Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Drop the "Man Thing" One of my heterosexual couples was telling me yesterday about a disconnecting situation that happened to them over lunch a few days ago. The husband/dad was noticing that his daughter was eating with her elbows on the table. Within seconds flashes of her being dismissed by a potential beau for "bad table manners" had him cycling through a series of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. His daughter being sensitive picked up on his mood change. Having worked with me enough to know that what he was thinking may be a triggered reaction from his past (early memories of his dad riding him about such elbow-to-table transgression) he felt caught. He didn't really want to say anything in the moment but was under her spotlight. He blurted that he was uncomfortable with her eating with her elbows on the table. She in kind said back she was uncomfortable about his eating bread at every meal. Now triggered twice over he no longer used his zipper-the-lip boundary: i.e. don't go any farther into the discourse once the adrenalin is coursing through and the blood pressure is rising. Good time to zip it, breathe and apologize that you can't talk anymore right now. And stop. Unfortunately his "Man Thing" at that moment according to him was pride. Pride at being cornered and then by his experience blasted. He let it rip, using slurs that immediately led to his daughter putting up a wall of protection. Dad had just become emotionally and verbally dangerous. She asked her mom to join her in not talking to him. A wall of protection of the women in the family against what they perceived as his angry, critical and unboundaried self expressive man self. The next "man thing" that hung him up was his pride not allowing him to apologize. He explained this all to me in front of his wife who nodded her head through most of his description. I asked him was it not lonely while he was behind his pride "man thing?" He agreed it was. Three days later he got to the apology when prompted by his wife after her and her daughter's return from a visit to relatives. Without her nudging he was ready to go on, bypassing the apology. They were not. I shared with them both that pride is not unique to men. His "man thing" was perhaps only his rendition of being a man sculpted by his family and peers growing up. Pride, one of the "seven deadly sins" is in all of us. Losing pride and becoming humble is a step, a forever stepping step, in growing and maturing as human beings. Losing pride and gaining humility is a practice we all need to engage in. When we don't the disconnection we feel creates a lonely feeling. This gentleman is coming out of a long history of drinking when he felt disconnected and lonely so it is a dangerous territory for him. Fortunately he did not revert to drinking in the disconnected time of lack of apology and thereby lack of forgiveness. And thankfully after three days he was able to apologize and on the fourth day come to my office and talk about it in front of his wife. Formerly he would have dismissed it. Now he does not. Staying connected, honest, apologetic and forgiving feels much better than lonely, disconnected and right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Stories We Tell Ourselves & The Havoc They Cause

Do you find yourself making up stories about people only to find out they are not true? And then being either embarassed or disappointed? From a little to a lot? Let me give you an example. One client of mine shared with me a common fantasy we women can hold: that this man was such a prince, said all the right things, and before they moved in together, seemed to act in all the ways she felt were gallant, kind, protective. Once the move happened Mr Charming turned into Mr. Hyde: controlling, degrading, cruel. What happened? When we have a need, i.e. for a Mr Charming, we can  hook-wink ourselves into fitting an over-sized foot into the glass slipper of our dream or desire. This is typically why it is important to get to know someone over a period of time: months to years, before assigning them the good or the bad traits of our desires or our fears. Let them show themselves to be who they are in many situations, over many emotional, mental or physical crunch times before you decide to trust them or yourself and your story. Always be checking does the reality out there match the story/reality I am making up in here (my mind). Save yourself the heartache of moving too fast. There are phases of coupledom: the honeymoon,(obvious by its name: love but no real knowledge), the raw deal,( the hard phase: where now you have knowledge of the person but are not feeling the love), and the real deal ( the knowledge and love phase). Honeymoons always end. It is in the raw deal phase where we need skills of self esteem, boundaries, repair, needs negotiation and moderation to make it to the real deal. In the case of Mr Prince turning in to Mr Hyde he suffered from a traumatic background where there had never been a safe person he could trust. Just being that close caused him a great deal of anxiety. He did not know how to talk about his vulnerability, his needs or his wants. He began drinking which caused his mind to make up scary stories of betrayal and abandonment. He then became critical, accusatory and downright scary, pushing his "princess" away. The stories of either positive or negative attributes need to be soberly discussed, laid bare, checked out so the other can be apprised of the internal landscape, where it came from and what makes it fit or not. Then the story can be dismantled or proved true and true repair or solutions sought. Since some of these stories are cultural and some personal and sometimes unconscious we do not always know we are in the grip of them! Our desire for connection or fear of being alone or our fear of connection can rule our thinking. It is always good to have a safe trusted person with whom to check our stories. That is what I do. Don't let an unfounded story ruin your life!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on How to Handle Difficult Moments with Family Members Large or Small (This works with the little ones too.)

Family members (big or little) who are having a difficult time typically have short fuses and are reactive.  They walk around with thin skins (or poor boundaries) and do a lot of blaming, shaming or denying.  In dealing with a difficult family member it is always helpful to have an anchor to hold onto so you don’t jump into the reactive zone with them.  (I call this the whoosh zone. Reactive or whoosh zones are highly contagious.)

The first order of business in dealing with a difficult family member is to manage your own response.  Don’t get reactive back.  When hot words, glaring looks or boney fingers of shame and blame are being directed at you, mentally put up a shield (or energy force field,) breathe, straighten your back (REMEMBER YOU HAVE BACKBONE,) and remind yourself that you are precious and valuable.  Also remind yourself that this family member matters to you, but you also matter to you.  Go inside and check with yourself.  It may take all you can muster just to listen and keep your mouth shut.  Listen for what is true in what they have to say.  It could only be only 15% of what they are saying has any truth for you.  Listen for what you can agree with.  Let the rest go past your shield like hot air blowing past.  They have some mental story they are making up about you or the situation and are speaking from that picture.  Put on your “listening with empathy” hat.  When they are done, if you cannot respond with an “I” response that has no shame or blame in it, just acknowledge you heard what they had to say and you need a few minutes to think about it before you respond.  Go inside.  Remember we are all one.  Ask for guidance on how to best respond.  Breathe into the space inside that remembers you love this person and you want to know them and be known by them.  As you breathe, relax your muscles, let the adrenalin rush pass.  Focus your mind on the picture of who you want to be: patient, responsible, loving, strong (whatever the self trait is that you are currently working on in your life to be the best you can be.)