A Bitter Client
By Marty Nemko
Robert just left my office after his first session. I have to tell you about the session.
The 28-year old was wondering if he should change careers. Although he had graduated with a degree in art, he took a well-paying job as a programmer. The obvious conclusion was that he had sold out his artistic self for a buck, but after some questioning, it became clear that something else was causing his malaise.
Sprinkled through his answers was anger at nearly everyone and everything: salesmen, even occasional repetitive or stressful tasks, capitalism, immigrants ripping off the taxpayers, unintelligent people, etc.
Also sprinkled throughout the session were admissions that he is insecure: insecure about his ability to make a career change, to make friends, to save money, to keep his girlfriend from leaving him.
Near the end of the session, I decided to take a risk. I said, “I’m wondering if your malaise might have little to do with your career. After all, you’re making a good income, say you’re good at what you do, and on probing, admit that you enjoy about 80 percent of what you do there. You’ve said that you’re insecure about a number of things. Could it be that your malaise comes from deflecting your insecurity by being angry at everyone and everything?” His eyes welled up.
He said that he had been that way since early childhood, and that his mother was an angry, judgmental person. I explained: “Your mom bestowed on you a double whammy: She transmitted her genes for anger plus, as a role model, conveyed that anger and judgment were appropriate ways to respond to the world.”
I said, “If you are willing to change, everything will improve: your satisfaction with work, your relationships, your drinking habits, everything. He said, “But it’s so ingrained. Can I change?”
I said, “You’re right. It’s tough to transcend your genetics and early upbringing, but if you do what I recommend, your chances are good. For the past 28 years, you have gotten in the habit of, whenever seeing something or someone suboptimal, reacting with judgment and anger. At this point, such responses have probably become neural pathways. Starting this minute, and continuing for the next week, I want you to do this: Every time you start to feel anger or judgment about someone or something, consciously replace that feeling with empathy and even love. If you make yourself try to do this 100 percent of the time, without exception, for the next week, you will, almost instantly become a happier, more successful person.
I continued, “Your natural tendency will be to quickly forget about your new you and revert to your old self. To prevent that, you must do these things:
· Write the letter L (for love) on your palm. Seeing it 24/7 will help you remember your new you.
· Every time you put something in your mouth, think love. Because you drink and eat so many times a day, linking that with your desired new behavior will help you remember to be your new self.
· Keep a memo pad with you at all times. Every time you’re in a situation that previously would have made you angry or judgmental, write down how you reacted to it.
· Hang out with more loving people. You said you want to make new friends. Make a loving nature the litmus test for anyone you’re considering as a friend. I didn’t say the following but wish I had. I’ll say it next session. “And to increase the likelihood of finding such people, consider volunteering at a place that might attract them, for example, an animal shelter, a hospital, a center that serves low-income people, perhaps even the illegal immigrants you resent.”
I asked, “Do you want to try this?” Tearfully, resolutely, he nodded.
I concluded by saying, “Robert, I’m hoping those tears are not just of sadness but of hope. You’ve been unhappy for 28 years. I’m willing to bet that you will derive more pleasure in the next year than in your previous 28 put together. Let’s get together next week and we’ll use the notes in your memo pad as a springboard for the session.”
I’m eager to see how his week turns out.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2017. Usage Rights