Jul 19

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

Do you tend to attack or retreat when in a verbal confrontation?  Many of us choose one of these options and ironically, in relationships, each individual often selects the opposite position.  We either lash out or shut down when dealing with conflict.  Maybe we select the side that we learned from our past experiences or maybe we select the position that best fits our personality.  Consider the arguments you have with your partner; do you run towards or away from conflict?  Neither position is very effective or produces successful conflict resolution.  Polarization typically occurs when parties choose opposite extremes and very little compromise ensues.

As I’ve stated before, all relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines its effect.  Running from conflict prevents resolution and usually causes anger and resentment.  Time doesn’t take away conflicts but allows them to fester and grow.  That which we resist, persists.  In some cases people develop physical problems, turn to addictions, and/or get their needs met elsewhere when they avoid dealing directly with conflicts.  On the other side, when people choose to fight, lash out, and attack, they alienate others and destroy trust or connection.  Remember anger is a secondary emotion and often those who attack are dealing with fear, hurt, and/or sadness.  The bottom line is that staying connected and nurturing intimacy is next to impossible if you are retreating or attacking at times of conflict.

Is there a better way?  A good alternative is to express feelings directly and honestly, but in a healthy and constructive way.  When we communicate assertively we use “I” instead of “you,” and make sure our tone of voice and our nonverbal behaviors are respectful and kind.  We focus on the behaviors instead of the character of the person and once we say it, we let it go.  Sometimes people feel compelled to repeat their message over and over again which causes the receiver to ignore their position.  Conflict is best dealt with face to face, not through text or email.  Be sure not to tell others what they should or shouldn’t feel since we own our emotions and can’t be told what to feel.  Lastly, recognize that conflict is a normal part of all relationships, so provide grace, be patient, and work towards compromise.  We can all manage conflict if we take responsibility for our own behaviors and stop blaming the other person.  Blame prevents change.

Jul 12

SUMMER FUN

What do you do for fun?  For many of us, fun is tied to activities, relaxation, and being with friends or family.  However, some people struggle with that question.  Sadly, some people have lost their ability to experience fun, pleasure, or excitement.  Holidays are just another day and celebrations are few and far between.  Sometimes depression, loneliness, or relational conflicts prevent them from experiencing joy or happiness.  Or maybe they are just “living to die” instead of “dying to live.”  They are marking time and going through the motions of life with very little passion or excitement.  You probably also know those who make the most out of every minute of life and are grateful for their time with the people they love.  How are you approaching life and are you able to experience fun and joy in everyday activities?

Much of our mood is tied to our attitude.  Of course we all experience highs and lows in life, but how do we respond to our lows?  Are we resilient and bounce back quickly when feeling down?  Most likely it depends on our coping skills and support network.  Healthy coping skills may include exercise, yoga, prayer, mindfulness, and journaling, just to name a few.  But another way to deal with difficult times is to reach out to others and ask for support, encouragement, and guidance.  Having a couple of good friends that you can count on can make a huge difference when you’re struggling.  Don’t let pride or fear prevent you from sharing your feelings with others since friendships often deepen through self-disclosure.  When good things happen share those times too.  Celebrate your success with the people around you and acknowledge their achievements too.

Sometimes experiencing fun requires us to be intentional and actually schedule fun activities, adventures, and excursions.  We all experience fun differently, so ask yourself, what is my idea of fun?  For some it might be snuggling up with a book.  Others may experience fun through some form of entertainment like a movie, game, concert, or play.  For me, fun often involves participation in a sport or physical activity.  Yet I also experience fun connecting with people, sharing stories, and creating new memories.  Being with positive people who value life and respect others and know how to have fun is enjoyable.  Meeting new people and hearing their stories can be fun, and even though this describes my profession, it never gets old.  Of course, experiencing new activities and sharing in those experiences with people you love can be especially exciting.  Figure out what fun means for you and start doing it more consistently; you’ll be reminded of the good gift of life.

