Archive for the ‘Healthy Relationships’ Category

Does your Relationship Suffer from these 3 Common Errors in Communication?

couple_mug_b

Error 1. Interrupting.

Couples who interrupt each other a lot have difficulty understanding each other and solving problems.  Often they end up arguing about who is right and who is wrong.  The intent of the message to each other gets lost. Being right about the facts or circumstances may not do any good.  [If you’re in an accident on the highway and you are killed, it does you no good to be right.]

Solution: Listen more, only asking for clarification if needed.  Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective.

Good communication happens when each listens to the other without correcting them and figures out what their partner is thinking, feeling, and doing/not doing, about what they are talking about.  It really means putting yourself in your partner’s place and looking at the issue through their eyes. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve heard their point of view.

Error 2. Jumping to solutions.

Normally at work, people figure out what’s at the heart of the problem before they try and fix it.  They don’t want to waste time, resources and money. But in relationships, one or both partners usually jump to solutions before they know what the real problem is. Often your partner does not want a solution, he or she wants to bounce something off you or just connect with you.  Other times they want to be understood and known by you on a deeper level.

Solution: Listen intently and dig deeper into what your partner is bringing to your attention.

Be patient, slowing down may help resolve an issue faster. Figure out what is at the heart of the issue before you suggest solutions.

Error 3. Analyzing each other.

Couples often analyze their partner’s feelings, opinions and behaviors.  For instance, “You’re just insecure.” ” You’re just like your father.” or ” You’re just trying to get out of doing your part.”  The analysis may be right, but saying so can really hurt the relationship.

Solution: Stick to your partner’s behaviors that bother you and ask for change.

Keep your analysis to yourself.    If there is good will in the relationship you will probably get the change you want.  If you don’t get it, maintain good will yourself and figure out ways that you can change.  Change in one partner impacts upon the other, who often responds to change with change. When you make changes you don’t have to wait for your partner to make them.

Start right now improving your communication.  Don’t wait for your partner.  Positive efforts are likely to pay off.  You will be happier because you feel good about yourself.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Dreams Part 3: Learning to Interpret Your Dreams.

perls

Dreams have meaning even if we cannot figure out what the meaning is.  Interpreting our own dreams is difficult because we are so close to ourselves it’s hard to get perspective.  Yet it can be done.

Dreams deal with our current life and what is going on in it.

If you dream of someone from our past, whom you have not seen in years, it means that person represents something for you and relates to your current life.  For example, you dream of the girl in high school who was considered a sexpot (she is not in your current life); it means she symbolizes something about sex for you which somehow does relate to your current life.  If she is also in your current life, it may mean something about the real person and your relationship to her or someone else that relates to sex.

If you dream of something in the future, such as becoming rich, it relates to the present and what is motivating your current behaviors.

Meaning is based in context.

We all have shared meaning of words and expressions.  But we also have idiosyncratic or personal meanings, which are significant when interpreting dreams. For instance, we all have a common meaning for the word ‘bridge’.   However, a person, whose brother attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge, will have an additional high-charged meaning to the word ‘bridge’.

Example:

Roberta and Stan each dream of a woman with a string of pearls.

Roberta had a loving grandmother who always wore a string of pearls.  She adored her grandmother and had a very close relationship to her.  For Roberta, the string of pearls was symbolic of all the good times they had together.  She frequently wore a string of pearls herself.

Stan had a nasty great aunt whom he hated.  She always wore a string of pearls. Every time she visited their home, she made his life miserable.  She disliked boys and seemed to dislike him in particular.  The string of pearls was symbolic of all the times he had to endure her visits.  He tended to be wary of women who wore pearls.

Association can give the meaning.

Since your brain created the dream, in some ways, you are every part of the dream.  You are the producer, director, actors, creatures, setting, furniture, vegetation, sky, ground, colors, sounds, actions, words and storyline.

To find out what meaning the people, objects, creatures, and places, have for you, explore the associations you have with each one.

Example:

Joey dreams of an old man floating in a leaky boat way out at sea. The feeling tone to the dream is dread.

When Joey thought of the ‘old man’, he immediately thought of his grandfather who lived on the West Coast.  His grandfather was not doing well financially. When he thought this, he had the sudden realization that he had a ‘sinking feeling’ about his future.  He did not want to end up poor like his grandfather.

Try it yourself: To get the meaning of elements in your dream take each significant element and  associate to it.  Allow for whatever thoughts to pop into your mind. Write them down as you do it. When you find the meaning it has you will resonate with it.

Become the element.

Example: 

Sara tended to overwork.  Her husband was always worried about how she was going to wear herself out.  Sara too wondered if she was doing too much.

Sara dreamed of a cat sleeping curled up in a wicker basket. Feeling tone to the dream is peaceful.

To try to get the meaning of the dream Sara talked as if she was the cat (another way to associate).  I am a fluffy orange cat.  I’m an older cat.  I’m sleeping peacefully.  I’m getting rest.

As Sara said this she realized she is not getting worn out.  She is just fine.  Like the cat she can rest, get restored and jump up and happily work some more.  She just likes to work.  Her next realization was  – her husband is not getting enough time with her.  She decided to address that issue with him instead of talking about her getting worn out.

Often the meaning of dreams is hidden in the metaphors of the dreams, such as leaky boat and rested cat.  By associating to the significant elements in the dream you can get insight into what the meaning of the dream is for you.

Have fun with this method of exploring your dreams.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 4: An Affair to Forget

triangulation 4

Elizabeth was in her late 20s.  She came to therapy because she was married and having an affair for 5 years.  She wanted to have children, but knew she couldn’t until she resolved her current dilemma.  It went against her own standards and values to be having an affair.  She had tried to stop it, but she had not been able to.  She was conflicted about leaving her marriage.  During Two-You Work around her conflict, an early recollection emerged.  At age 4, she remembers attending her younger sister’s funeral.  Across the graveside, she could see the pain etched on her father’s face.  Her father had accidentally backed over her sister with the car and killed her.  Somehow, as a 4 year old,  she decided not to have children because if ever she lost one, the pain would be too great.  By having the affair she was in effect blocking her natural desire to have children of her own.  Once this early recollection was brought to her awareness and was processed, Elizabeth was able to make changes in her life.  She left her husband and explored a permanent relationship with her lover. This did not work out.  She and her husband reconciled.  When Elizabeth quit therapy she was pregnant and happily expecting her first child.

An affair is often the result of triangulation.  In Elizabeth’s case, she triangulated a lover to unconsciously prevent her from having children.  Her injunction about not having children resulted from a repressed trauma at age 4.  She had never healed from the trauma and operated out of her awareness.  She could not do anything about what she did not know.

This example shows how important it is to access and heal traumas from the past.  This can be done in part by talking about the past.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

Triangulation Part 3: Why Kids Fight.

triangulation 3

Children fight for many reasons.  One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).

Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen.  My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room.  Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom.  Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.

Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help.  Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to  finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways.  Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously.  I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement.  They need the adult contact.

Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do.  Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children.  Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.

A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always.  Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings.  Some older siblings are passive.  Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR.  The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention  by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she  can get the parent’s attention by being a bully.  The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children,  believe they are not able to get along.

Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings.  HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.

When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same. 

Choose to be a part of the triangle:

  • Remove from both children what they are fighting over, e.g. a game, activity or toy.
  • Help the children negotiate and brainstorm with each other. Make sure each child has a turn to speak.
  • Ignore the fighting and suggest that you all do an activity together – work or play.

Decline to be a part of the triangle:

  • Send both children to their rooms or to different parts of the home for a specified time.
  • Send both children outside. Children’s play usually improves when they are sent outside.
  • Express your faith in your children that they can work things out for themselves.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.

Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation.  Some will work in some situations, but not in all.  Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 2: That’s between the Two of You

triangulation 2

Shawna, a 30 year old woman and her father are enjoying dinner in a restaurant. Father’s cell phone rings and he answers it. It’s his wife. She angrily demands to know when he will be home. He gets flustered. He hands the cell phone to his daughter, saying he can’t hear his wife. Shawna gets exasperated with her mother for once again putting pressure on her father. Most of her life, Shawna has tried to protect her father from her mother’s domination. She grabs the phone, yells at her mother to leave her father alone and hangs up. Her father gets upset because he knows his wife will be furious with him when he gets home. He can no longer enjoy his time with his daughter. His daughter can no longer enjoy her time with her father.  The rest of their conversation is spent talking about Dad’s relationship with Mom. They focus so much on Mom, it’s like she’s there with them.

What happened is triangulation.

In this scenario there is ongoing tension between the mother and father.  Both father and mother triangulate the daughter – mother by phoning and interrupting the father-daughter time, and  father by giving his daughter the cell phone and telling her he can’t understand the mother. The daughter allows herself to be triangulated by taking the phone and getting angry at the mother.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Possibility 1: Mother does an activity by herself or with someone else.  She does not call.

Possibility 2: Father turns off his cell phone, or lets it go to voice mail.

Possibility 3: Father answers the call and deals with it himself, does not involve their daughter.

Possibility 4:  Daughter does not accept the cell phone when father holds it out to her.  She refuses to be hooked in and reassures her father that he can handle it. She says, “This is between you and Mom.  I’m going to stay out of it. You can handle it.” Father deals with the call. Father and daughter continue their time together, not talking about mother.

Mother and Father will reorganize their relationship differently if they stop triangulating – or are unable to triangulate  their daughter.  That would be healthy for all concerned.

Be aware of triangulation in your relationships.   Once aware, you can choose to be involved or you can respectfully decline.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 1: Understanding Family Dynamics

2 (640x426)

Gladys hear the familiar voices.  They were getting louder and Louder.  This was nothing new. It happened all the time.  “I wonder what it is about this time”, she asked herself.  She wandered towards the sounds making sure she wasn’t making any noise. Then she heard another familiar voice – her brother’s. As usual he was coming to his mother defense.  He’d been doing this for as long as she could remember.  She watched as they all argued.  There was no point in her doing anything because they never listened to her. She slipped away back to her room.  They didn’t even notice she had been there.

What happened is triangulation.

When there is tension between two family members, a third family member is often drawn into the issue. When one child gets involved, the other children often feel “off the hook”, and they remain passive or just ignore their parents.  The function of triangulation is to diffuse the tension between the two who are stressed with each other.  The downside is that the dynamics between family members can become unhealthy for all members of a family.

In healthy families parents avoid triangulating the children when they are stressed with each other.  They tell their child that the issue is between them, and they will take care of it. Parents would remove themselves from the children’s earshot, or they would tell the children to go to their rooms or go outside and stay out of it. They would work it out themselves if possible. By the parents keeping their differences between themselves, the family dynamic remains healthy. The parents are a unit and the children know it.

Sometimes triangulation happens between parent and child and the other parent is drawn in.

Example:

Arlie and her son were arguing about his playing rugby.  She didn’t want him to play because she was afraid he’d get injured.  Stan intervened on behalf of his son and all three argued. Mom felt unsupported and angry at dad. The issue shifted from playing rugby to who was going to have their way.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Stan lets his wife and son have their conversation. Later, when they are alone, Stan discusses the issue with his wife. The issue remains about playing rugby and mom’s concerns about her son getting injured. It does not become about the dynamics of their relationship with each other.

When is it NOT triangulation?

Family members can have a discussion about an issue without triangulation if the discussion remains about the topic and does not become about the dynamics between them, such as who is right/who is wrong or who is allied with whom.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 8: Reflective listening

reflective listening

One of the most powerful communication skills is Mirroring, also called Reflective Listening. As a mirror reflects back one’s image, the receiver verbally reflects back to the sender words that let the sender know for sure that the message sent was the message received.

Mirroring is difficult to learn but well worth the time and effort. It pays off big time in developing solid connections between partners. For that matter, it works with people in general. Often when couples I work with learn this skill, one or both will report back how mirroring was effective in a situation at work, with one of their children or with a friend.

Reflecting Listening is NOT repeating the message word for word. That is called parroting. Parroting is useful at times, such as making an appointment or date.

Mirroring is NOT repeating or even remembering all the details of what was said. People think that just because they can repeat back everything that was said means they were listening. Hearing the words is not enough. Hearing the message the words are conveying, and saying that message back to the sender, is mirroring.

Mirroring is NOT saying “I understand.” Or “I get it.” The receiver may or may not understand, but the sender has no way to gauge whether they do or not. If the receiver actually does not understand, things could get worse later. “But I thought you understood!”

Mirroring involves the receiver putting his or her own viewpoint aside and letting the sender know in words that they see or know the sender’s point of view.

The receiver puts into words what the sender:

  • thinks and believes
  • feels (emotions)
  • has done, has not done, is doing or wants to do (behaviors)
  • wants and needs
  • values
  • wants you to understand

Example:

  • Stan: I expected you back from your trip yesterday morning. I had made plans for us. I was really looking forward to going out together. I can’t believe you would not let me know you’d been delayed.
  • Cindy: (instead of getting defensive she reflective listens to Stan) You’re really disappointed that I didn’t get back yesterday. You missed me.
  • Stan: (relieved) I sure did. I’m glad your back.
  • Cindy: I’m sorry I didn’t let you know about the delay. I understand you’re disappointed, and I’m glad to know you missed me.

Stan had not said he was disappointed or that he missed Cindy. Cindy picked his feelings up and mirrored back to Stan how he felt. Even if Stan had actually forgotten that she had told him she would be late, Cindy is better off doing what she did, reflective listening, rather than arguing, defending herself or withdrawing in silence. As a result of Cindy’s reflective listening, what stood out for both of them was the positive connection between them – he missed her and she likes that he missed her.

Couples who are positively emotionally connected to each other have relationships that are strong through the good times and the bad times.

Caution: When mirroring, reflect back only the message sent. Do not add more than was said or try to put your own message into your response. That is, don’t put a spin on your response. That wont work, and it could easily make communication worse. Wait for your turn to say what you want to say.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 7: Instant Replay

replay

When people have a negative interaction with each other, one or the other can ask for a replay of the interaction, during which they each alter their exchange in a positive way.

Example:

  • Let’s start over.
  • Let’s re-do this.
  • Let’s try this again.

Yesterday I saw a couple for the first time.  They are a feisty couple, very engaged with each other, but at this point in their relationship, not in a good way. In the session, I was able to get them to take responsibility for what each was doing that was not working for them.  I asked each to take responsibility for what they were doing in their interaction and work to change themselves rather than trying to change the other.  We discussed specific ways they could change. Both are strong-willed yet still open to change.  They were desperate for change and willing to try something different.

At the end of the session, while I was writing out the receipt, the couple had a small interaction that was their usual way of reacting to each other.  Each was assuming the negative about the other. They realized what they had just done and were smiling at catching themselves doing it. [This type of smile is called the recognition reflex]. Neither knew what to do next.

So I said to them, “Let’s back up and do this interaction again – only differently.”

The original interaction:

Joe was smiling because he felt good about how the session went.  He was looking at Amanda wondering how she was feeling about the session, but he did not say anything.  He was apprehensive that her reaction would be negative.

Amanda saw the look on Joe’s face and said to him, “When you crinkled your face up like that it makes me feel insecure about how the session went.”

The new interaction:

I said to Joe – Smile again at Amanda, and tell her how you were feeling about the session.

Smiling, Joe said to Amanda, “I feel good about how the session went.”

With a warm smile, Amanda readily responded, “So do I.”

Both smiled even more.  The positive emotional connection between them was clearly evident.

I thought,   “This couple is fun to work with.”

Couples, and others, can learn to shift their interactions from negative to positive by backing up, redoing them differently.  They just need to learn what to say that would work.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 6: Turn your questions into statements.

question mark

People often ask questions when they are really making statements.

Sometimes this is intentional, but mostly people don’t even realize they are communicating in this way. At face value a question is a request for information or clarification. A statement disguised as a question is about the dynamics between the sender and the receiver.

