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Sunday, September 4, 2011

To Repair Your Relationship Problems, First Heal Your Pride

Here’s a lesson I learned as a tutor: When kids feel bad about themselves, they don’t learn well.
Instead, they spend their mental energies hating the subject, being defensive, avoiding the work, making up excuses, etc.
The very same thing happens with adults. When a person feels failed or embarrassed or hurt, his mental energies automatically flow towards escaping or relieving those bad feelings.
Relationship change requires facing the problem squarely, with lots of energy, clarity, bravery and generosity. But if your pride is in tatters, you won’t be able to do this. You’ll be too consumed with protecting your own injured Self.
Building and maintaining this positive self-image is a core psychological task. Essentially, the Self wants to believe two things:
  • I am a “good” person
  • I am in control of my life
Messages to the contrary result in uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, which the psyche seeks to reduce through rationalization, avoidance, or defensiveness.
Many therapies ask people to own their bad behavior and admit to their weaknesses. And of course, addressing these issues is important.
But, just like my students, who, the more they are chastised and embarrassed and made to feel failed, try less hard and hate school more, adults resist putting themselves in postures which make them feel failed and diminished.
No one wants to feel “I am a NOT a good person,” or “I am NOT in control of my life.” And so, they rationalize. The test was unfair, the class is boring…my partner doesn’t understand me, the relationship doesn’t meet my needs, my lover is the one with the problems…
I am successful with my students because I focus on their strengths and I help them restore their positive self-image and realize their potential.
Similarly, if you are in a troubled relationship, you must care for your pride.
  • Spend time with friends who build you up (but who don’t put your partner down).
  • Keep up activities that give you a sense of pride and accomplishment (school, volunteer work, spending time with your kids, etc).
  • Take the high road. Behave honorably and generously with your partner.
  • Own your mistakes, yes, but don’t wallow in what a terrible, weak person you are.
  • Try to understand your actions and your intentions. Keeping a journal can help.
  • Avoid behaviors that will make you feel worse in the long run (lying, cheating, spitefulness, etc).
  • Don’t characterize yourself as a victim, a loser, a failure. Focus on your strengths.
  • Get active and be responsible about the relationship problem. Do something about it! Seek counseling or therapy. Be brave and dignified enough to ask for assistance.

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