Blog Short #41: How to Truly Connect with Someone: Whole Being Listening

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

One of the comments I often hear from people after a therapy session is that it feels good to have someone truly listen to them.

That would make sense, right? It does feel relieving to be heard by someone who seems interested and attentive to what you have to say. But, there’s more to it than that. It has to do with specific elements involved in the listening process used by the listener and the effects these have on the speaker.

Today I’m going to go through these elements and encourage you to practice this style of listening, especially with those with whom you seek a closer connection.

What It Is

This style of listening is called whole being listening.” In short, it means listening with your whole self without inner or outer distractions.

The goal is to listen solely to understand. That means listening without judgment, preconceived ideas, fixing something, or responding.

Most of the time, we listen to respond or problem-solve. It’s natural to do that, but when it happens too early in a conversation, the speaker’s cut short and feels unheard.

Just being heard and understood is extremely important and has value in and of itself. It’s relieving, validating, and connective.

Listening with our whole being means:

  1. Suspending other activities or points of focus.
  2. Attending only on the person speaking.
  3. Seeing things through the speaker’s mental and emotional lens.

Here’s how to do that.

#1 Set the scene.

The first thing to do is clear the environment from distractions. Put your phone on silent and out of sight. Close your computer if it’s nearby. Turn off any background noise like loud music or TV. And if possible, find a quiet area where no one will interrupt you as you converse.

#2 Use the right body language.

Body language sends many messages during a conversation. The whole being listening works best when you follow these rules.

  • Make direct eye contact. You don’t need to stare, but looking directly at someone lets them know they have your full attention. Eye contact is an intimate point of contact and connection.
  • Turn your body toward the person speaking, but allow for personal space.
  • Be still. Don’t fidget. When you stay still, the message you send is that you’re calm and there’s no rush. You invite the speaker to relax and talk.
  • Avoid critical facial expressions or reactions. Remember, you’re listening only to understand, not critique. Maintain an expression of openness, receptivity, and attentiveness.

#3 Get in the right frame of mind.

In addition to body language, your frame of mind has a significant bearing on how well you can attend. Observe these guidelines.

  • Still your thoughts. Focus directly on the speaker’s voice, actual words, and body language. Your goal is to hear what’s said, what’s felt, what’s thought, and what’s needed. Messages are multi-layered. When you listen closely and attentively, you can hear them all.
  • Dispense with evaluation. Remind yourself that your goal is to understand.
  • Avoid daydreaming or drifting off into other thoughts.
  • Keep yourself in detective mode. Stay open, ask questions to clarify, and try to see things through the speaker’s eyes.

#4 Use this process.

The process consists of four parts. These don’t happen consecutively, but throughout depending on the flow of conversation. That’ll make sense to you as we go through them.

  1. Listen. Invite the speaker to begin, and listen intently with your full attention. Don’t interrupt with questions right away. Just sit back, attend, make full eye contact, and be silent.
  2. Clarify. After the speaker has talked and told you what’s on his mind, you can ask questions to clarify anything you don’t understand or needs elaboration. Don’t interrogate. Just ask questions to fill in any gaps to get the complete picture.
  3. Confirm. Repeat back what you think has been said to get confirmation. This doesn’t have to be verbatim or formal. Just a summary so that you can make sure you understand not only what’s said but also the speaker’s point of view.
  4. Identify the feeling/need/want. What does the speaker need you to hear? What is her intent? What does she want, and especially, what does she feel? When you get to the feeling behind the words, you’ll connect with her. She’ll feel understood.

The Connection

Let’s go back a minute to that original statement I told you about that I sometimes hear after a therapy session:

“It feels good to have someone truly listen to me.”

It feels good because these three things happen:

  1. You feel connected. The act of truly listening to someone chases away feelings of isolation and allows an emotional connection to take place.
  2. You feel understood. Because the process of whole being listening is focused on understanding rather than evaluation and responding, you feel heard.
  3. You feel emotionally unburdened. When someone listens intently with an open mind, your emotions transfer over. That means that what you feel is felt by the listener, which provides an emotional release for you.

When you listen this way to someone, you often find that the energy changes between the two of you. It flows more easily, and there’s a relaxing – a show of greater trust and vulnerability. This is true even if you disagree with what you’re hearing.

Either way, listening fully to understand creates a connection, and that’s invaluable no matter the subject matter or the purpose of the conversation.

It’s quite powerful!

When and How to Use This

Use whole being listening liberally with your spouses, partners, children, family members, friends, and work colleagues. By doing so, you’ll establish deeper connections that create the foundation for problem-solving when needed. This type of listening creates intimacy, and as mentioned already, trust.

It’s a great thing to practice with your children. As parents, it’s easy to talk “at” our kids. It’s harder to listen to what they think and feel because we’re so focused on making sure they don’t make bad decisions or go down the wrong path. We hover.

If you spend the time to truly listen and let them say everything they want to say without a rebuttal, they’re much more likely to listen to you later when you need them to hear you. Understand first, educate and correct later.

The same goes with any intimate relationship.

A question for you today is:

“When is the last time I let my partner (child, friend, family member) say everything they wanted to say and just listened with my whole being?”

If recently, then kudos! If not, try it soon. It’ll change things between you.

That’s all for today. Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #40: How to Develop a Thick Skin

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Growing up, I was overly sensitive to criticism of any kind. If people didn’t like me or said negative things about me, I was easily embarrassed, humiliated, or hurt. As a result, I did my best not to attract negative feedback to avoid those feelings. Eventually, I had to come to terms with this problem and develop what’s known as a “thick skin.”

Having thick skin is usually defined as being able to handle criticism, negative feedback, and even insults or personal attacks without getting overly emotional or reactive. It means taking rejection in stride without going off the deep end, and not letting it stop you from pursuing your goals.

The Costs of Being Thin-Skinned

Being sensitive has its benefits, but when it comes to dealing with criticism, it has some real costs. These three stand out.

#1 Losing your individuality

Thin-skinned people tend to focus on “being liked,” which in truth is more about avoiding being hurt. You feel accepted, loved, and worthy when people like you. You get some protection from the emotional fallout that comes with criticism and rejection.

But, to keep that “liked” status, you have to manage how you present yourself to fit what you think others want.

The problem is that it’s impossible to be liked by everyone, and hanging your self-esteem on how people respond to you keeps you perpetually vigilant and anxious to please.

There’s a big cost: You can lose your individuality. Instead of being your authentic self, you present some version of you that doesn’t reflect who you really are.

