Going positive or negative? Which works best?

Published 8:40 am Thursday, May 20, 2010

Can you remember getting in trouble as a kid? I’m guessing that it wasn’t for something you did on purpose to get in trouble. I’ll bet there was something important to you, and you did it, and you didn’t really think about how it would affect the big people in your life.

So now think about your kid, or someone else’s kid, who has just done something that really gets your pants in a bunch. I mean, you are really irritated! You just want to tell that kid to think! Or to quit doing things that bug you so much!

And maybe you do give that kid a piece of your mind. How well does it work? Did you catch their eyes rolling as all your righteous words went flying past them? Or maybe they started arguing and you argued back? Or they just got real quiet, and you realized the distance between you and them just got a lot bigger?

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I know how I feel when I think I’m getting chewed out. I hate it and I feel defensive, and I’m angry at the person who is doing it. And somehow the last thing I want to do is what they want me to do. In fact, all that negative energy doesn’t seem to help change things at all!

I sure mess up sometimes. I usually know when I do it. If I have some room to think, I want to clean up my mess and make it right.

What a relief it is when nobody jumps on me. That’s when I have a little while to think what I can do to fix it.

You know when I really want to make it right? When I’ve heard from people about what I did that they liked. When I’ve seen a reflection of my best self in the eyes of someone who matters to me who says, “I really liked how you did that. Thanks. That was a big help to me. This part of the job is exactly what I was looking for. Let me know when the rest looks like this, so I can come admire it.”

Could it be that when I celebrate a child, or a friend, or my partner, that gift of positive energy is more powerful than a chewing-out? Or a five-paragraph lecture on how they should have done it?

What would I like to receive?

Can I give that and be a model for the people I care about the most?

It takes me paying attention. When I don’t, out of my mouth comes all the criticism and judgement I heard as a child and swore I would never say to my children.

When I do pay attention, I give that child what I longed for when I was small. I catch the times when that child is connected, even for just a brief moment, with what is best in them, and I light it up with my noticing, and I bless it with the delight in my eyes and the warmth of my tone. There is a little more love in the world. And I will get more chances to practice. M-m-m, that feels good to me, too!

Ellen H. Saul is a licensed psychologist. Saul is relocating her office from Albert Lea to Faribault as of June 1. Her new office address will be 14781 Bagley Ave., Faribault. (507) 334-9117.