Why You Are Frustrated

At the core of this work is accepting that our emotions are wholly created by our thoughts. That whenever we are experiencing any feeling, it is because of the thoughts we are having. So if we find ourselves experiencing an emotion that we don’t want, it is up to us to shift our thinking to generate a new emotion IF we want to be feeling differently about a situation.

Logically, this makes sense to us but in the heat of the moment, it is often incredibly challenging to remove ourselves from the experience and examine our role. I remember one instance many years ago when I was just starting this work. At the time my partner had just moved into my home with his dog and my 2 dogs to create The Brady Bunch of dog families. I had lovingly decorated my home with beautiful blinds and floor-to-ceiling curtains that accentuated the high ceilings and 100-year-old architecture of my home. One morning, I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast and looked over to my white linen curtains and realized that the bottom half of one of the curtains was yellow. I quickly began investigating and realized that my boyfriend’s male dog had been consistently marking this particular curtain in the dining room…and when I say “marking” that is my eloquent attempt to say that the dog had been pissing all over the nice things in my home. I was livid.

Later that day, I was talking to my coach about it and I explained to her how frustrated I was that this dog was ruining all the nice things in my home! She very simply asked me, “Do you want to feel frustrated about this?” Emphatically, my answer was NO.

Then she asked, “So why are you frustrated about it?” Naturally, I once again launched into my rant about the horrible dog destroying the house (because clearly, she wasn’t getting it) and she started to laugh.

She was laughing because it was pretty clear that I believed the dog was what was making me feel terrible rather than my thoughts about this dog peeing in my house. From there I went on to realize that while I can certainly choose frustration about this experience in my life, I didn’t want to be frustrated about it. Truly, I wanted to not be frustrated and show up more proactively in my life. I didn’t want to let this dog get the best of me and cause friction in my relationship. That was the crux of the issue.

If I wanted to not be frustrated about the situation I was going to have to accept the possibility that there was more than one way of thinking about it. It didn’t mean that there wasn’t validity to my thoughts that were making me frustrated but what it meant was that there were also alternative truths about my experience. It meant that I was going to have to gravitate toward another line of thinking that didn’t make me want to scream at the damn dog. I needed to find another “truth” about the situation that I could throw my emotional weight behind.

Having realized that the dog was not, in fact, implanting frustration and anger into me, I took ownership of my role in those feelings. From there I found an alternative truth: I shifted to believing that if this was the worst thing that would happen when cohabitating with my boyfriend, then life was pretty damn good. I also shifted to believing that this was just another obstacle that we are going to have to figure out as a couple. Neither one of those thoughts were pretty or flowery or made the situation OK. Rather, those thoughts allowed me to live in a space other than frustration. They allowed me to see the bigger picture, ditch the anger, and start strategizing. It allowed me to foreclose an angry blowup with my boyfriend and an unnecessary battle with his poor dog.

This situation sound familiar? Get support with your frustrating situation by signing up for a free consultation now.

That’s really the heart of the work that we do. I could certainly have chosen to live in those thoughts that I felt so strongly about. I could continue to believe that the dog was ruining everything and that he was a horrible monster destroying all of my nice things. But that would have to be my conscious choice. When asked how I wanted to feel about it the situation, I truly didn’t want to feel frustrated. I didn’t want to be happy about it but I didn’t want to live in a dark pit of annoyance and bitterness toward this dog that I actually loved and that was loved by the man that I loved. That meant that if I wanted to feel something other than frustrated, I was going to have to work at it.

When we find ourselves living in frustration over the circumstances of our lives we must take a step back and acknowledge that what is making us frustrated is not the events around us but rather our thinking about them. From there we can truthfully ask and consider do I want to be frustrated and if so I will continue with these thoughts. If not, I am going to have to do the work and find some alternative truths. We must shift from seeing our perspective as the only truth and invest in believing that every situation can have multiple truths available to us.

The next time you find yourself frustrated, consider whether that is your conscious choice or whether there is another way to show up in the situation.


Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Relationship Decisions

Have you ever considered what it is that makes a relationship? Is it  set of standards we keep for ourselves and the other person — promises we commit to upholding? When I say I have a relationship with someone what does that even mean?

I believe that our relationships with the people in our lives are based purely in our minds. Our relationship does not exist independently of each person; rather, the relationship is completely dependent upon each individual. Each person has their version of the relationship that they keep and create within themselves. Each person may see the relationship differently and they most certainly will see themselves differently within the relationship as compared to how the other person may see them.

Having reached that conclusion, it follows that:

 our relationships with others are simply a compilation of thoughts about the other person.

That’s it. Knowing that, we then have complete autonomy to make the relationships in our lives whatever we want them to be.

There is no such thing as “I have a terrible relationship with my sister.” That is only an opinion. That opinion is one that the holder inevitably has all sorts of support for: evidence culled from the parties’ history to *prove* that the parties have a terrible relationship. That interpretation of the past and that perception of the evidence is completely one-sided. It is all founded in opinions of the individual person. Those opinions, when taken together, do not create a fact.

