Building Successful Relationships: Kindness Will Not Overcome Unkindness

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus

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Sally’s husband was often abusive. One morning, over breakfast, Hank began yelling at her because she was on the phone instead of keeping him company. Later, after Hank went to work, Sally picked up his shirts from the laundry, ran some other errands for him, and decided to cook his favorite dish for dinner.

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Sally, alas, believed that if she could only create an ideal loving home atmosphere, her husband’s abusiveness would stop. Unfortunately, she was in fact rewarding her husband’s negative behavior. In response to his outbursts, Hank found his chores done for him and he was served his favorite dinner. Why would he change his treatment of his wife when she responds so positively?

The events that follow an action will weaken or strengthen the likelihood it will occur again. If Sally is nice to Hank when he treats her badly, she is teaching him to continue being abusive. By putting up with Hank’s abusive behavior, Sally gives him the message that it’s okay to treat her that way. If she showed him instead that she was willing to be especially kind and helpful only when he was considerate and loving, a positive pattern might be more likely to develop.

Tommy believed that kindness would overcome unkindness. He sent flowers to his wife whenever she flared up at him, hoping this gesture would put her in a good mood. Instead, it only encouraged her to flare up at him even more.

To encourage positive and discourage offensive behavior:

• Do not reward behaviors in others that you wish to eliminate.

• Follow actor Alan Alda’s advice: “Be fair with others, but then keep after them until they’re fair with you.”

• Learn to speak up.

• Do not reward unkind behavior from others.

• If someone treats you badly, say so — do not smile and pretend it’s okay.

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Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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