#2 Retreating from growth, creativity, and self-improvement

Growth happens when you stumble, fall, and get back up again. If you want to evolve, you must endure failure and setbacks. They’re necessary! You can’t get around that.

Part of doing that is being open to constructive feedback, which helps pave the way toward the growth you seek.

The issue is that feedback, especially critical feedback, can be painful. And it seems to come more readily when you pursue something creative, especially when your work is up for public consumption.

You might create a power-point presentation for a meeting, a written blog (like this one), a graphic design, or a new method of organizing the flow of work at a company. In all these cases, you’ll likely get some sort of critique, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.

Anytime you put something out there, you’re exposing yourself to criticism. If you aren’t thick-skinned, you can find yourself paralyzed and your creativity stunted.

#3 Increasing opportunities to be exploited

Needing to be “liked” or “approved of” sets you up to be taken advantage of more often. You go above and beyond to be helpful, receive praise, be indispensable, and be accepted. People quickly learn this about you and exploit it. You become a magnet for those who are needy and manipulative.

How to Develop Thicker Skin

Even if you are super sensitive, you can develop thicker skin. Try these six things:

#1 Know the difference between criticism and feedback.

Feedback is meant to help. It’s constructive and objective. The focus is on content and behaviors rather than personal characteristics. The goal is to challenge you to rethink and make improvements. Everyone wins!

Criticism is personal and tears you down. It can be malicious, competitive, shallow, rejecting, and highly subjective. One of you wins. One of you loses.

When someone dives in to give you their two cents, ask yourself if what you’re hearing is feedback or criticism. Your answer will help you decide whether to consider it and use it or ignore it and let it go.

#2 Identify your triggers.

Not all criticism feels the same. Have you ever been in a situation where someone gives you a pretty good verbal shot, yet you’re unfazed? It just rolls off your back and doesn’t go in?

Other times, even a hint of disapproval or reproach electrifies and shames you. You replay it over and over in your mind, and no matter how hard you try to dismiss it, it keeps coming up.

When you react highly to criticism, identify the trigger. By seeing it and understanding where it’s coming from, you can tone it down and put it into perspective.

#3 Don’t personalize everything.

Criticism is often more about the person launching it than the one receiving it. Genuine feedback is worth hearing because there’s no motivation other than to help.

Criticism is personally driven. Very often it’s a projection, or a displacement of someone’s negative emotions, or envy, or a cover for insecurity. It’s a defense mechanism that feels like a put-down or a one-up to the receiver.

Keep some emotional distance between you and what you hear, even in the case of feedback. Allow yourself to let it settle and decide what’s worthy and of use to you and what’s not. A good way to do that is to not respond right away. Tuck it away and rethink it later.

#4 Dismiss trolls.

Trolls have one objective: to spew negativity and instigate conflict. When the deliverer of criticism is nasty, hostile, malicious, condescending, and provocative, dismiss both the darts and the dart-thrower.

#5 Use feedback to energize your efforts.

Extract the helpful information from feedback and put it to use. Even with criticism, it’s good to pull out any kernels of truth you can use minus the personal hits. Thick-skinned people are good at this. You can get good at it too. Just practice keeping your cool while listening for those little gems that will help you improve.

#6 Use your expectations as the measure of your progress.

Feedback is essential, but ultimately the measure of where you are and where you need to go should come from you. Seek outside feedback to help you clarify what’s going well and what needs changing, and then use it to plan your next steps.

Never use feedback as a commentary on who you are or how well you perform. Feedback is an aid to move you along, not a measure of your success or worth.

That’s my list! If you have any tidbits of wisdom to add to the conversation, please comment below so that others can learn from your experience.

Happy Monday, and have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

PS – If you want to read more about being sensitive, check out The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron.

Blog Short #39: How to Avoid Being Held Emotionally Hostage

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Sergey Nivens on iStockphoto.com

Lending an ear to someone you care about to help out with a problem, or just listen and provide support, is an act of kindness and empathy. It’s a good thing to do.

But sometimes our kindnesses are exploited and we find ourselves being held emotionally hostage, even though we may not directly recognize it.

Today I want to talk about how you can tell when that’s happening, and what you can do to prevent or stop it.

People who hold others emotionally hostage play on three emotions:

  1. Fear
  2. Compassion and love (and the desire to help)
  3. Anxiety

Here’s some examples:

Your good friend regularly corners you and holds you captive as she regales you with a tirade of complaints, victimizations, blame, and unhappiness. Regardless of how you respond, she continues and rolls over your comments. Things never improve. She leaves you feeling depleted, helpless, and often in a bad mood.

A relative who’s depressed often drops the “suicide” word when talking to you. He’s never made an attempt, but the threat is always there. He doesn’t seek help, and you find yourself thinking about him often and being afraid he might follow through. You worry about it and feel responsible for his safety.

Your partner can be very kind at times, but is easily triggered by little things and flies off the handle when upset. When he’s angry he’s verbally abusive and leaves you feeling guilty, unworthy, anxious, and overwhelmed. You avoid these tirades by walking on eggshells.

In each of these cases, the desired outcomes or needs of one person are extracted from the other person forcefully, with an implied threat if the receiver doesn’t comply. Sometimes the threat is more subtle as in the first two cases, and more overt as in the case of the angry husband.

Very often the person who holds you emotionally hostage is not aware he’s doing it. He’s focused on his needs and doesn’t consider yours in the process. However, his actions are manipulative whether aware of it or not.

Here’s how you know when this is happening:

  • You feel a desire to retreat, yet feel like you can’t.
  • You feel taken advantage of in some way or other.
  • You might feel frustrated, angry, and at the very least, very antsy to get away.
  • You feel responsible for the other person’s feelings and actions.
  • You may feel fear of how the other person will act or react.
  • In all cases, there’s a shift of power without consent.

The two steps for dealing with an emotional hostage situation are:

  1. To recognize quickly when it’s happening.
  2. To take control and stop the process.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Recognize when they’re happening.

To do this, you have to step back a bit and observe from a distance.

Ask yourself these questions:

Is this person taking advantage of my good will, compassion, desire to please, or need to help?

Very likely she is. People who exploit others zero in on these qualities like a radar. If you’re empathetic and willing to help or listen to other people, you’ll attract these exploiters in full force.

You can be sitting in the lunchroom at work along with ten other people, and the person who wants to bend someone’s ear about all her problems will pick you out of the crowd, back you into a corner, and unleash.

