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Category Archives: Communication
We all know what it means to take stuff personally, because it’s really irritating when it’s happening to you. Sometimes you’re trying to share something meaningful or vulnerable, but when your conversation partner takes it personally, the deep sharing is over, right?
What you might be less aware of is when you’re the one taking things personally.
Taking things personally happens all day every day for most people in most relationships. It’s been my experience that unless you’ve deliberately practiced how not to take things personally, you’re most likely doing it at various times. I certainly used to, and I have practiced very diligently how not to take things personally.
In case you’re wondering, “What are you doing when you’re not taking things personally”, here’s my definition: You’re listening. You’re observing. You’re calm. You consciously choose your response to a given input.
Let’s break it down a bit more.
Taking things personally starts with me taking in some stimulus through my senses. I hear something, see something, smell something, feel something, or taste something. In addition to stimuli I take in through my senses, taking things personally can even start in my own head, by remembering something, or activating a certain thought.
I then make up a conclusion about what this stimulus means. Which in turn creates a certain feeling in me. And from that feeling, I take some sort of action.
As a formula, we could say, a Stimulus leads to a Thought leads to a Feeling leads to an Action.
Taking things personally can show up in an infinite number of ways, some where you take things personally, some where it’s the people you relate with …
- You’re sharing something about yourself or about your day with your partner and he makes it all about himself instead of just listening.
- You go on a date, enjoy yourself, the next day you send your date a text and you get no response. You immediately think, “I know I didn’t show up very well; I’m not very attractive; I’m too old; I never get a second date”.
- Your boss says, “We really need to shore up our numbers this quarter”, and you immediately think, “I knew she didn’t like me; I’m going to lose my job”.
- You partner initiates sex, but you’re really not in the mood, and ask for a rain check. Your partner says, “Why don’t you love me anymore?” That’s your partner taking it personally. Or you might think, “Why am not turned on anymore? What’s wrong with me?” That’s you taking your own lack of desire personally.
- You want to find a solution to an issue with your partner or someone. Could be about where you live, where you go on vacation, how you earn or spend money, how you have sex, how you raise your children or any other topic. You say, “there’s something I’d like to talk to you about”, and your partner says, “Now what did I do wrong?”
- Any time you think or say things like, “I don’t deserve it; I’ll never get what I want; no one loves me; I’m not attractive; I’m not successful enough” Those are all versions of taking things personally, that is, you’re making whatever is happening about yourself.
- Any time your partner or your kid or someone near you gets upset, and you think, “Now what did I do?” That is, you assume their upset must be because of something you did or didn’t do, that’s you taking it personally.
Let’s play out one example, a variation of what I heard from a client this week:
We’re trying to get out the door for an event. It’s getting a little tight on our timing. My partner says, “Where are the car keys?” That’s the Stimulus. In my mind, I think what she’s really saying is, “You lost the car keys! Where did you put the car keys? I told you a gazillion times to put them in the basket by the door! Can’t you do anything right?”
That’s the thought, or conclusion, I make up about the Stimulus (we call these conclusions simply “make-ups”).
I now feel irritated, angry.
The action I take is to shoot right back and say, “I didn’t put them anywhere! They’re probably in your purse! Like last time!”
This is a simple example of taking something personally. She didn’t actually make a statement about me, but in my mind, she was saying all kinds of things about me. Negative things. About how I can’t do it right, and I always lose stuff.
Here’s the first important lesson: Whether or not a statement, or a stimulus is about me, I can easily make it about me. And whether or not it really was about me, I’m still better off not taking it personally.
What happens when I take things personally – what we sometimes call getting triggered – is my brain kicks into fight-flight-or-freeze reaction mode. From that place, I’m not making conscious choices. I’m simply knee-jerk and either lashing back, defending myself, or checking out. It’s not a conscious decision on my part. I didn’t stop and think to myself, “Hmm, in the face of that statement, I’m going to choose anger”. Anger just showed up!
In short, I took it personally. I made up that it meant something bad about myself.
Next important lesson: When you take things personally and get triggered, you’re no longer the one who controls your own mood or your own reactions.
In this case, my partner saying, “Where are the keys”, activated my thoughts, which activated my anger. And from that point of view, the only way to feel calm is to convince my partner that it’s not my fault, and she should not use that tone of voice, and that the keys probably are in her purse. Now we’re arguing, and it sucks.
Perhaps even sadder is what happens to my communication partner, and to the space of deep sharing, when I take things personally.
When my partner, or my child, or my friend, is trying to share something with me, and I start taking things personally, I immediately shut down the space of open sharing and invalidate the other person’s experience.
You know the stereotypical experience of a woman saying to her man, “Stop trying to fix me!” Well, when I’m the one trying to fix someone, that is a variation of making it about myself.
Let’s say my wife is sharing something about her day, or about her friends, or about a difficult situation in her life. After 5 minutes, I begin to feel uncomfortable or impatient, and I jump in and say, “Look, you just tell your friend to mind her own business, and you can be done with it!” That’s me making it about myself, because I don’t want to take the time to listen, or I’m getting impatient.
This happens with children and parents all the time. A child comes home from school and starts talking about something that happened at school, and before the child is finished the parent says, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about; it’ll pass, don’t pay attention to that”. That’s the parent making their own time or experience more important, and it shuts down the space for the child to share.
In fact, partners in long-term relationships often come to us with their number one desire being to be heard without their partner taking it personally. That’s the only way they’ll ever get to actually share fully what’s on their minds and in their hearts. I can’t tell you how often it happens that Sonika wants to share something with me, and when I don’t take it personally, that is, I just remain present, calm, interested, and listening, she will work her own way through whatever difficulty she’s talking about.
So the big lesson here is, when you or I take things personally, we shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration. Conversely, not taking things personally is one of the biggest gifts you can offer to anyone. Because they get to experience themselves and find their own solutions.
Of course, it’s extra tricky to not take things personally if my partner is talking directly about me. But remember I said earlier, that even if a communication has your name in it, you still don’t have to take it personally. Say my partner is launching into a speech that goes like this: “You just don’t listen to anyone but yourself; it’s impossible to trust you; you keep saying one thing and doing another; I can’t count on you!”
Most people do indeed take words like these personally when they’re coming from someone they care about. Those are statements, or accusations, that hit directly towards my core values, so it’s only natural I’d be triggered and want to defend myself, right? Yeah, it probably is; but when I do, it still only creates arguments and distance, and once again, shuts down the space for open sharing.
It is a masterful skill to not take it personally even when someone you care about is throwing direct accusations your way.
I personally made a decision long ago that I would free myself from being run by other people’s opinions about me, and it’s served me wonderfully. Even more so, it’s served my wife, kids, and friends, because I have developed the capacity to just listen and remain calm and open no matter what or whom they’re talking about, even when they’re talking about me.
So how do you get to that point?
You start by remembering that annoying thing your teacher told you when someone had just called you a ninny or smeared their sandwich in your face in the schoolyard. My elementary school teachers always said, “It’s not about you, it’s about them”. Every time I heard that, I wanted to tell the teacher that sounded ridiculous, but I didn’t.
That idea is a good start, because there’s a lot of truth to it. Whatever another person is sharing with you, even if your name is in it, it’s still primarily a reflection of their own internal experience.
Look at what productive conclusion or meanings you can make up about a given situation, instead of taking it personally. Remember, when I take it personally, I’m typically making up that it’s my fault, that I should know better, that I don’t deserve it, that I can’t get it right, that I did something wrong, that people don’t love me, etc., etc. All makeups that have a negative meaning about me.
What else could I make up? For instance, one of the makeups I’ve taken on is whenever my partner is sharing something, whether about me or not, I make up that it’s a chance for me to practice staying calm and open in the face of anything.
I make up there’s important information in what she’s sharing that I might learn from. I make up that by my just listing and remaining calm and open, we’re going to be closer and stronger together. I make up that by not taking it personally I give her a gift, and I make her happy, and that makes me happy.
What could you make up? Specifically with the purpose of you remaining calm and open, instead of taking it personally?
It’s always struck me that taking things personally has a good deal of arrogance behind it. When I take things personally, I’m assuming that everything is about me. It’s a sobering thought to step back and reflect on that thought … Am I really so important that everything you say, or all your emotional upsets could be because of something I did? Not likely! And since I don’t want be to an arrogant person who takes himself overly seriously, that’s another good motivation for me not to take things personally.
Here’s a quick recap:
- When I take things personally, I take a given stimulus or communication, and I make it mean something, typically negative, about myself.
- Whether it’s about me or not, it always serves me and the other person or persons if I can remain calm and open, instead of taking it personally
- When I take things personally, I’m no longer in control of how I feel and how I act. I’ve given that power over to outside stimuli.
- When I take things personally, I shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration, and I deprive my partner of the opportunity to explore him or herself.
- Remaining calm and open, instead of taking things personally, is one of the biggest gift I can offer to someone, or to my relationships.
A couple we met with reported that they had been fighting for months. She was sleeping downstairs on the couch and he was sleeping upstairs alone in their king sized bed. They both felt angry and hurt, yet truth be told, they missed each other terribly. They wanted to get back to feeling connected and in love again, but each was too afraid to make the first move back to each other.
A single woman wanted to begin dating again, but she was so afraid of being judged for not being beautiful and young enough that she was reticent to put herself out there. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to handle rejection from potential suitors. While she wanted to be in a relationship, she opted for the safe sanctity of solitude over the discomfort of meeting new people.
Why do we sometimes choose loneliness over connection?
Because relationships are risky.
Every time we reach out to connect, vulnerably share our feelings, make a request for support, initiate a date or an intimate conversation or a night of lovemaking, ask forgiveness for a mistake we made, we enter into unknown territory.
Will we be loved? Received? Met? Accepted?
Or will we be judged? Shunned? Rejected? Pushed away?
The possibility of rejection and pain sends most of us slinking back to our comfort zones. We would rather stay safe in our known but lonely worlds than risk feeling hurt by the people we love. Unfortunately, this means we don’t have the connection, passion and intimacy we long for in our relationships. The safer we play in our relationships, the more disconnected and dull we feel, and the more dissatisfied we are.
Creating great relationships – growing, learning and developing skills in love, intimacy and sex – all require that we courageously and repeatedly risk fully stepping forward, going for what we want and vulnerably expressing ourselves.
Passion arises from breaking patterns, taking risks, stepping out into unknown territory and embarking on new adventures. Intimacy arises from uncensored honesty in both words and action. In order to create intimacy and passion, we need to make peace with discomfort, because risking like this in love is uncomfortable sometimes.
We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When I dare to share my fears, a wild sexual desire, some lofty goal, or a weird wayward thought in the middle of thinking it, I expose myself. When I express my doubts and insecurities, reveal my judgments, get triggered by something you said or did, I reveal the unacceptable parts. I am splayed out, open for you to see it all – the good, the bad, the crazy, the wild, the ugly, the beautiful, the profound, the innocent, the wicked, the brave, the fearful …
The more I reveal, the more vulnerable I am. Sure, the more you know of me, the more you have to love of me. But the more you have to judge of me as well. That is a scary prospect when I love you and want you to love me forever. So many of us resort to sharing less and less of ourselves to ensure our partner will love us forever.
But this creates another problem, summarized in this saying, “Every over-determined effort produces its opposite result.”
The more I try to protect myself from rejection and judgment by staying safe, the less alive, in love and connected in relationship I feel. I quit initiating conversations, because you never share anyway. I don’t ask for sex, because you said no the last 20 times. I don’t ask for a fun date night out at a hotel, because you will judge me for wasting money. Before we realize it, we have both quit initiating any kind of connection, and have devolved to living like roommates tending to logistics barely noticing each other. The retreat to safety, while intending to keep love alive, actually kills off the very love and passion we are trying to protect.
Many couples who call it quits are often surprised at the depth of intimacy and hot sex they experience amidst their divorce conversations. Declaring their marriage over eliminates any need for playing it safe – the worst imaginable fear has already happened. They are now free to unleash pent-up feelings, share their deepest desires and regrets, to openly and authentically reveal themselves. This has them feel closer to each other, intimately connected, compassionate and even appreciative. Their newfound intimacy, combined with their now unknown future, fuels their sexual passion, and they find themselves making love with a fervor that has been missing for years.
But we don’t have to wait until love has soured and we are sleeping in separate beds and contemplating divorce, before we risk in love. And we don’t have to wait until we are crying ourselves to sleep alone every night. We can take risks now.
Ask yourself, “Where do I hold back? What am I not saying? What would I do if I weren’t afraid of rejection? What risk would I take if I knew it would turn out? What do I really want to do that scares me to even think about?”
These types of questions will point you to areas you might want to change and take risks around.
One way to make it feel safer for yourself to risk is to be upfront and vulnerable about the risk you are taking or are about to take. “I have never gone up to someone I didn’t know and asked them to go on a date with me before, so I am feeling pretty vulnerable right now.” Or “I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone on this one, but I just want to say that I would really love to have sex with you tonight.” Or “I notice I am scared to tell you that I miss being close to you and I just want you to hold me in your arms right now so bad.”
Or you can just go for it. Jump. Be brave. Take that action. Get off the couch and march upstairs and climb into bed with your husband. Ask your partner to chase you around the house or jump your bones. Give that person you are attracted to at work your phone number or ask him or her out for coffee. Lean in and plant a passionate kiss on your partner’s lips. Share something about yourself to your partner that he or she doesn’t know. Plan a weekend getaway to a place you have never been before. You just might be surprised by how refreshingly welcome your risk-taking advances are!
Now, we are aware that not all risks are lovingly received. So, what if the worst thing happens, and you get a rejection, a judgment, or a No?
Stay in there. Lean in. Don’t be so quick to give up and back off. Stay in there and take the next risk!
Share your feelings. Be transparent about your experience without blame or make wrong. Share what matters and why something is important to you. If you can’t do it with one person, do it with the next one.
And hear them out. Give them a chance to come forward, to meet you. Elicit any concerns or conflicting desires they might have. Ask them, “What would it take for you to be a Yes? Let them know you care about them and their needs too. “Is there anything you need to be able to give me what I need?” Keep exploring options when they back away or decline. “What would you be willing to do?”
In other words, keep risking! Over and over again! And if someone takes a risk with you, reaches out to you, asks for your time, connection, or phone number, receive the risk kindly (even if you say no). That way, you’re rewarding someone taking a risk, just like you’d like to be rewarded when you reach out.
All relationships start with someone making a first risky move that ignites a spark. So whether you’re wanting to start a new relationship, or re-start an existing one, risk reaching out to connect.
PS. Literally in the middle of writing this, Christian came over to my chair, got down on his knees, looked in my eyes and said, “I love that I can still say after all these years that you are my best love story.” And then he kissed me passionately. I kissed him back. I rewarded his risk.
We all know the value of exercising and staying fit. It’s practically recommended by every doctor and expert in the world. Does that mean we all do it? Not exactly.
It’s the same in your marriage and other relationships. Unlike our physical health, we often have the unfounded expectation that our relationships are going to stay fit and in good health with little to no effort.
The renowned relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found in one study that couples wait an average of six years before they seek out counseling for their marital issues. Six years! Can you imagine having a twisted ankle or a serious stomach ache, but not consulting a doctor about it for six years?
We often get very nervous when it comes to talking about our relationship “stuff”. It’s no surprise, really. Many of us, myself included, were raised to keep our feelings and personal relationships very close to the vest.
As with physical fitness, there are myriad ways to keep your relationships fit and in great shape. Even if you’ve fallen out of shape, there’s still plenty of hope. You just start small.
Remember when you were newlyweds, how many nice things you’d say to one another? Turns out, appreciations spoken out loud are the pushups of relationship fitness, an absolute staple of personal and relational wellbeing. My wife and have had a simple fitness practice for over ten years: before we go to sleep, we both share at least three appreciations to each other.
Alongside increased appreciations, there is often a decrease in complaints, blame, and criticism. We all know how easy it is to devolve to routine bickering with our partner, but we might not know that it’s proven to be fateful to marriages. Dr. Gottman, quoted above, found by studying several thousand couples over many years that we need at least a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions per day in order to avoid marital breakdown or divorce. That means for every critical or blaming remark, it takes a full five positive remarks to counter the negative effects. And if we want a thriving, healthy relationship, we should probably aim for a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio.
We’ve had several coaching clients over the past few weeks, both couples and singles, for whom the absence of the relationship fitness basics have taken a toll. A young couple with three kids, both parents working full time, find themselves feeling so drained and stressed by the responsibilities of work, kids, house, and family, that any advances from their partner seems like just another chore, and they inadvertently end up pushing each other further apart. When the general stress level is elevated is when we’re most prone to activate our own as well as our partner’s “hot buttons” and go down a rabbit hole of triggered reactions. And then we forget all about our relationship fitness basics.
For a single mom I coached, this shows up a bit differently, although it’s the same dynamic at work. She’s also feeling scared and pressed by the never-ending responsibilities of making life work, being the only adult to handle everything. Just like couples end up complaining to each other and rejecting each other’s advances, this single woman finds herself complaining to other people, to herself, and completely forgetting the relationship fitness basic of appreciating herself and finding space to recharge her batteries, another absolute necessity for anyone to remain sane, calm, and functional.
For both the couple and the single mom, the immediate remedy is to return to relationship fitness basics. Sure, there could be a bigger process about how to set up the life to function better, how to communicate better, and how to create structures that support deeper connections, even with a gazillion chores. But it didn’t take more than 10 min into our session, with some guidance to relax, connect, and express appreciations, before they both were crying and holding hands, relieved to be “back to basics”. They even expressed it themselves, saying that when they regularly engage in activities just for the two of them, like attending the workshops with LoveWorks, setting up time for fun, dance, music, and exercise, everything works out better.
As is true for our physical fitness, it’s no use if we just do it once or twice. We have to make appreciations and quality time, for ourselves and/or with our partners, an ongoing practice. It has to become a staple in our daily lives. We need to keep learning more effective ways to communicate, deepen intimacy, and resolve our problems, so that connection and intimacy are the rule, and breakdowns the exception. And when breakdowns do occur, as they will, we have the skills to deal with it them in short order.
Along with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual fitness, your relationship fitness will hopefully now become part of your regular routines. As one couple in our workshop said, “Appreciations are a lot cheaper than divorce!” We believe that keeping your relationship fit will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
If you’re ready for a relationship fitness kickstarter event, by yourself or with your partner, check out our Level 1 workshop, Give Yourself To Love. We still have room in our Oct 5-6 workshop in Auburn, CA. More info here ….
When I was a kid taking the bus to school, I used to fantasize while looking out of the window. Most of my fantasies were about something bad happening to me, and people rushing in to take care of me and show me how much they loved me. In my fantasies, I mattered. I was important. I was loved.
It wasn’t until my twenties, when I found myself in a battering relationship, that I saw how I had associated being a victim with love. In my life, drama was the path to love – to both expressing it and receiving it. It was in pain that I felt loved by others, and it was in other’s pain that I felt the compassionate presence of my own love for them. While this path allowed me to feel an incredible depth of connection at times, it also left me feeling powerless, unhappy, stuck, and even physically battered.
A therapist woke me up one day with his suggestion that my victim experiences were sourced by me for some positive purpose. It was the first glimpse I had into the creative power behind my victim mindset. Then in a workshop I took, I saw even deeper how supremely I orchestrated my relationships to keep myself in the victim role. It was awe-inspiring to discover just how much unconscious planning went into the recurring victim dramas I played out in my relationships.
Once I discovered how much power went into keeping myself a victim, I decided that I would use that same power to create myself to be the hero, the lover, the powerful creative one, and walk myself down the happiness trail. It took decades, but I steadily learned how to leverage my creative power to step into love directly, to eradicate the victim tendencies in myself.
I have since learned from experience that the victim mindset comes with stories and beliefs about ourselves that we inadvertently reinforce in the course of living and play out in our relationships. Most often, these beliefs include some variation of “I obviously have no power here. I am not going to get what I want. There is something wrong with me and I am not enough, because if I was this wouldn’t be happening. Things are not going to turn out for me.”
To shift out of victim into power, we need to change our deep-seated stories. We need to be willing to be wrong about the beliefs we have about ourselves that say we are inadequate, powerless and doomed to suffer. We need to remember that we are master creators and that we have the power to take life by the reins and at any moment, and take actions in the direction of our dreams.
Beliefs lead to a destination. When I believe that I am not enough, it takes me down a victim road. When I think I won’t get what I want, it has me throw my hands up in resignation, or jump to blame and criticism. When I think whatever is happening shouldn’t be happening, I am thrown into resistance and despair.
On the other hand, if I consider that maybe I am enough, that I can create something good out of this, that I will absolutely, get what I want – somehow, some way – and that everything that is happening is occurring for my benefit and growth, it helps me to feel hopeful and centered in my power. It keeps me inspired to expand myself, to learn and grow, to search out creative solutions and explore new possibilities.
Just as beliefs lead to a destination, so do questions. If I ask, “Why do I keep creating this shit? What is wrong with me? Why am I settling in this relationship?” I am likely to reinforce feeling victimized and stuck.
I prefer to ask questions that keep me connected to my power and lead me in the direction I want to go. “If I were powerful right now, what would I do? What action would I take today if I knew I could get what I want? If I believed I was enough, what goal would I tackle? If this were happening right now to help me grow, what would I learn here and how would I use that? If I was wrong about me not being lovable, what step would I take?”
Taking responsibility is the key to stepping out of victim into power. Responsibility defined is the “ability to respond”, and we would add, the ability to respond consciously and intentionally in a powerful resourceful way. Responsibility is something to take, not something to take.
There are three ways to take responsibility, each with their own set of leading questions.
- Past. The most common way of taking responsibility is to look backwards at what I did to contribute to my current predicament. “How did I help create this? What did I do to set this up?” Unfortunately, this way of taking responsibility sometimes has the adverse side effect of beating ourselves up for past actions and reinforcing our incompetence and powerlessness. Beating ourselves up for not knowing then what we know now is futile. Besides, often what we learned about our values and boundaries and preferences came from past breakdowns and lines crossed! While it is true that we don’t have the power to change the past, we do have the power to offer apologies, make amends, offer forgiveness, do “do-overs” and learn from our mistakes.
- Present. Another way to take responsibility is to explore what I am doing to perpetuate my experience. “What am I doing to keep myself stuck in victim? Am I not asking for what I want? Am I not honoring a boundary? Am I assuming my partner is the enemy? Am I backing away from what I want versus stepping in towards what I want? Am I blaming my partner for not reading my mind and giving me what I want? What am I thinking and believing about myself that is contributing to this outcome??” Answers to these types of questions will lead to insights that will reveal new possibilities for different actions we can take that are more in line with who we want to be and what we want to create.
- Future. This is my favorite way to take responsibility. “How can I use this to step more fully into my power? How can I use this to realize my goals and step more fully into my Full Potential? If I were a powerful, resourceful woman who could make good use of anything, what would I do with this? If this was happening FOR me, instead of TO me, what action would I take today?” This way of taking responsibility challenges us to rise up and creatively turn challenges into growth opportunities.
When I am triggered in my relationship world – when my son doesn’t respond to my texts, or Christian is feeling cranky or a friend cancels a visit at the last minute – I ask myself, “If I were connected and knew I was loved right now, what would I do?” The answer that I get to that question is infused with love, and the actions I take that follow only serve to create and reinforce the connection I want. I use the unwanted event to uncover my desired experience, and I move towards what I want, step by step.
To maintain an empowered state, we need to work with our body and mind. Paying attention to and altering our language is an important part of shifting from victim to power as well. Instead of saying, “I can’t”, say “I choose”. Instead of saying, “I should”, say “I could”. Instead of saying, “I don’t know what to do”, say, “I am open to an answer showing up.” Instead of saying, “I am shut down”, say, “I am opening up little by little”. Instead of saying, “I am not enough”, say, “I am enough just as I am.” Instead of asking, “How did I create this?” ask “How can I use this?”
Actively cultivating fantasies of being in our power and visualizing our selves living a Full Potential life is crucial. Taking care of our body with exercise, healthy nutrition and sleep, and shifting any victim postures to powerful stances are essential as well. These undertakings will all contribute to us having and sustaining an empowered mindset.
We need to be gentle with ourselves as we shift from victim to power. It is easy to stay stuck in victim. It gives us an excuse to stop. It feels safe to stay where we are and avoid change. Our victim mindset reinforces old stories that are comfortable and familiar.
Everything new we want is outside of victim and lives in our creative resourcefulness. We merely need to remember how powerful we really are, take responsibility where we can, and use our current life circumstance – the good, the bad, and the really challenging – as a steppingstone towards our goals. We need to steadily take risks into unknown territories that blow up our old limiting stories and allow us to recreate ourselves.
Moving from victim to power is freeing, and truthfully one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. But breaking the victim habit is not necessarily easy. Rewiring our thinking and shifting behavioral patterns takes time and consistent effort.
Start small. Ask a question that points you in the direction of your power. Take one action that moves you towards what you want. No matter how challenging life is, we all have the power to take responsibility and choose what we think and what we do.
Get support from other people on the growth path when you can’t find your way through. Let them shine the light on your brilliance and competence and support you to learn new ways to speak and think and act, until they become second nature in your own life. Do it for yourself, for your family and for the people you work with and love.
There is no grander experience than moving from victim to power. And no greater love than that which comes from drama-free empowered relating!
If you want to take action in learning drama-free, empowered relating, look into our foundational workshop, Give Yourself To Love.
A married man we know came clean with his wife about using pornography and his newfound desire to quit. She was shocked. She had no idea. They had always prided themselves on having an open, honest relationship and a fulfilling monogamous marriage. She felt profoundly betrayed by his secrecy and sexual activities.
She found herself caught in a bind. Should she appreciate him for telling the truth and use his admission and commitment to quit using porn as evidence of his trustworthiness? Or distrust him for lying in the first place? And what did that mean anyway? Had he not been sufficiently attracted to her or sexually satisfied in their marriage? Was that the reason that had him seek out other women in porn? If so, how could she compete with beautiful, young, sexy women on the screen? Was he just watching movies? Or was he hooking up with women live? For how long had this been going on? Could she ever trust him again? Would she ever be able to open her body and heart to him like she had before?
This couple was lucky, and determined. They committed to doing what it took to save their marriage and emerged from their porn experience feeling more committed and trusting and in love than ever before.
Another woman found out her husband was watching porn and hiring prostitutes when she saw his purchases on their credit cards. They weren’t so lucky. Their marriage ended in divorce.
One of the most recurrent problems struggling couples report is the presence and impact of porn usage in the relationship, usually, but not exclusively, by the male partner. On the part of most women, discovering a partner’s porn usage is akin to unearthing the truth of a hidden affair. Yet the user will often say that their porn usage is nothing more than an occasional recreational pastime that means nothing about his satisfaction in the relationship, and will readily deny any harmful impact.
Some have said that men watching porn is like women watching a good love story film – a fun, juicy experience from a distance that means nothing about their relationship.
But the disruption to a relationship when the use of porn is revealed or discovered, and the associated feelings of defensiveness, betrayal, rejection, shame, distrust, hurt, dissatisfaction, disappointment and blame suggest otherwise.
So do statistics.
Porn has become mainstream entertainment in our society. It is a global, estimated $97 billion industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S. Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month.
Porn is a favorite pastime for millions of consumers, and many have no idea what kind of harm they’re letting into their own lives, or the kind of exploitation they’re contributing to.
The scientific community is uncovering how pornography impacts individual wellbeing and functioning. This research involves studies on pornography compulsion, mental health outcomes, and body image concerns, as well as studies on sexual attitudes and behaviors. Studies show that porn usage is highly addictive – many even refer to porn as a “drug”.
Perhaps the largest impact of pornography on people’s lives is the ability to influence expectations regarding sexuality and relationships. A growing number of studies are documenting the negative effects of pornography on relationship quality, satisfaction, and commitment; as well as increasing the likelihood of relationship conflict and breakup.
Enough evidence has validated the concern surrounding pornography and the ties it has to global issues such as sexual violence, human sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike. And recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses!
These issues aren’t going to change as long as society continues to deny the real, proven harms of porn. And our relationships aren’t going to improve and healthfully thrive unless we honestly and squarely talk about porn and its hidden impacts.
Much like Ester Perel does in her books about affairs, we need to remove the shame associated with porn. Shame keeps our porn usage in the shadows and ultimately fuels the porn industry’s growth. It also harms us more, as a society, as individuals and as partners in relationship. When we feel shame about porn, we don’t talk about it, and the secrecy and lies surrounding porn consumption prove to be just as harmful to the relationship as the use of porn itself, if not more so.
We need to be willing to honestly talk about what drives us to use porn, what it provides, and what it takes away. As best as possible, it behooves us to avoid blame and “making-wrong” when an addiction to porn is discovered or confessed. Instead, to offer support to ourselves and each other, to be patient and forgiving and forthrightly accountable, as we untangle ourselves from its addictive grasp.
To create a frank space to talk about porn, we also need to create less shame around the topic of sex in general. We need to be able to be candid about our sexual needs and desires, so that we can work together more effectively in relationship to create win/win solutions in the areas of love and sex.
While ethical porn can be consumed responsibly to spice up a dull sex life, so can educational sex films, tantric sex practices, fantasy, role-play, and workshops exploring sexual possibilities, to name a few. Porn does not have to be a part of our lives in order for us to experience varied, hot juicy sex. In fact, we would say, that the transcendent sexual experience available in full sexual expression with a partner in real time, coupled with deep respectful love and attention to the divine, far surpasses what porn can deliver any day of the week.
For hands-on help on improving your sex life, contact us to learn more about our Possibilities of Sex workshop November 23-24 in Auburn, or for coaching around sexual issues.
Do your own research. A few minutes on Google will show you a lot. For example, this article on Psychology Today with surprising statistics about porn use and who is using it.
You can also listen to Sonika’s super useful episode about how to have high, transcendental sex here …
Every day we are creating. Every minute we are presented with an opportunity to intentionally choose where to put our attention and focus. Why does that matter? Because what we focus on we get more of.
In the beginning of relationship, we focus on what we love about our partners. We focus on, and bring out, the best in each other. We delight in the pleasures and joys. We appreciate the little things and take time to acknowledge them. We expect, observe and speak the positive aspects of our partner with such overflowing abundance that we scarcely notice the flaws and breakdowns.
Over time, our attention narrows to what we don’t like and don’t want in our relationship and partners. In severe cases, we don’t see the beauty and loveliness of our partners at all anymore. We don’t feel good.
In an effort to get back to that blissful in-love state, we complain and yell and beg and withdraw as we try to articulate what is missing and desired. But working on our relationship doesn’t work! Our lack of relationship training keeps us inadvertently reinforcing painful patterns, rather than producing our positive desired results.
How can we use the art of creation to make changes in our relationship?
It has been demonstrated in quantum physics that we are continually interfacing with and changing reality with our expectations and observations. What that means practically in our relationships is that we can consciously create a great relationship where we are passionate and happy and intimate and sexual and playful, or we can, by default, unconsciously create shut down, unhappiness, arguments, disappointment, separation, loneliness and pain. We get to choose.
Every new minute is an opportunity to newly choose – do I reinforce creating what I don’t like and don’t want with my attention, or do I create more of what I DO want? Do I create more of what “has been” or do I create more of what “could be”? Do I focus on what is working or on what isn’t working? Do I appreciate what we do have, or complain about what is missing.
A successful relationship is merely a series of positive choices by both parties strung together over time. Today, I choose to focus on what I want to create. Today, I choose to create something positive in my relationship. Today, I choose to appreciate you.
But how do you shift your attention to something good when things are bad between the two of you? How do you begin creating what you want instead of what you don’t want with your partner?
There are many steps to this process, too many to include here. But, the first step is to clarify what you want. Your desires are the seeds of creation. They are very important to declare so you know what to nourish and focus on in your relationship world.
Take your complaints and problems and upsets – your “Don’t-wants” – and turn them into “DO-wants”. Feel the delightful excitement of imagining your desired outcome. Then take time to write out your best vision of what you want. Write it in the present tense. Choose words that bring to life the feeling experience you want to create in your relationship. “We are so excited to reconnect with each other at the end of our work day, and can’t wait to share with each other over dinner delights from the day.”
Knowing what you want is the first step to taking charge in the transformation of your relationship. Writing it down is a way to make it stick. Reading it regularly is a way to keep it present for you.
For inspiration, here is a snippet of our own relationship vision:
“We are celebrating almost fifteen years together. We are just as in love as when we first met. We daily enjoy the depth of our relationship and our shared love work in the world. We continue to drop down more and more fully into ourselves and with each other, and our intimacy often brings us both to tears. Our lovemaking is more present and intimate and pleasurable and creative than ever.
We use everything that shows up in our relationship as an opportunity to step more and more into the fullness of our power and love. We are committed to empowering each other’s Fullest Potential, and we daily live in a mood of appreciation and gratitude, for who we are, what we have and what we are privileged to call forth and create. We keep our focus on what we want to create, on trusting we can create whatever we want from nothing, and we don’t give energy to what we don’t like or want.
We call ourselves to rise in every area of our life. We examine and change un-resourceful beliefs and actions, and are a living inspirational example to others of what is possible. We inspire others by how we live, love and serve. Everyone we meet is enriched by our presence. We always remember that we are unlimited, that all things are possible, and we fearlessly reach out in love to be of service to others.
Life is just so fun with us. Laughter is the predominant sound in our home. We love goofing around. We are very close to our children and our time together is full of laughter, love and learning.
We live a life of such magnificent harmony and wellbeing – life unfolds in miraculous flow. Our experience of being in love, united and aligned is beyond words. We feel as though every step we take is inspired and guided by Spirit. Every day we tune into and follow impulse, amazed and surprised by the mysterious and perfect unfolding of both our simplest and grandest desires.
We begin each day grateful for another day of shared life together. And we end each day in gratitude and appreciation for this grand life and love we share.”
Over the years, we have written many different versions of our relationship vision. It is like a work of art – it always evolves.
We encourage you to write up your own relationship vision. Envisioning and writing down what you want is a powerful first step towards creating change in your relationship world. Your vision can serve as a guidepost. It can help to steer your focus and influence your choices in the steady direction of your relationship dreams.
If you want practical help to realize your vision and create a more fulfilling, joyous relationship, check out our workshops and coaching sessions at loveworksforyou.com
You know the situation: Your partner says or does something and you immediately get hot and triggered. Somehow, that one comment or gesture sent you from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye. Just as often, you are on the receiving end of your partner’s reaction, where something you said set them off to explode or shut down.
What is going on when this happens?
On this week’s podcast episode, I interviewed Tania Choi, an MFT and trauma specialist who also did our workshop program. She said that any time you have one of those reactions where you go from 0 to a 100 in no time, you’re in trauma. A trauma got activated inside you.
Tania’s brief definition of trauma is “a point in time where you lost your sense of choice”. (Find this week’s podcast episode with Tania here…)
I used to think that trauma was only created by big, violent situations like incest, rape, battery, or war. Whereas those are sadly common, almost every child, even those who grow up in happy, peaceful surroundings, still experiences incidents that are traumatizing; incidents where they feel powerless to choose.
In these traumatic situations, we make decisions and formulate beliefs that shape us. They influence who we become, what we care about, how we feel, and what actions we take. They also become trigger points for us. When we are faced in the present moment with situations that remind us of these painful experiences from the past, our bodies respond the way our bodies responded back then.
We have heard hundreds of these experiences in our coaching practice and workshops. One student, an independent, resourceful, professional woman, shared how as a child, on a Tuesday afternoon after school, her mom gave her the choice between staying home with a bigger sibling to make brownies, or to go with mom and two other siblings to a local theater show.
No big deal, right? The kind of everyday situation that could happen in any family.
Well, as a young girl, she was traumatized by this event. She was torn about what to choose, concerned about missing out on either the brownies or the theater play. She was too scared to talk about her experience. She felt completely powerless and unable to come up with a choice that would prevent pain and loss. She was stuck. Paralyzed.
In that moment, she made an unconscious decision, “It is not safe to choose. No matter what I choose, there will be loss and pain.”
Guess how that’s relevant for her as an adult and in her relationships? Her whole adult life, she’s had a terrible time making decisions. She’s found herself unable to commit to a relationship and unable to end a relationship. She is unable to make a choice either way, always straddling that painful fence of “do I go stay or do I go? Do we move in together or not?” Anyone who’s been stuck in that kind of indecision knows how torturous it can be.
On the surface, it might sound implausible that trauma gets created by such an everyday, un-dramatic event. But for a young child who doesn’t have the wherewithal to look at all the angles and come up with productive solutions, an incident like that gets logged in their internal operating system as a painful “fact”. To this child, and later to this adult, it’s now “true” that making choices results in pain and loss. From that point of view, it makes perfect sense that she would want to avoid making choices.
So when she’s in the grocery store with her partner, trying to figure out which pasta to use for dinner, and he says, “What’s the problem? Just make up your mind already!”, she might have one of those 0-100 moments where she gets mad as hell in no time. Not because it’s a life or death matter if they use Barilla or DeCecco pasta, but because her childhood trauma just got reactivated, and she is back to being eight years old again.
It’s as if this trauma and the associated beliefs create an internal landmine that it is only a matter of time before someone, typically someone close like a spouse, a child, or a family member, detonates by saying, “Just make up your mind already!”
How is this important for you and your relationships today?
Most of our traumas and the subsequent decisions we make and the stories we live are unconscious. To create change and become authors of a new story, to consciously craft a new set of beliefs and behaviors that we live by, we need to bring our patterned responses up to awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see.
Triggers are a great way for us to slow things down and become aware of the landmines that live in us and get at their source. From there, we can decide to not let these past traumas run our lives. We can take the time to unpack and re-work these past experiences, to do “do-overs” in our minds and bodies that allow us to emerge empowered and with a new set of embodied decisions from which to live life.
One of the most popular and effective tools we teach our students is indeed based on these kinds of do-overs.
Brian Lewis, a local MFT and art therapist said that trauma happens when pieces of our soul get snagged on the jagged points of life. (Find our interview with him in episode 24 of our podcast here…).
Those snagged pieces of our souls can be set free and healed. They might have negatively impacted our past, but they need not dictate our futures!
In our workshops, we teach a triggers process that allows people to become aware of past stories that are reactivated in challenging situations. This step-by-step process allows people to move from victim to power, from having no choice to having choice, from not having what they want to getting what they want. It gives people a quick opportunity to turn a traumatic retriggering event into a positive empowering experience. Plus, it gives a way to communicate with a partner or loved one even in the midst of feeling triggered.
You might have heard the saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Well, it isn’t. With support, we can heal and shift almost everything in our past with conscious attention and re-patterning.
For more information on our workshop, go to loveworksforyou.com/gytl
She was crying in the corner. I went over to her and asked, “You ok? What’s going on?”
Through tears, she proceeded to tell me that she didn’t know why she was still single, especially after all of her hard emotional work over the past many months. She was sure it was because there was something wrong with her. She was too old, not sexy enough, too shy and introverted, and she probably wasn’t open enough or fast moving enough for the men she was attracted to.
Another man I spoke to, also in tears, shared his frustration at not being able to create the living situation and career in music he has always dreamed of. “Everything is falling apart and I just don’t seem to be able to do what I have always wanted to do! I feel depressed.”
Several weeks ago, our daughter came home in tears after chemistry class. “I feel stupid. I have to work so much harder than some of the other kids to understand this stuff and get good grades.”
Each of these people suffers from Not Enough Syndrome. In fact, countless numbers of people suffer from this condition.
Not Enough Syndrome stems from the belief that “I am not doing enough or being enough” or “I need something I don’t have in order to accept myself, feel successful, confident and peaceful.” It includes thoughts like, “I’m not smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, talented enough, lovable enough, rich enough, productive enough, etc.”
Some people with Not Enough Syndrome are depressed, lonely and withdrawn while others are outgoing, friendly and successful. Despite appearances, inside, there is a shared sense of not measuring up to some expectation or standard.
Not Enough Syndrome is best fueled by comparing oneself to other people who seem to have what we think we “should” have or be how we think we “should” be.
I too suffer periodically from Not Enough Syndrome. Thoughts have crossed my mind like, “I don’t have enough friends, enough clients, enough time with my kids. I should weigh ten pounds less. I am getting old. I should have more money saved in retirement. I should be able to pick up the latest line dance steps faster.”
One of the best gifts a friend of mine gave me in my thirties, after I had just sobbed my way through telling her I wasn’t enough, was saying to me, “You are right. You aren’t enough.” I was shocked at first. Then I thought she was joking. But when she said it again with a straight face, “It’s true. You aren’t enough.” I realized she was serious. Then she added, “So what? You aren’t enough. Are you going to let that stop you?”
The more I thought about what she said, the more I saw the truth in her words. Compared to standards and expectations, compared to experts and people more successful than I, compared to my ideal visions and goals, compared to perfection and God, I would never measure up. I would always fall short. I would never be enough.
Accepting that I wasn’t enough and would never be enough brought with it a sense of peace. Instead of fighting it or trying to change it or being resigned to it, I could just let this not enough thought be there. I could bring it along with me like an old friend, and not let it run me or limit me in any way.
When you think about it, don’t a lot of successful people think they aren’t good enough? Didn’t Princess Diana think she wasn’t good enough? And Ghandi? It’s no secret that a whole host of famous people had numerous failures before their big successes: Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey to name a few. It makes sense that they didn’t always think they were good enough either.
And when you think about it, doesn’t Not Enough Syndrome come with some positive useful benefits? Doesn’t it dampen down arrogance, foster humility, promote compassion, and fuel achievement, growth and success?
I have come to make peace with my Not Enough Syndrome, to use its presence in my life for many positive outcomes. It helps me cultivate deeper love and appreciation for others, as well as for myself. It keeps me honest and vulnerable and humble. I use it as a launching pad for helping me grow and expand into new areas I’d like to develop. And it supports me to soften into appreciation and gratitude on a regular basis.
If you are a woman and you suffer from Not Enough Syndrome, I encourage you to join me for my upcoming Women’s Retreat: For Women Who Want More. At this retreat, you will get to explore your Not Enough Syndrome, become aware of its impact on your mood, relationships and productivity, and learn how to counteract its negative effects with positive uplifting practices.
Rest assured, Not Enough Syndrome is curable. The first aid response includes a solid dose of love, acceptance and appreciation. The long-term treatment plan includes a heightened awareness, a restructuring of beliefs, and a series of positive uplifting practices that will support you to keep going for your dreams with healthy confidence and power.
Not Enough Syndrome doesn’t need to take you down or out!
The woman who was crying about not being enough for a relationship? Well, she was left knowing she is a beautiful soul and appreciates her innocent desire to find love. The man who wanted a lucrative career in the music industry was empowered to go for his dreams. And our daughter, well – she is feeling pretty good about acing her Chemistry class!
A comment we receive a lot in our relationship coaching sessions is this: “I don’t want to say anything to him about how I feel because I don’t want him to feel bad or wrong.
For women, it’s easy to put another’s needs ahead of our own. We are biologically wired to put relationship concerns ahead of our own personal needs. It is how we ensure the kids are taken care of and our husbands are nurtured, so they will love us, take care of us and go “hunt” food for us again day after day.
There is a real fear in the background of our animal brain that if we say or do the wrong thing, he might not love us or hunt for us anymore. From men, we consistently hear that you censor yourself because experience has taught you that emotional uproars are likely to occur when you try to share what’s on your mind. Many men have a deep fear of their partners getting mad at or disappointed with them, so it seems easier to just not say anything.
But there is a very real cost to not saying what we feel and need.
Imagine that you and your partner are looking into each other’s eyes, melting into this beautiful place of oneness, and there is nothing blocking the incredible flow of love between you.
Now imagine that there is something you want to say that you don’t say, and let’s symbolize this something as a brick that is now placed between you. At some point, there is another thing you don’t say, and so another brick is laid. Pretty soon there is another, and another. Everything you don’t say is another brick in the wall being built between you and your lover, obscuring your vision and flow of love.
Before long, there is so much that isn’t said between you, that you can barely see each other at all. Instead of having a relationship with your partner, you are now in relationship with all of the things you are not saying.
Needless to say, the love you feel gets more and more obscured as well.
Our relationship advice is this: Say it! Don’t hold back! Take the risk to speak your heart. And of course, say it in a way that optimizes your chances of being heard.
One of the best relationship tips we can give is to be transparent, withhold nothing, to say it all. When we share ourselves completely, that is when our light shines brightest. It is when we are real, vulnerable and open that we are the most attractive.
As mentioned above, the reason we tell ourselves for not sharing something, is most often a variation of “I don’t want to hurt my partner”, or “I don’t want to cause a stir”.
In our experience, what this really means is, “I’m scared of what’s going to happen if I say this. I could get in trouble”. It’s often our own fear, more than our concern for our partner, that makes us choose silence. Or perhaps you’ve tried sharing yourself in the past, and based on those experiences, you’re pretty sure your partner is going to feel offended, triggered, or hurt; or that you’re going to end up arguing about something.
We suggest that you don’t take this as evidence that you shouldn’t say something, but instead as evidence that you and your partner need to learn a new way of sharing and listening, or get some qualified help to facilitate the conversation.
Despite the risks you might feel when sharing something that’s on your mind or heart, it is your openness that will call your mate to meet you with openness and presence in return. We’d even say that you must find a way to share yourself, because if you don’t, the wall built between you will eventually negate to your love and connection altogether. So there’s really no other good choice!
Now, there are ways to share and ways to not share. Here are ten tips for sharing:
- Set your partner up to listen. Ask him or her to listen without interruption or without trying to fix anything.
- Give your partner a time limit. Men in particular will be more present with your sharing if they know it will end in a certain time, say 15 or 20 minutes. Men are not as comfortable with and don’t enjoy long-winded sharing sessions that go on for hours as much as women tend to do.
- Let your partner know you want to share something with them. Reassure them that it is not because they did anything wrong. Promise you will not turn your share into a dumping or complaining session. This will help them to relax and hear you better.
- Be as vulnerable and real as possible. Share your feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and fear. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely your partner is to meet you with compassion and empathy.
- Use I-statements. Avoid You-statements. “I feel scared when you leave the room.” Or “I miss feeling close to you.” Owning your own feelings will minimize defense and inspire listening and interest. (Note, “I feel like you’re an immature jerk” does not qualify as an I-statement:)
- Tell the microscopic, unarguable If you say, “You don’t love me”, your partner is going to argue with you about that. But if you say, “I feel scared. I notice that there is a knot in my stomach. I am thinking that you might not love me”, there’s nothing to argue about; it’s simply your internal experience.
- Ask directly for what you want. Say, “Would you be willing to ______?” as this engages your partner’s will and inspires a specific response to your question.
- Say what you DO want and why you like it, not what you don’t like. “I really like it when ________” is much more useful than, “I hate it when you ________”.
- When you’re done with your share, thank your partner for listening. Remember, your partner wants you to be happy and to feel heard, and they want the same for themselves. The more you acknowledge them for listening, the more they will want to listen to you again later.
- Get help from a professional if your sharing leads to distance and defense, or if it is too scary to get started. There are many ways in which a coach or therapist can help to create a safe space for sharing difficult things.
The most important thing is to keep practicing sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts every time, and as they arise! The love that flows from regularly and steadily removing bricks is reward enough and will soon raise the bar on the value of sharing everything in your relationship.
And remember, practice makes perfect. It does get easier over time! Listen to an expanded version of this article on our latest podcast episode here …
You know those times. You and your lover are hanging out in the kitchen and everything seems great. But then something is said or done that triggers one of you, and within seconds, you are yelling at each other and engaged in an all-out fight about something that took place years ago.
Perhaps you are that someone who remembers when something was said or done that produced a rift in your relationship. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to let it go and forgive. The moment replays over and over in your mind, and the pain from that event seems un-healable. The silliest little things send you back to that time. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear “I’m sorry”, you just can’t open your heart all the way again like you used to. You wonder if you will ever be able to fully love again.
Or maybe you are on the other end of this dynamic. You said or did something hurtful and you are now genuinely sorry for your mess-up. You are desperately seeking forgiveness and redemption. You have learned from your mistakes and are sincerely moving ahead with committed resolve to be a better person. You need your partner’s support as you make these changes, but your partner just can’t give it to you. You feel pigeonholed, punished, unseen and disempowered. You wonder if you will ever be forgiven.
What can we do with such moments in relationship? How can we heal and move forward in partnership without being blindsided by the pain of past wounds?
We are biologically wired to focus on injury – doing so helps us protect ourselves from threats to our survival. But since we aren’t usually defending ourselves against real tigers, our painful memories don’t serve the same practical purpose.
We humans have a unique way of recovering from trauma: we need to share our hurt and pain with a compassionate, nonjudgmental person in order to heal. We generally feel lighter, more uplifted, and less alone when we share our story with someone who really gets the depth of our painful experience and allows us time to sort through the maze of our conflicting feelings.
However, if we take this too far, sharing our hurt and pain can have an opposite effect. If we focus on the negative and repeatedly tell our sorrowful story, we essentially experience the tragedy over and over again. So instead of feeling lighter and freer, we feel unhappier, and more depressed, stuck, gloomy, and hopeless.
Simply stated, there is a difference between honoring and sharing our feelings for the purpose of healing, and wallowing or stewing in them. You can know you are wallowing if you feel worse when you talk about your painful experience, if your thoughts keep drifting toward the same old story of loss or injustice and you can’t seem to let it go, or if your loved ones are sick of listening to you talk about it!
How to get out of wallowing? Change the end of your story. Do a ‘do-over’ in your mind, or better yet, do a ‘do-over’ in real life. Replay the event until you emerge from your story empowered, uplifted, and transformed. Instead of being a victim in this past event, you are now a survivor, a hero or heroine, a miracle maker, a master creator.
If he kept a secret from you, replay the event where he comes forward and tells the truth. If she stole money from you, replay the event where she comes forward and vulnerably shares her need for financial support and asks to borrow money. If he made fun of you for wanting sex, replay the event where he instead appreciates you for your sexual desire.
Do-overs don’t disappear the original injury, but research shows that when we end a negative experience with a positive one, the pain of the negative experience is dramatically reduced!
In the 80’s, I participated in a special self-defense class where I witnessed several women who chose to reenact rape scenes with male volunteers in order to create a more empowering end – one in which they were able to successfully disable their attacker and emerge victorious. This reenactment went a long ways in helping these women recover from traumatic experiences and find their power again.
Recently, a man who felt unjustly judged by his wife, was able to fully forgive and let go in a ‘do-over’ with a friend who acted as a stand-in for his wife. There he fully expressed himself, stepped into his power, and was finally able to get the support and love he wanted. This work allowed him to be more forgiving and open with his wife.
We have helped many couples walk through do-overs, where each person gets to replace an undesirable negative past behavior with a positive new experience. Do-overs help both parties emerge empowered, connected and renewed, anchored in a new “past” that results in fewer fights in the kitchen going forward!
If you’ve suffered deeply and no one knows, by all means find an accepting, empathetic person to talk to – a friend, mentor, or coach; someone you trust. Let yourself fully own and express all of your feelings. After a while, your emotional waves will begin to subside and you will experience increased ease, lightness, and freedom. Once you have been fully heard and received, create a new ending that moves you from victim to power. Get support if you can’t do it on your own.
Perhaps you have heard the saying, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood”? Well, it is never too late to have a happy relationship, or a happy ending!