This year I taught a leadership and geography class for a group of homeschooled teenagers in our area. These teens are wonderful kids, and we had a lot of fun as they explored how they could make a difference in the world.
One of the best things we did as a class was have the opportunity to participate in an online conference call with George Kohlrieser. He is known around the world for his leadership experience. He is a psychologist, a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD business school in Switzerland, and (the thing that my students thought was the most exciting) he is a hostage-negotiator!
Dr. Kohlrieser has written a book called “Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance.”
Being a negotiator really boils down to being able to manage yourself, even in tense situations. Dr. Kohlrieser writes (page 8):
“Controlling one’s state, managing one’s feelings, and using words - to ask questions and seek a solution - is what hostage negotiation is all about.”
Life is all about that too.
One of the chapters that catches my attention as a parent is “The Strength of a Secure Base,” Chapter 4. He says,
“Secure bases are those people, goals, or things to which we bond in a special way While we create many bonds, secure bases are special in that they give protection, comfort and energy.”
Dr. Kohlrieser suggests that these secure bases serve as anchors in our lives, and that the stronger the secure base, the more resilience and energy the person has in dealing with adverse circumstances. People who have secure bases have an easier time of transforming negative experiences into positive ones, and finding meaning in events. He uses examples of experiences his clients have had, and shows how to be the person that can be that secure base.
I appreciate the wisdom and practical experience illustrations that are detailed in this book. I am also very grateful for people like George Kohlrieser, who are willing to go into frightening situations and work to defuse conflict. I appreciate the courage and willingness to help others demonstrated by those who truly have learned (and model) how to control one’s state.
Babies and children are supposed to learn:
*When I need something, others will willingly take care of me.
*I am loved just because I exist.
*My needs are important to other people.
*It is okay to have needs.
When those needs are met, at a core level, inside ourselves, we know:
“I am valued, loved, and important to others.
I know that my existence is important, and that others want to connect with me.”
What happens when something in childhood was not ideal, and we did not come away with those messages?
There is a solution.
The solution begins with understanding. If you were supposed to hear the message:
I am loved, just because I exist
And you did not hear it -- what did you hear instead?
Write that down. Perhaps you will write down statements such as these:
There was never enough time for me.
My mom did not think I was important.
Now -- look carefully at the statement you wrote down. Ask yourself this very important question:
DOES THAT HAVE TO BE TRUE?
No, it does not.
Just realizing that a message we’ve accepted internally as truth does not have to be true is powerful. It gives us hope. It can give us confidence. Now we can find ways to re-solve that message in life.
Our products, classes, and workshops are designed to help you understand your emotions.
You will find principles that help you understand what you need.
You will learn that emotions can be re-solved, re-thought, and re-felt.
Your needs are important.
Your feelings are important.
As you internalize that, you will become confident at the core.
Words can have a powerful influence in our lives.
I remember an experience when I was about 13 years old. One of the women in our local church congregation came up to me and handed me a note card. Inside, she had written a nice letter, telling how much she respected me, and how happy she was to know me. She expressed appreciation for a talent she had noticed I had, and told me she really cared about me.
I still have that note. I consciously tried hard to notice nice things about others as a result of receiving that one note, and almost every Sunday I think of that note, and wonder who I could personally express appreciation to during the following week. It truly did change my life.
There’s an article in the website called “Psych Central” entitled, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” that talks about how the very words we use can impact our brain. Here’s the link if you want to read it. https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/11/30/words-can-change-your-brain/
A friend of mine told me about her very frustrating day last week. She had volunteered to watch a neighbor’s children while the neighbor went to an appointment. She did this willingly, and wanted to help her friend.
However, the neighbor was late getting back. After the appointment, she had stopped to do some other things. She arrived home more than two hours after my friend had expected her.
My friend was upset about this. She wanted to know what she should have done.
I asked her if she could label her specific feelings.
“I felt used,” she said.
Well, unfortunately, “used” is not a feeling. It indicates what we believe what someone did to us. The problem with that is that it puts us on a different path to solve the problem. If we have been “used,” then we will focus on how not to be “used” again, or how to make someone know that they did something wrong.
That wouldn’t necessarily create peace. The goal of solving any situation should be peace. The only place we can have peace - always and unconditionally - is in our heart. So, we have to focus on the heart first.
And - to know our heart - we have to figure out our exact feeling.
So she tried again. “I felt mad,” she said. Now that’s a feeling.
Now that we know the feeling, we look for the need.
