Monday, January 10, 2011

Anger and Stress Strategy: Put the Past Behind You

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(excerpted from When the Last Straw Falls: 30 Ways to Keep Stress from Breaking Your Back – by Julie Christiansen, now available at

February 19th, 2008 marked the 1st anniversary of my mother’s passing. She died in her sleep, suddenly and unexpectedly in my home, and it was, as you might imagine, a very shocking, sad, and traumatic experience for our family.

Looking back at that time last year, I wonder how I managed to get through the shock of finding her, calling 911, notifying my father and my siblings, dealing with the coroner, the funeral home, taking care of my kids, and all the rest. It seems that my crisis training served me well, and I was able to go handle the extreme stress of that situation despite my grief.

Almost one year later, as I continued to deal with the ongoing fallout of losing my mom, I realized that other issues that had remained latent while she was alive were beginning to surface. And with those issues, came feelings of intense anxiety and panic that I had not experienced for decades.

As I battled with this rise in anxiety, I often found myself feeling as if I had lost my bearings and was flailing around frantically for something to hold on to. And I found that stability in the most unexpected places. Good friends. Faith. And in my office.

Let me explain that last one... several years ago I recorded the audio program, “Getting Past Your Past”. It occurred to me as I was rifling through my files, looking for something that would help me through this crisis, that perhaps if I expect people to listen to my advice that I should listen to it as well. So I grabbed the CDs and plugged them into my car, feeling a little sheepish and wondering if listening to my own recording made me a narcissist...

To my surprise, the woman on the CD sounded bright, confident, and sure of herself (not the same person who was listening at that moment)! She had some rather profound things to say, which were coincidentally strangely relevant to my current situation. I thought... “why not pay attention to her? She sounds like she might have something there...” I took it one step further on the advice of a good friend, and printed myself a workbook – and went through the exercises detailed in the “LET GO” section of the program.

As bizarre as that sounds, it was what I needed at the time. I was reminded that I need to forget my past, remembering only what it taught me. That I have much to be grateful for and that the events of my past have contributed to the person that I am today. That I am still that strong, confident, bright woman I heard on the CD, and that vulnerability is not the same as weakness.

Through the process I was reminded that strength is fluid, and often dependent on your circumstances and the resources you have available at the time that those difficult circumstances arise. I was reminded too of the resources that have helped me through other past trials, and that all I need to do is to rely on them rather than ignoring them – and my strength can be restored.

The whole concept of getting past one’s past is one that is so worthwhile in the quest for less stress. If you have read my book, Anger Solutions! Proven Strategies for Effectively Resolving Anger, you will recall the story of Everett Worthington, whose mother was murdered in her home by a group of teens who broke in while she slept. Dr. Worthington is now recognized as one of the pioneers in forgiveness research.

Another leader in the area of forgiveness research is Dr. Frederic Luskin, author of the book, Forgive for Good. One of the things I noted from Dr. Frederic Luskin’s work is that when you recall the events of the past that caused you hurt and pain, and you have not yet learned to forgive and let go, you will experience the hurt just as if it were happening for the first time. That is to say that the anxiety, stress, sadness, anger – and all the other negative emotions that may be associated with that event, create just as powerful a physiological response in the body as when it happened the first time. So each time you recall a hurtful event, you are inducing the stress/anger response at full strength in your body.

Both the research of Dr. Luskin and Dr. Worthington has scientifically proven that through forgiveness, you can boost your immune systems, have healthier platonic and intimate relationships, significantly reduce your stress, and effectively prolong your life expectancy. There are two mental/emotional tasks that I believe we must undertake if we are to begin the process of getting past the past.

Acknowledgement and Acceptance
Now, no one said that putting the past behind you would be an easy thing to accomplish; but it is not impossible. One of the most difficult things I have found to do is to acknowledge and accept what happened. It is human nature, I think, to want to dwell on events of the past; to ask why; to try to figure out the motivation of the person who hurt you; and to understand the feelings of pain, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, etc. that accompany acknowledgement of the hurt. Certainly, acknowledging that you were hurt, wronged, betrayed is the first step in getting over what happened in your past. But acknowledgement alone will not help you move forward.

