How to Take Care of Yourself… in a Conflict with Your Partner

Accepting conflict

Every intimate relationship has to find its balance of harmony, conflict, calm, and passion if it is going to bring those involved mostly benefit.  “Mostly benefit” may not sound so thrilling, yet it is a worthwhile goal. Every partnership has its low moments. Every human connection has some form of conflict at some point.  Every relationship has its own complex actions and reactions based on the partners involved. To get through the difficult parts with a sense of safety and intact love and benevolence toward each other is a win.  This is what I would describe as “mostly benefit”: even with some conflict, there is a foundation of love and goodwill that you share.

Truck Couple
Seeing the process underneath the content

I am passionate about working with couples because studying these interactions and identifying ways that conflict can be minimized and love can be amplified is fulfilling and inspiring.  What feels so catastrophic to intimate partners during a serious conflict doesn’t frighten me as the therapist in the room, because from the outside I can see the intensity of the love between the partners… and also the subtext of the conflict.  I can help to slow down the interaction and untangle the words describing the content of the argument- the topic being discussed- from the tone of voice, the body language, and the emotion expressed that all comprise the process of how the disagreement is being conducted.

If we’re going to get to the root of the discussion in a conflict, we need to focus on the process.  The content that couples arrive to discuss is short-lived in the therapy room, because pretty quickly we get underneath it.  What are the emotional needs that are really being negotiated here? (To feel heard? To know you are trusted… or your partner is trustworthy?)  What resentments are not being spoken directly, but are being broadcast in tone and posture? (The affair that was swept under the rug? The time she brushed off your grief when you needed support?)

 

 

Introductory skills for uncovering process

It is very helpful to have a marriage and family therapist in the room when you are having these conversations, but if you feel safe and stable enough in your relationship and your communication skills, you can support each other to do the same thing when a conflict arises at home.  

Here are some tips that will subtly shift focus to the process of your disagreement, rather than the content.

  1. Slow your conversation down.  Instead of thinking about what you will say in response to your partner, listen to your partner.
  2. When your partner finishes speaking to a point, repeat, in your own words, what he or she just shared with you.  
  3. Look for the feeling or the emotional need under your partner’s words.  If your partner hasn’t explicitly stated a feeling or need, you can elicit his or her help in identifying it.
  4. Above all else, be kind.  This is not a war. You are on the same team.

Here is an example with just one person trying these strategies, still with beneficial outcome:

“I asked you to pick up my sister on your way across town, but you just arrived without her.  I swear that you never listen to what I’m saying.”

“You asked me to pick up your sister and I forgot.  You feel like I never listen to you.”

“That’s right.  And now my sister’s waiting for you and our family meal is ruined.”

“You went to all this trouble to plan a family meal and now it’s ruined because I forgot part of the family!”

“You’re an asshole.”

“You’re angry.”

“YES, I’m angry!”

“You need me to be better at keeping my commitments.”

“Yeah, it would be nice to be able to depend on you now and then.”

“You need me to be dependable.”

“Obviously.”

“I’m sorry that I let you down today.  I don’t want you to feel like this. Can we have a small snack now and put dinner in the oven while I go get your sister?  Is it too late for a do-over tonight?”

“We’ll be eating after 8pm… but I would prefer that than not having dinner together at all.”

“Okay, can you text her that I’m on my way?”

“Okay.”

 

Notice that the partner who is trying to make peace here is not engaging in a dialogue about the content their partner is introducing.  Yes, they are repeating the content to let their partner know they heard it… but they aren’t evaluating the legitimacy of the content nor offering alternative perspectives.  This person reflected back to their partner what they heard (“You feel like I never listen to you,”) rather than answering the statement (“I never listen to you?? What about yesterday, when I made those two phone calls you asked me to make??”)

 

Reaching out for extra help

This type of communicating is a lot easier if both parties are on board, and even easier when working with a therapist.  But it’s never “easy” at first. This is because the vast, vast majority of us are in the habit of ignoring the process of our communicating and simply addressing the content.  It feels very unnatural to not respond to the content and to instead address the feelings underneath the words. It feels unnatural to step up into a role of support for our partner to express their emotions and needs, even when that partner may be stuck in blaming or negative communication patterns.  This is actually a skill that parents can use to help their children learn language that identifies their feelings and helps them to get their needs met. Since many of us did not have parents who taught us these skills, we have the task of learning them as adults.

In addition to being in the habit of only looking at a conversation’s content, most of us become defensive when the person to whom we are closest brings up criticisms about us.  It takes repeated experiences of safety with our partner to trust that a critique today is just that… not a sign that our partner thinks we are permanently defective or would rather be with someone else.

The kind of conversation I’m describing will not be successful for some couples.  If the baseline sense of safety is not there, or if both partners are not invested in moving past your habitual conflict patterns, this will likely fall flat.  In that case, I really do recommend considering a couples’ counselor. When you discuss the counselor’s style before becoming his or her client, look for someone who can articulate using this type of dialogue.  It is sometimes called emotionally-focused therapy.

Whether you are ready to jump in at home and try what I’m suggesting, or you are ready to find the help of a marriage and family therapist who can guide this type of communication, I wish you the best!

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Communication

Listening

Clarity

Partnership

Looking Deeply

Pausing

Habit-creating

Non-violent Communication

Self Awareness

Personal responsibility

 

 

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Being Bullied

Something I have heard from more than one client: “I spent so many years being told I was worthless… even though the abuser is finally out of my life, his voice is still in my head every day, cutting me down.”

 

You are enough

I wish I could face every child, teenager, and adult who has ever been verbally abused or bullied and say, “You are enough, just the way you are.  Whoever told you you were less than that is the one who is lacking.”

 

It might not be about you

The way a person makes other people feel is mostly a reflection on that person, not the people they are affecting.  If you are a relatively sensitive / observant person, try this sometime: pay attention to how you feel when you are around someone.  Later, in a quiet moment, reflect on whether that person is someone you would describe as how you felt with them. Very often, an anxious person can trigger anxiety in others.  A depressed person can lower the mood of those around them. A jovial person can make you smile. And a self-loathing person can make you feel bad about yourself.

 

Hurt people hurt people

In addition to the energy and tone of a person, there is how they treat us- the things they say to and about us.  Anyone who goes out of their way to hurt another person is a miserable person. That miserable person may appear to be the most popular girl in school or your boss who keeps getting promotions, but the fact is that they are miserable.  You see, a person who tries to hurt another is consumed with their own insecurity. They may even hate themselves. On the other hand, a happy person lifts up other people. A content, confident person walks into a room and makes everyone in the room feel seen and appreciated.  A worthwhile associate is someone who is generous in their perspective and looks for the best in others.

It’s sad: anyone who needs to pull others down was probably verbally or otherwise abused at some point, and that cruel voice of their abuser is constantly in their heads, giving them low self-esteem.  Don’t let that person who is stuck in their suffering pull you into the same boat. See them for the broken person they are, offer them healing, and then keep your distance. Hopefully, they’ll find a way to be happy and stop hurting other people.  In the meantime, surround yourself with a tribe that will see your wonderful qualities and appreciate them.

In the practice of forgiveness, there is an adage: “hurt people hurt people.” In other words, in order for someone to intentionally hurt another person, he must be in pain.  Happy people don’t hurt other people. When it comes to cultivating compassion and forgiveness for those who have hurt us, it is helpful to remember this. It is easier to forgive someone when we can see them not just as the person who hurt us, but as the person who has been hurt and carries that hurt around.

 

Take your distance

Whether someone you just met has attempted to bring you down once or you have lived for years with a verbally abusive person, it’s your right to set a boundary and not let that person speak to you like that.  For a lot more about setting boundaries, this past article of mine addresses things to consider when setting a boundary and ways to speak to make your expectations clear.

josh-boot-177342-unsplash

Heal

It’s possible you are living with the voice of the long-term abuser in your mind, holding you back with insults every day.  Another article I wrote on this exact topic explores daily practices you can incorporate as a response to that voice.

Remember: you are enough, just the way you are.  If any past or current voices are telling you otherwise, it’s up to you to refuse their narrative and make your own.

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Healing

Looking deeply

Reframing

Assertiveness

Setting boundaries

Self-advocacy

Awareness

Clarity

Congruence

Compassion

Communication

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Have Downtime

A question raised by a client: “As soon as I get some days off of work, I Iike to jet off somewhere for a vacation.  Is there any better form of self-care?”

Travel can be an excellent option for self-care.  Whether it includes total rest or exploring new places, meeting new people, or learning new skills, you can support your mental, physical, spiritual, and social needs going somewhere outside of the places you ordinarily see.  A travel vacation is a gift to yourself.  There are also plenty of other ways to meet self-care needs and to gift yourself.  Other options are often less expensive than travel and can be as powerful of an experience.  Before you catch that plane or train or jump in that car, here are some excellent ways to care for yourself when you have several days that are unscheduled.   

Cozy Cabin

Reboot

Many of us have some changes we would like to make in our daily habits, and a few free days are a good time to practice incorporating the new habit or eliminating the old habit.  When you see the new habit in action, you can determine how practical it really is going to be in your usual, busy schedule.  You can also see how you feel without enacting the old habit.  You can identify barriers and scheme for how to circumvent those barriers.  Bringing a healthy lunch to work every day might be a challenge if you get home late at night and don’t have the energy or desire to prepare it before bed or in the morning.  These days off are a chance to explore some healthy soup recipes or even research some healthy-lunch hacks the food bloggers of the world can offer.  

Different from the conceptual making of a resolution to do something, creating a habit is done through nuts-and-bolts actions.  Do you want to meditate for 15 minutes every day upon waking?  Some down time is an opportunity to see what that’s like.  Of course, creating a habit is a multi-layered, longer-term endeavor.  First, conventional wisdom says that it takes about 2 months to establish a new habit.  So, after your few days of playing with the new habit outside of your usual routine, keeping it up during the busy periods will be a test.  It is very helpful to focus on the benefits of the new habit in that critical moment, or “choice point” at which you do the action… or you don’t.

For example, if you are laying in bed and deciding to get up to go sit on a meditation cushion, you may rather sleep for another 20 minutes instead.  At that critical moment, it’s important to recall how serene you felt for the rest of the day yesterday when you gave yourself the gift of getting on the cushion.  In fact, viewing the new habit as an indulgent treat you give yourself makes the “activation energy” of the behavior a lot easier to mount.  You are really loving yourself when you set aside time for meditation, feed yourself food that nourishes you at work, coach yourself through a vigorous workout that will keep your cells thriving.  Feeling cared-for is a lot more motivating than feeling cattle-prodded.  The choice in perspective is yours.

Sometimes there are some deeper psychological barriers to adopting a positive new habit / eliminating an old habit.  This course by Kelly McGonigal is an excellent choice if you want to address those elements of change during your time off.  I recommend it.

 

Dive In

Sometimes we have some unresolved experiences or feelings that keep calling for our attention, but it never feels like the right time to really look into them and do the work of “processing” the feelings or experience.  A few free days are a great time to safely look at difficult situations and allow the process of resolution to unfold.  This can be as simple as sitting down with a journal and writing out our thoughts and feelings about the experience, then going on a bike ride.    

Scheduling a retreat at a local church or meditation center is a way to delineate the time during which you are going to “sit with” the unresolved experience.  These venues also offer teachers / spiritual leaders who can offer support if your processing brings up some feelings you aren’t prepared to manage.

You can also bookend your few days of delving into your heart and psyche with appointments with your personal psychotherapist.  He or she may also have suggestions for exercises you can do during your time to welcome movement and healing in your journey through the difficult situation.  A therapist can also help you interpret what you experience, to integrate what you learn into your self-concept and your understanding of your life until now.   

Connect

A few free days are an excellent chance to reach out to loved ones near and far.  In our everyday lives, it’s easy to deal with what’s directly in front of us and mostly forget our web of support- all our friends and family!  With some free days, you can make plans to visit some of your loved ones, either locally or even a short flight away.

You can also plan your days of connecting as a “stay-cation” at home: days of relaxation and other self-care, punctuated by writing letters to distant loved ones and a few hours on the phone.  A whole day free makes it easier to ring up the people who cross your mind often, but with whom time-zone differences tend to prevent contact.  Maintaining the social fabric of your life is an act of self-care and loved-one care, at the same time.  Connecting with others is a basic need we all have to feel secure and seen.  Offering connection to others helps those in our lives who may not be as skilled at reaching out to receive those benefits, as well.  

 

Enjoy your downtime!      

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Pausing

Communication

Looking Deeply

Habit-Creating

Rest

Creating Community

Healing

Journaling

Share Your Experience
How do you use your time off for self-care?  Please share about it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Know You Are Going to Die

The experience of a former client: “I was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and given a 16% chance for survival in five years’ time.  After all the treatment I’ve been through, we haven’t seen remission.  I don’t have much time left.”

I have heard it said that the point of living is to learn how to die.  In other words, we have succeeded in “living” if we live our lives in a way that- should we die this instant, from any of an infinite number of unforeseeable causes- there is nothing of consequence left incomplete.  Sure, we may never finish writing the book we began nor may we compete in the marathon we planned to run: those things are not the ultimate definition of “success.”  In the case of the former client whose dilemma, above, I am referencing for this article, a young child was left fatherless when the client died.  In his last weeks of life, the thought of not being there to “walk his daughter down the aisle” represented his fathomless grief at dying young.  This was heartbreaking for me, a tragedy that doesn’t make sense.  Most adults have faced senseless tragedy in our own lives or the lives of those around us.  While we can’t control the fact that sometimes, our lives are cut much shorter than the average and with fallout that feels cosmically unjust, we can absolutely control the way we live our lives until that unknowable date comes.  Being given a “deadline” is in one way a kind of gift- it can be a wake-up call out of the torpor in which many of us find ourselves floating.

underwater

Time to Wake Up

So, what do we do with the time we have?  Most of the tasks which we must accomplish to survive in this world are only beneficial because they help us succeed “historically”- in the realm of everyday things like career and finances and preserving material possessions.  These tasks seem to matter much, but they “ultimately”- in the realm of ontology- are of little consequence: paying mortgages, submitting paperwork for professional licenses on time, getting vehicles in for regular tune-ups, etc.  If we don’t tend to these things, our lives will be a bit out of control, things will fall apart… but, ultimately, dying individuals do not look back on their lives and think, “I am most grateful I never overdrew my checking account,” nor “I wish I had maintained my car better.”  In an often-publicized look into end-of-life regrets published by a palliative care nurse after eight years working with the dying, a common thread emerges: openness, authenticity, and strong relationships.  The regrets of the dying circle around the themes of not having been open and authentic in their lives, and not having put enough energy into building strong friendships and family connections.    

The consequences of these regrettable oversights are spending valuable life-energy doing things that are not fulfilling and, as the more than 70-year-long Harvard Grant Study has shown, not cultivating the one thing that leads to a longer, happier life: love.  It’s never too early nor too late to live your life fully.  Here are three suggestions that can guide you towards a regret-free life every day- whether you have 1 day, 100 days, or an unknown number of days left on this planet.

Sometimes, the grief of holding the prognosis that you are probably going to die soon is all you can do.  In those moments, all you can expect of yourself is to receive these three qualities of Amends, Appreciation, and Gratitude from others- and to give them to yourself, when you can.

 

Amends

We’ve all heard the term “to make amends,” but not many of us have an actual practice of regularly making amends.  In short, to “make amends” is to take responsibility for your part of a conflict and to share your regret at having played that part with the other parties involved.  This is a big part of 12-step recovery (step 10, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”)  

You might be thinking, “But, but, SHE said X and SHE did Y, why should I be the one to apologize?”  You should be the one to take responsibility for your actions- regardless of whether the other person is blameless or is truly the source of most of the conflict- because they are YOUR actions.  You can only control your actions and your words, not those of others.  This is the meaning of another 12-step phrase, “Keeping your side of the street clean.”  Is waiting for the other person to wise up and admit their wrongdoing worth dying with a family conflict over a car that was totaled or a Christmas card that wasn’t sent?  When we remember that death is imminent, it is easier to openly, authentically- courageously- acknowledge our wrongdoing.

If this concept is entirely new to you, this article breaks it down pretty well.  I especially like the article’s focus on not just identifying the action for which you are apologizing, but the character defect of yours that allowed it to happen.  It’s also always powerful to identify the negative impact you believe this had on the other party, and your plan for fixing any damage caused and for preventing future lapses on your part.  For example, “Joe, I’m sorry that I cut you off in the staff meeting yesterday- you were making a point, and I was acting out of impatience and self-centeredness.  It must have felt insulting when I did that.  If it’s okay with you, I’d like to apologize for it at the beginning of next week’s meeting, to clear the air among all the staff so they know that what I did wasn’t right and that I am working on being more patient and kind.”

It’s important for us to always remember- whether veteran amend-makers or those new to making amends- that, similar to forgiveness, we are doing this work not only to be kind to others, but to free ourselves of the psychic, spiritual, and emotional binds of conflict and resentment.  We can only have deep and loving relationships if we are committed to this kind of open and communicative integrity.  What sounds most fulfilling: hiding behind self-righteousness and having shallow relationships, or vulnerably admitting when wrong and having deep relationships built on trust?

While it takes time to build trust between people, it is never too late to make amends.  The other party in the conflict may have written you off and may refuse to respond to what you have to say- but knowing that you faced your shortcomings and courageously sought reconciliation will free you from the burden of that guilt and shame.  When making amends, we make them with zero expectation from the recipient.  We are taking responsibility for our own actions, not taking inventory of others’ actions.  In fact, it is critical to only address our actions and not the actions of the other person during the course of our amends.  This is why it is important to have a script, so that we don’t regress mid-conversation to defensively trying to explain our actions based on the others’ actions.

If there is nothing else you have time to do before dying, it is worthwhile to identify all the outstanding conflicts in your life and investigating your part in them, writing a succinct but full script hitting all the key points (your role, your character defect, your regret at causing the other person pain, your plan for rectifying the problem) and delivering that script- whether in person, on the telephone, or in a written letter.  Do it promptly.

