“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

 

 

Not often enough is each of us asked, “What’s it like moving through the world as you?” We are not often asked about our fears and insecurities, hopes, frustrations, and about what makes us feel alive. We are not often asked about what we’re thinking, what we’re wondering about, or if we’re worried.

 

Some of us experience racism and homophobia. Some of us experience ableism or transphobia or sexism or classism or ageism.

 

Some of us suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic pain, or addiction. Some of us are navigating the complicated mourning process and feeling what can only be described as unyielding fragility. Some of us are numb.

 

All of us are grappling with something- marital problems, financial instability, a terminally ill child, a best friend dead from aggressive cancer, panic about the future, historical or intergenerational trauma, chronic mental or physical illness, a break-up, discrimination, sexual harassment, the aging process, our own inexorable thoughts.

 

I get the pleasure and honor of creating a space for people to sit down and tell me about what it’s like for them as they move through the world. I get to see couples learn, for the first time, in a deeper way what it’s like for their partners to be them. I have made a career out of witnessing what happens when people speak honestly and listen compassionately.

 

Not everyone has the privilege of making this their daily life, and I’d like to help make it as accessible as possible. It’s the act of intelligently tuning into our own experience and seeing what’s there. It’s the act of deepening our understanding of ourselves and another.

 

When we become attuned to and present with our pain, we can tune into and be present with another’s pain. The reverse is also true, that when we are present with and attuned to another’s pain we can also be present with our own. We are complex creatures, capable of many things, some being empathy and compassion.

 

When we open space for ourselves to be present and attuned, it’s easier to listen to what is really being said. It’s easier to see someone for who they are instead of our projection of them.

 

We can’t do this all the time, but we can do it more often. We can slow down and drop in.

 

Someone recently recommended to me Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” performance. In it, he talks about his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, and her belief system. He quotes her as saying, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

 

There is chaos. And there is kindness.

 

I wonder, what’s it like moving through the world as you?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

The Power of No

The Power of No

To quote Tina Fey’s geniusly played character on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Some people are scared of conflict, but… it gets shit done.” She’s right. Conflict, when managed appropriately, gets shit done. I often use this space to talk about how to effectively manage conflict and what it looks like when conflict is mismanaged. I’d like to take a minute to sing the praises of the conflict itself. And what better way to find yourself in conflict than when you say “no”?

You and I both know you don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to your neighbor talk about his kids when you’re just trying to get into your house after a long day. You don’t want to stay late to work on the work thing that everyone else has blown off any more than I do. And you don’t want to accept the disrespectful treatment from that friend who is a friend, but more of a nuisance. And you and I also know that we’ve said yes to all of these things. We’ve listened to the neighbor, put in work that everyone else has shirked, and accepted the disrespect for a lot of reasons. It felt easier than setting a boundary; we wanted to people-please; we didn’t know how not to engage in the first place. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy, especially at first. You have to say no. There’s no way around it.

When you accept treatment you don’t want; you’re saying to yourself and others, “You don’t have to respect me. I don’t respect me either. I’m more concerned with being accepted by you than I am with liking myself.” That’s a dissatisfying and precarious way to live. Frankly, it’s a perfect recipe for resentment.

And I get it. You might be thinking, “Ok, but if I respected myself I wouldn’t have a problem saying ‘no’ in the first place.” And you’re right. There’s no easy answer here. You just have to start saying “no.” Start anywhere. When your neighbor starts talking to you, greet him but tell him you’ll have to catch him later. Stand up for yourself at work and say that you can’t stay late either or that you don’t want to be the only person working on the project. Assert yourself with your nuisance-friend and tell him you’re not going to go out of your way to give him rides anymore.

We accept subpar treatment because some part of us believes that we deserve it. Start showing yourself that you deserve respect. Show yourself how good it feels when you assert your needs.

I also want to be respectful of what might have made you feel that you’re not allowed to say “no” or that when you do it’s not heard. Trauma can make us feel like it’s not safe to say “no” or that it won’t matter if we do because, at some point, this was true. We keep living as if it continues to be true. Whether it’s childhood abuse, domestic violence, bullying, implicit messaging from parents or other impactful relationships, there are many roads that could have led us to say “yes” when we’d rather say “no.” Working through this requires effort, and it’s totally possible to get there.

