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Are you a flame fanner?

Are you a gasoline thrower?

Why would you do that?

  • Are you truly interested in your spouse changing that recurring behavior that irritates you?

  • Are you deeply concerned about your teenager's rebellious behavior?

  • Are you profoundly wanting a better relationship with your lover?

  • Are you sincerely committed to a more agreeable relationship with your report?

Many of you would claim that you are. But then you allow yourself to throw gasoline on the "fire" and to fan the flames so that you make the problems worse, not better.

What "fire"?

The "fire" I am talking about is any behavior in another person that you would like to change but stimulates your defensiveness or righteousness.

  • Your spouse's recurring behavior that annoys you

  • The rebelliousness of your teenager

  • The argumentative issues that your lover brings up

  • The disconnect between what you ask for and what your report delivers

Trying to fix it makes it worse

How often does your own defensive response to these issues make them worse instead of better?

  • When you blame them for blaming you

  • When you argue

  • When you focus on them understanding you instead of you understanding them

  • When you withdraw

With rare, exceptions, these create more problems instead of less.


Yet you persist in fanning those flames.

My client loves his girlfriend but he made the problem worse

Recently (July 2021), a client returned to Hawaii from a short trip to Utah. His girlfriend, with irritation and blame in her voice, said to him, "We can't see each other for a week because you never got your COVID vaccine."

Feeling hurt and defensive, my client replied, "Well, maybe we should make that two weeks to be safe." An argument ensued, painful for both of them.

Instead of showing a non-defensive concern and understanding for his girlfriend's fear, he "threw gasoline on the fire," making it worse. Then there were "two dogs fighting," both causing damage to each other and to their relationship. Neither is taking 100% responsibility.

Good have the power to have a great relationship with everyone in your life

If his girlfriend were my client and gave me permission to coach her on this, then I would point out how she was the flame fanner. But she's not my client. He is. Yes, we could say that she fanned the flames first. But then he fanned them back. As Byron Katie says, "Defense is the first act of war."

If you're willing to take 100% responsibility, you don't need another person's "cooperation" to have a great relationship with them. And that relationship may include you non-defensively setting and maintaining some boundaries so that you are taking care of yourself. See Are you messing in another's business?


Remember, 100% responsibility doesn't mean you necessarily know how to resolve some current issue. In fact, part of 100% responsibility includes knowing and accepting when you are feeling powerless or maybe even powerless. See You are powerless.

There are perks for being a flame fanner and a gasoline thrower...

  • It can feel good to "express yourself" righteously.

  • It can feel like you're "defending yourself."

  • It can feel like you're making things "fair" by hurting them for hurting you.

  • It can feel like you're safer by "fighting back."

  • It can help you avoid a feeling of helplessness in not knowing what to do.

  • It can send out the message that you're not a person to be fucked with.

  • You might even believe that it shows that you care about them.

Compare the costs

Thinking back over the many times that you acted defensively or righteously...

  • How long did you continue to feel good after "expressing yourself" righteously?

  • Was there anything to defend? What costs did you incur by unnecessarily acting defensively?

  • Did making things "fair" bring you closer or farther away from having the relationship and results that you wanted to have with this person?

  • Were you safer from whatever after "defending yourself"...or in more danger?

  • Were you able to make something happen that you wanted instead of being powerless?

  • Did you get favorable or unfavorable results after sending out that message that you could not be fucked with?

  • Did they feel you caring more after you responded defensively?

Overall and long-term, did your defensive response create a better relationship with that person and get you more of what you wanted?

"But it's just my takes over"

If you've found that the costs, in general, have been more than the benefits, go to How to interrupt yourself as one way you can begin to playfully nudge your machinery into a new, more beneficial habit.

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