October 31st, 2009 8:53 AM by Lehel Szucs
Transforming Difficult Relationships with Curiosity - By Charlotte A. Michie
The Portsmouth Daily Times, March 1915, in a piece headed The Height of Curiosity:
Mother - "Don't ask so many questions, child. Curiosity killed the cat." Willie - "What did the cat want to know, Mom?"
The proverb "curiosity killed the cat" warns against being inquisitive. However, if we want to have healthy interpersonal relationships, curiosity is a prerequisite. A lack of curiosity is much more dangerous. Curiosity is not referring to prying into other people's business. The definition I am using is having the curiosity to know (to look within) self and how having this knowledge will help transform difficult relationships.
People consult me when their lives are not working because: they feel unhappy, they worry excessively, they do not like their job, their marriage is in trouble, their kids are misbehaving, they are lonely, they are having feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, overwhelmed, unappreciated, cannot take it anymore, and the list continues.
To be curious about your self is a lifelong venture. There are no short cuts that are effective meaning there are no short cuts that work. The short cuts are what get you into trouble with yourself. Here are some popular short cuts:
• It's easier to do it myself.• I don't want to hurt his/her feelings.• I don't want to be rejected.• I don't know what I want.• Nobody will listen to me.• I just want to feel something.• I don't want to feel disappointment.• If he/she would only change.• If I move then everything will be better.• It's all his/her fault.• I'm to blame for everything.
One thing all these shortcuts have in common is the belief: It's not okay to be curious about your thoughts, feelings or actions. Curiosity requires the willingness to listen to your self-talk. Our actions do not occur in a vacuum. Before we act, we have had thoughts and feelings. Many times these thoughts and feelings are on automatic pilot and we are unconscious (not aware) of the actual dialog we are having with our self. If you listened in you might hear something like this: "He's so pig-headed and stubborn. He's just out for himself. He doesn't care about anyone but himself." You might then notice that you are feeling angry towards this person. Then you hear yourself say, "I'm just not going to meet his schedule, too bad about his schedule." In this person's mind the feeling of anger is justified, and they decide they are not going to cooperate in meeting the schedule. So, be curious about your thoughts and feelings.
How to Be Curious
1. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what am I feeling right now? John takes a deep breath and he hears himself say: "It's my project. I'm the one who did all the work." John remembers other projects with the same manager and with other managers where he felt the project was taken from him. John is feeling sad and angry.
2. Is this feeling familiar? John admits to himself that the feelings are familiar.
3. Who or what does this situation remind me of? John then remembers how his father criticized him as a child. He remembers how he could not wait to be a grown up so he could do projects the way he wanted.
4. If the feeling(s) are familiar what did you do back then? John is aware the he is feeling just like he did when he was a child. He could feel himself getting angry and deciding he would just not let his father know what it was he wanted from him. Feeling disappointed and not meeting his father's expectations was just too painful to experience.
5. What keeps happening over and over?John becomes aware of his belief that it is the project that determines his self worth. He is more aware now that he keeps repeating the same pattern of identifying with the project and feeling the hurt and disappointment like he did when he was a child.
6. What am I going to do instead?John decides for this project that he's okay and that the project is not the determining factor for his value as a person. John realizes his manager is not his father.
As human beings, we like to know, to be sure, and we don't like uncertainty. Practicing being curious means we are willing to listen to our own way of making the world certain for us. Even if that certainty is painful, at least it's our pain. By following the same pattern, you are experiencing the same thoughts and feelings which bring the same results. Many people want different results and yet will keep doing the same thing over and over again thinking the results will be different.Being curious can lead to 5 distinct levels of awareness, and with each level there is an increase in conscious behavior. The more conscious you become, the easier it is to have relationships that are satisfying, and the easier it is to recognize what is making some relationships difficult. You will find yourself at different levels of awareness depending up the issue. Listed below are the 5 levels of awareness you could experience by practicing being curious.
Curiosity and Levels of Awareness
1. You are not aware of your inner dialog. You are aware that your life is not working for you. You are feeling really stuck and it takes a long time to feel better about yourself, and you have no clue how the change occurred.
2. You decide to listen to your self-talk and you reject what you are hearing, "That isn't me talking". You are feeling stuck again. It takes a long time before you feel better about yourself and you collect one possible clue for feeling better.
3. You encourage yourself to tune in again and listen to what you are saying to yourself. "Oh, my goodness! I sound just like (insert name) or I feel just like I did when I was kid." You notice that you are feeling better about yourself rather than feeling stuck. The good feeling stays a little longer and you collect another clue. You think maybe this curiosity thing works after all.
4. You decide there's something to tuning in to your inner dialog and you decide to listen every day. You begin to notice that your thinking is clearer. The good feeling stays longer and you now connect two dots.
5. You decide to change the inner dialog channel. You become aware that other dialogs are possible by deciding to move your attention from the familiar thoughts to new thoughts. You discover this when you connect the dots and a picture begins to develop. You become aware that you are doing all of your own thinking, feeling, and behaving. Nobody makes you feel, think or do. You are more aware and feeling alive rather than following an old script that you wrote a long time ago. You now know you have a choice!
About the Author:Ms. Michie is in private practice as a psychotherapist in Cary, NC. She offers alternative and traditional approaches to emotional healing.