This does not mean that we look for the “solution” to fix the problem. The problem really can’t be fixed, because the problem has happened already. The neighbor was already late - my friend had already lost those two hours to be with her family. (Stay with me here. This can be a challenge, because it does not seem to be addressing the real problem. That will become clear in a moment.)
The problem still exists, though, in terms of energy, and of feelings. That is what we need to address.
“So, what would you have liked to have happen in the situation?” I asked her.
“I wanted her to come home on time, because I wanted to be able to get home and spend time with my family. I had planned on two hours - but not on four.”
Oh. Now we see the problem clearly. My friend had given something willingly (her time to babysit), but she wanted to have consideration also, in relationship to her gift of time. She wanted to have her friend consider that she have other needs, in addition to helping her. She wished that her friend had considered her schedule too.
So now, I could help my friend see possible ways to respond. I encouraged her to go to her neighbor and say something like this, “When you didn’t get back on time, I felt mad. I wanted to have time to spend with my family, and that couldn’t happen. Would you be willing to be home when you say you will be home next time?”
My friend did not want to go back to her neighbor and say that, but at last she felt more peace. She knew what her need had been, and she could now “mourn” because that need had not been met. She also knew how to respond to her neighbor if her neighbor asked her again to babysit. She could say, “When I babysat for you last time, you were gone two hours more than I had expected. I was mad and frustrated, because I had planned on spending that two hours with my own family. Would you be willing to let me know a specific time you’ll be home if I tend for you again?”
It’s not easy to communicate this way, but it’s important, and it’s really the only way to be honest.
If my friend did not acknowledge her own feelings and needs, she would be likely instead to think negative thoughts of her neighbor all the time. “She’s insensitive,” or “she’s inconsiderate,” or “she can’t be trusted to keep her word,” would be constant judgments. How much better it is to figure out what we feel, and see what we need in the situation. Then we can choose our response in the present moment and in the future.
In our communications classes, we talk about principled ways to answer these questions:
Why is it that sometimes we can “give from the heart” -- but other times, we can’t?
What do I do when someone does something that hurts me?
How can I be sure that I stand up for my own “rights?”
Why, and when, should I stand up for my own rights?
How can I decide how to deal with a difficult relationship?
What on earth are feelings for, anyway? Do they matter?
Sometimes things can’t be fixed. Perhaps a difficult situation just can’t get better. Perhaps someone is not going to alter their position or their values. What do we do then? We learn about the concept of “mourning.” Sure - sometimes we can’t have things our way. Our way may be the best way for us to follow, but it can still be difficult. The solution? Mourning. Mourning is a very cleansing, healing process. It literally changes us, and connects us back to our natural sense of contentment in our heart.
Remember - what we want in any situation is peace. The only way we can feel peace is in our heart. So that’s where we focus. Once we have that peace, then if the problem can be solved, we will be able to solve it with strength that comes from clarity and peace in our heart. We will not try to solve it out of anger, fear, frustration or confusion. We will be at peace, no matter what.
Dictionary definition for overwhelmed:
1. To cover completely.
2. To overcome by superior force or numbers.
3. To overcome in thought or feeling.
Most people would say that “overwhelmed” is a feeling.
Ann: “How are you doing?”
Rose: “I’m overwhelmed. There’s so much to do!”
Actually, even though I’m sure you can probably find the word overwhelmed listed as being a feeling, I am convinced that it is not. It’s a word that indicates a state or quality of being.
No one likes being overwhelmed. It’s a suffocating sensation, and it robs us of the power to act. When we are overwhelmed, we definitely experience a sensation much like being overcome by a superior force.
Principle: We always have control over our state of “be-ing.”
We do have control, though. No matter what the outside circumstance, I do not have to “BE” anything I do not choose to be.
Suppose that you wake up in the morning, and your first conscious thought is of your “to-do” list. It is a long one today, because there is an important event coming up tomorrow, and you need to make sure that you are ready for it.
Typically, my first response would be to groan, get out of bed, and force myself to begin to conquer the things on that list. As I moved forward, I would be thinking about “hurry,” and “push forward” and “work.”
But -- if I remember that “overwhelmed” affects my state of being, I will think about my “to-do” list with a different perspective.
“There is a lot to do today. I am going to need a great deal of power. So - in order to get today’s tasks done, I am going to need to be confident, to be certain of myself, and to be cheerful.” Then I imagine plugging in to the energy sources of “confident,” “certainty,” and “cheerfulness.”
It helps me personally to actually envision this - to pretend that I am actually plugging myself into outlets that are labeled with those words. I give myself permission to to take a minute or two to charge myself with that energy. As I do that, I repeat to myself statements such as these:
I’m confident that I can get these things done.
I know that my tasks are daunting, but I have done hard things before. I can work hard, and I can be successful at this.
I will have to hurry and move fast today. I’m grateful that I have strength and energy to move like that, and it will be fun to see how quickly I can go.
Then - I move. I don’t disconnect from my power sources, and frequently I remind myself of the power that I have.
It is amazing how much these simple things can do to change your perspective from “overwhelm” to “control.”
It is important to teach children about emotions. One of the most important things for them to know is that emotions affect our physical body.
Principle: Emotions lodge in the body.
This is a simply poster that I made up for our family. You can easily do the same thing. Post it on your frig, and talk periodically about it. Questions such as these can be simple, but meaningful. "What does your mouth do when you are angry?" Child might say that it could yell, or that it could scream. You could point out that we could also "hum a favorite hymn" to calm down, or we could remember to "keep our mouth closed until we have time to think."
Ask: "When you feel frightened, what does it feel like in your heart?" That could be an interesting discussion too.
Do a lot of role playing with your children. Role playing is important, because it allows you to pre-teach your children and help them figure out possible situations and what they might do if they encounter something similar.
The point you really want to emphasize is that emotions do lodge in our bodies. When we know this, it is easy to see that we can help ourselves out emotionally if we will use our body to process those emotions.
Also - children do not readily recognize emotions. Understanding that there is a body connection will allow them to realize that they are feeling something. This will give them an opportunity to think about what they are feeling, and analyze it.
That's the goal. We DO feel emotions. Emotions are actually a good thing. The thing we need to do, though, is to recognize our feelings and thoughts, and to process them consciously, rather than letting them take control of us because we are not aware.
WHO do we see?
The way we view other people is very important to a relationship.
Mother: John, get over here right now and pick up this mess!
John: No, and you can’t make me.
So -- how do you think Mother was viewing John at the moment?
She was obviously seeing him as a nuisance - an annoyance - or a troublemaker.
John was viewing Mother as a person who was trying to force him - kind of a dictator.
Mother: John, when I see the mess on the floor here, I notice that your soccer items were not put away after practice, and that you dropped the books from your class right here on the floor too. This concerns me, because I would very much like to keep the house clean and orderly. Would you be willing to put these things away right now, and then come back so we can talk about what we can do to help you remember to put your things away?
In the second example, Mother also did not like the way things had been left out on the floor. Yet she did not see John as a nuisance or troublemaker. She saw him as her son, who she loved, who had left his things out.
This is so important. Mother was able to separate John from the behavior. This allows John to do something about the behavior, without having to defend his “me”-ness. He doesn’t have to prove to Mother that he is valuable, or important. He was simply asked to correct what had been done that was not appropriate.
Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher who lived from 1878 to 1965, called this idea “I-Thou” versus “I-It.” When we view people as “thou”, we see them with reverence, value, and respect for their roles in our lives. We also communicate with them from a place of value, honor, and feel a desire to have a meaningful relationship with them.
When we see people only in how their actions impact us negatively, then we do not have the ability to connect with the heart. This will always be a power struggle relationship. It will never be equal and mutually beneficial.
Power struggles occur when we see people with the “I-It” mentality.
When I learned this concept, I determined that when I needed to correct my children, I would first stop quickly, remind myself to view the relationship with an “i-Thou” perspective, and then begin to talk to them. Immediately I feel a great desire to connect with them from the heart. I do correct them if needed, and I do not hesitate to help them understand consequences, but because the relationship is “right,” things go so much better than if I had given a sharp reprimand and punishment.
Concentrating on building “I-Thou” relationships has made a huge difference in my life.
Note: There are other skills Mother used in the 2nd example above that really helped the situation to. We’ll discuss those ideas in future posts, but I will just list the skills she used here briefly. (1) Mother clearly identified the behavior. She didn’t say, “You’re a slob.” She didn’t say, “You never put your things away.” She clearly identified the soccer items, and the books. This is important, because John can’t argue about the fact that those things were left out. It eliminates the power struggle that could come with the idea that he was a slob. (2) Mother asked him to immediately do something about the situation, giving him the ability to immediately fix the problem. (3) Then Mother requested that he analyze the problem, by talking with her about what he would plan to do in the future. This is important too, because it allows the person to take ownership, and completely resolve the issue.