Human reactivity is the source of most of our interpersonal problems and pain. The 3 Dimensions of Emotions introduces the concept of working the triangle, a unique practice that provides a compelling yet practical road map that can help you move from painful reactivity to productive proactivity in your relationships. And it works just as successfully for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company as it does for a parent struggling to communicate with a teenager.
The 3 Dimensions of Emotions is a new way to understand emotional intelligence and find your relational "sweet spot"--the dynamic intersection of power, love, and mindfulness. It will also help you to:
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About the Author
Sam Alibrando, PhD, is an organizational consultant, psychotherapist, author, teacher, workshop facilitator, collaborative mediator, and executive coach. He has worked on the three-dimensional model for nearly 35 years and has taught it to thousands of people. Dr. Alibrando is president of APC, Inc., a psychological consulting firm. He is currently an assistant professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where he teaches executive coaching. He resides in Pasadena, California.
Read an Excerpt
Reactivity and Responsibility
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. Albert Einstein
There is a serious obstacle that we each have to face and transcend in order to find true joy and success in living: our self. The greatest obstacle to your happiness — I am sorry to tell you — is not your spouse. The greatest obstacle to your happiness is not your boss, your employees, your mother, the economy, or the president of the United States. The greatest obstacle to your happiness and success is you.
You might be saying to yourself at this point, "Wow, what a negative way to start a book!" However, it is actually good news because the truth is we have little or no control over those people and things outside of us to which we often attribute our happiness. There are so many things that affect us that we cannot control: the country where we were born, the mental health of our parents, what genes we inherited, what wealth we inherited, the personality of our spouse (that we did not notice when we were dating), the leadership abilities of our boss, the Congress we (or they) elected, and the myriad things that happen to us every day. The real issue of how we live our life as adults does not come down to what happens to us. The real issue of how we live our life, eventually and essentially, comes down to how we personally respond to what happens to us.
Do you ever wonder how certain people who have gone through a serious tragedy can still be happy? I think of celebrities like Christopher Reeve or Michael J. Fox, who seemingly found a way to be happy in spite of serious physical challenges. Sometimes people who suffer major life setbacks suggest that they are even happier after the tragedy! The secret in these situations — big or small — depends on how people are able to respond to life, not what happens to them.
My daughter went to work with the indigenous people in Guatemala. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and she went to the poorest villages in the country. She told me something our American minds can hardly comprehend. In spite of all the poverty that they lived in, the villagers were happy. In spite of not owning a nice car or the newest electronic gadget, huge smiles came easily and often to their faces. Our happiness exists not in the outside world but between our ears (and in our heart). This is easy for me to say, but it is a long and continuous journey for me to live.
In all honesty, I spent most of my life subtly resisting this idea. Oh sure, I gave it lip service. After all, I am a well-read psychologist. But like most people, and with true sincerity, I too often lived as if my happiness depended on other people and other things (like status, money, youth, etc.). I preached personal responsibility from the pulpit of my clinical office and from the lectern in boardrooms and workshops. But inside, I lived otherwise. It was only after a lot of therapy, endless "discussions" with my wise wife, and exposure to compelling spiritual wisdom that I began to slowly change my mind — not just my intellect — and as a result gradually find happiness that I did not enjoy before. When I embrace this truth of personal happiness through personal responsibility, I transcend all the petty envies and experience wholeness and joy. I invite you to do the same.
Scratch Without an Itch
If the problem does not start with ourselves — and it often does — the solution almost always ends with us. The more I grasp and embody this idea, strangely, the happier and more content I become. When I observe my wife, my clients, and even on occasion my government embrace personal responsibility, things eventually change for the better.
I want you to know that when I use the term responsibility, I have a very specific definition. When I use this term, it goes beyond the moral imperatives and duty that we learned when we were kids. ("It's your responsibility to clean your room!") From my perspective, responsibility is the ability to respond instead of reacting.
When we are confronted with challenges in life, we can either react with knee-jerk negative attitudes and behaviors, or we can respond with Personal Power, Heart, and Mindfulness. This distinction makes all the difference in how we live our life and how we impact others around us. It determines whether we are effective, happy, and well.
This book is about how to develop response-ability — or the ability to respond. It's a concept we have been hearing about for a few thousand years (from Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, and many other spiritual teachers), but we still have so much more to learn and un-learn. I join with others who believe that the world is on the cusp of important changes in this area and that there is a dynamic shift just around the corner.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of elemental upheaval and a great awakening in Western culture; the world has not been the same since. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new renaissance, one that is psychological and spiritual in nature. I am not talking here about formal "religion." Too often formal religion takes fresh, life-giving principles and codifies these teachings into fear-based rules that bind people rather than freeing them. No, I am talking about transcendence, where true psychology marries dynamic spirituality to yield a better human being.
How Would You React?
THE SCENE: You hear that one of your employees was late for a meeting with a very important client. A great deal was riding on the meeting, and the employee had a critical role to play in the agenda. This is not the first time that he has been late. He tells everyone that his child was sick, and he had to find someone to watch her. Things went poorly in the meeting, to a great degree because of his lateness and lack of preparation. You receive a call from your partner questioning you about your employee's performance and then you run into the employee in an empty hallway outside your office a few minutes after the call from your partner.
What would you do at that moment? How would you react when you see him?
This is not a trick question. This is real life. I could have picked an example of a disagreement at home with a child or perhaps a dispute with a neighbor or a challenge you have with one of your parents. I could have described a standoff between two political parties on an important bill, two countries over trade practices, or two churches over homosexuality. This is where we live — whether on an individual, organizational, or national level. How well we navigate these types of challenges determines how well we live.
So, how would you react to your employee?
There are three primary ways that we react to an interpersonal challenge. They are the negative manifestations of the three relational dimensions that we will discuss in Chapter 2. They are the same three ways that organisms use to protect themselves: Fight, Flight, and Freeze/Appease. For now let's simply use the primary colors — Red, Yellow, and Blue — to label the three primary ways people react.
Let's use –Red for the negative side of the aggressive or Fight reaction. In the –Red bucket we have angry behaviors like:
* Hostility and arguing;
* Criticizing, blaming, or even attacking; and
* Losing one's temper and impatience.
In the scene above, a person reacting –Red would reprimand the employee, possibly firing him on the spot. A person reacting –Red would stop his employee and put him in his place. The employee's excuse about his child is one too many, and his boss has run out of patience.
–Yellow will represent the avoidant or Flight reaction. In the –Yellow bucket we have detached reactions like:
* Emotional disconnect,
* Evasion and withdrawal, and
* Not acting and putting off.
In the scene above, a person reacting –Yellow, might, with eyes to the floor, walk past the employee. He'll let it go this time, not knowing what to say; perhaps he will talk to him later. Why make a scene now until all the facts are gathered? (Actually, why make a scene at all?)
And finally, –Blue represents the adapting or Freeze/Appease reaction. In the –Blue bucket we have compliant reactions like:
* Abdicating and yielding appeasing,
* Conforming and agreeing; and
* Surrendering, giving up, and resigning.
In the scene above, a boss acting –Blue would gingerly question the employee about being late for the important meeting. Upon hearing about the sick child and the difficult situation his employee found himself in that morning, –Blue would adapt to the employee's perspective and consequently excuse him and even feel sorry for the concerned father.
Take a moment to reflect. If you were the boss, out of what paint bucket (or two) would you be tempted to paint/react?
Let's try an example from the home front.
You are at a public event with your spouse. Being the extrovert that he is, your spouse gets notably involved in being part of the "scene" and as a result you are left out a good deal of the time. As you are driving home with him in the car, you say with a hint of upset in your voice, "You ignored me almost the entire evening." He reacts by becoming emotionally distant and distracts himself with the new app on his phone. He could easily spend the rest of the trip home mutely fidgeting with the technology in the hope a disagreement could be averted. How would you be tempted to react? You are likely to feel the two-sided coin of hurt and anger, but how do you behave?
If you react out of the –Red bucket of behaviors you are likely to become angry and verbally aggressive. You had no patience for this behavior at the event and even less patience for the withdrawal from you now. You lay into him with a barrage of criticism and blame. You give him a full accounting of all the other times that he has treated you this way. You tell him that you are fed up and will be damned if you'll take it any longer.
If you reacted from the –Blue bucket of behaviors you would, upon seeing that you caused him discomfort by your confrontation, feel badly for putting him in an awkward spot. Perhaps you would sympathize with him in an attempt to be fair, adopting his point of view (while losing yours). So you'd begin to engage in nonthreatening dialogue, perhaps asking him about the new app and taking an interest in what he is doing. His bad feelings are now good feelings. Mission accomplished.
You can always paint from the –Yellow bucket of behaviors. After all, that's the bucket he chose in his reaction to you. When you confronted him about his behavior, he became detached and quiet. He turned off, tuned out, and went away. You could do the same. You could become quiet, sullen, and distracted, and go into your own thoughts, perhaps fidgeting with the radio or checking in on the kids. In any case, it would be a very quiet ride home.
How would you react if this were your spouse? You might start out with the –Red paint bucket and stick to it, yelling at him all the way home. You might try one set of reactions and then switch to another if the first one does not work — and it generally does not. For example, you might first start by criticizing him and when that does not seem to work, switch to the –Yellow paint bucket by "giving up" and detaching. Either way, you would find yourself frustrated, having to suffer this most difficult person.
The world is full of difficult people. There are the likes of the aforementioned employee and spouse. There are countless difficult bosses, coworkers, children, neighbors, in-laws, partners, teachers, political parties, religious groups, and nations. We react to them in hate out of the –Red bucket, abdication in the –Blue bucket, and indifference and detachment in the –Yellow bucket. Out of fear and threat, consciously or subconsciously, we do react, but who are these difficult people?
The Myth of Difficult People
A woman came into my office for the first time and told me the following story. While in a grocery store, shopping for family provisions, she accidentally and painfully ran over her toe with a heavily laden shopping cart. She yelled, under her breath in the store, at her husband, "You idiot!" She told me in our interview that it was at that moment that she knew it was time to come in for help. She realized with much embarrassment that not only did her husband not hurt her big toe, he wasn't even in the store.
It's a funny story, but not too far from experiences we have all had, when we have readily blamed someone (often our spouse) for our unhappiness. In the part of the mind where most of us live out our lives — the unconscious limbic system — the problem becomes the other person. But as we can clearly see from this example, in truth there is often no need to blame anyone. Indeed, laying blame does not effectively solve most of our differences with others.
One of my first goals when facilitating a workshop on the topic of managing difficult people is to dispel the very myth of the difficult person. The difficulty with the concept of a "difficult person" is establishing exactly who the difficult person is. We almost always experience the other person as difficult. In the case of the woman in the grocery store, she saw her husband as the difficult person.
Often when facilitating this topic at a workshop, I will ask the participants a simple question: "Is 50°F cold or hot?" I almost always get the same response: "It depends," and so it does. If you were at an outdoor dinner party in Los Angeles in July, 50°F would be very chilly. If you were in Chicago in February, you would be enjoying a welcome warm spell. I use this to illustrate the subjectivity involved when we identify someone as the difficult person. Is the problem the other person or am I the problem? The question might be as subjective as "Is it cold or hot?" Often from our perspective, we only see the other person as difficult.
I define a "difficult person" as anyone who makes us into a difficult person. In other words, anyone who "makes us" react. Otherwise, the person or the situation is just a challenge that we need to handle. You have more than likely heard a realtor saying, "What are the three most important things to consider in buying a property?" The answer is: "location, location, location!" Similarly, the first three principles of managing "difficult people" are equally compelling. In order to manage a so-called "difficult person," you must:
1. Manage yourself first,
2. Manage yourself first, and (yes, you guessed it)
3. Manage yourself first!
There are a few good reasons for this. First and foremost, we only have actual control over ourselves. In reality we only have access to our own steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake: If we tried to drive another person's car from the passenger's side we would in all likelihood cause an accident. Second, when we change ourselves and respond positively, we actually change the interpersonal dynamic of the interaction. When we are different, the dynamics of the interaction change. Finally, managing yourself first is simply the right thing to do. It is a generally accepted principle in our society that a person of integrity is a person who takes responsibility for his or her own actions. Blaming not only does not work, it is unflattering to the blamer. It is hard to respect a person who is constantly making up excuses and blaming others for their woes and poor behavior. On the other hand, we honor a person who stands up and takes responsibility for their side of the equation. Think of politicians who constantly take credit for what goes right and blame the other party for everything that goes wrong. How much respect does that engender among voters?
I have worked in the field of psychology for more than 35 years. When I think of the ingredients that go into positive change and growth — whether at home or at work — one attribute keeps coming to the top of my list: It is the ability and willingness to own our own "stuff," without excuses and without shame. It is the shameless ownership of our side of the equation. It is the non-arrogant acceptance of who we are, the whole package, embracing our strengths and weaknesses. It is the fierce emotional honesty that we can have with ourselves without self-hate.
People who are humbly self-aware are people who change. Within a relatively short period of time, I can often tell if the couple that comes in to see me to "save their marriage" or the CEO who wants to "fix her executive team" will be successful. If each spouse or the CEO can accept their part in the problem, there is hope. If they are intractably attributing the problem to the other (–Red), see themselves as victims (–Blue), or are passive and indifferent (–Yellow), then we will have our work cut out for us. In these situations, perhaps a Band-Aid solution is all we can hope for.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The 3 Dimensions of Emotions"
Copyright © 2016 Dr. Sam Alibrando.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Reactivity and Responsibility,
Chapter 2: The 3 Dimensions of the Interpersonal World,
Chapter 3: Working the Triangle,
Chapter 4: Moving Against and the Power Dimension,
Chapter 5: Moving Toward and the Heart Dimension,
Chapter 6: Moving Away and the Mindfulness Dimension,
Chapter 7: Synergy and Finding Balance in All Our Relationships,