We often make the mistake of erroneously identifying ourselves with our behavior and habits. This way, as soon as it turns out that some of these behaviors are harmful, we find ourselves trapped, because instead taking it for what it is: a behavior pattern that needs to be changed, our ego interprets this as an attack against our integrity, saying: YOU are bad! And with this the troops of our psychic self-defense army are already lined up, ready to defend us to the very last breath!
Am I exaggerating?
Most of us like to think that they can handle positive criticism quite well, but in many cases it’s again just a defensive mechanism. In fact we only make things worse by refusing to learn and change! All this is just because we forget: even though we might do something wrong, it does not mean that WE are wrong. It simply means that we need to change the way we behave or think!
Today, I found a fascinating case, Amy’s Baking Company, to show you on an extreme example how we destroy ourselves with this false identification and our fight against change. Fasten your seat belts!
You might remember the “Kitchen Nightmares” show with Gordon Ramsay. It was broadcast a few years ago, and soon became immensely popular world-wide. Should you still not recall it, let me sum it up in a few words: Gordon Ramsay, one of England’s most famous celebrity chefs offered his help to restaurants, which stood on the edge of total bankruptcy. Each time Gordon spent a week with the owners and the staff, observing their work, pointing out the problems and giving suggestions, as to how to eliminate them.
One of these shows took an unprecedented turn and became a worldwide scandal; this was the case of “Amy’s Baking Company.”
How It All Began with Amy’s Baking Company
The owners, Samy and Amy Bouzgalo, a couple from Arizona, Scottsdale city operated a restaurant, called Amy’s Baking Company.
They called Gordon Ramsay for help, because they found that although the restaurant offered impeccable service, some malicious bloggers launched a campaign against them.
Indeed, the restaurant had a dubious reputation on the internet thank to a blogging community. It soon seemed to be proven by the first shootings of Gordon Ramsay’s crew, made a few days prior to the chef’s arrival.
Conflict Upon Conflict
It happened once that a customer returned the pizza, because he considered that the dough was somewhat under-cooked and he asked the chef to put it back into the oven. Amy’s irritated reply was simply, ‘Ok, I’ll burn it!’
Amy’s reaction to complaints from guests was usually denial and a ‘counterattack’.
In another case a customer went to the counter to ask when his order would be served. His table had been waiting for their food for one and a half hours.
Quite unexpectedly, with threatening gestures, Samy started to shout at the impatient customer, and then, he practically threw him out of the restaurant.
Soon Gordon Ramsay arrived at the restaurant and as usual, first of all, he tried the dishes, which the place offered. He found several issues regarding food quality and he told his opinion first to Samy, who served him the meal, asking Samy to inform Amy, the restaurant’s chef. As Samy showed reluctance to tell his wife the bad news, Ramsay decided to confront Amy with the reality himself.
Gordon Ramsay and criticism
Let us stop here for a second.
I know that many people consider Gordon Ramsay a brutal critic; it is stuck on him like a label. He is a man of straight confrontation. Euphemism and the delicate softening of the truth are not among his cards. He wants to shake these people up for their own good, trying to make them face reality. Without waking up to the acute problems, these people have hardly any chance to save their business.
Each restaurant is in the final moments before bankruptcy. Most owners and their families have accumulated very serious debts and mortgages by that time, often their whole savings and assets of are on stake.
This process, of course, can really be painful for these people, because in order to save themselves they must stop blaming others. They need to face their mistakes, accept their full responsibility and commit themselves unconditionally to positive change.
Some hold to the opinion that Gordon should be gentler when confronting the restaurant owners with their bad practices, so as not to hurt their feelings. He is expected to sugar-coat the bitter message for them to make it easier to swallow.
Psychology of change
We could bring up lots of pros and contras, but there’s one thing I noticed during my work I would like to share with you (it is nothing new, psychology discusses it in great detail):
- Suppose, there is someone, whose behavior has negative effects on him as well as on others!
- To be able to change this, he must first become aware of this current, harmful behavior and its effects.
- When he is confronted with the fact of his harmful attitude, he goes into denial, starts to defend himself and resists the idea of a necessary change.
- To be able to make this change though, he needs to overcome his DENIAL, get past the DEFENSIVE phase and switch to the RECEPTIVE state of mind. (In the TV show Ramsay is the outer force that pushes these people out of the bubble of their false reality.)