Jul 05

REVIVING RELATIONSHIPS

Why do people wait until a crisis occurs before they seek help?  Many couples prefer to ignore problems until significant damage has been done.  Relationships take work and people would rather coast rather than put in consistent effort.  Think of relationships like a plants that needs watering, sunshine, and fertilizer to maintain life.  Many of the couples in my practice have grown apart over time and don’t realize how detached they are until they are forced to confront their problems. People put more time and energy into other activities and the relationship gets the scraps.  We cannot expect relationships to thrive or survive with little effort.  Couples lose their connection when every other aspect of life takes precedent.

If your relationship needs renewed connection, make the relationship a priority and invest time/energy to create a positive focus.  The importance of reestablishing a friendship and finding fun in the relationship will strengthen the bond.  Something as simple as talking to each other consistently and deepening the topics discussed will create a greater connection.  Working through conflict and finding compromise is essential for healthy relationships.  Being able to apologize, forgive, and let go of conflict increases the likelihood of relationship success.

Being open and direct about our relationship needs with our partner is important.  Trust and intimacy are often the most significant issues and figuring out ways to establish these into the relationship is important.  Trust requires consistency in words and actions, which is essential for any relationship. Being intentional about physical and emotional connection will deepen the closeness.  Lastly, investing time and energy into the relationship will allow it to grow and flourish with the result of a greater connection.

Jun 28

POWER EFFECTS

What are the negative effects of power on people?  In other words, does power affect a person’s physical being?  Of course we can identify many ways power can destroy relationships, produce narcissistic behaviors, and lead to self-destructive choices.  But can power directly impact a person’s brain functioning?  Psychology professor Dacher Keltner from UC Berkeley studied the influence of power and found his subjects were more impulsive, less risk-aware, and had limited compassion.  While Keltner studies behaviors, Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMasyter University in Ontario, studies brains and found that power impairs a specific neural process called mirroring which is tied to empathy.  Keltner describes this experience as “empathy deficit,” almost like a numbing effect on the psyche as a result of power.  An article describing this phenomenon, published in The Atlantic and written by Jerry Useem, suggests that power disables an individual from social and emotional awareness.

The studies mentioned above produce some fascinating conclusions.  As people gain power, their brain functioning changes and their emotional intelligence diminishes.  An interesting study would be to measure a person’s brain functioning shortly before they gain all of their power to determine if they are somehow “primed” for the above changes.  My experience would indicate that certain personality types are more likely to assume power positions and that may be a factor in their brain functioning.  We could argue the chicken or egg dilemma but the fact of the matter is that people in positions of power often lack empathy and compassion which can be measured by their brain functioning.

Who do you know personally or who have you read about in the news with this profile?  What implications does this have for a large company or our government?  Some powerful people lack remorse when found guilty of wrongdoing, defend their position vehemently, and lack compassion for the other’s plight.  In response, some companies have provided executives with “sensitivity training,” since many have lost sight of people’s problems, issues, and emotions.

What can be done to turn this phenomenon around?  For many powerful people, giving of their time, talents, and treasures helps ground them and possibly develops greater empathy for others less fortunate.  When we humble ourselves by engaging in activities that may seem beneath our pay grade we better appreciate what we have.  It also helps to focus on relationships rather than achievements since often those in power devalue people unless those people can elevate their status.  Focusing on faith and a belief that there is a power greater than ourselves can provide additional grounding.  Lastly, having an accountability person to call you out when you’re moving adrift and heeding their advice will neutralize some of the power effects.

Jun 21

CAN YOU FIX MY SPOUSE?

Often people come into my office with the hopes of “fixing” their partner.  The question commonly asked is how can I get my spouse to change?  Or occasionally it transfers to me and the question becomes can you fix my partner?  Typically this is code for my partner doesn’t want to change or I’ve been trying to fix him/her for years with little success.  During these conversations the focus is often on changing someone other than themselves.  While I am in the change business, people usually need some desire, motivation, and commitment to change other than the urging of their spouse.  My job is often to identify what needs changing, offer strategies to change, and detail the personal benefits from making the changes.  Sometimes having an objective professional give an impression is more palatable than a spouse.  Ideally both parties recognize that change needs occur in themselves and agree to work on the change process, but too often only one party will commit to change.

Many couples get stuck in the blame game and never move beyond that position.  If a person can find fault in their partner then they can be distracted from their own problems and justify their actions.  Some individuals agree to counseling out of guilt or fear, but are primarily motivated to change by external forces, which could be a spouse, children, finances, and/or societal acceptance.  The decision to work on changing oneself needs to be internally driven by self-respect and a desire to be a healthier individual.  Sometimes people believe that by ending an old relationship and starting a new one and finding the “right person”  their problems will  be solved, which is why the divorce rate is much higher for second and third marriages.  Until we acknowledge that we are part of the problem, the conflict will persist.  Often the root of the problem has nothing to do with your spouse and everything to do with you.

Whether the problem is lying, anger, unfaithfulness, substance abuse, or emotional immaturity, it doesn’t matter which issue you select, change starts with acknowledgement.  Resources for change are available once you’ve identified the problem(s).  Effective counseling involves learning tools, modifying thoughts, changing behaviors, and managing emotion constructively.  Homework is an important part of the change process.  Accessing articles, podcasts, video clips, and other reliable internet resources can prove beneficial.  People can and do change with the correct motivation and proper guidance.  If a dysfunctional individual chooses not to change, than the choice for the spouse to stay in the relationship is more difficult.  Either way change will need to occur to create a better life with or without that person.  Staying stuck in an unhealthy relationship can destroy self-respect.  Make the decision from a position of strength by fixing yourself first.

Jun 14

COLLEGE SUCCESS FACTORS

What determines a student’s ability to succeed in college?  And what can parents do to instill these characteristics?  According to a study at Rice University there are three factors that determine college success:  a sense of belonging, a growth mindset, and personal goals and values.  Currently most colleges rely on cognitive competencies to predict student success; the authors are suggesting that we assess other factors to make an accurate determination.  They suggest that students who feel like they fit in with the college environment, have an open mind to learning and growing in their discipline, and have specific goals and objectives for the future tend to have a greater probability of success. The researchers looked at student’s grades, retention, and graduation to measure college success.

So what can we do as parents to encourage these winning qualities in our children?  First we can exhibit them in ourselves.  When we develop a good support network and have people we can count on in our lives, our children may seek a similar connection network.  We may have these connections through a shared team, club, or activity or maybe through our occupation.  Or our connections could be made through our faith-based groups and services.  For some, connections are formed through similar interests and passions.  Personally, my passion for relationships, exercise, speaking, and belonging to a faith community have helped create multiple connections.  Likewise, being open to learning and growing daily is a mindset that works well for me.  Life is a journey and accepting that we are constantly evolving helps us be more resilient to change.

Success comes from having a plan, focus, and direction for life.  Finding your passion and using that drive to power you forward towards your goals will enable you to make it happen.  Unfortunately, many college students wander aimlessly through their college education without purpose and passion.  I believe participating in real world experiences and working in the field of interest helps a person define their direction.  I’m a firm believer in summer internship programs and practicum experiences to help a person discern their goals and objectives.  For me, success came from figuring out my gifts and matching them with my passion into a career.  My passion has been to make a difference by helping others in their relationships and life.  Do your gifts and passion fit well together? Model connection, growth, and defining goals to your children and if they learn those from you, they will go far.

Jun 07

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE

The most recent act of workplace violence in this country occurred in my backyard.  The idyllic home of theme park characters and palm trees is not immune to horrific events like those that occurred this week and the Pulse nightclub disaster last year.  Workplace violence is on the rise and many of us wonder why.  What contributes to a person having an intermittent explosive disorder or a total lack of impulse control?  Obviously nothing justifies this behavior, but there are a multitude of factors that contribute to this problem.  Violence today is more accessible, acceptable, and anonymous. We are surrounded by violence through our continuous media exposure, whether it be television, movies, video games or even music.  Our exposure only helps to desensitize the impact and increase acceptability.  But what would cause an embittered worker to kill innocent people?

