Category Archives: Conflicts
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!
“I led sexuality classes in college as a student teacher where I passed around sex toys to middle-aged women who didn’t know whether to giggle or throw up.”
Where do you stop yourself because of your fear? In what ways do you stay safe and comfortable instead of venturing out towards what you really want?
Almost always what keeps us from stepping out and taking risks is our fear of failure. We are scared of things not turning out well. We make up a story that the outcome will be bad in the end, and we feel so uncomfortable at the mere thought of doing something new that we stop before we start.
But everything we want is outside of our comfort zone!
That experience of aliveness, exhilaration, expansion and passion that we all long for, comes first from a willingness to be physically uncomfortable as you step into new territory, and to take action no matter how scary it might seem. Over and over, Christian and I watch people in our trainings navigate through discomfort only to discover massive transformation, deep love and bliss on the other side.
Certainly one of the side benefits of taking risks, is that we often discover that our fears are way worse than reality. Even if we do happen to fail, we find that we can learn from our mistakes and grow ourselves to be more competent and powerful than before.
I have developed a working relationship with fear over the years, by taking fear with me into new experiences – some of which were terrifying for me.
I have jumped out of an airplane, gone spelunking in underground caverns, parasailed at 200 feet, crossed rickety bridges and zip-lined over deep canyons, hurled myself through the air on ropes courses I don’t remember the names of, and rafted down white-water rapids in California and Wyoming. I worked in Yosemite as a national park laborer for three summers, bravely handling a chainsaw my first year. I walked on coals twice, led workshops in the nude, and was a guest speaker at numerous conferences.
I led sexuality classes in college as a student teacher where I passed around sex toys to middle-aged women who didn’t know whether to giggle or throw up. I have subbed for ministers on Sundays delivering inspirational sermons that made people cry. I have been married and divorced more than once. I traveled to Mexico by myself when I was 18. I have designed and facilitated relationship trainings for over 38 years – in Michigan, Canada and California, and even on cruise ships to Mexico.
I have had my failures over the years. I have had my voice crack in the middle of singing a song to a crowd. I have bombed miserably in front of hundreds from a joke gone bad or one of those terrifying blank-outs when I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was going to say. And I have had two people show up to what was supposed to be a large speaking gig. Imagine the hollow sound of their two-person applause!
These “failures” have taught me a lot about fear and life, and about humility and humor.
I have learned that all failures and mess-ups diminish and heal over time. There is almost nothing that can’t be repaired, forgiven or learned from. When we use failures and mistakes as learning opportunities, we can never really “fail”.
I know a man who literally passed out from anxiety and stage fright at the first workshop he was leading. It turned out that his fainting created immense vulnerability, connection and love between him, his wife and the workshop participants. As a result, it substantially changed his relationship with fear. Why? Because, when the worst thing happens – and you’re still ok – you don’t have to worry about the worst thing happening ever again.
More importantly, I have discovered through my many mess-ups, that no one cares! People are so afraid of failure themselves, that they actually aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. In fact, they love it when you mess up and laugh at yourself. It gives them permission to take risks and make mistakes too! I have learned to laugh out loud at myself if things don’t go as planned.
Oh, I still get scared. Two years ago, I participated in a Dancing With Our Stars event in Nevada City, where I performed two dances with a sore hip, two weeks before my 60th birthday, in front of some 700 people. I was afraid off and on about that dance competition. One day I was so afraid that I burst into tears with my hairdresser. But it didn’t stop me. On the actual evening of the event, I simply took my fear with me for a twirl out on the dance floor! I was proud of how well we danced, at how low to the floor I got on some of our moves, and how I remembered all of the steps! And when I messed up at the start of one dance, and when we didn’t win anything at the end, I laughed and appreciated the heck out of myself for risking stepping out on the edge of life yet again!
My favorite motto came to mind, “Trust, Risk and Keep a Sense of Humor!”
Taking action in spite of fear is a skill to develop. Befriending and even enjoying your fear is one of those skills that will serve you for life, and save you from a lifetime of agony. It takes practice!
If you would like to take a dynamic look at your relationship with fear, and step out beyond your comfort zone so that you can milk this life for all it has to offer, you are invited to attend Fearless Life, Fearless Love. Discover and create a new relationship to fear so that you are never stopped again from doing what your heart longs for!
Here’s to trusting, risking, and keeping a sense of humor!
🙂 Sonika Tinker
You know how the song goes: Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again. Although based on my own experience, it would be more fitting to say, Hello Fear, my old foe – I NEVER want to talk you again!
I met my first true love when I was 16, in my freshman year of High School. We met at a concert in our favorite grungy club, The Sprout. We danced to the music, sat outside in a doorway in the winter cold, smoked cigarettes and made out. I went home with butterflies taking over my body. Her name was Sidse. I was smitten.
But come Monday, back at our High School, I was terrified of running into her. I went out of my way to avoid her classrooms and the cafeteria, even though I desperately wanted to see her again. I told myself, with cowardly rationality, that I wasn’t really into her, and it was probably just a one-night fling, and ‘who cares anyways!’ But it was all rubbish. I was just scared. My stomach felt like a giant knot. I kept obsessing about her in my head, but the fear kept me from reaching out to her.
I suffered my way through the days, until Thursday of that week, when she flat out confronted me in the hallway. She planted herself right in front of me, seemingly without any of the fear I felt. What she said basically boiled down to, “WTF, dude?!” And that was that. As we finally connected, I was surprised to discover that she really wanted to see me again, and the feeling was entirely mutual. We went on to have a great time together for most of high school. She was my first true love.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t confronted me. Would I have worked up the courage to approach her, to get bigger than my fear? I honestly don’t know. But I do know, that if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on a great love story.
The only reason I had the courage to connect with Sidse on that first night at the club, was because I was drunk. For years, alcohol was the only reliable method I had to silence the fear in my gut and those nasty voices in my head. The older I got, the more alcohol and smoke it took to keep my fears submerged. But at some point, event that didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t escape my fears. They followed me wherever I went.
Eventually, I had to sober up and look at them straight on. On the surface, it never made much sense what it was I felt scared of. I had done lots of “dangerous” and “risky” things in my life. I had climbed volcanoes, travelled alone in foreign countries, jumped from enormous cliffs into rivers, raced mountain bikes down skinny mountain paths where my body could be broken by a split-second’s inattention. None of that ever scared me one bit. It was just fun. No big deal.
What really scared me was always much more personal and intimate stuff. Like reaching out to a girl or woman. Telling the truth about how I felt inside. Admitting I felt lonely or inadequate. Or stepping out on a public stage to offer something from my heart.
Perhaps most of all, it terrified me to look deep inside myself to see and feel what was there. Isn’t it odd how the scariest stuff is what can’t be seen with the physical eye?
A man at one of our workshops recently said it like this, “I never wanted to look deep inside because I was sure I’d find terrifying darkness and nasty parts of myself. I didn’t want to see it, and I didn’t want anyone else to see it, either”.
I’m not sure if I was more afraid of what I’d find “down there”, or of what would happen to me if others around me saw who I really was, caught a glimpse of what I really carried around inside.
I can’t even tell you how many ways I’ve tried to rid myself of fear in my life – to just get rid of it once and for all. I’ve tried distracting myself from it, drinking and smoking myself out of it, running away from it, screaming at it, getting all brave and “just doing it anyway”. But all of these attempts failed to eradicate my fears.
Even today, as a mature adult man (I’d like to think), with a wonderful marriage, an awesome family, enough money to be safe and comfy, and work that is meaningful and transformative, fear is still a constant companion in my life.
But my relationship with fear has changed dramatically.
Now it doesn’t screw up my life or my peace of mind. Not because there aren’t things to be afraid of, but because I have developed a sound, powerful, and kind relationship with my fears and with the parts of myself that are “deep down there”. I’ve learned how to tame my fears, talk to my fears, and treat them like a trusted companion whose presence is a known quantity, not a spooky unseen.
A few weeks ago, I wanted to reach out to a world-renowned best-selling author to interview for our podcast. In the past, I would have fretted about that action for weeks, not unlike how I fretted about connecting with Sidse way back in high school. This time, I just reached out to the man with an invitation, knowing I might not get a response. But lo and behold, in no time at all, he said, “That sounds great, let’s do it!”, and within a week, it was done!
I learned that fear doesn’t have to stop me – it actually has the positive intent to support me. It wants me to be safe, awake, clear, present and on purpose. It wants me to succeed and be loved. Instead of fear being an obstacle in my life, I now see fear as a friend – launching me into to my deepest compassionate heart, my wildest creativity, and the realization of my biggest dreams.
