Choosing Love as Your Compass- May 29th, 2017
We all get stuck at times in knowing what the “next best step” is in a moment. Sometimes we get stuck because of fear or anxiety, sometimes because of anger, sometimes because just feel lost. We can be faced with a decision and feel like we do not know what path to take, which can be frustrating and overwhelming.
You might be faced with a decision at work-to take the promotion or stay put, to let an employee go or give them once more chance. In your relationship, you might be faced with a choice-to have a hard conversation or to let it go, to start showing up differently for your partner or to stay the course. In your personal life, you might be conflicted about starting something new or not or about speaking up about something difficult to a friend or leaving it be. Now, think about facing decisions coming from a place of love and using love as your compass to choose a direction in a difficult moment. Think about what the word love encompasses for you…it can encompass characteristics like understanding, trust, empathy or warmth. Love can be directed at someone else, or it can be directed at yourself. Using love as a compass to help make a decision in a difficult situation does not mean the outcome is necessarily going to be experienced as pleasant, but it can allow you to make a decision or show up in a decision with a positive anchor.
Now, think about a decision you are faced with, either now or in the past, and ask yourself…if I do use or had used love as my compass, what choice will I make or would I have made? Would I have made the same choice or a different choice in a past situation?
Learning the Gifts in Saying “No”: January 11th, 2017
When I think about how we generally raise children and were, generally, in this society raised as children ourselves, I reflect on the message we learn as children about saying “no” and the message we give to children about saying “no”. I see the ramifications of our messages to children reflected in my own life and in my own professional practice around the difficulty people can have in saying “no”. There can be a lot of distress and emotional upheaval that gets created for someone in even thinking about the idea of saying “no”. Saying “no” must mean that we are only going to hurt someone’s feelings, make the wrong choice, be a social outcast, “make” someone angry at us…We talk to children about how it is OK to say no to riding in cars with strangers or to stopping someone from hurting them, but we often do not help children learn how to say “no” in other ways and teach them the benefits that can come with saying no.
We tell children things like “listen to authority”, “follow the rules”, “go with the flow”, “don’t make a scene”, and in all of these messages we give to children we can be discounting the voice of the child in their attempts to say no through tantrums, passivity, meltdowns, and other such behaviors. We try to stop these behaviors and thus, often unknowingly, are teaching a child that saying no is a bad thing instead of teaching them how to say…no, I not OK with this; this scares me; this makes me uncomfortable etc... Teaching a child to say “no” does not mean we necessarily have to shift away from setting limits with children and giving consequence to inappropriate behaviors that they sometimes engage in through their attempts to say no, but what it can mean is that we are giving tools to a child to start to explore and give words to their internal experience that can help them to articulate emotions and set boundaries.
As we grow into adults and have more discernment in how to say no, reasons to say no, and values we hold that help us say no, we become better skilled at setting limits in our personal and professional relationships as well as setting limits within ourselves. We become less fearful that “no” is a bad word and more confident in the gift of no toward a more authentic and fulfilling life.
The Relational Impact of Anxiety: September 15th, 2016
When we think of the impact of anxiety, we can easily think of what anxiety does to someone on an individual level…it causes us to worry, be afraid, be less happy or enjoy less. However, we can forget to think about the impact of our anxiety in a relationship, and, in doing so, can give anxiety a lot of power to create chaos, disconnection, and misunderstanding within our relationship. We all hold differing levels of anxiety, have different triggers to anxiety, and react differently to anxiety; however, anxiety has power in a relationship when its expression is being misunderstood by the other as a personal attack on one’s character, beliefs, or person as a whole, or as an indicator of someone’s lack of interest in the relationship or their partner. When this happens, the relationship can be negatively impacted; couples start to feel disconnected.
Getting curious about how anxiety shows up for us within a relationship can be a helpful starting place to become more aware of its impact in a relationship. Do we shut down, get controlling or more rigid, eat more/less, use substances, get angry? All of these behavioral manifestations of anxiety have the potential to impact our relationship.
What are the trigger points to our experience of anxiety in our relationship and can we understand the core of it? Perhaps we get anxious about how much time a partner spends at work because we are feeling insecure about the relationship. Perhaps we get anxious about a partner shutting down and getting quiet in a conversation because we perceive they are just not interested enough in the relationship to work through it. Perhaps we get anxious about talking about our anxiety because we fear being judged or criticized. Without understanding the core of the anxiety, we can miscommunicate it as anger or stay focused on the content without the other person really understanding what that content actually means about us/the relationship.
How is our partner seeing us when we feel anxious…Distant? Uninterested in them? Controlling? Scary to talk to? Understanding their perception of us when we are feeling anxious can not only help us to take accountability and make change, when needed, in our behavioral expression of anxiety, but understanding can also help open up a conversation differently within our relationship in moments of anxiety. When anxiety is able to be acknowledged and understood in a moment, for what it is, and does not move into misunderstanding or misperception, relationship disconnection is more likely to be avoided.
When we are anxious, what do we need from our partner? Sometimes it is a solution or support around figuring something out, but more often than not, what I have experienced in my professional practice and in my personal life, is that there is a need for some sort of reassurance or validation. Perhaps it is reassurance that the relationship is secure, or that your partner understands your experience with anxiety. Perhaps it is validation that your emotions and needs just make sense.
The Impact of Self-Perception Within a Relationship: June 15th, 2016
Have you ever found yourself in an argument with your partner about something that seems trivial, on the surface, but does not feel trivial? Perhaps it starts as a discussion over how you keep the house clean or who is cooking dinner tonight, but what starts as a discussion escalates into an argument. Without some sort of relationship repair from these arguments, we are not usually left feeling good about ourselves or the relationship, often feeling disconnected from each other and frustrated. Part of what happens that turns a discussion into an argument has to do with self-perception. We are operating in these moments with some sort of negative perception of self that is becoming activated, under the surface of the argument, and can become a powerful motivator to fueling the fire of the argument.
Self-perception is how we view ourselves/what kind of person we think ourselves to be. It is often unconscious and becomes more apparent, with some self-reflection, within the context of a relationship, whether that be in moments of connection or moments of tension or struggle. We might not walk around, for example, thinking about ourselves as a good person until we perhaps perceive ourselves treating somebody kindly or responding to a difficult situation with patience. Likewise, we might not be aware that we perceive ourselves as “not good enough” until we get in an argument with someone and perceive the other as somehow better than us and find ourselves lacking.
Self-perception is part of what fuels those “trivial” conflicts we find ourselves in with somebody. We get in an argument about washing the dishes because we perceive the lack of help from a partner means that we are not quite worth their extra attention or time. We get in an argument about the text our partner did not return quickly enough because we feel unimportant in the relationship. We get angry or depressed about our partner’s chaotic work schedule because we are feeling less valued as a partner in the relationship. In order to work through moments of relationship tension or struggle differently, it is important to start reflecting on the perception of self that is getting activated when in an argument or an escalated conversation. Once we become more aware of this perception, we have the ability to talk about it with our partner and really open up a different conversation. The conversation might bring about a greater sense of connection and understanding which can lead to better outcomes in the future or quicker “repair” after an argument, or it might lead to a difficult, more vulnerable conversation. In either scenario, starting to discuss what we perceive ourselves to mean to the other when moments of tension or disconnection are present, allows us to have more honest, vulnerable, and open conversations in a relationship.
Letting Anxiety Be Your Guide Toward Your Values: March 1st, 2016
Anxiety visits us with different messages. Sometimes, the message is none at all as anxiety is just passing through and trying to get us to go with it on a journey to nowhere. These are the times where it is helpful to acknowledge its presence but not give it too much importance. Other times, anxiety has an important message for us about how close we are living to our values. In these times, when anxiety is present, it is trying to tell us that we are living in a way that is not true to what we value, and in order to change direction, we need to hear what anxiety has to say.
For example, have you ever found yourself suddenly starting to experience anxiety as you head into a job that you thought you loved? If you listen to your anxiety, it might help you understand that, at one time, you did love your job but as something you value changed in the work culture, you are no longer finding the job rewarding. Or, have you found yourself becoming anxious in a relationship because something that you value in a relationship is missing. As you recognize that anxiety is telling you something about living disconnected from your values, you might experience a sense of your options opening because living in anxiety without hearing the valuable messages it can provide feels constraining. As you look at where anxiety shows up in your relationships, in your personal life, or in your work, step back from it and evaluate it from this perspective; is it telling you anything useful about living your life connected to your values, or is it just passing through and giving it more attention than needed is not necessary.
The Map to a Loving Relationship-February 5th, 2016
Imagine getting dropped off in a foreign country with no map and no ability to speak the language of the residents and told that you need to get to a certain destination in order to get picked up and back home. What would you do? You might rely on past experiences that felt similar, things you have heard from others about their experiences in a similar situation, or rely on some thoughts or intuitions about what feels right. You might just get there but you might just not. This is often how we navigate relationships. We sort of “wing it” based on past experiences, information from others, or just our own thoughts/intuitions. Now, imagine getting dropped off in a foreign country with some sort of map with markers that help guide you from point A to point B; your likelihood of getting to your destination would most likely increase, and creating and maintaining a loving relationship is no different. What are some of the factors that help increase the likelihood of creating and living in a loving relationship?
Awareness: We each bring a suitcase into a current relationship that is filled with our past experiences in life and in relationships-some experiences that help influence us positively in a current relationship, and some experiences that can create roadblocks and defenses to connection and love if we are not aware of what is packed into our suitcase. We need to know what is in our suitcase, particularly the experiences that can create roadblocks, and how we tend to react when we are reminded of these experiences in our current relationship. Do we get anxious when we spend a lot of time away from our partner due to past relationship injuries? Are we afraid of opening up about the “tough stuff” with our partner because past experiences in our life tell us that we will be shut down, dismissed, or invalidated? As we are aware of what we each bring into a relationship, we are better able to understand our reactions in relationships that come from previous hurts and vulnerabilities as well as help our partner better understand and respond to these vulnerabilities that will inevitably come up in the relationship.
Emotional Literacy: If we think of emotional literacy (the ability to acknowledge, comprehend, and adequately respond to our own/others emotions) as part of a spectrum, we can assess where we fall on the spectrum. Are we beginners in emotional literacy or more advanced? If we are in a relationship with someone where we fall in the more beginner category of emotional literacy and they fall in the more advanced category of emotional literacy or maybe we both fall in the beginner category, we can sometimes experience tension around feeling understood or in feeling able to communicate our core needs or emotions which can then show up as tension or conflict in the relationship. In creating and maintaining a loving relationship, we both do not need to be fluent in this area, but we need to be comfortable with emotion and willing to feel the discomfort that sometimes comes with talking about the more vulnerable emotions and needs that are experienced in a relationship. I might not be able to speak “emotion” with fluency, but if I can better understand what is happening within me and with my partner, my responses in moments of tension can feel more authentic, comforting, and create relationship repair.
Flexibility: If I only have one strategy to manage conflict and tension in a relationship, I am probably going to run into a snag. To be able to “show up” in tension and conflict with the ability to be flexible in my responses is an important component to being able to navigate the nuances of conflict and tension. Sometimes it helps to listen and allow someone space to talk, sometimes I need to be able to speak about what is happening for me in that moment, and sometimes I need to set a boundary or be able to articulate a need I have in order to feel connected or cared about in a relationship. Flexibility in response helps build and maintain a loving relationship.
Tolerance: We never show up perfectly in any relationship. Being tolerant of relationship miscommunications and misinterpretations both coming from us and directed at us helps give permission in the relationship to “miss” sometimes which ultimately gives permission to talk about it and repair the tear. Tears in the fabric of a relationship will happen, and the work is in learning how to repair and mend when it happens.
The Courage of Imperfection-December 30th, 2015
As we end another calendar year, it is common to reflect back on the year thinking of all the highlights and pitfalls and then turn to thinking about how we want to make next year better. We tend to imagine what life would look like, better, in the New Year. If we just acquired that something that we are searching for- the perfect look, the perfect amount of money in our bank account, the perfect weight, the perfect location to live, the perfect job, the perfect relationship- then, everything else would fall into place. The problem with better is that we miss good enough and we miss the contentment and happiness that can come from accepting good enough because good enough is not perfect; it is perfectly imperfect.
It is quite common to seek improvement in life, relationships, and in oneself and this desire is positive. However, sometimes, the desire for improvement and the perfect----fill in the blank----clouds the contentment and value in good enough. Good enough is imperfect, and when we accept good enough into our life, we can learn to roll with the tide and accept the ebbs and flows of life with a different attitude. When we let go of showing up the perfect way in a relationship, we can show up more authentically and feel more connected. When we stop focusing on changing our body to fit whatever mold we see as perfect, we can start to actually learn to like who we are and focus our energy on enjoying life, and when we stop trying to find the perfect place to live/work/play, we can find connection and happiness right where we are.
As we enter the New Year, perhaps instead of focusing on making it better in the pursuit of getting it perfect, we focus a bit more on allowing for good enough to be enough and focus instead on tolerance, acceptance of the now, compassion toward self and others, and willingness to show up more, as we are, in order to find true acceptance, connection, and happiness.
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