Chapter 9: Grievances


When Chandra, age thirty-three, came to see me, she said that she was grieving the loss of her mother. Her mother had died a year and a half before. Chandra missed her mother’s jokes and culinary know-how. They had talked everyday, if not by telephone, then in the kitchen where they experimented with recipes together. Now, Chandra felt lost. She longed for her mother’s laughter and her advice about men, family and finances.

But life had not always been rosy. When Chandra was a girl, her parents fought constantly. Sometimes her father would criticize the dinner her mother had cooked and then storm out of the house. At night Chandra covered her ears and hid under the covers to drown out their shouting. On school days Chandra would feign being sick to stay home from school and be nearby while her mother slept.

Her brother was no help. He teased her mercilessly. One day he swiped a popsicle she was eating. She tried to grab his hands held high above her head. He tormented her by eating all of her treat, slowly, and, then, left her to cry by herself. When Chandra complained, her father laughed and her mother just shrugged. This injustice infuriated Chandra.

Chandra wished she could rescue her mother and join a different, nicer family like those she saw on TV. Often she ate to soothe her pain. She gained weight. She lost weight. She followed the latest weight-control fad. She even had her stomach stapled. Still she yo-yoed.

Chandra had taken two master’s degrees. She was quite intelligent. Yet she saw herself as incompetent, incapable and stupid. How could she make a living? Who would hire her? Working for a boss had ended in bad feelings. Working for someone else was out of the question.

What she loved to do was cook. One recent evening she told her father and brother of her idea to open a restaurant. They mocked her dream. What did she know about running a business? Money drained through her fingers like water. Who did she think would finance her project? Certainly not them.

She came away from that conversation furious, her blood pressure rising, her heart beating and her stomach in knots. She seethed for days. She thought about vengeful scenarios. She ruminated about how to make them feel guilty. She flipped through catalogues, looking for gifts to win them over. She whined to her friends. She was consumed by her mission to get back at them. But what she really wanted was their approval and permission. Her mood was more than frustration and disappointment, hers was a deep-seated rage.

This, then, was Chandra’s history when we first met. I listened to Chandra and knew I must introduce her to a recognition of her grievance system. Then she could develop a straight-forward way of dealing with her years of accumulated anger — and recognize that the loss of her mother was not the issue. The issue was how her grievances ruled her.

But where to begin?

Chandra’s current emotional state was not one of mourning as she had self-diagnosed. What bothered Chandra was a longer held mental condition of blame and anger. When Chandra pointed her finger at her father and brother for her problems, I heard the anger of childhood. Those “popsicles of outrageous fortune” became a mentally ingrained network, now drawn upon in adulthood. Chandra’s current gripes were the consequence and outward manifestation of her grievance system. I had to start by defining grievance system to her.

How do I convey this information?

I want Chandra to consider that her complaints are an expression of her pain, her dissatisfaction and her resentment. Her mother’s death is one of her complaints. That her parents shouted at each other is another. That her brother teased her unmercifully when they were children adds to the list.

Right now the circumstances surrounding these events do not matter. The conditions and facts attending her complaints could be anything. They could be any one of the many slights that she experienced in her life. What matters is that she has mentally rendered these events in a particular way. She has judged these circumstances as unjust, the participants as having wronged her. That is what matters. Now I want her to grasp that her current outrage results from her interpretation of those past events. Her bitter resentments, both her emotion and her behavior, are the conclusion or consequence of her personal version of those circumstances.

She has made judgements that her brother and father intentionally tormented her, that they are her enemies. Also, that she was not parented correctly, that no one cared about her. These are her truths. Now, stranded without her mother, she feels unable to look after herself. And Chandra operates from these judgements as if her interpretations were laws of reality as powerful as any law of physics.

All of us do this. We can interpret any event, large or small, as wrong or unjust. Incidents can be as common as the hot-shot driver who cut you off on the freeway or your child’s less-than-perfect report card or, even a friend forgetting your birthday. Your assessment of that incident determines your emotional response. The incident that triggered Chandra’s grievance system was her brother and father’s ridicule of her restaurant plan. That incident precipitated memories of past injustices such as the popsicle incident, her father’s derision and her mother’s impotence. Consider: She does not just remember the incident. She views her judgement as fact.