If you are unsure, find a friend or spiritual teacher who is willing to look at your amends with you and see if they seem right.  Always consider the recipient when making amends.  Does the other person fear you / your history of violence?  In that case, stick to a phone call or letter and clearly state that you only have one thing to say, that you do not intend to write or call again, and that you expect nothing in return from him or her.  Do you have reason to fear the potential violence of the other person?  Write your script in your own journal and do not deliver it.  Just.  Get.  Clear.  And then move on.  

Beyond people, there are other instances that call for making amends.  If you have a “Creator” concept in your spiritual views- particularly the Christian belief that you will go to hell unless you have humbled yourself before God and asked for salvation- this would be an important time to make sure you do that.

Moving forward, make daily amends- every night, look at your day and determine if you have anyone to whom you need to make an amend, and then do it promptly.  

         

Appreciate

In tandem with making amends, appreciating is the best way to strengthen relationships.  It also happens that spending time thinking about what we appreciate lifts our mood.  Every day, dozens of people we can name and thousands of unknown people contribute to our lives.  While it is beneficial just to think of and silently appreciate all this support coming our way, outwardly expressing this appreciation is the more “open, authentic” avenue.  The more you are able to express your appreciation to the people around you, the happier everyone will be.  Would you rather leave a neutral / critical legacy, or a grateful legacy?

If you are generally thoughtful, you probably already thank the people in service positions that you come across- checkout clerks, waiters, receptionists.  It’s always nice to say “thank you” when someone helps you.  It’s a delight to be able to share even more appreciation, with a specific gratitude.  For example, “Thank you for your patience as I unloaded my cart,” or “I appreciated the reminder call yesterday, I had actually forgotten to put the appointment on my calendar.”  Something sweet to do if you have several errands is to buy / snip a bouquet of fragrant, seasonal flowers and give one or two stems to the people in service positions that day that you come across, along with a verbal “thank you!”

As for people who occupy more time in your life, like colleagues or family members, making a point to catch them doing something you appreciate or admire and telling them is a joyful practice.  Small and beautiful / practical gifts, like flowers, coffee, or lunch, are easy and yet impactful.  If you have little time left on this planet (read: any of us,) spread appreciation in all directions.  Make it a goal to tell 1, 2, or 5 people each day what you appreciate about them.   

 

Generosity    

Yet another pro-social action that has strong positive impacts on the doer is generosity.  Whether gifts to people you see often or donations of time or resources to causes you appreciate, practicing generosity not only leaves a positive impact in your physical absence, but also helps you thrive while you are here, with feelings of purpose and connection.  I am most fond of acts of generosity that are experiential- where I can directly interact with those receiving my offering.  For example, if you donate money to a homeless shelter, can you also sign up to serve a meal there?  If you donate supplies to a youth program, can you also attend their open-house event and meet some of the families that benefit from the program?  How about making 15 sack lunches and taking a bike ride to pass them out at a homeless encampment?  Offering to carry bags when you see someone struggling?  Spending your Saturday helping at a public tree-planting event or an athletic event?  Doing a chore around the house that someone else normally does?  The possibilities are infinite.

It’s easy to be blind to the ways we can be generous, but if you commit to finding one way each day to practice generosity, the small but important actions will be easier to identify and do.  The more you can work generosity into your daily experience, the more beautiful your life and your legacy.   

 

            

     Important skills you are strengthening:

Amends

Communication

Personal Responsibility

Gratitude

Appreciating

Generosity

 

Share Your Experience

How do you live your life fully, every day?  Please share about it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Mistakenly Thought You Could Have an Intellectual Discussion on the Internet

“I was intrigued by an acquaintance’s statement online, so I joined the conversation and added my perspective, only to receive ad-hominem attacks by another commenter.  My acquaintance didn’t even respond.  Is it me, or is respectful, logical, intellectual exchange no longer possible?”

All it takes is one glance at the online comments under the average YouTube video or web article- which are often unmoderated- to get an eyeful of more pointless, racist, sexist, homophobic, and crude language than you ever wanted to see.  The number of people trolling (joining conversation threads with the only intention of spewing ugly words and hurting others) is large.  While there are many reasonable and reasonably kind people online, it only takes one troll to shift the energy of a conversation towards the uncomfortable or even abusive.  

On the other side of the spectrum, many people don’t want to engage in actual dialogue online.  They may feel fine posting articles or making comments that put forth debatable perspectives, but if anyone shares a contrary perspective, they will not engage or may even delete your comment.  (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.)  So, how does someone who appreciates intellectual discourse and wishes to be engaged with others by sharing thoughtful and respectful dialogue get his or her intellectual and social needs met?  If you haven’t guessed it yet: NOT online!  Here are some tips for recovering from your mistaken attempt at online intellectual discourse.           

 

desertbench

“Is there anyone reasonable out there?”

 

Remember: What You See Online is Not Representative of Reality

As an intellectual person, you value respectful discourse.  You may even be sensitive to others’ words and intentions, which is why you are drawn to talking things out: to make sure everyone is understood, to break down barriers to communication, and to find the common ground where many parties can find agreement.  And then you witness the underbelly of our society: people spewing hateful words, for no beneficial reason, derailing actual dialogue.  This can be demoralizing.  A resilient way to respond to this situation is to accept that some places are dark and negative, and you have no obligation to go to those places.  Avoid them, if that is better for you.  I would propose that this is better for all of us, but for various reasons some people are drawn to the dark and negative and intentionally go towards them.

Another resilient response is to recognize that there is a disproportionate quantity of negativity online because the negative, trolling individuals are making their voices heard, while those who are conflict-averse are not posting at all and those in the middle are getting shut down by the trolls.  Additionally, one troll can be accountable for great quantities of vitriol.  In this This American Life podcast, writer Lindy West talks about her experience with online trolls and discovers that one person was responsible for several- apparently different- troll attacks that she sustained.  The podcast is definitely worth a listen.