Examples:

  • a) Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?

May actually mean:

I want to see a movie tonight, and I want someone to go with me.

Or

I want to do something, but I’m reluctant to ask you directly because you might reject me.

  • b) Are you leaving now?

May actually mean:

I don’t want you to leave now, but I am shy about saying so.

  • c) Don’t you have to be somewhere at 8:00?

May actually mean:

I want you to leave now so I can get back to what I was doing.

  • d) Did you take out the garbage?

May actually mean:

I want you to take out the garbage.

  • e) Are you coming to bed soon?

May actually mean:

I’m feeling randy, and I’m hoping I can entice you into making love.

  • f) Have you done your homework?

May actually mean:

If you have not done your homework, you’re going to be in trouble, because I need you to do well in school.

  • g) What are you doing?

Usually means:

I don’t like what you’re doing!

But depending on the tone, it could mean:

I really like what you are doing!

Usually the person being asked this kind of question takes it at face value, as a request for information, and answers accordingly.  This may develop into an argument that neither want to have on a topic that is not the real issue.

If a husband asks his wife “Do you have to go out tonight?” she may explain that she has made a commitment and needs to keep it. “I promised Janie I’d have coffee with her.” or “ I need to get groceries.” The conversation may escalate into an argument about whether or not she really has to go or that she is going out too much. Perhaps the husband feels neglected and perhaps she feels he’s trying to control her.

What the husband is may be saying is “We’ve both been really busy lately, and I would like to spend some time with you.”  If he had made this statement, his wife would know what is really going on with him and be able to respond to the real issue.  She could generate options. She could set up a time to be together soon.  She could come home early.  She could put off what she was going to do to another time.  Depending on the situation, she could invite him to go with her.  Now the couple is communicating clearly with each other.  Each feels cared about rather than frustrated.

 

All too often the person asking the questions already knows the answer.

  • a)   Did you eat a cookie? (In a harsh tone to a child with cookie crumbs on her face.)

The child, sensing the parent is angry, denies it. This sets the child up to lie. Now the issue shifts from cookie eating to lying – harmful to the relationship.

It is better to make a statement:  I see cookie crumbs on your face.  This sets children up to tell the truth and maintain good relations between adult and child.

 

  • b)   Were you in my workshop? (In an accusing tone knowing spouse had rearranged things.)

A question asked this way means: The workshop is my domain, and I do not want you to do anything to it.

Better to make a clear statement: You cleaned up my workshop.  I appreciate the intent, but I want you to leave that to me.  I like to organize it the way that I want.

 

Usually a question is just a question – a request for information. But many questions are really disguised statements with the sender’s real message hidden within them. When that happens people can feel interrogated, manipulated, attacked or put on the spot. When questions are disguised statements a person can feel set up and get defensive. These kinds of questions create resentment which leads to lots of arguments and poor communication. After awhile others become wary of any questions. Before long relationships deteriorate.

By making statements instead of asking questions communication remains clear. The real issues are more likely to get addressed in a friendly, respectful and even caring manner.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 5: Talk with Me not at Me

talk at me

Dialogues, in which the conversation flows back and forth, create connection between people.

As I was packing up my gear from my tennis lesson today the fellow who had next session came into the court. We’d met before. To be friendly and make a bid for connection, I said to him, “It’s sure great weather for tennis.” He started talking at me about how he had solved the weather question. He kept going on and on about why people should not even bother commenting about the weather. I continued to put my tennis racquet away, thinking to myself – I was just being friendly. I grabbed my jacket and towel, found a moment when he took a breath, then remarked, “That’s how people make bids for connection” (I couldn’t resist even though I didn’t think he would get it.)  He continued to go on mentioning that the French had figured it out. By this time, I no longer knew what he was talking about, nor did I care, because I had tuned him out. It was not the first time that he greeted me with a monologue on a topic that I did not relate to. I thanked my tennis instructor, waved good-bye and left. I thought to myself, I have no interest in connecting to him if he is going to talk AT me.

Earlier, during my tennis lesson, my instructor and I had had a very engaging talk about the rivalry between, Federer and Nadal, the top two men in tennis. Federer had just beaten Nadal in Madrid, and the French Open was just about to start. We were both interested in the topic and what each other thought about it. The conversation went back and forth as we responded to each other and expressed our thoughts. It was an engaging conversation. What a different experience!

Talking AT is a monologue. It is a one-way conversation, even if there is an exchange with others.

When people are talking AT you they are telling you about their opinions, their points of view, what they think you should do or not do, their knowledge and expertise. They want you to hear and believe them. They want to influence you to do, or not do, what they want. They do not want your input – they only want you to ask them about what they think.

How can you tell if someone is talking AT you?

You tend to experience boredom, annoyance or restlessness. You tend to tune out the talker and think your own thoughts about what’s going on. You feel separate and detached from the talker. You easily get distracted. You might want to find an excuse to exit. You might also feel disrespected and put down.

Talking WITH is a dialogue. It is a shared conversational exchange about a topic or situation.

When people are talking WITH you they are sharing a conversation with you. They are open to your response(s) and want your input. They are engaged with you, and the conversation is mutually satisfactory or relevant. This holds true even if the dialogue is difficult.

How do you tell if someone is talking WITH you?

You experience involvement with the other person. You feel a connection to them. You feel paid attention to. You are usually interested in and focused on the topic or situation. You feel your input is wanted and welcomed. You feel respected and valued no matter what age you are.

Do you talk AT people or WITH them?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 4: Make the Fuzzy Clear.

fuzzy

Too often in conversations and interactions people assume they know what the other person is talking about or doing. Without checking out their assumptions they act as if what they assume is true or fact. Sometimes their assumptions are indeed true and communication is clear. However, when their assumptions are incorrect communication tends to go sideways.

In relationships we know our partners well. Usually we know what they think, feel, value, expect, get upset and excited about. Sometimes though, knowing each other too well creates blind spots. Clarifying can help navigate the blind spots.

PRONOUNS

Pronouns often make communication fuzzy: I, mine, he, she, his, hers, they, them, you, yours, we, us, one, it, this, that, these, those, other(s), etc.

Example A:

Bob’s mother and her sister are coming for dinner.

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come. She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: (thinking the ‘her’ referred to is Bob’s aunt) I don’t feel comfortable calling her.
  • Bob: (for Bob the ‘her’ is his mother) What’s the big deal? Give her a call.
  • Ann: (feels pressured and wants to avoid) It’s your family. You do it. I bought the groceries, and I’m making the dinner. You haven’t done much at all.

THE FIGHT IS ON. Now the issue shifts away from making a phone call.

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come.  She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: Who, your mom or your aunt?

Example B:

Greg in conversation with a friend.

  • Greg to a friend: Yesterday I really impressed my boss with what I did. You know, when you get an opportunity to make more of an impact you should go for it.

[When people say “you” they could be referring to you,themselves, or everyone one in general.]

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Friend to Greg: When you say “you” do you mean yourself, everyone or me?

Knowing specifically who or what is involved helps you make decisions that work out better for you:

Example C:

  • Siggie to Jane: We’re going to Joan’s for a dinner. Do you want to come?

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Jane to Siggie: (Thinking – It depends on who is going and whether she will have to do anything or not.) Who is “we”?   Is it potluck or not?

Example D:

  • Joe to John: I’m working late every night next week. The week after I’m going out of town for 3 days. It gets more and more difficult.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • John to Joe: (What is the “it'”? Working a lot? Traveling? Keeping up? Getting enough time with family?) What is it that is gets more difficult for you?”

Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.

QUALIFIERS

Words that qualify can have different meaning for different people.

Sometimes, early/late, in a little while, high/low, hard/soft, big/small, strong/weak, fast/slow, positive/negative, mostly/slightly, more/less, helpful/not helpful, harmful, safe/dangerous etc.

When people communicate they often have different ideas in mind. It is often helpful to inquire more about what someone is thinking or intending before you respond. What is difficult for one person may seem easy to another. What is slightly stressful for one person may be really stressful for another.

Example E:

  • Lindsay to Sam:  I’m going to be late tomorrow night.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Sam to Lindsay: When you say you will be late, how late is late?

Example F: 

  • Kim to Julie: I want to earn more money.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Julie to Kim: How much more do you have in mind?

Example G:

  • Fred to Mike: Stop doing that, it’s harmful.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Mike to Fred: How do you see it as harmful’? (Mike thinks he knows, but perhaps it is not what he expects.)

The key here is the word YOU. The receiver may or may not see it as harmful, but to the sender it is harmful. Rather than argue about whether or not it is harmful, inquire how the sender views it, or experiences it as harmful.

IDIOSYNCRATIC (personal) MEANING

People often use the same words or expressions but have different meanings for them. Often the meanings are only slightly different, but sometimes they are vastly different.

Take the word ‘drunk’ for instance. We all have a common meaning for ‘drunk’. Yet a person who had a parent who was a mean drunk when they were growing up has a different additional meaning for ‘drunk’ than a person who had a parent who occasionally got drunk and was funny when they did.

Example H (Words):

  • My Tennis Instructor: “I no longer trust Federer.” (Federer is a top tennis player)

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Me: In what way don’t you trust him? (I was inquiring about what he meant by the word ‘trust’.)

Example I (Phrases):

‘Losing it’ refers to a range of behaviours varying from almost nothing to extreme violence. For some people ‘losing it’ means saying something or doing something when usually they say or do nothing. Some people use this expression when they just mean that they lost their focus. For others ‘losing it’ means they became physical, either with only themselves (punched a hole in the wall), or with someone else (punched someone else). ‘Losing it’ could also mean becoming emotional. For some people this could mean showing a few tears while for others it means they became hysterical.

  • Jim to Rick: Boy, I lost it with my manager yesterday.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Rick to Jim: When you say you ‘lost it’ what exactly did you say and do?

Inquiring early in a conversation keeps communication clear. Clarifying leads to clearer understanding, effective communication, and less reactivity. Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.

I encourage all of you to assume less and clarify more.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 3: How to Handle Mixed Messages

Mixed messages

Mixed messages cause lots of communication problems in intimate relationships and in relationships in general.

A mixed message (or double message) is communication that sends conflicting information, verbally and/or non-verbally.

First of all, you need to know when you are receiving a mixed message. The way you know is by your feelings (confused) and your thoughts (puzzled). These feelings and thoughts are your cues to guide what you say and do in response.

When messages do not match they are incongruent and come in various forms:

  • 1. What a person says conflicts with what they said previously.
  • 2. What a person does conflicts with what they did previously.
  • 3. What a person says conflicts with what they do.
  • 4. What a person says conflicts with their body language.

How to respond

When you receive a mixed message, without expectation or demand for change, send both messages back to the sender. Share your confusion of thoughts and feelings. Report what was said, what was observed and describe behaviors. When you communicate in this way, the sender is more likely to respond in a positive, reasonable way. If you respond in an attacking, blaming, contemptuous or sarcastic manner, the sender is most likely to be hurt, angry and defensive.

You cannot control how the sender receives your feedback; you can only control how you deliver it.

Examples:

WHEN WORDS DO NOT MATCH WORDS:

  • 1. I’m puzzled.  Last week you said you think mothers should stay home with their babies (words), and now you’re saying mothers should work outside the home to be good role models for their children (words). I’m wondering which you believe or if you believe both.
  • 2. I’m having trouble figuring this out. You just told me you love me very much (words), and now you’re saying you need some space from me (words).

WHEN WORD DO NOT MATCH BEHAVIOURS:

  • 1. I don’t get it. You complain about me not helping (words), yet you re-do everything I do (behaviors).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to do. You say you want me to be affectionate (words), yet when I touch you, you push me away (behaviors).
  • 3. I’m confused. You said you would help me (words), but now you’re going to the store.
  • 4. I’m puzzled. You said you wanted to spend more time with your kids (words), but when they are here, you spend a lot of time on your phone (behaviors).

WHEN WORDS DO NOT MATCH BODY LANGUAGE:

  • 1.  You say you’re fine (words), yet you look sad (body language).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to believe. You said you like my plans for Saturday night (words), yet the tone of your voice has an angry edge to it (body language).
  • 3. You say you’re listening to me (words), but you have not looked at me (body language), so I’m not sure.

You cannot stop or prevent others from sending you mixed messages. What you can do is change how you respond to them. By telling the other person about your confusion, you are letting them know the impact of their behavior on you. This has the potential to improve connection.

When the other knows they are sending mixed messages, they can clarify. It could be that they are not really conflicted and don’t realize they are sounding or acting like they are.

If the sender is truly conflicted, however, your feedback brings their incongruence to their attention. It’s like holding a mirror up to them so that they can more clearly see themselves. Now, if they want, they can address it. This too, has the potential to improve connection.

Experiment with this skill and see how communication and connection shifts.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

Communication Skill 2: After the Fact

communcation-2

It is not always possible to think of what to say or do in the moment. Sometimes people are distracted with something or someone else. When people are anxious they often cannot think, so they say or do nothing. Or, they may blurt out something they don’t mean or something that is not even relevant. Sometimes people laugh nervously in situations which are tense which can be awkward or embarrassing, and the laughter is usually misunderstood.

People often do not realize they can clarify or change what they said, what they agreed to, or simply change their minds. They act as if what they said and did was etched in stone. The good new is that it is easy to set things straight by speaking up after the fact.

This communication skill can be used with anyone: family, friends, bosses, co-workers, children, grocery clerks and others.

Examples:

  • a) Parent to child:  You know yesterday when I got upset with you when you told me you’d broken you grandmother’s china plate.  Well, I want you to know that it was great that you told me the truth and did not try to hide it.  It took courage for you to tell me.  I want you to be able to tell me the truth even though it may be hard.
  • b) Employee to Boss:  I told you this morning I’d have the project finished by today, but I want to let you know now I won’t get the information I need until tomorrow afternoon.
  • c) Friend to friend:  Last year we  put this trip together, and I bailed at the last minute.  I’m sorry about doing that.  I want to plan it again this year, and this time for sure I won’t cancel.

 

The After the Fact communication skill is one of the many communication skills that I teach couples. It is a very useful skill that facilitates connection between partners.

Many couples tell me that during a discussion, argument or fight they often cannot think of what to say in the moment but then later, they come up with what they could have or should have said. They find this very frustrating.  For some reason, spouses often think if they missed out saying or doing something in the moment, that nothing can be done. So they do nothing. Often they stew or ruminate about it, but it does not occur to them that they could possibly remedy the situation.  In ongoing relationships it is always possible to bring up an issue later. Later can be minutes, hours, days or even years. This keeps the lines of communication open and strengthens the connection between couples.

Examples:

  • a) A while ago you said… to me. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say. Well, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it…
  • b) You know yesterday when we were talking about… I kind of blurted out… I didn’t mean it. What I wished I’d said to you was…
  • c) I’ve been thinking about what we talked about last week, you know, about you agreeing to take on that 3 months  project overseas. I want to add that I’ve talked to my boss and he is open to letting me pick up extra hours so that we do not feel so strapped for cash. This could be an alternative to you leaving. I want to let you know that it’s important to me that we discuss financial opportunities together before making decisions that affect our family.
  • d) It’s been a month since we had that fight about you not wanting to have my parents over for the holidays. It is still bothering me. Let’s talk about it again.
  • e) When we married, 10 years ago, you said you never wanted to have kids. I want to know if that is still true for you.

When people use the After the Fact communication skill frequently, the time between the incident and the delayed communication tends to shorten. Gradually, the time becomes so short that partners are better able to think of what they want to say or do what they want to do in the moment. It’s not essential to occur in the moment, After the Fact is just fine.

The After the Fact skill is extremely helpful to keep a couple emotionally connected with positive feedback and behaviors.

Examples:

  • a) I really had a good time last night. (One partner to another about making love.)
  • b) You know, last week when we went to the concert I was so focused on getting there on time I didn’t tell you how great you looked.
  • c) The last time my parents were over you treated them really well. I appreciate how welcome you made them feel.

The more you use the After the Fact communication skill, the better you get at it.  This practice helps you become better at saying what you need to say and do, right in the moment.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

Communication Skill 1: Put the Inside Outside

communication1

Put the Inside Outside is a communication skill that I teach clients in both individual and couples sessions.

When people talk to each other they often think thoughts or have feelings that they do not reveal to others. Most of the time this is perfectly OK. It certainly would not be appropriate to say everything one is thinking or feeling. Yet often, when more information is given there are fewer misunderstandings and a greater connection.

It can be as simple as letting others know you are feeling pressured for time. In a session with client(s) if I’m running late, I often start to speak faster and may interrupt my clients, especially when working with couples. When I notice myself doing that I will say to clients, “The session is almost over and I’m feeling pressured for time to complete what we’re doing.” This helps them understand what is going on with me, and lets them know that I’m not impatient with them. They experience how it feels to be informed and usually want to cooperate. I am also teaching them the skill of Put the Inside Outside by modeling it.

When working with couples, I often find that partners do not let each other know what is going on inside of them, positive or negative. They do not give each other feedback.  It leaves each partner guessing and hoping that the impact of what they said is what they meant.

Example: In a couple’s session.

  • Wife to husband: I appreciate how you help with the kids when you get home.
  • Husband: Well I always do that.
  • Dr. Bea: Your wife just told you something that she appreciated about you. What was that like?
  • Husband: What do you mean?
  • Dr. Bea: Well, did you like her telling you that?
  • Husband: Yeah, it felt good.
  • Dr. Bea: Let her know.
  • Husband to wife: It felt good to hear you appreciate what I do.
  • Dr. Bea to wife: What was it like to hear that from him.
  • Wife: It felt really good.
  • We all laugh.

Often it is the simple things that people communicate to each other that can make a big difference to their connection with each other.

Other examples:

a) I want to tell you something, but I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.

b) It’s hard for me to let you know how much I like you.

c) I just imagined kissing you, and I’m hesitant to act on it.

d) I’m confused, I’m not sure if I should take you seriously.

e) I’m finding it very difficult to take in your compliment, but I’m working on it.

Sharing your inner thoughts and feelings is more likely to create to a stronger connection.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

6 Steps to Enhancing Your Self-Esteem

self esteem - happy1

There are many things in life that we have to accept because we can do nothing about them.  The one thing we can change is how we relate to ourselves.

As said in previous posts (Understanding Self-Estseem and How it Develops, How early experience shape one’s relationship with one’s self and Self-Esteem – a by-product of how you treat yourself) we first have to realize we have developed a style over time.  We need to become aware of what our style is.  We may even develop different styles with different people and in different situations.  The styles may be healthy or unhealthy.  If a style is positive, such as, respecting oneself, it does not need changing (other than to enhance what is already done).  This can last a lifetime.

The styles that need changing are the ones which are unhealthy, such as not respecting, disparaging,  negating, hurting or judging oneself harshly.  Many people have harsh inner critics, treating themselves in ways they would never treat another human being.

STEPS TO CHANGE:

1: Become aware of your own personal styles.

2: Build a solid foundation.  Identify the positive interactions within yourself and choose to do them more often.

Scenario: Wenda likes to try new things even though she gets anxious. The risks she takes are reasonable and safe.  She encourages herself to keep taking risks by saying to herself.  ” I can do this.”  Afterwards she gives herself credit.  When it turns out well she says to herself, “Good for me.  I did it.”   If it goes badly, she says to herself, “OK, that did not go well, but I learned from it. At least I tried it.”

3: Change what needs changing.  Identify the negative interactions and target them for change.

Scenario: Wenda would not allow herself to accept compliments.  She would dismiss, ignore or deny them.
She decided she wanted to receive compliments.  She knew if she could take them in, she would feel better about herself.

4: Figure out new behaviours to replace the old ones.

This takes planning and experimentation. You cannot operate in a void.  You need to replace the old way with a new way.

Scenario: Wenda decided on 4 new ways she would respond when someone complemented her:

  • Thank you.
  • I’m glad you think so.
  • It’s good to hear that.
  • I appreciate your saying that.

5: The Choice Point.

This is the point at which you are aware you are (or are about to) treat yourself badly, and you mindfully decide to continue to do it, or you decide to do something different.

Scenario: Wenda’s friend complimented her on her hair.  Wenda, without thinking, replied sarcastically, “Oh yeah, right.”  Suddenly, Wenda realized she had just done her old thing.  She looked at her friend and said, “I mean, thank you.”

6:  Practice, practice, practice.

Experimenting means that sometimes what you try will go badly.  Expect those times to happen.  Do your best to laugh them off, dismiss them, and learn from them.  Encourage and support yourself to try again.  Gradually, you’ll replace a bad habit with a good habit, an unhealthy habit with a healthy habit.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How early experience shape one’s relationship with one’s self.

hand on head

 

Children need their parents’ love, attention, acceptance, and guidance as a plant needs water.  If they do not get it growing up, as adult they may spend their whole lives trying to get it from their parents.  They may also try to get it from bosses, friends, teachers, coaches,and neighbours as well.

Children tend to treat themselves how they are treated by their parents.  If both parents treated them well, children are likely to internalized this style, and treat themselves well.  This is also true if their parents treated them badly; they are likely to internalize that style and treat themselves badly.  Children’s self-esteem is also affected by how their parents treat each other.

It’s not that simple though.  Families are complicated.  There are so many factors influencing children’s self-esteem as they grow:  birth order, extended family, religious affiliations, talents, energy level, school and others.  Sometimes parents and grandparents (even other family members and teachers) prefer one gender to another.  Perhaps one parent prefers boys and the other prefers girls.  How people treat each gender impacts the children’s self-esteem positively or negatively.  Witnessing one’s siblings being favored or unflavored also influences his or her own self-esteem.

My father was the eldest of 10.  I don’t know why, but he did not like boys.  Growing up I was unaware of this, so I did not notice how he treated my brothers.  Perhaps it was because my father had 7 brothers and 2 sisters.  I was lucky.  I was born a girl in this family.  I felt adored by my father and I enjoyed his attention.  I liked being a girl.

It is common knowledge that parents, who treat their children badly, harm their children’s self-esteem.  It is also possible to harm a child’s self-esteem by excessive and undeserved praise.

Scenario

From the time Cercy was born, she was praised excessively by both parents, but mostly her mother.  Her self-esteem was extremely high.  She thought she was marvellous in every way.  When she went to school, she got a reality check.  She was not nearly as competent and capable as she had been led to believe.  It shook her confidence to the core.  She began to doubt herself.  She would dismiss praise or any positive feedback she received.

At the core of self-esteem is one’s relationship to one’s self.  What a child experiences in their family of origin, extended family, the neighbourhood, school, and other childhood experiences, heavily influences how a child treats himself.

This pattern, established in childhood, goes into the subconscious and operates out of awareness.  When the relationship with self is positive, no problem is created so it may work well for a lifetime.  If it’s not, it needs to be revised.  But how?

Next post will discuss how.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I Please have Another Helping of Self-Esteem? Understanding Self-Estseem and How it Develops

self-esteem mirroe

 

People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.

Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self.  It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.

 

How do people develop a relationship with self?

Children are not born having a relationship with self.  It starts with their relationship with others.  Parents do things to them and with them.  Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for.  Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.

Children are not born loving themselves.  They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them.  At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.

 How do children determine whether they are loved and valued or not?

Scenario:

Billy knew he was loved.  As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him.  She talked to him a lot.  She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.

His father smiled at him frequently.  He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games.  He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked.  If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.

Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted.  He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities.  To him, the world was an amazing place.

Scenario 2

Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not.  He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him.  She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him.  She read a lot.  Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.

Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted.  He did not have time or energy for Sammy.  When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him.  He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.

Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father.  He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked.  He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end.  He did not feel good about himself.   He was unsure of how to be and how to act.  The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.

Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.

When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Safety First: How to Reduce Kids Fighting when Driving in the Car.

driving

 

Safety is first and foremost when driving a vehicle.

Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver.  It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers.  The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.

When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another.  We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car.  When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting.  Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.

I decided to stop trying to make them stop.  I developing a strategy.  I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on.  I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped.  They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.

So I began to do it.  At first it happened quite a lot.  I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down.  In the beginning it seemed like a game to them.  I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech.  One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down.  So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it.  I never left the boys alone in the vehicle.  When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again.  They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home.  So they started quieting down sooner.  Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down.  Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.

Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it.  Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.

This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry.  Having a strategy really helped me remain calm.  I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.

NOTE:

Consistency when carrying out a strategy is imperative to its success.

It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient.  The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.

The attitude used to implement the strategy is also key to a successful outcome.

The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle.  This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.

 

Strategies on positively influencing others’ tardiness by changing your own behaviour .

 

look at watch

When getting along with others, there are times when things do not go well.  You address the person(s) involved with the hope and expectation of coming to a mutually satisfying resolution.  Lots of time this works.   An example is choosing a designated driver when drinking and driving is involved.

However, sometimes it does not work, or works for a while and then reverts back.  When the situation is ongoing, a different approach is needed.  Developing strategies is one way to address the situation.

Strategy Development:

The goal of the strategy is to change the relationship in a way that enhances the relationship (win-win).

The strategy is to provide a reasonable consequence that motivates positive change.

The person(s) developing the strategy choose behaviours that are congruent with who she or he is.

Consistency is imperative to success.  You need to be consistent (in this case leave after 30 minutes) in carrying out the strategy to avoid giving mixed messages to the other person.

NOTE:  How the strategy is carried out is critical to its effectiveness.  The delivery and the intent needs to be in a warmly matter-of-fact attitude with the genuine goal of enhancing the relationship(s). If it is carried out with anger or a negative “I’ll show you.” attitude, the consequence intended turns into punishment. This will backfire and likely destroy relationships.

Developing a strategy for lateness:

Occasional lateness is not a problem.  Life is life and sometimes tardiness cannot be helped or people just mess up.  The problem occurs when someone is consistently late and will not respond positively to complaints about it.  Usually they dismiss or discount the complaints with accusations of over-reacting and over sensitivity.

Cynthia’s friend Rhonda is chronically late.  Cynthia decides how long she is willing to wait past the agreed upon time without getting resentful. She decides on 30 minutes.  For example, if they agree to meet at 6:30 pm, Cynthia is willing to wait until 7:00 pm without being resentful.  After that, if Rhonda has still not come, she is going to carry out her Plan B for the evening.

The next time Cynthia and Rhonda agree to meet up, Cynthia tells her in a friendly manor that she is OK with waiting up to 30 minutes longer than the time they agree on.  If Rhonda arrives within that time frame Cynthia expresses her appreciation.  If Rhonda is longer than 30 minutes, Cynthia leaves and carries out her plans on her own.  Cynthia is to carry on her relationship with Rhonda as usual.  She is not to complain or explain to Rhonda.  If Rhonda asks her what happened, Cynthia is to say in a friendly manner she waited the 30 minutes,and then left because she was not sure Rhonda would come.  If Rhonda is angry, Cynthia is not to get caught up in her anger.  Cynthia can again express that their relationship is important to her.  Cynthia has let Rhonda know she will act on her word.  Cynthia no longer feels powerless; she is no longer resentful.

How Rhonda responds or reacts lets Cynthia know if Rhonda values their relationship as much as she does.  If Rhonda values their relationship and wants to be sure she meets up with Cynthia, she will be there within the 30-minute window, maybe even on time.  If Rhonda continues to be too late, Cynthia will realize that Rhonda does not value their relationship.  She may choose not to be friends any more.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

Do you have a need to be right?

 

guide

It is OK to want to be right.  It is OK to like to be right.  It is a problem to need to be right.

Scenario:

Cynthia was upset.  She was disappointed in her friend, Rhonda, because last night for the umpteenth time, Rhonda had kept her waiting for over an hour before finally showing up.  Cynthia called her friend, Brenda, to talk about her frustration and hurt.  She told Brenda that she has talked to Rhonda about her always being late but it has made no difference.  Each time Rhonda would accuse Cynthia of over-reacting and making a big deal over nothing. Rhonda believed she was doing nothing wrong.  Cynthia felt disrespected.  Brenda suggested that she stop trying to explain and reason with Rhonda and change what she is doing.  But Cynthia said she believed that talking things through was the right thing to do so she saw no reason to change since she was doing nothing wrong.  Brenda agreed that talking things through was the right thing to do, however, that was clearly not working for Cynthia.  Brenda asked Cynthia if she had a need to be right?  Cynthia said, “No, but I have a need to be respected”.  Brenda suggested that instead of talking to Rhonda, Cynthia develop a strategy for the next time they meet.  Together, Brenda and Cynthia developed a strategy with Cynthia standing up for herself while maintaining and enhancing the relationship.  Example of strategy:http://decisionquiz.com/blog/2013/01/28/strategies-on-positively-influencing-others-tardiness-by-changing-your-own-behaviour/

How do you know if you have a need to be right?

  • You feel threatened.
  • You are rigid.
  • You feel like you’re in a battle and you need to win.
  • You back up your position with authority.  (My religious leader agrees with me.  We always did it this way in our family, My mother/father says I’m right. My therapist says I’m right. Your best friend thinks I’m right. The Bible/Koran says it is so. etc)
  • You accuse the other person(s) of needing to be right and you want to prove them wrong.

 

How do you know if you do not have a need to be right?

  • You do not feel threatened.
  • You are flexible.
  • You stay focused on the issue without any argument or hassle, just the discussion (could be a heated discussion).
  • For you, who is right or wrong is a non issue.  Addressing the issue is the focus for you.
  • You recognize other(s) have a need to be right and it does not bother you.  You can let them be right.  It is no way makes you feel unimportant or wrong.
  • You focus on the issue and find a way that works for you.  They feel they are right and that is perfectly OK for you.
  • You use their need to be right to get a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  • You do not need to back up your position with authority figures or symbols.
  • You think in different terms than right or wrong. Such as, whether this is working or not.
  • You say things like “You might be right, yet your solution does not work for me.  Let’s find a solution that works for both of us.

 

Think of rules as guidelines that are flexible and not carved in stone.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

 

 

 

Preventable Medicine for Skin Hunger – the Deprivation of Touch.

Yesterday I had my regular bi-weekly full body massage.  I knew it would feel good but knowing it would feel good and the experience of feeling good are two different things.  It’s like, “Aaaaaaah that’s what I’ve been missing.”, but didn’t know it.

I often need massage because I have some injury from tennis, looking after my grandson or some other activity.  But the best massages are when I’m fully fit and healthy. After several years my massage therapist knows my body better than I do.  It’s nice having someone know your body so well.  He knows where I carry my tension and works it out of my body when I didn’t even know it was there.  He knows where I’ve had injuries and makes extra focus on those areas.

I enjoy deep tissue massage. Not everybody does.  I like the strong pressure on my skin and muscles even when it sometimes hurts.  The lighter massage feels pleasant but it does not impact me the way deep tissue does.

Yesterday, as my massage therapist was working on my lower leg, I was reminded of the experience of making passionate love in the past. I did not feel sexually aroused.  The strong pressure on my skin and muscles made me feel – it is difficult to put into words – alive, present, impacted and loved.  I did not feel loved by my massage therapist – of course we have a good report– it was the pressure he was applying that reminded me of feeling loved during passionate love-making in the past when I was touched that intensely.  It felt good to remember.

During massage I find it difficult to stay focused on the part of my body being touched.  I can do it for short times and then my mind goes off to the future or the past.  Then I’m brought back to the present by the wonderful pressure on my skin and muscles.  I stay with the sensations for awhile.  It’s difficult to stay in the moment, but oh so satisfying when I do.  I experience a pleasant kind of grogginess at the end of the session. I move slowly.