If you’d like to be able to set your boundaries and access your self-respect, I’d love to help you.

Get yourself to a place where you can set a boundary because you know your experience and feelings matter. Get yourself to a place where you trust yourself enough to say “no.”

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Most of us agree that relationships can be an exceedingly rewarding part of life. Most of us agree that they can also be a lot of work. There are differences to navigate, conflicts to negotiate, and emotions to be aware of and manage. By now, we understand that it takes cooperation, compromise, and empathy to get a stable start to a fruitful relationship.

We make so many choices when we’re in relationship although, sometimes, we’re not aware of what we’ve chosen and why… or that we were given any choice at all. This thread is found in a good number of the issues that couples bring to me. Somewhere along the way, people start feeling stuck.

One of the most common, basic choices we make in relationships is how we respond to one another. We are constantly negotiating offers for connection with others. Here are some ways people respond to one another. See which style is most common in your relationship(s).

The most ideal (because it is most supportive and has the best outcome) is when we accept bids for connection or “turn toward.” This happens when someone asks us a question, makes a comment, displays communicative behavior and we react in a positive way. If someone reaches out to you for a high-five, you high-five them back. If your partner says, “I want to start working out more and eating healthier,” you say something like, “That’s a good idea! I feel better when I do.” People feel more supported in relationships where turning toward one another is a common practice.

Another and less ideal way of responding to another’s attempt at connection is in rejection or “turning against”. This happens when defensiveness, blame, or criticism is used. If you were to respond in this way, it would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “Whatever. You say that all the time and you never do it. You should either do it or stop talking about it.” Couples who practice this generate a lot of hostility and resentment, two qualities that make it tough for a supportive, connected relationship to thrive.

The third way to respond to someone’s bid for connection is ignoring or “turning away.” It happens when one partner meets the other with silence or an unrelated comment/question. This particular pattern is the most destructive and puts couples on a fast track to breaking up. Unresponsiveness breeds resentment, defensiveness, blame, and eventually, hopelessness. An example of turning away would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “…hey, do you remember the name of that guy we ran into last night?”

It could also look like silence while you’re staring at an electronic device or book.

At first, most people try a few more attempts at connecting. Eventually (especially when couples are headed for divorce), people stop making attempts.

Those of you who learned supportive communication skills early in life have lucky companions. For those of you who didn’t learn (or refine) your skills early on, well, you can learn at any age.

Here’s something to try which will promote an increase in turning toward- learning how to listen. There are a few key elements of listening in the most active, positive, supportive way:

-Focus on being interested in and curious about what the other person is saying, feeling, expressing

-Ask questions about what they thinking, feeling, experiencing

-Look for similarities you share with one another (Empathy fast-tracks connection.)

– Give them your undivided attention- don’t try to listen while playing with your phone, reading an article, watching T.V., etc.

-Suspend or let go of your agenda. We can’t listen to the best of our ability when we are preoccupied with our points of argument, feelings, and experiences.

Sometimes executing these things is trying. We might get scared that we’re not going to get our say in the matter or that we’re going to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Interestingly, couples who practice turning against and turning away report feeling this way while couples who practice turning toward report a decrease in such feelings.

Relationships can be difficult enough when we are on the same team. They feel nearly impossible when we pit ourselves against one another.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Decrease Arguments and Increase Understanding in Relationship

Decrease Arguments and Increase Understanding in Relationship

A whole experience can be regarded as a trifecta of thinking, feeling, and doing. Every day, we all walk around and bump into others’ experiences with our own, and we create more experiences and the pattern continues. Sometimes, this pattern is incredibly pleasant, and we get to feel connected to others and resourced. Other times, the pattern is fiercely dangerous to our connection, and we feel myriad feelings such as sadness, anger, hurt, and resentment. How does this happen?

Most often, the reason people experience this painful part of the pattern is because they are not taking responsibility for each point in their trifecta- responsibility for their thoughts, their feelings, and their actions. They say things like, “Well, I wouldn’t have yelled at you if you had just done what I asked you to do in the first place,” or “I wouldn’t have dismissed your opinion if I felt like you respected mine.” They almost immediately give up their integrity to another (and then punish them for it).