In my own process, I came to the realization that the more I tried to figure out why I had been hurt or wronged, the more anxious and hurt I felt. That is because I was spending too much time trying to answer questions that I cannot answer. It was not until I came to the point where I could say like an old client of mine, “It is what it is…” that I began to emerge from the fog of disillusionment and all-consuming pain.

By accepting that my past is what it is, and realizing that I cannot go back and change it, I can begin to focus on how I want to live my life in light of what happened before. Will I choose to forgive those who hurt me? Will I live the life of a victim, or will I seek to learn from the experience, and find ways to grow and increase my personal strength? Do I want to spend all my time looking backward and feeling helpless, or do I want to move forward with an attitude of optimism and expectancy for better things to come?

Let me ask you the same questions. Now that you have acknowledged your past, are you ready to accept it for what it is? Then, are you willing to do what it takes to move forward through forgiveness? Everett Worthington would never have become a pioneer in the field of forgiveness had he not chosen to forge ahead despite his pain. Because of his willingness to forgive and to learn from his traumatic past, humanity has a greater understanding of the value of forgiveness both for our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Who knows what great legacy you and I may create for future generations once we learn to leave the past where it belongs – in the past.

Want to know more about Getting Past the Past? Niagara Residents call 1-866-754-6169 to reserve your tickets to the Love Your Life Seminar Series at White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa, January 26, 2011 to hear Julie Christiansen speak on this topic. More information at Watch this clip: to hear more from Julie.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Anger Solutions at Work: How to Cope with a Bully Boss

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Anger Solutions at Work: How to Cope with a Bully Boss
Bullying at work is a form of workplace violence. By implementing sound strategies, and ensuring all employees are on the same page, employers and workers alike can reduce the risk and make work a safer place to be. In the province of Ontario it is the employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment. Failure to do so is punishable by law, and in severe cases could result in hefty fines and even jail time.
Knowing the law and your company’s internal policies is paramount to dealing with a bully boss. Ask questions. Visit websites that discuss labour law in Canada. Find out what protection exists for you and your co-workers within your company and in the legislation.
Make sure you document behaviours, dates, times, and witnesses, so that you have accurate information to report. Talk to your health and safety representative, union steward, or to the person who supervises your boss. Let’s face it, in a perfect world, the buck would stop there; however, the truth is that very often, complaints against bully bosses go unheard or unaddressed. It is also true, that others who privately say they will back you up, will often back out when the poop hits the fan, leaving you in the lurch without viable witnesses. Then, it is your word against the boss. (Again, this is why documentation is so valuable.)
Should you end up in a situation where you have tried all avenues and the boss is still allowed to continue with the offending behaviours, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Here are some suggestions that may prove helpful.
• Call the boss on his/her behaviour. If the bullying you are encountering comes across in the form of veiled threats, use negative inquiry. Example: “Are you saying that if I don’t improve on my performance that you are going to fire me?” By bringing the threat out into the open, the boss now has to own it, rather than hide behind it. Remember that manipulation only works as long as you don’t realize you’re being manipulated! Bring any such tactics out in the open, and don’t be surprised if the bully starts backpedaling big-time.
• Be clear about what behaviour is making you uncomfortable, and indicate what works for you. “When you talk to me that way in front of my co-workers, it makes me feel belittled and humiliated. I would really appreciate it if from now on you would share any criticisms in private.”
• Do your job to the best of your ability. If you are struggling, ask for help from the others on your team. If it comes down to the word of the boss against yours, your work will speak for itself. Better to have a solid performance record than a weak one.
• Take it to your union, the labour board, or a labour lawyer. Remember that allowing workplace bullying to continue unchecked is a criminally punishable offence under the law. You don’t have to take the abuse – the law is on your side.
• Start looking for another job. Unfortunately there are plenty of lousy bosses out there, but there are lots of great employers too. Before you get to the point at which you have lost every last shred of your self esteem, prime your resume, and get back in the job search saddle. No one says you have to put up with continued abuse from a workplace bully – especially if that bully has authority over you. Take control of your own destiny, and get out before it’s too late.
This article is excerpted from a free 4-page report “Coping with Workplace Violence”. To receive a copy of the report, contact Julie Christiansen by visiting her website: