With the risk of showing my age, do you recall that game show way back when with Monty Hall called, “Let’s Make a Deal?” As a little girl, I loved that show. People would dress up in crazy costumes and carry these big old bags so that when Monty asked who had a bobby pin or a kitchen sink on them, hands shot up for the game-winning prize. As the goofy attired character made his/her way to the front, he/she was then given the chance to further his/her winnings by picking the prize behind either “Door #1” or “Door #2” or “Door #3.” Of course, one door had a new car behind it while the other had a box of Tide detergent. The question was, of course … which door hid the coveted prize? The audience screamed their choices with great sway while the fate of the contestant lay in wait of his/her decision.
As much fun as this game was, I am glad that life in relationships is much simpler – for the grand prize is always behind “Door B.” That is the door to pick, my friends. End of story. Every time. Let me explain.
We all know what is behind “Door A.” We have become neurologically wired to choose this route. It consists of whatever impulsive behavior we have habituated as being our most protective and least relational in an underdeveloped, reptilian kind-of-way. For some of us this means screaming and yelling. For others, it means withdrawing and fleeing. And for others, it means retaliating in a passive-aggressive manner. Whatever form it may take, it ain’t pretty. And to the poor fortune of our closest loved ones, we tend to save this primitive self just for them.
Mirror time. Stop reading this for a moment and identify your conduct behind Door A. You know it and if not, ask your partner and children. They will tell you.
The good news is that because human beings are capable of self-reflection and higher rational functioning, you can do better than a snake or lizard. Door B can and does offer a healthy alternative. It is the pathway to your better self. One that is more evolved, conscious and intentional. One that, despite the strong pull of regression, leans toward mature relational thinking and choice. One that can use filters and boundaries such as “is this really about me?” or “is what is about to come streaming out of my mouth helpful to the other person and to the relationship?” One that acts in ways that are neither shame-based nor grandiose but more toward the moderated Center of Health.
Door B feels unnatural because it is. Our neural pathways are so well grooved toward Door A that at times, it seems almost impossible to detour its inevitability. We get triggered or find ourselves running low on internal emotional resources and high on stress and … boom-bam-boom … we are off to the races through Door A. Doing yet again what we know how to do and what others have even come to expect that we will do – even when we wish the whole chapter could be rewritten.
So, what can you do to switch tracks? The first step is one I just asked you to complete earlier in this article – identifying your personal tried-and-true set of behaviors that we will call your edge or your Door A. The second step is that when you are triggered, re-ground or re-center into the adult version of yourself. This means honoring and respecting the hurt and fear of your younger, wounded and defended self, while putting your more functional adult self back in the driver’s seat. Once you have done these two things, you are ready to steer your behavior towards something different and better. I offer you three ideas to assist you, each more difficult than the prior one:
The first suggestion is to address the behavior afterwards. In other words, after you have slid all the way to bottom of Door A and let’s face it, been the worse version of you, you catch yourself in hindsight. You say to yourself, “holy shit, I did it again.” Ok. Bad choice. But you are human. And you are capable of some humble pie. So, you reflect on how and why this happened and what you can do in the future to keep yourself from falling so far. And you own this behavior by making amends with the folks in your life that you have injured. And you let them know what you will do differently next go round. And you get busy learning how to do this pronto.
The next point of alteration is during. This is harder in that you have to have enough consciousness to observe yourself in the moment and stop yourself before you slide to bottom and land on your toosh. In other words, you discipline your younger, impulsive self so that you can arrest the fall. You stop the destructive behaviors you are engaged in … breathe … take a moment … and you tell those you are acting so badly around that you need a “redo.” And you try again but this time, you choose Door A.
And of course, the final and the most challenging option is to arrest Door A beforehand. You choose Door B right from the get-go. The interesting thing about this selection is that from the outside, you look so mature and put-together. But often, on the inside, you are working like a dog to hold yourself back, to stop yourself from what you want to do which is to indulge the behavioral habits and tendencies of Door A. But you are doing it … one moment at a time. Consciously and intentionally, you hit the best relational ball across the net. One with integrity, respect and moderation – both toward others and toward yourself.
And the good news is that with practice and repetition over time, you form new grooves in brain. Going down Door B becomes more naturalized and thus, you can genuinely choose it with more ease and fluidity. In other words, being a healthy and relational human being that is less driven by unresolved conflicts is more integrated into your spontaneous self. And that is the grand prize every time.
I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want to play Monty Hall’s guessing game around the high stakes in my life and in my relationships. As stimulating as the adrenalin rush of not knowing might be, I want to have more agency in my life that when I act in a certain way, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I had a good day. I understand and accept that I cannot control what others might do for that is their chance on stage and their door to choose. But I get to fall asleep with the serenity of knowing that for today, I have acted responsibly in my best self. And that, my friends, makes you the winner always.