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Being a Frog in Hot Water


When I was a kid one of my teachers explained that if a frog was placed frog-boiling-potin a pan of lukewarm water that was put on the stove with the flame on simmer, the frog would acclimate as the temperature rose and would eventually perish when the water got too hot. The story stuck with me even though I later learned that it wasn’t true; in reality, when the water heats up too much a frog will jump out of the pan.


People, on the other hand, often stay in bad relationships that get progressively worse, acclimatizing to their increasing suffering. Metaphorically speaking, they are analogous to being frogs in hot water, experiencing more and more emotional pain as the water (or tone of the relationship) gets hotter and hotter (or worse and worse) and yet staying there, sometimes for their entire lives.


A few years ago, after I left a three-decade relationship, I wanted to understand why I stayed in a situation that was so uncomfortable for its last ten years. My process of self-discovery involves writing about issues I’m interested in, to fully explore all of their aspects, and then reading what I write. Part of my motivation for writing my new book was to figure out why I stayed in that relationship so long.


Victims and Tweakers


When we’re in a “frog-in-hot-water” type of relationship we often see ourselves as victims, being “unfaired against” by family, friends, or business colleagues. In my case, I kept trying to fix the situation, and when my strategy didn’t work, I would tweak it, feeling sure it would work eventually if I got it “exactly correct.” That old adage “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” applied to me. I kept being the frog in hot water, believing that my partner would eventually “see the light” because we loved each other and that our problems would disappear.


How Our Own Myths Hurt Us


After reflecting on my own ten years as a frog in hot water, I came to understand that it was a myth that kept me there. The myth was that I was emotionally defective and that my partner was emotionally sound. Believing that myth, I thought that if I could show her that my heart was in the right place, she would understand and the “hot water” would instantly cool. I saw myself as a victim of my own emotional defectiveness and believed it was the reason I couldn’t access her love. Now I understand that there are always myths that keep us like frogs in hot water. As long as I believed my myth, I felt helpless.


I now see that my partner also had a myth. Hers was that she deserved a “Prince Charming” who would always do “the right thing” according to her script of what “the right thing” was, and that if he didn’t, he was bad. I didn’t match her idea of doing “the right thing.”

We can make ourselves the hero or the victim in any story, regardless of how our partner experiences the situation. We interpret our experiences and turn them into stories that we believe are true, and, when we’re on automatic pilot—that is, not experiencing the present with mindful awareness—we believe that everyone else, particularly our partner, will see things as we do and arrive at the same conclusions. We don’t realize that our story is just OUR STORY—our interpretation of events, based on our individual perceptions—and that it won’t necessarily match our partner’s perceptions.


Reinterpreting Our Experience


Being a “frog in hot water” is a direct consequence of believing our story (which is really our feeling) and calling it a fact or “the truth.” We may not realize that our story is not cast in stone; we are always free to reinterpret what we are experiencing and tell ourselves another story about it. When we do this, we’re no longer a frog in hot water; we no longer see ourselves as powerless victims.


Three Doors


There are always three possible solutions to a frog-in-hot-water situation. I think of them as Door 1, Door 2, and Door 3.


Door 1 is to accept the situation fully, warts and all. This means acknowledging the situation exactly as it is and saying, “I’m OK with it. I’m letting go of my judgments and resentments.” It means that we stop resisting the situation and instead embrace it. When we embrace the situation instead of judging, resisting, and resenting it, the water ceases to be hot—the pain disappears.


Door 2 is to change the situation. This means working out a meaningful solution by making mindful choices that will transform the situation in a way that meets both parties’ needs. Of course, for Door 2 to work, both people need to commit to moving beyond past pain and into a future of possibility for a new experience of the relationship. Both people need to let go of their old resentments and judgments.


Door 3 is to remove ourselves entirely from the situation—the frog has to acknowledge that the water is so hot that he or she is in danger of being killed by it and then must jump out of the pan.


Gaining Insight into Your Own Behavior


The vital thing to remember is that choosing Door 3 to exit a particular situation only alleviates the pain from that particular situation. It takes recognizing and acknowledging your participation in the painful situation and constant mindfulness to not repeat that pattern of behavior that helped to create it.

Remember, the way to free ourselves from a frog-in-hot-water situation is to observe our own patterns of behavior and then change that behavior. Whatever the situation, we will always find ourselves with the choice of Door 1, 2, or 3…


  • 13 Feb, 2014
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 7 Tags

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