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

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

It’s Not About Self-Esteem

The US went on a real self-esteem rampage starting in the mid to late ‘80s. How-To books were written for parents, leaders, educators, executives, and anyone else who wanted to know how to cultivate high self-esteem in themselves and others. After 30 years or so, we’ve seen the impact of this practice, and it hasn’t delivered what its supporters had hoped. As it turns out, the self-esteem movement helped people approach life with more entitlement and less personal accountability. I get the intention behind the self-esteem movement and support that intention, but based on what we now know about the human brain, the application was doomed from the start.

 

Self-esteem is about confidence in one’s abilities, feeling good about oneself. I might be the most confident about my driving skills but constantly get into fender benders, get pulled over for speeding, and be a general train wreck on the road. Someone else might believe that he is an ace baseball player and yet is consistently overlooked by even the least competitive teams. Anyone can have high self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they’ve earned it. It doesn’t even mean that it’s based in reality. This goes to show that someone might have great self-esteem and a poor self-concept.

 

Self-concept is how we view ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the feedback we get from our environment. We categorize ourselves, then interpret those categorizations.

Part of your self-concept might be that you handle failure well because you learn from it and use failure as a way to learn strategy and increase your drive to get what you want.

 

I’m not saying that plenty of us don’t have faulty self-concepts. Most of us have incommensurate negative or positive self-concepts somewhere in there. I’m saying it’s more skillful to assess self-concept as opposed to self-esteem because it’s not about how confident or insecure we are in our capabilities as it is about looking at the evidence.

 

In sixth grade, I struggled with math. I wasn’t crazy-struggling, but I wanted to enjoy the same confidence in the subject I saw my peers enjoying so, I came to my teacher for help. If she had been concerned about my self-esteem, she would have told me something like, “Oh, Natalie, you’re such a great student! You’re not struggling that badly. Besides, you’re great and look at all the other things you can do!” Luckily, she cared more about my long-term self-concept than my self-esteem and told me something like, “Ok, Natalie, if you want to be better at math let’s look at where your performance is weak. Here’s where you’re doing well and here’s where you need help. Let’s work on it.” (Thanks, Mrs. Roloffs. I owe you.)

 

So, if you’re struggling with insecurity, instead of working on raising your self-esteem, try looking at how you’ve structured your self-concept. You’ll find it’s a much more useful tool than glossing over your experience with an I’m-ok-you’re-ok message.

 

If you want to look more closely at your self-concept, be curious. What are your values? What do you believe about yourself? What is the evidence of how true or false those beliefs are? What are the stories you tell about yourself? How do they play out in your life?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

Setting goals is fairly easy. Most of us experience times in our lives when we know what we want to accomplish whether it’s buying a home, getting a degree, helping to pass a bill, learning a new method of practice for work, strengthening the upper body, swimming a faster mile, and whatever else. It’s easier to know what we want; it’s almost never easy to plan the steps toward getting there. We get lost in the process, frustrated, and eventually, let it go. (And we often chalk it up to another failed attempt at something which bums us out.)

 

Many psychotherapists use a model to help clients plan and reach their goals using the SMART method. This method is attributed to Peter Drucker, business person and author, and developed by Robert Rubin, organizational psychologist and author. The protocol helps to clarify goals, ensure that they are attainable, and plan alternative strategies if they are in any way unreachable. SMART recommends that each goal we set should be:

 

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

 

Broken down into clarifying questions, each step helps the person identify the goal, plan the strategy, and set up accountability. Since 1981, both psychologists and business people have expanded and improved the SMART method, making it increasingly accessible to anyone. I have collected a lot of their suggestions and plugged them into this post. (If you’d like to read more about the SMART method, go here.)

 

  1. Specific

SMART works best when our goals are specific and easily stated. If they’re too abstract or murky, it will be hard to know where to put our focus, and we will probably lose motivation.

  • What do I want to achieve? What is my goal?
  • Why is this important to me? Why do I care about this?
  • Is this achievable by myself?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What limits my achievement of this goal?
  • What resources are available to me/do I possess that will help me achieve this goal?
  1. Measurable

If we have measurable goals, we can keep track of our progress which will help us to maintain our momentum, especially when the going gets tough. Tracking our progress helps us to stay grounded in our goals and the steps toward meeting them through the process.

Here’s how to make sure our goals are measurable:

  • How much/many?
  • How often?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?
  1. Achievable

Our goals must be realistic and attainable to ensure true success. We are not looking for an impossible challenge. We are stepping outside our comfort zones to meet a reasonable goal. We must look at our limits and our resources in preparation for the terrain ahead of us.

An achievable goal will usually answer these questions:

  • How can I accomplish my goal?
  • How realistic is the goal based my limits?
  • What are the potential challenges?
  • What or who do I need to enlist to help me meet the challenges?
  • What, if anything, is outside my control that might impact my achievement of my goal?
  1. Relevant

It’s imperative that you have your own buy-in with the goals that you set for yourself; otherwise, you will most likely lose interest and wander off the path you’ve set.

Ask yourself:

  • Does this goal and what it will take to accomplish it seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me to take on this challenge?
  • If I have enlisted others, does this goal also compliment their needs and abilities?
  • Is this goal realistic for my environment?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
  1. Time-sensitive

Our goals need a deadline. It’s helpful to know how much time we have to accomplish something so that we have a firm boundary in which to meet all of our deliverables. It’s really easy to get distracted by our everyday routines and to lose focus of our goals. This step will help us bring our focus back to the plan we have carefully implemented.

A time-bound goal answers these questions:

  • When is the reasonable deadline?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do one week from now?
  • What can I do today?