- From that moment this person regains his power and control over the situation, because now he is able to correct his behavior, attitude, and thinking. Thus he can achieve positive results.
This transition from DENIAL and SELF-DEFENSE to positive ACTION is quite improbable to happen, if the trigger is only a subtle, gentle incentive. It is simply because the mind has automatic DEFENSIVE MECHANISMS that are guarding its status-quo. These mechanisms will practically filter out most of the interfering information, as long as it doesn’t reach a critical intensity. These are the cases, when the person ‘doesn’t even hear the message’, ‘it doesn’t get through’.
Now, it is at this point that the story turns really exciting and we can observe what strategies people use to cope with this challenge.
The epic fail
Let’s go back to Amy and Samy.
Gordon soon found out that Samy, Amy’ husband, is vary of his wife’s reaction to criticism and instead of confronting her, he rather tried to conceal the truth. So chef Ramsay had no choice, but to go into the kitchen and repeat his remarks regarding the quality of the food to Amy.
Her reaction was absolute denial and total resistance. Amy was soon yelling, denying and attacking. It was practically impossible to talk to her, because she would not listen. She acted like a hurt child.
After a few attempts, Ramsay finally did what he had never done in this show before, he gave up and left.
The incident spread on the Internet like wildfire. The war between the restaurant and its unhappy customers and bloggers was no longer a local phenomenon; it has become a world-wide MEME. A bitter struggle evolved on the restaurant’s Facebook page, where Amy and Samy tried to fend off the critical audience with unsophisticated swearing.
For those who are interested in the details of the story, click here to read how Buzzfeed.com describes the incident.
So far that’s all we know from the internet. But personally, I was much more intrigued about finding out what made these people become what they have become on the show.
What happened to these people?
First of all, let me say that since I have only indirect information on the case, Amy and Samy, I don’t imply to set up any “professional diagnosis”; nor do I intend to put them into a box and most certainly, I do not judge them. I simply use this very spectacular psychological chain-reaction to illustrate certain phenomena and thus to make them easier to understand. Through such examples we learn to recognize the same harmful processes within ourselves.
When I first saw this restaurant owner couple on the show, I felt like I was watching the fine mechanism of a clock going utterly wrong. The springs were over expanded, the whole structure was deformed under the tension; it was creaking and shaking!
What happened to Amy and Samy?
Expectation of an attack results in the realisation of the attack
It is quite clear even at first glance, that both Samy and Amy are very tense, desperate and overwhelmed. (You can observe it in their introductory video they sent to Gordon Ramsay prior to the show. According to their own account they had already regularly had conflicts with their customers.)
Both Samy’s and Amy’s whole being is focused hysterically on defence. They expressed this according to their personality and beliefs systems, through aggression.
I wondered what forced these people to continuously defend themselves. And what intense energy must this emotion possess to trigger aggression like this?
Personally, I believe that it was an astonishing energy spiral that sucked these personalities in, just like galaxies swirl matter that gets into their gravitational field. Before we would give in to the temptation of judging them, we need to understand that from their perspective, they are thrown into cruel meat-grinder.
And in some spiritual sense they really are. Let me explain how I mean this.
Considering their continuous and intense self-defense, their expressions and ways of communication it can be concluded that they expect constant attacks from the outside world. They perceive most of the contact with the outside world as an attack. They formed an alliance against this world, which seems to be so malevolent towards them.
Paradoxically, in their mutual efforts to support and defend each other, they only make things worse. They only deepen each other’s anxieties and fears. Their alliance has a very destructive side to it, because it is based on obsessive denial and on reinforcing each other’s harmful misconceptions and fears.
The Concept Of Enemy
Customers, who spent less than 30 dollars per meal were considered to try to take advantage of the couple. A customer who asked his food to be baked longer or asked about a delay in the service was nothing but a malicious, evil opponent. A waitress who kept the five dollar tip she had rightly deserved, instead of giving it to Samy, was a cheater and a thief. Amy and Samy obviously held to the delusion that the whole world was conspiring against them.
They tried to prohibit all communication between the staff. This shows clearly that they were afraid of their own staff, of the fact that if they have the possibility to talk to each other, they will also necessarily conspire against their employers. United, the staff will grow stronger and with that its threatening potential will only increase.
Samy demonstrated his unquestionable dominance by humiliating behaviour by thing as taking away the tips, requiring that the staff washes his car, shouting if a staff member asked questions or kicking people out. It was a clear sign that he was desperately trying to keep the people working for him under control. Whenever he felt that this control was slipping out of his hands, he went for them with startling aggression. He threatened them and tried to frighten them off once and forever.
What is even worse, though, is that Amy and her husband expected to prevent attacks by stepping up threateningly against people. They emphasized, not once, that they would defend themselves at all costs.
And they really do so whenever they suspect real or imaginary danger.
At the core of the problem we find the already mentioned expectation of an offense. Since they treat the world as a potential danger or enemy, they expect to be attacked at any time. Their perception of reality has therefore become distorted to an unhealthy degree, and that’s why they actually see insult in usual, everyday situations. They perceived simple, common situations of life, where cooperation with the world was required, as conflicts, which could only be solved through fight.
This is a filter through which they see the world. It is supported by a belief system, which has pulled them into a negative spiral.
Their energy is set for a fight so strongly that they inevitably realize it. Their crude, rude aggression resonates in people who are susceptible to aggression to some degree. And let’s admit it. Almost all of us are susceptible, more or less, to such negative energy. This power moves inferior energies in people, to put it simply: it brings out the worst in us. This negative energy spiral is then driven further by its own momentum, until it virtually outgrows those, who triggered it.
I had an intuitive sensation that their struggle is practically a fight for life and death for their psyche.
Amy’s psyche fights for its existence. Each and every critical remark turns on the extreme manifestation of this instinct of self-defence, which I previously called a ‘life-and-death struggle’.
But I wonder why?
She once said that she was particularly proud of her pastries and cooking.
She said she had an extraordinary talent for cooking. I don’t know if this is true or false, but it does not really matter from this point of view. Ramsay’s criticism first of all concerned using frozen ingredients or prefabricated products.
This is important, because it was not her talent that was questioned, but the practices she followed.
(If we just stop for a moment and think of all the criticism that had been addressed to us during the years, we might wonder how much of it concerned our actions or behaviour and what part of it was really directed against our being! From this perspective we can get quite interesting results.)
It soon became clear that Gordon Ramsay was not invited to help them to improve the restaurant. They wanted him to provide confirmation that their services were impeccable, and to support them in their fight against the malevolent attacks of critics.
They needed Ramsay to reinforce them in the eyes of the public that what they were doing was excellent.
However, this was not what happened.
Amy, at that moment of confrontation, did two curious things. First, she started repeating that there was absolutely no problem with the food and nobody had ever complained about it, like a ‘mantra’. Second, she did her best to prevent the criticism reaching her ears.
What she was performing there, we might call a desperate counter-suggestion. But what was it she tried to counter? Was that really the criticism, which could have helped her to raise her skills to a much higher level? Or which could have helped her to unfold her abilities?
Well, I do not think so. I think the real monster she was trying to fight off was way deeper. I strongly suspect that Amy has experienced a so-called regression. It happens when we subconsciously go back to an earlier point in our life, where a traumatic event or series of unpleasant experiences occurred. The current event simply triggers that situation in us. In such (quite recurrent) cases we subconsciously relive those feelings and react to them, carrying on the behaviour pattern of the past.
It must have been an event where she felt that the validity or the worth of her whole being had been questioned.
It could have concerned her skills, abilities, her importance or self-worth. Of course, we talk about assumptions here, but there are a lot of signs pointing in this direction.
Amy was trying to compensate some very strong inner doubt, a lacking feeling of safety with overemphasized aggression. Ironically enough, it must have been a feeling, which she constantly needed to counterbalance to maintain her balance. Her way to do this was to find an activity in which she could shine, which would make others acknowledge her.
She seemed to have tied her feeling of self-worth to her extraordinary culinary talent and the restaurant, so any criticism considering it endangered that basic value, on which her whole being rested.
Let me make another important comment: whenever we feel that we should be more than others, it is in itself a kind of overcompensation. We tend to overcompensate for things, which we lack, or we think we lack, that is when we are out of balance. A healthy consciousness that is in balance does not need to prove anyone anything or to rise above others. Inner balance is based on the certainty of our worth, where the only mean of measurement is the harmony of our actions with our inner spiritual goals.
Amy‘s overcompensation made her believe that if she attacked in response to supposed attacks it would make her (as she put it on Facebook) “Wonder Woman”, someone, who’s indestructible. ‘You can’t bring us down, we will fight back’, they say, ironically enough, emphasizing through that their fear of being brought down.
The Usual Mistake We Also Make
I do not know Amy personally and watching a TV show or reading things on the internet is not enough to grasp the deeper meanings of a person’s internal processes. That’s why all I share with you are only assumptions.
I have a feeling that Amy is afraid. She is terrified that what she built up with great difficulty could be taken from her. It’s that false reality, false sense of security, and self-worth, which are based on external conditions, namely, on the unquestioning acceptance of her superiority. She’s afraid to lose this feeling of superiority, which is a compensation of that deep doubt and uncertainty, which are basic parts of her current personality. She’s afraid of the feeling of being “not good enough” and the rejection involved. So instead, she wants to be the first to affront and reject.
And this is where we, too, quite often, make the mistake! Just like Amy, we identify ourselves with our habits, our behaviour and attributes. We believe that if we do something wrong, that means, we’re wrong.
We feel that if we make a mistake, then there’s something wrong with us, our being is wrong, and to be wrong is to be inferior, worthless, bad or faulty. It is a very unpleasant experience.
Any time we behave stupid, or in a bad manner, so that our environment rejects us, we feel that it is our person that is rejected, and not simply our attitude. Although in most cases it is on the contrary; our environment reacts primarily to our behaviour and attitude, in other words, to the way we use our energy. And not to the person we are. (Another type of rejection concerns an idea that we represent to the rejecting person, what leads us to discrimination of all kinds, but that’s another topic.)
So, I presume that Amy felt this kind of rejection of her person, when Ramsay told his negative opinion about the food. To be more exact, she relived a former, crucial experience of being rejected and questioned by someone, who represented an important authority figure to her. She also relived the feelings of helplessness, lack of power and lack of safety resulting from that situation.
It’s that ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not wanted’ feeling, which still seems to haunt her subconsciously.
Our Behaviour Is Not Our Self
So what we really have seen in the show was a tragic spiral that started at some point in the past, where Amy was unable to defend herself in a situation (or row of such events), in which she experienced an intense feeling of rejection, a feeling of ‘not being good enough, not being wanted’.
To avoid that feeling in the future, she worked out a tactic of being the first to attack and reject, and to do it most vehemently. However, with that kind of reaction, she unknowingly only triggered a hostile attitude in her environment, encountering more and more conflicts, and with each clash her feelings of rejection and worthlessness only became stronger. Again, it made her fight harder and the harder she fought, the harder she was attacked. This is that deadly spiral we spoke about earlier.
Situations like this happen, because we confuse our behaviour and our personal characteristics with the self. We cling to the delusion that if the behaviour is bad, the self must be bad, as well. That’s how we are taught, when we are young, but that’s a misconception.
The Real Self
The real SELF is perfect. There is no need to develop it, in our sense of the word, or to make it perfect. What needs perfection is that ‘software package’, which we believe we are. These are those habits, ideas, belief systems and concepts; patterns we got from our family, school and our environment. These all can be changed if we take the effort. Only when we start changing them, do we become really shocked, seeing just how much we do not know the REAL SELF.
We can learn very much from the story of Amy and Samy.
I sincerely hope that these two people will one day open their minds and find their true selves beneath their harmful patterns. I wish them the strength and wisdom they need in order to finally break that vicious spiral within them. I hope that they recognize that each time they expect to receive an attack from the outside world, they will bring that attack on.
To stop this, they only need to transform their own negative energies. They do not have to fight the world; all they need to fight are their own harmful programs!
How can they do that? Simply by recognizing and understanding their deep feelings and energies and the way those affect them.
I hope this was a really exciting and thought-provoking journey! We soon continue with a contrary example! In the meantime, enjoy being that fantastic, ever evolving divine being, deep in your heart you are!
(Should you find any grammar issues, feel free to tell me! I’m not a native speaker, although I tried my best, so your help is appreciated!)