How to Speak to Someone About an Unspeakable Loss
“It’s not about saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things.” ~Unknown
Years ago, my family and I moved to a bucolic little town in New Zealand, where we were immediately swept up into a group of ex-pats and locals. We felt deeply connected to this community by the time I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in the local hospital.
When our son was three months old, a doctor heard a heart murmur. Twenty-four hours later, he died.
In the days and weeks that followed, I wandered in my own fog of grief as I went about the necessary tasks of ordinary life: shopping for food, taking our other kids to school, doing the usual mounds of laundry.
Meanwhile, my new friends kept their distance. I saw them take great care to avoid me: to cross the street, switch supermarket aisles, literally do an about-face when they saw me coming.
Invitations stopped coming. The phone went silent. My grief was marked by a deeper isolation than I’d ever known.
Later, many of these people apologized. They told me they were terribly sad and distressed about what had happened, but hadn’t known what to say. My loss was so enormous that words seemed inadequate, even pitiful.
They said nothing, out of fear that they would say the wrong thing.
What can you say?
While it’s not an easy question to answer, one thing is certain: It’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Here are five ways to respond helpfully to people who have suffered an enormous loss.
1. Manage your own feelings first.
When we learn that disaster has befallen a loved one, we initially feel shock. Our heart rate increases, our thoughts either speed up or slow down, and we may experience nausea or dizziness.
The anxiety we feel is real and personal. Our instinct, though, is to ignore it, find ways to numb it or minimize it. That’s a mistake.
If we address our own anxiety first, we’ll be in a much stronger position to respond well to the person most directly affected. Do the things you know how to do to manage stress. A walk in the woods, some meditation or yoga, or talking to a trusted friend can help.
Make sure your own body and emotions are regulated before you turn to the person in grief.
2. Now focus on the other person.
Remember that the isolation they feel is almost as painful as the shock and the sadness of the loss itself. If you avoid them because you don’t know what to say, this avoidance serves only your needs.
Our friends and other loved ones need our comfort, support, and involvement during times of sorrow.
Although there isn’t a right thing to say, there are some things to never say. They include the current favorite, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I know just how you feel.” How do you know there’s a reason, and what difference would it make to a grieving person, anyway? And you don’t know how they feel—only they do.
3. Admit that you don’t know what to say.
That’s a good start. Try something simple that breaks the ice and starts a conversation, or at least sends a message to the other person that they’re not alone.
“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.”
If the person is willing to talk, listen. It’s the single most vital thing you can do.
Listen to their story without interrupting. Don’t turn the conversation back to you with statements like, “I know what you’re going through—my dog died last year.”
Don’t tell them what they will, or should, feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.
We all have different styles of managing shock and distress. Some people are angry, while others seem numb. Still others turn to gallows humor. Your job is not to correct them but to give them space to be the way they need to be.
5. Rather than saying, ”Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to do something practical and specific.
Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful. Offer to shop for groceries, run errands, drive the kids somewhere, or to cook a meal or two. Ask if you can call tomorrow, or if they want to be left alone for a few days.
When Survey Monkey’s CEO Dave Goldberg died suddenly, his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the following:
When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.
Today, as I recall the loss of my own infant son, I think about the one person who did truly comfort me. She arrived at my house with a bottle of fine brandy and said, “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. I am so, so sorry this has happened.”
Then we sat on the lawn and she poured me a drink as she listened to every horrible detail.
As I look back now, I still feel how much her gesture helped me cope through those early days of pain. She didn’t try to fix me or try to make sense of what happened. She didn’t even try to comfort me. The comfort she gave came through her being in it with me.
You can’t fix what happened, but you can sit with someone, side by side, so they don’t feel quite so alone. That requires only intention, a willingness to feel awkward, and an open, listening heart. It’s the one gift that can make a difference.
This post originally appeared in TinyBuddha.
I'm A Life Coach & I Have Panic Attacks
Here's What I Wish More People Knew
As a practicing psychotherapist and a life coach, I'd helped many people cope with panic attacks but never had one myself. That is, until about three years ago, when I was having lunch with a friend and suddenly felt something akin to a 400-pound bear jumping up and down on my chest.
Eventually, the hospital set me loose with the explanation that the symptoms I’d experienced had just been “a panic attack.” Relieved and bewildered, I was given a lot of sympathy but few instructions.
The following week, I went to see a psychiatrist, who suggested I might be conflicted about publishing my book, Love Cycles, and sent me off with medication. Her explanation didn’t hit home for me, however, so I tried something different. I went to see a Reiki master, who did energy work to rebalance my chakras.
Nothing helped. The attacks kept coming. I read everything I could about them and got blood tests from my family doctor, who looked for obscure tumors and hidden troubles. Everything was normal.
I took meditation classes, began to walk every day, and went to a hypnotist. I became gluten-free and dairy-free and looked for hidden conflicts, childhood traumas, and unresolved tensions in my life.
Finally, I went to see my regular therapist, who suggested the cause could be nothing more than some misfired adrenaline. We might never learn anything more about the panic attacks, he said, but there were several adjustments I could make to help make a difference, should I experience them again. This time the explanation felt true.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder affects close to 7 million people a year (women are twice as likely to be affected), and 6 million people have panic attacks every year. In other words, even if your panic attack feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, it's quite common.
We know very little about panic attacks, and many of the theories about them are only myths. Let's look at some of the most common myths and their countervailing truths.
Myth: A panic attack is about something: you just have to find the cause.
Truth: Panic attacks are a biological response, which may or may not have psychological components.
Most experts believe a panic attack is brought on by a combination of genetics, biology, environmental, and psychological factors. The cause for one person’s individual panic attacks, however, may never be known.
Myth: Panic attacks are a sign that you’re going crazy.
Truth: An inability to predict when a panic attack is going to happen might make you feel crazy, but you’re not.
You’re neither dying nor going crazy: Your body is experiencing a chemical rush, which you can learn to manage. Biology doesn't have to win.
Myth: Panic attacks cause extreme harm to your body.
Many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks are indeed frightening: Your body trembles and shakes and you feel shortness of breath. Some people hyperventilate and fear fainting. Your heart rate might go as high as 200 beats per minute, and you might feel like you’re having a heart attack.
Truth: When you go for a long run, it’s common for the heart rate to rise just as high. Because we expect this high heart rate when we’re running, it isn’t frightening. With a panic attack, of course, the fear comes from having a high heart rate for a reason you're not accustomed to.
Myth: Deep breathing can always stop a panic attack.
Truth: Holding your breath causes hyperventilation and an increase in carbon dioxide, which contributes to dizziness and numbness, which then raises your panic levels.
The one thing we must do, which can help immediately, is to breathe more slowly than usual. Learn about belly breathing exercises, but know that they might not always be enough on their own.
Myth: Nothing will help.
Truth: There are many tools in the arsenal to use for dealing with future panic attacks. Here are a few:
- If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to decaf, and once your body adjusts, try to switch to green tea. Even with decaf, you will put less stress on your nervous system.
- Sleep. The connection between sleep and well-being is more and more firmly established every day. To improve your sleep quality, never look at a computer or check your iPhone right before you go to sleep. And if you wake up during the night, use yoga breathing (deep belly breaths) to calm yourself back into rest.
- Exercise. Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety medicine. When I feel butterflies in my belly, I take a walk. Ninety percent of the time, the panic recedes. The exercise stops the panic from escalating into a full-blown attack.
- Take precautions. I carry a list of all the tools in my toolbox, in case I lose the ability to focus when an attack hits. I also carry a low dose of anxiety medication as a last resort. Three years after my first panic attack, I have learned to head them off quickly and have never yet felt the need to use the meds.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
Why You Always Have the Same Old Fight
Do you notice that you and your partner always end up having “the same old argument”? It's as if it doesn’t matter at all where the conversation or conflict started ... it just always ends in the familiar sinkhole.
After a while you may understand that the issue isn’t really about the housework, the weekend plans or money. It's something else something you can’t put your finger on. You just know the sinking feeling when you see “the look,” hear the sound in their voice or feel your own feeling of sinking inside, that voice telling you, “Here we go again.” This ongoing familiar fight can feel like an endless loop with a dead-end and no way out. But why?
Well, the reason it feels like it's a loop, is because it IS a loop. Without learning how to notice the patterns as they arise, there's no way to stop a vicious cycle in its tracks. That's why I am telling you that there is a way through it. The only place to start is to recognize the barriers each person must overcome, and then developing strategies to manage these barriers productively.
To begin, let's look at what I like to think of as the four common causes of these cyclical, repetitive arguments:
Most repeated fights are not really about what they seem to be about. In fact, they tend to happen because something in our past is being triggered by a present experience, even if it’s minor. Our partner might do something that evokes memories of feeling bullied, betrayed or falsely accused in the past and we are actually reacting to our history rather than to what is actually happening now.
The first step here is awareness of these triggers. But read on, as I will elaborate on "exit strategies" in the next section below!
2. Core Issues
The vulnerabilities and reactivity we bring to repeated fights may include core values and questions like “Who’s in charge of my life?” “Am I valued and accepted for who I am” and “How much can I trust you to have my back”?
Again, take stock of what emotional triggers make you feel particularly vulnerable, and experiment with being accountable to those things when you communicate with your partner.
3. “The Other Side Of Attraction”
Characteristics that attracted us to our partners in the beginning may become sources of annoyance later. I call this “the other side of attraction.” In other words, we may fall in love with someone because they seem predictable and reliable. When the “love drug” wears off and the honeymoon phase is over, the same behavior may seem rigid and lacking imagination, and we’ll probably argue about that.
4. The Loop
Repetitive fights breed further iterations of the same argument, period. One person's idiosyncrasies create vulnerable patterns in another person's behavior, which may, in turn, aggravate first person further. And so on . . . this is the definition of a vicious cycle.
But let's take this one a little further.
For most women, the number one concern is disconnection, while for men it is feeling unjustly criticized or being seen as incompetent. So let's take a heterosexual couple, Jake and Meg. Say Jake makes weekend plans to go hiking with his friends and Meg feels abandoned. This can trigger a “fight” response from her in the form of anger or sarcasm. Jake sees this as criticism, triggering a “flight” instinct, so he withdraws which intensifies Meg’s fears of disconnection. The loop builds up steam, and continues.
So, now that we've looked at some of the main causes for these repetitive fights, let's consider some strategies to change the dynamic.
1. Build your “exit strategy” toolkit.
No matter how hard you try you cannot change your partners behavior, only your own. Find an exit strategy to the loop. This begins by recognizing when you are in it, and soothing yourself out of your normal reaction. Mantras, breathing slowly, images of your dog, garden or favorite hike can all act as agents to stop your own inner loop of reactivity. Often if one person can break out of it, the other will also become more centered and it can stop.
2. Look inward.
In the middle of the “same old-same old,” we are looking out and see our partner. Their uninviting body language, their mean looking mouth, their unfriendly eyes. The challenge here is to look within, ask yourself, “Would I want to take a selfie of my facial expression RIGHT NOW and post it on social media?” I have taught myself to think of one of the things I appreciate the most about my partner in the middle of the hardest loops, and more and more often it backs me off of my defensive strategy. It doesn’t eliminate the problem but it often helps reframe the fight to be more productive.
3. Let go of your need to be right.
When you KNOW you are right and your partner is wrong, you know you are in trouble! (Of course there are certain things that ARE wrong, lying, hitting, breaking commitments. But most often we are feeling self-righteous about our point of view rather than an actual transgression.) It may feel justified, but it will usually fuel even greater conflict and distance.
4. Agree not to discuss the problem until the storm has passed.
When we are in the middle of the trouble we are bombarded by neurochemicals that are while arguing, most of us are “flooded” — bombarded by neurochemicals that make it hard for us to relate constructively. We are reacting, not responding.
Taking time out, going for a walk, agreeing to come back to it within 24 hours may help you each become calm and reasonable enough to find a resolution. And of course, if there’s an ongoing issue (and no, not just a habitual, unproductive communication dynamic), you may sometimes feel like you can’t make progress. In those cases, consider seeking the help of a skilled counselor or coach.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
5 Signs You're An Emotionally Intelligent Person
Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is the Queen of all intelligence, reflecting the strength of our connection to other people, in public or in private, at work or in love. This kind of intelligence helps us to deal with “difficult people” successfully, to use humor appropriately (even to laugh at ourselves), and to respond in a compassionate and skilled way to people when they’re upset.
The root of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, sometimes called mindfulness, which takes us deep beneath the surface of our identities as “doers” and the roles we play. When Socrates advised “know thyself,” he didn’t mean it in terms of what we do for a living, either, or how we want others to see us. To know thyself includes being aware of your core longings and values, as well as your wounds and the ways you protect yourself.
To know yourself also means to acknowledge that in some ways you don’t know yourself — there is always more to discover. True self-knowledge involves embracing everything about ourselves, even those parts we avoid or don't understand.
Wonder how your EQ rates? Well, you can start by checking out the following five signs of great emotional intelligence skills, and do your own self-assessment as to how well you score. Keep in mind, of course, that you can build on your skills. As human beings, each of us has the innate ability to become savvy in our EQ.
1. You have the ability to self-regulate.
“I just had to say it.”
“I sent that e-mail before I thought about it.”
Each of these statements reveals someone whose emotions rule their behavior and actions, often with disastrous outcomes. By contrast, people with a high EQ register their feelings as information and make an informed decision about how to act in a way that’s productive.
Ultimately, all of our emotions are useful. Each feeling is like one of the strings of a musical instrument: each gives us a unique vibration, and provides us valuable information about ourselves. It’s how we interpret the emotion, and then how we choose to act, that determines whether we’re going to create havoc or enhance our lives.
2. You respond rather than react.
Sometimes, we blame our rash reactions to people or situations by saying we just “needed” to express ourselves. But the truth is that we don’t need to react out of raw feeling. When we give ourselves time to explore the feeling, we realize that the feeling has a job to inform us about what's up.
The skill that grows through the practice of any form of mindfulness is the ability to witness our internal process before we do anything about it. Then we can respond with a mixture of feeling and logic. To take the time simply to observe the emotion as it arises decreases the sense of urgency to act.
Strong positive and negative emotions may cause us to express ourselves inappropriately if we’re overwhelmed by them. When emotions run strong, it’s hard to know what’s really going on until the body has settled. That’s why meditation and deep breathing are helpful. They give us space and time to settle, and then to decide how to express what it is we feel.
3. You know your triggers.
Each of us has particular triggers that set off certain emotions. Some of these triggers ricochet back to an earlier stress or trauma. To know your triggers is a critically useful piece of awareness to have, just as it’s essential to know how you typically react once one of your triggers is pulled.
None of us likes to be told what to do, but my inner teenager really can’t stand it when I’m in the kitchen. Give me a suggestion when I’m cooking (which for most people usually is a 1 or 2 on the irritation scale of 10), and it can feel off the charts to me. My first instinct is to retort with an ungracious remark like “Why don’t you take over and make it yourself?” But this kind of defensive, temperamental reaction is never helpful.
But because I’ve come to see that I tend to behave like a diva in the kitchen, I’m usually prepared to make a counter-instinctive move: I take a deep breath and observe myself with compassion and amusement. Nowadays, I may even be able to give a suggestion serious consideration. After all, it’s my trigger that’s the problem here, not the tip to add more mustard to the salad dressing.
4. You really listen.
To hear the spoken word with our auditory system is a passive, mechanical process. To listen, however, is an active process, one in which we engage with another person, which requires us to interpret and read the nonverbal cues that accompany what they say and what we hear.
There’s no room in this encounter for you, the listener, to dismiss, to argue, or to assume that you already know where things are headed as a person tells you their story.
5. You are a good communicator.
Although many books on communication skills emphasize the importance of directly expressing our emotions, there’s a lot more to being a smart communicator than simply saying what we feel as we are feeling it.
The ability to give and receive tenderness and to express and respond to upset feelings are skills that require time, patience, and the discernment to know what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of how much to share.Good communicators know that to talk about what’s going on inside us is a prerequisite, but this inner examination needs to be done with patience and practice.
The commitment is well worth the effort, though. The improvement in our relations with other people everywhere in our lives can be tremendous. An advance in your EQ can indeed change your life.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
4 Essential Truths About Keeping Love Alive
When we fall in love, we take a leap into thin air. That’s why it’s called falling. I did it at 12 years old; it didn’t take maturity, consent or intention. It was a feeling, which happened to me. All I had to do was be: I met a boy with grey-green eyes who make jokes and called me by a special name.
Because of the euphoria we feel during the initial stages of a relationship, we make certain assumptions about what love is or means that prove detrimental in the long run. Love is complex, and sometimes difficult. But through better understanding love, we can learn to love better.
Here are four essential truths about keeping love alive, through thick and thin:
1. Loving is a skill set, and it takes practice.
Falling in love is a passive process: it just happens. The actual day-to-day practice of loving, however, requires work, time, and effort. Lasting love necessitates a skill set, which anyone can learn. Without the skill set of loving mindfully, we have only our feelings to fall back on.
And let me tell you this about feelings: they can carry us along just fine as long as the sun is shining on our relationship. But when the rain and storms come, and lots of fog, we’re quickly swamped. Afterward, we’re left high and dry, with a hollowed out, empty relationship and no idea how to move it back into the light unless we know the whole road map and how to navigate our way through the harder times.
2. If you don’t fill your own tank, you can’t be there for someone else.
The ultimate nourishment we must provide is to the garden of our own well-being. To nurture the creativity, friendships, mind, body, and spirit in our own lives is equally important as caring for the relationship.
For years, my husband and I used to finish our long workweek in much the same way. The moment we arrived home, he’d change into his biking clothes to go for a long, hard ride. Meanwhile, I’d head for my favorite couch, to get back to the book I was in the middle of, with a cup of ginger tea and our dog by my side.
“Come for a ride with me,” he’d say.
“No, I’d rather sit here and catch my breath,” I’d say.
For decades, this sort of exchange took place. Then he’d take off in a huff, and I’d sit there feeling low-level guilt. Thankfully, we finally figured out that each of us was doing exactly what we needed to do to rest and recharge. It just so happened that we needed to do different things: I recharged by turning inward and being intellectually stimulated, while he recharged by turning outward and being physically active.
Each of us needs to find our own way to rest, play, and comfort ourselves. The more room I have to care for myself, the more I can bring to you. And when you’re not available and I’m thrown back on my own company, I will have learned how to be with myself, not simply by myself. That ability is the taproot of any sustainable relationship.
3. The relationship needs to be nourished even when neither person feels like it.
To commit to an exercise program is easy when we’re feeling energetic and inspired. What matters is what we do on those mornings when we don’t want to drag ourselves to the gym. It works the same way in relationships. When all is going well, most of us find it easy to be generous, kind, and affirmative. When we perceive our partner to be the cause of our trouble, however, we must learn to counter our natural urge to punish, withhold, and otherwise flip into self-protective mode.
To make it a practice to be kind and build goodwill doesn’t mean we never say no, accept mistreatment, or disregard our own needs. Instead we realize that feelings aren’t the only measure of love. The positive actions we take to override our reflexive ones matter even more.
If I can bring you a latte in the morning, fill your car with gas, and make your birthday special even when I’m annoyed with you, I’m funding the goodwill account of our relationship bank. If I can care for some of your needs, although they’re different from mine, I can mine some of the gold in the relationship — the gift of seeing the other.
4. Healthy relationships are a balance between solitude and connection.
In the first cycle of love, you and I merge into a glorious illusion of oneness. In the second cycle, I awaken to your differences just long enough to panic, deny them, and cling to the comfort of “we.” By the third cycle, I find your differences are real, infuriating, and enduring. Profoundly disenchanted, I turn my back on the “we” and run for cover to the perceived safety of “I.”
Yet two individuals must integrate the “me” with the “we,” if they ever want to move through the fifth and final cycle to become truly wholehearted in loving one another.
Love is, in many ways, a balancing act. It is achieved through a combination of time spent alone and time spent together. Fierce independence breeds warmth and connection, and deep connection permits stronger independence.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
12 Truths About Defensive Behavior
Of course, we are all wired to protect ourselves — so most of us get defensive at least sometimes. But if you find that either you or your partner is always on guard, waiting on the front-lines to pounce into a defensive mode of communicating, it can be deeply harmful to the relationship.
Here are 12 truths about defensiveness — what it is and why it happens — that can help us better understand this self-protecting impulse (and especially when it gets precarious). In understanding defensiveness better, we can learn to dismantle it as a habit, and begin engaging more compassionately and openly in our relationships.
1. There are several ways to define the term defensive.
My favorite is by author Sharon Ellison: to be defensive is to react with “a war mentality to a non-war issue.” In other words, defensiveness is an impulsive and reactive mode of responding to a situation or conversation. Rather than listening with an open heart, we respond with our metaphorical shields up and weapons drawn.
2. All relationships experience hiccups now and again.
Be they with a lover, a child, your mother or a co-worker, all relationships will inevitably suffer at some points from a breakdown in communication. Your husband forgets to pass along a message, your wife forgets to pick up milk at the store, or your partner says something that inadvertently hurts your feelings.
Getting defensive in response to disruptions like these in your relationship is natural. But it's all about your recovery time: holding onto a defensive attitude is a decidedly different way of approaching your relationship than recognizing that you're being defensive and letting it go.
3. When issues come up, someone needs to protest.
If your partner forgets to call, you need to express how you feel. Saying, “I’m upset you didn't call when you said you would” is not defensive, but open and honest. It gives your partner the benefit of the doubt, allowing, in the best of circumstances, for he/she to repair the situation with a simple, “I’m sorry. How can I make this situation better?” or “What would you prefer I do next time?”
4. Conflict allows for reconnection (and more).
The two steps of an “ideal conflict” that I explain about — protest and repair — also build faith in the resiliency of the relationship. Working through conflicts explicitly and openly assure both partners that they can trust each other; they can be honest and acknowledge that any relationship is a work in progress, not fixed or defined on just one person's terms.
The “conflict cycle” goes like this: connect, rupture, protest, repair and reconnect. Remember, when it comes time to protest, be sure your complaint is stated considerately enough not to punish or shame your loved one.
5. Not speaking up is dangerous.
Bottom line: if we don't learn how to deal with our grievances head on, inevitably we deal with them indirectly, most often in more toxic forms: by teasing or making snide comments, holding grudges, or by growing more indifferent to our partner over time.
Of course, it's difficult to give and receive healthy criticism if we're clinging to a defensive attitude. If you feel yourself become defensive, try to see if you can simply acknowledge it, and work through the conflict as honestly and generously as possible. If your partner is giving you criticism that is making you feel defensive, can you express why?
6. Our brains are wired for connection.
In the first stage of love, when we're infatuated by the freshness and excitement of new romance, we anticipate the best in our new partner. And we're rewarded, because each thing they say and do activates the connection center of our brain. We view their actions, intentions and language through the lens of our positive vision. As the chemistry of the “honeymoon phase” shifts, a second kind of circuitry emerges, one that is about sustainable connection.
That said, it turns out that we're wired for self-protection as well. So in times of defensiveness, see if you can tap into our naturally coexistent desire to connect. Remember the enduring connection from that first stage of love, and try to access the feelings that first made you predisposed toward generosity and understanding at the outset of your relationship.
7. Withdrawal is not actually a great way to protect ourselves.
When we experience our partner as a threat, we withdraw to protect ourselves from further injury. Yet withdrawal and disconnection are what continue to create trouble. At the heart of our vulnerability lies the feeling that we've lost our best friend. Our heart and body ache for their return. Yet our behavior often is the last thing that would invite them back. So when you least feel like reaching out to connect, take a risk and try it; the results will pay off (much more than isolating yourself).
8. Books about communication don't do a great job at teaching us to receive criticism.
Sure, books on healthy relationships often emphasize the importance of expressing anger and complaints, but seldom do they tell us how to cope with being on the receiving end. How do you sit calmly and quietly while your partner laments that you're neither emotionally available nor trustworthy? How do you silence your inner-lawyer's constant stream of counterarguments? Ask yourself these questions, even if your self-help books aren't.
9, Your response to criticism depends on several factors.
Namely: temperament, history, and self-esteem. Keep this in mind. Some people have nervous systems that respond more frequently and intensely to sensory stimulation. They may have a more exaggerated startle response than other people do, even in the same family. Often their bodies remain on high alert, and they perpetually scan the environment for danger. They may often hear themselves described as “too sensitive” or “thin-skinned.”
People who are more prone to defensiveness may perceive an attack in certain situations in which people with resilient and calm temperaments would perceive none. Experiment with viewing the situation from different vantage points.
10. Your childhood history has a lot to do with how you respond to criticism.
If your parents shamed you often and punished you harshly, it's likely that, as an adult, you quickly feel self-protective whenever you see someone upset and angry about something. The reasons for defensiveness are myriad and important to understand, but they don't take away the need to learn how to rewire ourselves away from the impulse to immediately self-protect.
11. Resentment doesn't do us any good.
The cost to our intimate relationships when we aren't willing to protest (whether out of fear, self-doubt, an impulse to people-please and so on) is that we literally make it impossible for the issues in the relationship to heal. The relationship begins to smolder with resentments that undermine us in ways they wouldn't if expressed freely in the first place. Remember this when you're thinking of burying issues under the rug instead of dealing with them.
12. Our love connections are all spiritual practices.
Relationships give us opportunities to grow in ways that make us more loving, accepting, and whole. Learning to hear our partners complaints with curiosity and openness not only deepens the connection between us but helps us be more open in all of our relationships.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
How To Deal With The Chronic Whiners In Your Life
Everyone knows what to expect: three shots at whining, and then it's over. Most of us don't have such a ritual in our culture, unfortunately, but we need to find one, or we may hear ourselves whining about the whiners.
Reasons To Whine
To complain is a way to express our feelings of powerlessness. It could even be seen as big anger emerging in the form of a small voice. This happens most of all when we don't know how to change a situation or how to comfort ourselves. For some people, to complain is self-soothing — they feel a sense of catharsis after ridding themselves of negative feelings.
To complain also has value as a means to connect with other people; we all know the idiom “misery loves company.” Some families nitpick and find fault with each other constantly. Their criticisms are the glue that binds as they unload their frustration or fury with the raging parent, the bullying brother, the self-centered sister. When there's no ability to change the situation, to moan and eye roll offers some relief. Complaining and whining can develop into relationship habits.
Another motive for complaining is avoidance: to sidestep the actual feeling of grief over a loss, or to avoid making a scary decision, say, to leave a relationship or a job.
So it’s not without a purpose, but can easily become a habit long after the purpose has been fulfilled and make the moaner and everyone around them miserable.
How To Deal With Complainers
We're all familiar with the useless ways to respond to another person's complaints: offer solutions, suggest that things aren't as bad as they seem, or contest their point of view. In fact, the harder we try to fix an issue, the more the unhappy person will respond with reasons why our ideas won't work.
The following steps may not solve anyone's problems. But you will be able to duck out on the seemingly endless torrent of negativity from someone with the need to complain. Like the Native American women, you may offer to listen to the complaints three times, and then move on…
Acknowledge the situation and the person's feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. Say something like, “I can see why you feel so upset, and I get that you don't feel you can do anything to change it.”
It's important to reassure the person that they're not crazy to feel the way they do. Often people who are caught up in whining actually are trapped in isolation. However tiresome or annoying it is to hear their constant complaints, they do feel miserable. Letting them know simply that you hear what they're saying helps break their sense of isolation.
At this point you can ask them what they see as options, and what they want to happen. There's a small chance this kind of question may help them out.
In any event, you need to begin to distance yourself to avoid being victimized.
3. Set limits.
You've listened and you've affirmed the validity of their outlook. Now it's time to set your own limits.
Remember, a person whines because they haven't found a way to change their situation. If you get caught in the same trap, you'll soon be doing the same thing. They whine about their situation, while you whine about them whining.
Stop the vicious cycle by telling the truth. Simply, without judgment — but with firmness — say something like, “I know you're hurting, and I'm sad to see you this way. I also know that I can no longer listen. It won't be good for me.”
Then you must firmly exit the conversation by saying something like, “I know you feel sad, and I can't help you, so I'm not going to talk with you about this problem any longer. I'm happy to help you find someone who may be able to help you more than I could: a counselor, perhaps, a minister, a therapist. Would you like me to help you find someone, or are you able to do it yourself?”
For your own health and sanity, stay with this exit strategy, and repeat the process as often as necessary to leave this conversation behind.
When we're around a chronic complainer, we can feel like the victims of an energy-vampire, which drains us so that we end up feeling as powerless as they do. Or we can feel like their negative energy is actually entering us. Remember, however: no one can make us feel this way unless we allow them to.
As you look for a way to protect yourself, you may even inadvertently ease the troubles of your complainer, so that they may find their way out of their obsessiveness. Whatever they decide to do next, however, you'll no longer be caught in their web.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
3 Habits You Should Avoid in Your Relationship
You go into “defense mode.” You build an emotional fortress around yourself, and pace behind its walls, reinforcing the stories you've told yourself about why your upset. You rehash the reasons for your suffering and stew in them. You almost take pleasure in your active effort not to work toward resolving anything.
Plus, you feel ready to pounce should your partner dare to challenge, protest, or complain about anything you say or do. You might even try to “teach them a lesson” by punishing any response they give other than appreciation and approval. Instead, you offer up sarcasm, shaming, escalating or stonewalling.
Sure, it is hard to listen to another's complaints but most often it is your own "inner critic," which brings the real trouble. Odd as it may seem, it is a sign of strong self-esteem if you are willing to hear and consider another's protest, even if it seems unfair or painful to listen to.
Relationships need time and a clear set of steps to clear out resentments ; it is what builds the bridge of openness and vulnerability for wholehearted communication and joint growth. So try developing a practice around learning ways to silence your own self-judgment and to cultivate curiosity rather than reactivity when you are listening to someone else's protest to you.
The promises you made were dumb to begin with, right? You never really signed on to them in the first place. And besides, your partner didn't uphold their end of the bargain, either, even if they claim otherwise. What's “fair is fair!”
But trust is imperative to a good relationship. You could even say that trust is an essential foundation of any healthy relationship. And among other situations, trust will develop when our partner can count on us keeping our agreements, and vice versa.
Perhaps you say “yes” too quickly. And perhaps you should work on learning to say, “Let me think about it” before agreeing to do something. Remember we always have a “yes” and a “no,” and we need to be able to use both to respond to our partners requests.
Devoting all of your energy to pleasing someone else will not make you happy, but will lead to eventual frustration, resentment, anger and other negative feelings within. There is nothing inherently wrong with saying “no.”
You point out what your partner is doing wrong, any time and every time you feel that they are failing you, or themselves, or anyone else. You just go right ahead and nitpick, because it's for their own good to stop saying and doing things that annoy you, right? You complain when nothing changes. You make demands to be treated certain ways. You are never satisfied.
But more often than not, this kind of ongoing whining is a substitute for not speaking about what the real issues are. Complaints about petty things that might be annoying you often cover up deeper, more profound issues in the relationship, and perpetuate negative feeling rather than alleviating pain through communicating about it.
Yes, honest communication is difficult and can also produce pain, but prolonging issues through inviting other negativity into the relationship won't solve anyone's problems.
