Why People Don’t Apologize and What to Do About It

It’s amazing how many people can’t seem to apologize. Here are some reason that this might happen: They grew up in homes where people were blamed whenever things went wrong. Therefore, apologizing is not only an admission that they did something wrong—which they probably heard too much of in their lives already—but it’s opening themselves to being the target of blame. Would you start lacing into them? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter; they’re just afraid of it. Even when their logical mind knows better, people like this don’t want to put themselves in a place that feels icky because of past associations. They grew up in homes where they were perfect; they could do nothing wrong. Now, you know that can’t be true; no one is perfect. But some people were never told that. This can happen because parents are genuinely afraid to discipline their children or because they honestly don’t see anything wrong with the behavior. Either way, the child honestly doesn’t know that he or she did something wrong. To educate a person of either type in trying to help a marriage is very challenging. When you try to explain that the person in Category 1 did something wrong, they automatically slide into victim mode; they feel like they’re being blamed. This makes them defensive and sometimes they pre-emptively attack you, adding more injury on top of whatever it was in the first place. A person in Category 2 is just as difficult to teach. Such a person has no comprehension of what you’re talking about. They are likely to say, “No, I didn’t” when you...

How to Be Assertive and Get Treated Like an Equal

You may remember I was letting you peek into the lives of Cally and Tim. Tim was a busy, focused man and when he needed something from Cally, he would simply give her marching orders. His demeanor, though cold, was not rude, and Cally could not put her finger on why it bothered her. I explained why in my post, Two Simple Secrets of Assertiveness. I then suggested what she tell Tim to get him to start out nicer, but what I did not discuss in that post was how to get Tim to see Cally as an equal, how to get him to value her work as a mother of very young children. The No-No of Assertiveness One thing that must underlie Cally’s conversation is not to try to explain how badly this makes her feel. Do you remember Spok from Star Trek? Presumably, he didn’t comprehend feelings. I am not suggesting that Tim doesn’t have feelings, but what I’ve noticed is that an awful lot of people are far more sympathetic to their own feelings than to those of other people. So if Tim’s friends who need to borrow his drill don’t call up and say, “Hi, how are you?” before spitting out their request and if Tim does not think that’s unusual or cold, then he will not understand why it should be hurtful to Cally. On the other hand, if at work, a colleague maneuvers so as to get a deal that should have been Tim’s, oh boy, will Tim’s feelings be hurt! He will be mad. See how this works? And by the way,...

Two Simple Secrets of Assertiveness

Cally was rushing. She was making something that had to get put in the oven in just 15 min in order to come out on time for her to dash off to do carpool. Hopefully, the baby wouldn’t mind being awakened from her nap at that point. Her days—and nights—were always like that: rushing from one task to another with little time to think, prepare or, it seemed, breathe. What Dismissive Behavior Looks Like Just then the phone rang. She had to take it. It was Tim, her husband. His voice was deep and strong, a voice she had once thrilled to hear. But lately it had a coolness to it that set off a wave of anxiety. He was calling from work, a place that made her hectic life seem tame. In spite of that, he never lost control. He seemed to float above the anxiety. One of the tricks he used to survive was to delegate. And he never shied away from delegating to Cally. “Cally,” he said, without a “Hi” or a “How are you?” “I need you to look up something for me on my computer. It’s information that I would not put in my work computer; it’s sensitive. But I need it now, okay?” Cally couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with his request, but it was as if a scaffolding collapsed raining down concrete and sheetrock. Cally couldn’t say why she felt that way and she just breathed a sigh, telling him she needed to get dinner into the oven right now so that Jason would have it when she got him home from...

What Are Mixed Messages?

In psychological terms mixed messages are called “double binds” and they were discussed extensively way back by Gregory Bateson (http://www.anecologyofmind.com/). Analytical people will enjoy Bateson. Let’s look at Mary Lou, who delivers mixed messages. We met her in an earlier post. She may have had an ulterior motive to doing so and she may not even be consciously aware of it. Ulterior Motives for Mixed Messages Let’s look at the ulterior motive possibility. Mary Lou knows very well that something is wrong. She asks her husband to ”be honest” with her although she actually is too frightened and fragile to handle honest feedback. If she’s unable to handle painful feedback, why does she ask for it? The answer is because when she admits—to herself—that she could be hurt by some kinds of feedback, she becomes frightened. In other words, Mary Lou can’t handle the feedback and the act of admitting she can’t handle it hurts and frightens her as much as the feedback itself. Family History of People Who Give Mixed Messages Mary Lou grew up in a family with high standards. You had to excel. Her sense of her own identity was tied up with excelling. Her parents were so disappointed when she didn’t measure up to their expectations, that she would feel crushed. Because they were kind and loving parents, she certainly wanted to please them. And I would expect that in holding such high standards, Mary Lou’s parents thought they were doing something positive for her. Maybe they thought that they were bringing out the best in her that way. Mary Lou was a person who...

Why People Give Mixed Messages

By the good fortune of technology, we can enjoy Abbot and Costello’s famous routine, “Who’s on first. What’s on second, and I-Don’t-Know is on third.” Those guys are still funny today. It’s just not so funny when you’re married to someone who is sending mixed messages. In fact, it’s downright frustrating. But that may be exactly the point. Let me explain with a story. “Be honest with me,” Mary Lou pleaded with Lou. “Did I do something wrong?” “Oh, no,” Lloyd answered, trying to sound reassuring. Inside, however, he felt as though he were walking on a tightrope. Past experience told him that he was now being carefully placed in a lose-lose situation. His guard was up, but he didn’t know what to do. The bombshell fell right away and although it was expected, it still jarred him as it always did. His stomach muscles tightened, his breath quickened, his palms perspired. “See, that’s why I don’t trust you,” Mary Lou, his wife of 20 years, said. “I don’t believe you are being honest. And you’ve done this before. I can’t ever get into a real conversation with you. You run away from it so fast. You hide. You won’t talk about what’s really happening. You are just not in reality!” Mary Lou said and then continued on for a few minutes more until Lloyd felt almost faint. Not only was he confused as to how to respond, but he was clearly being attacked. He wanted to lash out. “I am not hiding!” Lloyd said, making his first mistake. “Yes, you are,” insisted Mary Lou. “When Marjorie came to...

How Your Relationships Affect Who You Are

You thought you had an identity. Actually, you have many of them. This is not my original idea. The idea was first proposed by Kenneth Gergen 20 years ago in a book he wrote called The Saturated Self. I just came across some thoughts I had on it which I want to share with you. Check out http://www.taosinstitute.net/ Let’s take Carol. Suppose she goes to work and she is a corporate attorney, a very successful attorney. She always gets her deal to the client’s best advantage. When someone thinks of Carol, they think “smart,” “successful,” maybe even “powerful.” But when Carol goes to visit her mom and dad on weekends, she’s not that same person. She’s their “kid.” Mom complains about her not being as pretty as the younger sister. Dad complains about her taking on a “man’s” career. At home, she’s messed up, sad, never right; in short, unsuccessful. So, will the real Carol please stand up. Is she successful or isn’t she? The answer, obviously, depends on which relationship you’re looking at. The problem is not inside of her. She does not lack the right skills to deal with her parents, either, because no matter what she does, they still make her feel badly. She handles them just fine, but so what? She knows they’re not happy with her and this hurts. Carol is married. Her husband thinks she’s sexy. Her children think of her as “mom.” To them, she’s “strict,” “nice,” “loving.” So, does she have problems relating, or not? I, personally, don’t think she has any problem relating, but since her parents find fault with...

Are You Codependent or Connected to Each Other?

Is it normal for one person’s happiness to be dependent on another person? Isn’t that co-dependent? In my last two blog posts I addressed codependency. I explained that a key to understanding co-dependency is that while one person does something destructive, the other person benefits in some way. Another key point is that the other person may be acting out of fear rather than love, and I gave some examples of what it would look like to cater to another person out of love or even patience. In these latter cases, I wouldn’t call the situation one of co-dependency. Finally, I wondered whether consistently putting oneself last is a sign that you are out of touch with yourself. If you are, then it is just easier to cater to someone else then to figure out what you want yourself. There’s another aspect to this question. Suppose two people are so dedicated to one another that they wouldn’t dream of making a plan to go to the movies or out to lunch without discussing it with the other person. Suppose this couple is so tied to one another that after they have grown old and one passes away, the other person’s world falls apart. Is that co-dependency? No. That is healthy. That is just as it should be. See, there’s something to love that goes beyond feeling for one another. It’s about wanting to give to one another. It’s about feeling connected and wanting to maintain that connection. It’s about caring for the well-being of another to the same degree as you care for yourself. And it’s also about balancing...
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