Growl like a tiger if you have ever been stuck in the C.A.J.E. It is a very frustrating place to be. It takes you out of the moment and gets you focused on the "what ifs" and "how comes", or in a spiral of thoughts that are just unproductive, with no basis of fact or truth. It presents a resistance to what is, and creates psycho-emotional stress.
I got stuck in the C.A.J.E. many times while in prison (I was a therapist), specifically at the staff meetings. I remember my first one. Oh, those staff meetings! They happened weekly, and they sucked. The disrespect and discounting was unyielding. There were alliances that shifted with the wind. Proper meeting etiquette did not apply here and criticism, assumption, judgment, and evaluation were special guests.
After a challenging morning (see Part 1 and Part 2), I had one foot firmly in the C.A.J.E. -- I was fighting Criticizing others, making a lot of Assumptions, feeling very Judgy, and Evaluating a lot of "what ifs."
Meet Mack, the Program Director, who gave us her patented glare until it got quiet.
Looking at her, my assumption was that she was going judge me like the rest, and my evaluation was that she was going to be a weak leader. She started off proving my assumptions, using her gangsta voice as she introduced me, stating that I "didn't know jack" and I was "about to get played like a fiddle". Everyone chuckled on my behalf. I played along, feeling myself being sucked further into the C.A.J.E.
Then she flipped into her super sweet voice. She boasted about my experience, my references, and how I did 10 days of silence. Then she announced that I'd be getting my own caseload immediately (it usually takes four weeks), with the most difficult inmates, would be doing all the psychosocial assessments (which were really hard), and would be the lead counselor in most of the groups (oh boy).
Pretty much everyone in the room was upset, shouting from their own C.A.J.E about how I did not know the program, or how the inmates operate, that those were the toughest clients, that I was a normie, too short, too quiet (quiet!? Talk about assumptions).
They stopped when Mack slapped the table and got even more gangsta, "That is ENOUGH! Of course she's going to get the toughest clients -- she the only one of ya'll that is qualified to work with them. You think 'cuz you used, or you got a certificate, you can help these inmates with they problems? They are WOUNDED. She SPECIALIZES in childhood trauma. It's why we hired her. Now shut UP."
I was jerked out of the C.A.J.E with inspiration and pleasant surprise. Mack really got it. She saw these women were more than just criminals. I was taken aback by her consciousness. In that moment, I felt humbled. Here I was concerned that I was being judged by everyone, when I was sitting there all C.A.J.E'd up myself.
The more I worked with Mack, the more I liked her. She was rough around the edges, but pretty. You could find her smoking on the corner at every break. She made fun of everyone, had a permanent "you're stupid" smirk, and had a claw tattoo under each ear. Rumor was she got those doing her own prison time, had been in the most hardcore recovery programs, and was clean from heroin for over ten years. She commanded respect and got it. She was tough, and impressive.
Maybe if someone looked at Mack in person or on paper, they would make negative assumptions. They would overlook her dating profile, or turn down her job application. And they would lose out.The very important and profound lesson: Know when you're in the C.A.J.E, and do whatever you can to get yourself out of it. There might by someone or something exceptional right in front of you.
Here are Three Quick Steps to get out of the C.A.J.E:
STEP 1: Shake off the C.A.J.E. Do a quick body shake as if you are shaking out something creepy or gross. Make the sounds too (if you are in a meeting or something, just do Steps 2 and 3). But do this one later.
STEP 2: Start to do Stress Relief Breaths (SRBs). Inhale the stress up sharply through the nose, Exhale with an "ahh" sound out the mouth. Let the Exhale last a few counts longer than the Inhale. Keep doing that while you do Step 3.
Step 3: Practice Reality Awareness (RA). Funnel that inner dialogue into simply what is happening in the moment -- no criticism, assumption, judgment, or evaluation. Stay with the facts. When we are in what is perceived as a stressful moment, the tendency is to add dialogue or "mind chatter" to the situation. The mind chatter takes us into mental and/or emotional stress, which means we are no longer in the present moment. It challenges our ability to stay composed, focused, and effective. Getting out of the C.A.J.E will keep you be grounded and productive -- whether it's a conflict with a partner, an important presentation, or a staff meeting.
*This entry is semi-autobiographical. Names, characteristics, and details have been changed.