Our actions can change our feelings

Behavior is defined as what we do. Our thoughts and feelings certainly impact our behavior but do not necessarily have to control it. We can establish recovery habits to slow our roll and pause to prepare so that we can learn strategies for evaluating both our thoughts and feelings. We can fact check them; consider other perspectives; get curious. Although we may struggle to apply these principles, I do not think they are particularly new or shocking. In fact, the scriptures have made this plain for all to see.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

~2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

This is tough to actually accomplish. But lately I have been introduced to a different concept. I suspect it is tied to a saying that I have always had a hate/hate relationship with that goes like this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I am not a fan. I am disingenuous enough without choosing to fake stuff! However, like all pithy sayings, I am coming to believe there might just be a kernel of truth in the phrase.

Interestingly, we can also use our behavior to redirect our thoughts and feelings. It turns out, that behaving in a manner that is counter to our thoughts and feelings can actually realign our thoughts and feelings!

For decades I have had some thoughts and feelings about my physical capabilities. I believed that I had certain limits as to how high I could jump, how fast I could run, how heavy I could lift weights. When I began working with a personal trainer, she disavowed me of my self-imposed limitations. I didn’t give up my way of thinking and feeling without a fight. I whined and complained and practiced the fine art of non-compliance. But she just kept suggesting that I plug away and “Give it a try”. I have surpassed every self-imposed limitation and am now enjoying the experience of pushing my boundaries to find my capacity.

My behavior taught my thoughts and feelings to stand down. I could not have led with my thoughts or feelings and changed my behavior. How about you? What thoughts and feelings are holding you back? Maybe you need some good coaching to push you to try new behaviors that challenge these old assumptions.

P.S. I did not “fake” anything; I did, however, submit to a higher authority and reluctantly follow her lead. I did change my behavior in spite of my reluctance to believe that it would bear fruit. I did feel and think that this was crazy talk coming out of her mouth. But I was also willing to consider the possibility that I was wrong and she was wise.

Pro tip: The kind of work we need to do changes over time

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s third revelation:

“I cannot go an hour without thinking about Boris and his stupid decisions.” Perhaps the most difficult realization for Igor to come to grips with was how addictively he was living - without actually using.

This was extremely upsetting and resulted in a need for extra support for a time as he grieved the illusion of his own sobriety. He found a counselor. He started going to our Family Education meetings. He switched out one AA meeting a week for an Al-Anon meeting. He complained that he felt ashamed and even embarrassed by his need for support. But Igor did what recovery had taught him - he humbly asked for and received the particular kind of help he needed at this time in his recovery journey.

Today, Igor is appropriately aware of how close he came to losing his way because of his complacency. Is this an issue for you? Are you resting on the laurels of previous work to give you what you need for today?

Tomorrow we give Igor and Boris a break from our obsessive inventory-taking of their lives.

Problems in one relationship can create problems in another

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor’s second revelation:

“I resent Boris for MAKING me feel this way.” Igor resented Boris for “making him worry”. It took a while but eventually Igor recognized that he, Igor, was solely responsible for what he chose to think about and how his thoughts impacted his emotions.

The result of this revelation gave Igor the opportunity to practice a bit more self-discipline in his thought life. When he started fretting over Boris, he learned how to actually hold up his hand in a “STOP” motion and say, “This is not mine to think, feel or do.” He did a great job, with assistance, coming up with a few alternative things he could do immediately following his self-command to STOP.

Number One on the list was phoning friends and asking how they were doing (without bringing up Boris). This had the immediate effect of having more friend interactions. People had gotten rather tired of hearing about Boris and were “stepping back” from Igor to avoid having to listen to any rants.

When we are behaving in a compulsive manner, obsessing over almost anything, we often fail to notice how our compulsivity begins to wear down our friends and family members. They get tired of watching us run on a hamster wheel.

Today, pause. Consider how an unhealthy relationship in one area of your life might be messing up the good and decent relationships you have in other areas. Is it worth the risk to unproductively obsess over a broken relationship at the expense of the people who love you and want to spend time with you?

We can't afford to obsess over another person's behavior

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Initially Igor was resistant to working on himself; but he self-corrected. He grabbed a Fourth Step workbook and began his study. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves). All of us were shocked to discover that Igor was experiencing a ton of pro-addiction thoughts. Man was he glad that he had paused to prepare. We were relieved as well. What if Igor had not paused to prepare? Who knows what dead end roads his distorted thinking might have led him down!

Here are some things we talked about when Igor returned with his Fourth Step list and completed his Fifth Step by sharing his list.

“I have thoughts that are not under my control; I cannot stop thinking about _____.” (I am a victim; there is nothing I can do.)

When Igor began observing his thoughts, he was frightened to realize how much time he was spending obsessively thinking about Boris. He reported that it reminded him of how he obsessed over using all those years ago when his own life was in a shambles. Igor was relieved to be reminded of the fact that even in full-blown relapse, pro-addiction thoughts do not have absolute sway over our thought life. If that were the case, absolutely zero people would ever get sober. People do change. They actually can “change their mind” - but it starts with realizing their mind needs to change!

Tune in tomorrow for Igor’s second revelation.

If you're angry, take stock of your shortcomings

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One afternoon Igor showed up at NSC to vent about his friend Boris. He was mad. He said a lot of things, most of which I am sure he regretted upon reflection. We suggested that Igor do a fourth step inventory on his relationship with Boris. (Editor’s note, the 4th step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.)

He was not pleased with this suggestion. “Why should I have to do an inventory? I’m not the one with the problem.”

Our response, “Well, you are the one who is here complaining about a problem named Boris. He evidently is a problem for you.”

Is an inventory really necessary? Yes, it is necessary and here is why. It helps us learn how to think clearly, increase resilience and build our coping skills. Our brains are compromised under stress and that negatively impacts the way we think, how we process our emotions and how we control and evaluate our behaviors.

Igor needs to remember his own limitations, and not be so distracted by the limitations of Boris. It isn’t enough to just know that we all have maladaptive coping skills, we need to SEE exactly what our coping skills look like and the effect they have on our quality of life and the life of those we love.

Boris needs help but Boris is not currently asking for it. Igor, however, has an opportunity to improve his own life if he recognizes that his critical spirit is a warning sign that he has work that he can do in his own life.

Do you have any red flag warning signs (critical of others, distracted and not doing your recovery work, irritable, restless, discontent) that indicate you need to get back to work on your own recovery from what ails you?

Friendship: A Safe Space to be Real

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

One of the things I love about our community is the gift of having folks in recovery. People are grateful; people do not gossip; people are usually patient but when they are not, they self-correct quickly. I think most of them learned these skills at AA, NA or other mutual aid groups.

No one expects easy fixes or permanent solutions. People believe that life is hard. Many of us know that life is a challenge and spending time thinking about what we do or do not deserve is unproductive rumination. Nevertheless, with all this gifted-ness we still struggle to use our recovery tools when times are too good or too hard. This too is real life.

The story of Igor and Boris is a cautionary community tale. It points out the need to play a zone defense as opposed to man-to-man. When we find ourselves in a position of feeling critical and judgmental - sometimes it is time to ride the bench and take a breather.

Soul work is exhausting. Fortunately, it rests primarily in the hands of God. No one person is essential, although each of us has a place.

In what relationships have you acted as if you are essential personnel - the ONLY one who can help?

Criticism is not the same thing as accountability

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

How can Igor help Boris? Probably not by criticizing his every move.

It might help Boris if Igor had the skills to comfort Boris in the midst of his downward spiral without the need to throw stones. Should everyone simply ignore Boris’ antics and just give him warm fuzzy hugs? No. But if Igor has to choose between criticism and cuddling with no skill sets in between - choose the hug.

Fortunately, in a community we do not have to choose between two extremes. We can take a more nuanced approach. We can find the right people to support in the area of accountability; we can provide ways to comfort.