The relative who’s suicidal will know that you’re the person in the family who will listen, sympathize, check in, worry, and feel alarmed for him. It may be that this relative is suicidal, but he doesn’t do anything about it other than call you over and over and transfer his depression and fear to you.

The husband with the temper gets his way by scaring you and projecting his feelings of lack into you. Instead of feeling guilty for his bad behavior, you feel guilty for upsetting him, and he knows on some level that this works.

Is the person I’m dealing with equally concerned about my thoughts, feelings, and needs?

This is an important question. In most cases, she isn’t. It might be that she is when she’s feeling stable, or is in a good mood, but when she’s upset or feeling needy, that goes out the window. In the case of the friend who bends your ear, you may see her as just someone who’s a bit chaotic and has a lot of problems, but you still like her. What you’re missing is that she really doesn’t consider your needs at all. She sees you as an ear – someone she can discharge her emotions into.

What you can do about it.

#1) Set boundaries.

When you know you’re being taken advantage of, stop it. You could stop your friend midstream in conversation and say, “I know you have a lot to talk about and feel frustrated. Although I understand, I think you could benefit from seeing a counselor who would be much more qualified to help you sort through these things.” If she persists, reiterate – “I really can’t help you with all of this.”

#2) Take control.

With your suicidal relative, you could say or do three things:

  1. “You need to see counselor. I’m sympathetic and concerned about you, but this is over my head. Here’s the name of someone who can help, and their number.”
  2. Call the police and ask for a well check. They’ll go out and check in with your relative to see if he needs to go to a hospital or not.
  3. Let your relative know you can’t keep this a secret, and that you’ll seek help from someone involved like a parent or a spouse. Then do that.

Whichever choice you make, your objective is to stop the repetitive pattern and shift responsibility so that real help can be accessed.

#3) Directly assert your unwillingness to accept the behavior.

This is the one to use in the third case. Select a time when your husband’s not angry and things are calm to let him know how you feel when he gets angry. Tell him you’re no longer okay with that response, and talk about what the two of you might do to deal with the problem. If he’s unreceptive, seek counseling yourself and decide what you need to do.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that we can all be guilty of holding someone emotionally hostage, and it’s good to be aware of that. That said, there are those who do it regularly, sometimes with awareness and sometimes not. You don’t need to accommodate that behavior, nor should you. It’s not in anyone’s best interest.

That’s all for this Monday. I always welcome your feedback! Leave a comment below or send an email.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #38: How social media and newscasting distort what’s real.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Disinformation has become a staple in our culture and it isn’t likely to let up any time soon, if ever. One problem, among many, is that the bombardment of negativity and fictitious information that’s out there is meant to ignite and stir up our greatest fears, anger, and helplessness. It gnaws away at our mental health and creates anxiety and apprehension about the world we live in, our futures, and sometimes, even our daily existence.

So what’s the solution? Should we go live in the forest and check out? I’m being a bit facetious, but sometimes that seems like a welcome idea. Just some silence for a change.

Obviously we can’t do that, but there are things we can do to create perspective and sharpen our perceptive capacities to more thoroughly examine what we see and hear rather than taking it at face value. To do that, it’s helpful to understand two cognitive biases we all have and use, and then look at how these are exploited by newscasters and social media.

The two biases in question are:

  1. Confirmation Bias
  2. Tribe Bias

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is our tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already believe, think, or value. We do this in three ways:

  1. Biased search for information. We look for information to back up only what we already believe.
  2. Biased interpretation of information. There are several ways we do this: (a) We hang on to our beliefs even in the face of new or conflicting information. (b) We create false associations between two events or situations to validate what we believe. (c) When two of us have the same information yet disagree on what it means, we become more polarized and intense in our interpretations – me versus you.
  3. Biased recall of information. We selectively remember information that reinforces our position, beliefs, or values.

Tribe Bias

Tribe bias, also called in-group bias, is our tendency to evaluate information in light of what our cultural group thinks and believes.

In short, we like to belong, and we create social identities that are defined in large part by what our group values.

We form groups on social media of “like-minded” people. We belong to work and professional groups. We may belong to a religious or spiritual group. And of course, families are the primary groups to which we belong and where a lot of our beliefs and values come from.

The influence of our tribe biases on our interpretation of information happens in two ways:

  1. Selective exposure. We gravitate toward information sources that reflect our in-group biases. So if you’re politically liberal, you would watch MSNBC as your primary source of news, and if you’re heavily conservative you might lean toward FOX news. If you’re more middle of the road you might choose CNN.
  2. Motivated skepticism and motivated credulity. These biases take hold after we’re exposed to information. The first, motivated skepticism, is the tendency to be highly critical of information that doesn’t conform to our group’s beliefs. Motivated credulity is the tendency to be overly accepting and uncritical of similar information that supports the group’s beliefs.

Now let’s look at how newscasters and social media exploit these biases.

Newscasting

Newscasters influence us in two major ways:

  1. Selectivity of news. They pick and choose which stories to run, and thereby narrow the information field. The omission of additional information or contrary information shrinks our vision of the world to just the stories presented, and these are repetitively run on a daily basis.
  2. Playing to emotions, especially fear and anger. News is a business, and as such, money is a bottom line influence. News that sells is news that leans toward the negative, the sensational, and that which generates emotional reactivity.

Two newscasters can run the same story, but based on the headline chosen, the slant is different and can significantly skew the reader’s view and conclusions about what he’s hearing or reading.

How often have you read a story that didn’t live up to its headline. The headline was distorted, exaggerated, and stirred up your emotions. The story didn’t match up. The problem is that many people just read headlines, and construct a picture of what’s true based on them.

Fear is the largest hook used in newscasting. It appeals to the older part of our brain – the amygdala – and bypasses our rational thought processes. We’re primed for information that induces fight-or-flight responses, and they know it.

Social Media

Now let’s look at how social media exploits our biases. Here’s four practices that stand out.

  1. Promote our desire to belong. This is done by creating friend groups, feeding us information our friends have liked or reacted to, and narrowing the information provided to what’s most popular. We confirm our group status by tossing popular memes, images, or posts back and forth. In particular, political leanings are easily targeted by social media and we’re repeatedly led to stories that present the most narrow and popular view of material endorsed by our in-group, while excluding us from opposing or different views.
  2. Focus on the negative. We spread news much like the circle game where one person tells a story to the person next to him, and that person relays it to the person next to him, and around the circle we go until we get to the last person. By then the story is exaggerated, often fraught with errors and embellishments, and dramatized, with the most negative aspects prominent. This tendency toward distortion and negativity is typical of stories that go viral across social media. Negativity is sticky!
  3. Bots infiltrate our in-group and distort information. Bots pose as real people, and interact with us first by offering information that mirrors our likes and dislikes. Slowly and subtly, they accelerate our emotional reactivity by offering disinformation that inflames our fears and anger. We buy into it.
  4. Focus on fear. The more sinister side of social media is that it calculates our emotional vulnerabilities based on our responses to posts. We get fed information that exploits these vulnerabilities and inflames us emotionally. It feeds our fears. If you like a post about the need for climate change, you will likely see many more posts that offer dire predictions about the future. The more posts you respond to, the darker they get, and the more narrow the field.

What to do?

To use an age-old adage, buyer beware.

  • Read more than one news source.
  • Read whole articles, not just headlines.
  • Use fact-checking websites that expose misinformation.
  • Don’t take anything at face value.
  • Check out good news websites. There are a lot of new scientific developments going on that provide solutions to some of our worst problems. They just don’t make the news.
  • Read books that are well-researched.
  • Finally, take regular breaks from social media and newscasts.

That’s all for today. As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #37: 12 Things You Can Do to Lift Your Mood

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Here’s my list of twelve things you can do to lift your mood when you feel low, or just sort of blah.

  1. Do something that has meaning and purpose for you. It could be learning something new like trying a new recipe or watching a tutorial or researching a topic on Google. Or it could be more introspective like thinking seriously about what gives your life meaning, and setting up some new goals to work toward. Maybe you’d like to learn a new skill that would provide a better job. Or put some new energy into a relationship to deepen it. Or pursue something that has spiritual significance for you. Whatever it is, just pondering what gives you purpose and meaning can be uplifting and open your life back up.
  2. Stop watching or reading the news for a full week. Keep in mind that all news broadcasters, regardless of their biases, report news that sells. This means they select which stories to run, and how to present them. Research has shown that people gravitate more toward sensational or negative news, and broadcasters know this. A steady diet of that kind of news narrows your view of the world, and can leave you feeling depleted, depressed, and anxious.
  3. Chat with a partner or friend about something interesting, and something you’re enthusiastic about. Put your phone away and just chat. One of my favorite activities is sitting in the living room with my husband and having a glass of wine while talking about subjects we both love. It’s stimulating, keeps your mind active, and it’s a lotta fun. You could go out for coffee, hang at the house, or take a walk and talk. Do what appeals most to you.
  4. Read something inspirational. Reading is a great way to absorb your mind for a little while and give yourself an emotional respite. Words or stories that inspire you can loosen up your subconscious and bring a fresh approach to problem-solving, or help you see things from a different viewpoint.
  5. Take a walk while listening to music or a podcast. Walking, especially outside, is a great way to lift your mood. Music can make it fun as well as absorb you in a different headspace for a while. A podcast about a subject you like is mentally diverting, and has the added benefit of entertaining or teaching you something at the same time. Or, you can simply walk quietly and let nature soothe your emotions.
  6. Make a list of 5 things you can do to reduce your stress load. Step off the stress treadmill for a moment and take some time to regroup, think, and evaluate what you’re doing. Come up with five ideas to reduce your stress load. That might mean eliminating activities you really don’t have time for or that don’t offer you much, or maybe delegating some things instead of doing everything yourself. Or it might mean having a long overdue talk with a partner or family member to resolve an issue that’s stressing you. Taking a big picture view of what’s causing you stress, and making some plans for strategic changes will help you feel better.
  7. Eat a really healthy meal. You can cook it yourself, or order something out, but make sure it’s a clean, low-fat, meal with a good portion of veggies. You can extend this to a diet plan aimed at improving your overall health.
  8. Make a gratitude list. Write ten things you’re grateful for. As you begin listing things, you’ll turn your mind toward positive experiences you’ve had. When you’re in a bad mood, you automatically focus on things that have gone wrong. One thought leads to another and to another and pretty soon you’ve painted a bleak picture of your life. You then react to that picture as though it’s always been this way and always will be. Gratitude helps keep things in balance so that you don’t get stuck in a repetitive narration of your negative life story.
  9. Take a nap or go to bed early. If you’re sleep deprived, eight full hours of sleep will greatly help your mood. Also do your best to regulate your sleep schedule so that you sleep 7 1/2 to 8 hours most nights, and preferably between the hours of 11PM and 7AM, or in as close proximity as possible. Those hours are naturally aligned with our circadian rhythms.
  10. Drink a full 16-ounce glass of water. Many of us are dehydrated and don’t know it. Maybe not to the extreme (you would feel that), but enough to douse your energy. When in doubt, drink water. It can energize you, equalize your mood, and clear your mind.
  11. Take a drive. This is one of my favorites. Sometimes just driving a little ways out of town shifts your perspective. It opens up your mind, even if you’re stuck on a problem. Just seeing different scenery, and being away from the house and where you live can feel relieving and give you a lift. It expands your world a bit.
  12. Declutter and organize your space. It always feels good to clean up your space. It can be just a closet or your home office or the kitchen cabinets, or maybe just pick up everything in your living room and put it away. Decluttering your space has the effect of decluttering your mind. The mere act of doing it organizes you mentally, and lifts your mood.

Just a quick note about food and alcohol.

Junk food or too much alcohol can play havoc with your mood. You may not realize or know that, and not consider it when you’re in a slump. Even a mild hangover can lower your blood sugar enough that you feel depressed. Junk food spikes your blood sugar quickly which gives you a quick pick-me-up, but is later followed by a feeling of sluggishness and a mood plunge. Done repetitively, more serious health problems can occur as well as chronic mood problems.

People often don’t realize that a bad diet greatly contributes to their anxiety and mood swings. Keep it in mind!

That’s all for today. If you’d like to put your two cents in, please leave a comment below or feel free to email me.

As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #36: What’s the real source of happiness?

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

The pursuit of happiness is an integral part of being human. We all want it, and all pursue it. Even the most psychopathic person is pursuing what gives him a sense of pleasure, although in a very twisted and dark way.

The question that arises is:

“What is happiness, and how do we get it?”

This question is and always has been a perennial subject of conversation for philosophers, psychologists, religious leaders, and thinkers of all kinds.

One answer comes from the field of Positive Psychology, and it’s the one I want to talk about today, because it gives us a way to narrow it down to things we can do to create real happiness for ourselves.

Two kinds of happiness.

The first basic premise is that there are two kinds of happiness, and the sources for each are different. Mostly we pursue some of each, although we lean more one way or the other. The two types are:

  1. Eudaimonia
  2. Hedonia

Eudaimonia

Eudaimonia was a term used by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics in which he described the good life as one in which we develop our innate potentialities and abilities, and engage in striving to realize them. He saw this drive as our “freedom to flourish,” and a source of personal satisfaction.

Eudaimonic happiness is based not on moment to moment elevation of mood, but rather on the pursuit of long-term goals that are motivated by intrinsic values and inspiration. The impetus for exploring life comes from an internal push toward personal growth and seeking challenges that provide purpose and meaning.

In a nutshell:

We pursue connection and intimacy, self-actualization, contribution, learning, and the expression of our deepest values, potentialities, and aspirations.

Hedonia

Hedonia is associated with pleasure and extrinsic motivation.

As pleasure, happiness comes from our moment to moment enjoyment of activities that provide entertainment, comfort, relaxation, and sometimes stimulation. These activities are mood elevating, albeit temporary.

We plop down in front of the TV and watch a favorite show, or go out for dinner, or take a swim in the pool, or cozy up in bed and read a novel.

We might also pursue bigger extrinsic goals such as the accumulation of wealth, status and possessions.

Our sense of self is reliant on external feedback, and the drive to be authentic gives way to the need for approval and often narcissistic gains and confirmation.

Which is better?

Eudaimonic happiness of course!

So how do we achieve it?

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman spells it out. He explains that real happiness comes from the development of character which he defines in terms of “virtues and strengths”. He outlines 6 primary virtues and 24 character strengths, known as the “classification of strengths,” (Seligman and Peterson).

Virtues are the core values, and character strengths are the routes by which virtues are achieved and expressed.

An example of a virtue is Wisdom and Knowledge. The strengths aligned with this virtue are love of learning, judgment, curiosity, creativity, and having a sense of perspective. (For the full list of virtues and strengths, click here.)

What Seligman says is that we are most happy when we:

  • Step into and sense being our true selves
  • Feel that we’re doing the right thing
  • Are invigorated and enthusiastic
  • Learn and apply new skills
  • Engage in close reciprocal relationships where we display empathy and kindness
  • Face real challenges and overcome obstacles
  • Seek meaning and purpose

All of these characteristics are eudaimonic pursuits.

This doesn’t mean that hedonistic pursuits are all bad. Certainly not, and all of us usually pursue both kinds of happiness. Hedonistic pleasures can supply a needed respite sometimes to soothe and relax us.

The problem arises when hedonistic pursuits are dominant, as well as self-destructive. Over-indulgence can lead to depression, addiction, loss of control, and emptiness.

Sitting in the hot-tub to soothe aching muscles and distract your mind from stress is a good relaxer. Binge drinking and chronic overeating give you temporary pleasure followed by depression and ill health.

Hedonistic pursuits are sometimes used as a means to avoid dealing with problems or issues that need attention, and left unattended, become worse.

Here’s the takeaway.

To pursue real happiness, focus on developing your strengths (see the handout), engaging in behavior that adds to your good character, and finding meaning and purpose in what you do.

Start by asking these questions:

  1. What are my top three (or more) interests?
  2. What would I like to learn more about?
  3. If I could have any job I wanted, or work in any field, what would it be?
  4. How could I improve my relationships? With whom?
  5. Where do I need more self-control, and what would that look like?
  6. How can I show myself more love as well as others?
  7. Where and under what circumstances can I most express my highest self?
  8. What activities that I pursue for pleasure are good for me, and which ones need to go?
  9. How can I take better care of myself?

The goal of these questions is to turn your attention inward and to start thinking more about what motivates you from the inside out. What can lead you to a greater expression of your potentialities and talents? What are you curious about that you’d like to pursue?

The secondary goal is to focus on building upon your character. What internal changes can you make in your dealings with yourself and others that will provide connection and meaning in your life?

Start by making sure that every day you do at least one thing that’s in the eudaimonia camp – one thing that contributes to your overall sense of purpose and meaning. Or if you’re not sure what that is, do some small thing that provides some sense of growth or moves you toward a goal.

Just showing kindness to someone is a step in that direction. Reading about something you’re interested in knowing more about; making a healthy meal for yourself; having a meaningful discussion with a friend. Any of these are steps in the right direction.

Final Thoughts

To aid you with this project, click on this link which will take you to a website called viacharacter.org where you can sign up to take a free survey that identifies which of the 24 character strengths you are strong in, and which need some work. It’s a fast, easy test to take and gives you some good information to work from. It’s free!

You can also find the test in Authentic Happiness if you’d rather read the book.

That’s all for today!

As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

 

Blog Short #35: One important thing that helps a relationship succeed.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!


Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

There are many factors that contribute to the success and health of a romantic relationship, especially a long-term one like marriage.

Today I want to focus on just one factor that I think is quite important, and often not taken into consideration as much as it should be. In a word – authenticity.

Authenticity in a relationship means you can be your real self with your partner. You can truly express your thoughts, feelings, personality, values, desires, issues, and idiosyncrasies without condemnation.

That doesn’t mean that all your behaviors are okay, but rather that you can talk to your partner about where you’re stuck and what you need. It means sharing the deepest parts of yourself with your partner and vice versa.

Research has backed up the importance of authenticity in terms of both longevity and satisfaction in marriage. One study in particular honed in on two components that help a long-term relationship flourish. These are unacceptability of deception and intimate risk-taking. Let’s go through them.

Unacceptability of Deception

This refers to the desire to be truly known by our partners for who we are, and conversely to truly know our partners for who they are. People who desire this level of authenticity want:

  • To be able to communicate with openness and honesty, and to have frank conversations without secrets or hidden agendas.
  • Truthfulness even when what’s revealed is conflictual or disappointing.
  • Exposure and acknowledgement of both our strengths and weaknesses.

Intimate Risk-Taking

This refers to taking the risk to reveal our deepest selves to each other; not just occasionally, but regularly. In other words:

  • No topic is off limits for discussion.
  • The most intimate parts of ourselves are safe to reveal to each other.
  • Our deepest desires, fears, and needs can be expressed and heard.

Being authentic means that we feel safe enough to expose ourselves, even in conflict, and we trust each other enough to work through anything that arises.

The Role of Power

In order for us to be authentic with our partners, we must feel that the balance of power in the relationship is equal. In other words, one person can’t be subordinate to the other. When that’s the case, we hide things or keep secrets. Examples might be:

  • Keeping something from your partner to avoid a conflict or reaction.
  • Hiding your true feelings to avoid disapproval or disappointment.
  • Doing more work in the relationship than you feel is your rightful share.
  • Allowing your needs to go unattended, while catering to those of your partner.
  • Being afraid to say what you really think for fear of retribution.
  • Allowing your partner to make most of the decisions.

When one partner is more dominate than the other, and this pattern is allowed to persist, then authenticity is compromised as is the health of the relationship.

Why is authenticity so important?

We know what it means to be authentic and why it’s important for a relationship to thrive, but there’s another more fundamental reason that we desire to have someone know us intimately and without judgment. That’s the need to have someone fully witness our lives.

It’s a primal need humans have. We know we exist and we know who we are, but when someone else knows it, it feels more real. We feel validated. That’s why we seek out intimate relationships, whether they be of a romantic nature or with a parent or family member or friend.

We need to be known, be seen, be accepted, and be connected.

Being authentic, accepted, and loved at the same time meets that primary need in a way that nothing else quite does.

What you can do now.

With all that in mind, how can you increase the level of authenticity in your relationship right now?

If you feel you already have it, great! Keep it going and continue to reveal deeper parts of yourself as you go.

But if you don’t, start by thinking about why. Make two lists (both partners should do this exercise):

  1. What keeps you from being totally who you are with your partner? Include in that historical issues like dysfunctional patterns you learned growing up, as well as current relationship patterns with your partner. What’s the power balance between you? Especially hone in on your fears. What are you afraid of if you reveal more of who you are and what you think?
  2. Ask the same questions regarding your partner? What keeps him or her from being authentic with you? Do you have a part in that? What do you think might be an issue for your partner that interferes?

Using these lists, start having conversations about what you’ve both discovered. Ask each other what prevents you from being authentic, and what would make each of you more comfortable?

The one rule for these conversations is that they can’t be used to argue. They should be an exercise in mutual exploration and curiosity.

The goal for you both is:

To learn how to let each other say and express true thoughts and feelings without judgment or rebuttal, and to keep practicing that until it’s easy and automatic.

In other words,

Get good at listening to understand.

Have some conversations that have nothing to do with areas of conflict. Talk about what you each think about every day, what your experiences are like, your interests, what you hope for in the future, things you would like to change, and so forth. Get to truly know each other.

Even if you feel distant, you can begin to increase your authenticity. Your relationship will start to improve and deepen as a result.

Those couples who have been together for 40 and 50 years, and seem so close to each other, have worked at it. And they will almost always tell you it was worth it.

That’s all for this Monday. As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

PS – Suggested reading to work on your own authenticity is a book called Authentic by Stephen Joseph. It’s got some great exercises in it along with good information.

Blog Short #34: The Value of Self-Compassion

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

How many of you were raised with the sentiment “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”?

It usually makes an appearance when you’ve made a mistake and you’re resisting fixing it, or there’s some issue you aren’t facing up to.

This phrase is kind of a metaphor for the American value of being tough-minded, thick-skinned, and industrious all at the same time. It goes along with our can-do mindset.

There’s something good about it in that it’s meant to move us past our fears and regrets and continue on. The problem arises when it’s accompanied by the litany of self-criticism that usually follows.

Implied in the statement is the idea that we’re self-indulgent and give into weakness, or worse, laziness. It can feel more like you’re being told “Don’t be a sissy!” So if we can beat ourselves up enough, we might get rid of the guilt and stigma of not being tough enough.

This is where the idea of self-compassion comes in, which is today’s subject.

Self-Compassion versus Self-Criticism

Self-compassion is a practice that confirms our worth and allows us to acknowledge and work through our suffering, while also helping us take responsibility for ourselves.

In other words, it’s an alternative way to pull ourselves up and deal with things, but without destroying ourselves in the process.

Whereas self-criticism – especially harsh and unforgiving criticism – tries to beat us into submission, self-compassion soothes and validates us and makes us ready to face our mistakes and failures.

Self-criticism and self-judgment:

  • Do not make us better. You can’t beat yourself into being a “better person.”
  • Do not help us own up to things or be truthful with ourselves about our failings, because we want to avoid the self-hatred and judgment that follows.

Self-compassion allows us to:

  • Accept our mistakes, failings, and disappointments in ourselves.
  • Accurately observe our frailties, own them, and make improvements.
  • Treat both ourselves and others with compassion and understanding.
  • Soothe our suffering, even when we’re at fault.
  • Set boundaries when needed without being cruel or unkind.

The practice of self-compassion actually helps us be more responsible for ourselves, while maintaining our worth and sense of self.

Dr. Kristin Neff, in her book Self-Compassion, outlines three core components of self-compassion, but today I’m going to review only two of them. They are:

  1. Self-Kindness
  2. Common Humanity

Let’s go through them, and that will help you get a better understanding of exactly what self-compassion is and how you might apply it for yourself.

#1 Self-Kindness

Maybe the best way to understand this one is to conjure up the image of a “good” mother. What would the characteristics be?

The first idea that comes to mind is that she would give you unconditional love which means that no matter what you did, she would still love you, even if she didn’t approve of your behavior.

She would let you know when you’re blurring the lines and going off in the wrong direction, and she would pull you back. But she would do it gently, even when acting with firmness.

If you made mistakes, she would soothe you and acknowledge your suffering, while also helping you figure out how to make reparations or change your behavior.

She would be on your side. She would support you. You would be able to tell her anything, and you would trust her.

Self-kindness is giving this kind of love to yourself.

Instead of beating yourself up when you fall, you would:

  • Speak to yourself with kind, gentle words.
  • Sympathize with your own pain.
  • Soothe your suffering, even if you caused it.
  • Stay connected to yourself.
  • Embrace your power to accept your mistakes and make repairs, or change directions.

Self-kindness means treating yourself with love and compassion while also owning up to what’s been done and what needs to be done.

By approaching it this way, you’re much more likely to be honest with yourself and to pursue fixing what needs to be fixed.

Self-kindness also allows you to extend more kindness and understanding to others. If you’re highly critical of yourself, you’re likely the same with others. Likewise, if you’re kind to yourself, you extend that outward too.

Now let’s look at “common humanity.”

#2 Common Humanity

Self-criticism is isolating.

When you get hyper-focused on what’s wrong with you, and add a big dose of judgment and self-flagellation to it, you find yourself in solitary confinement. You’re separated from the rest of the world. You aren’t worthy, you don’t fit in, and you’re cut off from love, acceptance, and belonging.

Self-compassion acknowledges the mistakes, but recognizes that we’re all in the same boat. It’s human to stumble along as we traverse the road of life. Sometimes it’s full steam ahead, and sometimes it’s boulders and obstacles along the path. Sometimes we take side roads that go nowhere or dump us in a ditch temporarily.

The point is, we all suffer, we all do things we shouldn’t, and we all do things we should.

When you find yourself in a difficult place, just remember that everyone else goes through pain and suffering, even those who look like they have the world at their fingertips. Keeping this in mind helps and soothes you.

Focus on your commonality rather than seeing yourself as different.

Remember that everyone is doing and feeling the same things you are, even if the presentation isn’t exactly the same.

Feeling connected goes along with being kind and feeling empathy. It makes things less frightening. It keeps your heart open. It allows you to not take yourself quite so seriously, and encourages both humor and emotional resilience.

See yourself as part of the shared human experience.

Final Thoughts

Getting in the habit of treating yourself with self-compassion may seem difficult to do if you’re used to the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” methodology, followed by the “not good enough” rant.

You can be firm with yourself while also being kind. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and combining them gets better results.

Make these two changes to activate your self-compassion:

  1. Monitor your self-talk. Use gentle words, delete harsh criticisms, and treat yourself gently, even when you need to apply firmness. Acknowledge your suffering when it’s there, and don’t suppress it. Do this even when you’ve created the circumstances that have caused the suffering.​
  2. Be your own best mother. Get an image in your mind of what that would look like, and use it to help you speak to yourself with kindly.

Give it a try, especially if you aren’t used to it. If you’d like to read more about how to do this, get Dr. Neffs’s book Self-Compassion and read it. It’s definitely worth the time.

That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #33: How to Become More Patient

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Here’s a scenario for you:

You’re late for work and you get behind what I call a “Grandpa driver” (no offense to Seniors – I’m one myself). You’re in a 45mph zone and he’s doing 28. As you drive, your frustration is quickly transforming into full-fledged road rage as you keep looking at your dashboard clock and imagining your boss noting that you haven’t arrived yet. It’s 5 minutes to 8, and you’re at least 10 minutes away. You’re impatiently riding Grandpa’s tail, your breathing is fast and shallow, and the curse words are starting to flow out of your mouth.

You’ve had this experience? Me too! More than a few times.

So what’s the biggest issue here?

It’s not so much that you’re going to be late – you are going to be late! It’s a given at this point. You also probably know on some level that you’re at fault because you didn’t leave early enough. But, getting stuck behind this slow driver is upping the ante and knocking out any chance you had to make up the time. Your impatience is growing and quickly morphing into anger.

The real problem is that things aren’t going as you expected they would, and you’re resisting that with your whole being!

Impatience is an act of emotional resistance. That’s the root cause.

You construct an idea of how things should go, and then something happens that interrupts your plan, and you resist accepting that deviation. If you accepted it, you would just change gears, go with the flow, and make a transition without the big emotional reaction. But you don’t. You resist it. And the result is escalating impatience.

Great! So how do we stop the resistance?

Here’s my 9 favs. You can test them out yourself and find out what works for you.

#1 Accept the change in circumstances or plans.

This is the most important one because it changes your whole mindset. You can do it very deliberately by talking to yourself.

  1. Verbalize out loud what the obstacle or change in circumstance is. Be specific.
  2. Tell yourself that you need to accept it, and do that. Sit with it a moment until it sinks in. Say to yourself, “I can accept this.”
  3. Figure out what you can do to deal with the situation. Do you just need to shift gears? Do you need to make a call or inform someone that circumstances have changed? What do you need to do to adjust to the change in circumstances?

In the example above, you might say,

“I’m behind a slow driver and there’s no way I can get to work on time. So I can just relax. Breathe slower, sit back in the seat, and just drive. I’ll get there when I get there. Worst case scenario, my boss is upset. I could call ahead and let him know when I think I’ll arrive. If he’s still upset, I can deal with it and still have a good day.”

That’s a lot better than raging for the next 10 minutes, getting to work upset, and continuing to ruminate about what happened for another half hour or more. That’s likely to set a bad tone for the rest of your day, and it won’t change the fact that you were late anyway.

#2 Do square breathing.

Square breathing is a technique that slows your breathing, calms your mind, and increases oxygen to the brain which allows you to think more clearly. Mind and breath are connected. Calming the breath immediately calms the mind and vice versa. You can get the handout for how to do square breathing here.

#3 Know your triggers.

It’s worth your time to make a list of your triggers. If you’re not sure what they are, you can keep what’s called a tally list. Every time you find yourself becoming impatient, document it. You might do that on your phone or on a small pad you carry with you. When you know your triggers, you can plan ahead for how you’re going to deal with these situations without losing your patience or becoming frustrated or angry.

#4 Allow extra time for activities.

Sometimes impatience is simply the result of trying to squeeze too much into a time space. If you’re not good at estimating how much time things take, add on an extra 10 or 15 minutes to your planned events. If you like tracking things, you could track your time for a day or two and see how much time things actually take. A good policy is to always allow time for interruptions, changes, or problems that could arise. Having that extra time allows you to adjust to the unexpected easily and without impatience.

#5 Prioritize your activities.

A lot of impatience arises because we have too much on our plate. Prioritize your activities and let go of things that aren’t necessary or productive, and that crowd you or waste your time.

#6 Develop more empathy.

You might wonder why this one’s on the list, but it fits. In the case of the Grandpa driver, it might be that he actually is an elderly person who feels anxious driving, especially at higher speeds. Or maybe he’s having some other problem today that’s preoccupying him. Or maybe he just goes slow. Whatever the case, the driver of that car is a person with his own life and circumstances, and you don’t know what’s going on with him.

Empathy means accepting that not everyone does things the way you do and appreciating those differences. The more you feel a kinship and connection with other people, the more flexible you are in allowing for their personal idiosyncrasies and behaviors.

#7 Avoid multi-tasking.

When you try to do several things at once, you’re more likely to make mistakes, have difficulties focusing, and become frustrated. This can ramp up your impatience with yourself as well as with anyone you’re interacting with. Do one thing at a time as much as you can.

#8 Distract yourself.

If you’re waiting on something or someone, and you have no control over the situation, distract yourself. Accept the situation and do something of interest or something that’s worthwhile. You could read, catch up on some work, listen to music, plan something you’ve been meaning to attend to, or whatever works. Don’t just sit and ruminate.

#9 Train your brain to handle situations calmly.

There are two practices that do this:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Meditation

Mindfulness is the practice of watching your thoughts and feelings as they arise without judgment or reactivity. The benefit is that you gain some distance from them so you can decide how you want to respond.

Meditation is a practice that strengthens your attention muscle, provides emotional space, keeps you present, and produces increasing states of calm. There are many types of meditation including mindfulness-based meditation, watching the breath, repetition of a mantra, guided imagery, and others.

Regular practice of both mindfulness and meditation naturally increase your patience and ability to respond deliberately rather than reactively.

That’s my 9! Have something to add to the list? Please leave a comment below!

Have a great week,

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #32: How to stop projecting your stuff on to others.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Last week, we tackled the defense mechanism “projection,” and talked about how to know when someone projects their issues on us, and what to do about it. This week is Part 2 of this series, and we’ll be talking about our own use of “projection.” Specifically,

  1. How can we know when we’re projecting?
  2. And, how can we stop it, or at least tone it down?

Just to review,

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism we use when we don’t want to acknowledge some part of ourselves we don’t like, or don’t approve of.

We project unacceptable thoughts, feelings, motives or behavior on to someone else so we don’t have to face them. This allows us to protect our self-esteem and self-image.

A quick example we used last week was the guy who complains about people who are late all the time, when in fact he’s late most of the time, but doesn’t recognize it.

So let’s dive in!

Three Reasons We Project

#1 Insecurity

We all have insecurities, but each of us has our own twist. For example, you might have an underlying worry that you’re not as smart as other people. This might play out when having a conversation with some of your friends about a more intellectual subject, and you decide that they think you’re dumb, or they’re brushing off your comments, or no one’s really listening or responding to you.

In truth, probably none of these ideas are accurate. You’ve projected your insecurity into the conversation, and looked for responses to validate it.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

My insecurity → Others believe this about me → Their behavior proves it → It’s true.

#2 Beliefs About How Things Should Be

A second reason we project has to do with our beliefs about how we should behave. I call these the “shoulds.”

Usually these are the dos and don’ts we learned from our parents and communities growing up. When we deviate from them we feel guilt or anxiety.

This is especially true when our “shoulds” butt heads with our real thoughts and ideas that don’t fit the mold – but because of our discomfort if we don’t buy in, we suppress those ideas.

This internal conflict plays out when we project our discomfort on someone else to get rid of it.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you hear someone voicing anger about something he thinks is unfair or not right. You agree with what he’s saying, but because voicing anger is a big no-no in your family, you suppress these thoughts. Instead, you label him in your head as an angry person.

What you’ve done is project your “shoulds” on him to avoid the guilt that would come up if you let yourself openly agree with him and go against your family’s rules. You’ve distanced yourself by painting him in a negative light.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

Someone voices his anger when something’s wrong →← That’s a no-no for you (it’s wrong) → He’s an angry guy → I’m not like that.

#3 Direct Projections from Your History

These projections are similar to the ones above, but go a little deeper. They’re not so much about the “shoulds,” but are about relationship patterns established growing up with parents or caretakers. Here’s some examples:

  • If you have an emotionally distant parent, you might decide your partner is being emotionally distant even though he’s just preoccupied at the moment.
  • Or maybe you didn’t have much privacy growing up and you accuse your partner of trying to pry into your business when she’s just interested in your life.
  • Or you had a very stern, critical parent and any complaint coming from your partner is perceived as a devastating blow when actually it’s just a normal complaint.

In all these cases, you imposed your early relationship with a parent on a current relationship.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

Behavior from current relationship → ← You ← Behavior of parent or caretaker.

What To Do

The key to getting on top of your use of projection is self-awareness.

Here’s some guidelines for doing that.

#1 Don’t suppress.

One of the ways we protect our egos or sense of who we are is to suppress anything that conflicts with that vision. This includes feelings or thoughts that arise, or behaviors that don’t fit in with our constructed identities. These are the things we project off.

So step one is to let these things come up without suppressing them. You can’t get on top of projection when you don’t know what it is you’re trying to avoid.

Try this exercise:

For the next week, check in with yourself at least 3 times a day, or more if you can. During the check-in, ask yourself how you’re feeling. You might review the events of the day along with your emotional responses to them. Or if you’ve been ruminating about something, pull it out and observe what those thoughts and feelings are.

The goal is to get familiar with what your internal life is like. In the process, you’ll note feelings you’ve suppressed or have ignored. Let them come up. No judgment. All feelings are acceptable, even the most negative and inappropriate ones. You don’t have to act on anything. Just watch, see what’s there, and don’t censor.

#2 Address thoughts about someone else’s behavior.

Pay attention to any thoughts about others, especially negative or critical ones. What specific complaints do you have, or what problems or issues are you stuck on that involve someone else?

Now do this:

  1. If your complaint is about someone’s behavior, ask yourself if you’re guilty of the same behavior. If not, no problem. But ask the question and be honest with yourself.
  2. Ask if you’re imposing one of your “shoulds” on the other person. Is it a should you really agree with, or do you have reservations about it? What do you really think? Do you need to revise what you think based on your real opinions, not those of your parents, peers or other people? The goal is to be your authentic self, and also allow others to be themselves.

#3 Pay attention to defensive reactions.

When your automatic response to something someone says or does is to defend yourself, then that’s the signal to stop and assess whether you’re projecting your history onto the situation.

Are you seeing what’s happening just in terms of the person you’re interacting with, or are you layering it with other experiences you’ve had? Is your reaction too big for the situation?

Try this:

Give yourself some time away from the interaction to review it. This might be done in hindsight, or if you’re in the middle of an intense conversation with someone, ask for a break to give yourself time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the soft spot that’s being triggered here?
  • Where do these triggers come from? Parents, previous partners, friends? With whom and under what circumstances?
  • Am I exaggerating or misconstruing what’s going on right now in light of my triggers and past experiences?

Your goal is to get as close to a real evaluation as you can, and then direct your response accordingly. Sometimes, you’re reacting to triggers from your history and projecting them into the current situation. Maybe not, but either way, you want to figure that out.

A quick word of encouragement.

Projection is one of the harder defenses to get on top of, so give yourself time to work on it. We’re all prone to it, but it helps to be able to see it in action. It gives you some personal power.

Please leave a comment below, or feel free to email me!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

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