Category Archives: MARRIAGE

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships With Others

 As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve been honored to work with countless individuals, couples, families, and athletes over the years.  In addition, I’ve had the privilege to facilitate a Men’s Group, a Women’s group, a Facilitation Skills Support Group, athletic teams, and business teams too.  As I’ve counseled and coached others, I’ve often sensed that many of my clients are longing to cultivate more meaningful relationships in their lives.

Many of my clients  feel ill-equipped to do so, however,  and many others feel weary and disillusioned with the shallow, superficial friendships or romantic partnerships they have that leave them feeling empty, unfulfilled, and disconnected, and alone even after they’ve have spent a lot of time in their friend or lover’s company.   I was recently asked by one man in the Men’s group that I facilitate, ” How can I develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends and/or potential romantic partners?”

After a lot of reflection and thought, I wrote this article in the hopes of shedding some light on many of the ways all of us can cultivate the kinds of relationships in our lives that feel deeply enriching.  As you read my article, please note that I do not profess to know all of the ways that people can go about co-creating rich, meaningful relationships.  I do believe, however, that the ideas I’ve shared in my article cover many ways to achieve this goal.  With this in mind, I want to invite you to read this article and consider my suggestions so that you find yourself, sooner than later, surrounded by friends, family members, and romantic partners that provide you the sense of belonging, significance, and authentic connection that you long to have in your life.

I’ve shared with you my thoughts on how to cultivate meaningful relationships with others below.  Please note that some of my suggestions may sound familiar in some ways to other suggestions that I’ve made in this article.  While some of my ideas may appear to overlap with others, please note that each suggestion that I make is unique and different, no matter how subtly.  Alas, please carve out some time for yourself to read this article if you’re longing to acquire the insights, knowledge, and skills that will assist you in manifesting the kinds of meaningful and lasting relationships that you want to have in your life.

  • In Order To Have A Successful Friendship Or Romantic Partnership, Befriend Yourself First.

In your endeavor to cultivate deeper relationships with others in your life , I invite you to first engage in a “befriending practice” for yourself:  Take a few moments to imagine you are being nourished by something larger than yourself. Nature, god, love, anything that is not you, breathe that force in, imagine it filling you up, like the most delicious meal or warm golden sunshine. If your logical mind says, “Bull,” ask it, “Did I make gravity that is holding me to the earth? The oxygen I am breathing? I am part of the larger whole, I am always supported and I can consciously draw on that support to befriend myself.” Relax into life, and delight in the deliciousness of who you are and who you’re becoming.

  • Engage In Constant and Never Ending Improvement. 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, and Dharma Life Coach, I wholeheartedly resonate with the spirit behind  Tony Robbins’s acronym, CANI, which stands for Constant And Never Ending Improvement.  As you endeavor to invest time in your own personal growth, you will acquire the relationship tools, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and even more solid sense of self to forge meaningful bonds and relationships with others.  In addition, you are far more likely to feel as though you’re brimming over with with self-confidence, self-love, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and an intrinsic sense of self-worth.  As you feel whole, grounded, and self-assured, you will  respond to the challenges that arise in new friendships or partnerships without becoming reactive and saying or doing regrettable things that will undermine the spirit of safety, trust, and goodwill that you’ve been cultivating with that person

  • Become Emotionally, Psychologically, And Spiritually Independent.

According to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there is a maturity continuum that people fall under.  The most immature people are highly dependent on others to feel worthwhile, lovable, and safe. Dependent people also rely on others to get their needs met, and they engage in learned helplessness to compel others to rescue them and/or take care of them.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist,  Master NLP Practitioner,Group Therapist, and Certified Dharma Life Coach, I have found that the people that are emotionally, psychologically, and  spiritually independent represent the next giant leap on the maturity spectrum.  These people are resourceful, proactive, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, emotionally articulate, self-motivated, empathetic, self-disciplined, capable of regulating their emotions, and lead purpose-driven and principle-centered lives.

The third and final spot on the maturity continuum represent those people that are interdependent.  Interdependence is a phase of maturity that reigns supreme over the other two.  In order to engage in synergistic, interdependent relationships with friends and romantic partners, however, one must be emotionally and psychologically independent first.  Independence precedes interdependence.

A lot of people who are dependent wish to skip over the process of becoming independent and throw themselves head first into an interdependent relationship.  Unfortunately, this attempt to bypass the independent state of personal development will doom a person’s attempt to participate in a healthy, interdependent relationship. That person and his or her friend or partner will soon discover that they’re engaged in a parent-child dynamic or co-dependent relationship, and their endeavor to grow closer will quickly turn into a lose-lose proposition.

  •  Friendliness Begets Friendliness.  

According to Dale CarnegieAmerican writer, lecturer, and developer of famous courses on self-improvement and interpersonal relationships who wrote the world famous book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, always begin your new friendships and/or potential romantic partnerships by being kind.  Smile.  Be happy to see him or her, and show a genuine interest in that person.  Never neglect a kindness, and look for ways to do or say something nice.

  • Emphasize Areas Of Agreement.

If you and your new friend and/or new lover have a disagreement, make an effort to de-escalate the potential conflict first by emphasizing the areas in which you both agree. When you’re both in a more receptive, non-defensive, and resourceful state, you’ll have an opportunity to explore the areas in which you disagree and make mutually agreeable compromises.

  • Turn Towards, Not Away.

According to John Gottman, PhD and author of the research based book on marriages called The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, it is imperative that friends, romantic partners, and husbands and wives turn toward each other when their feelings are hurt, they want to air a grievance, they have needs that are not being met, they are struggling to reconcile their different perspectives on a matter, etc.  When friends and romantic partners turn towards each other to resolve conflicts, or at the very least have a dialogue to “declaw” a conflict, they are actually strengthening the bond of their relationship.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, a courageous willingness to turn toward your friend or partner and work through conflicts will bring the two of you closer together. More often than not, breakdowns precede breakthroughs!!  On the other hands, when friends or potential romantic partners turn away from each other and become cold, distant, and uncommunicative, they are burying their thoughts and feelings alive.  In turn, their buried thoughts and feelings become reincarnated and morph into feelings of resentment, contempt, and a wish to emotionally cut their deepening friendship or romantic partnership off.  The person that turns away will likely have thoughts of innocent victimization or righteous indignation, and soon enough he or she will create a negative internal script or dark narrative about his friend or partner that provides them the justification they’re seeking to abruptly end a relationship that may very well have enriched their lives.

  •  Be Open, Honest, and Real!

We may think we have to present a faultless picture of ourselves to the rest of the world, but why? No one wants to be friends with someone who is perfect!! We simply need to be our best selves and allow people to know the real us.

  • Be Discriminating and Discerning.

It is imperative that you be discriminating and discerning as it pertains to who you choose to spend your valuable time with.  George Washington offered some wise words about friendship when he said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” I would like to add that as you endeavor to cultivate meaningful relationships with others, take note of how they treat others, how they treat themselves, how they treat their family members, how they respond to moments of adversity, etc.

By doing so, you will learn about their character, values, behavioral patterns, and guiding principles. If someone mistreats others, refrain from falling into the common trap that misleads you to believe that you’ll be the exception to the rule and that you will treat you differently by that person than everyone else.  In the beginning, that new friend or lover may treat you differently than they treat others, but it will only be a matter of time before they turn on you too.  If their character and integrity is questionable, you’re barking up the wrong tree, and you’ll be trying in vain to cultivate a meaningful relationship with someone who may be incapable of having one in the first place.

Finally, please keep in mind that your friends and/or romantic partners have the potential to shape your character, behaviors, emotions, and beliefs for the better or for the worse.  Surround yourself with friends and potential romantic partners who lift your consciousness up.  According to the Universal Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy and Vibration, higher consciousness has the power to transform and convert lower consciousness.  Likewise, people of lower consciousness can potentially pull you down and erode the essence of who you truly are.

  •  Build on Common Interests.

Take advantage of the common activities and interests that you share with others, and be sure to carve out time in your schedule to engage in these activities with new friends and/or potential romantic partners.   If you and a friend both like to exercise, go work out together!!  If you both like to read, go to the bookstore together to pick out your next book, grab some coffee, and talk about the last book you read and what you loved about it.  Welcome in the energies of levity, joy, laughter, and fun into your new friendship and/or partnership.  It’s important that your potential friend or partner associate you with feelings of joy and fun.

Please bear in mind that if the two of you only remain in the deep end of the emotional pool and speak only about traumas, losses, and other heavy topics, your friend or potential romantic partner will likely associate being in your company with feeling flooded, weighed down, and uncomfortable.  In time, that person may dread seeing you because they are anticipating that their mind, body, emotions, and spirit will feel spent during and after your get-together.  It’s imperative that you be mindful to find a healthy balance between talking about substantial topics and cheerily chatting about things that lead to shared laughter, levity, and joy.

  • Appreciate The Differences In Others.

Variety is the spice of life. I’m so glad that when I walk into an ice cream store, vanilla isn’t the only option! I’m glad, too, that our universe created people with a variety of personalities, talents, and interests. Each one of us is a unique creation.  If you and your new friend or potential romantic partner have different perspectives or paradigms about some things, see those differences as opportunities to potentially to learn and perhaps even see some aspects of the world anew. John Gottman refers to this openness to your friend or partner’s different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, guiding principles, and paradigms as “being open to another’s influence.”

If you remain stubbornly entrenched in your worldview and discount everything your friend or romantic partner is saying, then you are unwittingly dismissing his or her unique “map of the world” outright.  If you choose to disregard your friend or new romantic partner’s different perspectives on life, then that person will inevitably feel unheard, shut out, disconnected, invalidated, insignificant, and painfully alone; your  relationship that was busy being born will soon be busy dying. If you happen to unequivocally disagree with your friend or partner’s point of view, then I invite you to agree to disagree agreeably with him or her.  It’s important to remember John Gottman’s research based assertion that 69% of the problems in our relationships are unresolvable.  Learning to make peace with and accept your differences is the more enlightened path to take.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I would like you to please note, however, that if your values, beliefs, and paradigms are too dissimilar, then it is quite likely that you and your potential new friend and/or new romantic partner have incompatible maps of the world.  In turn, the two of you will likely clash more often than not, and your relationship will be bereft of synergy, connection, and harmony.  In these instances I would strongly encourage you to move on and find friends or potential romantic partners that share worldviews, core beliefs, and values that are more similar to yours.

  • Treat Others As They Would Want To Be Treated

There’s an old adage that encourages people to “treat others as you would want to be treated.”  To some degree, this adage is right on the money.  For example, in light of the fact that I wouldn’t want to be cheated on or gossiped about behind my back, it would serve my relationship well to offer my friend or partner the same degree of fidelity and loyalty that I would want in return.  That being said, there are times when it will serve your relationships even better if you treat your friends or romantic partners as they would want to be treated.

For example, you might prefer to resolve conflicts in the heat of the moment and presume that your friend or romantic partner would like to do the same.  Its’ entirely possible, however, that your friend or partner would rather have space to pause, reflect, and calm down before making an effort to resolve whatever conflict has arisen between the two of you.  If this is what your friend or partner needs or wants, I would encourage you to honor their conflict-resolution style and give them the time and space they  and/or prefer to process things first before reuniting to work through your disagreement or conflict.

If your love languages are time spent together and physical touch, and  your friend or romantic partner’s predominant love language is words of affirmation, then it may very well backfire on you to  empathize with that person by giving him or her a hug and offering to take a day off from work to spend time together. Instead, I’d encourage you to  support your friend or lover by offering him or her words of  reassurance and affirmation. In this instance, you would be supporting or loving him or her in a way that resonates with him or her the most.

  • Be Loyal.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in today’s world, but it’s an absolute requirement in deep, meaningful, and long-lasting friendships or romantic partnerships.  When you are loyal to your  friend, you  prove ourselves worthy of many. One way you can show your loyalty is through your words — or lack thereof. In fact, a key to being loyal is keeping a tight rein on your tongues.

When we choose to be loyal, we won’t tear our friends down behind their backs or share their personal stories without their permission.  If someone else passes judgment on our friends romantic partners, we can demonstrate our loyalty in these moments by sticking up for him or her. In romantic relationships, it is imperative that we remain loyal to our partner and make a choice to remain exclusively intimate with him or her.  If a person chooses to stray,that person is actively undermining the trust and safety in his or her  relationship.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can tell you that mutual feelings of trust and safety are two of the most important cornerstones that support the foundation of thriving relationships.  Without trust and safety, your friendship and/or romantic partnership will be fraught with mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, volatility, contempt, withdrawal, distance, and isolation. Making an effort to win back the trust of your partner may prove to be an unwinnable and insurmountable task. In addition to being loyal with your words and your deeds, I also want to encourage you to pay less attention to attractive others. When you conspicuously turn your head and notice other attractive men and women, you’re inviting that other person’s energy into the sanctuary of your exclusive relationship.  Although it’s certainly not comparable to the breach of trust that takes place if you choose to be sexual with someone else, it is a subtle breach of trust or a sign of disrespect to your partner never-the-less.  The kind of commitment that appears in flourishing relationships activates an implicit “attentional block” against the allure of attractive alternative partners.

  • Refrain From Passing Judgment on Your New friend or New Romantic Partner.

In other words, be a light, not a judge.  Be a model, not a critic.  Furthermore, if you feel judgmental towards your friend or romantic partner, embrace whatever “charge” you’re having with him or her and see it as an opportunity to reflect and discover how he or she is a mirror for your own frailties, shadows, or parts of yourself that you dislike and would like to disown.  It is very likely that when you feel compelled to judge your partner, you are projecting onto him or her traits or behaviors in yourself that you don’t particularly like. In light of this, kindly consider that your friend or romantic partner has actually gifted you with an opportunity to engage in introspection, develop even greater self-awareness, and actively participate in doing additional personal growth work.

  •  Take A Genuine Interest In Others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” As we listen to others and show an interest in what is important to them, we begin to truly love and understand them. Every person has an invisible sign around his or her neck that reads, “I want to feel important.” Everyone has something to offer this world. We need to search for it, find it, and bring it to the surface.

One author suggested that scheduling an “Other’s Hour” is a good way to make time to be attentive to others. What is an “Other’s Hour”? It’s a sixty minute period of time that we can choose to reserve on our schedules each week to focus solely on our friends and their needs. I know that for a lot of people, if something is not on their calendar, it typically doesn’t happen. An “Other’s Hour” is a time when we can write a note, make a call, deliver a gift, or do a favor on behalf of our new friend or partner.

  •  Be An Active, Empathetic, and Inferential listener.  

To become a Master Listener, listen to what your friend or lover is saying between the lines.  Listen, for example, for unspoken emotions, unmet needs, unaired grievances, etc.  In addition, take the time to reflect back to your friend or partner what you’ve heard him or her say, and make a sincere effort to validate his or her feelings, experiences, grievances, etc.  Please note that when you validate another person’s experience,  you are not saying necessarily saying that you agree with their point of view.  You can validate and empathize with their feelings, experiences, and grievances while  holding your sacred ground and maintaining that their experience is not yours, and that while you hear, understand. and genuinely empathize with their feelings and grievances (given their vantage point), you have your own thoughts and feelings about the very same matter, given your vantage point.

  • Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.  

Seeking first to understand, then to be understood is a principle championed by Stephen R. Covey, educator, businessman, keynote speaker and author of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey is essentially saying that one significant component to building rapport and cultivating meaningful relationships with others requires of you a willingness to “Hold Space” and listen first to him or her, if you want to be heard.  Active and empathic listening requires you to listen without judgment and without defensiveness, seeking instead  to hear other’s point of view and  let the other person know that you understand the content of what they are saying as well as the feeling behind it.  It is often helpful to reflect back to your friend or potential new romantic partner what you’ve heard them say, what you’ve heard them reveal about how they’re feeling, and what you’ve come to understand more about who they are, what they’re wanting, what their dream is within a conflict, etc. To actively listen to a friend:

  • Get rid of distractions. (No multitasking with reading a menu or looking at your phone while your friend is talking.)
  • Watch for what is said, how it is said, and what’s not being said. (Communication is verbal and nonverbal. In order to pick up on the nonverbal, you need to watch as well as listen.)
  • Clear out preconceived notions of what you think your friend is going to say. (This is especially important between people that have known each other a long time, because you’ve probably heard them talk about things a bunch of times   and think you know them. To truly listen, pretend you’ve just met them.)
  • Before commenting or offering advice, determine if your friend is asking for this. (They might just want to vent and figure it out without your help.)
  • Go with your gut. (Is something off about what your friend is saying? Are they using a tone that isn’t like them? Are they failing to mention something but you can’t put your finger on it?
  • Spend some time on reflection. What did you miss when your friend was talking? What was implied?
  • Ask him or her for clarification if you don’t understand something that they’ve shared with you.
  • Be Thoughtful.

This includes offering your emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual support to someone that you would like to potentially cultivate a meaningful relationship with.  If you sense that the person could use some emotional or psychological support, offer to sit down with them, “hold space”, empathize with them, and seek to understand, hear, and see them.  If that person mentions a book they’ve been meaning to purchase or a movie they’ve really wanted to go to, take the initiative to purchase the book for them or treat that person to the movie that they mentioned in passing that they’ve been wanting to see.  Being thoughtful goes a long way toward making a profound impression on someone; your thoughtfulness will separate you from most people that are prone to thinking only about themselves.

  •   Remember.

This principle overlaps with the principle of being thoughtful.  If a potential friend or potential lover shares something with you, take the time to remember what they’ve shared. Remember the name of their dog, or remember that their dog has been feeling sick or is undergoing an operation.  Remember their names, even if you’ve only met them once; A person’s name sounds beautiful to them.  Remember that your potential friend or lover said he’s vegetarian, for example, and therefore treat him to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant.  Remember that they were playing in a tennis match two weekends ago or that they were visiting their parents on the East Coast, and ask them how it went.  People often feel invisible or easily forgotten in society today.  When you take the time to remember the details of their lives, no matter how big or small, you’re likely to sow the seeds to a meaningful friendship or partnership sooner than later.

  •  Be Inquisitive.

Ask your new friend or potential romantic partner  questions about themselves, their lives, their work, their family, their passions, their dreams, their childhood, their greatest accomplishments, etc.  Be mindful to be curious and inquisitive without overstepping your boundaries and playing “therapist”, being judgmental, trying to rescue him or her, or creating a parent-child dynamic between the two of you.  Be inquisitive and curious about their lives, their feelings, their dreams, their gifts, at a slow and steady pace.  If you ask too many deep questions about their inner world too soon, you may unwittingly push that person away.  Timing is everything as you deepen your relationship with someone else.  You must establish a rapport and cultivate a feeling of mutual safety and trust with your friend or partner before asking him or really personal questions.

  •   Be Authentic.

In other words, be yourself through and through and stand your sacred ground in your relationships.  If you shrink, puff up, engage in people pleasing, appeasing, become a chameleon, walking on eggshells, or repressing your true thoughts and feelings with your friend or partner, you’re creating an in-authentic friendship or partnership that isn’t worth cultivating in the first place.  Seek out like-minded people who value your thoughts, feelings, values, and guiding principles.  In turn, you will feel safe to be yourself.  If you choose to befriend someone or  partner with someone who has views, values, thoughts, feelings, and guiding principles that are diametrically opposed to yours, be sure that person is capable of honoring your different paradigms.  It is worth noting that two people can experience the same thing, see and/or experience it entirely differently, and still both be right; it’s not logical, it’s psychological!!

  •  Seek Out People Who Actively Participate In Reciprocal Relationships.

As you offer your time, attention, words of affirmation, fondness, admiration, thoughtful gifts, and acts of service to someone you’re growing closer to, be mindful that your new friend and/or potential partner shows you that he or she is capable of and wants to reciprocate these openhearted overtures back to you.

  •   Be Mindful That The Two Of You Put Deposits In The Emotional Bank Account Of Your Growing Friendship/Partnership.

As you make deposits, your relationship with inevitably deepen and the level of safety, trust, loyalty, care, concern, warmth, and love will grow exponentially.  Deposits in a relationship’s emotional bank account create a commerce between two hearts.  Emotional deposits include spending time with your friend or partner, offering him or words of affirmation, buying them little gifts, offering them acts of service, and being physically affectionate. Too many withdrawals from your relationship’s emotional bank account can lead to an overdrawn bank account, and sooner or later your relationship will be overrun by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  These 4 Horsemen lead friends or partners to feel hostile, lonely, isolated, and disengaged.  With an overdrawn emotional bank account,  the smallest problems in relationships become exaggerated out of proportion, and one or both people find themselves drowning in puddles.

  •   Keep The 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse At Bay in Your Relationships. 

According to John GottmanThe 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse that often corrode the goodwill in relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  In addition to the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse, Stephen Covey encourages people in relationships to refrain from allowing the 5 metastasizing emotional cancers into their relationships.  These cancers include criticizing, comparing, contending, competing, and being cynical.

  • Communicate With Courage and Consideration.  

The truth doesn’t need to hurt.  You can speak your truth openly and honestly while still being considerate of the other person’s feelings.  I strongly invite you to do so!!  In addition, when you have a grievance with your friend or partner, address their behavior, not their character.  In other words, it’s far more effective to say, ” You’re behavior was hurtful rather than say, “You are hurtful.”  I imagine that it would be far more effective and considerate to say, ” You made a mistake” rather than say, ” You are a mistake.”  According to John Gottman, When you address a person’s behavior rather than criticize their essence, you are making a healthy complaint vs. making a harmful complaint.

  •   Be Proactive And “At Cause”  In your Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In other words, take accountability for your mistakes, listen non-defensively, and refrain from being at “The Effect” of another person, blaming him or her for how they are “making you feel.” According to Stephen Covey, when you take responsibility for your actions, your mistakes, your choices, and seek out opportunities to grow from the inside out, you are choosing to be “at cause” for what you’re manifesting in your life.  This approach will leave you feeling empowered because you can only control how you show up in the world; you cannot make your friends or lovers change if they don’t wish to. When you endeavor to introspect and choose to learn and grow from your experiences, you are taking an “inside-out” approach to life; you are recognizing that  you “create our own reality, and you are responsible for what you create.”  In the event that you feel that you are “the effect” of someone else’s behavior, I invite you to become resourceful and make new choices to that you can be “at cause” for your life as soon as possible.

  • Be Vulnerable When The Timing Is Right.

In other words, I invite you to share your thoughts, dreams, feelings, painful memories, etc. with your potential friend and/or lover.  Be mindful, however,  that you’ve established enough rapport, trust, safety, and goodwill to be vulnerable with that person.  If you’re too vulnerable too soon in the beginning of your relationship, the other person may run for the hills. They may feel overwhelmed by too much of your vulnerability coming too soon.  In turn, they may wonder if you’re not emotionally self-reliant enough, or they may fear that you may have  emotional wounds and scars that haven’t healed enough yet, compelling you to turn them into your confidante, counselor, life coach, etc.  If you flood them with your vulnerabilities too soon, they may feel weighed down by your disclosures. I believe that in the early stages of cultivating new relationships, it is wise to share vulnerabilities with someone in droplets at first.   That being said, renown speaker and author of the book, Men, Women & Worthiness, Brene Brown, has astutely said that “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” When there are opportunities to let that person into your inner world and share your vulnerabilities, courageously do so!!

  •  Engage in Self-disclosure.

When you talk about your own frailties, “failures,'” family conflicts, triumphant moments, etc. you are giving your potential friend and/or romantic partner permission to do the same.  Your willingness to engage in self-disclosure is incredibly disarming to people.  They realize that they, in turn, can  share their frailties, regrets, losses,  and traumas with you.  Give yourself permission to share your triumphs, proudest moments, greatest accomplishments, and peak life experiences with them too.  In turn, they will likely share the most joyous moments of their lives with you in return. When you self-disclose about challenging times in your life, however, I’d invite you to remember to share how you’ve grown from your past trials and tribulations.  Share what you learned from those experiences, how you’ve grown and evolved, and how the vicissitudes and challenges in your life have strengthened you.  If you disclose something of a very personal nature and sound frozen in time, your potential friend and/or lover will strongly suspect that your past wounds remains wide open.  In turn, that person will wonder how those wounds and the pain you carry with you from those past experiences will manifest in your current relationship.

  •  Be Honest.

It is better to be trusted than liked, and it’s far more likely that you will be liked when someone trusts you implicitly.  Therefore, refrain from justifying your behavior, rationalizing away your behavior, minimizing your behavior, and/or lying about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  People are forgiving by nature, especially when someone is humble enough to acknowledge their mistakes and take full and complete responsibility for them.  On the other hand, people have little patience and tolerance for deflection, blaming others for their actions, conjuring up excuses for their behaviors, and lying.

Be forthcoming instead.  Your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and honesty, and they will more than likely forgive your mistakes if you take full ownership of them. In addition to being honest, I implore you to show up in your relationships with integrity so that you demonstrate that you are trustworthy.  In other words, be sure that your intentions, words, and actions are in alignment.  If you choose to live a double life, cheat, betray your friend or romantic partner partner’s confidences, say things you don’t really mean just to appease, placate, or win the favor of someone else, then you are building your new relationship on top of a hollow and broken foundation.  In addition to being honest with your friend or partner, earn their safety, respect, and trust by being trustworthy.

  •  Say, “I’m Sorry.”

Summon the courage and strength of character to say that you’re sorry when you’ve erred or hurt your potential friend or lover’s feelings.  When you sincerely apologize, your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and character.  In addition, you will earn their trust because you’ve demonstrated your capacity for humility, introspection, self-awareness, and emotional attunement as it pertains to how your words and actions impact others.

  • Be fair.

When you’re cultivating a potentially meaningful relationship with someone else, always be mindful to be fair with them.  In other words, do your best to arrive at win-win solutions, co-create agreements that feel good to both of you, and create limits, boundaries, and parameters for your friendship or romantic relationship that you both feel good about.

  • Be A giver, Not A Taker.

When you give to your friend or partner, you’re showing that person that you’re a giver and not a taker.  Takers tend to exploit others, use them, objectify them, etc.  When you’re a giver, that person is likely to give back in kind.  This aligns with the Law of Reciprocity.  We receive back from others what we put out. Be a giver, though who enjoys receiving back as well.  If you are giving to a friend or potential lover but refuse to receive in kind,  you are demonstrating an unwillingness to unwrap the gift of kindness and thoughtfulness that your friend or lover has given you.  In turn, you are denying that person the joy that accompanies giving.  This denial can arrest the bi-directional flow of your growing relationship.

  • Say Thank You.

Express your gratitude  and appreciation for an overture that your friend and/or lover has made on your behalf.   People yearn to be appreciated.  When another person’s overture is greeted with your silence, they will feel unappreciated and unacknowledged.  In turn, they will no longer make efforts on your behalf, and a stone wall of resentment and disconnection will rise between the two of you.

  •  Support Your Friend Or Partner’s Dreams.

Take a moment and encourage your friend or romantic partner to keep going after their dreams; affirm their courage, praise their persistence, applaud their willingness to march to the beat of their own drum, and acknowledge what’s laudable and praiseworthy about the dream they’re going after.

  •  Affirm Your friend And/Or Lover.

When your friend or lover says or does something praiseworthy, offer that person words of affirmation.  Reflect back to them the gold you see in them, and acknowledge their gifts, talents, and anything else that you think is beautiful about their essence or character.   Your new friend and/or lover will feel truly seen and valued.  As they feel cherished, they will want to share more and more about themselves with you.  As you affirm and bless them, they will also want to spend more and more of their time with you.  Sooner or later, I don’t know when, the two of you will be well on your way to co-creating a deep and meaningful relationship.

  • Share Your Own Needs And Wants In A Burgeoning Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In addition, honor the needs and wants of the other person.  If their needs and wants feel unreasonable to you, then find your voice and communicate with courage and consideration how come those needs and wants don’t resonate with you. Ultimately, you and your friend and/or partner want to feel free to in your relationship.  Do your best to encourage that person to fly.  If you spend too much time clipping their wings, they will fly away before their wings are entirely gone and they find themselves dying on impact as they hit the hard, unforgiving ground below.

  • Focus On Humility.

Just as courage is the Father of all virtues, humility is the Mother.  Those who keep their ego in check are more attractive and are evaluated more positively by potential friends and partners.  According to research done by Daryl Van Ton-geren at Hope College, “humility may be an important ingredient for relationship success.  In addition, humility is tied to forgiveness, a powerful tool in happy unions.”

  • Treat People As Though They Have The Virtues That You Wish They Possessed.  Give Them a Reputation To Live Up To, And They Will Work Like Crazy To Live Up To It.  

When you’re cultivating a meaningful relationship with a new friend and/or potential new lover, that person may behave in ways that you find unsettling, irksome, or out of integrity.  If you believe the relationship is worth investing in and cultivating never-the-less, I invite you to speak to their higher self and reflect back to them with effortless conviction that you see the gold glimmering brightly inside of them.  If your new friend is prone to drinking excessively, reflect back to them that you wholeheartedly know that they have the self-discipline and desire to stop drinking so that they can be fully present in their lives because, after all, you know that they want to realize the fullest potential.

If your new friend or romantic partner is prone to being stoic and guarded, reflect back to them that you have a very strong intuition that the deeper truth is that they are sensitive, deeply connected to their hearts, and possess all the courage in the world to let their walls down because, after all, you both would agree that he or she yearns for and richly deserves deeper connections with people.  As you speak to that person’s higher self with an unwavering confidence that you know who they truly are, he or she will feel inspired, and they will come to see themselves through your eyes and show up in your relationship in ways that align with their most praiseworthy values, conscience, and optimal set of guiding principles.

In conclusion, I want to share with you that there are countless ways to cultivate rich, deep, and meaningful relationships with others.  My hope is that I have touched on many ways to do so that you haven’t thought of or considered until now. While most people are capable of creating superficial connections with others, they often struggle to deepen and strengthen those connections.  In turn, their shallow relationships often leave them feeling hungry for something more.  As you learn how to cultivate more meaningful, substantial, and authentic connections with others, you will discover that your life has been enriched ten-fold.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article on how to cultivate meaningful relationships.  I hope that you found it informative and illuminating.

Warmly, John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Certified Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships

 

photo taken from clipartguide.com

photo taken from clipartguide.com

As a Licensed Marriage and family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I wholeheartedly agree with John Gottman’s assertion that it’s a myth that happily married people don’t complain about each other’s behaviors.  The reality in partnerships and marriages is that we all have our own idiosyncratic needs, rhythms, desires, and habits.  Inevitably, sometimes our different needs and desires can collide.  Given that it’s inevitable that partners in relationships inevitably have complaints about each other, it’s incredibly helpful for the vitality and well-being of your relationship to know how to engage in healthy complaining vs. harmful complaining

One strategy that simply won’t work, however, is stifling your complaints and burying them alive.  This well-intentioned strategy or fear-based endeavor only serves to create “negative sentiment override.”  In other words, over time your bad thoughts about your partner override your positive thoughts about your partner, and you eventually associate him or her with feelings of pain, resentment, anger, or loneliness.  When you stockpile your grievances, your bad feelings fester and grow, and sooner or later you find yourself distancing yourself emotionally from him or her to avoid feeling pain, or you might lash out at your partner while he or she feels blindsided because your silence has left them clueless and in the dark.  When your offending partner is in the dark, he or she can’t improve his ability to meet your needs because he doesn’t know what is wrong until after you’ve already hit your limit and exploded with a barrage of criticisms.

In a moment, I’m going to share with you examples of harmful complaining, and then I’m going to then share with you healthy ways to complain to your partner instead.

Harmful Complaining

 

Harmful Complaining:  Describe your perception of the problem as an absolute truth:  “Anyone can see that…”

Harmful complaining:  Stockpiling complaints

Harmful complaining:  Make broad, sweeping statements using always or never:  You never take me anywhere…

Harmful Complaining:  Digging up grievances from the past

Harmful Complaining:  Don’t complain:  Expect your partner to mind read and guess your needs and desires…

Harmful Complaining:  Criticize your partner’s personality or character

Harmful Complaining:  Give your partner unsolicited advice, telling him what he  should or shouldn’t do, say, behave, appear, etc.

 

Harmful Ways to Respond to a Complaint

 

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ignore the complaint, stonewall, be dismissive of the complaint, become defensive, and/or counterattack.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Belittle or criticize your partner for complaining, become sarcastic, condescending, critical, or contemptuous.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Defend yourself; find justifications and rationalizations for your behavior, your lapses in integrity, your broken agreements, etc.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Deny responsibility for the problem and deflect the blame back on the other person.  Ultimately, we must remember that we are responsible for how we choose to respond to people, regardless of how they treat us.

 

Healthy Complaining

 

Healthy Complaining:  Express your needs and/or complain in ways that are clear, respectful, specific, and immediate.  Your partner is more likely to hear your complaint and respond to it when you share your complaint in this manner; this approach leads to problem solving, building intimacy, and strengthening your relationship.

Healthy complaining:  Share responsibility for the problem vs. blame problem on other person

Healthy complaining:   Describe the problem in terms of your perception, opinion, or style:

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on a specific problem, tackling each problem one at a time

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on the present

Healthy Complaining: Focus on your partner’s actions and share how they make you feel (“when you do…, I feel…”)

Healthy Complaining:  Tell your partner about your needs, longings, and desires

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner for what you want rather than focus on what you don’t want.  Address his or her behavior instead of his or her character.

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner first if he or she is open to hearing your complaint and/or constructive feedback; Asking him or her first respects your partner’s autonomy and opens their hearts to being more receptive to what you wish to share.

Healthy Complaining:  Preface your complaint by first sharing your positive intention and positive desired outcome for  sharing your complaint in the first place.

Healthy Ways to Respond to a Complaint

 

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint: Rephrase your partner’s complaint so your partner feels heard, acknowledged, and trusts that you understand what he or she is saying

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ask questions for to understand your partner’s frame of reference more.  Ask open-ended questions to give him or her room to elaborate and share even more about what’s weighing on his or her mind.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Acknowledge and empathize with the feelings behind your partner’s complaint, even if you don’t agree with what he or she is complaining about

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take ownership for your actions and apologize when an apology is warranted.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take responsibility for your contribution to the problem

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  In other words, listen first, talk second.

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Be mindful of your body language, and respond with a receptive, soft tone of voice

Please keep in mind that it’s not uncommon that one or both partners in a relationship are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism. People who are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism likely developed these patterns in childhood:  usually this heightened sensitivity stems from growing up in homes where there was substance abuse, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, abandonment, or emotional neglect.  Small Children are naturally Egocentric and falsely believe their actions cause family problems or instability. They feel responsible for the unfortunate circumstances going on in their lives that are beyond their control.  In turn, they are prone to blaming themselves for their parent’s divorce, the death of a loved one, their parent’s abrupt departure to fight in wars, etc.  As they grow up, they feel compelled to defend themselves, to say constantly, “It’s not my fault.” If they hear a complaint, they automatically brace themselves and prepare to fight back, whether they’re under attack or not.

This can be a real struggle in a close partnership or marriage.  What starts out as one person sharing his needs can quickly devolve into a full-fledged battle.  The highly sensitive partner might be prone to jumping to distorted conclusions about what his or her partner is saying and presume that he or she is being deliberately hurtful or malicious when this may not be the case at all.  The antidote or solution to this pattern is for the highly sensitive partner is to listen carefully to the words his partner is saying when he is stating a need or a making request; your partner may not be as critical as you first think.  Be particularly aware of times that you automatically react by defending yourself.  Think or imagine a different response instead, and mentally rehearse that new response in your mind’s eye repeatedly so that you’re more likely to respond in kind the next time you feel emotionally criticized. Take a deep breath, pause, and courageously challenge yourself to agree to anything that your partner says that rings true.  If you wish, you can also summon the courage to ask your partner to tell you more about his need or complaint.

If your partner is highly sensitive, take extra care to avoid criticism when stating your needs.  If your partner responds defensively, avoid responding the same way; respond to defensiveness by clarifying your statement of need.

Thank you for taking your time to read this blog.  I hope that you found it illuminating and helpful.

Sincerely,

John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

( MNLP/CHT/Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)

 

The Magic 5 Hours

The 5 Magic HoursAs a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitoner, Hypnotherapist, Certified Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology consultant, I’ve worked with countless couples that come in to see me because criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling have overshadowed and/or  overtaken the past spirit of goodwill and friendship that once contributed to the health and well being of  their relationships.  Although I offer the couples that I work with valuable insights, teaching pieces, and engage them in eye-opening experiential exercises that are designed to strengthen their connection and re-awaken their love and passion for one another, I also encourage them to do the Magic 5 Hours exercise that John Gottman recommends in his highly regarded, research-based book, The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work.

The action steps that make up the Magic 5 Hours are to be done by each partner on a daily basis, and by the end of each week the total amount of time these daily actions take will be a mere 5 hours!!  The intention behind these daily actions are to deepen the connection and friendship between both partners so that they’re relationship’s emotional bank account is in the black instead of being in the red or overdrawn.

Alas, the Magic 5 Hours consist of the following 5 daily actions:

1. Partings in mornings:  Learn about one thing going on in each other’s day.  For example, ask your husband, wife, or partner if there is something in particular they’re looking forward to doing or experiencing that day, or ask him or her if there is something in particular that they worry will be be particularly daunting or challenging.  After turning toward your partner and learning one thing about their day, I want to invite you to ask him or her, “Is there anything in particular that I can do that would feel supportive to you while we’re apart today?”  ” Would you like me to call and check in and see how you’re doing?”  “Would you like me to send you an encouraging text or a reminder that I’m in your corner and thinking about you?”

2. Reunions: Engage in stress reducing conversations at the end of each work day.  These conversations will give each person in a relationship an opportunity to “hold space” and give “psychological air” to her or her partner, which will in turn allow the partner to vent, process his or her feelings, feel heard, understood, etc.  Beware of trying to offer unsolicited solutions or “fixes” to whatever mental, emotional, physical, or work-related challenges he or she is sharing with you.  Instead, offer your partner empathic listening, and listen to your partner’s feelings and be attuned to the meaning that is implied between the lines of what  your partner is saying.

3.  Admiration and appreciation  express each day

4: affection: kiss, hold, grab touch each other during time you’re together : kiss each other before going to sleep: lace kiss with tenderness and forgiveness for yourself and for your partner, letting go of minor irritations built up over day.

5.  Weekly date to stay connected and update your love maps:  turn towards each other or use dates to talk out a marital issue.  Think of questions to ask your spouse:  u still thinking of redecorating your bedroom?  How are you feeling about your boss these days?  Where should we take our next vacation?  Time: two hours once a week

HOW TO SAY I’M SORRY

Image taken from cardboiled.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve worked with individuals, couples, groups, and athletes, and from time to time one of my clients owes someone in their lives a sincere apology.  I’ve seen husbands and wives call each other mean-spirited names, for example, and I’ve also met with couples who have even gone so far as to become physically abusive with their spouses!!  I’ve also had couples who have come in for couple’s marriage and family therapy to rebuild trust after one partner was unfaithful to the other.

As a group facilitator, I’ve occasionally witnessed a group member judge or shame another group member, leaving them feeling belittled and small.  In my individual work with clients, I’ve had people come in to see me for family counseling because their relationships with their parents or siblings have become strained as a result of a betrayal that they’ve committed, like stealing money from a loved one or using drugs while living in their parent’s home.

As a Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve worked with coaches who have mistreated their athletes or shown favoritism to some athletes on their team over others.  Finally, I’ve worked with some athletes who have hazed their teammates or given up on their team during an important game.  In all of the scenarios mentioned above, the perpetrators have owed their victims a sincere apology to begin the repair work needed to rebuild the trust and safety that serve as the foundation and pillars for thriving relationships.

Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t comfortable uttering the words, “I’m sorry.”  I’ve had clients concede to me that apologizing to someone else feels like a form of weakness to them, and they’re simply too proud to go there.  Other clients of mine have lacked the courage to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge to their victim that they’ve made a mistake, and so they choose to sweep their perpetration under the rug in the false hope that time will heals all wounds.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve also noticed that some of my clients simply don’t know how to go about the process of apologizing to someone else.  As a result, their apologies sound insincere, halfhearted, and incomplete.  In light of all of this, I’ve decided to write a blog detailing how to offer a sincere and thorough apology to someone you’ve hurt and want to make amends with.

To begin with, I want to strongly encourage you to engage in some introspection and self-reflection before you apologize so that you know what you’re apologizing for in the first place!!   Humbly and courageously acknowledge to yourself what specific actions, in-actions, words, deeds, and any other ways where you believe that you have faltered that warrants an apology to someone else.  Take this valuable time to pause and deeply understand what fears, shadows, beliefs, and behavioral patterns compelled you to hurt someone else, knowingly or unknowingly.  These insights will help you to grow emotionally and spiritually, and they’ll demonstrate to your victim as well as and reassure him or her that you have more self-awareness now and are therefore unlikely to act or repeat your hurtful actions again.

After you’ve acknowledged to yourself what you’ve said or done to someone else that warrants an apology, and after you’ve engaged in some meaningful self- reflection, ask the person you wish to apologize to if they’re open to sitting down with you and talking about what you did that led to your hurting their feelings and creating disconnection between the two of you.  Asking that person if they’re open to talking and if so, when, shows a willingness to honor their autonomy and free will as well as demonstrates that you want to be sensitive to whether or not the person you’ve hurt is ready to hear your apology.  Sometimes a person’s wounds are still too raw, and they’re just not ready yet to hear your apology, let alone accept it and offer you their forgiveness.

If the person you’ve hurt agrees to hear you out, I’d encourage you to be mindful of the tone in your voice as well as your body language.  The tone in our voice makes up %38 of our communication, and our body language accounts for 55% of our communication.  With this in mind, imagine that your voice and body is an instrument, and be sure that you’re instrument is finely tuned so that what you say resonates from your heart and vibrates genuine remorse while your body visibly reflects sincere contrition.

Speaking of your tone and body language, I want to invite you to make the tone in your voice soft, gentle, humble, and remorseful, and I’d encourage you to make your body language open and receptive to whatever your victim might have to say after you’ve said that you’re sorry.  If your arms are folded across your chest and your rolling your eyes while you’re saying you’re sorry, for example, you’re likely showing  signs of reluctance on your part to say that you’re sorry, or you may be unconsciously showing signs that you’re feeling guarded, proud, or too afraid vulnerably speak of your mistakes.

These body language cues often demonstrate a fear of vulnerability on your part, or they show a lack of emotional maturity.  After all, we are all imperfect and prone to intentionally or unintentionally hurting those we care about, and so summoning the humility, vulnerability, and courage to say that you’re sorry to someone speaks volumes about your character. If your arms, legs, and heart are open and you maintain gentle eye contact, the recipient of your apology will feel safe to hear what you’d like to say. He or she will likely admire your humility, courage and character as well, and they consequently  be far readier than before to accept your apology and reconcile with you.

As you’re apologizing, I implore you to take 100 percent ownership for what you’ve said or done that you believe warrants an apology in the first place.  Identify and articulate the specific ways that you fear that you’ve harmed your victim.  Avoid at all costs minimizing, rationalizing, justifying, or sugar coating your hurtful behavior.  Also, do not look to blame that person or anyone else for what you’ve said or done.

All of the above tactics merely dilute your apology and show that you’re either too proud or too fragile to summon the courage to take full responsibility for your actions.  In turn, the person you’re halfheartedly apologizing to will get an unsettling window into your character and learn that he or she really can’t trust that you won’t repeat your behavior again.  After all, you have just tainted your apology by your countless attempts to deflect accountability from the actions that you’ve committed.

In addition to avoiding in engaging in the deflection tactics that I’ve mentioned above, avoid using “distancing language.”  For example, don’t say, “I’m sorry for the things that happened” or “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you in any way.”  Again, it’s important to take personal ownership for the specific ways you’ve hurt someone.  The two attempts at apologizing that I just referenced sound vague and generic, and they lack personal accountability.  If a person says, “I’m sorry for the things that happened”, they’re not acknowledging what specifically happened?  The truth is, their behaviors didn’t just happen, as if they somehow fell out of the sky and into their lives.  Instead, they chose to do or say something very specific that caused someone else harm.

When a perpetrator says “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you in some way,” the word “if” implies that they’re not really sure what they have said or done that warrants an apology in the first place.  I’m addition, imagining that they have hurt their victim in “some way” implies that they don’t even know specifically what they’re apologizing for.  If this is the case, then it’s really not worth taking the time to offer a hollow apology in the first place.

After you’ve said that you’re sorry, taken 100% accountability for your specific actions, and shown through your tone, body language, and words genuine remorse, I want to invite you to go the extra mile and summon the courage to ask your victim  if there’s anything else they feel that you owe them an apology for that you may have missed. Seeking this additional feedback from the person you’ve hurt shows a sincere interest on your part to make things right and take ownership for every last drop of your hurtful behavior.

If the person you’ve hurt takes you up on your offer and shares new information that they believe warrants an additional apology, acknowledge ( if their additional feedback rings true for you) that you overlooked that piece and take ownership for those parts as well.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen this gesture help victims  feel deeply  validated  and heard, and they will deeply appreciate your willingness to  give them the time and space to voice any additional pain that’s been been festering  inside their hearts.

At this point, it’d be a very gracious overture on your part to ask how your behavior impacted the person that you hurt.  As you listen to him or her share their thoughts and feelings, be compassionate and empathetic.  Offer them your undivided attention, and acknowledge and validate how your behavior has impacted them.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I always encourage my clients to use active listening skills that reflect back to their victim, for example,”I truly hear that when I called you a nobody you felt belittled and degraded, and I’m deeply sorry for that.  Truthfully, I would feel belittled and degraded too if someone I cared about called me a nobody.”  Following your empathetic words, take this opportunity to reassure the person that you’ve hurt how you really feel about them.  For example, you might want to say,   “I want to reassure you, though, that I don’t feel that way about you at all.  On the contrary, I value you very much and I hold you in very high regard.”

After you’ve given your victim the time and space to share how your actions impacted him, and after you’ve offered them genuine compassion and empathy for the pain you’ve caused them, and after you’ve reassured them how you truly feel about them, take a moment and ask them if there’s any way that you can support them now and going forward to help them heal from the pain that they’re feeling.  In addition, you may even want to ask them if there’s some act of service you can do for them that will symbolically show them that you really want to move forward in repairing your relationship.

If and/or after you’ve mutually agreed on a specific act of service or gesture that will help to rebuild the trust and safety in your relationship, take a moment to reassure the person that you’ll continue to actively work on developing your own self- awareness so that you make every effort to never hurt that person in the same way again. You may even want to let them know something specifically that you’ll be doing to ensure that it’s your sincere intention to never repeat your hurtful behavior.  For example, you might say, “By the way, in my resolve to make sure I never call you belittling names again, I’m going to be seeing a therapist weekly for the next 6 months.”  Or you might say, ” To ensure that I don’t drink too much and black out and embarrass you again, I’m going to get sober and attend AA meetings at least 3 days a week.”

As a marriage and Family Therapist, I believe that such actions show the person that you’ve hurt that you’re willing to back up your apology with specific personal growth steps to ensure that you don’t hurt them again. When you do this, you’re immediately beginning the process of getting back into integrity with that person as well as filling them up with an increased sense of safety, trust, and reassurance that you’re going to be taking active measures to grow as a man or woman so that you treat that person and everyone else in your life in ways that are in alignment with your highest self and your core values.

After you’ve participated in an act of service to rebuild the person’s faith in you, and after you’ve offered them reassurance that you intend to take specific actions to ensure that you don’t repeat your hurtful behavior again, rest assured that a very significant and meaningful part of your journey to make amends and say that you’re sorry is finally over!!  In many ways, though, your journey to make amends has also just begun because it takes time to rebuild the trust and safety that you broke when you hurt someone else.  In addition, your journey to repair your relationship has  just begun because you must now follow through on your pledge to take specific actions to grow and evolve as a person so that you do everything in your power to not re-injure your colleague, friend, family member, or lover again.

If opening your heart and learning to be vulnerable and accountable enough to say that you’re sorry to someone that you’ve hurt is challenging for you, I want to take this opportunity to invite you to visit with me so that I can help you to learn the art of offering someone else a heart-felt apology.  I trust that you’ll find that learning this art form will serve as a tremendous catalyst for your personal grown, and it will help you to repair relationships that you want to salvage much sooner than later.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.  I sincerely hope that you found it enlightening and useful.

Warmly,

John Boesky, LMFT

Marriage and Family Therapist

 

 

 

 

What Is Codependency?

photo by Christiemanning.com

photo by Christiemanning.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve been keenly aware of the fact that the term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, it then became abundantly clear that family and friends also constituted a network of codependents whose lives centered around the alcoholic, or addict.  Researchers have since revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you’re likely codependent.

Dysfunctional families often include family members that are narcissistic, borderline, emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive,  passive, helpless, dependent, manipulative, enmeshed, dramatic,  and prone to martyrdom.  In this unsafe and chaotic environment, children never have the opportunity to develop a solid sense of themselves. Instead, they develop a list of characteristics or symptoms that include many common traits.  Before I present this list of symptoms to you, though, I want to credit Darlene Lancer, MFT, for putting together the bulk of what’s in the list below.  In doing my research on codependency, I found her list to be so clear and comprehensive that it seemed foolish for me to try and reinvent the wheel.  Never the less, throughout the list, I’ve added additional insights on the traits that characterize codependents to make your understanding of this phenomenon even clearer.

Incidentally, before reading through the list below, please bear in mind that most American families are dysfunctional, and therefore most people have some codependency traits!!  As a matter of fact, I would offer that most people have unwittingly entered into a codependent relationship at some point in their lives.  Therefore, if you recognize aspects of yourself in the list below, you can rest assured that you’re in the majority!!  In addition, if you worry that believe that you’re a codependent person or that you’re in a codependent relationship, there are ways to get treatment and reverse this trend.  I will happily list treatment options for you at the end of this blog.

Alas, the following is a list of symptoms of codependents.  You needn’t have all of them to qualify as codependent.

  • Low self-esteem.  Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable, fraudulent,  or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.  Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
  • People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.  They usually engage in people-pleasing to seek acceptance and approval and to preserve their attachment to someone else; Their people-pleasing stems from their wish to keep their fears of imminent rejection and abandonment at bay.  Codependents who engage in people-pleasing often gravitate towards narcissists because they are all too willing to set aside his or her own needs to feed and fuel the narcissists ego. This gives the codependent a sense of purpose and a sense that they are needed, and codependents can’t stand the thought of being alone with no one needing them.
  • Poor boundaries.  Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. Their poor boundaries often stem from their underdeveloped sense of self and their lack of individuation and differentiation from their family of origin. In turn, codependents often responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.  When their boundaries are weak, codependents are willing to be victimized, abused, coerced, manipulated, etc.  When their boundaries are rigid, they may be too afraid of being victimized, enmeshed, or lost in yet another codependent relationship, and so they choose to withdraw become isolated from others.
  • Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Care-taking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
  • Control. Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control. Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
  • Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear of rejection or abandonment.
  • Obsessions. Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”  The assume that if they make a mistake, they will be cut-off, abandoned, or rejected.  Codependents often engage in mind reading, and presume to know that others are thinking poorly of them.  They are prone to projecting their own sense of worthlessness and fear of rejection onto others, and this in turn often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy where the other person eventually does leave them!!  Sometimes codependents lapse into fantasy about how they’d like things to be or about someone they love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps them from living their lives.
  • Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. As I’ve already mentioned before, they’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
  • Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem. Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy, for example. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy. By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
  • Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

In my experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve learned that when two people enter into a codependent relationship, they often enter into what is known as the Drama Triangle.  Imagine, if you will, the triangle below, and notice how at each of the three end points of the triangle are three separate roles that each codependent person in the relationship potentially plays at one time or another.  When each person in the relationship plays at least two out of these three roles often enough throughout the course of their relationship, it’s a tell tale sign that they’re in a codependent dynamic. These three habitual psychological roles include the following:  The Rescuer, the Victim, and the Persecutor.

photo by traumahealed.com

photo by traumahealed.com

The Rescuer, for example, plays the role of the care-taker, and he sees his partner as a victim in need of help.  He sets aside his own needs and becomes singularly focused on caring for his partner, who he believes is weak, helpless, wounded, and fragile.  The rescuer is not consciously aware, though, that by playing this part, he may be avoiding looking at his own anxiety, underlying feelings, absence of meaning in his life, hunger for a sense of identity and purpose, etc. In addition, he may be denying the sense of self-esteem and status he feels as he plays the role of rescuer nor the joy that comes with having someone depend on them. As he is rescuing his partner, his partner in turn is being treated as though she is a victim, incapable of caring for herself.  She is his damsel in distress, dependent on his heroic love, nurturing, and resources.  At first, his partner may welcome his wish to rescue her.  However, in time, she may come to feel smothered, and she may resent the tacit message that she is a victim who is unable to care for herself and therefore is in need of rescuing.  In turn, she may grow weary of his overbearing interventions and attempts to rescue her.  Soon she may grow more and more resentful of him, and she may finally lash out at him and reject his help all together.  In this moment, she has switched from playing the role of victim to playing the role of persecutor.  She feels angry, and she rejects his care-taking overtures and verbally accosts him instead.

In the aftermath of this confrontation, her caretaker may feel that his efforts to rescue her have gone unappreciated, and he may in turn feel very hurt.  Suddenly he finds himself playing the role of victim.  With his head bowed down and bent, he appears visibly wounded.  When the dust settles after this contentious fight, his persecuting lover may feel compelled to assume the role of rescuer again and make efforts to care for his hurt feelings.  If she doesn’t make this nurturing effort, he may take on the role of persecutor, and he will vent his anger and disgust at her for taking his rescuing overtures for granted.  In turn, she may feel victimized and wounded.  Seeing her in emotional distress, he may move away from playing the role of persecutor  and assume the role of her rescuer again.

Incidentally, Co-dependent relationships, of course, take on more patterns than just those presented above  in the Drama Triangle.  However, this dynamic is one that is very common among codependent couples and/or families.

Unfortunately, in my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen first hand how unresolved patters of codependency can lead to more serious problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, and other self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors.  People in codependent relationships are often more likely to attract further abuse from aggressive individuals, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed, and are less likely to get promotions and tend to earl less money than those without codependency patterns.  In addition, for the codependent person who lacks a solid sense of self and feels like victim at times in his relationships coupled with feelings of  intense anxiety and a profound fear of rejection and/or abandonment, his or controlling ways can eventually turn violent.

The great news is that there are treatments and recovery paths for individuals, couples, and families that struggle with codependency.  Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Group Therapy, Bibliotherapy,  Psycho-Education, Psychodrama,  Gestalt work, Hypnosis, EMDR, Assertiveness training, and support groups like Co-Dependents Anonymous ( CoDA) and AL-Anon are all powerful ways and places to go to overcome your codependency and feel happy, healthy, and whole again.

If you feel as though you’re a codependent person, stuck in a codependent relationship, or enmeshed and/or triangulated  in a codependent family system, please e-mail me or call me if you’d like help breaking free from this old pattern. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I know of tools and techniques that can help you to feel more independent as well as learn how to participate in interdependent, reciprocal, and happy relationships instead.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article.  I hope that you found it educational and informative.

Warmly,

John Boesky, LMFT

 

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?

Image taken from elainefogel.net

Image taken from elainefogel.net

As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve been privileged to work with men, women, couples, groups, and athletes. While some of my clients come to me with specific goals that they’d like to achieve in our work together, others come to me feeling rudderless and lost, and they have no goals to speak of;  They just know that they’re deeply unhappy in their lives.  Whether or not a client of mine knows what he’d like to get out of our work together or not, I’ve often found it to be very helpful to assist them in crafting a Mission Statement for themselves.

Crafting a Mission Statement is like creating a blueprint or road map for the kind of life they’d like to manifest for themselves.  A Mission Statement’s intention is to help my clients become deeply acquainted with his or her larger sense of purpose in their lives.  It’s a written guidepost, an affirmation, and a stated quest for how they want to live their lives in a way that openly expresses the deep joy, tenderness, wildness, and strength that they have within their bodies, minds, and souls.  Mission Statements often incorporate within it a client’s greatest gifts, his passions, and his highest values. Our Missions will evolve and change over time.  It is essentially the expression of a person’s deepest purpose in being alive IN THIS MOMENT, whatever it is.

In order to live our lives in ways that are in integrity with our Mission Statements, we must do the work to lift the shadows that block our light from shining in  and allowing us to give our greatest gifts to ourselves, to each other, and to the world that we live in.  Shadows that block our light include self-doubt, fear, guilt, unworthiness, weakness, dishonesty, confusion, and mistrust.  When we embrace our light, our shadows begin to diminish and fade away. We then have an opportunity to step into our own light, live authentically, and bring our gifts of love and service to ourselves and to the world.

Our Mission will not be finished in our lifetimes.  It is a way of living, a way of being in the world in our fullness as people.  In this moment, my Mission Statement is to be a conduit of the light; to be fully present, compassionately empowering myself and others to heal, grow, and transform.  I must confess to you  that there are moments in life when I show up in my relationships and in the world that fall short of my Mission.  When I do, however, I remember my Mission Statement, and I get back on my horse and steer myself in the direction of my deepest purpose;  I get back to living my life in ways that are aligned with my Highest Self.

In this moment, I’m wondering out loud:  What is your deepest purpose?  What gifts of love and service do you wish to give to yourself, your closest relationships, and to the world at large?  In other words, what is your Mission Statement?

As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant,  I can be of help assisting you in crafting your own Mission Statement.  You’ll notice that over time your Mission Statement will affect the way you work, the way you play, love, parent, and the way you live and show up in the world!!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  I hope that you found it useful!!

Sincerely,

John Boesky

THE DANCE OF FEAR AND SHAME IN RELATIONSHIPS

caption taken from dreamstime.com

caption taken from dreamstime.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often see couples whose relationships are very strained and are on the brink of being irreparably broken.  There are often countless reasons why couples fall out of love and instead build armor around their hearts and fortresses around their souls.  Among the many reasons for their relationships deterioration, I want to bring to light one toxic relationship dance that most couples often fall into without even knowing it.  It involves the emotions of fear and shame.

Although this isn’t true for every man and woman, it is frequently true that men are vulnerable to feelings of shame, inadequacy, and failure.  These emotions generally cause men to either lash out with anger or simply shut down.  Women, on the other hand, frequently fear feeling hurt, isolated, and deprived.  They feel deprived, for example, of attention, connection, warmth, love, protection, validation, etc.  Unfortunately, when a woman shares these kinds of feelings with her man, he feels ashamed and not good enough, and in turn he either gets angry or stonewalls, shuts down, and emotionally disappears.

Going forwards, be sensitive to one another’s emotional vulnerabilities.  Men and women often cope with feelings of shame and fear by blaming, defending, becoming contemptuous, or stonewalling.  The essentially engage in one of two modes:  Attack or avoid.  I want to encourage you to be emotionally attuned to your partner’s feelings, and if you sense that he or she is feeling shame or fear respectively, approach him or her instead.  In addition, approach him or her with an open heart, curiousness, and a willingness to empathize with how he or she if feeling.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve personally seen this new approach tactic positively change the dynamic in couple’s relationships in a matter of weeks!!  Each person  feels safe, appreciated, and connected again, and their relationship feels loving and whole again.

If you’re relationship is stumbling over and over again in the fear/shame dance, please call me and I will give you the tools and insights to dance together anew.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

COALS COMMUNICATION

Communicate with Positive IntentionAs a Marriage and Family Therapist, it’s imperative that I model effective active listening and communication skills for my clients.  I also choose to take these active listening and communication skills home with me to my wife and family, so that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.  I want my intentions, words, and actions to be aligned with one another.  This way, I can proudly declare that I’m a man of integrity.

Family therapists often see couples or families who are accusatory, defensive, hostile, and withdrawing in their communication with their loved ones.  Instead of engaging in these counterproductive communication patterns, I encourage my clients to take deep breaths when they’re feeling triggered, and then to be the following in their communication with others:  Curious, Open, Accepting, Loving, and Listening.  The acronym for this is COALS.  When a client has the presence of mind to follow the COALS approach to communication, they emerge from their communication endeavors with others triumphant. The COALS approach lets the light in.  It creates space for two people to be heard, understood, and validated.

It takes self-discipline, mental rehearsal, and practice to enter into a COALS state of mind when communicating with others.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist and communication expert, I encourage you to give it a try.  You’ll love what happens next!!

Sincerely,

John Boesky, LMFT

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Dharma Life Coach/& Sports Psychology Consultant)

KEY COMMUNICATION POINTERS

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Image taken from Advancedlifeskills.com

Image taken from Advancedlifeskills.com

I truly believe that how we choose to communicate something is as important (or more important) than what we choose to communicate. Therefore, it is very important before speaking to be mindful of what our intention is, and what our ultimate goal is, in order to present our thoughts and feelings in such a way that we create a win/win scenario for both ourselves, and the person we’re talking to. By win/win, I mean the person talking wants to make him or herself understood, without imposing his thoughts and feelings onto the listener. His ultimate goal is the following: “UNDERSTAND ME”!!

Before speaking, it is important to ask ourselves the following question: “What am I hoping to achieve by sharing my thoughts and feelings in the first place?” “What is my intention?” Am I intending to shame, ridicule, intimidate, mock, judge, or malign someone else? Am I hoping to debate that person, and ultimately prove that I am right and that he or she is wrong? Am I looking to incite that person, in the hopes of engaging him or her in a war of words? If these are our intentions before entering into a conversation with someone else, chances are we will only say things that we will regret, and make matters worse for ourselves and for our relationship.

I believe that good, effective communicators know to keep their mouths shut when they are feeling tempted to lash out at others with bad intentions, and say things that they will later regret. These self-disciplined individuals wait until they are feeling more calm and rational before choosing to speak their minds. And when they finally do communicate with someone else, they enter into the conversation intending to relate their thoughts and feelings in a way that is intended to be constructive.

The root word in “Relationships” is “Relate”, and this is likely because “relationships” thrive or die based on how we relate to others. And how we choose to relate to others is entirely up to us. For example, if two people disagree, than they can choose to agree to disagree!! They can choose to remember that another person’s subjective reality, or subjective worldview, need not threaten their own. The can also keep in mind that differing world views, perceptions, and/or opinions need not be mutually exclusive. They can coexist in harmony with the other, can’t they?!!

This does not mean that the listener must also agree with what we are saying. The listener need not inherit our point of view. Consequently, the listener need not feel threatened by our opposing point of view either!! Just because I insist the world is black doesn’t negate or wash away your conviction that the world is white!! Therefore, you can welcome my different point of view with an open mind, and open heart.

We must remember that our perceptions, points of view, and beliefs are our very own. No one has the power to take our perceptions away from us. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours!! I can have my reality, you can have yours, and we can still chat away, openly sharing our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Chances are that I’ll learn something from you, and perhaps you’ll learn something from me.

Additional Communication pointers:

1) Avoid black and white words like “always” and “never.” More often than not there are shades of gray, and when we use words like “always” and “never”, we sound absolutist, and/or rigid in our thinking. And this type of thinking sets us up to feel resentment towards others.

For example, I might be tempted to tell a friend that he is never on time, or always late. Such an accusatory internal dialogue will likely trigger angry feelings inside of me for this person. Yet Chances are I am forgetting the many times this friend has indeed been on time.

By making such an accusation, I am disqualifying the many times my friend has actually been punctual. In turn, he is liable to feel that his efforts in the past to be on time have been all but forgotten. He may subsequently feel disheartened, and may choose to stop coming by to see me all together.

2) Use “I” statements. More often than not people start their communications with others using the word, “You.” For example, a person will say, “you’re making me angry.” Or they will say, “You’re not hearing me.” In these instances, the word, “you”, puts people on their heels and may contribute to their feeling defensive. Moreover, the person speaking is not taking ownership of and/or responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings.

I personally believe that when people share their thoughts and feelings with others by starting with the word, “I,” their chances of having these particular sentiments considered go up considerably. This is because they are taking ownership of their thoughts and feelings, and this in turn gives the listener enough personal space to consider and respond to what is being said.

Rather than become defensive, the listener will likely become more open-minded, and receptive to what is being said. Therefore, it would be in the speaker’s best interest to say, “I’m feeling angry”, in lieu of, “you’re making me angry.” And it would be in the speaker’s best interest to say, “I’m not feeling heard,” in lieu of “you’re not hearing me.”

One common mistake that people often make is when they begin each sentence with the phrase, “I feel that.” For example, a person might say, “I feel that you’re being selfish.” Someone else might say, “I feel that sex shouldn’t be taught in schools.” It is important to remember that an “I feel” statement is meant to precede an expression of feelings.

Statements that begin with, “I feel that you” generally defeat the whole purpose of sharing your feelings in the first place. For example, the statement, “I feel that you’re being selfish” is really just another way of saying, “You’re being selfish.” It’s a “You” statement masqueraded as an “I” statement, and so the addition of the word, “feel,” in your statement serves no purpose whatsoever. Moreover, the statement, “I feel that sex shouldn’t be taught in schools” is really just a poorly disguised way of sharing your opinion and/or judgment about whether or not sex should be taught in our schools. In this instance, I believe that you’ve fallen short of your goal yet again to share your personal thoughts and feelings with someone else.

3) Eliminate the word, “should,” from your vocabulary. There is a saying in pop psychology, “Don’t should on yourself or on others.” The word, “should,” can feel shaming to people. Moreover, it has a self-righteous ring to it as well. For example, a person struggling with shedding pounds doesn’t want to hear from someone else, “you should lose weight.” An A student would rather not hear from his parents, “You should run for president of your class.” In such instances, the well meaning feedback that is couched in the word, “should,” will likely put off the person on the receiving end because nobody wishes to be told what to do in such a self-righteous, presumptuous manner.

In the first instance, the person may be may be thinking, “Who the hell are you to tell me to lose weight?” And in the next instance, the A student may be thinking, “Mom and Dad, don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”

There are other ways to make recommendations to people without encroaching on that person’s personal space and violating that person’s psychic boundaries. In the first example, the well meaning friend could say to his overweight friend, “I want to encourage you to lose weight because being heavy could end up causing serious health problems for you in the long run.” In this instance, the friend who is offering this potentially hurtful feedback sounds genuinely interested in his buddy’s health, and well being. By offering up a reason for his concern, he sounds like he is speaking up for a valid reason, and coming from a loving place. He is making it clear that he is not intending to sit in judgment of his friend, and take a shot at his already low self-esteem.

As for the honor student’s parents, they could say to their child, “I think it would be great if you decided to run for president of your class.” This approach would likely sound far more encouraging to their child, and he or she will likely give their idea some careful thought and consideration.

4) When asking other’s questions, do your best to avoid beginning your question with the word, “why”. “Why” questions put people in their heads, and not in their hearts. They also put people on their heels, and on the defensive. Finally, “why” questions get people thinking more pragmatically, and solution-focused, and their focus is no longer on their feelings, and being introspective.

Take, for example, the question, “Why are you late?” Or take the question, “Why are you feeling so sad?” Or take this last question, “Why don’t you like me?” These questions come across as though the person being questioned is undergoing an interrogation!!

One way to ask the very same question in a way that allows the person responding to have more room to reflect is by beginning with the words, “How come” or “What.” The question, “How come you’re so late?” has a more inquisitive tone to it than that of an interrogation. The question, “How come you’re feeling so sad?” has a rounder edge to it and affords the person being asked an opportunity to reflect and explore the roots of their sadness, rather than feel put upon to come up with a heady reason to explain away their sadness.

Additional examples of these kinds of questions that come to mind are, “How come you don’t like me?” and “What about my behavior bothers you?” Again, questions asked in this vain implicitly give the person on the receiving end permission to explore his or her thoughts and feelings without feeling put upon to reflexively deny that such feelings exist in the first place.

In conclusion, do your best to remember when asking questions that the words, “How” and “what,” give people the room they need to process for themselves what they are thinking and feeling. “How” and “what” questions inspire others to open up and share their thoughts and feelings in greater depth with you, and with more honesty.

5) Do your best to avoid saying that someone “makes” you feel or think one way or another. For example, “He makes me feel loved.” Or “He made me angry.” When used this way, the words “makes” and “made” respectively imply that someone other than yourself is responsible for the way you think and feel. In truth, no one can “make” you feel loved, or “make” you feel angry without your consent. When a person uses these words in this way, he or she sounds like a passive witness in his own life, a chance recipient of the good and bad that is up for grabs all around them, every day.

I believe that we are ultimately responsible for how we choose to feel and how we choose to receive information and feedback from others. We generally make choices to open our hearts and take in the love from those around us. Furthermore, we are responsible for choosing to react angrily when provoked by others. For example, a more empowered way to say how you feel around a loved one would be, “I feel loved by him.” Said in this way, it is implied that you are the one who is letting in that person’s love for you. Instead of saying, “He made me angry”, take ownership of your feelings and say, “I felt angry” when he said or did that.” Said this way, it is implicitly understood once more that you are the person responsible for allowing yourself to feel triggered by someone else.

By the way, the world is filled with people who will make every effort to frustrate and anger you. These individuals may find some sadistic pleasure in seeing your face redden with anger. Perhaps baiting you in this way offers them a fleeting sense of power and control over you. Their ultimate goal is to lure you in, and catch you, hook, line, and sinker. Whether or not you choose to feel angry, and bite onto their dangling hook is entirely up to you.

This reminds me of some of the men I worked with when facilitating domestic violence groups some time ago. Many claimed that their girlfriends, wives, and children were the ones responsible for making them mad, and making them act violently towards them. A man might typically say, “She was complaining about everything, and made me feel angry as hell.” “She kept on complaining for over an hour, and made me go over to her and slap her so she’d shut up.”

I believe these guys were consciously and sometimes unconsciously manipulating their choice of words to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, and simultaneously projecting the blame onto their victims. In truth, these men were the ones who chose to feel angry when their wives complained, and they also made the choice to physically assault them as well.

6) Another one: Avoid the phrase, “have to”. For example, I can’t make it tonight, because I have to be at work.” Truth is, you don’t “have to” do anything. What a person chooses to do or not do is really up to them. Do your best not to hide behind phrases like this. Take responsibility for the choices you make in your life. A more empowered way to express your sentiments in this instance would be to say, “I won’t be over tonight, because I’m going to be at work.” This statement implies that you are choosing not to come over tonight, and that you are choosing to be at work instead.

7) Avoid the word, “can’t.” For example, “I can’t make it tonight.” Or “I can’t see the good in going to war in Iraq.” Truth is, unless you’re impaired in some way, you usually can do whatever it is that you want or don’t want to do. How about saying instead, “I won’t be making it over tonight.” This statement implies that you are choosing not to come over. Regarding going to war with Iraq: How about saying instead, “I don’t see the good in us going to war in Iraq.” Or “I think being in Iraq isn’t in our best interests or in the Iraqi’s best interests for that matter.” These latter statements reflect a willingness on your part to take ownership and responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.

8) Avoid the word, “Need.” For example, take the following statements: “I need to be in bed by ten o’clock.” Or “I need you here by early morning.” In truth, we really don’t need much, save food and water. We generally want things. How about saying instead, “I want to be in bed by 10 o’clock.” Or “I want you here by early morning.” Instead of saying, “I need you to understand me”, how about saying instead,” I want you to understand me.” Better yet, say “I want to feel understood by you.”

9) This is Very important!!!! Take the time to improve your “emotional vocabulary!! Become familiar with different shades of emotions. I once heard that Eskimos have over 100 words to describe different kinds of snow. Be like the Eskimos when it comes to incorporating into your daily vocabulary words that describe your whole color spectrum of emotion to a tee. Most people can identify some basic emotions, like mad, sad, glad, fear, and shame. Yet when we expand our emotional vocabulary, it increases our chances of being understood by those around us. Some descriptive emotional words include: “I feel unacknowledged”; “I’m feeling invalidated”; “I feel betrayed”; “I feel discouraged”; “I feel disheartened”; “I feel exasperated”; “I feel overwhelmed”; “I feel disrespected”; “I feel humiliated”; “I feel forgotten”; “I feel invisible”; and ” I feel unimportant.”

There are countless words that describe a wide range of human emotion and feeling, and each and every word has the potential to capture most accurately the subtle nuances that distinguish one feeling from another. Therefore, I believe it is in your best interest to find words that most accurately reflect to others the essence of what you are feeling in your heart.

10) Avoid the word, “But”. For example, I want you to come over this afternoon at 4:00 PM, but I have a dentist appointment at that time. Incorporate the word, “and” into your everyday parlance instead. This word gives all thoughts and feelings equal importance. I think a more effective way to say the aforementioned would be, “I want you to come over this afternoon, and I am scheduled to go to the dentist during that time.”

The word “but” creates an either/or situation, and negates everything the person has said prior to its usage. I think it’s important to understand that two opposing thoughts or feelings do not have to cancel each other out. For example, I can say, “I know that you are self-reliant and resilient, and I worry about you never the less.”

11) Avoid the word, “Try”. For example, if someone asks you to come over and feed his pet canary while he is away on vacation, you’re not likely to say, “I’ll try.” More often than not, you’ll know in your heart beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not you plan on following through on something. The word, “try”, is an evasive, non-committal word that gives a person wiggle room to get out of something.

12) MY SENSE IS: This phrase is an incredibly effective one, and I encourage you to incorporate it into your everyday conversation with others ASAP. When you sense someone is feeling one way or another, it will serve you well to begin by using this phrase. For example, if someone is angry with you and chooses to stonewall and keep these feelings to himself, you can choose to be more proactive and say, “My sense is you’re feeling really angry with me.”

If you’ve invited someone over and that person seems hesitant around accepting your invitation, you can share your intuitive sense of where he or she is at, and say, “My sense is you would really rather not come over tonight.” If a friend is unusually quiet after breaking up with his girlfriend, you can break the silence by saying, “my sense is you’re really hurting right now.”

When you begin with the phrase, “My sense is,” you’re not pretending to know what someone else is feeling, thinking, and/or experiencing. In turn, you are not being presumptuous, but rather you’re acknowledging that another person lives in his or her own world, and that you can never know for sure what that world looks like at any given time. Instead you are sharing with that person your intuition, which in turn shows care and concern on your part while simultaneously honoring his or her personal space.

You are effectively giving the other person enough emotional space to receive your sense of him or her in a non-threatening way. This affords the person an opportunity to agree with you, or disagree with you. This non-threatening, non-intrusive approach also clears enough space for the recipient of your feedback to reflect for a moment and then clarify for you what he or she is really thinking, and feeling. Again, offering your sense of someone else in this gentle way inspires him or her to reflect more, and share their thoughts and feelings openly with you. Finally, this phrase takes people out of their heads, and puts them into their hearts.

13) Sometimes it is helpful to share with someone else what your perception and/or experience is of his or her behavior. Communicating your subjective experience of someone else can be tricky, however, as you may come across as being judgmental, disapproving, and hypercritical. Never the less, by emphasizing and owning that you are merely sharing your own subjective point of view, you are hopefully making it abundantly clear that you are aware that your perception isn’t based in fact.

For example, let’s say I sit down and have dinner with my friend, Paul, and he appears angry, all the while talking on and on about his life without bothering to listen to what I have to say, and without bothering to ask me about my life, and/or how I am doing. In this instance, I might say to Paul: “My sense is you’re feeling really angry right now, and I understand you have a lot on your mind. My heart goes out to you, and I also want to let you know that I’m feeling more or less invisible and all but forgotten here with you.” If Paul chooses to disregard my feelings, and becomes defensive and agitated instead, I might say: “Paul, it is my experience that you are being really defensive right now, and agitated.”

In this instance, I’m making an effort to share with Paul how I am experiencing him, and his general disposition. It is important to remember, though, that sharing your experience of someone else is often tricky, as you may unintentionally sound as though you are sitting in judgment of him or her. So tread carefully, and remember to underscore that you are merely sharing your own subjective experience of him or her, and that you are aware that your perception is yours, and yours alone.

14) Do your best to avoid labeling people. This includes name calling, and/or categorizing those around you. Name calling and labeling others serves little constructive purpose, and more often than not names and labels are merely intended to hit below the belt, and hurt. Moreover, lashing out at others and calling them names has an insidious way of objectifying that person, and/or dehumanizing them. Human beings are very complex, multifaceted, and dynamic. Calling someone names has a way of reducing someone into one thing or another, and doesn’t assess or portray that person fairly or accurately at all.

If I lash out at someone at say, “You’re a bitch”, or “You’re a jerk”, or “You’re a selfish, lying bastard,” I’ve done little to let that person know how I’m feeling, and how I would like them to treat me differently. In other words, my intention from the get-go had little to do with making myself understood. It had everything to do with trying to hurt that person, and making him or her feel small.

When we feel hurt by someone else, we are often tempted to hurt back. That’s human nature. Yet being vindictive and striking back generally makes things worse. In the moment, it may feel good to hit back and cut someone else down. The adrenaline flows, the venom flies, and the heart may feel momentarily vindicated.

In the long run, though, we’ve made matters worse with our loved one, our friend, or even our adversary. That person no longer trusts us, or feels safe around us. And it’s often very difficult to win back trust and safety after they’ve been broken and lost, respectively. Apologies rarely piece back together trust that has been broken. The damage is usually done, and while the cuts may heal over time, the emotional scars never fully go away.

Imagine, if you will, a piece of wood, a hammer, and some nails. Every label hammered into someone, or at someone, gets lodged into the wood that makes up their psychic foundation, their psychic architecture if you will. Apologizing is one’s way of extracting the nail from that piece of wood. However, we all know that what is left is a splintered hole, with splintered wood. The hole remains, even though the nail has been removed. And I believe that this is the sort of hole that remains in the heart of those whom we name call, label, and verbally abuse.

Rather than say, “You’re being a bitch,” be constructive instead and tell that person, “When you do such and such, I feel angry, or disregarded, or discounted, or invalidated, or exploited, or hurt, or sad, or invisible, etc.” Then tell that person how you would like them to treat you instead. For example, “I’d appreciate it when I talk to you that you look at me, and appear interested in what I am saying. When you turn away and get distracted with other things, like the television, I feel unimportant, insignificant, and uncared for. Please make an effort to pay attention to me when I am talking, because I want to feel as though you care about what I have to say.”

Remember, it’s all about intention, folks!! Are you intending to hurt someone, and strike back at them, or are you endeavoring to make yourself understood and/or teach someone else how to treat you in a way that is more to your liking.

15) Anger: Be as conscientious as you can to communicate your anger with others responsibly. Remember to use “I” statements, thereby taking ownership for your angry feelings. Verbally abusing someone else, or labeling them, or aiming to be destructive and hurtful, will only serve to put that person on his or her heals. The listener will be in defense mode, and he or she will be far more concerned with self-preservation than with listening to what you are saying, or screaming, for that matter.

In lieu of going into defense mode, some people will retaliate, and angrily hit you right back. The tension between the two of you has escalated, compounding the original problem. The two parties will likely emerge from the battle suffering from more losses than gains. They will have been participating in a lose/lose type of scenario. Feelings will have been hurt, trust broken, and the fabric of their relationship will have been irreparably torn apart.

I encourage clients to remember that their anger is a secondary emotion, masking more primary emotions like fear, hurt, and frustration. When you are feeling angry, take a time-out so that you can experience your anger, and find a safe place to vent your anger so that you are leaving no collateral damage behind. I also recommend that you take some time to introspect and discern what primary emotions have triggered the rise of your anger in the first place.

The purpose of engaging in such introspection is so that you can come from a more vulnerable, authentic place when you eventually make an effort to communicate your thoughts and feelings with whomever it is that upset you. People are far more likely to listen to you, and hear what you are saying, when you appear calm and rational, and when you are trying to be constructive, in hopes of creating a win/win scenario.

16) I have recently learned of the following anachronism: D.E.E.S.C.P. The D stands for Describe, the E stands for Emotion, the next E stands for Empathy, the S stands for Specify, the C stands for Consequences, and the P stands for Positive Consequences. This anachronism offers you an easy format to follow when communicating your thoughts and feelings with others.

Take the following situation for example: I asked my friend, Maggie, to pick me up at my house at 4:00 in the afternoon to take me to the airport. If Maggie fails to show up on time, I might use the above script to guide me as I communicate my thoughts and feelings to her. I might say:

“When you don’t come over when you say that you’re going to come over (Describe), I feel angry and disappointed (Emotion). I understand that you have a lot on your mind, and that you’re been feeling overwhelmed of late (Empathy). In the future, I would like you to follow through with me, and when you make a commitment to doing something on my behalf, I want you to follow through and do it (Specify the behavioral change you’re wanting instead). If you don’t honor your commitments with me in the future, than I will choose to rely on you less and less (Consequences). If you do decide to make a greater effort to follow through on your commitments to me, and do what you say you’re going to do, than I will feel closer to you, and more trusting that I can count on you. In turn, I’ll want to spend more time with you, as I will value your presence in my life that much more (Positive Consequence).”

17) When giving someone instruction and/or counsel on what they can do to change a certain behavior, focus on the positive change they can make rather than harp on their negative behavior. For example, take a tennis coach who notices that his young protege is using too much wrist on his volleys:

The coach could dwell on this if he so desires, and may be tell his pupil, “Don’t use your wrist.” “Stop collapsing your hand when you make contact with the ball.” “Don’t squeeze your grip so tight.” In this example, the tennis coach has emphasized for his pupil what not to do. Unfortunately for the youngster, his coach has yet to teach him what he can do to turn his volley into a weapon. A more effective coach might tell this youngster, “Keep your wrist firm.” “Extend your forearm through the ball.” “Move your body forward and keep your knees bent as you make contact with the ball.”

In my work with couples, I often hear one person tell the other what they’re doing that they find bothersome and/or annoying. A woman might tell her husband, “when I’m crying, don’t just sit there and say nothing.” “And don’t just walk away from me either.” I think it would be in the woman’s best interest to tell her husband what she would like him to do when she is crying. For example, she could say, “When I’m crying, please hold me, and reassure me that everything is going to be OK.”

18) Do your best to eliminate disempowering words from your everyday vocabulary. Such words include, “kind of”, “sort of”, and “maybe”. People often hide behind these words for one reason or another. For example, a man might tell his wife, “I sort of feel angry with you.” A guy might tell his date, “I kind of liked that movie.” A woman might suggest to her friend, “I’m thinking maybe we should go out have some Chinese food for dinner?” These individuals clearly sound non-committal in their thoughts and feelings. They sound like they’re afraid to say unwaveringly and/or unequivocally what they’re thinking and feeling. I think they would sound more empowered and forthright if they said respectively, “I’m angry with you”, “I liked that movie”, and “I think it’d be nice if we went out and had some Chinese food for dinner”.

In conclusion (regarding communication skills and techniques) I want to remind you (and me, for that matter), that words carry vibrations which reflect out thoughts and emotions. We hear the words we speak, as do others. And we shape our reality (positive and negative) by not only our thoughts and actions, but by our words too.

Therefore, it is of great importance that we choose or words wisely with others, and pay attention to our tone of voice, and body language.

If we choose our words well, and couch them gently enough, then whomever we’re talking to will hear the message that we’re trying to convey. Moreover, they will likely give our thoughts and feelings far more consideration than they would have had they been feeling attacked, condescended to, etc.

If our tone of voice is soft, and slow (not pressured, abrasive and/or aggressive) than the person listening to us will likely receive what we are saying with an open heart. They will not check out, or dissociate, or become intimidated and/or defensive.

If our body language appears open, gentle, and non-threatening, then the listener will lean in and listen to what we are saying. He or she will not feel a need to pull away, or fold their arms across their chest as if to protect themselves from our aggressive stance and/or posture.

I strongly believe that if we, as communicators, have made every effort to choose our words carefully, and use our tone of voice and body language to our advantage, than we will have raised the likelihood that we’re going to be heard ten fold. In turn we’re very likely going to feel heard, validated, and understood by whomever it is that is listening to us. Regardless of the outcome, I believe we would have every right to feel very proud of our efforts to communicate our thoughts and feelings responsibly. We would have every reason to feel as though we’ve conducted ourselves with a lot of integrity, for we will have gone to great lengths to live our lives consciously, and speak our speak our minds thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Whether or not our listener actually hears what we’re saying is another matter entirely. Whether or not he or she chooses to respond back to us with equal care and consideration is his or her prerogative, and is completely out of our control. All we can do is have the best of intentions when we share our thoughts and feelings with others. And if we manage to come from this clean space, then we can rest assured that we’ve been in integrity with ourselves.

We would then have every reason to go to bed at night feeling at peace with ourselves. We can feel proud of the efforts we’ve made to communicate with others fairly, and constructively. We also feel proud of our choice to share our thoughts and feelings with others in an assertive manner, without being passive, or aggressive. We will have every reason to hold our heads high, and like who we see in the mirror, for we will have done our part to create a win/win situation in our communications with others.

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