What are your skill sets? What part could you play in helping Boris? In helping Igor? How can you name your super powers and use them, without judging the limitations and weaknesses of others (and yourself)?

Anger is closely related to fear and anxiety

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

It might help Boris if Igor is less reactionary and emotionally invested in Boris’ choices. This is particularly hard to do. I cannot help but think about all the ways Igor might be triggered by Boris. Maybe Igor is afraid that if Boris cannot maintain a healthy lifestyle, he may suffer the same fate. Maybe he secretly depends on Boris for his own wellness; maybe he is afraid that his own support structure is crumbling.

When we are super frustrated, oftentimes we are even more afraid. Our anger may be a convenient and more distracting feeling than digging deep and realizing that we are using anger to power through our terror.

Can you think about a time when you were angry? What were you anxious about? What were you afraid would happen?

Friendships must react to our limitations

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

Igor survived his life crisis. He and Boris have told and retold this story of losing one life only to find a better one many times. People admire the work of both men and find this story encouraging. And it really is. However, the story continues.

It reminds me of various characters in the Bible. Do we judge the life of David based on the time he felled a giant with a humble shepherd’s slingshot or that time when kings go to war but King David stayed home and got a soldier’s wife knocked up? Do we evaluate King Solomon by his amazing request for wisdom from God at an early age or how towards the end of his life he lived a life of sexual debauchery?

Life is not a story; it is a storyline, with as many plot twists and turns as a great Agatha Christie thriller. This is why we cannot rest on our past stories of triumph or gloat when we have a rags-to-riches story of redemption.

In some ways, all of us can get stuck in our own version of reality. But life is not stagnant and our good and/or bad choices are not permanent. Today, Boris is in trouble. This flips the narrative. We may like a thrilling novel or exciting movie, but we prefer our own personal stories to stay predictable.

Boris doesn’t like to be needy; Igor does not want to be his friend’s help in times of trouble. Their relationship worked better the old way. But that is not reality.

In reality, Igor continues to make plenty of mis-steps. Not as obvious as Boris, perhaps, but equally devastating in a quieter, less public way. The stress is compounded now because Boris is also in trouble.

Igor is not able to see himself through the same critical lens he uses to study Boris - this is a problem. If Igor could realize that he too, like the rest of us, is a work in progress, he might realize that he has legitimate limitations himself. Maybe that is more “real” than simply blaming Boris for being fully human with limitations.

I am not advocating that Igor increase his self-criticism because I do not think criticism is helpful. But it is pretty painful to watch Igor be judgmental about his friend while ignoring his own limitations.

What if instead of evaluating everyone as winners or losers, we continually acknowledged that every single one of us has limitations? If we do this, then we can share our burdens more effectively. Those who have particular strengths match their super powers of sharing their strength with those who have particular limitations that especially need these skills. Simultaneously, someone else is bringing their strength and sharing it with the person who is using his or her super powers to help someone else. Confusing? I thought so. To restate - we share our super powers as a gift to others who are struggling and receive the superpowers of others as a gift to help us with our limitations. I believe this is often referred to as the circle of life. But Igor isn’t living in the circle; he’s shooting straight at the heart of Boris with is verbal darts of criticism.

What are your superpowers? What are your limitations?

Friendship should create space for healing

Over the next few days we’re telling a story about a couple of friends using fake names. Feel free to get caught up before reading.

About ten years ago Igor was in a bad way. He had wrecked his credit, blown up his marriage and lost a job in a fit of temper. Igor doubled down on his losing ways and started drinking heavily. He had a car accident while impaired, totaled his vehicle and ended up with the appropriate legal consequences.

Boris, who had his own history with failure, took Igor in. Gave him a job. Required him to pay rent. Expected him to go to meetings and weekly counseling sessions. To Igor’s credit, he not only complied with Boris’ requests - he embraced them. It took a year, but Igor recovered his life. He eventually started his own business, bought a home and found a community where he could do life with and love others.

Boris stood by his friend in ways that supported healing. He did not exacerbate the problem; he encouraged Igor on his road back to wellness. This is labor intensive work. It required a village to brainstorm and look for solutions that inevitably included some tough conversations and plenty of hugs.

But none of this was convenient or easy. It is only thinking about this a decade later that the story sounds so wonderful - a real testimony to the promise and hope that is found when people love God and serve others.

The year itself was touch-and-go every step of the way. It was messy. There were conflicts, behind the scenes come-to-Jesus meetings. Conflict. Three steps forward and two steps backward - for all the parties involved.

Scott McBean recently delivered a weekend message and said this: “We all think we deserve better than we get.” Ouch.

Boris and Igor’s excellent adventure was only excellent if we talk about it using a highlight reel. The actual journey was a cliffhanger and the outcome was always uncertain. In fact, the story continues and the outcome is as uncertain today as it was a decade ago. This is life. This story does not make for particularly inspiring quips and quotes unless you are willing to live with half-truths.

Tomorrow, we are going to further unpack this idea that Boris and Igor and our community must wrestle with this mistaken notion that “we all deserve better than we get.”

For today, think about how your own EXPECTATIONS have led you astray. It might look like blaming, it might look like controlling behaviors, it might look like bouts of melancholy, it might look like over- or even under-achieving. How has your own feeling of entitlement hurt you and others?

Criticism does not belong in friendship

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”

~ Sophia Bush - American actress, activist, director, and producer

Why are we so hard on ourselves and each other?

Has our criticism ever once born fruit?

Last week a friend of mine (let’s call him Igor) was sharing his frustration over the “antics” of another friend of ours (Boris). The “antics” are real. Our friend Boris is really spiraling out-of-control at breakneck speed.

The frustrated bystander, Igor, is livid. He simply CAN NOT understand why our friend Boris is being such a goof. In fact, Igor is SO IRRITATED that he has decided he is DONE. Finito. “I don’t have time for this s*&*.” Over it. Igor is packing up his memories and decades long friendship and MOVING ON.

I get it. Relationships change.

Here is what I do not understand.

My friend Igor is so critical of the actions of Boris. I mean ruthless in his assessment. I believe I could understand this criticism coming from a stranger or someone who is personally unfamiliar with the travails that Boris is undergoing. But Igor is a guy who can relate to Boris. This is what confuses me.

Does this help Boris? No. Does this help Igor? No.

What could help? I have some suggestions and we will unpack them in the coming days.

For today, ask yourself: what role has CRITICISM played in your own transformation? Has it ever effectively helped you or those you criticized? True enough, the right criticism paired with leverage can create short term compliance, but what has it accomplished in the long run?

Stay tuned. More thoughts to come!!

Responding to Criticism

Criticism is a reality whether we like it or not. We can work to become more of a contributor to the solution by decreasing our own criticizing ways - but you and I know that many people are not interested in changing their ways.

So what do we do when someone levels criticism at us?

My first instinct is to give up, defend myself or lash out. This is why first instincts are often so destructive. Here are some other options:

First and foremost, get curious about the source of the criticism. Some critics are not worth your engagement. Critics on social media do not know us and we do not know them. People who we know only tangentially, or who have taught us that they are unreliable narrators, or dare I say it? People you already do not trust? These folks are not going to be helpful to engage with - even if their criticism may have validity. It is ok to tell the truth and admit that sometimes there are people we simply cannot accept feedback from. It’s ok to know this and act on it. Don’t take the bait!! Save your conversations for folks who have invested in your life and have earned your trust.

Is the criticism of an anonymous or random critic valid? Maybe. File it away or take it to trusted individuals for processing. But without a trusting relationship, the exchange of information will be less than helpful. Particularly when there are witnesses to the criticism, and if the witnesses are reliable sources, we can ask them for feedback. We can pause to prepare and consider the criticism.

When the deliverer of the criticism does a super bad job, is an unreliable narrator, or a stranger - we can redeem the exchange for good, even if we feel as if the criticism was unfair. Many times I have learned from criticism and applied it in future relationships, even if the delivery system was faulty. I may do my due diligence and discover that their criticism was not supported by others who know me well AND discover legitimate issues that need to be addressed.

Criticism is hard to take - that’s for sure. But we can grow into a more secure, comfortable way of living with criticism as we find acceptance of our own humanity and reduce our need for perfection or approval.

How do you handle criticism? What can you change that will help you in situations when you are criticized?

Receiving Criticism

I am so old. Over the years, probably less times than many people I know, I have received criticism via social media or in a group or during a one-on-one session. I am learning how to tell the difference between criticism and contribution. A person who wants to contribute responds from a place of empathy. They are not reacting. They learn how to discuss what they perceive needs changing with constructive tips and suggestions for change. Criticism usually involves name calling. It lacks curiosity or clarifying. It is rigid and refuses to consider other options. My professional and personal growth is always enriched by the contribution of others. But criticism is often more about the person who is complaining than the person being criticized.

If we want to help someone change in a situation, we are wasting our breath and perhaps doing more harm than good until we learn how to be a contributor rather than a criticizer. What can you do to become a bigger contributor?

Turning into what you despise

One night over dinner we had an interesting discussion about power dynamics. My youngest, who is working as a barista, was lamenting the many ways he has seen customers treat baristas and other service providers over the years. He also expressed some feelings about how managers or owners of the small shops where he has worked either create a environment of safety or not, based on their capacity to lead.

Our daughter, who is a bit further up the food chain in her job, shared her perspective as it related to being a manager. Oftentimes a manager has to implement a decision that they vehemently disagreed with behind closed doors with others in higher authority. A decent manager, in her opinion, throws herself in front of the slings and arrows of the outrageous misfortune of having to present an unpopular idea to a team. She believes you protect your superiors, which means that sometimes team members blame their supervisor for decisions the supervisor doesn’t agree with. She says she learned this from her best bosses over the years. Ahhhh, perspective.

Whether we are the boss or the employee, we all have an instinct about power dynamics. It’s human nature. The less power we perceive we have, the more likely we are to distrust authority. Our son, who perceives he has no power, wants the people with power to learn how to do better. Our daughter, with a teeny tiny bit more authority, ALSO feels sympathy for the authority figures who have tough calls to make.

This led to a discussion about what that looks like. I pushed my son, asking what he would do differently if he were the owner or boss. To which he said, “You know, the thing that concerns me is that I am worried I might turn into my worst boss rather than live up to the quality of my best ones. It just seems to me that power can be very corrosive; sometimes we become the person we once judged.”

Wow. Yes. As we grow and have more responsibility, maybe even a bit more authority, we might want to consider how we have automatically adopted some of the practices we hated when we had no power. Or, we can use our authority to be the boss we wanted, not necessarily the boss we were given over the years. This can be applied to parenting, in a marriage, or of course, at work.

Who are you imitating? How can you live out the way you want to be treated rather than repeat the mistakes that you criticize in others?

Exhaustion breeds criticism

Ever notice how tensed up we get when we are tired and cranky? It happens. In recovery, we talk about HALT - do not get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired - for that is a slippery slope.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Jesus is not a fan of exhaustion. He is not looking for an army of codependent Christians who do not practice self-care.

Jesus said - rest.

How can you add rest to your day? Remember - this is not exhausted slumber or power naps. This is rest for the soul. How might you find a way to rest?


#17 - Contribute!

It’s not enough to squash our tendency to criticize - if we want to grow and change. We need to learn how to be a helper. Here is what a helper can do:

* Effective helpers do not criticize.

* Effective helpers learn how to offer feedback, when asked, with clarity, kindness and support.

* Effective helpers are those who do not talk about a problem without being willing to labor over a possible solution.

* Effective helpers are careful; they do not assume that their position is correct. They are curious, asking tons of questions before diving in and pointing out a problem. Oftentimes, when we hear another’s perspective, we realize that the problem is more complicated than our imagined solution can handle or maybe the solution is better than we realized.

* Effective helpers do not try to solve problems that aren’t theirs to solve. They save their helping energy for issues that they have earned the right to speak into, they have sweat equity in the solution, and they have earned the seal of trustworthiness.

Are you as effective as you’d like to be? If not, what do you need to find support and skills to help change and grow?

Other people's inventories

Criticism is a sure fire way to slow progress. I’m not talking about feedback, or brainstorming, or even making an honesty inventory of our strengths and weaknesses. Criticism is never helpful. Let’s be clear - there may be times when we think we are being helpful. But if there is a hint of criticism, your best efforts at helpfulness are blown before you even start. There are times when our fears or insecurities are handled using the misdirection of criticism. This will not make us less afraid or more secure.

Signs that you might be a critic: People do not respond well to your feedback, you say things like, “I am just being honest,” you might be told you are negative or your standards are unattainable. Sometimes we sneak criticism in sideways. “You may not know this but SOME PEOPLE think/feel that You….” Not EVER helpful. It’s the equivalent of Christian saying “Somebody is going up the stairs.” It’s a LOT cuter on a two year old than an adult.

Are you concerned about an issue or for a person? That’s kind of you. Do other people’s problems make you nervous or freak you out? Beware. You might be moving into codependency territory.

Criticism, at its heart, is a way to distract ourselves or others from our own shortcomings, insecurities, and fears. There’s just no useful place for it. We do not need to criticize ourselves and we certainly do not need to criticize others.

There are very few relationships that rise to the level of accountability that make us the people responsible for criticizing another person.

How do we set aside criticism and learn how to be helpful when there is an issue that needs addressing? We’ll deal with that tomorrow. For today, notice if you are distracted from taking your own moral inventory by finding what you perceive is “missing” in others.

Criticism Precedes Crisis

Another predictor of marital mayhem is criticism.  This is different than a good old fashioned lament or complaint.  A criticism is when we take a complaint and turn it into an indictment of another’s personality.  Maybe you are upset that your spouse drinks sodas and lines the cans up on the counter (as opposed to throwing them in the recycling bin).  Suppose I am irritated with my husband about this habit (which is totally bogus because he doesn’t drink soda in a can but work with me).

A criticism might sound like this:  “What is wrong with YOU? Why do you line up these empty soda cans like tin soldiers on my brand new quartz countertop?  Why are you so inconsiderate?”

A complaint on the other hand might go like this:  “I hate the irritated way I react when I come into the kitchen and we have an army of soda cans lined up on the countertop. I need us to find a better way to honor our desire to recycle without leaving the cans on the counter for days.”

See the difference?  Option one accuses, option two admits stuff (true stuff) about myself and expresses what I need.

In healthy marriages there is plenty to complain about but spouses are careful to not criticize.  This is a skill set we can learn and practice.

When I spoke to a couple recently and suggested this principle the wife rolled her eyes and said something like this.  “For God’s sake, don’t be such a pansy. There is nothing wrong with telling someone who is a dumba** that they are one.”  All I can say is this response is indicative of a future marital parting of the ways.

There is a healthy way to complain about something without criticizing.  What would work in your situation?


Pointing out other people's problems can be costly

In our community we work hard to be students in the field of addiction and recovery.  Our community was founded on the big dream that families suffering from addiction, abuse, trauma and mental health issues needed a safe place to explore spirituality that suits their unique needs.  We felt there were many wonderful worshiping communities that supported the perspective that “Every day with Jesus is better than the day before.”  We wanted to be a place where it would be ok to say, “My life sucks; I want to know what God has to say about that.” Recently we were presented with the idea that calling another person an “addict” or “alcoholic” is shaming.  We offered families new language and suggested they try on this phrase, “My loved one suffers from a substance use disorder.”  My Lord, you would have thought we had suggested that the Pope wasn’t Catholic. Change is hard.  People pushed back.  Folks in recovery said, “Hey, I’m not ashamed; I identify with the label addict/alcoholic, whatever my ism is.  Why pretty it up?”  Family members said, “Hey, it took me ten years to acknowledge his/her addiction, are you suggesting that I pretend they AREN’T ADDICTED?”  Plenty of frustration and attitude came with the feedback - until I offered further explanation.  So the next time I pitched this idea, I said all the usual blah blah blah of new language and shame reduction, and then I said this:  “Hey, it’s like this.  If I ask my husband:  do I look fat in this outfit?  And he responds yes - that’s on me.  I own the fact that he responded to my feedback request.  BUT IF HE SAYS WITHOUT MY SOLICITING INPUT, ‘Babe, your backside is the size of Texas.’  Life at the McBean house is going to get very chilly.”


Everyone went, “Oh.” And from that day forward, there was no pushback.


Here’s the principle:  we are a community that practices reciprocity.  We are usually a fairly safe place to tell the truth.  I introduced a new concept but didn’t explain it clearly.  They taught me that I needed to improve my communication.  We kept working together and ultimately they showed me how I could illustrate a pretty big recovery point:  There are things we can (and arguably should) say about ourselves but are not as ok with having said about us. 


Reciprocity is a way to learn how to help us all grow up without a side order of growing resentful.  Do you have skills that make reciprocity possible?  What skills might those be? 

Stay tuned...


Humility and the willingness to change our minds is a gift.  I want to be the person who can listen to feedback and learn from it.  But there is a distinction between receiving feedback and paying attention to harsh criticism from strangers (or people who you know do not know you even if they have met you).  It’s like that old quote about porn, I may not be able to define it but I recognize it when I see it.  And in this way, there is a sometimes intangible but distinct difference between feedback and judgmental criticism. 


Example.  When criticism from strangers is in play, because of what I have learned from Brown’s work, I have a note I refer to that says, “Teresa, if the criticism doesn’t come with a reciprocity agreement, return to sender.”  Shortcut phrase that sometimes works to remind me of my core values:  reciprocity. 


Translation:  In my community we operate as equals.  No one is an expert.  We are all Bozos on the bus and we love Bozos.  We try not to crosstalk or tell each other what to do (although we slip often and forgive regularly our slips).  We try to stay in the #metoo space of relationship.  We are all equals, we all have something to contribute, we don’t boss each other around, we do practice giving and receiving feedback in safety.  Reciprocity goes like this:  “Hey, I read that you said this ______ and I am wondering if it might mean that you hate Jesus.  Do you?”  That statement invites reciprocity - a conversation.  Or, “Hey, from what I experienced of you when you did _____, I doubt whether or not you know anything about spiritual transformation.  Do you?”  Again, a bit critical for a sensitive soul, but still, it invites reciprocity.  It invites a conversation, not condemnation.  If someone I do not even know tries to tell me who I am then it is okay to return that comment to the sender without spending valuable energy on it.  However, if my husband or my kids or my best friend tells me I do not love Jesus and I know absolutely nothing about spiritual transformation I better sit down, pour the coffee and ask hard questions about myself.  How do you process criticism and feedback?  Do you make distinctions re: source?


Tomorrow, more on the nature of reciprocity...

What happens after a relational offense?

In addition to following Brene Brown through her words and imitating her ways, I practice this thing I call reciprocity.  Reciprocity is nothing more than a phrase that reminds me of core principles that I hope to live by in the heat of my own freak out moments.  For example.  I get an email which explains to me how I hate Jesus and clearly know nothing about spiritual transformation.  I feel automatically defensive, irritated and worried - Is she right?  I mean, she could be. This is what happens to anyone who dares to put themselves out there in the world.  There will ALWAYS be folks who criticize.  And since Brene admits that she used to listen to her critics (even though it is a bad idea and she tries not to do so now), I can certainly follow suit:  it is hard for me not to doubt myself when others are telling me I should.  Vulnerability teaches me that I can acknowledge that I am tempted to give criticism from strangers sway in my sense of self-worth.  There.  I said it.


It isn’t enough for me anymore to know this about myself without developing some skills to change my response.  How about you?  Are you ready to change some aspects of yourself that do not serve you well?


Tomorrow we are going to talk about a skill I practice to help me weather criticism in a way that is constructive.