P.E.T. & Trump Conversations

P.E.T. & Trump Conversations

I didn't vote for Trump.

With Hong Kong 15 hours ahead of the East Coast, I dazedly watched the returns on a Wednesday, getting FaceTimed by my eldest in California where he had cast the first vote of his life. I felt horror and growing anxiety as we checked analytics on the New York Times website together. 

Shortly before Trump's victory speech, I felt almost as though I'd been punched, and started to cry. 

Thus began a torrent of Kubler-Ross-like grieving emotions -- such as denial, anger and depression -- that would last a few days. I was experiencing fight, flight and freeze; my survival hindbrain had me in its strong grip and it was hard to concentrate on work. The not knowing threw my mind into the future with all its what-ifs.

I lashed out at Trump, calling him names, recoiling at the image of him inhabiting the White House. In my lowest moment, I "slut-shamed" Melania but was pulled up by a Facebook post of a friend: Whoa!? What does her decision to pose nude many years ago have to do with her husband's fitness to lead the United States?!

I wondered at my aggression:

Aggressive behavior means getting one’s needs met but doing so at the expense of others; being insensitive or outright antagonistic to others’ feelings, ideas and needs. Aggressive people, unlike their nonassertive counterparts, openly express their feelings, opinions and needs, but in ways that humiliate, disregard, or hurt others.
— Linda Adams, Be Your Best: Personal Effectiveness in Your Life and Relationships, page 36

When I reflected, I saw that under my anger was fear and deep hurt. I began to sit with my emotions and process them (through meditation and Emotional Freedom Technique). 

While my ire was directed at Trump (and, momentarily, his wife), I drew a line at my fellow Americans. I couldn’t in good conscience put down or label almost half of my country, or presume to know what was going on in their minds and hearts. 

I still believed Thomas Gordon's assertion that all behavior seeks to meet needs. Their vote was doing something FOR themselves, and not TO me, and I wanted to understand what that something was.

If we can start looking at the existence of conflict as evidence of unmet needs (instead of a struggle to get the upper hand), we can see it in an entirely new way. Conflict can be healthy. It can be a positive force in our lives. It can act as an invitation to congruent communication, offering an opportunity to engage in open, honest confrontation. It can clear the air and, by dissolving misunderstanding, bring people closer to each other.
— Adams, Be Your Best, page 136

The best part of me knows that even the President-elect himself is just engaging in need-meeting behavior -- I don't have to agree with it, I can even protest it, but I don't have to be consumed with certainty about his "evil" intentions.

So, the holidays are coming up, right? First up is Thanksgiving where, in America, there is talk of families ditching getting together. When it's as raw as I've felt and people want to feel safe or to preserve relationships, maybe that's the right decision.

Yet, I'd like to take the Behavior Window and consider how we might use the P.E.T. approach with friends, colleagues or relatives with whom we feel up to engaging. 

Helping me is the book Be Your Best: Personal Effectiveness in Your Life and Relationships, based on the Gordon paradigm and written by his widow and partner Linda Adams who designed this effectiveness training program for all adults. So much of her writing is timely to the nth degree!

I'll imagine conversations with two relatives: my cousin who is saddened and my uncle who is excited.

Other Owns Problem

For a while I wasn't using my P.E.T. skills with others disappointed in the results; instead, I agreed with those in my liberal echo chambers like my Facebook friends group.

Agreement when someone has a problem, however, is not the most helpful response and can actually be a Roadblock (#7). "Yeah, you are exactly right!" doesn't help the person to identify and actually feel her feelings. Once emotions are acknowledged, they dissipate; we feel calmer and our reasoning abilities and empathy come back online.

When I meet my cousin, I can choose to Active Listen, that is, reflect back the facts of the situation and her underlying feelings. 

Cousin: "It's so depressing. I can't believe this happened! I can't forgive the people who voted for him!"

Me: "You're really angry! And this is shocking and saddening, and seems unforgiveable.

