When Love or Life Blinds You: Signs That You are Ignoring the Obvious – Parshat Bo

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How ‘bout a shot of truth in that denial cocktail.”    – Jennifer Salize

For better or worse, part of the human condition is to contend with a built-in sensitivity to negativity, called “the negativity bias.”  When taken to an extreme, however, a negativity bias creates a filter to that which is good and positive.  When we turn a blind eye to the inherent worthiness of our children and loved ones, for example, we damage impressionable psyches – sometimes for a lifetime – and we wreak relationship havoc.  The flip side to this is to view people through rose-colored glasses so thick and idealized, that we cannot see any flaws or faults – even when others clearly can. 

My husband and I just watched a classic film from the forties – The Heiress – where Olivia de Havilland plays a plain Jane character, socially awkward and unassuming, who gets swept off her feet by a stunningly handsome fortune hunter.  De Havilland lives with her father, who never misses an opportunity to compare her unfavorably to his dead wife.  Romanticizing her as the epitome of idealized perfection, he views his dowdy and shy daughter as an insult to his wife’s very memory.  On the other hand, de Havilland’s aunt is so caught up in the wishful fantasy of a prince charming rescuing her niece, that she absurdly supports the “romance” – even after de Havilland is jilted when the promise of money disappears.  What made the movie compelling was de Havilland’s heartbreaking courage to allow and accept truth to pierce her illusions, even though it shattered her world.

I Just Don’t Get It – How Could They…

How many relationships are strained when we cannot, for the life of us, understand how someone can hold a particular opinion, or who remains tenaciously committed to problematic behavior in the face of objective and incontrovertible facts that contradict their beliefs?  It takes a great deal of courage for people to be willing to change their worldview; so, it’s naïve to think that pulling back the curtain of their illusions will make them fall in line.  That is because our versions of reality can be bound up in our very identities, our dreams, and the stories we tell about ourselves and the world. 

That is why sometimes we “fight to the death” over insignificant things.  The need to be right at all costs is the fear of the loss of self, our history, our values, and our way of knowing things.  Thus, we can be so irrational when we are triggered, because the very nature of being triggered means that a core value, identity or need is being challenged. And when our stories are confronted, we defend them – reason and reality be damned.

Pharaoh and De-Nile

The inability to recognize the obvious is never more evident than in the story of Ten Plagues.  How can we understand Pharaoh’s refusal to concede that Egypt was being reduced to ruin?  Even worse – how could Pharaoh reject the demand for freedom, when Moses warned of the most crushing plague of them all –  the death of the firstborn?  The text tells us repeatedly, that at each juncture when Pharaoh could relent, that God hardened his heart, implying that God caused Pharaoh to continue to make these bad choices.   But that’s not the case; instead, God prevented Pharaoh from surrendering out of fear and expediency.  When facing an imminent threat, people often promise to change their problematic behaviors, but as soon as they think the risk is over, they go right back to their dysfunctional ways.  The promise isn’t real; it’s a disingenuous ruse for their convenience.  As long as Pharaoh was unwilling to change his story, his worldview – namely that he was the deity in control, God was not going to let him play that game.  Incredibly, it wasn’t until Egypt was destroyed, the death of firstborn, and his entire army perishing at sea, that Pharaoh was willing to cede to the truth – that there really is a God – and it ain’t him. 

What About Us?

The point is not to look at Pharaoh as a deranged dictator from a bygone era, however, but to look within.  Is this going on in our lives?  Is there something we are not willing to face?  The saying, “Love is blind,” is not just a saying – neuroscience has proven how infatuation causes us to lose the ability to think critically.  Of course, when the chemicals wear off, we see people as if for the first time and wonder – who is this person?  As a long-time divorce attorney, and now a coach, I cannot count how many times people admit that the problems destroying their marriages were there beforehand, and feel remorse for not listening to friends, family, or their own inner voice, that questioned the relationship.  

In my experience, people tell us who they are – but often we refuse to see it, or if we do, we believe we can fix them.  So, I am going to do something very unusual – I am going to provide some questions for you to consider and outline objective red flags and danger signals, that if present in your relationships, should make you question very seriously whether a relationship is right for you.  And if you still choose the relationship, then at least you can open your eyes and come up with realistic strategies to make the relationship healthier and happier.