When we decide to believe something–my boss is jerk–our brains will get to work finding all the evidence of that belief within our present and past existence. Our brain will not sort through the data in an unbiased manner and weigh the information to determine whether that belief is true. We have already concluded that it is true and now our brain will seek evidence to support it. This is confirmation bias, in its simplest state.

We must become aware that we make decisions in every moment about our relationships.

We have made conclusions about our relationship with each person we encounter. If we want better relationships or different relationships in our lives, we have to change the way we think about the people in our lives. If you want a better relationship with your sister, you have to stop believing that your sister is a selfish little brat. You have to stop telling yourself that the two of you will never see eye to eye.

When we treat our perceptions of relationships as factual, we foreclose the possibility of ever having a different relationship with the people around us. So often, we wish we had better relationships with others but we overlook our role in the relationship–the only reason a relationship is “good” or “bad” is because of where you are choosing to focus your interpretation of the relationship. You will never have a good relationships with someone when you are only focusing on the negative aspects of the relationship.

I find it easiest to put into context with people we love implicitly–whether that’s a parent, a child, a niece or nephew or even a pet. There are people in our lives that we love completely. They have faults and shortcomings that we overlook because we love them. We choose not to focus our energies on the facts that they always borrow your clothes and never return them, are always broke, or can’t help to stop peeing on the carpet.

We focus instead on all the positive aspects of the relationship–that is why it is so easy to think of them so fondly! It is not because the relationship is inherently good; we have simply chosen to perceive it that way. There could certainly be people in this world who would not be willing to overlook a partner’s messiness or irresponsibility with money, who can’t get over a pet who periodically has an accident. For those people, those relationships will not be characterized as good because they are not choosing to focus on any of the goodness.

This does NOT mean we have to think lovely thoughts about all the people in our lives.

What this does mean is that we have to start taking ownership of the relationships in our lives. We get to choose what kind of relationships we have. We get to choose how to think about the people we encounter. In that way, we are choosing the types of relationships we participate in. We have complete control over whether  a relationship is good or bad.

How we interpret and participate in our relationships is a focus of many sessions with my clients. Whenever you feel challenged by a difficult relationship, it is an opportunity for you to take control of your life and start making decisions about the types of relationships you want. It is an opportunity to do your own work and examine why you are choosing to focus on certain aspects of the relationship. If you have a relationship that is challenging you, there is no time like the present. Sign up for a free hour of coaching with me and let’s see what we can do!


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Feeling Defensive

As lawyers, it is our job to be right. To get the right answer, to find the right solution, to have the right words. In truth, you could say that about any profession, unless you are a meteorologist (no one is ever surprised when they are wrong). No one likes to be wrong.

Many of my clients struggle with being wrong because of what they make that mean about themselves. If they are wrong, it must mean they are not good enough, they aren’t cut out to be lawyers.

I recently had a mini-session with a young attorney who was telling me about her horrible work environment. When I asked her to give me an example of how her horrible boss had berated her, she said that he told her the memo she prepared for him was terrible and that she completely missed one of the most important legal issues. “What were you thinking?!” he had said to her. And. She. Was. Pissed.

How could he speak to me like that? I don’t deserve to be treated like that. He completely embarrassed me in front of all my colleagues.

As we talked about it, I asked her to answer this question: what exactly she was thinking when she turned in the memo? I just wanted it to be over with. I hate working for him. It as a terrible legal issue and I just wanted to be done with it. The more we discussed it, we discovered that the memo was not great, was not well thought out, and she had, in fact, missed an important legal issue. Everything this partner had said to her was true.

When we feel ourselves getting defensive, the most important question you can ask yourself before you explode on the other human is this:

Are they right?

Is it true?

If it is true, what am I making that mean about myself and why?

Whenever we are feeling defensive, it is because you believe that part of whatever criticism you just received is true. If it wasn’t true, at least in part, it wouldn’t bother you.

If someone were to say to me, That article you wrote for the paper last week was pretty terrible, it wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t care because I didn’t write an article for any paper. There is no truth in that statement for me. It doesn’t resonate with me at all.

However, if someone were to say to me, You and your partner should have kids, you’re going to regret it, my hair would practically start on fire. That hits a mark because it hits on thoughts and doubts that I have had about my life. It challenges decisions I have made and second-guessed. There is a possibility that, some day, I might regret our decision not to have kids. It hurts because I have grappled with and questioned the truth of that exact statement.

For many of us, when people hurl these types of comments at us, we ignite. We get defensive, we get angry and indignant.

The reason we are defensive is because we see that fleck of truth and we don’t like what that means: it reminds us that they might be right.

For my client, acknowledging the truth of what her partner said meant owning the fact that she didn’t do a good job. When she opened herself up to that possibility, what quickly followed was the conclusion that she was not cut out to be lawyer. She just wasn’t good enough. She was never going to make it. Those thoughts made her feel hopeless and scared.

Instead of working through those ugly thoughts resulting from the truth of the statement, we resist all of it.

We push it back onto the other person. We try to argue that what they said wasn’t true. It is always easier to be angry and defensive than admit our faults.

If we allow the other person to be right, at least, in part, we have to examine what that means for ourselves. What are you making it mean when you do a sub-par job at work? What are you making it mean when you regret a decision you made years ago?

Most of us make those mistakes mean something terrible about ourselves. We allow ourselves to conclude that we are bad people, less than, failures. Defensiveness and anger are a means to avoid those thoughts and feelings. It is a way to cover them up and distract from what you are really feeling and thinking about yourself.

Life is yin and yang, good and bad.

If you can take full ownership of the uncomfortable parts of life, acknowledge and accept when we mess up, how much easier would life be? What if we could mess up and not torture ourselves for it?

So how do you stop this cycle? First, whenever you feel yourself getting defensive, stop and recognize the parts of the criticism that you believe; recognize the critical thoughts you have had before.

Second, recognize that you are making your failures mean something terrible about yourself. You are beating yourself up every time you aren’t perfect. That is the root of your avoidance. It is why you are getting angry and defensive.

If you can allow yourself to fail gracefully and simply own it when you mess up and not make it mean something negative about yourself, there is nothing to avoid. There is no reason to be angry or defensive.

Could you imagine how my client’s relationship with that partner would change if she was able to respond, “You know what, you’re right, I can do better than this. I apologize and I will use this as a learning experience.”

Commit to believing that every failure is simply one more step on your path to figuring things out. Each time you mess up is another opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s what makes you human and being human means you are never going to be perfect.

How many relationships have we contaminated by being defensive when we knew, deep down, we were in the wrong but didn’t want to admit it?

How many times did we allow our mis-steps to be fodder for self-deprecation?

Stop doing that to yourself. You are a human and that means you come equipped with a certain level of imperfection. Instead of resisting your imperfections, own them, accept them as a part of life and love yourself regardless. Do not resist them and cover them up with anger and defensiveness. It’s not serving you and it’s not true.

Need support? Sign up for a free consultation and take the first step to cleaning up your relationship with yourself and those around you.


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Horrible Bosses

Whether you are a practicing attorney or engaged in another profession, horrible bosses are a thing.

Why is it that we have such a hard time working with certain people?

What role do we play in this interpersonal tug-of-war?

I had a free mini-session earlier this week and my client was telling me that her boss often comes into her office unannounced and loudly explains to her what she has done wrong. He leaves her door open during these sessions so that her secretary, the associate next door, and anyone walking the hall can listen as he surmises her short-comings. These exchanges always left her mortified and angry and she wanted his behavior to stop.

Our challenges with other humans are usually founded upon some faulty beliefs:

There are basic principles and standards of how people should treat each other.

People don’t often act like they are supposed to.

Both of these lines of thinking are problematic. Both of these notions will cause you pain and suffering in your personal relationships.

How are people “supposed” to act?

Exactly as they do.

That is the nature of free will. That is every human’s right. When we tell ourselves people are supposed to act differently than they do, we are fighting against reality.

When you resist reality and argue that people should be different, you will lose (but only 100% of the time!).

There is no upside in thinking that others should act any differently than they do. Let it go. The way they act is exactly how they are supposed to act. Whatever they are saying and doing is not within your purview to judge or control. Just let it be.

The only thing you can control is how you decide to show up and respond to it.

For every relationship, many of us carry unspoken “manuals” about how the other person should act. The manual for our bosses states that they should be professional and collected. Sensitive to your needs and willing to guide your development and growth. They are not supposed to berate you or embarrass you.

They are not supposed to be horrible.

We believe that if they would just act how we want them to act, we would be happier and feel better about ourselves. That is a complete lost cause. That means that the only way we can feel more confident and secure with our practice is if the other person changes.

What are the odds of that working for you?!

We can’t control others. We’ve all tried at one time or other and discovered the impossibility of that task. So if we can’t control other humans and if other people dictate how we feel, we are all screwed.

We get to control how we receive the actions and words of our bosses. We get to decide what their actions mean about ourselves as attorneys and professionals.

When you spend all your energy ranting about how the other person “should” act and all the things they are doing wrong, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to decide how you want to show up in the that moment or what you want to think about their actions.

You are too busy being a victim of their actions.

Take your power back. Make CONSCIOUS decisions about what you want to think about that person and their actions. Be aware of how you interpret those actions to mean something negative about yourself.

There will always be “difficult people” in our lives but these people are not difficult because of how they “make us feel.”

They are difficult because they challenge us to examine our thoughts about ourselves and our judgments of others. That, my friends, is the real work of this life.

They are difficult because they challenge us to evolve.

Stop trying to change people and instead focus on evolving yourself. That, after all, is the only thing you can control (but only 100% of the time).

Practicing law is HARD. You will have more people who will challenge you than people who will build you up. Start learning how to deal today.

Stop letting them have the power over your happiness. Life is too damn short.


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