You can see how Chandra begins with ambiguous events and actions and balloons them into major issues when her grievance system dominates; how the influence of these judgements has resulted in her emotional turmoil. It is easy to be distracted and misled by the judgements. What is really important is when an incident fires off behavior based upon a judgement. Then you experience the emotional outcome. Over time, affronts and assaults can collect into a mental reservoir of “things gone wrong” and be held onto for life. Hence, the grievance system.

This is how I listen.

Chandra is not ready for the whole picture. So I must break down the parts of incident, judgement and outcome. I want her to discover how her grievance system runs her behavior.

To begin with, she wanted her mother back. Only Mother’s warmth and words could comfort Chandra and she would not feel so abandoned and scared. But Mother was gone. Who else could take care of her? Her ex-husband was an irresponsible alcoholic. She was sure no boyfriend would want her large body. Who could she turn to but her father and brother for security?

If Chandra could get them to assume her mother’s role, she would feel more secure. If only she could convince them that her restaurant plan was sound, she could proceed. Then she would forgive and forget that they had been mean to her.

Chandra lives a fantasy, of course. She does not see the role that her judgements play in her suffering.When her family does not comply with her agenda, a self-righteous indignation consumes her. When I hear Chandra talking, I sort out her complaints. But, she has no idea that she is complaining. She has no idea that she is talking her upset. She is too busy living her talk of dissatisfaction and resentment.

“What,” I ask, “set off this latest bout of fury, given your long-standing resentment of your father? What caught your attention? Was it his tone of voice, manner, attitude? How did you get hooked?”

I ask because I want her to learn to identify parts of her system and discover how these parts work in unison. Here I want her to recognize that something triggered her reaction, that she responded to her emotional environment.

“Father takes a holier-than-thou attitude, like he knows what’s best for me,” she says. “He makes me so mad I want to scream.”

“What message did you get from him?” I ask.

“He calls me a loser,” she says. “He’s always putting me down.”

“You interpreted criticism?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says as she fidgets and looks away.

“Then you got angry?” I ask.

“Well, sure” she says. “Wouldn’t you, if someone called you names?”

“Yes,” I say. “If I interpret attack or criticism, I react with anger. That’s perfectly normal. People react constantly, whether or not they recognize they are doing so. If I see a Bengal tiger coming through the wall, I’ll react. Most likely, I’ll run. If you don’t see that Bengal tiger, you’d think me strange. It wouldn’t matter to me, I’d still rush to protect myself. I’d still respond. How we interpret what is around us determines our behavior. No human can avoid responding to what’s around them. ”

Chandra intellectually knows the real information – that she is thirty-three years old and independent. Yet she is operating as if she were a child and needs a daddy. Hence she views the man whom she has known for a long time as if her were still her “daddy” and she were three and one-half years old. If she were mentally operating from real information, she would behave as a grown woman. She would view her father as someone boisterous and free with his bigoted opinions, not someone she to ???. But, for now, she is compelled to hold onto her outrage. She is stuck.

“Well, I’m mad a lot of the time,” she says.

“If you’re interpreting attack a lot of the time, you’re bound to feel defensive and mad ,” I say. “If you’re wanting a parent to look after you now at your age, you’re bound to feel persecuted and angry.”

I want her to get the point that she cannot cause her father to be different. Her father is her father and will act as himself for the rest of his life – no matter how peeved she gets. It is not possible for him to be different and she cannot transform him. The only person under Chandra’s control is Chandra. The only thing she can work with is her own reaction. But Chandra is having a tough time. She holds tightly to her grievances. This is how she keeps her anger alive.

“I remember other times he ridiculed me,” she says.

“Memories of other instances go through your head?” I ask.

“Oh, yes. I have a list,” she says. “He makes me so mad.”

“You have a list,” I say “That’s good. At what age did you start collecting?”

“As long as I can remember,” she says. “Since I was three, four or five.”

“Congratulations,” I say. “You’re discovered what everyone else has. You have a grievance system. Each of us has squawked about not getting our own way since we first did not get our blankie or milk at the moment we demanded. As people grow older, we add complaint upon complaint. We all collect complaints throughout life, beginning in childhood. While we all hold a list of grievances, yours is one of a kind, as is mine, as are our mothers’ and sisters.’ Having a grievance system is common to all people.”

How could Chandra (you or I) know when the grievance system is working?

We have three signals that tell us our grievance system is activated.

First, visceral sensations register as emotions. Visceral responses are the fluctuations in the rate of breathing, the amount of perspiration, and in the tension of muscles and organs. These changes reveal the impact mental interpretations and impressions have had on our physical self. These physical indicators may display themselves as low-key and elusive, such as, fatigue, annoyance, or rapid pulse rate. Or they may appear as heightened and profound such as Chandra’s pounding heart, churning stomach and flushing skin.

Take yourself, for example. When you feel yourself getting emotionally wound up, do you feel your neck or your shoulders tightening? Or do you feel a headache coming on and sleep fitfully? When these physical signals are strong enough, they broadcast themselves as behavioral signposts of emotional turmoil. You feel your tension.

Second, visceral sensations convert into actions. You may find yourself talking in a certain way. Your agitation gets you darting from topic to topic, flitting from chore to chore. You readily curse out the driver honking behind you. You feel pushed to confront your neighbor over his dilapidated fence. You send angry letters to the newspaper that never get published. Disregard infuriates you. You make known your annoyance. We display our bitter resentments, acting in a way that others recognize as emotionally upset, our wrath visible to others. Our mental state, our mood, displays as behavior to which people witness and react. Behavioral signals, then, are overt and public.

If emotional and behavioral signals are public, the next one is private. This final indicator is the most significant and the most influential. Yet primary indicator is imperceptible to others because it is the action of your thought-voices. Chandra, for example, heard a barrage of thought-voices such as “Stupid people.” “Damn him.” “Why can’t daddy behave right?” Then a string of complaints followed — memories of her parents’ shouting, of her brother’s harassment. Ways to prove wrong her father’s criticism and get back at her brother consumed her. For you, perhaps, thought-voices center around: “Everyone is messing up.” “Nothing works.” “Life has let you down.” Your grievances drift on to how many people have disappointed you, beginning with your mother and father. Or you find yourself mentally preoccupied by injustices of a boss, a teacher or, even, the grocery clerk who carelessly packed your groceries and caused your eggs to break.

No one sees inside your head to view your thoughts. Only you have the ability to listen to them. You, alone. No one can read your mind. If someone hits upon what you are thinking, it is just blind luck, a coincidence. People witness your behavior, but they cannot and do not see or hear the mental action in your head. This internal world is all yours.

Now let us turn to you, the reader.

So, how do you know when your grievance system is working?

You know your grievance system is working when:

  • Irritations get the better of you and make you act crazy mad.

Example: You are idle at a stop sign. The driver behind you honks. Without considering that the impatient driver might have a gun or be loaded on drugs, you jump out of your car, stomp over to his window, give him the finger and shout “Fuck you.”

  • Minor nuisances get blown-up into major issues.

Example: You chaperone your youngster’s scout troop. You are arranging a cookie stand in the usual location outside of Safeway. But the store manager refuses to let the group occupy their old spot. You must move your table across the parking lot. You take offense. Your indignation grows.

  • Nothing around you seems to please you.

Example: Your neighbor stops to chat when your arms are of full of groceries. You take his friendly chatter as him getting in your way.
Example: Your friend announces her engagement. You offer your best wishes but inside a bitterness lurks. Good fortune, it seems, comes to others but not to you.

  • Impatience and sarcasm depict your current humor.

Example: You run into an old friend you have not seen for a long time. She asks, “How are you?” You answer with “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Your tone stops the conversation. She is being cordial. Your tone reflects your put-upon, agitated mood.

  • You find fault with many people and events.

Example: You take many happy photos on your vacation. Yet you only recall the mishaps, the lost luggage, lumpy hotel bed, nagging relatives and cranky kids. Your mood locks you into remembering the inconveniences, rather than the adventures captured by your camera.

  • Old angers well up and become current gripes.

Example: Each year your extended family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner. As the day approaches, you remember your brother’s whining, your distant Aunt Millie’s caustic remarks, and Great Uncle Jacob’s burps and smelly cigar. You feel yourself getting angry as you do each year that you are obligated to pack your kids into the car with your husband and drive miles to dinner with people you do not like.

  • Innocent comment reaps an angry retort.

Example: You ask a friend if she likes your new hair cut. She said,”It’s okay, but why did you cut it short?” You bristle and reply, “Don’t you think I’ve got good taste?”

  • Your aggravation does not warrant the amount of energy you are expending.

Example: On the tennis court, your opponent overlooks etiquette. As the game proceeds, your irritation grows. At dinner that night, talking about the incident, you get even more heated. The next day, your opponent’s graceless behavior still bothers you, even though it is a new day with new responsibilities and concerns.

  • Your complaint does not diminish when you fix the problem.

Example: Your car gets a flat tire. You buy a new tire or fix the old one. End of story. If your grievance system has a hold on you, however, you itch to shout out about stupid tires and greedy tire companies. You gripe, “If it’s not one thing it’s another.”

  • Your list of grievances is long and its power hooks you.

You are probably asking “Is my grievance system ever inactive?”

Yes, at times your grievance system may be less intrusive and consuming. Your grievance system is not driving your behavior when you.

  • Take the mistakes of others in stride.

Example: A clerk short changes you. You call his attention to the error without taking the event personally and without getting indignant.

  • Overlook people’s funny habits and peculiar manners.

Example: Your student taps his pencil while you tutor him. If your tension were high, you would get distracted by your thought-voices that accuse you of being “a boring teacher.” This time you feel good and see your pupil’s action as a nervous habit, an action you hardly notice.

  • Brush off irritations.

Example: You’re pregnant. A teen says to his buddy, “She got knocked up.”

  • You hear the comment but don’t take it as an insult.

Example: You just got a manicure when your nail breaks. This incident could throw you into a funk when you are in a bad mood.

  • But when your spirits are high, you regard it up as one of life’s little inconveniences.

Whether or not your grievance is inactive implies a sub-text.“How do I avoid my reactions? Avoid thinking angry thoughts? How do I perform or behave correctly? “How do I not get angry and feel aggravated?” These questions suggest you can find and have a correct grievance system.

You cannot because you carry a reservoir of complaints to which you cannot avoid reacting. I take for granted that you have a grievance system, as do I and all other people. I start from the position that the right way for you to be you already exists. It is you, you as you are, equipped with mental and emotional conditioning. Consequently, you cannot sidestep your thoughts or visceral responses. These functions, critical to your survival, represent one individual among the other six billion on this earth. That is why we are not judging or eliminating your grievance system or creating a mythical perfect person. That is why these examples serve only as general indicators. And that is why to work with yourself, you need to get in touch with your own select and specific signals.

How To Manage

Okay, so you have a grievance system. Everyone does. So what? The challene is how do you work with it?

First, you must discover the action and its separate parts – incident, judgement and then the emotional response. Keep in mind that the action of the parts happens so rapidly that they seem to blend together. Hence, you may notice only the after parts — your disappointment, frustration, irritation, annoyance, impatience — rather than what happens beforehand. Right now identifying emotions such as aggravation is easier for you than detecting the mental action that preceded your emotion, so we start there, slowing down the process.

Here is a simple way to get in touch with emotion. Over the next week:

  1. Make a deliberate attempt to discover changes in your tension level. Use physical signs such as increases in muscle tightness, in heart beat, in breathing, clenching your jaw or fist to alert you to your emotions.
  2. Note these particular signals of changing tension level because they convert into behavior.
  3. Continue recognizing these sensations your body gives you. They tell you when you are aggravated, irritated, annoyed, frustrated.
  4. Steer clear of any habit to judge your emotions.
  5. Accept that will get angry, as it is a long-held habit. Instead of fighting the habit, identify anger and its variations as a signal.
  6. Check into your head. Ask yourself, what are my thought-voices saying? When you get a chance, write these thoughts in your notebook under the heading…

When you can recognize these changes as they happen, you are on your way to uncovering the reactive sequence which causes you to act. You are building your own measure of your emotion and how it runs you – your own emotional pressure gauge.