Setting SMART goals enables us to find out why we want to achieve something and the choices we can make to get there. Often, setting up our SMART goals helps us to see that we need to tweak our expectations, ask for help, or reach a stepping-stone goal before our original goal so that we can lay the necessary groundwork. Try it out. Start with a small goal and see how it feels to use the aid of a well-researched procedure to accomplish your goal. (I use it off and on for personal and professional development goals, and it’s almost like having a little personal assistant.)

 

If you’d like support as you set and plan for a goal, let’s talk.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Build Your Confidence in Relationships

Build Your Confidence in Relationships

A few years ago, I was walking down a mostly-empty street in my neighborhood, and I saw someone walking in my direction. He was an older man, looking down, walking rather quickly. I waited for him to look up so that I could smile at him or acknowledge him in some way. He didn’t look up, and we both kept walking in our separate directions.

This went on for about four months or so. Different times of day, we passed one another, neither of us greeting one another. For years I had been completely comfortable with this kind of coexistence. I was fine to walk past people without looking at or speaking to them, without making any attempt to connect with them.

Eventually, I noticed a shift. I wanted to reach out to people. I wanted to be a safe, friendly, loving face. My first efforts at this were with this man.

Day after day this man and I walked past one another without much (if any) interaction. After a few months, I said my first “good morning” to him. He briefly looked up, glanced in my direction, looked back down, and continued his quick pace. I decided to stick with my new addition to our routine passing and continued to greet him each time we saw one another.

We pressed through this new phase of our interaction for a few months. We would approach one another; I greeted him; he would quickly glance at me and keep walking. I grew accustomed to this and began to expect it.

One day, as I was gearing up for our usual interface, something changed. I smiled, said hello… and he smiled back. He slowed down, smiled at me, and said, “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?” We chatted for about a minute or so and then continued on our way.

I was elated. After almost a year of consistent behavior and subtle shifts, we were strengthening our gentle little connection. Every day after that, we shared bits of our lives with one another, our weekend plans, which books we were rereading for the hundredth time and why. I still enjoy our connection. We now look for one another and begin our conversation long before we’re side by side.

This process has taught me significant lessons.

If I had never reached out at all or given up early on when it seemed like my neighborhood friend preferred that we keep our narratives to ourselves, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the connection that we have today. If I had stopped reaching out to him any time I felt rejected or embarrassed because he didn’t meet my reach, it would have been a loss- the loss of a warm connection and the loss of my authenticity.

Just because someone might not respond the way you hope doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do or say what’s in your heart.

As I thought about what I learned from the interactions with my neighborhood friend, I started to think about how it could inform my more intimate relationships. What could I give to and gain from relationships in which I reach out empathically, patiently, selflessly? If I can reach out to a stranger for almost a year and expect nothing in return, how am I capable of being in long-term relationships? I began to wonder what my life could be like if I didn’t need anything or anyone to be different from how they are at any given moment.

What seemed like a mundane part of my day turned into an invaluable gift. I started keeping my eyes open to other lessons that might be right in front of me, lessons that I had previously ignored. I like what I am finding.

I’d love for you to tell me about your lessons. What have you found?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Building Your Sexual Confidence

Building Your Sexual Confidence

So, how do you have sex? Do you plan it out thoughtfully and intentionally? Do you let a moment strike you and allow yourself to be completely moved by your desire? Do you draw attention to your body in a way that makes you (and your partner(s)) feel sexy? Do you prefer to be in a darkened room where you and your partner(s) can’t see one another? (And why or why not?) Maybe you like to be vocal during sex, talking, uttering various sounds, and just generally making your good time known. Perhaps you take a quieter approach when you have sex.

Have you ever thought about the way you approach the idea of sex, itself- how you think about it? The way you approach yourself as a sexual being?

Take some time to think about it now. Think about the feelings and sensations that you experience when you imagine sex. Are you picturing a particular act? Are you engaged in the act, watching it happen, or is it happening to you?

Now, more specifically, focus on what you believe about yourself as you imagine sex. Are you feeling confident? Sexy? Insecure? Knowledgeable? Foolish?

How we feel and what we believe about ourselves intimately informs our sexual behavior. While this might not be revelatory for some of you, this correlation runs much deeper than “not feeling sexy” after you’ve had a tough day or when you’re dissatisfied with your body.

Do you hold the belief that it takes you too long to orgasm? Or that you aren’t sexy? Or that you aren’t sexually knowledgeable enough?

Think about the sexual beliefs about yourself that you hold. What are they? Why do you believe them? And when do you remember first believing this about yourself? To what experience is this attached?

Every day, I see clients who say things like, “I’ve just never known what I’m doing when it comes to sex; I have no idea what I’m doing,” or “I can just tell that something is wrong with me because I rarely have an orgasm when I’m having sex.”

Eventually, my clients begin to change their thinking. They realize that they don’t orgasm because they have certain needs of which they weren’t aware (or that they knew and hadn’t communicated to their partner(s)). They usually find that, once they express their sexual needs, and those needs begin to feel met, they orgasm just fine. Those who believed they were sexually inept, learn that they simply had to take the time to learn about what pleases them and their partner(s). These clients found that they weren’t as clumsy as they believed; they just didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to see the picture clearly.

It is ok to speak up about your sexual needs. In fact, it’s more than ok- speaking up about what works for you (and what doesn’t) is ideal for a positive, satisfying sexual experience!

Challenge the current sexual beliefs you hold about yourself. Be curious about their origin and meaning. You might begin to find sexual fulfillment that you had never imagined. Enjoy it.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie