Triumph in Disagreement

Triumph in 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,

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.


Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.


In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.


People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.


This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.


I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.


Love and Be Loved,

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.


Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury


Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders


Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  


Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above


Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.


I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.


If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.


If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!


Love and Be Loved,

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.


We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.


We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.


The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.


But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?


Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.


How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?


When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.


Love and Be Loved,

Why Do I Keep Doing That?!

Why Do I Keep Doing That?!

Sometimes we feel stuck. And it’s not always about feeling stuck in a job, a town, a daily routine, or a relationship. Sometimes we feel stuck in the way of being, stuck drinking too much, stuck in an unhealthy eating pattern, stuck in technology and devices, being passive aggressive when we would rather self-advocate, doing everything for everyone else and not having enough left for ourselves, stuck in anger, in fear, in anxiety, stuck in insecurity. We know living like this makes us unhappy, and we want to change, but it feels insurmountable, and we’re not sure where to start. When we do make moves to change, we find it hard to maintain the behavior. And when we finally learn to maintain it, as soon as we feel start connect with the belief that we can accomplish our goal we find ourselves self-sabotaging or it seems that life suddenly takes a turn and prevents us from forging on toward our goal.

In my “You Are Enough” post I talk about the messages we receive in early attachment and how they help inform the beliefs we hold about ourselves and the way we live our lives. We integrate the messages into the stories we tell about who we are, and they become agreements we hold with ourselves. We are mostly unconscious of these agreements because they were made over time, from a young age, and often under some duress.

Feeling trapped in this constant state of stuck is often about the beliefs we have turned into agreements. Merriam-Webster defines belief as “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.” The same source defines agreement as “harmony or accordance in opinion or feeling; a position or result of agreeing, the absence of incompatibility between two things; consistency.” Our behavior is predicated on the beliefs we hold about ourselves; it is the manifestation of the agreements we have made about who we are and what we do. Our behavior is compatible with our core self-beliefs.

Let’s say someone has a core belief in herself that she is powerless. We’ll call her Julie. Julie attended a self-improvement workshop three weeks ago and had set goals to be in a loving relationship, connect to her sense of purpose, and develop and maintain a self-care program. She has been keeping up with her routine fairly regularly, but lately, her boss has been asking her to stay late at work which has been getting in the way of the goals she set at the workshop. When she comes home, she’s tired and frustrated and just wants to relax in front of the TV eating her dinner. Julie will either have to learn to set boundaries with her boss at work or pick her routine back up when she gets home from work instead of watching TV. Because at her core she believes that she is powerless, these options are not only terrifying but in direct conflict with her belief. If Julie believes she is powerless any amount of struggle might disrupt her effort. She has learned that any amount of effort is moot because nothing she can do will ever be enough to get her where she wants to be. What’s the point? The pull that Julie is feeling is to give up because once again she tried and once again it didn’t work. Yikes, Julie. I feel you.

What agreements have you made with yourself? Have you agreed not to speak up for yourself because you believe that your needs don’t matter? Have you agreed to be busy at break-neck speed because you believe that busy-ness equals worthiness? Have you agreed to pick relationships in which you feel smothered because you believe that you have to choose between extremes of either being smothered or ignored?

Once we start to notice our patterns we can start making some sense out of why we do what we do and what we need to make sustainable changes. We don’t have to feel like life just happens to us. We can stop creating our suffering.

And if you haven’t already read a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, I recommend doing it. The book describes in detail the impact of self-beliefs, the agreements we make with ourselves, and how to take steps toward changing our beliefs and agreements to reflect who we want to be and how we want to live.


Love and Be Loved,

Learn How to Change Your Thought Pattern

Learn How to Change Your Thought Pattern

Think about what you know. How did you come to know this?

Now think about what you believe. Is it different from what you know? Why or why not?

What we believe and what we know (and what we think we know) organizes our philosophy on life- our paradigm, our mindset. It is why we behave the way we do, have the kinds of relationships we have, and it informs our level of satisfaction with our lives. Essentially, our mindset is… us. And we are our mindset.

Within our mindset each of us has a set of assumptions, which creates our operating system. We have methods to address, work within, and challenge these assumptions. This creates the impetus for us to make particular choices on every level- how we behave in our relationships, what we do for work, how we interact, how we manage conflict, everything. It provides us with a motivation to accept or not accept.

When I ask people how they’ve come to know or believe things about themselves, they often tell me stories of interactions they have had with others, gains and losses they have experienced, and how they’ve interpreted such experiences.

It’s easy to see how some of us create a particular meaning out of the information we receive. For instance, if I experience a lot of mismanaged conflict with my family, I might believe/”know” that they don’t appreciate me. If I believe or “know” this to be true, it will impact most of our interactions, and I might begin to feel defensive around them. This might cause me to behave in an aggressive, hostile, or otherwise distancing way during our interactions. Our relationship will start to feel unsatisfactory, and that experience will fuel my belief that my family doesn’t appreciate me. At this rate, I will feel increasingly alienated from my loved ones. That mismanaged conflict will have taken a stronghold on my beliefs, my relationships, and my life.

What would happen if I start to ask questions about the conflict I am experiencing, if I wonder about the information rather than ascribe meaning to it? What if I allow myself to be curious about this experience, allow myself to challenge beliefs that I have adopted? This complicated pain will begin to shift to transparent contributing factors. I will have a better grasp on the information and what it might mean. I will be able to reorganize what I believe is happening within my relationships. My perspective will begin to change.

What if you became more curious about what you know and believe? What would happen if you challenged how shy you think you are, how smart, how needy, how sensitive, or how mean you are?

Eventually, you will feel less dependent on what you have incorporated as part of your philosophy on life because you will have begun to trust yourself. You’ll start to feel safer challenging your beliefs, less defensive when others challenge you. You’ll equate these challenges with increased learning and development. You will find that failure is not a threatening statement about your capabilities, but a chance for refinement. Where you once felt a sense of safety in defining yourself with various restrictive proclamations (“I’m… smart stupid, bad/good at relationships, a good athlete, shy, Type A, mellow, easy/hard to please, socially inept, charming,“ – whatever.), you will realize how dangerously confining they are.

You don’t need them.

Love and Be Loved,