Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Proper Argument

Let’s face it, kittens. Everyone argues – and I’m sure we all argue more than we’d like to. Personally, with two ex-husbands, a teenage daughter, and a wonderful sister with whom I didn’t always see eye-to-eye; I’ve certainly had more than a fair share of arguments. In all honesty, many of my arguments have been over petty things, and should have never occurred. I’m sure you can relate to that.

In my years (and years, and years) of arguing, I’ve actually learned quite a few things. These things, coupled with a few effective communication seminars I’ve attended have helped me realize that arguments, although unavoidable, do not have to be as hurtful, long, and painful as we tend to make them. How? The concepts are easy to understand, but difficult to put into practice. I promise, if you try hard enough at them and share them with the people in your life, you’ll find yourself with less severe arguments.

Before I begin, I need to put the “footnote” in here. I know there will always be major arguments or fights that are unavoidable; they will hurt and will be long and difficult. I’ll also be the first to admit that sometimes my emotions get the better of me and I don’t put into practice these principles. However, by keeping some of these things in mind, you will find yourself in a better place with the relationships in your life; especially when you can’t avoid the arguments. I can go on and on about all the things that you should and shouldn’t do with an argument – or any communication for that matter – but I’ll try to keep to just the major impact points for now.

The Facts versus The Stories This is something that I’ll get into deeper in a different post, but the simple version is this. Stick to the facts of a situation, versus making up your version of “why” the person did something. “I’m pissed off that you were 20 minutes late to the restaurant and we missed our reservation”. That’s a fact, and a valid emotion. This is a story “I can’t believe that Stacy is more important than me and you couldn’t tear yourself away from her in enough time to get here. We’ve missed our reservation and might as well just go home and starve for the rest of the night”. I know, you’re probably giggling, but let’s admit, we all over react and say stuff like that. How do you know that Stacy was the reason the person was late to the restaurant? Maybe the person was in an accident on the way? Maybe the other person got caught by a train? Maybe Stacy is the reason, but it’s because her cat was hit by a car and she needed to be comforted until someone else got home. Sticking to the facts versus making up your own reasons why the other person did or didn’t do something will curb a lot of frustration and arguments on its own.

Leave the Past Alone This is probably one of the BIGGEST mistakes people make when they are arguing with someone. They constantly bring up things the other person has done wrong in the past. “Remember that time in 1805 when I asked you to be sure the bed warmer under the comforter and you forgot? My feet were cold all night long and I ended up with the Plague”. “I apologized for that, and still feel really horrible about it – even 206 years later” “I know, but you still forgot to do it, and my feet were blue when we wok…..” You get the idea. The past is just that, the past. Everyone makes mistakes, and we apologize for them; and hopefully are forgiven (forgiving some things may take longer than others, I realize that). Keep in mind that actions or words that occurred in the past cannot be changed; if the other person has apologized for it, there is no reason to continuously bring it up – unless your intent is to specifically hurt them and make them feel terrible about themselves. If that is your intent, you should really reconsider your approach to things; would you like it if others did that to you? They do? Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? No .. it doesn’t.. so you shouldn’t do it to others, right? Right.

Actually and Actively Listen How often during an argument do you stop listening to the other person and start formulating what you’re going to say in response to them? If you don’t hear what they are saying, there is no way you’re able to actually understand their emotions, their line of thinking, or even their apology if that’s what they are saying. When you speak, you like to know others are listening and hearing what you are saying, it’s only proper to do that in return. Interrupting the other person to make your point (or to make your point AGAIN) diminishes their worth and in return, the argument will slide down the “you’re not even hearing the things I am saying” slope. We’ve all been there. Active listening is an entirely different blog (I’ll get to it eventually), but the basics are this: stop thinking about yourself and listen to what the other person is saying. Respond by validating their words (“You said that you were angry that I forgot to let the dog out, I understand, I would be angry too if it happened the other way around” versus “Last week YOU forgot to clean the litter box and your cat peed in my shoes, so I guess we’re even”. 2 rules broken right there – don’t bring up the past (assuming the dog thing is the actual argument) and not validating the other’s words) and their emotions. Everyone speaks from their own truth, and what might not seem like a very big deal to you may be to the other person, and to take that truth away from them is not fair.

Don’t Attack Character or Call Names and Button Pushing Calling names (especially hateful names like “a**h*le” or “b***h”) or attacking each other’s character is just another way of intentionally inflicting pain on the other person. What’s the purpose other than to make them feel horrible about themselves? I’m assuming by this time in the conversation, everyone’s emotions are high, most likely someone is crying, and all that is being accomplished with this is to tear down someone’s self esteem and invite them to do to the same to you. The same thing applies to what I consider Button Pushing. It’s knowing the things that make the other person feel bad, angry, or upset, and intentionally bringing them up. For example, the person the following statement is directed towards has self esteem issues about their weight. The argument is about whether or not the dog should be kenneled at night so it stops eating the couch (and nothing to do with diets, exercise, etc.) Button Pushing would go something like this (extreme example) “Maybe if you weren’t so fat and always ate your chips on the couch, Polly wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about chewing the couch”. I said it was extreme, but you get the point. A more subtle, but just as damaging, example: “Polly chews the couch because she doesn’t get enough exercise, you should know what that’s like”. Keep the argument to the facts at hand; don’t try to hurt each other.

NEVER use these words I’m guilty of using words during an argument that I would never ever say to someone in a regular conversation. I’ve also witnessed enough arguments to know I’m not the only one that uses these words. These are the worst of the worst during an argument and can cut deep, and wound for a long time. Shut-up and Hate. Telling someone to shut-up (shut your mouth, etc.) is demeaning and more hurtful than you realize. When you tell someone to shut-up, you’re basically letting them know that whatever they say is invaluable and you don’t want to hear it. Even if that is the case (but seriously – invaluable? If you believed that you would never speak to them) there are better ways of telling them. In my experience shut-up is usually used to stop someone from interrupting when you’re trying to say something. So try “Can you just let me say what I need to say, then I’ll listen to your side”. Hate is a word that I try to never ever use...especially during an argument. It’s just a horrible mean thing to say to someone “I hate you. I hate the way you talk to me. I hate the fact that .. “ etc. Use ‘don’t like’, use can’t stand’ … but please please please don’t use hate.

I’ll leave you, after all this rambling with this. End the argument. Simply say “Can we not argue about this anymore? I’m done trying to fight about something that we can easily fix if we both calm down (notice “if we both calm down.” Don’t use “if you calm down)”. End on a good note, and be sure to apologize to each other when you’re ready to. “I’m sorry I said things that might have hurt you, etc.” It’s just good for the relationship.

Be at peace with yourself and you’ll be at peace with the world.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Incredibly Entertaining Morning

One of the most important things I have learned in the past several years is to find a source of entertaining in just about everything. I've also learned that it's important not to let the "bad" stuff get to you; and to find the laughter in life. Without these skills, our world turns into a bleak, dry, boring, and often depressing place. It is in the spirit of entertainment that I share the story of my morning with you.

Let me first set the background a bit for you. As you may or may not know, I'm a single mother raising a teenager daughter (who is graduating from high school this year -- yikes!). With that being said, my mornings are usually pretty dull, with the regular routine of getting up, taking Sami to to school and getting myself to the rapid station (the public transportation "train" we use here in the Cleveland, Ohio area). This morning, however, was different. Sami was not going to school and I thought I could get a jump on my work day by getting to the office early. In addition to my early start, I was driving into the office, versus taking the train; as a friend of mine was going to give me a bunch of free cat food - and as much of a crazy cat lady as I am, I didn't want to go home on the train with bags and bags of cat food.

So, the day starts off like just about every other day. The piano version of Fireflies starts playing from my cell phone, as as soon as the notes fill the morning air, one of my cats (Carley) decides that it's time to wake up and start walking all over me. This morning he didn't see the need to avoid walking on my face, so as I was yawning and stretching, I got a mouth full of kitty paw. Startled human (fumbling with the phone alarm), startled cat (screaming so that everyone knows I tried to eat his foot) ... Good Morning, Sunshine!

I stumble to the bathroom and start the shower, and gather my towels and robe. Step into the shower and close my eyes to get my hair wet. Shampoo, lather, rinse, repeat. As I'm rinsing out my hair, I open my eyes and realize there is a man-eating spider descending from the ceiling with every intent of landing directly on my face. OK, so it was probably not a man-eating spider; but it was an eight legged creature of death and it was out to get me (I don't like spiders, can you tell?). I do what nearly every brave, macho American would do -- I squeal like a school girl and attempt to run away. In my shower. With shampoo every where. So, naturally, I land oh-so-ungracefully on my rear in the shower. And what do you know? Killer the Ninja Spider is still after me. So, I brave the elements, shampoo burning the one eye I can actually see out of (we'll cover the other eye in another posting), stand up, and .... SMACK! I squish the spider between my hands with the two handed non-shoe death punch! This thing is actually large enough for me to feel dying between my hands, legs and body all squished between my palms.

I spend the next 3 minutes scrubbing my hands of Ninja Spider Goo ... and finally finish my shower. Dry the body, put on the robe, find the coffee. Perfect plan.

I have one of those life-saving automatic start coffee pots that allows me to wake up in the morning to a nice, hot, fresh pot of coffee (flavor today: coconut). Except when I get to the kitchen, there is no coffee. Instead of going into coffee panic, I think "I can do this. I can press the ON button and all will be well with the world." Press. Nothing. Press. Nothing. **panic** PRESS ... zip. Thinking I'm too young to have to bury a coffee pot, I try in a last ditch effort to unplug the machine and plug it back in (maybe an electric shock would work -- it worked on me more than once!). I know, I didn't think it was going to work, but I was desperate. BINGO -- for some bizarre reason this works, and I have coffee brewing.

While the coffee gets it's hot and steamy on, I decide to get dressed. I trip over the cat in the hallway (sorry, Buttons.. but why are you just laying there like that?) and make my way into the bedroom. After a couple moments of staring at the closet and quietly cursing the laundry fairy for once again neglecting her duties, I grab a pair of pants. Put them on... zip them u.... wow broken zipper. Pants off, new pair of pants on. Grab a shirt and toss that on, along with a pair of socks and my tennis shoes (I always wear tennies into and from work -- dress shoes are for the office only!).

So, back to the kitchen for some wonderful coconut sweet cream coffee. Make the coffee and promptly spill it all down the front of me -- shirt, pants, shoes, socks... all wonderfully covered in coffee. Aaaaaaand back to the bedroom we go for another pair of pants (that desperately need to be ironed - but shall stay wrinkled) and a short sleeved sweater. Into the bathroom to do something with the Medusa curls on my head. I look into the mirror and realize -- gotta change my bra because the neck line of the sweater I have on shows the bra straps. Bedroom - change.

Back to the bathroom for the hair thing. I grab my non-frizz, Bozo control hair stuff and press the pump. Empty, of course. Back up plan ... back up plan.... ah ha! Curl control, non-frizz mousse from 29,847 years ago ... shake shake -- dispense. At this point in the game instead of mousse it's more like yogurt but it'll do the trick.

One of my girlfriends at work wanted a copy of one of Sami's senior pictures, which I forgot about until this morning; so I go to the bookcase (where I last saw them) and poke around to find one. They seem to be in full invisible mode, cause they aren't anywhere to be found. Hold on a second.. is that them? I grab what I think it is the photo envelope I keep them in and ... pull just about every book and notebook off the shelf somehow. I stare at the now almost bare shelf and realize a Senior picture for a friend at work isn't all that important. Spend a few minutes fixing my books-on-the-floor issue and get my stuff together for work. Back to the kitchen to grab a coffee-to-go in my handy-dandy "you can put this thing full of coffee in your purse and it'll never spill a drop" travel mug and head out the door. In an effort to keep my bag on my shoulder, the coffee in my hand, and trying to lock the door I somehow manage to pour coffee UP the sleeve of my jacket, thus soaking my sweater sleeve. No, I'm not changing, people can just put up with the fact that I smell like mocha-coconut. I'll tell them it's a new body spray from the Island or something.

I stop at the bottom of the steps and do what I usually do when things are raining down on me. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and say 'OK, I'm starting this over". I smile and head to my car, confident that my 'bad morning' is trapped in my past behind a locked apartment door.

I get into the car, start her up, and listen to the music coming out of the radio. Oh irony, how you get the wrinkles out of my clothes. "It's a great daaaaaaaaaaay to be alive, you know the sun still shining when I close my eyes". I start singing along, blissfully ignorant to what the Fates have yet to show me today. I look down at my dashboard and BAM ... gas tank is near empty. There's no way I'm going to get downtown and back near home without going to the gas station. Sigh.. no big deal. I'm still running a little ahead of my normal schedule, so I figure I can stop at the ATM, then the gas station and still make it to work by 7.30. I take in the nice little sunrise that is starting up, and pull into the bank. Up to the ATM and guess what? Yeap, out of order. I giggle to myself, because at this point, really -- it's just amusing. So, I head off to another bank location, because I'd really rather not pay fees for using some other bank's ATM. Find myself at the second bank, pull up, and nearly loose my sanity. Don't worry, the ATM isn't out of order -- this one is missing entirely. Just a hole in the wall where an ATM should be! I give up on trying to find another branch of my bank and just hit the nearest ATM -- I'll suck up the charges, because who KNOWS what might happen if I try to push my luck any further.
I get my money (whew!) and my gas without incident. Good thing, because at this rate, it wouldn't have surprised me if I found myself on fire at the gas station, or being dragged behind a horse drawn carriage somehow. I snake my way through the neighborhood and find a parking spot at the rapid station. Trying to dodge cars pulling in and out of the parking spaces, I realize I'm suddenly ankle deep in water. That's a pretty large hole, good thing I fit right into it! I shake my leg off the best I can .. doing my worst impersonation of Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty (you know, the scene outside the office building where he steps in the super deep puddle?). Good thing I was a source of quality entertainment for the gentleman walking up to the rapid station. He smiled at me, and I just laughed and said "It's not even Monday!"

I got up to the ticket machines at the rapid station, and realized one very important thing. Not that I needed to buy a ticket. And not that I didn't have any cash to do so. But the fact that I was DRIVING to work today -- remember the cat food thing?

Everything after that was pretty much a blur. I managed to get to the office a whole 14 minutes before I usually do (my plan was an hour and a half earlier). My shirt smells like coffee, my foot is STILL cold and all I can do is laugh about the whole thing. Why? Because I'm alive and well enough to laugh. I know that no matter how bad my morning was, I'm blessed beyond measure for the things in my life. I have a loving family, a wonderful daughter, great cats (who are so not happy with me right now), and friends who will be there for me no matter what. But most importantly, I laugh about it because it's funny.

A series of events unfolded that I was sure only happened in the movies. Nobody was hurt, no animals were harmed in the making of this film. The fact that I got to share it with you, is even better. I hope that, no matter what you've been through today, that this little slice of my life got you smiling and thinking to yourself "Hey I don't have it so bad .. I could be Trinity!"

Much Love
Be at peace with yourself and you'll be at peace with the world

Self-Sacrifice and the Pursuit of Happiness

This is a re-post -- I originally put it on my Facebook since I wasn't quite "there" yet with the whole blogging thing. But now that I am, here it is again.

I’ll be completely honest, it’s been a very long time since I’ve “blogged’ about anything, and although FB is by no stretch of the imagination a blogging website; I’m posting this here regardless. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons; but mainly because everyone that has access to read this little “note” of mine is someone I consider a friend. When we are going through difficult times, we reach out to our friends for love and support. During good times, our friends are there to celebrate with us. We share, and over share, with our friends, and hope that they feel as comfortable with us as to share their lives in the same way.

I really don’t know where this is going to take me, or if I’ll even post it… or save it. It might be one of those things that, once written and read, is deleted and never again thought of. However, something tells me that it will be shared, and read by others; sometimes it’s important to share our stories so others can learn from them.

I have recently had a revelation … and it’s something that many people in my life have been telling me for years; I was just too stubborn and focused on other things to accept it. It may sound silly to some of you – or obvious. For those of you who truly know me; you know it isn’t either of those things. So here it is in the simplest form there is: I deserve my own personal happiness. See … simple, right? Not always – and not for as many people as some would think. I know what you’re thinking “You’re one of the happiest, motivating, inspirational people I know” (wow, that sounded conceited, but eh – it’s what it is). I’m not unhappy; it’s simply that for as long as I can recall (at least since high school) my happiness has come from helping others succeed, be happy, and achieve their dreams. Watching someone I care for succeed in something, or helping them overcome a problem, or seeing them achieve a goal makes me happy; mostly because they are happy. Let’s face it… when those we love are truly happy, it in turn, elates us as well.

The drive to see others happy led me to be a very self-sacrificing person. I’m certainly not complaining about that – being selfless is something I strive for on a daily basis; as I think most people should. I give up things I want, things I know will make me happy, to ensure the happiness of the people in my life. I know, you’re thinking to yourself “everyone does (or should do) that sometimes”; because the basis of a happy, healthy relationship is the ability to compromise. There is a fine line, however, between compromise and continuous self sacrifice; and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself in a situation where you realize that everything you spend your time on is for someone else; and that the happiness you feel is theirs, and not yours. When you encounter that situation, things can go bad relatively quickly. You start to lose sleep. You stop eating as well as you should. You find ways to let out aggression on people you love, because you don’t know where else to place it. Worst of all, you start to resent the people you set out to help; not because they have done anything wrong; but because you realize you’re not truly happy.

So, you’re thinking, where am I going with this, right? I have finally admitted to myself that I deserve the personal happiness that comes with focusing my efforts and energy on things that make me truly happy. I will certainly not stop helping other people. Offering advice, guidance and leadership is something I really truly enjoy. When I help someone through a difficult situation or give them advice on something and it helps them, it makes me incredibly happy; I’ll never stop doing that. I will, however, be more selective on what I do with my ‘free’ time – and what I spend the limited energy I have on.

Being sick for the last 11 years has taught me that life is way too short not to do things you enjoy (cliché’ much?). Granted, I have to work, and grocery shop, and do my taxes, and clean the litter box; some things are inevitable. For those of you who have read the “Spoon Theory”, you know that there are days when I have very little energy to get to work, home and dinner made, let alone do something “fun” for myself. It’s the limited “fun time” I have that I need to make the most of – isn’t that a goal for all of us? For those of you who have not read the “Spoon Theory” I highly suggest doing so, almost everyone knows someone with an illness – whether it’s chronic or terminal.

So, this personal happiness thing…what is it, exactly? It’s different for everyone. I’ve realized that I don’t like spending all my time alone, but I don’t necessarily NEED a significant other in my life to be happy. (Previous significant others in my life have shown me that having one does not, in itself, bring happiness). Not that I don’t want one...but it’s not a “must have” for me – I can, and have been, happy without one. Animals are NOT negotiable for me – feline energy is a must have – cats in any shape and size seem to balance me out and make me more level. Dogs I can do without (hahah sorry Sami!); but cats are a must have for me. Remember, sometimes it’s the little things that make us happy. There’s a lot more, but it gets much more personal than you probably want to read, and much more than I want to share at this point.

Why am I posting all of this? I’m doing it for two reasons, actually. First, I want to inspire others to take a look at and evaluate their situation. It’s a task we should all do from time to time, as it helps us grow as people and allows us to be who and what we are meant to be. Count your blessings and be thankful for the good things and the challenges in your life. If you’re not happy with a situation, it’s up to you to take control of it and change it; your friends can support you through it, but only YOU can make it happen. I know I am not the only self-sacrificing person on the planet – and I want others to know that your own personal happiness is important as well; as difficult as it might be understand and obtain.

Secondly, I’m doing this because the changes I have to make in order for me to be personally happy may, and most likely will, impact people in my life. I’m not doing any of this to intentionally hurt anyone; and I know as my friends, you will all understand that. I have lost an amazing amount of sleep coming to these decisions and wondering if I deserved my happiness enough to change the parts of my life that I want to now change. Everyone assures me that I do; so I’m trusting them, and myself, to not send me in the wrong direction. I do know, however, that some people may be disappointed in my decisions, and it’s a very real possibility that I will lose friends by the end of it. I’m not making massive changes to every aspect of my life and to some the changes won’t even be noticeable. The change in my mood, my outlook, and my attitude will be noticeable to everyone – and I hope they consider it a change for the better.

Alright, I’m done… I think. If you’ve gotten this far without thinking “wow… she’s really self centered, and full of herself, and thinks she’s all that”… congratulations – because I’ve thought that a lot about myself recently – but have decided that as self centered as it sounds, it doesn't make the fact that I want to be happy in my own right less true.

Be at peace with yourself and you’re at peace with the world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yes, This is All New To Me

Hey there, Kittens!

Yes, this whole blog thing is new to me, but it's something I've been wanting to do for a while. This will give me a way to share my thoughts (whether you like it or not) and hopefully inspire others to make positive change in themselves.

So, here it is... and here we go.