Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting Outside Yourself

One of the qualities I like best in people is the ability to transcend yourself and shift perspective to see a situation, a relationship, or a problem from another person's perspective. This is a sign for me of a person's emotional maturity, and spiritual growth. None of us is the center point of the universe, and if we recognize that, we can make great strides in increasing our understanding of ourselves and other people.

When I am counseling couples, I find it a hopeful sign when both partners see that there are often several right ways to approach most things.There are also two perspectives on most relationship conflicts.When you realize you are not always right, and the other person is not always wrong, you can begin to solve problems. Often, we think the way things were handled in our family growing up (like the distribution of chores for example) is the only way to do it. Guess what? Your partner was raised in a DIFFERENT family, and they probably think that the way things were handled in their family of origin is the best way. The real answer is that you will need to compromise, negotiate, and find a new way to deal with daily life decisions that works for the two of you as a unique couple.

I am reminded of a terrific line from the spiritual teachings of the Course in Miracles, which says, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?"  Holding on firmly to the false belief that you are always right creates disharmony and doesn't allow you to truly be in intimate relationships, which require humility and vulnerability, and less ego and self-righteousness. We have much to gain from being curious about how things look from other people's perspectives.

My counseling practice is in Newport Beach, California.While Orange County is not really much like the Bravo show 'The Real Housewives of Orange County,' there are many children and teens I have worked with over the past 20 years who are fortunate to have grown up with many advantages. As a parent myself, and as a family therapist, I find it incredibly important to help our sons and daughters grow up with some perspective on the people all around us living in hardship. My own daughters, and many of my teenage patients, learned to see the world differently through volunteering with at risk families and youth. When we think about learning to shift perspectives, time well spent at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or as a direct service volunteer with children or seniors in tough situations is more impactful than any words a parent can say.

I am also overwhelmed at times by some of my wonderful adult patients who are grieving a loss; a death, a break-up, a job loss, recovering from childhood abuse, etc., but decide at some point in their grief process to reach out to help others in some way. I am struck by how it helps them grow stronger and heal. Maybe it has something to do with realizing you still have something to give. It also means that you see that there are always people in better and worse circumstances than you. Talk about transcending self! It makes me think of Mother Teresa's insight that we don't need to do great things, but, rather, small things with great love.

This week, I challenge you to ask yourself if there is another way to see it when you have a conflict with someone who matters to you. Just like in viewing an optical illusion, your perspective really matters. Don't make assumptions. Be curious about how things look from the other person's perspective. Stay aware that sometimes there are several right ways to do things. Ask and listen to how a situation looks to the other person. You can do this. Learning to shift your perspective will help you grow and mature along your own life journey.

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