Same old fight again? Maybe it has nothing to do with your partner after all!
“What is your problem?” my wife yelled.
“YOU are my problem!” I returned.
She flipped me the middle finger and stalked out of the room. Wow, that got ugly fast!
We’ve had this fight before. An offhand remark about something petty, a sharp retort, and here we go again. This time it was completely my fault–I started it–and I didn’t really know why.
She was right, what was my problem?
Not long after that, my life coach suggested I read psychologist and author Gay Hendricks’ brilliant book The Big Leap.
I downloaded it to my iPad (let’s hear it for instant gratification!) and dove into the introduction. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.
Here is the simple, yet profound premise:
Each one of us has an invisible upper limit to the amount of things like success, love, happiness, intimacy, and wealth that we can tolerate.
Hendricks calls it the “Upper Limit Problem” or ULP.
The ULP acts as a comfort zone for your good feelings and its ceiling limits just how much inner well-being you allow yourself to experience.
As soon as something really good happens–a promotion, a windfall of money, a healthier body, a new relationship–you unconsciously do something to sabotage either the thing itself or at very least, the positive feelings around it.
You might get sick, have an accident, over-spend or lose money, get depressed, over indulge in food, booze, or start a fight.
Something clicked. My mind raced back to the day I quarreled with my wife. Why did I start that fight? Was I stressed out? Over-tired? Pissed off at someone? No.
What I remembered next rocked me back on my heels.
I had landed a new client that afternoon and it had actually been a great day!
Wow! I got good news and then turned around and picked a fight with my wife. Instead of toasting to the success as we had planned, I took offense at something and the evening was ruined.
Was this really my Upper Limit Problem at work? Suspending my initial disbelief, I went on the lookout for other “upper limiting” I might be doing.
What I discovered was a wide range of both obvious and subtle behaviors I had adopted in order to clamp the lid down on good feelings. Here are just a few:
- The random bad moods and fights that arise seemingly out of nowhere and over something relatively insignificant. (I can’t tell you how many times we argued right before leaving for a date night.)
- The way I deflect compliments in order to avoid basking in the warmth of praise.
- The brief length of time I hold a hug before getting uncomfortable and breaking it.
- Minimizing a success when telling others.
- Faultfinding and criticizing others and especially myself.
But the most insidious and prevalent of all my upper limiting behaviors were the negative thoughts and worry that routinely ran through my mind.
There I would be, going about my perfectly fine day when (seemingly for no reason) I’d suddenly shift into worrying about how something could go wrong or some other anxiety producing idea.
Bam! Crashed into my Upper Limit.
In the past, I had puzzled over feeling depressed or troubled despite the fact that things were going well. Now I was questioning whether the actual cause was because things were going well!
It also became clear to me that damping down the happiness was a way to protect myself from disappointment or being blindsided. Even as a kid I would often be waiting for the other shoe to drop. When things were going great, I knew it couldn’t possibly last and I didn’t want to look like a chump by being too happy.
Although the ULP is not gender specific, it can be extra tricky for men. Exuberant expressions of joy do not fit within the Man Box. Except, of course, during a sporting event, when you may scream loudly, fist bump, high-five, paint your face and pour beer over your buddy’s head.
When you combine the Man Box with the Upper Limit Problem, you’ve got what amounts to a double whammy. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the words “joy” and “men” aren’t even used together except in a few Christmas hymns.
The truth is, you can’t have a happy life while consistently squelching the actual feelings of happiness. Joy is not an abstraction; it’s an experience. One that men need to have as much as anyone.
Here’s how I began pushing the limits of my success and joy ceiling:
- I continue to watch for situations when my Upper Limit might get triggered–good news, good fortune, good feelings–and I’m on alert for any self-sabotaging behavior.
- When worry thoughts come into my mind I test to see if they have any real validity or are a smoke screen to keep me from feeling something positive.
- I curtail blame and criticism – especially with my wife. (These will ruin intimacy in a relationship faster than anything.)
- I try not to deflect compliments. Instead, I take in the praise, feel it, and then say, “Thank you.”
I understand if this sounds like some sort of new age mumbo jumbo. But even if it does, I invite you to just try it on for a while and see what you discover.
After all, all you’ve got to lose is the blues.
Photo: Getty Images