Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a co-host and psychologist on Oxygen Network's "My Shopping Addiction," draws from twenty years of scientific, clinical and teaching experience as well as her own journey of losing 85 pounds to help you change your attitude to change your life.
Stakeholders and Their Hold on You
Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
Whether you’re a strong-willed person, a wallflower, a follower, or a trailblazer, we all have what I call stakeholders in our lives: people whose lives are influenced by you and who influence your life. They might have something to gain by a decision you’ve made, or they might have something to lose if you choose a different route. They might guide you gently or impact your decisions with an iron fist. Either way, they are a big part of your life.
Who is a stakeholder in your life? The typical short list: your mom, your dad, your spouse or partner, your best friend, your coworker, and your neighbor. But in reality, anyone who is affected by your choices and cares about what happens to you is a stakeholder.
Stakeholders: Mothers, Fathers, Brothers and sisters, Partners and spouses, Children, Friends, Coworkers, Neighbors, Employers, Extended family, Strangers
Many times, these stakeholders have their own agendas. Some people’s husbands want them to stay overweight. Mothers want their daughters to keep eating their lasagna because it makes them feel good about their cooking. Some people around you may be rooting for your weight loss, but at the end of the day, they don’t want it to throw off their own rhythms, wants, or desires. “Go ahead, lose weight—but tonight, we’re eating burgers, so don’t interrupt my dinner with your new eating habits.” They may not say that outright, but they say it subtly, or in a way that makes you feel guilty.
Stakeholders contribute to how we eat, love, work, and live. Our parents were instrumental in our eating scripts, and the pressure our stakeholders apply doesn’t end at the table, or in childhood. The big lesson to remember here: Tuning out your stakeholders at the table can also help you tune them out in life’s bigger decisions.
Food was an important way of communicating in my family—a way of exercising control, learning discipline, and communicating love. The power of stakeholders and food became apparent to me recently during a visit home in an attempt to mend fences with my parents. I am careful about what I eat and heed my spider senses whenever possible. However, there I stood while cake was being passed around—a grown woman, completely autonomous from my family. Sweets have always been a challenge for me, so I typically avoid them, and at that moment, at my parents’ place, I didn’t want them.
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My father said, “Show us you love us and eat some of our cake.” The adult woman in me was able to say, “No, thank you, I don’t want it,” which was met with frustration from my father, which made me feel guilty. As I reflected on what he said, I realized there was no way the child in me could have fought that request all those years ago. The contributions of stakeholders to not only my lifelong struggle with weight, but also with many other mistakes I have made, became painfully clear. When you eat, live, love, or work for somebody else, you lose sight of what you need and want. In my case, it resulted in a lifelong struggle not only with weight, but also with living to please others, and subsequently, a lot of bad decisions.
This chapter will identify your stakeholders—the people who are affected by what you do, and what you choose. Keep in mind that these stakeholders are noisy people; they are the Greek chorus of our lives. They are the ones who often fill our plates and then demand that we finish everything on them in order to serve their purposes and agendas. They are generally going to offer advice that brings the least disruption to their lives and validates their choices. But the new, self-aware you is going to learn to balance the voices of your stakeholders against your spider senses.
Beware of Blind Obedience
In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram, a professor at Yale, was trying to understand why people behave the way they do, especially those who engage in cruel or even evil behavior. He did a series of unforgettable experiments with research volunteers in his lab. Very simply, they were brought into a room in which there was a one-way mirror; through that mirror they could see into another room, where a person was hooked up to a variety of electrodes. A research assistant sat with the volunteer and told him or her that the person on the other side was hooked up to electrodes that would administer a small shock. The research assistant then asked the volunteer to press the button that would administer the shock. Initially, the shocks were not painful, and the person on the other side would sit there and perhaps react mildly to the shock. But then the research assistant told the volunteer to increase the intensity of the shock by turning a dial. It was clear by the reactions of the person on the other side of the glass that these shocks were painful. The volunteers were told that at a certain level, the shocks could seriously harm the person on the other side of the glass, and yet, in nearly 70 percent of cases, the volunteers administered the fullest level of shock because they were told to do so by the research assistant. A person they had never met was telling them to harm another person they had never met. They were obeying the orders of the one who told them to harm the other person, and they didn’t stop themselves.
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It was some of the most “shocking” work on obedience we have ever seen. Milgram specifically reflected on the idea of “blind” obedience, especially the fact that people were willing to do some pretty rotten things simply because a person in a position of authority had told them to do so. The volunteers denied who they were and what they would ordinarily do—choosing right over wrong—all in the name of obedience.
Most of us when we hear about the study think we wouldn’t have done what the people in the room did. We think we might have behaved differently. Don’t be so sure. Two-thirds of Milgram’s research subjects did it, and they were ordinary Yale students. And guess what? Maybe you don’t shock strangers because of what someone tells you to do, but instead, you sort of “shock” yourself every day because of what others tell you. Over and over again, you deny what you want to do, who you want to be, how you want to live, what you know to be right, and even how you want to eat, all because of what others in your world—people who matter to you—want you to do. In general, most of us are blindly obedient to the wishes of others.
Just as an aside, Milgram’s experiments could never be done today. It would not fall within the ethical guidelines we currently employ in research. Nonetheless, his research speaks volumes about what we do for others, even when we know something is not right (or perhaps even downright dangerous) for us, or for another person.
Excerpted from You Are WHY You Eat (skirt!). Copyright 2013.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive