My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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Take Back Your Power

Have you ever been in a relationship with a partner or boss or acquaintance where the conversation gets ugly? Maybe you are shocked by what was said and frozen to silence. Or maybe you were angered and snapped back something equaling mean-spirited. Whatever the scenario, you’ve probably wished later that you were able to respond more wisely.

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Often, when a conversation or disagreement starts to go south, one or both parties begin acting childishly. They use sarcasm, threats, name-calling and blame shifting to prove their point or win. These are emotionally immature ways of communicating, with emotionally charged feelings that result in immature understanding and poor problem solving. No Bueno.

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It doesn’t have to be that way. Although you can’t control what the other person does or says, you can control how you respond. Often reactions to negative stimulus (like mean words, gestures or attitudes) are automatic and unconscious. We barely even recognize what we are doing or saying until it’s over. Today, I’ll give you some tips on how to recognize your part in the unhealthy dynamic and ways to improve.

For a little exercise, choose a recent argument or dilemma in which you reacted problematically. If you can become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, even the unconscious ones, you’re much more likely to gain control of them. Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can be less reactive to painful stimulus:

  • Why was I so angry/scared/withdrawn?
  • What exactly was I feeling when it happened?
  • Does that feeling remind me of a familiar feeling from my past?
  • Did I react similarly this time as I used to react to past painful stimulus?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would have been an appropriate response?
  • What kind of response would have solved the problem instead of added to it?

Once you are able to answer these questions with certainty, you will be twice as likely to respond with wisdom the next time you are faced with a painful or scary stimulus. We can not control or be responsible for other people’s choices or behaviors, but we can determine how we will respond to them. This is especially true in long standing close relationships because behavior patterns can be observed and even predicted. We know that another challenge will arise and another disagreement will emerge. Think about how you might want to respond next time with the following tips:

  • Recognize your triggers.
  • Slow down your response enough to think it through.
  • Imagine yourself responding the way you want to.
  • Recognize your personal needs for respect.
  • Determine your boundaries ahead of time.
  • Assert those boundaries with love and respect.

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This list might take us our lifetime to master, but the energy trying is always worth it. Being a student of our own feelings and behavior adds value to out circle of influence. The more we are able to harness the power of our response, the stronger we become, the straighter we hold our heads, and the better we are treated in return. We can not expect others to value us more than we value ourselves. Taking hold of ourselves, while connecting with others in emotionally adult ways is the call for all of us.

Responding to Abusive Language and Behavior

Controlling your reactivity in a relationship is a powerful communication tool for strong and healthy relationships. But, what about abusive language or behavior in relationships? How should you respond to that?

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The last two blog posts have discussed the difference between a Survival Reaction verses a Wise Response, and how to harness the power of your response to affect real relationship improvement. Today, we will talk about  what to do in response to emotionally or physically harmful behavior. But first, let’s explore the tactics abusers use to keep us baffled, degraded, and powerless.

Tactics Abusers Use

Shock and Awe: abusive, bullying or harassing behavior is shocking to an unsuspecting person. You may be asking a simple question, making a simple observation, or even  minding your own business when a cruel comment, a damaging putdown or physically aggressive action comes out of nowhere. It may catch you so off guard, that you don’t know how to respond.

One up One Down: at the heart of every abusive relationship is an imbalance of power. The abuser is threatened by egalitarian systems and seeks to control others to ensure he gets what he wants. From the simplest relationship dyad, to the most complex of corporate organizations, power imbalances are used in order to keep power in one localized place- namely with the abuser. The smaller you feel, the more powerful he becomes.

Projection: projection is often used during arguments by the bully to accuse someone of the exact thing he himself is guilty. For example, if Roger is guilty of having an affair, he may accuse his partner of flirting with the waiter saying, “You are such a tramp, always throwing yourself at guys.”

Incongruences: This is also called, “the proof is in the pudding.” when words don’t result in action, and when what he says is the opposite of what he does, then you know he is being incongruent. Two diverging messages come at you simultaneously, and you are unsure of which one is true. These incongruences are unsettling to the receiver because they “sound good” but “feel  bad.”

Power in Numbers: Abusive language and behavior is sometimes used in the midst of or with the help of other people as a means to over power you. Sometimes abusive people will make cruel remarks in front of other people to publically humiliate you knowing you will not retaliate in public.

Once you recognize these tactics in your relationship, you are able to make a choice about how to respond. It is extremely difficult to respond wisely in the moment to mean name calling, cruel cut downs, or physically abusive behavior. You may find that you need time to recover from the shock, talk with a friend or expert to validate your concern and then prepare to take action. Sometimes these steps take hours, and sometimes these steps take years. No matter the time frame, responding to abusive behavior in a healthy way is possible. It’s never too late to setting healthy boundaries in your relationship.

How to Respond to Abusive Behavior

Abusive behavior varies in degree, and I am aware that my readers in destructive relationships are not all the same. Some may feel relatively safe most of the time, and others feel constantly badgered and threatened. I tried to be general enough in these prescribed steps to apply to most situations.

  1. Talk about it with other people. You may be tempted to keep it to yourself, protect your abuser’s reputation, or blow it off, but don’t. It’s important to talk about what you experienced with other trusted people for validation and comfort. Even if you feel terrible admitting it, there are people who love you and want to be there for you.
  2. Seek support. Once you’ve recovered from the shock or damage, seek expert support. Counselors, human resource specialists, law enforcement, attorneys, doctors and advocates can help you determine your best interests and how to proceed. You simply can not handle abuse by yourself- asking for help is absolutely necessary.
  3. Set boundaries: As scary as this sounds, exploring and setting your boundaries is essential. Abusive, harmful language, manipulation, putdowns, harassment or assault is never ok. Putting up with it hoping it will get better never works in the long run. Even if you feel like you are partly to blame (a common feeling among victims of abuse), you must insist that the abuse stop or you will take further action (leave, report the abuse, etc.) Your support network can help you determine how to proceed. Abusive people do not stop abusing unless they are forced to.
  4. Follow through. Setting boundaries takes a good deal of energy. Congratulate yourself- you’ve already done some good work. However, your work is not finished. A person who uses abuse to gain power will most likely strike again if he/she is not held accountable. Make sure you employ stated consequences to broken or disrespected boundaries and hold to your demands. Working with advisors, advocates, and experts is essential to help you advocate for yourself.
  5. Refuse to be Hard on Yourself. People grappling with emotional, physical or psychological abuse in their relationship often feel a sense of shame. They question themselves continually, and even blame themselves for their partners’ destructive behavior. They doubt themselves and their ability to make good decisions. This is a symptom of abuse and trauma, but not the cause. Be careful to not do to yourself what has been done to you. Give yourself the encouragement you need to keep going, to stay strong, and to believe in yourself.

Next week I will explore specific examples of how to communicate boundaries and follow through when dealing with abusive behavior.

The Power of Your Response

You’ve probably discovered that there is a difference between “reacting” and “responding.” I’m raising two teenagers right now, and when they say or do something I don’t like, I am keenly aware of the difference between my “reaction” versus my “response.”

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A reaction, for me, is a quick retort, a sarcastic remark, a childish eye-roll, or a critical statement. Responding, however, is different. Responding is thoughtful, appropriate, peace-making, and effective.

If you’ve been to a session with me, you’ll know that I often talk about the fight/flight/freeze mechanisms in the limbic system. If the limbic system in the brain, senses a stimulus as provocative, potentially dangerous or threatening, it will send out signals to fight, flight, or freeze. If a person is triggered by a stimuls, word, or action in anyway, that fight/flight/freeze reflex can be very intense.

The stress response activated by the limbic system is a great way to survive a real life attack, but not so good of a way to maintain healthy relationships.

Sometimes an over-active stress response can start arguments, shut down meaningful conversation or escalate fights- the very things that derail relationships. Would you like to Respond with Wisdom instead of Over-react from fear or anger? Me too. Let’s explore what happens when we react instead of respond.

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Reacting

When people react to a stimulus, they are often in a state of fear, anger or pain. Maybe the stimuls was hurtful or scary or mean, and the natutal reaction was one of survival only. Maybe your reaction was equally hurtuful or scary or mean. The thing about Survival Reactions is that they…

  1. come quickly and automatically
  2. not well thought out
  3. meant for survival, not relating
  4. can be interpreted by others as an attack (fight) or uncaring (flight, freeze)

If you experience fear, anger or pain, it’s likely that you will react (and sometimes over-react) with fight/flight/freeze behaviors. But what if your reactions are causing more problems? What if your reaction to stimulus (someone’s words or behaviors) is actually adding to the problem, instead of helping it?

Responding

Responses are different than reactions. When people respond to a situation, instead of react, they are more likely to have their emotions under control. People who respond wisely to a situation take the time to…

  1. consider all the options
  2. consider other points of view
  3. be thoughtful and deliberate

Sounds great, right? But how? One of my counseling professors used to  say, “It’s not what you do that matters. It’s what you do AFTER, that matters.” I think he is right. Although you are unable to go back in time for a redo, you are able to analyze what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. For right now, maybe you’re only job is to notice how your Survival Reactions are making things worse instead of better.