Community violence or workplace assaults occur when individuals build up rage, hostility, and resentment without any regard for the repercussions of their actions.  They are usually loners who are disconnected from society and believe they have few options left and little to lose, even if it’s their life.  Many of these killers have low self-esteem, some are narcissistic, and most have difficulties with impulsivity.  They have limited coping skills and justify their actions because of what others have done to them.  Some may struggle with mental health problems, feel misunderstood, and blame everyone else.  They may have grown up with violence and believed it was an acceptable way to express anger, but for some depression is an underlying factor.  What can be done to prevent a person from acting on their aggressive thoughts and feelings?

Teaching students, workers, and managers to communicate more effectively and learn conflict management strategies can be a good start.  It would also be helpful for people to be better educated and have greater awareness of signs and symptoms of an individual who would benefit from mental health services or law enforcement involvement.  Obviously we can’t prevent or control others from acting on their aggression every time, but some preventative measures could possibly save a life.

Many aggressive people want so badly to be heard and haven’t figured out a better way to express themselves.  Being able to listen, validate their feelings, and offer an alternative solution can possibly redirect the person.  Also giving them hope and a sense of empowerment for choosing a healthy and positive option can prove beneficial.  Providing a genuine, caring and compassionate response to their anger and resentment assuming they can express it respectively will build trust and connection.  Obviously many of these solutions work best at the early stages of conflict and aggression.  If we nip anger in the bud, we can possibly prevent it from blossoming to out of control rage.

May 31

DISPLACED ANGER

Do you know people who choose to take their anger out on others?  Misery loves company, and some would rather criticize, ridicule, and demean others rather than deal with their own pain.  We all experience anger in our lives, but some look to project or displace it as quickly as possible, using others as a punching bag to take their anger out on, especially if there are limited repercussions.  Why do people choose these defense mechanisms?  And are there other ways to combat anger, frustration, and resentment?  Taking ownership and responsibility for one’s words and actions is somewhat of an anomaly today.

Anger pushes people away and does not engender compassion or sensitivity from others.  We often hurt those closest to us the most, probably because they will take it or maybe be more understanding and forgiving.  When someone is whining and complaining all the time or lashing out about some injustice, it makes it difficult to provide assistance.  Our inclination is to avoid and shut down which doesn’t give the angry person the feedback they need.  The art of communication occurs when we let another person know the impact that their anger has on us and its non-productive nature.  Helping people look in the mirror and identify their own issues can be a very delicate business.  But if they are impacting you negatively with their anger, chances are they’re impacting others in a similar way.

The key is to suggest to them alternate ways to deal with the anger, frustration, and resentment.  Sometimes physical exercise helps people deal with these feelings.  Another option is to write about the feelings in a general way or write specifically confronting the person/issue head-on as a means of letting go.  In some cases, the person needs to forgive someone or maybe themselves in order to rid themselves of their anger. Often people with unresolved or chronic anger want to focus on the past and can’t let go of wrongs from their past. If you are the person with unresolved anger, choose to be assertive rather than aggressive and witness how much better people respond to you.  Respect others’ boundaries and know when to walk away or be quiet.  Remember to avoid defensiveness, blame, and justification; instead accept feedback from others and work on changing yourself.  It’s okay to be angry, as long as your feelings are expressed respectfully, constructively, and appropriately.  Lastly, be able to say it and leave it.

 

 

May 24

SPEED, STRENGTH, AND SKILL

When I coached soccer, to be successful, we focused on building speed, developing strength, and practicing skills.  Being successful in a relationship is not much different.  In soccer bursts of speed can create a huge advantage, but also knowing when to slow down or to change direction has value.  In relationships, our timing is essential.  For example, knowing when to keep quiet or speak up is a key component to effective communication.  Some couples blurt out their thoughts and feelings impulsively which can create huge conflict.  Or one person can’t let things go even if it is midnight and time to go to bed.  Being able to call a timeout when discussions are heated and respecting each other’s space for a limited amount of time can allow emotions to settle.

Just as soccer is a physical sport that requires both endurance and strength, let’s face it marriage can be tough.  Being in a long-term committed relationship requires perseverance and patience.  Relationships require strength of character and sometimes heavy lifting. Sometimes we need to apologize even when we don’t think we did anything wrong.  Our partner is angry or hurt by something we said or did, but we didn’t think it was so bad.  Because we love that person, value the relationship, and respect their feelings we choose to apologize.  It takes strength to swallow our pride, set aside our ego, and humble ourselves.  All relationships have conflict and sometimes managing the conflict can be difficult.  But talking it out constructively, acknowledging each other’s feelings and finding a compromise can result in resolution.  Forgiveness also requires great strength, especially when the other person has not acknowledged their wrongdoing or apologized.  We forgive to heal our own pain and sometimes to reconcile with the other person.  Forgiveness is a choice and a gift that can enable negative feelings to disappear.

In all sports, practice is the key to success.  Relationship skills are required to maintain a healthy and successful partnership.  Like most things in life, use them or lose them.  We need to practice assertive communication, listening, conflict management, and trust building.  For men, emotional awareness, sensitivity, and expressiveness often don’t come naturally, but can be learned and acquired over time.  For some, learning to be attentive and affectionate may require effort and intention.  We get better with most skills with consistent practice, determined commitment, and acute focus.  The joy of winning in a sport pales in comparison to the jubilation experienced when you have a successful marriage.

May 17

SHAME LEADS TO BLAME

What is the connection between shame and blame?  And how is shame different from guilt?  Guilt is the feeling of doing something wrong, while shame is the feeling of being something wrong.  While guilt can be healthy and positive, shame tends to lead to self-destructive behaviors.  Shamed people focus on self-blame and self-loathing.  Psychiatrist Carl Jung described shame as a soul-eating emotion that feeds on itself.  Shame is often created in children through excessive scolding, judging, criticizing, neglect, abuse, and abandonment.  While we all experience shame to some degree, toxic shame occurs when it becomes an integral part of a person’s self-image or sense of self-worth.  So how does shame manifest itself in everyday life?

Shame-filled people apologize constantly and have little sense of emotional boundaries.  They engage in negative self-talk, have unrealistically high expectations of themselves, overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy, and constantly compare themselves with others which leads to feelings of unworthiness.  Toxic shame lasts much longer, with greater intensity, and can hide in our unconscious.  Shame-based beliefs usually revolve around feeling unlovable or unworthy of connection, such as, “I’m not enough,” ” I don’t matter,” or “I’m a fraud.”  Toxic shame can lead to depression, feelings of hopelessness, aggression, and addictions.  People with unhealthy shame tend to self-sabotage and struggle with significant insecurity.  What can a person do to get rid of toxic shame?

Shame needs fear and negativity to survive. Therefore, avoid relationships with people who devalue your worth and instead nurture relationships with people who recognize your inherent value.  Develop a list of your positive attributes and learn to love yourself for who you are rather than what you’ve done.  Replace destructive behaviors with affirming behaviors.  For example, go for a walk outside instead of sitting alone in front of the TV.  Eliminate excessive shame by working towards self-acceptance and self-respect.  Sharing openly with supportive people who understand and are trustworthy can break the secrecy that accompanies shame.  Engage in activities that generate pride and a sense of accomplishment such as gardening or learning a new sport.  Setting healthy boundaries without guilt, being assertive, and self-forgiveness will invariably reduce shame.  Lastly, incorporate affirming self-talk and build healthy relationships.  Acknowledge shame and attack it with healthy and positive behaviors.

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