You might be able to identify with this pattern. So, what can you do about it? For starters, you can figure out what you want. If what you want is to be happier, more connected to your loved ones, and more understood, then you can move onto the next step. If you want to be unhappy, disconnected and misunderstood… then, don’t change anything you’re doing.

The next step is to ask yourself some questions:

1) “Why did/am I do/doing that?”

2) “How was/am I feeling?”

3) “What was/am I thinking?”

Let’s say you’re in a heated conversation with someone and you throw out the ever-loved phrase, “I wouldn’t have _______________ if you hadn’t_________.
What are you trying to communicate? (Because, give yourself some credit; I’m pretty sure you don’t think that another person can control your actions.) So, what’s going on? Were your feelings hurt? Did you feel disappointed? Is there a resentment you’ve been carrying?

It’s tempting to blame your partner (or your friend, colleague, family member) for your thoughts, feelings, and or actions, but it’s inaccurate. It’s also tempting to presume you know what they are thinking and or feeling and let this inform your actions… again, though, inaccurate. Focus on what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what you’re doing.

So, after you’ve uncovered your genuine feelings and thoughts, honestly communicate them to your loved one. You can even do it in the middle of a negative pattern- “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m feeling so frustrated because we’ve had three conversations about how you are going to start putting your shoes away yet I came home and tripped over them again. I have no idea why this keeps happening. It makes me wonder if you don’t care or don’t take it seriously or-?”

Conversations that are heavy on taking responsibility for your experience are much more productive and fulfilling than conversations that are heavy on blame and presumption. We all want to be understood, and we’re a lot more likely to increase our chances of this when we honestly communicate our experiences.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Fighting for Control in Your Relationship?

Fighting for Control in Your Relationship?

This is something a lot of couples negotiate throughout their relationships. What one person feels is common courtesy, someone else might interpret as controlling. Finding a middle ground here can be a challenge.

A lot of people can agree on some basic common courtesies. Things like, calling to say you’ll be late for dinner if someone is expecting you to be home at a specific time, filling up the gas tank after you’ve used someone else’s car, and setting your phone, work, or television show aside while someone is talking to you are all generally considered basic accommodations. But what about the specifics?

 

Much of the difference between common consideration and exerting control in a relationship lies within the intention of both members. Sometimes people aren’t aware of their intentions, and that has a tendency to obscure things. The more empathy you have for yourself and your loved one, the easier it will be to discern your true intention.

 

It’s helpful for both of you to be clear about your preferences so that you know where you stand in relationship to one another. When you’re both clear and honest about how you’d like your relationship to look, it can take some of the angst out of things. Generally, relationships feel more manageable the more everyone is aware of specific expectations.

 

Let’s take an innocuous example from what are usually basic agreements between people. Say you and your partner are watching TV, and you remember something you’ve wanted to ask them. Let’s say that you two have already talked about this kind of thing. You know that, since this is your partner’s favorite TV show, if the matter requires substantial discussion, they would appreciate your patience and waited until the program is over. If your question isn’t so pressing, your partner wouldn’t mind a quick pause in viewing for a brief discussion.

 

If one (or both!) of you experiences the other as controlling, there might be less flexibility in this scenario. Perhaps you’re not concerned with which program is on and you feel that you should be able to ask your question immediately. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to engage in any conversation, regardless of brevity, while watching TV and will not engage with you.

 

If this is the case, it might mean that some unmet needs have set up shop in your relationship. The more unresolved conflict you have about certain issues, however significant, the higher the chance of resentment clouding the communication happening between one another. If you dread bringing this up for discussion with your partner, the chances are slim that the resentment will resolve itself. Resentment doesn’t care whether you’re the one in the relationship who feels controlled or the one who is being held responsible for exerting control; both sides feel angry that they’re not getting their needs met.

 

It’s easy to see how couples can become polarized on certain issues. When that happens, both people dig in their heels, and the last thing they would do is back down. Subjects that started out as a matter of common courtesy start to feel more like issues of control. You can find soothing relief when both of you share your experience of what feels courteous and what feels controlling.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie