Are You Upside Down? The Deletion Brain & How to Improve Relationships in One Step

Heart and Work
Aug 16, 2018 · 5 min read

By Jennifer Imming Craven, PhD. “It’s never good enough,” he complains. “He doesn’t see all I do,” she replies. “You expect me to be perfect,” your child tells you.

One afternoon while working out, I was listening to a podcast by Jordan Peterson who wrote An Antidote to Chaos. It struck me when he commented that the best way to hurt someone was to punish them when they did something well. He went on to make a very good point that this was a great way to make sure something good didn’t get repeated! I started thinking about how much is lost in our relationships through our own omission when we aren’t sufficiently expressing appreciation for what the other person has done which we like.

This could be your friend who checks on you when you are feeling bad or offers to pick up your child from school knowing you are having a busy day. It could be your son who is not acknowledged for the dozen things he did that day which were meeting your standards of expectations. Have you ever thought about the list of demands we have on our children (brush your teeth, put clean clothes on, get your breakfast eaten, where are your shoes?, hurry and get in the car!)?! Howard Glaser writes extensively in his book, Transforming the Difficult Child, recommending being neutral about a child’s behaviors which you don’t want while heaping attention on behaviors you do want. In fact, if we want to see a positive behavior from a loved one again, be sure to express (even amplify!) your encouraging reaction. Whenever possible, point out again later — a second time — this appreciation, making sure they take in your praise (it helps to make eye contact!).

Similar to parenting, in our marital relationships, it is an art to stay in a mode of gratitude for what your spouse does rather than allow your mind to take time turning over and over about things he didn’t do or doesn’t do. Our spouses won’t ever live up to the fantasy of who they should be! But I don’t need to remind you that fantasies are perfect, while of course no human ever will be. This level of dissatisfaction burns holes in a relationship. Jon Fredrickson writes in his book, The Lies We Tell Ourselves, about his experience of accepting his wife for not being the fantasy he wanted her to be. Having come to terms with this, he could embrace and love the woman who she actually was instead of arguing with her. When I had dinner at his house, with some colleagues several years ago, I had no idea this had ever been a struggle for him! All I saw was the gleam of joy in his eyes when she came home that evening during our dinner. I recall thinking what an amazing relationship they must have. Years later, I about fell out of my chair reading his book detailing their history!

I once went to the horse stables where I ride with a friend who commented on how great it would be to live on property of that sort. I agreed, but noted how much work it required. I suggested he look again with another view. “See what all needs to be repaired or maintained if you owned this property,” I instructed him. “Oh wow,” was his reply, “a lot. Maybe I wouldn’t really want to live out here.”

Our brains have limited ability to actively focus. There are only so many things we can tend to at once. When our perspective is looking to be sure your child picked up her room as you asked, for example, you likely will go into her room and see first what was not taken care of, rather than all the things she did put away. Hence, we have it upside down with the deletion brain, as I heard Tony Robbins call it during a podcast: ignoring what was done and instead focusing on what still needs to be done. This is a very natural process for our brains since our working memory has limited capacity to focus at any given time. While this is a simple concept, it takes effort to turn around our attention. It is an important mental shift to have your brain do the opposite of what comes more organically. Here is your challenge: consider the ways you are deleting from your focus the many favorable actions and traits your loved ones have. With attention to these details, make a concerted effort to point out and enthusiastically praise what you appreciate about them or what they did. It is truly amazing to see the positive impact with this simple change of making a point to express to loved ones what they are doing right. Enjoy the beaming you will generate!

Dr. Jennifer Imming Craven, PhD, is in private practice, working with individuals and couples. She has been active in the Austin community, including as a founding member of the Therapeutic Assessment Institute, participating on several boards, presenting on a variety of topics, publishing articles, and volunteerism. Dr. Craven was born and reared in Texas, moving to Austin in 1989 to pursue her education at the University of Texas. Personally, she loves Austin and considers herself blessed to be married to a wonderful man. She has two daughters, who constantly have her laughing and striving to be the best possible example and parent for them. You can contact Dr Craven through her website: or by calling her office at 512–374–4900.

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