I want to put in a word in support of good behavior.
In the main, I work with empathy. I believe that almost all people are trying to come from an honest place -- even the ones who are well aware that they are lying. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, until you take into account that a lie is a child’s first attempt at being a separate person. If he can lie, and “get away” with it, then what do you know?!? Mother can’t read his mind. His thoughts are his own. Too many of us don’t grow past that point, of course.
So yes, I can be understanding and empathic with (almost) anyone. And it’s pretty necessary in the process of helping a person accept himself, which is the first step toward real growth and change. The problem comes when someone wants to take the therapy environment into the rest of life.
In my office, every emotion is good, and valid, and worthy of exploration and expression. In my office, you are free to say whatever comes to your mind. In the rest of the world, every emotion is still good, and valid, and worthy of exploration and even expression. But you’re not free to say whatever comes to your mind, because much of what comes to your mind is likely to be a verbal “acting-out.” And we ALL know that we’re not supposed to “act-out”!
“I shouldn’t say this, but…” is definitely a preface to verbal acting-out. If you shouldn’t say it, DON’T SAY IT! “You’re a #*%$!” is not an expression of anger but an act of anger. (Most of us who think we’re afraid of anger are really afraid of the acts that may come from anger.)
“My wife (or husband) doesn’t understand me.” The quintessential excuse for infidelity may, in fact, be true. But it’s no excuse for misbehavior. Our marital vows don’t include perfect understanding. They don’t even include a soupçon of empathy. When we make a commitment, we’re promising behavior, not emotion.
Well, we really couldn’t promise emotion, could we? We can’t control emotion, any more than we can control what our eyes see or our noses smell. It’s not possible to promise to feel love forever.
But we can do love. We can behave with consideration and respect (not the same as submission). We can practice the “Golden Rule” in whatever form we know it. Would I like being yelled at? Then could I not yell? (I know, I know -- easier said than done!)
Respect for myself is the best foundation I know for solid relationships. A person who respects himself is a person who likes (mostly) who he is. And I like myself when I behave honorably. Chances are, you will like me, too -- but that’s not actually the point. In fact, the point is more that when I like myself, I’m more likely to like you. And this starts an ascending spiral, rather than one of those terrible descending ones.
It’s hard to be responsible for my behavior. The only thing harder is trying to put the pieces back together when I haven’t acted respectfully.