You and your partner can learn to communicate without complaining and criticizing. Give up whining: it's a convenient substitute for speaking your truth with clarity and an open heart.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.
5 Relationship Problems That Are Totally Normal
There are common love troubles that tend to induce doubt in us about our relationships. But the truth is, many of these common woes are totally normal. It all comes down to being more aware of them, and knowing how to approach them. From there, we can start to recognize our own power in making ourselves happy — both in the context of our relationships, and even on our own ….
1. The Blahs
I live in Oregon, where the winters are gray with rain, which may pour or drizzle, but rarely stops. I keep framed photographs of spring flowers on my desktop to remind me that winter is temporary. Marital blahs can be temporary, too, if we learn how to recognize and manage them.
The physiological explanation for feeling less-than-enthusiastic is based on the human craving for pleasure. The feel-good chemical, dopamine, is released when our minds are excited and stimulated, and we feel off-balance when we experience a shortage.
The biggest challenge of the blahs is not to blame our partner for the way we feel. Instead, we must look for ways to accept the naturally evolving ordinariness of life and to consider some steps we might take to add some healthy pizazz to our daily grind. Maybe it's a movie, maybe it's cooking dinner, maybe it's talking about a new book. Experiment!
2. The Blues
If the blahs grip us for too long, we can sink into the blues. Many things can trigger depression — including genetic makeup, life crises, and ongoing relationship problems. Unlike medical conditions that can be diagnosed through measurable tests, depression is diagnosed through behavioral symptoms: exhaustion, low sex drive, disturbed sleep, anxiety, reduced self-esteem, irritability, negativity, and a quicker-than-usual temper.
Often, those suffering from depression believe that they can simply "will" themselves out of the darkness. Others numb their pain temporarily with various forms of self-medication, including drugs, alcohol, sex, food, constant exercise, or long hours at the office — some kind of distraction that keeps their attention away from the empty, sinking feeling inside.
In our search for logical reasons to explain why we feel so badly in our own lives, we often look to our relationships, and conveniently blame them as being imperfect. The truth is that all relationships and marriages are imperfect. We are human, and perfection is not possible — nor is it desirable.
If we are unhappy as individuals, we can't simply look to our relationships as "the problem." Your relationship in and of itself is not the cause of your suffering; the lens we look through when assessing our experiences, emotions, relationships and so on — that is the problem we must work on.
Countless studies point to depression as a major factor in unhappy marriages as well as life with a depressed partner, especially when we try to "fix" their problem. Compassion fatigue runs high, and our tolerance runs low. A depressed person needs to seek a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment, just as they would for any other illness.
Betrayal can take many forms, from garden-variety lapses in judgment that make your partner feel disregarded or discounted — to more serious heartbreakers like infidelity. Common forms of betrayal include broken promises, financial deception and the invasion of privacy — from snooping on a computer to reading a private journal.
Sexual betrayal is an especially difficult problem to resolve. Sometimes the only solution is for both partners to clean their respective psychological closets of all baggage, and to find the courage, honesty, and love to repair and forgive. It's extremely hard work. But perhaps the depth of this process explains why some of the strongest marriages I know have arisen from extremely serious betrayals.
4. Loss of Connection
We are wired in our brains and hearts to be connected; numerous studies show that touch, hugging, and being a part of loving relationships helps us to live longer, healthier, and happier. So how can we manage the anger and conflict that are part of all relationships, and avoid the loss of life-enhancing connection?
The secret is to manage our "love account" just as we manage our bank account — by keeping the deposits higher than the withdrawals. Listen, support, touch, apologize, appreciate, and surprise, no matter what. We need to practice these behaviors often enough to amass the goodwill to cover those times when the relationship is in the red.
5. Bad Moods
According to an old English saying, "One day you're a peacock; the next day you're a feather duster." On "Peacock Days," when everything is going our way, it's easy to behave lovingly. It's a snap to keep our promises to our partner. It's easy, even joyful, to allow disappointments and flashes of anger to subside and to move quickly to repair.
On "Feather Duster Days," none of this is easy. We simply find ourselves in a bad mood. This is perfectly normal. What matters is how we handle our bouts of grumpiness.
Ask yourself how a bad mood affects your work performance. How do you treat your colleagues and customers? Now, ask yourself: How do I treat my partner? My guess is that you stretch yourself so as not to indulge the bad mood at work, whereas at home, you may make less of an effort.
If you want to create trust and good health in your relationship, you need to keep your generosity your promises and your manners intact even when you're feeling low. Remember, you can make changes regardless what your partner is doing. Once you shift your focus from their behavior to yours, you gain enormous power to affect both your relationship and your own well-being.
This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.