 

Accept the Limits of Internet Dialogue

Now that you have experienced first-hand the limits of internet dialogue, it may be easier to accept those limits.  The unmoderated internet is, at its worst, wide open to being co-opted by trolls.  People who want to have intellectual discourse have no control over that (aside from heavily moderating the comments made by guests to a given website.)  Besides the troll factor, the difficulty in ascertaining tone and intention behind typed statements prevents the genuine understanding that could be possible between people speaking face to face.  This is not surprising when you consider that even speaking face to face about contentious topics with someone you know well is fraught with potential misunderstanding and communication breakdown.

Your thoughts- no matter how well-considered and reasonable you consider them- have a high likelihood of being misunderstood and negatively interpreted if you toss them into the ether of the internet.  It is silently- and silencingly– frustrating to be pedantically told how you are wrong by someone who then puts forth a position that is intellectually inferior to your own.  When you think about it, do you really want to engage a stranger in mutually trying to educate each other through written text, in a forum that is visible to and available for further comment by anyone with an internet connection?  Probably not.  That, unfortunately, is the nature of the internet: people who don’t know the experiences or education of others, interpreting their black-and-white words through one’s own flawed, limited perspective, and then critiquing others’ knowledge/logic/intention/decency.  Any expectation you have for compassionate and intellectual dialogue is misplaced on the shoulders of the person in front of the computer at another node of the internet.          

 

Get Your Intellectual Stimulation in Person

So, you now know that the dark side of the internet is not (entirely) indicative of the intellectual decline of the human race, and you know that you can’t expect the internet to provide the understanding, rational, intellectually curious dialogue you wish to have.  How do you meet your need for thoughtful intellectual discourse?  Look for places that foster face-to-face dialogue.  Mainstream, generic culture does not bring us into places where we can have meaningful discussions.  Most people are neutralized in their non-work time by television, passive internet usage, and substance use.  

If you crave real interactions and talking about serious issues with other people, you need to connect to groups of people that meet for some common objective.  Groups of people where you are likely to have meaningful conversations with other members would include activist groups, church / spiritual groups, debate clubs, poetry slams, Toastmasters clubs, and other places where people meet to either look deeply into things or to develop the art of communication.     

Hostility on the internet does not have to silence you; turn your attention to places and communities that celebrate dialogue and cultivate understanding.  Help build those communities, help bring in other people who, like you, are engaged thinkers looking for their tribe.

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Pausing

Accepting

Creating Community

Share Your Experience

What have you learned about self-care through internet dialogue?  Where have you found good outlets for intellectual inquiry?  Please share about it in the “comments” section.  The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!  Don’t worry: I monitor the comments.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Feel Disappointed by Someone

“One of my close friends didn’t come to my wedding, even though I gave her months of advance notice.  I know she can afford the trip, and I even made a point of letting her know how important it was to me.  ‘Disappointed’ is an understatement for how I’m feeling about this!”

 

Disappointment is a fact of life, and unmet expectations of other people are one of the greatest sources of it.  If you look again at the sentence you just read, you may notice the phrases, “fact of life,” and “unmet expectations.”  These two terms hint at keys to unlock the prison door of disappointment- which is a prison of our own making.  Disappointment is like all of our negative emotional states- we have the power to change it.  If we don’t manage our disappointment, it will soon become resentment, and resentment is toxic.  When we learn to distance ourselves from our expectations of others and to deconstruct those expectations, we can often get some freedom.  When we allow the disappointment of this one person’s action (or inaction) to rest on a level with all the other myriad disappointments we experience in life, we distance ourselves from the behavior we perceive as being disappointing.  This also leads to freedom.  The through-line here is recognizing that there are different ways of looking at the situation you are currently reading as “disappointing.”  Let’s look more closely at how we can care for ourselves when disappointment arrives on the scene.          

    

Sit With It

The best thing to do when a strong, negative emotion is rearing its head is to take some time by yourself to sit with it- to welcome it, listen to it, see what it has to teach.  Rumi said it best, in the poem “The Guest House.”

Your initial urge will probably be very different than this suggestion.  You may be inclined to numb out with some distraction (social media, television, daydreaming) or substance (alcohol, prescription pain meds.)  On the other end of the spectrum, you may be inclined to embody the emotion and to let it loose on other people.  If you’ve ever stuck your digital foot in your mouth by firing off an inappropriately angry email, you know why this is a bad idea.  I’ve heard it said, “Don’t just do something!  Sit there!!”  This is funny, and true.

Pug Puppy

This guy is working it out.

However, sitting with difficult emotions is not easy.  This is one benefit of psychotherapy- you get the practice of sitting in the room with an empathetic person as you express challenging emotions and learn, through repeated practice, to listen to and learn from these emotions.  This helps you to later go through the process on your own.  Some people learn this skill as they mature through adolescence, and some people enter adulthood still needing help with this.  The good news is that many of us have access to therapy to work this out.

When you do sit with the disappointment, you may feel terrible.  This is a good time to take out a journal and write down your thoughts.  You might write, “my friend doesn’t really value me or our friendship, since she didn’t prioritize my wedding.”  Write down your fears, too.  They could be, “She and I are growing apart, I’m becoming less desirable as a friend, my husband will think I don’t have strong friendships, maybe I don’t have strong friendships, maybe I’m unloveable, maybe my new husband will realize this and leave me.”  It’s really important to let all the pain and fear leave your psyche, to be seen on the page.  I can guarantee that, if you dig deep, you are going to find some ridiculous and embarrassing thoughts.  This is the human condition: we are a bunch of infants running around in adult bodies.  The more you listen to the infant and take care of the infant, the less likely you are to act like the infant in front of people.  

If this kind of vulnerability is new and uncomfortable to you, do this writing part next to a shredder or a burning wood stove, so you can destroy the document as soon as you are done writing and using it.  But before destroying that evidence, sit with the child-like thoughts and fears you may have uncovered, and send well-wishes to that child.  Cultivate some compassion for the child.  I have learned that placing my hand over my heart cues a sense of both nurturing and being nurtured.  Try sitting like that for a few minutes.

 

Reframe the Disappointment

Once you have honored your own emotions and underlying thoughts and fears, it’s easier to widen your perspective.  This is the time when you can deconstruct your expectations of the person and your stories about the disappointment.  

Here are some mantras that I find helpful when I’m feeling disappointed by someone.  The first one is:

This is not about me.

Because, truly, whatever the other person is going through or whatever his or her shortcomings, the disconnect between your expectations and the other person’s choices are almost never about you.  Untangling your disappointment from the ego leads to some freedom.  Second:

This is the nature of reality: dissatisfactory.

I’ve heard it called the “inherent dissatisfactoriness of life”- many spiritual teachers talk about how dissatisfaction with the material world is just the price we pay to be in the flesh, dealing with imperfect bodies, imperfect minds, entropy, and all the other things that pose challenges.  Hence, the drive to seek meaning in spiritual practice.  Whether you believe this or not, there is no denying that the person’s behavior in question is not the only thing you were disappointed about- maybe even that day!  Recognizing this may help to accept this disappointment as just another drop in the “I don’t like it” bucket.  Third:

This is an opportunity for me to take care of myself.

What did the person fail to do, or fail to do for you?  Can you do it for yourself?  If so, do it!!  Don’t let your disappointment keep you from enjoying what you thought would be coming from the other person.  Do it for yourself, and enjoy it.

 

Acceptance

You’ve considered some new ways to look at the disappointment.  Now let’s dig deeper, to your expectation that set up the disappointment.  First, was your expectation a reasonable one?  Once you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you may find that your expectation simply wasn’t reasonable.  Maybe it was something that you would do- but was it something that the other party could reasonably be expected to want and be able to do?  For example, if you were disappointed that your friend with three jobs and two kids did not give you 24 hours advance-notice of a lunch invitation… maybe your expectation- while reasonable in most circumstances- is not reasonable here?  Expecting your partner to remember your favorite beverage when he’s at the grocery store is pretty reasonable.  Expecting your mother- who has never been expressive of her feelings- to tell you she is proud when you land a new business deal isn’t- unfortunately for you- reasonable.  

When looking at the reality of the situation, we can see the places where we haven’t been reasonable- the places where we need to accept reality- and also the places where we can ask more of our loved ones.  Maybe you have heard the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

There is much, much freedom to be had in this sentiment.  When we can see the parts that we simply cannot change (a friend / relative / coworker who is not interested in being reliable, for example,) we can let those expectations go.  Sure, we also then adjust down our vulnerability to that person- but without any hard feelings.  This approach- acceptance- is against a lot of people’s natures.  Humans are problem-solvers, and sometimes the problem is another person!  If we could just decide how everyone else would act, the world would be great- right??  This is the dream of every dictator.  When you find yourself wishing someone were more this way and less that way, remember Stalin and instead radically accept the person for who they are.  You don’t need control of other people- managing yourself is hard enough!  

On the other hand, when we see the parts that we can have a hand in changing (a partner / coworker / friend who simply doesn’t know the best way to relate to us,) we can speak up and help change the situation.  This is where setting some boundaries- described in the next section- comes in.     

 

Set Boundaries

Now that you are much clearer in your thinking about the disappointment, and have gotten a deeper understanding of what pieces were your perception and what pieces were truly unacceptable behavior, it’s time to communicate skillfully.  It’s important to remember the things you appreciate about your coworker or loved one before you broach this conversation.  Look deeply to see the paradoxically good qualities tied to the disappointing behavior.  For example, if your college-aged daughter skipped her Sunday phone call home and didn’t answer her phone when you called, only to call the next day and say she had been backpacking that weekend, you might be disappointed that she didn’t tell you ahead of time so you could make other plans and not worry.  If you look deeply, you may also see your appreciation for her spontaneous and adventurous nature.

Next, look for times that you have made the same mistake as what you are finding disappointing right now.  There is almost always an example… for example, didn’t you miss the Sunday call by an hour last month, because your phone battery died and you weren’t somewhere you could re-charge?  Look deep for this- taking responsibility for your own regrettable actions allows you to have empathy for the other person, allows you to see how easy it is to do what they did.  When you share your regret with the other person, you also clear the air and you model taking responsibility for your mistakes.  To set your boundary, find a good time to talk with your loved one or coworker.  Share your appreciation, share your regrets for times you’ve made similar mistakes in your relationship, and then set your boundary.  For example:

“Lisa, as your mother, I so appreciate your spontaneous and adventurous nature.  I love that you are taking time to build friendships and enjoy the mountains even when you have such a demanding course load.  I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry I didn’t plan accurately last month and I wasn’t able to call you for our weekly phone call.  I know you set aside that time and I’m sorry you had to wait.  This last weekend, I was pretty worried when I didn’t hear from you on Sunday- and even more worried when I tried calling you.  I do my best to not catastrophize, but that kind of stuff keeps me awake at night.  In the future, I’d like for us to both make a better effort to keep our phone call- and to always let the other person know if we won’t be available.”  

Or, on the topic of the missed wedding:

“Sadia, I appreciate that you are such a go-getter- you’re always doing creative things, and going to new places!  I was recently thinking about the time you planned a group vacation in Mexico and I was the only one from our group of friends who didn’t make it- I’m sorry I didn’t make a better effort!  Last month, when I was looking around at all the friends and family in town for my wedding, I was very hurt to not see you there.  We can’t turn back time and put you in those memories, but I need for us to have a conversation about how that went down, so I can put it behind me.  I want to know that you value our friendship and value me… if, in fact, you do.”   

When you approach another person with well-considered thoughts and perspective, you are much more likely to see a positive outcome.  The communication style I am describing here- influenced by both Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication and the Beginning Anew conflict resolution style of Plum Village Monastery- allows both parties to feel seen, heard, appreciated, and accountable.   

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Listening

Pausing

Journaling

Compassion

Acceptance

Reframing

Gratitude

Personal Responsibility

Self-Advocacy

Communication

Setting Boundaries

 

Share Your Experience
If you have some ideas or experience with managing disappointment, please share them in the “comments” section.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Are Not Feeling the Love on Valentine’s Day

“I hate being alone on Valentine’s Day.  I don’t even like commercial holidays- but it still gets to me.”

 

There are several reasons why you may not “feel the love” this year on Valentine’s Day.  To name a few: being single if you would prefer to have a partner, having a partner who doesn’t express appreciation or affection as much as you would prefer, and being in a state of grief- for any kind of loss.  Even while the dominant culture seems to worship partnership and romantic love, the fact is that more than half of American adults- according to recent census measures- are single, which here means “unmarried.”  Not all, but many of us have a natural drive for romantic connection with another person.  Being single- combined with desiring a partner- during a holiday where others are enjoying time with their partners is a perfect time to take care of yourself.  In fact, any time that the wider culture is celebrating something that is not part of your current reality is a perfect time to take care of yourself.

 

Both of the categories below for taking care of yourself when not feeling the love, Make it a Self-Care Day and Let Your Light Shine, are using the same principle: watering the tiny seeds of happiness, love, and generosity that are always in us, but that- at difficult times- are hard to see.  We are not the victims of our emotions, and we are not our emotions.  Emotions come, emotions go- and we have a direct hand in helping them along in the direction we want them to go.  That is what all of the suggestions in this week’s article are meant to do.  Note: if you are suffering with major depression, it’s important to start small.  It is less likely you will be motivated to do something large to care for yourself (like the “run a marathon” possibility, below.)  Something small, like drawing a bath or reaching out with a phone call to a friend, are perfectly good and will also alter your brain chemistry for the positive.  Depression has a way of darkening our view of all kinds of things- even your self-care efforts.  I challenge anyone experiencing major depression to celebrate what you ARE able to do, rather than judging yourself for what you currently aren’t doing.  We are all on our own paths.  I’ve heard it said that we are all uniquely beautiful flowers in the garden of humanity- you, me: everyone.        

 

Make it a Self-Care Day

I’d like to note that self-care almost never requires a lot of money.  However, sometimes it is nice to pamper yourself with experiences that you don’t have every day.  Whether you spend any extra money on your day or not, the point is to give yourself some truly present care.  Especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I like to think of it as being your own awesome romantic partner; it turns out that you can do for yourself the things you would love to do for a partner or for a partner to do for or with you.  Here is a list of possibilities:

-Make a point of attending that yoga class / crossfit session / hiking club / etc. you tend to skip.

-Make a healthy and delicious meal to eat while listening to your favorite music.

-Put some candles and nice music (favorite beverage?) in the bathroom, draw yourself a hot bath, and soak for as long as you want.

-Buy yourself flowers or a new potted plant for your home or office.

-Set aside time to do your creative thing- play your instrument, paint, sculpt, write.

-Take yourself out to an amazing show you wouldn’t normally pay to see.

-Go to bed early and spend some quality time… with yourself… before falling asleep.

-Get a professional massage.

-Give yourself a massage- maybe in the bath.  Massaging your own calves, feet, belly, arms, neck, head, face, and hands is really nice.

-Spend some quality time with your Higher Power, if you believe in one: prayer, meditation, listening to a dharma talk / sermon, going to church.

-Invest in brushing up your appearance with a haircut, facial, or manicure.

-Schedule an all-day outdoor adventure, if mid-February weather where you live is comfortable for you: a bike tour, surfing, a long hike, a marathon.  Hint: this year, the LA Marathon is on Valentine’s Day…

 

lakeswimmer

You might need a wetsuit, but an outdoor adventure will change your state of mind.

 

Let Your Light Shine
Sometimes, self-care comes in the form of letting our love and care flow outward.  When we consciously choose to focus on uplifting others (rather than focusing on others as a habitual way of not paying attention to our own needs; there is a big difference!) we are liberating some of our most powerful potential: the potential to multiply positive energy, to touch many lives.  At the end of the day, those we touch and we, ourselves, are lifted up.  In order to access our loving thoughts and appreciations, it is key to pause and spend 10 minutes or so meditating on and/or writing about the people in our lives who we’d like to give some love.  What do you appreciate about them?  What really great qualities about them might be hidden much of the time?  Where have you seen them shine?

 

Once you’ve got some love flowing, here are several suggestions for sharing that love with the people in our lives on or near Valentine’s Day:

 

-Buy a dozen flowers and give one, with a small note of appreciation attached, to your nearest colleagues (in your office, for example, or on your team.)

-Invite a good friend to be your guest at that music show with which you are pampering yourself.

-Write a haiku or other short verse about someone you appreciate, describing their superhero qualities, and give it to them- by email, on a social media forum, in a card, on a note attached to something nice like a flower or chocolate.

-Take a good friend out for a special lunch.

-Make it a point of telling a handful of people (3?  8?) a few things you appreciate about them when you see them the week of Valentine’s Day.

-Depending on your goofball factor (mine is pretty high,) buy a box of those Valentines that kids give each other at school from the drugstore, and give them (with candy hearts in the envelope, of course) to your friends / neighbors / colleagues who you think can handle the goof.

-If you don’t already have a place you volunteer your time regularly, find one ahead of time and schedule to be there on Valentine’s Day, caring for the people, land, or animals the place serves.

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Appreciating

Communication

Service

Generosity

Gratitude

Compassion

Now, Share Your Experience

If you have some tips for self-care during triggering holidays, please share them in the “comments” section.  

How to Take Care of Yourself When… You Need to Change Course

“I need to either change my work contract or find another position, but I don’t know how to go about making this change without upsetting others. Help!”

 

It is great to know what you need.  Clarity is an underrated mental state.  So, you’ve done half the work- you know how something in your life is not meeting your needs.  Your next step is getting your needs met.  The preparation for, execution of, and resolution of negotiations on this front are different depending on the nature of your relationship with the other party.  We have needs in every area of our lives, so I’d like to broaden this topic from one of making a change at work to making any kind of change that involves others.  Here are some steps for taking care of yourself in this sometimes murky area:

 

Walk Through the Potential Outcomes

Something is not working for you, and you have concluded that this thing must change- one way, or another.  For example… your hours at work need to be reduced because you are burning out.  You need your girlfriend to text or call at least once on days you don’t see each other so you know she’s alive.  You need your neighbor to stop using the leaf-blower at 7am on Saturdays so you can sleep in.  Whatever your situation, take some time to consider what the outcome of requesting your desired change might be.  

 

Consider:

-the strength of your relationship.

-whether the other party has been responsive to past requests you have made.

-whether your need may be reasonable in the other party’s eyes (which is not an indication of the validity if your need- simply an indication of the other party’s perception.)

Imagine what the best-case response could be, if you bring this topic up with the other party.  Now note the worst-case response.  For example, in the burning out on the job example, a best-case response could be your boss agreeing to reduce your hours- without reducing your pay or benefits.  A worst-case response could be a dismissive and non-accommodating reply from your boss, followed by an unprecedented- and seemingly undeserved- formal reprimand from her the following week.  Which one of the responses is more likely to happen?  

 

 

lighthouse

Let your own light guide your way

 

Decide if it is Safe to Bring your Request to the Other Party

If your mental walk-through of potential outcomes seemed pretty promising, you are close to ready to broaching the conversation with the other party.  Go ahead to the next step, “Effective Language for Getting What you Need.”  If your mental walk-through did not seem promising, you need to decide if you are willing to subject yourself to a potentially abusive / unsettling exchange in order to try to get what you need, or if you are simply ready to move on and find a situation that better meets your needs.  A large question here is: if your boss / girlfriend / neighbor is truly so unpleasant- but you still want to bring your concerns to that person- what are you trying to hold onto?

 

A self-care superstar knows that 1) no one else is responsible for our needs, if we are able-bodied-and-minded adults, but that 2) we have the daily opportunity to surround ourselves with people who are responsive to our needs.  If the boss or girlfriend has a track record of little regard for your needs, it’s time to find another job and to leave that relationship.  If the neighbor has little regard for your needs… it may be time to get a noise complaint in to the local officials, rather than wasting your time and breath with your neighbor, directly.  In an ideal world, we would be able to honestly and vulnerably share requests with people in our lives.  Unfortunately, some people are not ready for that kind of exchange, and are prone to defensiveness- anything to avoid change, or personal responsibility.  

 

I have heard it said that the only mandatory life experiences are “death and taxes.”  There are many people who don’t pay taxes, and some people are pursuing immortality, so let’s just say that nothing is mandatory.  You don’t have to stay in an unhealthy workplace or relationship.  There is always- always– an alternative.  It doesn’t matter if you are 60 years old and it’s the only job you’ve had, or you got married in a cult where you will lose your entire social circle if you divorce.  There is always another way.  However, in these circumstances, you want to take extra care to set yourself up to succeed when you make the change.  So, if you have a ton to lose when considering letting your needs be known or just walking away from what you know will not meet your needs, identify at least 3 resources to help you.  Is it 6 months of living at your cousin’s home when you leave your home?  Federal unemployment money if you lose your job (because, otherwise, you will just be applying for new jobs while still working at your current job?)  Calculated risk and covering your rear are both forms of self-care.

 

Back to broaching the conversation: even if you believe the other party is not able to respond well to your request, read the next section.  You may find a way to get through, yet.  

 

Develop and Practice Effective Language for Getting What You Need

It is possible that negotiations have not gone well with the other party in the past.  This could be due in part to the other party’s inability to have genuine conversation, and it could also be due to your inexperience in communicating your needs effectively.

 

Imagine hearing this, from your romantic partner:

“You never text or call me.  I need you to text or call, or I’m going to leave you.”

What is your immediate, gut-response?  You would probably note the 1) over-generalization of “never” or 2) the threat of being left!  These are two communication tactics that are sure to not get you what you want or need.  Unfortunately, many of us grew up in homes that modeled exactly this kind of behavior- and a lot of melodramatic media reinforce these and many other negative communication styles.  Fortunately, there are better ways to communicate, and we can train ourselves to use them.

 

Now imagine hearing this:

“Something I really appreciate about you is how full of a life you live- you work hard, you make time to spend with your friends and with me, you stay fit- and I know your days are packed, doing all of that.  I know I’m not always the best at letting you know that I’m thinking of you, but I think about you all the time.  I’ve noticed that on days when we don’t see each other, I wish I knew what you are up to- or at least that you are okay, and happy.  When I don’t hear from you on those days, I even get worried.  Are you willing to make a point of at least texting me once on days we don’t meet, so I know that everything is okay?”

What would your gut response be to this request?  Hopefully, nothing too strong- maybe just compassion for your partner, who is sharing vulnerably and respectfully what she needs.  Notice the 1) appreciation she shares first, then the 2) acknowledgement that she isn’t a perfect communicator and 3) her sincere wish for you to be happy and healthy and 4) her non-debatable feeling of worry when she doesn’t hear from you and, finally, 5) a specific, attainable, request of you.  This gal gets two gold stars for having identified all these factors- her need, what she appreciates, her own part in your dynamic, etc.- and then speaking this truth to you.  In other words, she’s a keeper.  You can be a keeper, too!

 

In order to get ready for your own conversation, develop a gold-star script like the one above.  Write it down.  It is by far best to have this conversation in person, so you aren’t going to be holding the script in front of you during the actual conversation.  You are writing this script so that you can internalize and be very clear of all the points you want to address.  You can even ask someone close to you to stand in as the other party while you rehearse delivering these lines two or three times, to get the feeling of the potentially unfamiliar words rolling off your tongue.

 

Have the Conversation

At a predetermined time, or at a time that the other party appears available, bring up your appreciations for the other person, acknowledge the time you know you were remiss.  Be cool- easy-breezy.  Chat a little bit, then ask for what you need.  Make sure you say the emotional and physical consequences to you, when you don’t get what you need (the burn-out, the fear, the lack of sleep.) You are confident because you put the time in to understand your position and the likely position of the other party.  You know your request is legit- and that you are free to go elsewhere, take an alternate route to getting your needs met, if this conversation doesn’t bear fruit.  More often than not, people respond well to someone who has thoughtfully prepared a request, and who speaks with humility and integrity.  Appreciating the other and acknowledging your occasional shortcomings, vulnerably stating the consequences to you of the status quo… these are undebatable, blameless ways to speak.  They inspire collaboration and goodwill.  Good luck!

 

Important skills you are strengthening:

Communication

Personal responsibility

Boundary-setting

Self-advocacy

 

Now, Share Your Experience

If this article has inspired you to ask for what you need, please share how you asked and what outcome you saw in the “comments” section below.