We all have negative traits that come up during certain circumstances. Whether it’s at work, in traffic, or in our relationships – whether it’s when we’re stressed, full of fear, or not feeling enough – or, whether we chalk it up to the new age favorite of Mercury being in retrograde – no matter how warranted it feels in the moment to let that trait loose, it never leaves us feeling proud.
Righteous? Big check. Justified? Hell-to-the-yes check. Proud? No.
The universal (and inescapable) truth is that we all have less than desirable traits. We all possess qualities that like a swinging gate door can go either way, and that under particular circumstances tend to go the less than desirable route. The key to keeping our “bad side” balanced is to get our trait “on a leash” – one of my coach’s favorite terms and a major tool in the Handel Group methodology. When something is less than desirable or when we’re acting in a certain way and not getting the outcome we want, our typical response is either to attempt to rid ourselves of that quality, or to allow the trait to continue its work all while letting the guilt and shame eat away at us behind the scenes. Getting our trait on a leash, so to speak, means embracing that dark side. When we embrace our dark side, not only do we acknowledge that we have one but we also get to see how it’s getting in the way of our happiness.
I have a really loud trait that tends to come out mostly in my close relationships, though she’s also known to speak her mind in any situation that warrants her special attention. I call her the Self-Righteous Preacher (SRP). She’s the one who knows everything and isn’t afraid to let you know you’re wrong and she’s right. Any place she feels you need to “know” or “learn” something, she’ll take her place on the mount and with fire in her belly expound her wisdom to you. What I’ve noticed more recently is that this trait gets really fired up in my close relationships when I’m in my not-enoughness. When I’m worried, stressed, overwhelmed or frankly when I’m running on E and just beyond tired, I’m easily triggered and my Self-Righteous Preacher comes out without any hesitation. Mouth-a-blazin’, sermon-a-preachin’, she comes to my defense so I don’t have to lift the veil of personal inadequacy.
Have I known this about myself? Reluctantly yes. And to be completely honest, part of me is still vehemently denying that it’s an issue – I mean how can she (me) be wrong? But I also know the result I’ve been getting isn’t in alignment with my values. Quietly sitting in the aftermath of her words, dealing with the hangover of guilt and shame – fervently denying her existence – only makes her voice louder and intensifies the level of discomfort I feel.
Last week all this came to a head for me as I was triggered that my girlfriend, yet again, took something personally and reacted. When that happens, my SRP comes out to play, informing my girlfriend of where’s she at, how she knows better and how she needs to change her state. Basically, my SRP goes to Deafcon 1and until the other person gets the “lesson” and cleans up their side of the street, there can be no real communication. Last week’s episode was sort of a last-straw as the conversation escalated on both sides. In the end, I decided all I can do is my side of the street and if I’m left feeling less than proud, I have to get my trait on a leash.
You might not have the Self-Righteous Preacher, but maybe you have the Trigger-Happy Reactor or a very loud Critic or the Do-It-Myself Lone Ranger. Whatever the trait, the goal is to catch the areas where you’re feeling less than proud and examine your behavior in those areas. Once we’re able to catch where the trait comes up, there’s ownership and where there’s ownership we get to take charge and put that trait on a leash deciding what we’ll think, what we’ll feel, if we’ll react or we’ll participate when the trait comes out to play. In other words, we get to decide how we want to handle the situation instead of hoping for the best.
I was aware, much to my chagrin, of my trait. Heck, I even gave her a name so I could take proper ownership of her. But leaving it at that wasn’t going to put my trait on a leash. It was more like momentarily scolding the puppy that peed on the carpet, and guess what? That puppy-like trait will proverbially pee on the carpet again and we’ll continue that song and dance until I actually take action. So I took it a step further. I apologized to my girlfriend for not letting her be heard because my SRP had to stick it to her. Then (and here’s the part that is really going to keep the trait on the leash), I made a promise to her that I wasn’t allowed to let my SRP come out to play and I gave her permission to tell me if she felt like I was trying to teach her something. It was like putting a huge “wanted” sign on my behavior – really putting it in the spotlight – rather than just dealing with the behind the scenes guilt, embarrassment and shame.
It’s a big step – and a scary one too – but it’s also one that will enable me to take down my SRP and instead use her voice as a loving leader.
So, what’s your less than desirable trait? The one you wish you had on a leash? (PS- if you can’t think of one, use this as an opportunity to interview your friends, co-workers or significant other. Ask them what traits they wish you had on a leash and how that behavior impacts them). Once you’ve identified your trait, give it a name. The more humorous, the better. One of my favorites from a dear friend is “Overwhelma” – it’s the name she gives when her overwhelmed persona comes out to play. Once you name it, check in with yourself at the end of each day: Did you trait come up? Where was it the loudest? And, more importantly, what’s the action you can take to get it on a leash?
To taking our traits down and turning them around,