Oh Aversion, How I detest thee!
by Robert S. Vibert
You know, I really did not want to write this post. In fact, I avoided writing it. Delayed writing it. Tried not to think about it. Felt bad when I thought about writing it. And, in the end, I did write it, and actually felt better when I did. I owned my aversion to writing about aversion, and circular thinking-like as that may seem, it is what it is and was.
The trigger for writing this article was a brief segment in the DVD series Love: What Everyone Needs to Know by Dr. Pat Love in which she interviewed Dr. William Glasser about relationships and he mentioned The 7 Deadly Habits.
According to Dr. Glasser, these 7 Deadly Habits are
- Bribing, rewarding to control
When I heard him mention these it did not take long for me to recall recent incidents in which I had experienced one or more of these habits directed at me, and the strong aversion which arose within as a result.
According to Buddhist teachings, the source of much suffering in life is aversion or craving. If one is able to no longer have an aversion to something (or a craving for something), then suffering will diminish. This sounds great in theory and takes ages to achieve in practice. Recent studies of the brain show how we react to some outside stimuli, like hearing certain tones of voice, in the same way as other painful experiences, including physical ones. It is normal for us to then want to get away from the source of this pain, and if that is someone using one of the 7 Deadly Habits on us, then we will want to get away from them.
Sometimes, an aversion reaction can manifest in a physical discomfort – it literally feels awful in our bodies to be near the source – someone complaining, nagging, blaming, etc. Although Dr. Glasser does not include it on his list, I would add Shaming as another trigger for discomfort and pain and the resultant aversion.
Can we feel less aversion?
There are schools of thought which tell us that we can change our response to outside stimuli by re-framing what we are hearing/experiencing into something benign or even pleasant. Instead of responding to the criticism we look upon it as helpful. While this sounds like a good strategy, it rather hard to do when our brain’s pain center is triggered and our body is saying “Get me outta here!” It requires a large dose of willpower and determination and is really a coping mechanism rather than a solution.
Some other approaches say that we can intellectually rise above the stimuli to see what is driving the other person to behave in such a way (they are speaking from their pain, using their maladaptive coping mechanisms, they only want their needs satisfied, etc.). This is essentially the “knowledge is power” school of thought, the one that states that if we know “why” we can then understand and somehow this knowledge and understanding will be sufficient. To that, I always ask “What about the pain being experienced by the recipient?” and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer, probably because this approach is also one where suppressing of feelings is proposed. I have yet to see any advantage to suppressing/managing/controlling feelings – it is too much like wrestling with yourself – part of you always loses.
The fact that there are countless books on dieting and yet it is a constant struggle is a fair indicator that knowledge alone is insufficient for dealing with that and with many other problems.
I would propose a different response to the rise of feelings of aversion, which involves interlocking actions of self-care:
Accept – First of all, accept that the feeling of aversion has arisen and is present. Do not deny it or try to change it or indulge in self-judgment and punishment for having the feeling.
Notice – Any painful feelings which also arose when the aversion was triggered are often signs of emotional wounds. Notice those feelings, again with acceptance. You may wish to heal the wounds using a technique such as AER so they do not contribute as strongly (and often not at all) to the aversion in the future.
Choose – The world is full of people who have never learned how to properly and respectfully communicate with others. They use the 7 Deadly Habits constantly and will continue to do so in the future. Hoping that they will somehow magically change is only going to lead to frustration and disappointment. The choice one makes is how much one exposes oneself to the stress and negativity of criticism, blaming, shaming, nagging, etc. From where I stand, the less exposure, the better, as your nervous system does not benefit from such inputs.
Dr. Glasser refers to the Seven Caring Habits:
- Negotiating differences.
I could spend all day with someone like that, couldn’t you?
One of the problems we run into when we look for people who use the Caring Habits is that there are insufficient models of such behaviour today. The media is full of examples of detrimental behaviour as that provides dramatic situations and rather stingy when it comes to providing us with models of caring. Sarcasm, belittling comments and snappy comebacks are the staple fare in TV and films, flavoured with rampant narcissism and disrespect for others.
A recent film, The King’s Speech, is remarkable for the inclusion of several characters who demonstrated many of the Seven Caring Habits:
- Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), the speech therapist who was firmly supporting, encouraging, accepting and respecting of his royal patient, eventually becoming his trusted friend. Even when a disagreement arose between them, it was Lionel who set out to apologize for his part in the incident and negotiate a way around the difference.
- Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, wife of King George VI of England (played by Helena Bonham Carter), who was consistently supportive, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, and respecting of her husband despite the struggles he faced. She wanted what was best for him and without imposing her views, opinions or ideas, respectfully and with caring worked with him to attain that.
It would be very easy to want people like those two characters in one’s life. They would be the ones we seek out, choose to involve in our lives, and enjoy being with, both in platonic and more intimate relationships.
Taking these three steps, Accept, Notice, Choose, one can move from a place of suffering from regular doses of aversion to one where when aversion does arise it is useful as an indicator of more healing to be done, and of a choice to be made, rather than a source of suffering.
Copyright 2011 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved.