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Owning Your Own Controls
(from an audio tape script)
By Eldon Taylor, Ph.D.
What makes the difference between two children
raised in the same environment with the same parents when one ends up
a neuro-surgeon and the other a hardened violent criminal?
What makes the difference between two patients
suffering in a hospice center from identical conditions when one requires
very little medication and is liked by all, while the other suffers bitterly
regardless of the medication and no one really wants to be around them?
What are the subtle differences that seem to
allow one person to live a certain life style free of illness while another
doing the same things becomes ill as a result? What defines a stimulus
as stressful to one while the same exact stimulus is welcomed with excitement
by another? The answer is so simple as to be overly obvious.
In my work, I have had the opportunity to work with
a wide range of individuals in differing settings, ranging from the inmate
incarcerated in maximum security to the terminal patient in the hospice
Over the years my observations ultimately led
to this hypothesis: the persons who seem to suffer most consider themselves
to be victims. The classic victim scenario in the prison generally
goes something like this: all but for the grace of God there go you. Translated
by the inmate population, this means something like, "What would
you do? Where would you be? After all, my daddy was an alcoholic, my mother
was a prostitute and the neighbor boy hung heroine on me when I was only
The fact is, our environment and circumstance do imprint
us in profound ways. Our very ability to cope depends in large
on our choices and they are predetermined in large by our enculturation
process. Thus, what else could the victim of these tragedies do?
We all grow up with some substantially similar ideas
and notions about what is fair and acceptable. We all tend to say things
like "When I'm a parent, I'll do it differently"; and yet, when
our children act in some way that meets with our disapproval, we respond
just as our parents did. Psychologist call this process imprinting.
In very simple terms, if you raise a duckling with chickens,
it will behave as a chicken. There is a marvelous story that
illustrates this point.
It seems one day that an eagle flew over a chicken
coop. To his amazement, pecking in the yard below, was a large gathering
of chickens and a lone, beautiful female eagle. He swooped down for a
closer look and the chickens together with the eagle fled to the chicken
house. For days the eagle watched the chickens from a distance until one
day he was certain that he could stop the beautiful eagle before she reached
the chicken house. With the prowess of an eagle he was suddenly in between
the eagle and the chicken house. She trembled. He spoke, "What are
you doing living down here like a chicken". She answered, "I
am a chicken". He argued, showing her the similarities between himself
and her. He told her of what it was like to be an eagle and soar high
above the earth. His stories only frightened her. Finally she said, "Well
if I'm an eagle then you will not harm me". He responded in the affirmative.
She said, "Then step back and show me." As he stepped backed
she seized the opportunity to run into the chicken house. When the other
chickens questioned her about the encounter, she told them all of how
she had outsmarted the eagle. Of course, all the chickens commended her
for tricking the eagle.
Many of us are like the female eagle. We outsmart
ourselves with betrayals of who we really are. Our choices are
predicated on our beliefs and our beliefs have been adopted from the same
process inherent to the story about the chickens and the chicken house.
Here is another example of how this kind of reason pervades who and what
One day a man walking the streets of Manhattan passed
beneath a high rise complex that consisted of very expensive condominiums.
As he passed under the balcony of one of the two story units a flower
pot which had been placed precariously close to the balcony edge fell
and crashed down on his head. Now imagine this man's choices. What could
he do? What would be the normal thing to do? Well, he could take the broken
pot back to its owners and put it guess where. Administer a beating to
the idiot that put the flower pot too close to the edge, that's what most
people respond with as their first thought when I have presented this
scenario to audiences. What else could he do? Well, he could be metaphysical.
You know, kismet, what's to be will be, after all, maybe the blow to his
head rearranged some neurons and now he will experience higher consciousness.
So just be metaphysical and act as if it was supposed to happen and just
go on down the road. What else could he do? Well, he could be an opportunist.
You know that flower pot fell from a wealthy person's ledge. Whip lash,
concussion, something like that---sue the sucker!
What else could he do? What would you do? How about
taking the flower to a florist, potting it and returning it as a gift
of love? Could you just as well do that? Of all the possibilities, which
one do you think would produce the best outcome for yourself in terms
of happiness, wholeness and even health?
The fact is, the normal person has been trained to
behave in a normal manner. Normal means that they have a right to become
angry and exact punishment. Robert Laing once said something like
"normal man has educated himself to be normal and thus to become
absurd" in his book THE POLITICS OF EXPERIENCE. The emotional
reaction termed anger is just one such absurdity. What happens to the
body when one becomes normal is no less than a weakening of the immune
system and further, suspended states of fight flight, or as we know it
in more modern man, anxiety and depression, literally produce chemistry
that is toxic to the human condition. As Dr.'s Steven Locke and
Douglas Colligan point out in their book, THE HEALER WITHIN,
these hostile emotions, victim, if you will, feelings, literally can condition
the body in the direction of disease as well as produce certain diseases
in and of themselves (1986).
The correct answer in our flower pot analogy is of
course, pot the flower and return it as a gift. The idea is not foreign
in terms of possible alternatives and yet it is seldom ever considered.
Our choices arise from our definitions and they have been incubated all
too often in chicken houses, but let's stop for a moment and look at one
of the preferred enculturated choices from the human chicken house. My
work and research has demonstrated that for every fear there is an anger
response. Sometimes the anger is withheld, turned in, and sometimes it
is acted out. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as anger without some
fear underpinning it! Now, what exactly is anger? My examination of this
cycle of fear and anger has given rise to an acronym that I often use
when describing anger. A---a, N---nasty, G---getting, E---even, R---response.
A nasty getting even response. If fear and anger are circular, what is
it that gives rise to feeling frightened, anxious or nervous, becoming
angry and responding in a fight/flight way when the stimulus is something
like the way my employer speaks to me, the way my significant other looks
at me, or just the stuff one feels when cut off in five o'clock traffic
and given the infamous bird. None of these things are truly life threatening
and after all, isn't that what the fight/flight functions are wired in
for, the preservation of the species?
Dr. Carl LaPresch used to speak of
"the four F's" in his introductory lectures regarding
basic psychology. These four primitive drives were the basis for
most behavior. In fact, it was Carl who first suggested to me
that perhaps the highest act of human consciousness was cortical
inhibition---over riding the wired in responses that can occur in the
primitive brain. The four "f's" are easy to remember
and oriented to species preservation: fight, flight, feeding and---well
the propagation of the species.
Why then a fight/flight response to a synthetic stimuli---that
is a stimuli that is not life threatening? What special lens do we attach
to certain events in life that give rise to a perception of threat when
indeed the threat is not a tiger in hot pursuit? My early hypothesis regarding
the fear/anger loop eventually led to the conclusion that perceived threats
were rejection oriented. In other words, our individual intrinsic value
was denied. Interestingly though, for most of us, the normal strategy
for avoiding rejection is itself the ultimate rejection. There are two
ways to be tied up in the world. One is to have someone literally bind
you and another is simply to tether oneself to a thread, refusing either
to pull hard enough to break it or to let it go. Many of our beliefs are
the product of the latter. We refuse to let them go. Like the eagle raised
by the chickens, we know what we are expected to do and define our behavior
accordingly. Thus, to resolve conflict we establish strategies designed
to protect us from rejection. Among these strategies our defense mechanisms
function, as well as our attitudes, toward everything we will encounter
in our lives.
When I was a boy my definitions included labels and
what I have termed for years as the no-don't syndrome. In my many lectures
throughout America and Europe, the audience has repeatedly verified that
my experience was not unique. Indeed, it was the rule. If this generalization
applies, then most of us were raised with statements like: "You're
not old enough." "You're stupid or that's stupid." "Children
are to be seen and not heard." "Don't do this"---"you
can't do that"---and so forth as well as a host of labels.
It was not long before I was wearing glasses and one
of my best friends was black. My early definitions were in direct conflict
with my experience; still, various strategies for coping with this conflict
developed, albeit most unconsciously.
It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I learned
that not only did I wear glasses and have black friends, but my grandfather
was Jewish and my great grandmother was Native American. For years I had
coped by demonstrating that I was "tough enough" to wear glasses
and not get called four-eyes and to stand up for what just inherently
seemed wrong and later became known to me as bigotry and racism. In other
words, my defense strategy was compensatory---aggression would align my
inner with the outer---my experience with my training as a child could
avoid conflict by simply becoming too tough for someone to challenge my
The result was devastating. Not only did I poison myself,
but the never ending quest to justify my actions produced increasing needs
for aggression. My relationships deteriorated and/or were destroyed, and
well, you can just imagine the havoc wreaked in my own life. The method
of choice for conflict in my particular upbringing was aggressive---and
hostility was the norm.
What I have found over the years of life and work is
that once again, this was not a unique pattern. Oh, the circumstances
may vary from individual to individual, but the essence of the lesson
never did. The result for many of us is a mechanism called blame.
That brings us right back to our inmate whose daddy was an alcoholic
and so forth. Alas, a light went on that set years of work and research
into perspective, at least for me.
Now here is the bottom line: as long as one
blames anything or anyone they are effectively tied up. There is nothing
they can do. They are victims of their circumstances. They can
only but whimper. As victims, they are helpless. As victims, perhaps they
are even due benefits such as sympathy, attention, special care and so
on. But as victims, they are not in charge of their circumstances
and/or their responses.
Applying this theory I discovered that regardless of
the circumstances, from hospice to prison, the suffering was directly
related to blame or "victim-hood". What is more, I
discovered that on the opposite side of this continuum, rested the self
responsible. The person who assumed control of their
own life and found creative solutions for difficult situations---returning
the flower, if you will, replanted in a new flower pot.
These responsible individuals were in charge
of their own inner environments. Their secret was simple, they
did not become angry and involved in blame. Oh they did not necessarily
accept everyone or anything, in fact, quite the contrary in some instances,
but they did not waste time eliminating their possibilities by divesting
their power via blame. They took the initiative to resolve situations
positively and assumed the responsibility for doing so. Unlike the whimpering
victim, they were what they made of the stuff of life and accepted so.
There is an interesting experiment that has been replicated
many times and perhaps addresses the effect this kind of hopelessness/helplessness
mentality can have on physical health. Dogs were placed in Pavlovian
slings where they could do nothing when electric shock was administered
by psychologist Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania
in an experiment to determine the effects of helplessness. Seligman
suggests that many of us have learned that nothing can be done in many
circumstances to make a difference. Once the dogs were conditioned to
the shock they were then placed in cages with floors that on one side
of the cage an electric grid could be used to apply shock while on the
other side of a low barrier wall the dog could escape the shock. What
Seligman discovered has many ramifications. Dogs who had not been conditioned
in the sling ran around frantically when shock was first administered.
They learned to jump the small wall and escape the shock. They became
so good at it that when the electricity was turned on, they simply got
up and casually jumped over the wall. However, dogs that had been conditioned
to the sling ran frantically at first just as the unconditioned dogs but
soon quit and only whimpered. They accepted the shock passively and thus
the whimpering shocked dog metaphor (Ibid). This sense or conditioned
belief in victim-hood has been demonstrated to effect the immune system
in a negative manner. The Institute of Noetic Sciences has funded much
of the research in what is now termed PNI or psychoneuroimmunology and
this body of work shows clearly, as does the entire body of literature
regarding mind/body wellness, that the deleterious effects of certain
mental processes on the body can literally kill ( ). Nothing I could do---helplessness---victim-hood---this
side of the responsibility equation is among the worst of mental processes
one can adopt regardless of its source. In fact, in a paper that is now
in press, we learned from a follow-up study of terminally diagnosed
patients conducted by PROGRESSIVE AWARENESS RESEARCH,
that the physicians attitude is somehow more influential on patient life
expectancy than either the treatment modality or the patients attitude
toward their future, their responsibility regarding the disease and/or
their outcome expectation. Somehow the attitude of the physician is assumed
to have been communicated to the patient for in every single instance
where the physicians responded to the questionnaire regarding patients
role in terms of the positive use of their mind with neutral to negative
evaluation, the patient died. The study generally indicated a survival
rate of over 30% for all respondents (remission) and an increase in life
by up to three years over time given in prognosis for those patients whose
physicians generally agreed that the mind has a role in patient health
even in the face of "terminal" illness. The assumption suggests
that one must fully accept the responsibility for their own lives and
mental processes even if that means guarding against the influence of
What then is the pragmatic to overcome, or I prefer,
to outgrow, this early conditioning. Once again, it's so simple as to
be difficult---difficult to believe and difficult to do. The answer is
forgive! In my research we began applying three messages as cognitive
tools to untie the victim. They are called the forgiveness set
and consist of these three statements: I forgive myself; I forgive
all others; and I am forgiven.
When you forgive, you can not blame.
If you do not blame it's exceedingly difficult to become angry. What you
cannot become angry about, you do not fear. When there is nothing to fear,
there is nothing to become angry about or no one to blame. Life is simply
a miracle and living is the process of maximizing the miraculous experience.
Every thought or deed becomes therefore differently oriented. When
you accept responsibility for everything in your universe, you gain the
power to make changes. The real changes are made in you and thus
your experience of life and self become qualitatively different almost
You are in charge of your inner environment,
and your beliefs, attitudes and emotions do matter to you. Your
health, your enjoyment of life, your ability to become all that you are
is inescapably involved in your ability to forgive and let go.
But alas, you may say, that's all too simple and further
life sucks and then we die. And I am sure you can find many that will
agree. Still, if you want to see the barnyard from the sky, spread your
wings and see for yourself. Seeing is believing. Try it---I promise, you'll
like it. And if necessary, fake it until you make it.
(Note: If you would like a free catalog of the books
and tapes by this author, E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone 1-800-964-3551).
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