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Turning the Tide Of Negativity In Your Relationship

I find it troubling that our inclination toward criticizing one another, particularly in familial or committed partnerships, overwhelms our ability to share approval or praise. Perhaps this is due to our cultural indoctrination toward finding fault and placing blame. Our societal proclivity toward antagonism and conflict regrettably surpass our potential for love and empathy. Nevertheless, it remains bewildering as to why we tend to withhold warm affirmations of those closest to us.
In therapy sessions, when clients disclose positive feelings that they felt after a particular experience with their partner, I might ask, “Did you share that with them?” Sadly, this has become a rhetorical question for me to ask. With rare exception, their answer is a bewildering no. I might ask, “Why wouldn’t you want to make them feel good by sharing this with them?” Typically, the answer is a shrug of the shoulders or a surprised, “I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense does it?” After all, why not embrace a positive feeling and spread the good energy?
A vicious cycle of negativity
When the energy of a relationship declines or becomes combative we get stuck in the groove of negativity. It becomes hard to break free from the inertia of hostility. Criticisms, harsh words, cold body language or an inhospitable tone of voice all serve to cement and deepen the adversarial energy.
Yet, there are ample moments in which the relationship can pivot toward a more amicable experience. The opportunities for validating the other are numerous, yet we tend to deflect them as we summon the critical thoughts and feelings that indenture us. And so, we gloss over the exception- the kind thoughts or feelings- that could turn the relationship toward a far better place. This doesn’t serve us or those close to us and we both suffer as a result.
Why aren’t we comfortable sharing praise?
When we are parsimonious in our praise or affirmation of our family, partners or friends, the vitality and well-being of the relationship remains cloaked. And we become constrained by the loveless energy of the relationship. This tendency may be due in part to the senseless win-lose paradigm from which many of us operate. When we keep score of the insults or offenses we’ve endured, we become loathe to be emotionally generous. Our thought might be, “Why should I be kind when they are so mean to me?” This kind of thinking is the core of the problem. It underscores the competitive nature of what should be a loving, compassionate relationship.
If you seek to win the irony is you lose. After all, your goal of winning means the other individual has to lose. How do you think that’ll work out? You’ve restricted yourself to an imprisoning relationship, which assures you both lose. If you really want to succeed, step forward and shift the energy by communicating any good feelings or perceptions you may have. Positive attitude has a ripple effect and should enhance your mutual feelings for one another.
Embrace your vulnerability and try being kind, compassionate and thoughtful; even forgiving. If you make these efforts and regrettably don’t experience a shift on the other person’s part, at least you’ll know you’ve made your best effort. Select an encouraging feeling, share it and come out of the straitjacket of negativity. The potential of your relationship can be activated in the instant you choose to do so.
Mel Schwartz is a psychotherapist, TEDx and corporate speaker, and author of The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love. He earned his graduate degree from Columbia University and practices in NYC and Westport, CT. Mel is one of the first contemporary psychotherapists to distill the principles of quantum physics into a psychotherapeutic approach to assist people to live to their fullest potential.  He has written over 100 articles read by over 3 million people. His TEDx talk, Breaking Free from Anxiety is changing many lives. The Possibility Podcast has recently launched.
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Do you Have Real Conversations?

For the most part we rarely engage in genuine conversations with one another. We rely upon formatted questions and answers that we exchange with each other, our words resembling ping-pong balls being sent to and fro. We deliver and parse data with each another and ordinarily leave the engagement more or less the same as when we entered it, save the uploading of new information. But we aren’t truly conversing. We aren’t sharing our true self- only the part we want seen-the safe part.

Real conversations require our full participation. This is the space where two people participate in an unfolding conversation. Genuine conversations invite the sense of “us” the space where a participatory reality unfolds. How do we achieve this authentic experience of conversation?

To do so, we must let our guard down. The barrier that we build to protect how we want to be seen precludes authentic conversation. Socially learned rules of engagement isolate us as they instruct us against appearing weak, vulnerable, ignorant, assertive or unhappy. These exchanges betray our authentic being and thwart our growth, individually and relationally.

When we release our need to be seen in a particular way we can then move into the space between the other and me. In this space there arises the potential for a participatory unfolding of two people where the conversation isn’t predictable or predetermined.

This engagement moves well beyond the transactional exchange of data points. “What have you been up to?” prompts “Oh I’m so busy with the kids and vacation plans I don’t have a minute to come up for air.” Or ask, “How’s the job going?” and you can anticipate, “Pretty good, can’t complain.” The proverbial, “How are you?” necessitates the automatic, “Good, and you?” There’s no conversation occurring in these exchanges. These transactions are routine, robotic and self-protective. And they are dehumanizing.

To enter into authentic conversation—the realm of participatory relationship—requires that I drop my defenses and release my armor. When I embrace my vulnerability and allow the conversation to enter the realm of the uncertain— the possibilities of genuine engagement are summoned.

When the conversation enters into unknown territory don’t pull it back into the retreat of the familiar. Ask a new question, one which you’ve never considered and be present for the response. Or share a part of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. In the unfamiliarity of a new dialogue, you’ve both entered a sacred space, a space that allows you both to truly relate. A real conversation is an adventure into the unfamiliar where two people present their authentic self, unguarded and welcoming the uncertain. This is where new possibilities await.

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Being Heard: Breaking Through the Impasse

troubleIn my last post, Silence: A Relationship Killer, we explored the ruinous consequences that intentional silence has on relationships. Silence is antithetical to healthy communicating. Very often people may resort to silence because they anticipate that what they need to say will fall on deaf ears or, worse still, invite an angry reaction. Anticipating that roadblock, we may choose silence. There is a better way, however. Let’s look at how we can navigate these sensitive communications successfully.

When we initiate a challenging discussion, it’s more than likely that the other party may not truly be listening. Their negative reaction may be triggered by specific words or topics, our tone, or body language, but it is most likely anchored in the memory of past impasses and unresolved conflicts. More often than not, the other person appears to be defending their territory and preparing their rebuttal while we’re still trying to articulate our thoughts, and vice-versa of course. Your sentence may not be complete before the other person’s reaction has begun. The futility of not being heard becomes a primary reason why people may default to silence. Read more

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Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

woman-low-self-esteemIn my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.

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Who Am I?

who am I?who am I?This question — asked so often — suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our identity were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their being and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn’t be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you’d like to experience.

Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?
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