Notice the dual focus on anger and other emotions? Recognizing and allowing anger is important since it lets us know important needs are not being met. In addition, going beneath anger to the more vulnerable emotions helps us develop self-knowledge and devise ways to solve our own problem that preserves, and even grows, our goodwill toward our American brothers and sisters.

Assertive behavior means knowing what you need and want, making this clear to others, working in a self-directed way to get your needs met while showing respect for others.

Above all, being assertive requires honest self-disclosure. Assertive people communicate honestly and directly; they express feelings, need, and ideas and stand up for their rights, but do so in ways that doesn’t violate the rights and needs of others. They are authentic, congruent, open, and direct. They are capable of acting in their own behalf; they take the initiative in meeting their needs.
— Adams Be Your Best, page 37

No Problem Area

There are a few things I might do before a problem even arises with my Republican uncle.

Declarative I-Message

"I am so exhausted trying to get my head around this. I am deeply concerned for our country and am really trying not to take this personally."  

Maybe hearing about my inner experience, my uncle would feel closer to me. He might tone down his words, or give me a warm look and talk instead about the South Korean presidential crisis or the last movie he saw.

Preventive I-Message

"I'm really worried that you will want to talk about the election and it will be too stressful and even embarrassing for me to discuss, especially with others listening in."

I'd then wait and see what he says; maybe he'd call a moratorium, or both of us would agree to have a discussion only after the holiday proper had passed, with no onlookers.

Modifying the Environment

If I were feeling really nervous about crying or becoming too emotional or explosive, perhaps I might decide to have Thanksgiving with my closest circle only, instead of with extended family. I could couple this decision with Positive and Declarative I-Messages to my relatives:

"I love you all. I am still reeling from the election and would like to seek some peace and solitude as I heal myself. I look forward to catching up with you soon. All my love, xoxoxo."

I Own the Problem

This box usually applies when the other person is content but we are unable to meet our immediate needs. I think it would be hard to convince my uncle that there is a concrete tangible effect on me now or in the near future, at least not before Trump has assumed office.

I could try to send a Confrontive I-Message -- "When you vote for Trump and support his policies in this way (behavior), I feel really scared (feeling) for the trickle-down misogyny and racism directed at myself and other groups (effect)."

Even if I Shifted Gears to Active Listen, though, my guess is that my uncle would resist changing. According to Adams, that's a clue that this box does not apply and we're actually in a Values Collision.

Both Own Problem: Conflict of Needs

For the same reasons listed in I Own the Problem, this box is not (yet) applicable. In fact, two of the ways you know it's about values, and not needs, are when:

"The other person does not consider that she or he has a problem, even though you do . . . [or] the other person resists Method III conflict resolution." (Adams, pages 161 - 162)

Both Own Problem: Values Collision

More than any other kind, [values conflicts] can offer you an opportunity to grow and help others grow in new directions. You can gain strength from them, and knowledge about yourself and others. Avoiding these conflicts will not make them go away, and may even aggravate differences and cause relationships to deteriorate.
— Adams, Be Your Best, page 161

Adams points out that there might come a time when wise discernment leads us to alter or even end a relationship. Hopefully, we won't have made that decision prematurely: "Do note, however, that people often choose to end relationships without fully exploring ways of working through their problems." (page 175)

My uncle and I disagree on values but I care for him and don't want to cut him out of my life!

So I am left with several options:

Problem-Solve the Behavior

If things got too heated or painful, we could problem-solve to limit the time spent talking politics during the family get-together. There are plenty of other activities that could remind us of our warm feelings toward one another.

Influence Values: Modeling

I started off this post saying I wanted to change, partly because I know the most powerful way to influence someone is to simply live my life congruently.

  • If I believe that Active Listening is important, then I try also to Active Listen my uncle as he heatedly defends his positions.
  • If I believe in an inclusive society, I remember to take into consideration people with whom I disagree. (I like this essay about how "identity liberalism" has failed to name ALL groups.)
  • If I really believe Gordon's credo, especially where he says "ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace." then I choose my thoughts and words carefully.

Influence Values: Consulting

Becoming the model I want to be will help me in this realm too:

Being effective as a consultant depends, first of all, on how you’re perceived by other people. If they see you as someone with wisdom, expertise, experience, knowledge, sensitivity, sound values, clearly your potential as an influencer can be great. Aggressiveness diminishes effectiveness . . .
— Adams, Be Your Best, page 173

Getting hired also requires Active Listening my uncle until he feels heard enough to want to listen to me:  

Uncle: "I know what you're going to say, 'Hilary won the popular vote so it wasn't fair.'"

Me: "You're worried I'm going to find an excuse to delegitimize the election."

Uncle: "Yeah, haven't you seen the protesters with the signs 'Not My President?'"

Me: "That really irks you, the fact that some people reject him as their elected leader."

Uncle: "It's just amazing what lengths liberals will go to. Do you think classes would have been canceled if the tables were turned and students were upset Trump lost?"

Me: "That's hard for you to stomach, how colleges seem to be coddling Hilary supporters but wouldn't have acknowledged the pain of the losers if it were the other way around."

(Note: I have had to vent and explore my own pain in order to even come up with this dialogue! In the first few days post-election, I was very jittery and on edge. (Sorry kids!) It was only when I tended to my own needs that my self-compassion was able to widen into compassion for others.)

Once I had my uncle's ear, then I could proceed with my well-thought out ideas and positions. I only have to state them once, with the full, humbling knowledge that he is able to take my ideas or leave them. Of course, I will jump at the chance to re-engage if he asks me for my opinion on something.

This type of non-pushy consulting is hard to do because we feel a sense of urgency.

"Probably few of us have not, at one time or another, thought the world would be a better place if only others shared our tastes and opinions on religious, political or ethical issues. And there are times when changing the other's value seems like the only way out of an impasse." (Adams, page 169)

Yet, I know the most effective consultants maintain good relations no matter whether the client follows through and, in that way, is likely to be rehired in the future. 

Modify Self

What shook me that day as my bubble of safety popped was how little I felt I knew my country! 

I am realistic about how much I will change, yet I am open to it:

Converting to another religion or switching to another political party are fairly extreme ways of modifying oneself; slight, gradual changes are more common. To modify yourself, consider these possibilities:

You can change your position on issues. Regardless of how convinced you are that your view is the correct one, do some research on the arguments of the opposing side. Try to get as much information as you can on both sides, then reevaluate your position and take into account what you’ve learned. . . .
You can ask yourself whether you have exclusive access to the truth about such matters as cultural tastes, lifestyles, work habits, religion, politics, dress, morals. . . .
You can examine whether you really like people in general, or only particular types of people. Do you automatically reject the values of people you don’t like?
You can learn more about others who are different from you. There’s plenty of evidence that knowing someone better increases liking and acceptance, and decreases fear and rejection.
— Adams, pages 165-166

This essay by Charles Eisenbach similarly asks me to go beyond one-dimensional characterization to really understand lives vastly different from mine.

 The Election: Of Hate, Grief & a New Story, http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/

The Election: Of Hate, Grief & a New Story, http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/

Going forward past the holidays, I want to nurture the empathic and skilled aspects of my being by applying the ever respectful approach of Parent Effectiveness Training. I resolve to listen deeply for the needs underlying all positions, stances and behavior.

That doesn’t mean I will condone all acts of Trump or his supporters. As one of my favorite meditation leaders -- Tara Brach -- says in a talk about the election, it's not about looking away as harm is committed but about investigating the hatred so we don't live out of it.

The Behavior Window helps me state the limits of what I find acceptable without dehumanizing people like my uncle and even Trump himself.

If you want more support this Thanksgiving, read Hands Free Mama's appeal to Sit at the Table with Those Who Hurt and Offend You.

Please tell me what you think! I'd love to hear your take on these times and what P.E.T. can offer all of us.

Credits: Trump photo (https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/article_small/public/thumbnails/image/2016/11/09/04/trump-0.jpg)