While today your own grievance system might be taking too much of your attention, you can reduce its influence. You can learn to lighten up on your self and not fall for your protestations. Although you cannot eliminate the past, you can learn to recognize when your long-held resentments are doing a number on you. Discovering the action of your frustration, disappointment, irritation, aggravation, annoyed, agitation marks the first step.

You might be wondering why you have not heard of the grievance system before. The reason is that the popular media does not know about this feature or how it can run you. [more?]

?????Yes, but where does this system come from? Why does it affect me?

Grievance system is not arbitrary or aberrant. It does not come “out of the blue.” Grievances rise from a reservoir of complaints you have collected since birth. You have the ability to collect resentment stemming from a feeling of having been wronged, whether or not you want it, because you are a human being. As are all people, you are conditionable. Mental conditioning starts at birth. Because you are conditionable, you have accumulated protests and objections which comprise the reservoir of your grievance system. This capacity is so for all humans, that is it is a universal characteristic. This function is normal. It is habit-based. It is not pathological. It is useful to note that our parents complain and their parents complain and so forth down the ancestral chain. What we are looking at is the fact that complaints form into a system of grievances from which mental agitation stems. ?????



Other actions people interpret as an affront are as ordinary as someone didn’t look at you in the right way or didn’t respect your opinion or didn’t give you candy when you wanted it.

I must impress upon Chandra that we are not moralizing about the rightness or wrongness of her mother, father, or brother. Nor are we evaluating, assessing or ascribing judgement to the incident. We’re identifying complaint items so we can learn what triggers her grievance system. Everyone has experienced slights since they were children. Grievances become a common feature in human development. She and I are going to take this common feature and learn from it. Our objective, ultimately, is to neutralize its stranglehold over her.

— Facts Differ from Opinions —

We have all heard that opinions are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, when we hear certain people at certain times express themselves, we do not recognize their view as only an opinion. For example Kaitlyn had this experience with art critics.

As Kaitlyn, an artist, waited for critics to review her work, she became more and more anxious. Would they like her paintings?  Understand her vision? Take her seriously? To her, their comments meant the supreme declaration of her worthiness as an artist. She would listen intently to what they said.

They arrive and look at her exhibit:

“But what does this mean?” one asked.

Kaitlyn’s stomach churned.

“If I were you, I’d paint this color here; fill that space,” another said.

She sweated.

“You should do this; you should do that because…”

“I’d like to see this theme played out more…”

Her energy dropped, deflating her enthusiasm. Her work was no good. Who would want it? Her abilities and confidence, she was sure, rested on their conclusions. She heard their criticism as the only viewpoint in the world.

The challenge for me was to get Kaitlyn to see that, regardless of how the critics sounded to her, their words represented their opinions. They, as all of us, had only their viewpoint to offer, not absolute truth.

“Critics talk as though no viewpoint but theirs counts,” I told her. “The fact is that each expresses his or her sentiments. Considering their comments as indisputable crimps your perspective.”

Kaitlyn listened quietly. I wondered if I was getting through.

“If certainty is fixed and without doubt and opinion is open to question and varies from person to person, how do you reconcile the two?”

“I can’t,” she said, shrugging in confusion. “They don’t fit.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “They’re incompatible. The twain shall never meet.” 

I wanted her to do more than understand the difference between certainty and opinion. I wanted her to apply this distinction in her everyday interactions. I emphasized that certainty is loaded with emotion as if it is an actual and true declaration.

“When you talk from certainty,” I told her, “ you carry an attitude of absolute assurance in God-given messages. You don’t recognize  that everyone has opinions. You convery your message with forceful conviction and persuasion.”

She leaned forward as she listened intently. I could see that she was considering my words. Clearly no one had clarified these concepts for her.

“Opinion, on the other hand,” I said, “ may be defined as a viewpoint, sometimes probable sometimes not. Another way to think of opinion is as a belief or conclusion you hold with confidence yet it is unsubstantiated by definitive fact.”

I had to define these two concepts because their meanings are often confused and seen as the same.

“When you are talking from certainty, you’re investing a lot of energy,” I said. “You can feel that the topic is emotionally charged. When you’re airing an opinion you’re investing [expending] less emotion.”

That’s when Kaitlyn realized that she was treating these critics as though they were the greatest authorities in art proclaiming absolute judgements. Her homework was to remind herself that opinion was the name of the game. Critics were individuals verbalizing their personal impressions. Each reviewer voiced his or her own personal preferences and viewpoints, not the ultimate in visual expression.  She relaxed. Her confidence returned.

This experience motivated her to expand her practice field. A few weeks later, for instance, in a meeting, colleagues discussed strategies for a project. Voices rose, tensions grew. Then it was Kaitlyn’s turn to talk.

“I listened to your views and opinions,” she said. “Now I’ll give you mine.”

With that she explained her plan. She explained her take on the problem and offered her solution, knowing that, at least, she understood the difference between her opinion and an inevitable certainty. She knew that she wasn’t delivering absolutes, but choices. And choices she preferred.

“Differentiating opinions from certainties gave me strength and helped me to anchor (orient) myself,” she told me later. “Then I wasn’t obliged or bound to agree or disagree with any of my colleagues. Nor was I caught in the morass of defending my viewpoint as if it were the only one on earth.”


Why had Kaitlyn confused opinion with certainty? Why was Kaitlyn caught up in the pursuit of certainty? What compels us to look outside ourselves for our personal answers? What makes us think there’s a formula for our emotional well-being? Let’s examine each of these questions to further separate their meanings. Disconnecting them will help you deal with other people and with yourself.

Why had Kaitlyn confused opinion and certainty?

Kaitlyn functioned in same way as those around her. Neither her friends or colleagues distinguished between opinion and certainty. Whether talking about art, music, child rearing or the working mom dilemma, their words and manner took on aura of absolute assuredness. They credited their beliefs as true. So did Kaitlyn.

Listening and working among like-minded people gave her no contrast. They did not noticed their unchanging, consistent mental stance. They, too, were unaware of the mental place that kept them talking certainties. But this is so for most people. If you listen to people, you will recognize that many talk as if they have privileged information that amounts to the absolute truth.  Their views are the correct ones. They hold their views as sacred property and God help anyone who differs or tries to change their mind.

When I first asked Kaitlyn if she heard herself or her friends expressing absolutes, she had not considered the possibility. She confused certainty and opinion. Not until she learned to discriminate between the two could she recognize and release herself from the hold this confusion had over her.

Why most people act this way is not a mystery. Our parents talked certainties. Also, their parents, our grandparents, talked certainties. We absorbed their ways. As we learned in Chapter?, each generation absorbs from the previous ones. Need for certainties is apart of our western culture, part of many other cultures, too.

Why was Kaitlyn caught up in the pursuit of certainty?

Kaitlyn guards against unpleasant surprises. Few people like to be caught unawares.  People instinctively move away from prolonged disruption, chaos and pain. Instead, we all seek freedom from doubt, a security and confidence that things are as we see them. [a stable assuredness]

Listen to people around you and you will recognize the theme. “Are you sure?” your neighbor asks.  “Are you certain?” your friend asks.  Wherever you turn, you will hear the quest. We all want to nail down guarantees.

This pursuit of certainty begins in childhood. For instance, when Kaitlyn was a girl, her mother tucked her into bed and kissed her goodnight. Kaitlyn felt reassured and comforted. Whenever distressed, Kaitlyn would look to Mother or her equivalent for solace and safety. We acted similarly.

When we were little we too looked to the tall ones for direction. They told us what to do and when to do it. We carried this habit of looking to others for answers into adulthood, despite the fact that now we belong to the tall group, despite the fact that we pay our own bills, cast our own votes, cook food to feed our children.

One woman put it this way: “I go from one guru to another, searching for the formula for how to be me. The books and professionals must carry the secret to my happiness and success.  I watch other women flirt, dress, advance in school and career. They flaunt sleeker bodies and appear more confident and less stressed than I. They hold clues of how I should be. I need to copy their nifty ways. I’ll adopt pieces of their behaviors into the puzzle that will show the world the new, transformed me. If I keep looking, the person to conduct my life will appear. I look outside myself to a relationship, a career or a perfect parent. Someone must know more about me than I know about myself.  I look and look for that someone to tell me what to do.”

What compels us to look outside ourselves for our personal answers? 

The tell-me-what-to-do habit is a piece of mental conditioning. By adulthood, this habit is so ingrained that it feels usual, so usual we hardly notice ourselves listening for instructions from mentors, counselors, celebrities and CEOs who expound upon how to be a good wife, a successful career woman, an unflappable mother.  We look outside ourselves for anger management, improved sexual allure and weight control, we look outside ourselves for internal control. This habit sets us up to search for external answers to our internal turmoil, as if someone else knows us better than we do, as if there is a sure-fire, absolute solution for living a relatively tranquil and satisfying life.

What makes us think there’s a formula for our emotional well-being?

Formulas surround us. 2+2=4. The earth orbits around the sun. We learned these facts in school. We also learned that these facts were obtained through observation, hypothesis, testing and conclusion – the scientific method.

Also during our formative years each of us took to sleeping on our back or tummy, on the left or right side of the bed. We chose one flavor of ice cream over another, chocolate over pineapple. Perhaps we loved softball and avoided basketball. We hung out with certain classmates, but not others. These actions were not facts. They required no formulas. They were preferences, as insignificant as whether we buttered our toast on one side or another.

We were living the actions, not analyzing them.

No one distinguished between facts and preferences, between the investigative method and personal inclinations. For instance, in biology class we observed polliwogs and frogs, caterpillars and butterflies. Similar methods were used in our psychology classes. With stop watches, questionnaires and experiments, we calibrated the behavior of fellow students. We saw parents and teachers consult graphs, charts, and schedules to tell them what to do and when to do it. From sports strategies to homework schedules, child rearing to housework, the scientific method infiltrated our daily lives. We were conditioned to believe a formula applied to our mental and emotional well-being.

What works in algebra and physics, however,  won’t give the recipe [answers] for how you should behave today. I realize this seems basic. Nevertheless, our conditioning [to believe that formulas will relieve our emotional suffering] is stronger than our logic and reason. We toss off cliches: No quick fix; no instant remedies; we’re all different. [Having instant coffee does not mean that there are instant solutions. We realize and give lip service to the notion that humans do not function from equations and recipes.] Still, we seek out quick, easy answers. We want the prescription for how to behave and live our lives.

If each of us perceives the world from our personal vista and if each vista is held as the true one, then there are more than six billion people operating as if they have the right way to live. If so many people claim to hold the supreme reality [and the ultimate meaning and value of existence (the dictionary definition of truth)], I must conclude there is not one.

The problem, as Kaitlyn discovered, is that people talk with an aura of certainty, as though their commentary were the ultimate. When you force an opinion as hard truth you end up aggravated, frustrated, out-of-joint, possibly alienating the other person.

Individual differences are far greater than similarities between people.  There are no duplicates of yours, mine or any one else’s mental make-up. Our emotional selves cannot and do not conform to prescriptions or templates. Human behavior takes on as many responses, approaches, methods as there are people.

Consider the statistical probabilities. Multiply [characteristics] the variables inherent in the world’s population — millions of cultures, 95 years of life [longevity], 2 genders, hundreds of thousands of languages, tens of thousands of tribes. Every time you add a variable the number becomes larger than a billion – into the trillions. The arithmetic boggles the mind with infinitesimal number of opinions at any given moment. You can see that applying this fact, alone, would alter how you hear people talk. How you process their information and what you do with it redirects your mental course and, thus, your behavior.

I can almost hear you say, “That’s true. But my husband and best friend talk as though they’re right. They get mad when I don’t buy into their views. What can I do?”

Here’s a simple maneuver to extricate yourself from these confrontations.  When someone foists upon you their personal certainty, reply with, “I believe you believe that.” This maneuver extricates you from taking on and owning another’s belief, as if it is yours, too.

On our road to emotional self-management, we want to adapt to the fact that there are 6 billion plus sets of opinions. We want to train ourselves to hear individual viewpoints, rather than absolutes. Your task is to develop the habit of noting [marking] what people say as opinion. Start by

• Reminding yourself, repeatedly, that others’ comments are opinions.

• Their conclusions are judgements and estimations, not hard and fast facts.

• During conversations, remember that this person speaks his or her conclusions.

• In response, practice saying aloud, “I hear your opinion.” In so doing, you will recall how to hear the comments of others.

• When you are asked for your thoughts, views, or when you contribute an idea, preface

your remarks with: “My opinion is… ”

It is important to keep the following in mind. You are saying these words to remind you that your are speaking your personal conclusion, not a God-given absolute. This is a self-reminding exercise, not a get-them-to-behave-right agenda. The purpose of this exercise is to shift away from listening for and to certainties and turn toward hearing opinions.


Pursuit of certainties is the habit of searching for the template, prescription or formula for the right behavior of how to be you; how to fit in; how to be liked; how not to get zapped

Looking-for-Certainties topics are endless. Here are a few.

• to marry or not

• take husband’s name or keep maiden name

• have children or not? with or without spouse?

• this house or that apartment?

• a stressful high-paying career or a more relaxed limited-income lifestyle.

Or smaller topics: purchase (All or Tide)

move to vignettes ???Current example: invited to a wedding at a destination that would cost me a chunk of change. At that time my income was limited and my expenses were high. I wanted to go. My friends and family wanted me to go. But, incurring travel expenses was not in my best interests, was not good for me.  I could have charged my credit card. Then when the bill came I would have scrimped and saved and worried.  My focus was on pleasing them, doing what they wanted me to do. How could I disappoint them? Lo and behold, once I made the decision to do what was best for me – not to go – I told my daughters. I felt a whole lot better.????


Miscellaneous for certainties/opinion

[Formula =prescription, recipe, established method, equation, rule principle. Recipe = a cup of x, a pint of y, a touch of this a pinch of that. Mix. Bake and out comes Z.]

In fact, what they voice and think are primarily opinions. [“The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion” (Elizabeth Drew, taken from the dictionary). ]

Looking for formulas drops you into the dilemma of choosing a right thing. A most frequent question is “What should I do?” What will be right?” Confusion reigns because there is not one answer to the question. Trade-offs are inevitable. If you find yourself in this quandary, use the following exercise.

When you can’t decide what to do, write a list of pros and cons. Whichever outweighs the other wins. I f they are equal, your choice is a wash, i.e. The trade-off balances out and you can go either way.


To describe the world is not to change it.

To describe thought-voices is not to acquire a belief about thought-voices. To describe thought-voices does not require a firm conviction as to the reality or the goodness of the thinking.

To describe thought-voices is not to alter how you respond to yours.

Recognize when you are responding differently to your thought-voices, not obeying your thought-voices.

Thought-voices tell you to listen to people for how you are doing. If people say you’re fine, that signals…If they you are  lousy, that signals…. Thought-voices telling you to listen to these messages are sabotage voices. They stop you from clearing out your mental clutter.


Ilana is trying to get reader to drop this habit of listening to others for the truth of how the reader should be. There is no entity outside of you to guarantee your well-being. You are the only one able to cut down on self-victimization.

Do I want to [Insert from Others2.wpd = I’m the center. I dictate. I’ll get mad without my telling them what to do. My impressions determine what should happen. ] into truth chapter?


inclination = bend or tilt: a tendency toward a certain condition or character: a characteristic disposition to prefer or favor one thing over another

propensity = innate inclination, a tendency, disposition, preference.