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The Power and Grace Between Nasty or Nice: Replacing Entitlement, Narcissism, and Incivility with Knowledge, Caring, and Genuine Self-Esteem

The Power and Grace Between Nasty or Nice: Replacing Entitlement, Narcissism, and Incivility with Knowledge, Caring, and Genuine Self-Esteem

by Linda Friel M. a., John Friel Ph. D.

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Whether interacting in political arenas or playgrounds, corporations or classrooms, boardrooms or bedrooms, we as a nation have fueled an epidemic of bad behavior. From political correctness agendas to the faux self-esteem movement, from absent parents to helicopter parents, many adults developed extremely unhealthy ways of approaching the natural conflicts in our


Whether interacting in political arenas or playgrounds, corporations or classrooms, boardrooms or bedrooms, we as a nation have fueled an epidemic of bad behavior. From political correctness agendas to the faux self-esteem movement, from absent parents to helicopter parents, many adults developed extremely unhealthy ways of approaching the natural conflicts in our daily lives. With a distorted worldview that's black-and-white, all or nothing, too many people react in extremes--they either blow up or rage (the nasty bully) or let others walk all over them (the nice pushover).

In this illuminating book, the Friels explain that power without graciousness results in bullying and nastiness. Graciousness without power results in being a doormat. However, power tempered with graciousness elevates us beyond our purely animalistic selves—it produces competence, gratitude, humility, and effectiveness, attributes that are sorely lacking in today's world where entitlement, narcissism, and incivility reign supreme. By learning how to find and balance this power zone between victim and perpetrator, anyone can stop dysfunctional patterns of behavior and ignite positive change. In fact, the Friels show how even one very small change held firmly for six to twelve months can cause more system-wide change than anything else you can do. Over the past twenty-seven years, their Clearlife® Clinic Program has helped more than 6,000 people identify and change ingrained patterns of behavior, beliefs, and feelings.

With case studies, pop-culture examples, and cutting-edge neuroscience, the Friels offer a captivating look at incivility, with a much-needed prescriptive plan to heal. This buzz-worthy book will surely have people wondering, In a nation that's too nasty and too nice, in which camp do I belong, and what am I going to do about it?

Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
Americans have the ability for great generosity and kindness, but it is unfortunately often lost in a sea of egotism and brashness. "The Power and Grace Between Nasty or Nice: Replacing Entitlement, Narcissism, and Incivility with Knowledge, Caring, and Genuine Self-Esteem" is a discussion of American psychology and how we can improve ourselves as a whole. Stating that often those who are kind end up exploited, and on the inverse, how the squeaky wheel always gets the oil, the Friels analyze the many aspects of the American psyche and how certain elements affect people. Discussing a wide array topics and with suggestions on many of them, "The Power and Grace Between Nasty or Nice" is a strongly-recommended pick for self-help collections, highly recommended.

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Change and Balance

When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone, on an empty shore.
—Tom Stoppard, Arcadia

The only constant in the universe is change. The organizing principle is balance. In between, there is the dynamic tension called life.

The ecological-systemic approach to the study of human beings developed and advocated by Gregory Bateson (1972), Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979), James Maddock and Noel Larson (1995), and many others assumes that the universal organizing principle in any system is balance, so that while everything in the universe is in flux, it is always moving toward a stable state of balance that contains within it the seeds of future upheaval and change. Jonathan Swift wrote, 'There is nothing in this world constant but inconsistency.'

This dialectic describes how galaxies and solar systems organize, exist, and then cease to exist. It describes how empires rise, create an illusory sense of permanence, exert power over their realms, and then crumble. It describes how human beings are born, struggle to make sense of their lives, and then die.

Life is bigger than us. Those who learn to accept this fact with grace, while still choosing to assert themselves in the universe with thoughtful kindness, are the happiest, most peaceful, and most powerful, in the best sense of that word. To accept the disappointment that we will one day cease to exist, and yet to act in the world from our better selves despite our inevitable demise, is the essence of spirituality.

This book captures what we have observed in our clinical practices over the past thirty years as our clients have courageously struggled with the dilemma of finding power and effectiveness without being victims or perpetrators—a dilemma that faces every human being. In 1975 a major psychiatric textbook (Kaplan & Freedman, 1975) claimed that sexual abuse in families was a one in a million phenomenon, a preposterous conclusion that has since been unequivocally disproved. Therapeutic topics that had been mostly dismissed by professionals until 1979 began to be addressed. The physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and sexual abuse of children came out in the open. The great cultural secrets of the past were no longer quite so secret. With the emergence of the Duluth Model of domestic violence treatment in 1981, perhaps the greatest secret of all throughout thousands of years of human history at last received serious attention.

Then a clinical dilemma slowly began to emerge. Do we help our clients who were the victims of childhood maltreatment become empowered, and if so, how? Should we help them identify and name the abuse that happened to them, and then encourage them to express their hurt, shame, loneliness, sadness, and outrage about it? Many clients hit many pillows with padded bats during these years while symbolically screaming at their families, 'I am angry! I am angry! I am angry!' It seemed to help some people sometimes. But we wondered. We noticed that something was missing. Many people seemed to get stuck in the world of their painful childhoods, which adversely impacted their adult relationships.

As we continued with our work under regular case consultation with James W. Maddock and Noel Larson, it became clear that the cure for being 'too nice' was not to become 'too nasty,' and that the cure for being 'too nasty' was not to become 'too nice.' We observed that clients got stuck seeing themselves one way or the other. We began to explore with our clients the untapped power they had, which could contribute to a strong life outcome. We looked at the way both nasty (perpetrator) and nice
(victim)—thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—contributed to the problem.

At times we met our share of resistance from some who saw this approach as too hard on a victim, or as blaming the victim—and as too easy on a perpetrator, or babying the perpetrator. But we saw it as a more powerful and effective way to sort these things out. We learned to help our wounded clients heal their old wounds, not just as an end in itself, but as a stepping-stone to a sturdy and competent adulthood.

Then we wrote in The Soul of Adulthood (1995) what has become the centerpiece of all of the clinical work we do, paraphrased below:

You know you are becoming a competent, healthy adult when you can choose what at times will be the exquisite pain and discomfort of fear, hurt, shame, loneliness, and sadness rather than hurt yourself, hurt others, or let others hurt you.

Our work has evolved from simply helping people identify issues of neglect and abuse to helping those same people become competent adults who have compassion, forgiveness, strength, power, integrity, emotional awareness, effectiveness, grace, and kindness, as well as the ability to express outrage and toughness in healthy ways when necessary.

A chapter in The Soul of Adulthood—'Love, Power, and Graciousness'—captured the essence of this challenge: we have included an edited version of it in this book. We stated that graciousness without power was just being a victim, that power without graciousness was just being a perpetrator, and that combining grace and power is what deep, genuine human love is about—and is what defines a competent healthy adult.

The 'power and grace between nasty or nice' refers to the challenge facing each of us to find the balanced area that rests between being too nasty or too nice. The subtitle addresses a number of issues that we believe are underlying this struggle to find balance, and with which we see so many people, especially U.S. citizens, grapple every day.

Competence, Patience, Self-Restraint, and Genuine Self-Esteem

These chapters address the perplexing decline in U.S. (and other nations') children's proficiency in math, science, history, reading, and critical thinking when compared with children from other nations; the crisis in U.S. education and parenting; the negative effects of a self-esteem movement run amok; and the increasing polarization of our society around social, financial, and governance issues. These problems are partially the result of a lack of education and an exponential increase in misinformation over the Internet and on television.

Competence, patience, self-restraint, and genuine self-esteem address the fundamental root causes of a multitude of human problems, but in unique ways here in this country. The inability to delay gratification has become a pathology in the United States. The ability to wait patiently for what life has to offer, or for what we are truly hoping, separates the men and the women from the boys and the girls. Self-restraint is one of the most powerful human skills available to us, especially in a highly complex, rapidly shrinking world. To find happiness in spite of the many disappointments that life offers is truly what separates people who feel like abject failures from those who hit multiple roadblocks and then bounce back better and stronger than ever before. Genuine self-esteem, as opposed to 'pseudo-self-esteem,' can only be attained if a person possesses two things: (a) knowledge and competence, and (b) a network of support that includes people who see, hear, and understand him, 'warts and all.'

Care and Kindness

The idea of care binds up so many Americans because we have such a confused understanding of the way in which care functions to enhance our species' evolutionary and genetic survival. Many of us see care as a sign of weakness that comes from our own woundedness and ambivalence as children who were not cared for properly. Care is related to our natural and healthy dependence upon one another.

The notion of care implies connectedness—that we need each other's complementary skills, talents, and insights in order to survive. Even more, care is about the importance and biological necessity of knowing that others of our kind care about us and that they are willing to accept the fact that they need us to care about them.

This reciprocal need for care from each other, the exquisite ambivalence that it raises in each of us, and the ability to transcend that ambivalence are what separate dictators and despots from powerful, competent, gracious leaders; and megalomaniacs from leaders who are able to help us all create a society that is a true shining city on a hill rather than a sham of greed and cruelty. Paraphrasing Gregory Bateson's eloquent thoughts, a symmetrical, competitive relationship between the powerful and the weak will most likely result in the destruction of the species known as Homo sapiens.

Care is simple. It is kind. It is gracious. It is one human being seeing another human being and taking the time to acknowledge what one sees. It is taking the time to listen without trying to fix, rescue, analyze, problem-solve, or therapize. 'I know I can't fix the pain you feel right now, but I want you to know that I am here, and that I can see, hear, and understand you.' That's all that matters. As one of the authors (LDF) often says, 'It is by connecting one heart to another, around seemingly small things, that love grows.'

Grace and Power in Action

In Part 5 of the book, 'Keep Your Balance, Keep Your Power,' we offer some examples, stories, and hints to help the reader create one's own unique patterns of neural networks—also known as cognitive templates—to navigate with grace and power through our rapidly shrinking world.

Readers familiar with our work may notice that an occasional section in this book is adapted from one of our previous eight books. We deemed that material essential to the current book, and realized that we had written those few sections as well as we could and that they did not require changes. The majority of the chapter on rules (Chapter 4), for example, was taken from our parents, teens, and couples books.

To Be Seen, Heard, and Understood

Humans have continually found better and more effective ways to communicate with each other—from pictures carved onto stones, to words printed in books by a printing press, to the telegraph, radio, and television; and now via e-mail, text messages on handheld devices, the Internet, and social media.

Regardless of how we communicate, the universal human need to be seen, heard, and understood will always be there, because we will always be human, and we will always need each other, no matter how much we evolve. Our need to be connected to one another—to feel part of the human race, the tribe, the family, the community—is a universal, biological need of all human beings. That's what makes us uniquely human.

At some point, it all comes back to the willingness of human beings to take the leap of faith that is always required to be flexible enough to survive on a planet that is always changing, always evolving, and always trying to find a stable state of balance after the inevitable upheavals that are always part of the nature of systems in the universe.

People destined to meet will do so, apparently by chance, at precisely the right moment.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

June 1, 2012

Meet the Author

John C. Friel, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized author and speaker as well as a skilled clinician. He is a psychologist in private practice St. Paul, Minnesota, and Reno, Nevada, who has sold over 500,000 books co-authored with his wife, Linda, and is the national director of the ClearLife® Clinic Program. Since 1980, John has consulted, trained, conducted seminars, and presented engaging keynote addresses for business and industry, hospitals, mental health clinics, government agencies, lawyers, doctors, and many more.

Linda D. Olund Friel, M.A., is known throughout the U.S., Canada, England, and Ireland for her therapeutic and training expertise in the areas of family systems, survivors of unhealthy childhoods, depression, anxiety, addictions and personality disorders. She is cofounder and national director of the ClearLife® Clinic, which is a special three-and-a-half-day therapy program to help people move beyond the painful patterns of childhood shortages.

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