Humans need to touch and be touched.  That’s why we love children and pets because they seek us out for touch and we get our need to touch and be touched by caring for them and playing with them. Couples frequently massage each others’ backs, feet and, of course, other parts.  When my sons were teens, giving them occasional back rubs was a way I connected with them and expressed love without them thinking I was being soppy.

It is important to have regular massage treatments if you are not in a current relationship.  Skin hunger can build up over time.  Without intending to, people who are deprived often act out sexually (especially when alcohol and drugs are involved) and have regrets afterward.

In our current North American life style we often are too much in our heads – thinking thinking thinking –  which disconnects us from our bodies.  Massage helps us keep connected to our bodies and helps us remain balanced between mind and body in a healthy way.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Do you Know how Female Sexual Arousal Works?

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended Dr. Marta Helliesen’s workshop on Sex, Brain and Gestalt Therapy.  In the workshop she explained the physiology of male sexual arousal – the pressure of blood flow to the genitals produces an erection.  Then she asked if anyone knew the physiology of female sexual arousal.  Silence.   I knew but felt too shy to say so.  No one else answered.  I wonder how many others knew but were too shy to speak up.

Dr. Hellisen explained to us that female arousal is similar to male sexual arousal.  During arousal the blood flows to the genitals and vaginal area.  The pressure of the blood flow to the area causes some of the plasma to seep through the walls of the vagina and tissue of the genitals, creating the moisture (nature lubricant) which facilitates intercourse.  This process takes longer for women than it takes men to get an erection.  She said women’s bodies can only do so much of this which is why it can be helpful to use commercial lubricants.

When I was talking to her at the end of the workshop I mentioned to her that I had known the answer but felt too shy to say so.  She said that most people do not know this about female arousal.   This surprises me that so many people do not know how the human female body functions.  Humans do much better handling anything if they understand how it works.  If men and women understood why it takes a women’s body more time to be ready for intercourse, they both may be more invested in foreplay.  Men may also realize it’s to their benefit, as well as women’s, to take the time.

Sexual relations are such an important part of our lives and yet we still don’t educate our population about it.  Is it because it’s hard to talk about or because we don’t want to show our ignorance?  Maybe both?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How Pornography can Damage Your Sex Life – or Not.

I just recently (June 2010) attended the AAGT (Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy) conference in Philadelphia.  I attended an interesting and informative workshop, titled: Sex & Brain and Gestalt Therapy, given by Dr. Marta Helliesen, a sex therapist [and former neuroscientist] in New York.   www.mkhelliesen.com.

I know that pornography is creating problems for both men and women in relationships in different ways.  I know that some people who look at pornography develop difficulty relating to a partner, but I did not know what created the problem.  Because I could not explain why it happened, I was often dismissed as   ‘just a woman’ and ‘not understanding men’.   Dr. Helliesen helped me understand how pornography can get in the way of normal sexual functioning with a partner.

People who look at pornography are primarily using their visual sense, in a heightened way.  The brain has a need for novelty and through pornography, especially on the Internet, it is quick and easy to get new and more graphic pictures.  This means that arousal and organism are quickly and easily achieved.  During these times men are not using their other senses of smell, sound, taste and touch that are normally involved during sexual encounters with a partner.  Without realizing it, they start to ‘turn off’ these senses and only focus on the visual.  This creates difficulty when they are with a partner. They find it more difficult to experience arousal and orgasm through smell, taste, sound and touch.  Because pornography so quickly arouses them and satisfies their interest and sexual urges, they become impatient with interactions with their partner.

It is possible, although difficult, for people to look at pornography and not shut down their other senses. They are still able to enjoy sexual arousal and orgasm with a partner.  They are able to still find novelty in the nuances of touch, taste, sound and smell and experience pleasure in the time spent. They are able to connect emotionally to their partners and relate through sexual interaction.

Healthy sexual functioning and healthy sexual relationships are important to most people.  It is helpful to know what can go wrong and why.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

The Pun[ch] Game. All fun No Tears for Toddler Impulses.

One day recently my two year old grandson punched me.  I handled it in the same way I handled my own children when they bit or hit me at that age.

I said, “Oh, you want to play the Punching Game.”  He said,  “Yes.”  We started swinging,  pretending to punch each other.  We did not hit each other. At first, I would just touch (not hit)  him occasionally with my fist until I realize that he was not touching me at all.  So I stopped touching him.

(more…)

Triangulation Part 4: In a Bind

I was cooking up some dinner for my two year old grandson as I happily awaited his arrival.  We were going to hangout together while mom and dad took in a movie.  I don’t think of it as babysitting, because I love to spend time with him and he loves to spend time with me.

I buzzed them in.  My grandson, came running through the open door holding out something he wanted me to see –  a sticker of a car.  As usual, my son followed with their dog.  He put the dog out on the deck, put fresh water in the dog’s dish and then got ready to leave.

Then something unusual started to happen.  My son started to question his son about whether he wanted to stay with Nana or go with him.  I was confused because I was sure he was staying with me.  I could see that my grandson was confused.  I got the impression that there had been some kind of exchange between the two of them about his wanting or not wanting to stay with me.  My son kept grilling him.  “Do you want to stay with Nana ?” My grandson went from being happy and bubbly to quiet.  He nodded his head.  His dad’s tone of voice was unusual – there was an edge to it. That was not enough for my son, he kept asking, “Do you want to stay with Nana?”   I looked at my grandson.  He was clearly confused and not sure what to do.  He slowly walked toward the front door thinking he had to leave.  Again, his father asked him,  “Do you want to stay with Nana?” Again, my grandson nodded his head.

I couldn’t watch this anymore and stay silent.  I said to my son, “He nodded his head.  He has answered you.”  My son responded, “He’s got to say it.”  I said, “You’re putting him a bind.”  I looked at my grandson and smiled at him trying to reassure him.  He smiled back at me.  Finally, my son stopped, hugged his son and left.  Then my grandson turned back into his happy self, delighted to be with me.

There was tension between father and son.  I could see it, hear it and feel it.  I couldn’t believe that my son would put his son – a two year old – on the spot like this.  I was surprised because my son is a fantastic dad.  He loves his son and his son adores his dad.

At first I was just an observer.  Then I got hooked in the interaction. By advocating for my grandson, I became part of a triangle.

In hindsight, I wish I had avoided becoming part of the triangle.  I know my son is a super dad. Instead of criticizing him, I wish I had expressed more faith in him.  What I wish I’d said to my son was, “I don’t know what is going on between you two, but I’m sure you will handle it OK. ” Then, I would have gone back to my cooking and let them work it out.

TRIANGULATION

Triangulation occurs in relationships when there is tension between two people, and a third person gets hooked into the interaction, creating  a triangle.

Triangulation happens in families all the time.  If you are not aware of triangulation and how it works, you usually do not even realize how or why you’ve been drawn into an interaction.

By understanding and being aware of the relationship dynamics in triangulation, you have a choice to become involved or not.  There are times when it is appropriate to get involved and times when it is appropriate and healthy not to engage.

If you choose NOT to become involved,  there are diplomatic ways NOT to engage. (Triangulation Pt. 2 and Pt.3)

If you do choose to become involved, then HOW you get involved is what matters.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How to Talk about the Past in a Way that Brings Family Together

When someone in your family tells you a memory, pay close attention. They are sharing their modus operandi for life with you. If there are unhealed traumas from the past, talking about painful memories can help your family member heal.

Memories are blue prints for how to do life.

Children have millions of experiences by the time they are around five to six years old but they only remember a few of them. Why do they remember only a few and why those particular ones? When children are born into this world they quickly have to figure out how to survive, emotionally and physically. It is the emotion surrounding an event that determines meaning. With their limited knowledge and experience of life they come to conclusions about self, others and life. Then they live their life according to the conclusions they’ve come to, whether those conclusions are conscious or unconscious. Memories after the age of 6 are important as well; they tend to confirm or disconfirm previous conclusions.

How to talk about memories.

1.       Listen to the memories without interrupting. Your parent, spouse, child, sibling, cousin or other relative is telling you something important about themselves. Paying attention to them shows them you are interested in them and care about them.

2.       Memories can be happy, neutral or unhappy/painful. Enjoy the happy ones, be curious about the neutral ones and be empathetic with the painful ones. Often, healing can occur through the expression of feelings alone. It is possible for a child and an adult to heal emotionally from talking to a caring person about an experience they had as a child or young adult.

3.       Validate their experiences and the meaning they make of them. Do not argue about whether the events happened or not.  Just because you don’t remember an event does not mean it did not happen.  Or, if you remember the same event differently, it means you made different meaning out of it. Do not be concerned about the truth or facts of the memory. It may or may not be accurate. It is not about the facts; it is about the meaning the person made of their experience and the facts.

4.       Do not assume you know what their memory means. Ask “What do you make of that?” Say, “Tell me more about that.” Invite your family member to say more by being curious about it.

5.       Validate the feelings generated in the memory, positive and/or negative.

6.       If you want to share memories of your own, wait until they are finished.

Note:  Memories are not static.  As a person ages and their circumstances change, their memories may change, or even be forgotten completely.

Reminiscing is healthy if family members are open to listening to each other.

The above holds true of people who are non-family members as well.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting, parents of preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, yelling,  arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, disagreements, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought,  high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal with conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families, it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

 

Sibling Rivalry:How Parents (and Others) can Make it Better or Make it Worse.

Others can be relatives, teachers, religious leaders, coaches and neighbors, etc.

Rivalry is healthy.

It is normal and natural for siblings to compete with each other. The competition prepares them for the world at large. Healthy individuals are able to compete with others and attain what they want and need. Living in a family and learning how to compete is valuable and productive.  Competing, per se, is not a problem. How family members compete with each other is the key factor.  It’s the style of competition that is healthy or unhealthy. Children learn about competition in the family in several ways. Mostly importantly, how each parent models competition in his or her own life has a big impact on children. Whether or not parents compete with each other and, if so, how they do that, impacts upon their children. How parents handle competition influences how their children will handle it. Children may engage in competition in the same way as their parents, or differently. If it is not fun, they may opt out of competition altogether.

Sibling rivalry is about competing for parental resources.

The first-born never has to compete with a sibling(s) for parental resources; they just have them. When the second child is born he or she begins life competing for parental resources while the first-born has to start competing. The first two children in any family are the most different whether there are two or ten children. The reason for this is because they need different ways to compete for parental resources.  The more children there are in a family the fewer parental resources for each of the children. Children can get more parental resources by being unique, such as gifted, talented, handicapped, troubled, etc.  Children who are unable to compete tend to get lost in the family and feel like they don’t matter.

Parents can promote healthy competition by:

  • Modeling competing in healthy way.
  • Modeling losing in healthy ways.
  • Helping their children compete productively and effectively with each other.
  • Not taking sides between siblings.
  • Expressing confidence that their children can work out their differences.
  • Having clear fair rules/boundaries that they follow through on consistently.
  • Comforting and consoling their children when they lose.
  • Discouraging their children from disparaging and making fun of each other.

For more in depth on Sibling Rivalry see Article: How Parents Can Make it Better or Worse.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Anything that Can be Done Can be Overdone. How to Stop your Good Intentions from Going Bad

You can love too much. You can be too generous. You can be too helpful. You can try too hard. You can be too responsible. You can be too kind. You can work too much. You can be too considerate. You can give too much. You can be too loyal. You can be too truthful. You can over function. You can compromise too much. You can be too affectionate. You can sacrifice too much. And more. There are books written about this problem, Too Good for Your Own Good by Claudio Bebko and Jo-Ann Krestan, Too Nice for Your own Good by Duke Robinson.

All of these behaviors are positive – loving, generous, trying, responsible, kind, working, considerate, giving, loyalty, truthful, affectionate etc. There is a continuum along which these ways of being can be carried out and be positive- up to a point! Beyond that point they are counterproductive. Loving someone too much can be smothering and stifling for the loved one. Working too much can make you sick and less effective. Giving too much can make others feel obligated or uncomfortable in other ways. Being too truthful can impact relationships in negative ways. Helping too much can make others do less for themselves – it’s called enabling.

There is no manual that tells you where that point is – that point where what you’re doing turns from positive to ineffectual, or even harmful. To find that point you need to

Pay attention to how your behavior/attitude impacts others.

Mary’s daughter Melissa was shy, so Mary would help her by doing things for her that Melissa couldn’t or wouldn’t do for herself. Mary would talk to her teacher for her; she would phone her friends’ mothers to arrange playdates for her; she would talk to her friends for her; she would shop for her and take back items to the store for her; she would lie for her saying Melissa was sick when she wasn’t.

Mary saw her daughter withdrawing more and more. She realized that what she was doing was actually making Melissa’s shyness worse. So Mary changed what she was doing. She stopped doing things for her and started expressing her belief that Melissa could do things herself even though it was difficult. Sometimes Mary would role play how to handle situations and then let Melissa handle them, [or not handle them] herself. Melissa was angry with her mother for not doing things for her anymore. Mary found it hard to handle the pain of watching her daughter struggle. She did not like Melissa to be mad at her; she missed their close relationship.

Gradually, Melissa’s own desire to fit in and belong motivated her to try things herself. As she learned how to do things and got more practice doing them, she felt better about herself. Her increased confidence helped her to attempt more things. Even though she was angry with her mother, on some level she knew that what her mother was doing was in her own best interests.

If what you intend to make happen is not actually happening, either stop doing it, or change what you are doing so it does happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Healthy Ways to Smash Stuff. What Everyone Should Know about Anger.Pt. 5

The urge to smash something is a common reaction people have when they are angry.  Many people, men and women, have smashed their phones, landline and cell phones, when they hear what they don’t want to hear.  This can be expensive, not to mention inconvenient.

In the movie the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone’s pregnant sister smashes many dishes as her husband, for sinister reasons of his own, provokes her into a nasty fight.

In the February 2009 issue of Psychology Today there is an article about a smashing business in San Diego, called the Smash Shack, started by Sarah Lavely.  While going through a difficult divorce she found smashing items on her driveway helped her to deal with her frustrations.  Now, her business provides a safe outlet for others to handle their frustrations and let go of anger and rage.

Many years ago I saw a documentary done in Japan that showed people going to places where they could break three foot high ceramic vases as well as plates and other dishes.  I saw men hitting old TV’s with sledgehammers.  (I do not remember the name of the programme.  If anyone knows of it please tell me.  It certainly impressed me at the time.)

I believe there is something about smashing that allows the cells of the muscles to release.  It is both the action of smashing as well as the sound of smashing that creates the release.  When the cells release anger dissipates.  Then people are able to let go of their anger rather than hang on to it. Note: if you do fear going completely out of control then do not attempt this. Seek professional help.

One time I was working with a police officer who was containing a lot of rage and feared ‘losing it’ on the job.  We got a large garbage can, lots of bottles, stones and protective eye wear.  The officer found it difficult to started smashing but once he began he found it easy to continue.  He experienced the exercise as very therapeutic.

Another time I worked with a woman who was having images of holding a hammer over her finance’s head.  Acting violent was totally out of character for her.  She was horrified that she was having such images and feared she was going crazy . She told me she was frustrated because her boyfriend was taking so long ending his previous relationship.  But when she was with him she wanted their time together to be good so she did not express her frustration to him. She did not realize that she was enraged at him.  Once she acknowledged her anger and found a way to express it, the disturbing images went away.

Act rather react.

If you feel anger building up inside you or are having disturbing images then deliberately plan a way to allow yourself to smash or do other attacking motions. Have one or more people with you to act as a container.  Just their presence will allow you to express anger without going out of control.  Letting yourself express anger is like preventative medicine.   You are much less likely to spontaneously ‘lose it’ during the day-to-day problems of your life because the anger will not be building up.

Check out the rules for expressing anger and rage.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea.