a need and what wasn’t. When do people – family or not – believe they are entitled to define for someone else what their needs are and how serious those needs are? When do people believe they are entitled to tell someone else their own needs are more important than that other person’s needs are?

What happens when, as in family situations, many people gang up on one person and all agree that the one person’s needs do not matter, are not real, or do are not as important as the needs of the group?

Why do people try to control each other in these ways? There is nothing healthy about this. This is most certainly about power and control. Though, it is also very much about gender issues in the current US. Specifically, it is about gender issues within a specific culture that still exists on Long Island, NY and probably in other parts of the US. It is actually very similar to the control and abuse of power one finds in destructive cults. Healthy families do not respond to a family member in this way, but destructive cults do.

If I had been a man and had the same issue, it probably would not have erupted into the intense conflict that it became. Men are not really expected to attend bridal showers. If I had been married and my husband and I had already planned a trip somewhere or my husband had surgery planned and I had to care for him, I’m guessing that this intense conflict would not have erupted. It would have been acceptable for me to have to need to care for my husband. But it was not acceptable for me to have to care for myself – for my own need to take a vacation before my vacation time would expire at work and during a time when I could fit it into a very complicated schedule.

If I had a child and could not attend because my child was sick or had some other obligation, that need would have been accepted and respected.

But, I am a single woman with no children and my own personal needs were not considered important enough to count for anything. I was expected to change my plans again, even though I had already changed them.

Another piece of this is cultural – a very antiquated and no longer healthy or useful mindset that the most important thing is the bride during the time preceding the wedding planning. Nothing else matters; the idea is that anything related to this upcoming wedding and this bride’s desires trumps anything else – including – apparently – major surgery and federal lawsuits.

We see this all over the world as the root cause of conflicts large and small. Whether the conflict is over food, water, healthcare, equal rights, voting rights, race, ethnicity, color, religion, land, land use rights, what is considered acceptable or unacceptable – etc. – we see cultural issues and issues of identity intensifying conflicts in several ways:

1. When people confuse their wants with their needs. Nobody was going to die if I didn’t attend the bridal shower. It was a want; not a need. But it was reacted to as though it was a need. It was reacted to as though a tragedy would occur if I didn’t attend the bridal shower, i.e. if I didn’t do what they wanted me to do and essentially insisted that I do. The result was that I was severely punished by this group, who happens to be my family. There was an intense scapegoating operation that included essentially very consciously cutting me off from communication and inclusion in family events. We see this same dynamic played out in cultural issues in the US and in other countries; divisions between the Catholics and Protestants with the punishment for non-compliance being violence and even death. We see Tibetan Monks arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the Chinese government for defying discriminatory rules against their right to practice their religion in certain parts of China. We see women beat by the Taliban if they try to meet their own needs for education, having careers, educating their daughters, or not covering themselves up from head to toe.

2. When people identify their core selves with what they consider to be their needs, even if their needs are NOT needs and are merely wants. All of the examples above can be used here as well. The Taliban do not NEED for women to have no rights; they just prefer it that way. No Taliban men will die if women suddenly begin going to school, having careers, not covering up from head to toe, or start voting. They may be uncomfortable and it may not be what they prefer, but it is not a need.
The very flawed thinking is “I am a man; she is a woman. This is intolerable to me. I have a right to now beat her”.

Similarly, if the catholics and protestants wind up marching in each other’s territory, nobody will die from that alone. What they die from is the violence that ensues because someone there becomes so enraged that someone else is doing something that he doesn’t like or approve of or prefer, that he feels he has the right to kill them. The very flawed thinking here is “I am Protestant. That catholic is marching in my street. This is intolerable to me, so I have a right to shoot him.”

Similarly, my family members thought “A good sister goes to her sister’s bridal shower no matter what. It doesn’t matter if she already moved her surgery. It doesn’t matter if he life is complicated with a federal lawsuit and a demanding job and health problems. She needs to do what we want her to do and if she doesn’t, we’re going to punish her by not speaking to her, not including her in anything, not sending her photos of the kids, and not inviting her to holidays. We have a right to deny her needs and to determine that our needs are more important than hers. Plus, she is outnumbered.”

These are all examples of very flawed thinking. Whenever we think our own needs are more important than someone else’s and we have a right to tell someone else what to do or not do or to somehow control someone’s choices, we need to examine whether or not we are being fair and reasonable. We need to stop and remind ourselves that we cannot know someone else’s needs and priorities. We can only guess.

Do you really think your needs are more important than someone else’s? Do you really understand the difference between needs and wants? Do you understand how your definition of yourself affects how intensely you respond to a conflict and determine whether something is a need or a want?

I encourage you to keep these questions fresh in your mind when conflicts with others inevitably emerge so that you do not make the very grave mistake of over-reacting due to confusing needs and wants or wrongly thinking that your needs have a right to be met at the expense of someone else’s.

This takes further introspection and awareness and touches all of our interpersonal interactions – at work, dating, in relationships, with family members, with groups of friends or activity groups, in worship or congregational situations, and with children.

We are capable of fine-tuning our internal self-awareness to measure our current feelings so we can accurately assess our current needs and determine where our needs fall on the urgency or importance scale as compared to the needs of those around us. We can calculate this in a split second as we become more and more skilled.

This is a skill to develop; we can become aware of this skill, learn it, practice it, catch ourselves, improve, stop ourselves before we complete errors, and generally decide to do better. As a result, all of our relationships will improve. Stretching ourselves in this way improves our interpersonal interactions and thus the quality of our relationships.

Stress and discomfort between people often emerges due to misunderstandings about perceived conflicts or actual conflicting needs. Either way, we can stop, check in with ourselves, see and assess our current feelings and needs and then proceed in the way that is best for all involved, whenever possible.

As for the wedding, I wound up not attending it at all. Since I broke my elbow and had to move my trip, that was the only time I could go within my extremely busy schedule. Before I had been treated this way by my family, I would have considered my attendance at my sister’s wedding to be more important than losing two weeks of vacation time because it was about to expire. However, since I had been treated this way by my family, I decided that I was not going to reward their behavior, I was not going to deny myself anything for people who had zero regard for my medical, legal, and professional needs, and I was not going to be physically near them until they somehow got healthier.

It has been painful, but sometimes we have to protect ourselves from very unhealthy family members by keeping a distance. Luckily, I have always had amazingly healthy and wonderful friends. It is possible to create your own family out of healthy people to whom you are not blood-related. And, often it is the best thing you can do for yourself.

During this time, I have had important support for coping with the pain of an unloving and very unhealthy family. I have also accomplished a great deal during this time; I have written two and a half books, got my first non-fiction book contract with a major publisher, outlined eight more books, invested money wisely, nearly completed mediation certification training, and did complete Emotional Intelligence Testing and Training.

I am open to having healthy relationships with my family, however they must be healthier than what they’ve been before, because I will not expose myself to the previous abusive treatment I’ve received from them. It is not worth it. I have a need to be valued and respected and to have my needs valued and respected. People who think they have a right to overrule my needs, control my choices, deliver extremely unhealthy “consequences” when I make choices they don’t want me to make, or who otherwise disregard my needs are not people I am emotionally, physically, or psychologically safe with, just as I – or anyone – would be unsafe in those same ways in a destructive cult or in an abusive relationship. All of these are examples of abuse of power and control.

If there was room here, I would post the power and control wheel and explain how all of my family’s behavior can be found on that wheel. It is extremely important to break free of groups, families, and “lovers” who wish to control you in any way. Control is abuse and can take many forms. There is very little difference between a family who does this, an abusive boyfriend or husband who hits you if you don’t do what he wants or the way he wants it, and a destructive cult group, which will try to control your Behavior, Intelligence, Thoughts, and Emotions (BITE). This is the hallmark of an abusive situation whether it’s with a group, a family, or in a relationship.

It can be control of money, control of time, control of food, control of friendships, control of your choices, control of your needs, or definition and control of your priorities, etc. Knowing your needs is an extremely important skill to develop.

Do not allow anyone or any group to control your needs or determine what your needs are. Surround yourself with people who understand, know, value, and support you. If someone loves you, they will not punish you for not attending a bridal shower; they will understand you have needs and they will want you to meet your needs and they will respect you enough to value the choices you need to make for yourself. Understanding needs and understanding the importance of respecting needs is to understand love.

Understanding and valuing our own needs helps us know and love ourselves, which is crucial. Understanding and valuing the needs of others is how we love others.

When we want everyone to get their needs met – but not at the expense of anyone’s needs, this is healthy love and healthy relating. In essence, this is heaven on earth.

Please feel free to share your own stories of family scapegoating, unloving families, destructive cults, and abusive relationships with me. Please feel free to share with me how learning about EQ or NVC has helped you make wiser choices in terms of who you will share yourself, your time, your body, your mind, you emotions, your life with.


How Small Changes Can Result in Big Positive Changes

When we are courageous enough to be willing to be aware of our feelings, something big and very positive happens. It’s like a switch gets turned on, and it can’t be so easily turned off. And that’s a good thing.

Sometimes people fear feelings either because they were raised in families that didn’t express feelings or because they are afraid that if they allow themselves to feel even a little bit of feelings that a tidal wave of feelings will rush forward and drown them in uncontrollable emotions, which they imagine will be bad.

The good news is that isn’t what usually happens. And the even better news is that when we allow ourselves to have awareness of our feelings, we are even MORE in control of ourselves, not less in control. Losing control of oneself is a legitimate and common fear when someone considers increasing their own awareness of their feelings and then others’ feelings. There are fears of the above-mentioned mostly-fictional tidal wave, fears of being unable to remain poised, fears of becoming “soft” or a “doormat” or losing the ability to be assertive and strong in the world when necessary.

These are all understandable fears. However, this is what we know from decades of solid research, practice and observation: The more aware of our feelings we are, the better control we have over our lives, the better our interpersonal communications are, the better our relationships with others at home and at work are, and the better use of our own time, money, and other resources we make.

Think about it: Your spouse does something that annoys you. Instead of harshly snapping at him or her, you say to yourself, “I feel really annoyed by that. I know s/he doesn’t mean to annoy me. This is really about us sharing this space together. I do love him/her. However, it’s also really important to me that I tell her/him that I need more space in this closet, not today, but by the end of this week, if possible. I’m going to find the right time to say this and I’m going to say it in a way that will be best for our relationship because my only intention and need here is to have more space in the closet. I do NOT intend to make him/her feel badly, start a fight, or upset him/her. I will say something today, after breakfast, in a direct and gentle way”.

Similarly, this can be used at work, with friends, with kids – with anyone. Snapping at others can be an ingrained habit. But we can change our habits. We can choose to. We can tell those close to us that we’ve decided to change a habit and we can let them know we’re working on it, we may slip back, but we want them to know we’re trying and we’d like their support. Then, we can tell them what “support” means to us. Does it mean just smiling lovingly at us when we backslide? Does it mean gently pointing out to us that we slid back into the habit we’re trying to break in case we didn’t notice? Does it mean just remaining silent and letting us work on it but with us just knowing this is important? Does it mean just having them tell us they appreciate that we’re working on this and maybe why they appreciate it?

The other side of this is that we can make requests of others. We can request that our partner become more aware of his or her feelings. We can request that they support us as we become more aware of ours. We can request a 5-minute check-in time once a day or once a week. We can choose how we’ll deal with our feelings and their feelings.

We can then realize that all of these feelings require room. We must make room for these feelings, which may at first sound like a chore of some kind. However, once we realize that making room for these feelings – yours and those of others – prevents arguments, conflicts, and misunderstandings, you realize that it’s not a chore at all. It’s prevention. It’s a deepening of the reality and experiences you share together in this thing called life which is made of smaller moments all linked together – eating breakfast, taking the recycling out, having time apart and together and with friends, keeping the house orderly, deciding how to spend money or leisure time, organizing a trip, negotiating use of the computer or the bathroom or the tv. This is life. When we can do all of these things with greater awareness of our feelings, we simply do all of these things in ways that are better for ourselves and better for our partners and families.

When we are smart enough to refine these skills and bring them into the workplace in appropriate ways, we are more likely and able to get our workplace needs met also – enough time to complete projects, the schedule we need, the support and collaboration from others we need, the trainings and tools we need to be successful, and anything else we may want or need. There is no guarantee we’ll get all we want and need, but knowing that we’ve identified our needs and wants and have skillfully asked for them to be met is a very good way to make peace with our needs whether they’ve been met or not.

This one tiny change – I commit to being aware of my feelings and to expressing them skillfully – at the right time and in the best way for everyone – will yield HUGE positive changes in our lives.

If you want to know more about further developing these skills, read about Emotional Intelligence, Non-Violent Communication, and Conflict Resolution. Some recommended books are:

When Anger Scares You, Getting to Yes, The EQ Edge, Non-Violent Communication, and Coach Yourself to Success

Until next time,

EQ and Assertion -As Opposed to Aggression or Passivity

Have you ever thought about the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Healthy Assertion? Those of us who try to live our lives as our best selves and make the best behavioral choices we can, have likely examined our ability to be assertive in healthy ways as opposed to being either aggressive or too passive.

Certainly there are unusual times when being passive or aggressive (but not both together!) is the best and most appropriate thing to do. If someone is about to step in front of a car, yes, be aggressive to save that person! If a violent person is holding a gun to your head and being passive will save your life, that is a good choice!

However, in daily situations, we are presented with opportunities to choose the right words and tone many times a day. How can we do this with so much emotion bubbling under the surface?

One thing to remember is that most of us were not taught healthy assertion as kids, and so it’s a learned skill. And, just like any other skill, it takes time and practice to learn it, gain experience with it, and master it.

So, be patient with yourself. It is normal to be slightly more aggressive or even passive when you are aiming for a certain amount of assertiveness. It’s sometimes hard to find that balanced place of assertiveness that isn’t either aggression or passivity. Keep trying. It’s all any of us an do.

Again, the best gift we can give ourselves is the self-awareness of knowing what feelings we are experiencing. When we know what these are, we can handle them. When we don’t know what those are, we are powerless.