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Things to work on this week:

  1. Determine to observe and learn from the unhealthy dynamics in your communication.
  2. Apologize for your part by saying, “I’m sorry that I sometimes I say things without thinking. I am sorry I hurt you. I am working on that, and want to do better.”
  3. Harness the power of a well thought out response by taking your time, talking to a friend first, praying, writing it down.

Next week, I will provide some exercises that will help you discover ways to take back your control over your reactions, and help you respond with wisdom.

 

 

Thank You for Who You Are

Good Morning to the best people on Earth! It’s the Thanksgiving season, and a great reminder to “count our blessings.” I give thanks for each of you. You are dedicated to personal growth, to healthy relationships, and to letting God take you through the journey. Thank you for letting me be on that journey with you.

You truly make a difference in my life.

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Lately, you may have noticed that I’ve been writing a lot about Loser, User and Abuser relationships, and how to break free from bad relationship patterns. Relationships take several different forms, but there are observable patterns that either lead to a great relationships, or terrible ones. My work over the last 15 years researching healthy relationship patterns has exposed four different types of relationships common to each of us: Lovers, Losers, Users and Abusers. We all want Loving, Healthy relationships, but many are stuck attracting and perpetuating destructive relationship patterns that make for unhappy living.

That’s why, over the last four years, I’ve been working on a project to help people identify these destructive patterns and realize their power to overcome them. Through practical exercises, support and personal empowerment, partners are discovering they can made a huge difference in their relationships.

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Sometimes relationships are like baking a cake. We get all the ingredients out and set them on the counter. We have the right stuff, but if we don’t put it together in the right order, the cake flops. Dysfunctional and destructive relationships get the order wrong. They are dis-ordered. It’s like adding the frosting to the batter, or the flour to the frosting. Once the cake is baked and ready to serve, you find yourself swallowing terrible mouthfuls of bad-tasting stuff.

Losers lose out on the cake they long for. Users absorb all the ingredients into themselves leaving nothing for the rest of the relationship. Abusers use the ingredients to poison themselves and the people they are connected to. It’s literally Cake Wars, people!

Partners connected to the Loser, the User or the Abuser have learned negative coping strategies to keep the relationship going. They stuff those bad-tasting mouthfuls down until they’re sick. They’re anxious, depressed, and usually have some kind of stress-related health problem. They realize their kids are paying a price too, but they feel trapped between a rock and a hard place- damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

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January/February 2018, my book, Losers, Users, and Abusers and the Women who Love Them will be published and ready for consumption. I’ll keep you posted on dates and availability. Until then, I will be pounding away at the keyboard in my relentless attempt to be helpful. I know you will be hard at work in your own life. You will be doing the heavy lifting, the loving, the praying, and the standing-strong. This process of healing, and helping, and generally kicking ass at life, is done better together, and I’m glad we are on the journey together. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Strategy to Survive Emotional Pain: Part III

When relationship turmoil or loss consumes your every waking moment, it is important to have a strategy for survival. If you can’t do anything to improve the relationship, or to bring back what’s been loss, you are left with limited choices.

But choices, none the less. And choices mean power.

Take Heart

 

If you have been in my sessions before, you will know I refer to Viktor Frankl often. He was a Jewish Psychiatrist and Neurologist  held in Nazi concentration camps for years before being released and moving to America. After his rescue, he wrote a powerful little book about his experiences and theory called, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

In his three years in the camps, he discovered the difference between those prisoners who took hold of their power of choice, and those prisoners who did not. Although all prisoners had lost family, wealth, profession, and every human dignity, Frankl discovered there was one thing each prisoner still maintained, and that was their choice of response. He writes,

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Isn’t that an interesting concept? That when all is stripped away, we still possess power for growth and freedom… within ourselves?

He also wrote,

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They have have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

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As you are faced with challenging situations, and what feels like hopeless circumstances, you still possess your most powerful asset, and that is your power of choice. You can still chose how to respond to the bad that is happening to you. You may feel like you are powerless in your situation, but you’re not. You must exert a different kind of power than you’re used to. As you harness the power of your attitude, personal choice and response, you will experience true growth and freedom, from the inside out. From those small choices, you will change your environment and you will see new opportunity.

The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.

There is purpose in your suffering, and you will find it along the way as you chose your attitude, your responses, and your growth. No one may truly know the depth of your suffering and your loss, but I believe that God is in those small choices, and you will find your strength again. The stronger you become, through each small response, the clearer you will see your options for freedom, love and life.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

Subscribe to our mailing list