One way of dealing with troublesome relationships is looking for the start of the troubles. At that time, you made some wrong decision or wrong turn and got out of the current of your river. If you can understand what wrong decision or wrong turn you made, and change your thought processes and behavior that caused the trouble, then things will definitely improve in that area of your life. Either the relationship will considerably improve or the negative things about it no longer bother you or the relationship gently floats away.
This approach works in situations where there was an absolutely clear and definitive point when things took a bad turn. Before this time, it was like you were in your river nicely going downstream and laughing with your companion while loving the pleasant sunny day. But then there was a fork in the river and you went to the right and a few minutes later you went into the rapids and then over a waterfall where your canoe was smashed. In situations like this, you went the wrong way.
It is not luck or randomness that you went the wrong way. It was poor ways of relating to others that caused you to choose it. The important thing is that you almost assuredly still have that same way of relating or behaving and once you change that, things will get better. You understand why things went bad and how you still need to watch out for the same tendencies which will recur and pull you out of your current again.
Sometimes it is not easy to remember this turning point, and it may take a while to find it. But it is crucial to make sure you get the exact turning point (if there was one) as that moment will reveal the lessons you need to learn by showing you what you did and why you did it.
An example of how this approach works involves Connie, an acquaintance of mine. Her life was messed up in many ways with her former fiance. He had stalked her, had filed a harassment suit against her, had spread many false rumors about her throughout their small town, and had cheated her out of money.
I started asking her about her relationships. Was this the only guy she had had a relationship with and if not, how did the other ones go? It quickly became apparent that she had many similar relationships. One guy tied her up, raped her, and kept her hostage for over twentyfour hours when they broke up. When she broke up with another guy, he pushed her so hard off their porch, she flew into her car and bounced off it. Another spread terrible rumors, trying to destroy her reputation in their little town. All of these relationships ended badly, with the men being extremely mean and violent and many of these guys stalked her.
It was obvious to me that this was a classic case of someone continually meeting other people who were reflections of her inner ways of thinking and acting. I told her someone who continually had relationships with the same kind of negative people almost assuredly had these same qualities as these people were reflections of her. I also said that if she understood these patterns of thinking and acting and changed them, then her relationships would improve.
Connie was forty seven years old and couldn’t stand the idea of starting over; she felt very alone and cried continually. She wanted her former fiance back as she still felt deeply attached to him. I said the goal was to explore Connie’s issues and ways of behavior so that either the guy would come back or there would be a clean break where he just floated away easily and you were glad that he was gone.
Since Connie wanted a relationship with this specific person, I did not pursue the reflections approach. And as the issue was not his complaints about her, I did not go that way either. Instead I asked her if she could think of a time when the relationship started going badly. At first she offered a time when she thought things had changed, but when pressed she said that was not a clear time when everything before that was primarily good and afterwards everything started going down hill.
So I made the idea clearer to her: I told her to think of your relationship as like you were driving on Interstate 80 to San Francisco from Chicago and things were going smoothly. But then for some stupid reason you got off the highway in Nebraska. The roads got smaller and soon the Children of the Corn were making a sacrifice of you. I asked if there was any time like that: where if you just hadn’t gotten off the highway then you would not now be lying on the side of the road with the birds chewing on your eyeballs. Immediately she knew when that time was: when she went into business with her former fiance. Connie said the relationship had been very good until then: they were a loving couple, they were very happy and had lots of intense sex. But everything had changed as soon as they went into business together. She said this business had poisoned everything in the relationship.
I said that whatever decisions she had made back then were an example of her basic way of relating to other people. This key turning point happened because of these troublesome parts of her personality and we could use that time to understand in miniature some of her most basic personality troubles that she still needed to change. The way to proceed was to come up with a list of things that she did wrong back then. Then we would see how she was still doing these things and how they were still affecting her life. We would then try to analyze why she did them and come up with better ways of relating as she understood the troubling ramifications of her old ways of thinking and acting.
We started by making a list of key troublesome things she did back then. The first thing was that she and her former fiance built a house together, but only his name was put on the deed. This meant that once the relationship was over, she got no money for the house. It also meant that she had no right to the home they had built and been living in for years. It even meant he could accuse her of being a stalker whenever she would go to the house to collect her things. The second thing was that she was totally unconcerned about the money aspect of the business and just let her former fiance deal with that. I said both of these things involved deferring to men and not claiming her financial power. She said she had trusted her former fiance that he would watch out for her. This trusting of men to take care of her financially was the third big issue she had.
I pointed out that all these things involved money and men. She said that money was a major issue with her ex fiance once they went into business. He became a different kind of person and the issue hung over every aspect of the relationship.
Considering the decision had so screwed up the relationship, I knew other issues would be involved as the more something has gone wrong, the more issues are involved. So I asked Connie what other things were involved. She said that their business was an alternative energy business and it failed because when the price of oil went down, all the alternative energy businesses based on high oil prices collapsed. Ordinarily something being alternative would not be significant, but I had met Connie socially many times and she was always being Ms. Alternative in an obnoxious way. People would literally groan in unison when she started talking about how society was all messed up. I had never met anyone who could make people turn off on alternative things so quickly. In these social situations she seemed to have her identity wrapped up in being an alternative type person and did it in obnoxious ways.
So I asked if alternative type things got her in trouble in any other ways. She said she often praised alternative medicine and denigrated Western medicine with her former fiance even though she knew his cousin was a doctor and he often asked her to stop talking about it. She also said that her father had made lots of money in the oil business and so running a business based on alternative energy brought family issues into the whole mix. Lastly, she would often disturb her religious husband by attacking Christianity as a male dominated, oppressive religion.
I said that these types of behaviors had really hurt her relationship and so they were important things to look at for her relationships in general. They were like mountain peaks of the landscape of her problems; we could orient ourselves around them. If she changed her ways of thinking and acting, her relationships would get a lot better. Particularly her former fiance would either want to come back to her or there would be a clean break with him where he would just gently float away and her heart would not ache all the time.
She started to look at how she was still acting the same way as she did in that relationship and tried to change. A few days later her former fiance made it absolutely clear that there was no way they were ever going to get back together. While she cried over this, I said this was a good sign and a good accomplishment as this was a clear break. A little later other men started to get interested in her and an old flame from over twenty years ago even came back into her life again.
It was not coincidence that things started going better for Connie when she started dealing with her problems. But you have to keep facing the problems your relationships reveal to you about your relationship style. It is extremely unlikely you see some things about yourself and that will cure your relationship troubles. Connie did not want to keep facing her problems and, as far as I know, she is continuing to do the negative things on her list and having trouble with men.
Michelle is an example of someone who continued to face her problems and ended up in a much better place. Michelle was in her late thirties and had a decent job in one of the country’s largest banks. After the housing bubble crash, this was a very stable, comparatively well-paying job. But she was very distressed at how unchallenging the job was, how it sapped her energy, and how she was paid much less than she wanted.
The easiest way to deal with a situation like this is to figure out if the person had missed a connection somewhere along the way that involved the way she related to other people. So I asked her if it had always been like this with her jobs? Was there ever a time when she felt full of energy and challenged at her work and where she was paid lots of money? If it turned out there was never a time Michelle had a wonderful job, we would have to take a different approach.
She thought about the question for a while, going through the large number of jobs she had had in the last fifteen years. After much prodding, she remembered the only job that challenged her, gave her energy and paid her extremely well: this was when she was working at the corporate headquarters of MGIC, the largest mortgage insurance company in the country.
She was hired as temp in her mid-twenties, but her bosses were very impressed with her and she quickly rose through the ranks. She loved working for MGIC: she got in early, before the CEO, and stayed late every day. She was happy to be at work; in fact, it didn’t seem like work at all. It was a fun time. They loved having her, paid her well, and she loved the new challenges.
But then she hit a roadblock: she was promoted to running the corporate collections department and was intimidated by one part of her job. In particular, one company had a special invoice that was very complex. She could not figure out the invoice and was too intimidated to try. She felt totally overwhelmed. She tried to ask one co-worker for help, but was brushed off, even though this co-worker’s responsibility was to deal with this invoice.
So Michelle just ignored the problem, hoping it would go away. By ignoring the problem, it became a bigger mess, and she was increasingly afraid that it would show her boss and everyone she worked with that she was stupid, a fraud and a loser. She stopped liking her job as now it became a troubled area for her.
Instead of dealing with the problem, Michelle found a new way to ignore it: she decided to get a different job. Her roommate was a social worker and loved it. She felt Michelle was a very caring person and that she would make a great social worker. Michelle felt honored that she saw this in her and was moved to apply for a job that she thought had more meaning.
Michelle was a leftist, hippie type and all her friends were against being concerned for money like all her co-workers in America’s largest mortgage insurance company. She thought that by being a social worker she would be doing something good with her life instead of being part of the corporate system. So while she had lots of energy and happiness working at MGIC; they really appreciated her; she made great money; and she had a very promising career path there, she decided to take a job being a child welfare worker.
It was a very significant pay decrease, but she felt like it was a noble and loving choice to make. Her bosses were extremely sad to see her go and the executive vice president of the entire company literally asked her, “What would it take to keep you? Name your price.” She could have named her price, but instead, she told them she did not care about the money; it was about doing work that helped other people.
Michelle became a social worker, but she quickly found out it was not what she had imagined it to be. She was not really helping people as the people she thought she would be helping were mostly just scamming the system. Within a year, she was so depressed that she could not get out of bed before noon and had gained over twenty five pounds. She quit the job a year later and drifted through many unchallenging, low paying jobs in the decade since.
It had never occurred to Michelle before that she had once had a connection to a great job and had messed it up. Instead she spent her time whining about how the universe was a crappy place.
After we analyzed her situation like this, Michelle started kicking herself for how stupid she was. She had had an absolutely wonderful connection for a great job, but she was blind to how good it was.
At that time period, she was blind to how much she cared about money. Instead she believed that caring about other people and helping them was important, not money. Years later she had opened up to how much money was important to her as she realized she loved buying things more than anything else in the world.
For some people, caring about money is an enticement luring them out of their river. For Michelle, blindness to how much money was important to her caused her to throw away an absolutely wonderful career connection.
She needed to make a list of the troublesome patterns that had caused her to miss her job connection at MGIC, and then be on the lookout for when she started acting the same way. She also needed to work on why she had these patterns of behavior. If she did those things, she could get back into the current of her river and get a good job again.
So we made a list of her troublesome patterns.
1) She hated feeling overwhelmed by a complex business problem.
2) Instead of facing up to her problem, she just wanted to run away from her job.
3) She did not care enough about money.
4) She got into a leftist mindset of communal caring. In this mindset, it was good to help others, instead of watching out for her own needs and wants.
5) She did not ask for help with her complex business problem as she was afraid to look stupid and like a fraud.
6) She was not able to see who her allies were and how to get them to help her.
Meanwhile, we spent the next year working on an even more pressing problem for Michelle: her romantic relationships. (This work is described in detail in the chapter titled “Romantic Relationships.”) But problems in one area do not stayed confined just to that area. They permeate your life. The same thing with changes. For Michelle there was a direct relationship between changing her romantic relationships and improving her job situation.
Five years ago Michelle had gotten a job as a dominatrix at a local night club, filling in for the regular dominatrix. Michelle loved the job, was great at it, and it paid extremely well: about $200 for five hours. But the regular dominatrix despised Michelle’s last lesbian girl friend. One night the relationship between these two women got so bad that the head dominatrix and Michelle’s then girlfriend got into a terrible fight. After that night, Michelle quit her job working with the dominatrix.
That had happened three years ago. As she was changing into a new person by learning from the bad example of her former girlfriends, Michelle heard that the old dominatrix had retired from the club. Michelle was hired along with two other dommes to be rotating new dominatrixes. The boss said whichever domme was best, would become the new head domme.
Michelle wanted to be the new head domme and thought she had a good chance as she was the best one and the only one with all the equipment such as whips and handcuffs. She knew she had a tendency to make bad decisions with jobs, so she asked me for help staying on top of things. It turns out that at an earlier meeting with the boss, she had gotten carried away with the group spirit and offered to share all her equipment with her competitors. As a capitalist, I was utterly horrified. She was in competition for a very good paying job but she was helping her competitors! What could be more stupid?
She had lost her good job connection at MGIC because she did not care enough about money and instead got into some kind of leftist communal mindset where it was thought the good people cared for everyone else. She now realized she had done the same thing again. We talked about her problems and she said she had to arrange it so that she could come out on top of the competition and be the new head domme. She skillfully did this and ended up with a very fun part time job that she loved.
Still her regular job was a big downer: it was unfulfilling, she did not like many of her coworkers, she did not make enough money, and she was not challenged. These were all the same problems she had been having since she left the one good job she had had at MGIC over ten years ago. Michelle had been trying to apply for new jobs within the company, but in 2010 there were not many available. Desperate, she applied for a mid level management job at her company even though she had no experience in management.
The next day, Michelle told her boss about applying for the manager job in case her boss was called as a reference. Her boss acted all concerned as Michelle was the best worker in the department and was working on a very important new project. Her boss said they would see what they could do for her.
The next day Michelle was told she would be meeting with her boss and her boss’ boss. Michelle knew they were going to make her an offer or ask her how they could keep her, but she wasn’t sure what kind of proposal to make. Michelle knew she had trouble making good decisions with jobs, and the next day was an important meeting. So she wanted to be in proper state of mind for it and asked me for help to make sure she did the best she could. We talked, trying to clear away things that would lead her to make a bad decision. Too many times in the past she had made bad decisions and she wanted to make sure it did not happen again.
One possibility was that she could push for a raise at her current job. But that meant she would probably have to make a commitment to stay at this job for a year or two. She didn’t want to do that as she hated her job. I asked her what other choice did she have? With the bad economy and her paltry skills, it was stupid to think she could get another job at a different company.
She said she wanted this management job at her same company. I said that it was not realistic for her to get a midlevel management position as she had no experience in management. Instead the company would hire someone with lower level management experience who wanted to move up to middle management. If she had an absolutely wonderful management personality, maybe someone would have taken a chance on her. But she was a classic follower personality with no management abilities at all.
I said this was more of her old pattern of wanting to leave when a job got messy, and then indulging in a fantasy that some new job was better. She almost started crying when she realized she would have to stay at her current job. She could see that it was the reasonable thing to do, but that did not make her feel better.
So why did she hate her current job? A couple things quickly came up but the most important was that the management job involved doing just one thing and she could handle that. But her current job had so many different projects going on about complicated tax issues that she felt so overwhelmed. She felt things were not under control or manageable. She deeply hated this feeling.
I pointed out that this was the exact feeling that caused her to quit her last good job at MGIC. She quit her last good job because she could not stand the feeling of being overwhelmed, particularly being overwhelmed with complex business things. She agreed. She realized she had a tendency to want to run away from that feeling rather than face it and deal with it. I said I could see why, but companies paid lots of money to people who could deal with these difficult hard things.
The next morning, she was offered way more than she thought possible. She was promoted from hourly wages to a salary, given a new title, and given a substantial raise, so she was making almost fifty thousand dollars a year. Plus they said she could look for another job once this project was finished; this was much less commitment than she thought they would want.
Things looked like they were going well for her finally at her job. But three weeks later Michelle ran into another roadblock. While many things about her job had improved, she still was not getting her work done. She would sit at her desk staring at her computer for hours feeling bored, but as soon as she would try to work, she felt sleepy, tired, and heavy. She felt like Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure who had to keep pushing the giant boulder up the hill over and over.
The problems Michelle was having at work with being motivated and getting her work done were so significant that she could easily lose her job if she didn’t change. She was working on the major project she had been promoted for, and if she did not finish it, she would have shown that she was not competent to do the work.
We wondered if she might be stuck now the way she was stuck at MGIC. So I questioned her about the work she was doing. It turned out her project involved complex new tax regulations for reporting stock profits to the IRS. Michelle’s company helped people report their gains and losses on stock purchases to the IRS. In 2011, there was going to be complex new way of reporting these gains and losses. She was in charge of training many call center workers to deal with these new regulations. In order to train the call center workers, she had to first understand them herself. The problem was that she did not understand them.
Even though the material was hard to understand, Michelle never asked questions at the meetings to explain the new regulations to the trainers. She hated to look dumb in front of a group of people and since no one else asked many questions, she felt she would look stupid if she asked questions. So she just pretended she understood. After awhile, she just stopped listening during the meetings because she understood nothing they were saying.
And now that it was almost time when she would have to train many groups on these important tax changes, she felt even more ridiculous asking rudimentary questions. But she also couldn’t finish writing the training curriculum if she didn’t understand the materials.
Dealing with complicated tax forms reminded me so much of the complicated invoices that tripped Michelle up at MGIC. They both were very complicated business forms involving money that few people could understand. So I asked if her new position involved any of the issues that caused her trouble at MGIC. In minutes it became very clear that Michelle had the same issues around her current work as she had around MGIC: it was very difficult, she felt overwhelmed and out of her element, and she was so afraid to ask for help because, above anything else, she wanted to avoid looking stupid.
Michelle could see this situation was just like the one she had messed up at MGIC. She was determined not to make the same mistake again; she steeled herself up to not be overwhelmed by complex forms and braced her self that she might look stupid when she asked someone for help. Right away Michelle went back to work and set up a meeting with the tax regulation expert, who was in the next cubicle. Then she spent the rest of the day studying the tax regulations, coming up with a list of questions for their meeting the following morning. At that meeting, the expert thought her questions were very good ones, and for some of them he did not know the answer either.
After this meeting, her job situation totally changed and she now loved her job. She felt like she had had a super charged espresso and moved faster and faster through her work, but without the frenetic energy that comes with caffeine. She was listening to cheesy Christmas music and whistling along with it. The work, even the complicated tax parts, didn’t seem overwhelming, or really even hard. She said to me, “I honestly have no desire to be doing anything other than working and feeling this happy, calm energy all around me.”
Like Michelle, if you face your problems, you can get back in the current of your river. I am not saying that everything happens for a reason or there are no accidents. You can do stupid things and make wrong turns. They are wrong turns. They did not happen for a good reason. But if you face up to the wrong turns and learn from them, you can get back into your current and its power to help you.
After this book is written, I am hoping to get it published. It would be helpful if you tell me any questions you may have or any parts that you have found helpful. If you have sections that you do not understand or you think are stupid or misguided, I would very much appreciate if you tell me. It is much better to hear these comments now, when I can easily change things, then later, after I have published a book. I will reflectively consider your concerns and, if warranted, I will change things to incorporate your concerns into the book. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “About Connections,” into the subject heading of the email.
This book was written by Joseph Waligore with the help of Michelle Stage. Joseph teaches philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. More information about him can be found at his MySpace profile or his Facebook profile. Michelle works in a bank in St. Paul, Minnesota as a learning consultant and in a Minneapolis night club as a dominatrix.
This website is one of four websites I have. Another one, www.followingtheflow.com is for spiritually oriented people and discusses very similar ideas from a more spiritually oriented perspective. Another one, www.josephwaligore.com is for academically or intellectually oriented people. It has my writings about spiritual philosophies such as Stoicism, Socrates, the Deists, the Enlightenment period, and the rise of modern science. Another one, www.spiritualcritiques.com, has critiques of many popular spiritual teachers and spiritual teachings. It looks at teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, and Pema Chodron. It also looks at teachings like “All is One,” “The Hundredth Monkey,” and “If it Rings True, it is True.”
There is a Facebook group called Flowing. People interested in meeting other people who are interested in these ideas and/or participating in discussions about these ideas are invited to join the group.
Many people reach this site through keyword advertisements. It might be of interest that Joseph got the money for these ads through his day trading profits.