Projecting the Future

Would I want to spend the rest of my life with this person exactly as they are?   Would I want this person to raise my child?  Would I want my child to be exactly like this person?

Are You Talking Yourself into the Relationship?

Do I want to help them or rescue them because I “see” their potential?  I love the way they look, or their status and it builds my self-esteem to be with them. We have some things in common so, I am avoiding looking at glaring differences. I’m focusing on one important quality, and ignoring unmet requirements. I notice myself trying to change this person to fit what I want rather than accepting them for who they are.   

Danger Signs

Reacts to frustration with anger, rage, and blame.  Blames others or circumstances for life situation.  Tries to control everything, including me.  Is immature, impulsive and/or irresponsible. Is emotionally distant, avoidant and aloof.  Is still pining for a past relationship. Wants me to make their sad life better. Is married or otherwise unavailable to commit to me. Has active addiction or addictive behavior, rationalized as, “not a problem.”

Common Red Flags

Is pessimistic and negative about things that matter to me.  Lacks integrity in dealing with people, money, etc.  Is judgmental towards themselves and others.  Is unwilling to self-examine, take feedback, accept responsibility. Doesn’t keep agreements. What they say about themselves doesn’t match reality.  Takes you on an emotional roller coaster, with regular or recurring emotional drama.  This isn’t what I really want, but I don’t want to be alone.  Shows changeable inconsistent behavior. Shows an inability to listen. Talks too much (especially about themselves), monopolizes conversations, or is overly withdrawn and quiet.

What We Resist Persists

If a number of these issues resonate with you, please get some objective help in evaluating the relationship.  Unresolved problems don’t improve after marriage; they get worse.  It’s distressing how many people refuse to see or downplay warning flags, and head into unsatisfactory marriages, where they may struggle for years to get clarity on why things aren’t working.  De Havilland got it right when she realized that wishing desperately for something does not make it so.   Watch the movie.

Sources: Conscious Dating – Red Flags Checklist. 
© Relationship Coaching Institute | All rights reserved | Adapted with permission

 

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The Road We Must Travel – Parshat Va’eira

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Our mistakes and regrets are not barriers to becoming who we can be; they are a necessary ingredient.”  – David Schnarch

Thanks, But I’d Rather Own My Stuff

In the middle of writing this blog, I was solicited to purchase an expensive business development course, which promised to create a quantum leap in my coaching practice. When I admitted disappointment with certain aspects of coaching, the voice on the phone was quick to point out, “It’s not your fault.” No doubt, “the voice” was trained to say this, to establish a sympathetic connection, hoping I would be sobbing in grateful relief as I reached for my credit card. Instead, I bristled at the very idea. Buddy, I thought, of course, it’s my fault! Whose fault should it be? Should I blame my clients? My childhood? The universe? Because if it’s not my fault, then how in the world can I ever fix it? When we outsource the blame for a problem, then we are outsourcing the solution as well. And when we give up agency, the ability to make choices and see the causal relationship between our actions and outcomes, we undermine one of the highest faculties of being a human being.

The Jewish Journey – Leaving Home

The first directive God gave Abraham was an eviction notice: “Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham’s journey was not merely physical but spiritual, where he had to transcend his external and internal influences and limitations, to awaken to a higher level of spirituality. In going from Haran, he left a place of constriction, but also everything that was known and familiar to him, to brave the unknown to journey to the Promised Land, where he would fulfill his destiny and relationship with God in a whole new way.

God also tells Abraham that in the future, the Jewish people will be oppressed as slaves for hundreds of years in an alien land, but that ultimately we would leave that land with great wealth. Ironically, Abraham’s first footstep of freedom set in motion events that would eventually cause the Jewish nation to become enslaved.

Coming Home

In Va’eira, we begin the process the most celebrated eviction in history, the Exodus from Egypt. Just like Abraham’s journey occurred in stages, God tells Moses that He will redeem the Jewish people in four steps: “I shall take you out from under the burdens. I shall rescue you. I shall redeem you. I shall take you to Me for a people.” The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim” means “narrowness” and “constriction.” Thus, the formula for growth is the willingness to leave a mindset or place of limitation to which you are attached. So here, on a national level, the Jewish people had to leave the place of bondage, which was all they knew, to brave the unknown in their journey towards the Promised Land, where they would awaken to their collective spiritual mission of establishing a loving relationship with God connected through Torah.  

What We can’t Control – God’s Business

When God took us out of Egypt, the Jewish people were at the penultimate depth of spirituality. Any further descent and redemption would have been untenable. If the endgame here was for us to become “God’s people,” then God intervened at the last possible moment before that kind of connection would no longer be feasible. The matter was urgent, and God wasn’t waiting for the Jewish people to work on themselves. If that was “The Plan” all along, however, both in becoming slaves and then being freed on God’s cosmic timetable, then we were passive entities on both ends of the stick. Where does that leave the Jewish people regarding personal responsibility and agency?

What We Can Control – Our Business

Many Jews have the daily custom of reciting the “Six Remembrances,” one of which is to remember for the rest of our days, the day that we left Egypt. And tradition tells us that in the future, the Final Redemption will be similar to the story of the Exodus. In the meantime, however, don’t count on God to airlift you out of your mess. In our daily morning blessings, we specifically thank God for not having created us a slave. And so every day is an invitation to look at our lives right now. If I am attached to my bad habits, if I refuse to admit that my behavior is problematic, and I defend my unexamined stories, then my relationships are going to suffer. Since my wellbeing depends primarily on the quality of my relationships, then my life as a whole is compromised. God didn’t create me this way; I enslaved myself.   But that’s OK; if I created my mess, then I can fix it.  

Relationships – People Growing Machines

In the beginning, God said that it was not good for man to be alone; thus we are created to exist in relationship. As a matter of fact, without connection, we don’t even exist, as all existence is contingent on there being a second something. Only God is a unity; we live in the space of relationship that exists between us and everything and everyone else. And so it’s more than just the quality of your life that depends on the quality of your relationships – you are the quality of your relationships.    

The Journey of the Heart

The willingness to break free of what enslaves us and to brave the wilderness of new possibility is to undertake the most magnificent journey of them all – the journey of the heart. Redemption is a process – a difficult and challenging one. Most of us are more comfortable with the devil that we know, and so even if we are suffering, we are surprisingly resistant to change. The challenges and tests we face in our relationships are nothing more than a reflection of who we are. When we stop defending positions, we can start to open our hearts, and by owing our stuff, we can let it go. Before we can leave Egypt, we have to be willing to go. But it’s so worth it. The Promised Land is love. You can go home.

 

Serving the Moment Versus Serving Oneself: Which Mindset Are You? – Parshat Shemot

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You have a decision to make.  Before you, lies a conflict you haven’t been able to resolve, or a new reality that is causing anxiety and stress.   Or maybe something in your life is asking you to take a leap of faith, change your perspective, or become a bigger version of yourself.  Are you willing to open up to new possibilities?  Or will you shut down and stick with what you know? Are you searching for truth, or defending an agenda?  That choice may depend on how you define yourself, your mission in life – and what you are willing to see.

In the second book of the Torah, Shemot, we read about two polar opposite personalities – Moses and the Pharaoh – one who committed one of the most transcendent actions recorded in the Torah, and the other, who committed one of the most heinous.  One was a servant of God, who brought redemption and light; the other a “god” who served his own agenda and brought destruction and darkness.  Yet, they shared something in common, the word, “Behold!”  Each of them had a paradigm shift and then set into motion world events consistent with their respective visions. 

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In Shemot, we see in Pharaoh words, the blueprint for anti-Semitism.  In fact, it is said that Hitler modeled his propaganda machine after Pharaoh’s strategy.  The Torah introduces us to Pharaoh as a “new king who did not know Joseph.”  It is patently impossible that any Egyptian ruler would not have known the “Joseph Story,” that the Jewish people were invited to settle in Egypt appreciation for Joseph having them from famine, and enriching Egyptian coffers beyond imagination, as the entire civilized world showed up on Egypt’s doorstep in need of grain.  For someone like the Pharaoh, who considered himself all-powerful and divine, it was mortifying to feel indebted to the Jewish people – and their God.  With the death of Jacob, Joseph, and all his brothers, Pharaoh shirked off any vestige of gratitude.  It was, therefore, not a case of “not knowing;” but rather, creating a new historical/political narrative, which recast people who had been meaningful contributors to society, into a so-called threat to that very society.  As any despot knows, the shortest road to power is to create an enemy and then dedicate yourself to its destruction.

Relationship Tip:  This is an important point – we cannot simultaneously hold two divergent views of a person. If we are in touch with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for someone, we cannot at the same time see them through the lens of a negativity bias.  To maintain a state of complaint or anger, we have to shut our minds to what is good.  So, if you find yourself trapped in a negativity spiral with a loved one, you can stop it in its tracks.  Consciously recalling the times that person has been there for you, or the many ways that person has demonstrated love, kindness, and consideration will switch you back into a positive mindset.  The “what have you done for me lately” mentality, or turning a blind eye to the good kills relationships.   

The Process of Dehumanization

“Behold!  The people, the Children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we.  Come, let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it, too may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land.”  To refer to the Jewish people as an “it,” is to dehumanize them.   

Brené Brown defines dehumanization as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.  Once we see people on ‘the other side’ of a conflict as morally inferior and even dangerous, the conflict starts being framed as good versus evil.”  Thus, we are free to “behold” any perception or narrative we want to create, and nothing is off the table – oppression, subjugation, slavery, genocide, etc.  

My Way or the Highway

What this can look like in a relationship is the “my way or the highway” attitude, an ultimatum to “take it or leave it” where the other person must conform or suffer the consequences.   In asserting our absolute autonomy, if we come home late without a heads up we may blow away our upset partner for being “controlling.”  Our sense of time prevails; the thermostat is set at our comfort level, we make unilateral decisions, etc., since we don’t see other people’s opinions or feelings as worthy of consideration.   In marriage, this is a divorce waiting to happen.

The Moses Way

While tending the flock of his father-in-law, Moses noticed one of the sheep was missing.  Concerned for its safety, he was in hot pursuit when he came upon an unusual sight: “Behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed.”  That in itself required a level of awareness, for Moses could easily have been too preoccupied with looking for the sheep to notice that there was something very peculiar about a common brush fire.  But Moses had a history of “noticing.” 

The first time we meet him as an adult, Moses is the “Prince of Egypt.” Removed from the confines of the palace, he witnessed the suffering all around him, and when he observed a taskmaster viciously beating a Jewish slave, he took action and killed the man.  Fleeing Egypt, Moses arrived in Midian, and when he saw a group of women being tormented by shepherds, he came to their rescue.  While we’re usually in touch with our suffering, seeing it in others is not so common.  God did not call out to Moses until Moses made a point of showing his willingness to enter this unknown territory – “to turn aside and look.” Then, God summoned him, “Moses, Moses!” to which Moses replied, “Hineini, Here I am.”  This pivotal moment was built on a lifelong pursuit of truth, no matter where it led.

Behold!  For everything in life asks for our attention. That’s the challenge. It is a struggle to remain open and not grow numb when negative news pounds our psyche daily, but there is a price to pay for not seeing the suffering of others.  Says neuroscientist Rick Hanson, “You miss information about the nature of life, miss chances to have your heart opened, miss learning what your impact on others might be.”  And closer to home, “Small issues that could have been resolved early on grow until they blow up. People don’t like having their pain overlooked.”

As a servant of God, Moses was always ready to serve the moment, whether saving a lost sheep or an entire nation. “Here I am.”  By being selfless, he had everything!  In contrast, Pharaoh served only himself – and he wound up with nothing.  Behold! The moments of life ask for your response. Says Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  What will you see?

References:

Shemot/Exodus 1:8-10, 3:2-3

http://www.rickhanson.net/recognize-suffering-in-others/

Intervew with Brené Brown