If you’re attracted to taking a deeper look at your fears, and how to transform them so you can live a fearless life and love fearlessly, we invite you to take a look at our Fearless Life workshop. This workshop is beyond our standard curriculum, and we only offer it rarely.
When couples or family members experience conflict, it is easy to rush into generalities.
“You never help me around the house! I always have to do everything myself!”
“We never have sex anymore. I am tired of being in relationship with someone who doesn’t value intimacy and sex.”
“You never take responsibility for your side of the street. You blame me for everything!”
“I am sick of being the only one who initiates working on the relationship. I want to be with someone who actually wants make things better!”
“You are such a hypocrite!”
When we feel triggered, hurt or angry, generalizing happens almost automatically. Unfortunately, there are many problems with this habit that prevent us from resolving our conflicts and coming back to love and harmony with our partners and loved ones.
When something happens that we don’t want, e.g. when someone doesn’t keep an agreement or says ‘no’ to a request or need, our mind gets instantly flooded with past memories of times when we felt similarly. Old beliefs of not being lovable or deserving bubble up from the deep and we find ourselves awash in a bleak sea of negativity.
Our unhappiness and dissatisfaction skews our current world-view, and suddenly our entire relationship sucks and has always sucked. We begin to see disheartening and frightening patterns.
We can’t help but share our newfound thinking, the connections we are making between what is happening now and what has happened in the past. We might focus solely on the person we are in conflict with and where that person has always been the same (“You have never helped around the house!”), or we might broaden our connections to include previous partners (“All three of my husbands never wanted to help around the house”), or we might even go all the way back to our childhood (“My dad never helped around the house either! I can’t believe I have created the same exact pattern with you!”)
We typically share these “insights” in the middle of being upset or triggered, which is not particularly helpful, to put it diplomatically. The problem with bringing up the past is that you are no longer dealing with a specific breakdown or problem, no longer focused on the one problem that is presenting itself at the moment.
Your focus shifts away from productive solution discovery, away from actions and steps that will help you resolve the conflict and get what you want. Instead, you spiral downwards, into what some call “circling the drain”.
Generalizing and bringing up the past also reinforces your sense of powerlessness. When you generalize, you effectively blow your problem up to unfixable proportions. You add weight to negative stories you have about yourself and others. Once you get lost in these general loops of negativity and complaint, you will likely feel more and more powerless and victimized, because all of the evidence you gather from past similar experiences essentially prove the unworkability of your current situation.
Not only do you feel powerless, but your partner feels powerless too. When your partner feels negatively characterized, pigeonholed, or blamed, they will naturally resist your view and defend themselves and their actions. When they hear your negatively biased view of them or the past, they will want to correct your perception by blasting you with evidence to the contrary, proving their side of the story. They will be reluctant to hear you and your concerns, and will likewise be uninspired to work with you to create win/win solutions to the presenting issue. This is the recipe for pointless arguing.
What to do instead?
Stay away from lumping whatever you are experiencing now with similar instances from the past. Keep your focus on the specific issue, problem or breakdown at hand, and work it all the way through to completion. Resolution and changes occur when you break things down to specifics – to specific steps – to something you can do or say or think differently right NOW.
You can start a conversation by saying …
“When __ (specific instance) happened, I felt ______.
What I made that mean is ______
What I want is ________”
What I’m willing to do to that end is_________
What I’d like from you is _______
Would you be wiling to do that?”
As an example …
“When you sat at the dinner table while I cleared the dishes, I felt mad and hurt. What I made that mean is that you don’t care about me, that I have to do everything myself, and that you’re above working in the kitchen. What I really want is help to clean up after dinner. I want us to work together to clean up. What I’m willing to do to that end is make a calm request and hear you side of the story. What I’d like from you is help to clear the table and do the dishes. Would you be willing to do that?”
Granted, there are a myriad variations depending on the specific situation, but hopefully you can see from the example that you are only talking about one specific instance, not bringing up the past or making sweeping generalizations.
This kind of communication has a much better shot at a positive result than, “You never help around here! My dad was just like that! I always have to do everything myself!”
Beware of your mind’s tendency to look for generalities and patterns when you’re feeling triggered. Reaction = Re-Action, meaning we are re-enacting an old story from times past. Which is just to say, that whenever you are upset, i.e. “in reaction”, you ARE in the past! You aren’t in the present moment!
By using the example above, you help yourself to stay in the present moment, and you help yourself work an issue all the way through to a workable solution. Try it. If by chance you do see patterns, or if resentments and hurts from the past do come up that need to be discussed, healed, or released, talk about those separately at a different time, one at a time, until they are worked through all the way to completion.
Use your awareness to powerfully generate specific action steps you can take NOW to create change. And don’t hesitate to get support from a professional if they feel too big to resolve on your own.
While there are several more actions you can take to work problems through all the way to completion, keeping your focus on the specific problem at hand, avoiding generalizations and not talking about the past will go far to help you resolve conflicts.
Lastly, if you want a chance to work out actual conflicts with support, learn cutting edge tools, and gain a totally different view and skill set around conflict resolution, check out our Gift Of Conflict workshop, Nov 10-11, in Auburn, CA.
This is normally a members-only advanced workshop, but when space allows, we open up a few seats to the public. Contact us right away if you are interested.
Change is afoot.
Ford came forward to speak of having been sexually assaulted in high school by Kavanaugh, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.
The MeToo movement has emboldened women to speak out about their past sexual assault, abuse and rape experiences – many of whom have held their abuse secrets for decades. Men are judged and handed “guilty verdicts” by the public court of opinion in a matter of hours as women’s stories make their way through the news media. Both genders are forever impacted negatively by these misdeeds and their ever trailing after effects.
The number of rape and abuse cases is staggering. Human rights violations across the globe are appalling. War, violence, crime, human trafficking, environmental disasters – we can’t listen to the news anymore without hearing about someone who is suffering somewhere.
All point to a need for a vast global overhaul in our political, financial, educational and legal institutions to ensure equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, financial status or religious belief.
Massive change is required on so many levels, from the global to the individual. We also need advanced communication and problem solving skills, where we really listen to and learn from one another, and work together to create win/wins. We need to develop workable strategies for achieving sexual, cultural and racial healing, gender reconciliation, and effective reparation practices for people who take responsibility for and are genuinely sorry for their actions and want a new start. We need a safe space to look at ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and develop effective relationship practices that enable all of us to thrive and realize our pure positive potential.
In our work, we focus on where we can make a positive impact, in our interpersonal relationships. We notice, that when we are willing to take a brave and honest look at ourselves, there is much we can accomplish.
From outward focus to inward focus
It is far too easy in relationships to take someone else’s inventory; to point out someone else’s faults and weaknesses and lay out what they need to change or improve. We do this with public figures just as readily as we do it with the people we love. We think we are different. We are better. We aren’t like that. We aren’t as bad as they are.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking only inflames disrespect, inequality and separation. It breaks down our relationships.
Alternatively, we can use our judgments to gain insight into ourselves, to build bridges between others and ourselves, and to find compassion for those we love (and those in the media spotlight).
One of the favorite tools that we use in relationship, especially in the face of judgment, is to simply ask, “Where am I just like that?” For example, if I judge you for lying, I ask myself, “Where do I lie?” If I judge you for being selfish, I ask, “Where am I selfish?”
In the context of MeToo, we can ask:
- Where have I been sexually assaulted, abused, or harassed?
- Where have I abused, harassed, or taken advantage of someone?
It takes great courage to answer these questions honestly. It is a brave person who can admit to them and offer up apologies and make amends.
But even if we haven’t been abused, many of us can relate to feeling afraid or powerless to speak up in the face of a partner’s angry outbursts. Many of us have had the experience more than once of saying yes to sex when we really meant no, and of feeling coerced to go along with something that didn’t feel right.
Me too. I didn’t listen to my deep-seated intuition to walk away from a financial investment that turned out later to be a Ponzi scheme that cost me thousands. I allowed myself to be talked into a job that I didn’t want. In my 20’s, I had sex with several men I didn’t have the courage to say no to. I stayed in an abusive relationship where I got beat up for a whole year before I found the courage to leave.
On the flip side, we can explore how many times we have used our power to coerce someone to give in and go along with something we wanted – in everyday instances like doing the dishes, watching a movie, or getting our way with any given situation. How many times have we tried to override someone’s resistance to romance or sex? How many times have we yelled or cried or begged or explained our side to try to get someone to do what we want them to do?
Me too. I have caught myself more than once trying coax, force, or guilt trip my kids into answering a text or returning a phone call. I have screamed at my ex for not parenting the way I do. And I withdrew my love and affection from Christian when he declined my sexual advances early on in our relationship.
When I judge the people I love in my life, and I dare to explore “Where am I just like that?” I see places where I can grow, change and improve. Healing comes from honestly and squarely looking at myself, from owning my side of the street and taking responsibility for the impact of my less-than-ideal actions. There is power and healing available when I take responsibility, both within myself and in my relationships.
I can do the same thing with public figures. When I dare to investigate where I am just like Ford – to honestly explore where I too have been victimized in my life, where I have been terrified to speak up and reveal my secrets, where I still need healing from past painful experiences, I see aspects of myself I might not see otherwise.
Or when I explore where I am just like Kavanaugh – where do I act self-righteously from privilege and entitlement, where do I defend myself rather than listen and take responsibility for my actions, where do I lash out when feeling attacked and afraid and made wrong, something powerful happens …
I am suddenly no better or worse than they are, or any other human being on this planet. Judgment shifts to compassion, resentment shifts to forgiveness, separation shifts to connection, hate shifts to love. My heart softens. Healing happens. A new possibility emerges.
Actions I can take to improve my interactions in relationship begin to show up. Apologies are offered up and new commitments stepped into. A better version of myself arises. And consequently, better versions of those I love and happier relationships also rise up.
It is my hope that we will use this new chapter in our lives to learn from one another, to deeply listen to each other, to honor and respect our differences, to bravely share our stories, to own our shadow, to take responsibility, to ultimately offer amends, heal, forgive and create a courageous new world together.
It is my vision, that every one of us will be able to say one day, “I have never been disrespected or sexually abused by anyone”, and all of our brothers and sisters will be able to emphatically say, “Me Too!”
P.S. Check out what our friend Dave Klaus’ Facebook post; it’s a really powerful example of “Where am I just like that?” in the context of the Kavanaugh issue. Click here to read …
Most of us spend more time than we might like to admit wishing for something to be different in our relationships. We want more engagement, less fighting, more sex, less distance, more intimacy, less time watching TV, more appreciation, less criticism, more dates, fewer nights at home alone, more communication, less silence, etc.
We don’t just want our relationships to be different. We want our lives to be different, too. We want a bigger house, a faster computer, more money, more clothes, more vacations, a skinnier healthier body, a younger look, and lots of better, newer stuff.
We are so accustomed to wishing and longing for more and different – whether in our relationship, work, money, kids, body, etc. – that we don’t even recognize that we are spending our precious lives in a state of constant wanting. This wanting manifests in our experience as unhappiness, dissatisfaction, boredom or loneliness. We feel like we are missing or lacking something important.
There is something I realized a long time ago that has proven to be pivotal for living a fulfilling and happy life:
Wanting and having cannot exist in the same space at the same time.
I think of life as a house with two rooms, the Wanting Room and the Having Room. The Having Room is the room in which we are engaged in life and love.
Just like in a real house, you are either in one room or the other; you cannot be in two rooms at the same time.
Unfortunately, when we want our lives to be different and the people we love to change, we are in the Wanting Room.
When we are in the Wanting Room, we inevitably produce unhappiness for ourselves. Our focus on lack and what is missing keeps us from noticing and appreciating what we have. It throws us into a state of resistance to our current reality and has us believe we are powerless victims stuck in unwanted situations, unable to powerfully create what we want.
Think about it. You only want stuff you don’t have, right? The mere wanting of anything is a declaration that you don’t have it. So when you reside in the Wanting Room, you’re likely to have internal conversations like, Why can’t I make my relationship work? Where are all the good men? My husband never talks to me. I wish I looked younger. Just to mention a few examples.
The Having Room, on the other hand, is where you get to enjoy experiences, where you harvest and partake in the fruits of your labor, where you appreciate what you have and count your blessings. It’s the difference between wishing you had an apple, and actually biting into an apple and enjoying the blast of taste and sensation as you do it.
Life is just better when you occupy the Having Room. So how can you do that? We’ll give some ideas here, and share a few real-life examples.
One way to shift from Wanting to Having is to take notice of and express your gratitude and appreciation for what you do have, even if you have very little. What is working in your relationship? What do you adore about your partner? What would you miss about your spouse if he or she suddenly vanished? What do you take for granted that you are grateful for? And tell them.
Another way to shift from Wanting to Having is to ask the question, “If I already had what I wanted, what would I do or say right now?” This question tricks your mind into imagining that you already have what you want, and enables you to bring to mind actions that you can take right now that are consistent with what you want to create for yourself. When you take those actions, you step into having the experience that you were longing for in the Wanting Room.
For example, if you are struggling with intimacy in your relationship and you want more connection with your partner, you can ask yourself, “If I were connected and intimate with my partner, what would I do or say right now?” Trust me, an answer will pop up in your mind. This question will move you towards creating more intimacy with your partner and thrust you into the Having Room.
At our last workshop, a woman was angry with her husband for something he said that triggered her. She was missing the close connection they were sharing before he said it and was now in the Wanting Room feeling disconnected from her man. When we asked her what she would do if she felt close and connected like before, she said she would go over to him and put her head on his shoulder and her hand on his knee. So we encouraged her to do that. As soon as she sat down next to him, her face lit up like a light bulb and a smile spread across her face. She was back in the Having Room (and you can imagine how he responded to that gesture:-).
A single woman called me for coaching, very distraught and lonely after her last relationship ended. She had a hard time getting out of bed and she was scared she’d never find love again. She was solidly anchored in the Wanting Room. During our conversation, I asked her, “If you knew you were going to be fine, and you would definitely find love again with a wonderful man, what might you do right now?” Her first response was, “I’d get out of bed and go to the gym!”
Just like that, back in the Having Room (And sure, this does not fix or deal with her entire situation, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over being in bed, depressed).
Just to be clear, wanting isn’t bad. That is where the best of our creative ideas show up! Wanting is the start of any improvement in life. You just don’t want to get stuck in wanting! Be there long enough to uncover what you want to create! Use your wanting to connect you to your desires and dreams. Then use that discovery to spark and move you into having, into action.
Everything you want – all of the connection, love, peace, fulfillment and joy you desire – lives in the Having Room.
If you find yourself stuck in wanting your relationship to be different, check out our Give Yourself to Love live relationship training. We will teach you how to step into having the life and relationship you long for and deserve. Click here for more info …
One of the biggest mistakes we witness people make in relationship is the decision, conscious or unconscious, to rein in some of their own desires or dreams because it triggers their partner, because they think it’ll cause too much of a stir, or because of they convince themselves they “should”.
See if you can relate to any of these examples from people we’ve been coaching recently.
Anna thinks there is something wrong with her because she doesn’t want to marry and have children with the man she has been dating for ten months. After all, he’s a good guy, loyal and responsible (in stark contrast to her ex). He really wants to marry her and make a new life together. So Anna is trying to talk herself out of her feelings of doubt and lack of desire to marry, in order to make him happy and because it just makes logical sense to marry this nice guy.
Anthony damps down his desire for sex in several ways: By not acknowledging his need for it in the moment; by trying to talk to himself out of wanting it by minimizing its importance (“It’s not that big of deal, anyway. I’m fine without it”); by not initiating sex or touch with his partner; by backing off at the first sign of discomfort or refusal; and by routinely putting his partner’s needs ahead of his own.
Finally, Robert, who is in the throes of divorce and is discovering that he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has gone along with his wife’s desires and demands for some 30 years and has totally lost touch with his feelings, desires and dreams. During their marriage it simply became second nature to let her desires be their desires, and whenever he did want something different from her, to just let it slide, because, as he said, “It was easier that way”.
In each of these three examples, you could make the case that they are just being generous – they want their partner to have what they want and need. You could say they are being flexible, because they’re not attached to having things their own way. We could posit that they are peacemakers who value harmony more than getting what they want. We could even call them super spiritual in the sense that “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences”.
Just today, we read a great article on mindbodygreen.com (here …) that said the most important ingredient of a lasting relationship is generosity. We don’t disagree, generosity is essential.
However, in the three examples above, our friends are not being generous. Let me qualify that. I’m not suggesting that they are not generous and flexible people, or that they don’t want their partners to have everything they need, or that they’re not spiritual or understanding people. I know for a fact that they are these things, too.
The problem here is that what masks as generosity or flexibility in reality is much more avoidance of “trouble”, fear of rejection, lack of power to stand up for oneself, or flat-out laziness.
There’s always a long-term price to pay for the short-term gain of “not making trouble” by letting your own desires go. Whenever anyone damps down their own feelings or shuts off their own desires to avoid upset or conflict in relationship, whenever they don’t stay engaged and go for what they want and create win/wins that enliven both partners, they set themselves up for breakdown; ultimately risking the stability of their relationship.
No one can remain disconnected from themselves and their feelings and their passions for a prolonged period of time without the potential consequence of wanting to break free from their imprisoned experience in relationship in an attempt to “find themselves” again. In other words, negating your own desires and dreams over time creates resentment.
This is tricky stuff, no doubt. Who can’t relate to wanting something that you know might trigger your partner, so you go, “Whatever, it really isn’t that important”? You let it slide and don’t speak up about what it was you really wanted. And for a while, it’s totally fine. Until it isn’t.
Like Robert, who inadvertently did this with everything, by his own admission. Where they went on holidays, when they took holidays, or not; who they visited, for how long; what color to paint the house, what school to send their kids to, you name it. Her preference became their preference. For the longest time, this system worked fine.
Only now, as they’re divorcing, he’s resentful in retrospect that he always got “steamrolled”. In our coaching, he had a profound realization. He went along with her desires because “it was easier”. In doing so, he believed he did her a favor by not causing a stir and thus keeping the peace in the house. He believed he was being easy-going and flexible, and that she’d love him more for it.
What actually happened? She lost respect for him, and he lost respect for himself. Plus, he totally lost touch with what he actually wanted about pretty much every aspect of life. To be blunt, he “chickened out” on his own dreams.
I offered him this image. From her point of view, his “going-alongness” made her feel alone. Every time she’d offer up an idea, instead of a sparring partner, he showed up as an amorphous blob, without any distinct boundaries or edges, like a bowl of jelly. In partnership, it produces safety and connection when a partner can put her hand on the other and feel some substance instead of “jelly”.
Flexibility and easy-goingness are great qualities and can absolutely support harmony and easy flow. Always yielding like a jellyfish, however, produces loneliness and resentment. Generosity is indeed an absolutely crucial part of a successful, loving relationship. Self-sacrifice to the extent of not getting what you need is something else entirely.
The article we quoted above included this important detail: “Giving until it hurts or trying to buy affection does not develop a healthy relationship … It does not take the place of caring for yourself or expecting your partner to do his or her part.”
It’s easy to get mad at your partner when you don’t get what you want. It’s tempting for Anne to get mad at her boyfriend for pushing the marriage agenda. It seems logical for Anthony to get mad at his partner for not being more into sex. (On a side note, there are many effective ways to communicate directly to your partner about situations where you want seemingly different things. That is outside the scope of this article.)
Here, we want to offer you the opportunity to look inwards, specifically at where you let go of your own desires, for whatever reason, when in actuality it is important to you. Look at where, like Robert, you let it happen that you don’t get what you want. Where you let it be ok, even though it’s not really ok with you, to not get your needs met.
We encourage you to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I not going for what I want?
- Where am I settling?
- Where am I holding myself back from my own passionate aliveness?
- Where do I “forget” what I want and need, in the interest of peacemaking, taking care of my partner, or someone else’s desires?
- What am I afraid would happen if I stood up for what I want and need?
The upside here is for you to find your own clarity about what you want, and the power and worthiness to stand up for what you want as well as what your partner wants.
Optimally, you’re saying (and this is part of our definition of a successful relationship or marriage), “I deserve to have what I want, and so do you. I want you to have your needs met, and I want that for me, too. I’m not going to sacrifice my needs to satisfy yours, or yours to satisfy mine. We are both going to get what we want. If we don’t know how to accomplish that, we’ll learn. But we’re not giving up on both of us being satisfied”.
You might even consider that you owe it, not only to yourself, but to your relationship, and to your children (if you have children), to listen to the whispers of your dreams and desires, lest you end up resentful that someone didn’t give you everything you wanted.
So take the risk. Go for what you want, for what makes your heart sing. Work it out with your partner, so you both get to fly.
If you don’t know how to do that by yourself, learn. Get help. And don’t back off from what you want.
🙂 Sonika & Christian
PS. If you’re curious about the kind of coaching we offer, use our contact form here to get in touch with us.