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Live Life Fully: Need to detour from the high road?

By Linda Arnold

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I don't like going against my core instincts. None of us do.

Lately, though, it seems that challenges that can affect our behaviors are popping up everywhere.

Crises we hear about every day in the news. Disruptions in the planetary alignments. Global competition. We're navigating some uncharted waters.

No wonder we lose perspective from time to time, even with the best intentions. My general nature is to be compassionate, to be trusting and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they show me otherwise. Lately, I've found myself being a little more guarded.

I still look to take the high road. Our intent is what's important. There's definitely a balance though, and that's what can be tricky.

Therapist and author Martha Beck cites clients who took a high-road approach with difficult people in their lives. Yvette stayed politely silent when a co-worker, Fred, brazenly stole her ideas. Jane cleaned up pizza boxes and drinking glasses left by her college-age daughter, Emily, as complacently as she'd once changed Emily's dirty diapers. And Cynthia and Rob's romance was based on lots of give and take: Cynthia gave -- back rubs, compliments, gifts -- and Rob took full advantage without ever reciprocating.

These examples don't describe the high road. Rather, they depict a grim, well-trod path that leads from passive behaviors to aggressive behaviors -- through long, horrible stretches of passive-aggressive actions. The real high road requires something quite different -- the courage to know and to follow your own truth.

If anyone in your life is exploiting your courtesy and goodwill, Beck cautions a closer look. Rather than tolerance and abiding love, she explains to O magazine, the behavior is likely rooted more in fear -- fear of anger, of conflict, of losing control or emotional abandonment. So we resort to ORC behavior: opaque, reactive and closed.

For example, when Fred stole Yvette's ideas, her silence didn't come from inner peace, but from a fear that speaking up would ruin her reputation as a team player. Or, to cite a familiar rationalization, "They might not like me if I do that."

Jane didn't realize her real reason for catering to her daughter was to keep Emily from wanting to move out, which would cause Jane to face her own dread of living in an empty nest. Cynthia was unconscious of her fear that Rob would leave her unless she constantly fulfilled his every wish. Yikes!

When this opaque behavior disengages us from our inner truth, we stop acting on our own desires and become purely reactive instead, focused not on what we want, but on what we think others will think, say or do.

It's not always easy to tell if we're in ORC territory. Beck cites some red flags. Red flag No. 1: a tendency among the people around you to become increasingly selfish, exploitative and unfair. Red flag No. 2: a growing disconnect between your own feelings and your actions -- directly proportional to how badly you're being treated and how far you've managed to stray from the truth.

Take a look at the following chart to gauge how your feelings and actions can escalate over time if not held in check, leading to obsessive thoughts. As the old saying goes, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Feelings and actions

Disturbed -- You easily brush aside your feelings and continue your nice, polite behavior.

Displaced -- You appear cooperative around the offender, still pushing away resistant feelings, but now fussing grumpily to yourself or to others.

Hurt -- You may actually increase niceness to hide the fact that you're feeling seriously wronged.

Resentful -- The offender's misdeeds begin to occupy more and more of your attention. Complaining about him or her becomes a daily pastime.

Seething -- The offender's bad behavior becomes a central feature of your thinking. You complain constantly to others. And, despite controlled "niceness," you seek to undermine him or her with passive-aggressive strategies like the silent treatment, backhand compliments and gossip.

Homicidal -- You daydream about thrashing the offender. You have knots in your stomach and can't sleep. You're irritable and depressed. You may occasionally lash out at loved ones in what appears to be irrational rage.

If you recognize yourself anywhere on this chart, you may want to reflect on one of my favorite quotes by author Anaïs Nin: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."

You can reset your GPS and still take the high road, while also standing up for your own principles. Remember: We teach people how to treat us.

Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to livelifefully@arnoldagency.com.


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