When You Want to Face Your Fear

When You Want to Face Your Fear

What are you afraid of? What fears and feelings of dread do you try to put out of your mind for as long as you can (the same ones that always seem to creep back in)?

When we look at our fears, we look at what makes us uncomfortable. We are afraid of discomfort.

The fear of being uncomfortable is what keeps us at the same job we hate, in the same relationships that we know is wrong for us. It’s what keeps us from training for a marathon, having that difficult conversation, and going on a road trip alone. It’s what keeps us from being the most us we can be. “Sure,” we tell ourselves, “I’m unhappy at my job, but to do what I really want would mean going back to school and I just…” We tell ourselves that it’s easier, better to stay in the relationship, train for the marathon later (never), and not have the difficult conversation.

We’re wrong. How is it easier to go without needs met, feel dissatisfied, and stay boxed in? How is it easier to be unhappy? It’s kind of funny how we won’t push ourselves out of an uncomfortable spot because we’re afraid that we will feel… uncomfortable.

I’m no different. I’ve not tried things I’ve wanted to try, stayed when I knew I should go, and not had the difficult conversations because it seemed easier, better not to. I was scared of being more uncomfortable or uncomfortable in a new way.

What makes me laugh a little is this: the more we tell ourselves that it’s too scary, too much trouble, too uncomfortable, the more we are training our brains to believe it, to dread it, to experience an increase in anxiety when we think about making a change. We work together in concert with our brains to stay uncomfortable.

“Awesome,” you say. “I’m unhappy, and you’re telling me I’m going to stay unhappy, and it’s my fault.” Yes and no. You don’t have to stay unhappy, and you do have a choice about which way to go.

Remember Newton’s first law of motion? “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” If you’re moving, you tend to keep moving, and if you’re at rest, you tend to stay at rest unless something else is introduced. We notice this when we hit our stride during physical activity or when we stop what we are doing and find it a bit harder to start again.

The first thing we can do, before we do anything else, is to acknowledge that the change might feel uncomfortable and that we might want to turn around and go back. (As humans we like it when our feelings are addressed and validated.) Then we can tell ourselves that, when we get to the place where we want to stop and retreat, we will keep going. We will calm our fears by reminding ourselves that we can maintain our stride in this change by keeping pace. We’ll just keep whatever pace with which we started. As we get used to our own pace, we can pick it up a little bit, then a little bit more.

We can ask ourselves, “What’s happening right now?” Instead of thinking about how scared we are of something that may or may not happen or how much we would rather be doing something else, we can ask ourselves what is happening in that very moment, making no interpretation of or judgment about it. This will help us to keep our focus.

We might still be scared for a while. That’s ok. We have to keep doing it. Keep showing up, keep having those difficult conversations, keep training, keep applying. When we feel overwhelmed by self-doubt, insecurity, and fear, we’ll keep going. We’ll teach ourselves that we can manage our fears, that they aren’t as threatening as we once thought, and that addressing our fear is not nearly as uncomfortable as being driven by it.


Love and Be Loved,

Sabotaging Your Relationship?

Sabotaging Your Relationship?

What comes to mind when you think of relationship sabotage? Some people think of ways they have sabotaged their relationships while others think of ways they feel others have sabotaged their relationships, maybe a partner (or ex-partner).

There are infinite ways we can sabotage relationships. We can let our suspicions get the better of us. We can let our resentments go unchecked and without productive communication. We can let our fears run wild. The list goes on.

Sometimes we can clearly identify what we’re doing- that we are sabotaging our relationships, how we’re doing it, and why. Other times it might be a bit less clear; we can’t quite see what we are doing and the toll that it’s taking on our relationships. It can feel like things “just don’t work out” or that we’re “meeting the wrong people.”

Now, sometimes that last statement is true. Sometimes we’re unknowingly engaged in patterns of meeting and being attracted to people who are a poor fit for us. This can be one type of sabotage although, what we might be “sabotaging” might not be the relationship itself. Perhaps we are sabotaging the belief that we are capable of having rich and satisfying intimate relationships. Maybe we are sabotaging the hope that we can have what we want. Or maybe we’re trying to beat disappointment to the punch by setting ourselves up for failure right from the start.

That’s not always the case, though. Sometimes we’re in completely well-matched relationships and still experience a lot of pain, turmoil, and struggle. (Whoops. How’d that happen?) These are the times when it’s possible that we’re letting fear, insecurity, suspicion, and resentment take over and poison our relationships. I have met countless couples seeking therapy because they thought that maybe they weren’t the right fit for one another only to find out that they can be great together once they have the right tools.

So, how can we tell the difference? No one wants to end a perfectly good relationship if they don’t have to.

Let’s start with the basics. One of the most important players in a relationship is communication- how you communicate with others and how they communicate with you. This includes empathy, openness, honesty, and taking responsibility for your side of the street. Sometimes there isn’t quite enough of these qualities in a relationship, and the feeling of connection and intimacy takes a pretty big hit. Communication also includes how the two of you attempt to repair wounding in the relationship. Does it seem like both of you can sense when there has been hurt feelings or ruffled feathers? When you each sense that, indeed, there has been, are both of you able to reach out to one another in an attempt to mend the injury? When either of you reaches out, does the other allow that in and accept the attempt?

There are plenty of other important ingredients that go into identifying and maintaining a healthy relationship, but communication is a substantial part of any foundation.

If you have questions or want to talk about your relationship or relationship patterns, give me a call at (415) 794-5243 or email me at natalie@nataliemillsmft.com. I look forward to talking about this with you!


Love and Be Loved,

Exploring Insecurity

Exploring Insecurity

The other day a friend and I walked our dogs together. On our walk, we shared new things that had been going on for each of us. We meandered through various topics. Eventually, the conversation found it’s way to the subject of relationships, what is important to us in relationship, and where we feel we struggle in relationship.

We both agreed that we felt good about the work we put into our relationships. And we both agreed that our relationships had taken a lot of work.

The two of us talked about ups and downs we’ve faced in certain relationships, length of time spent in these relationships, and relationships as they related to developmental periods in our lives. We found many constants that were present through our relationships, but the shared constant we found was how much we trusted ourselves and how that impacted our relationships. The less we trusted ourselves, the less we knew and understood ourselves, the less effective we were at managing challenging aspects of our relationships.

For days afterward, I thought about our conversation and wondered how many other people had similar thoughts to themselves or conversations with others. In my office, I talk with people every day who want to improve their relationships, decrease certain behaviors, and increase others. Much of what we talk about has a common thread about trust as it relates to self and others.

I started thinking about how the different ways in which we benefit from trusting ourselves. When we trust ourselves we feel less anxious and more confident, we feel more comfortable with confrontation and conflict, it’s easier for us to legitimize our feelings, and we experience less dependence on external validation. We are much more resilient and connected to our courage when we trust ourselves.

That was a helpful realization. But then I realized that I thought I trusted myself for years. I wasn’t always aware that I often mistook my defensiveness and criticism of others for self-trust. Part of that was developmental. Part of it was fear. Essentially, I found it hard to trust myself because… I didn’t trust myself.

So, how can you increase your self-trust (especially, when you find it hard to trust yourself!)? Start by being curious. You’ll probably find that as you access curiosity about yourself and your experience, you will feel some amount of judgment. That’s ok. Be curious about the judgment or criticism, too. It doesn’t usually disappear right away; instead of getting lost in the judgments or trying to avoid them, be curious about them. You have them for a reason so, let’s see what you can learn from them.

Be especially curious about times you feel defensive, critical (of yourself or others), contemptuous, empathic, and patient. What’s happening for you that you feel_______? What do you want to do or say? What do you actually do or say? What’s it like to respond or not respond in this particular way? What stops you from doing or saying what you want to do or say?

When it’s difficult for us to trust ourselves, we don’t always do or say or act the way we want. As we learn to trust ourselves, we live in a more authentic way, which helps to deepen our connection to ourselves and our loved ones.


Love and Be Loved,

When You Want to Improve Communication

When You Want to Improve Communication

How often do you say something that you intend as curious, supportive, or at the least, innocuous only to find that the receiver of your message has taken offense? Maybe you’ve been on both sides of this communication mishap. And how often do you ask (or are asked by someone else) a cryptic question? Those questions that we use to communicate because we’re too afraid to say what we mean or ask what we really want to know.

They can make us crazy- “How do I look?” “This soup I made today is tasteless.” “Are you going to do the dishes or do you want me to?” All of these questions and statements can hold a lot of different meanings. They can also be easily interpreted in a lot of different ways. Getting lost in the meaning is a bit of a pitfall.

Take a look at this example couple to see if you can spot any similarities in your relationship:

(Background- Kim wants to spend some alone time with Kelly because they have been busy with work and various engagements.)

Kim: “Do you have any plans this weekend?”

Kelly: “Not yet although, I thought it might be fun to go to the beach for a barbeque.”

Kim: “Oh, mm-hm. Would you want to invite anyone or would it be just us?”

Kelly: “ I don’t know. Maybe. I guess we could invite Sharon and Dieter. We haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Kim: “Mm, that’s true. Ok, well, whatever you want.”

Kelly: “Did you want to do something different?”

Kim: “…I don’t care.”

Pretty classic. Kim isn’t saying what she wants; she’s fishing. Kelly either a) doesn’t understand Kim’s code, b) would rather she communicate clearly and is modeling that for her, or c) is also speaking in code! Whatever the case, when we left this couple in the middle of their conversation, it didn’t look like they were headed in a positive direction. Who knows where it could end up- a fight or argument, a mismanaged conflict.

If Kim had said something like, “I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve spent time just the two of us. I miss you. Want to hang out alone together this weekend?” she would have been clear and honest about what she is looking for. It directly communicates her feelings and intention.

Sometimes we’re looking for validation, support, approval, and connection. Maybe we’re feeling ignored, insecure, resentful, or hurt. Other times, we are genuinely seeking information from someone. Our tone, facial gestures, and body posture help to communicate where we are coming from; this provides useful information for one another. Still, sometimes we can find ourselves in this trap. Saying what we mean and asking forthcoming questions is a simple and powerful technique that we can use to improve our communication. When we do this often enough, we provide more stability and connection in relationship.

Of course, there are still plenty of times when sending cryptic messages is a lighthearted way to play. One of the most important types of awareness we can have is awareness of our intention. If we know we’re not feeling playful and resourced, it’s probably best to be as direct and honest as possible.


Love and Be Loved,

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Most of us agree that relationships can be an exceedingly rewarding part of life. Most of us agree that they can also be a lot of work. There are differences to navigate, conflicts to negotiate, and emotions to be aware of and manage. By now, we understand that it takes cooperation, compromise, and empathy to get a stable start to a fruitful relationship.

We make so many choices when we’re in relationship although, sometimes, we’re not aware of what we’ve chosen and why… or that we were given any choice at all. This thread is found in a good number of the issues that couples bring to me. Somewhere along the way, people start feeling stuck.

One of the most common, basic choices we make in relationships is how we respond to one another. We are constantly negotiating offers for connection with others. Here are some ways people respond to one another. See which style is most common in your relationship(s).

The most ideal (because it is most supportive and has the best outcome) is when we accept bids for connection or “turn toward.” This happens when someone asks us a question, makes a comment, displays communicative behavior and we react in a positive way. If someone reaches out to you for a high-five, you high-five them back. If your partner says, “I want to start working out more and eating healthier,” you say something like, “That’s a good idea! I feel better when I do.” People feel more supported in relationships where turning toward one another is a common practice.

Another and less ideal way of responding to another’s attempt at connection is in rejection or “turning against”. This happens when defensiveness, blame, or criticism is used. If you were to respond in this way, it would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “Whatever. You say that all the time and you never do it. You should either do it or stop talking about it.” Couples who practice this generate a lot of hostility and resentment, two qualities that make it tough for a supportive, connected relationship to thrive.

The third way to respond to someone’s bid for connection is ignoring or “turning away.” It happens when one partner meets the other with silence or an unrelated comment/question. This particular pattern is the most destructive and puts couples on a fast track to breaking up. Unresponsiveness breeds resentment, defensiveness, blame, and eventually, hopelessness. An example of turning away would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “…hey, do you remember the name of that guy we ran into last night?”

It could also look like silence while you’re staring at an electronic device or book.

At first, most people try a few more attempts at connecting. Eventually (especially when couples are headed for divorce), people stop making attempts.

Those of you who learned supportive communication skills early in life have lucky companions. For those of you who didn’t learn (or refine) your skills early on, well, you can learn at any age.

Here’s something to try which will promote an increase in turning toward- learning how to listen. There are a few key elements of listening in the most active, positive, supportive way:

-Focus on being interested in and curious about what the other person is saying, feeling, expressing

-Ask questions about what they thinking, feeling, experiencing

-Look for similarities you share with one another (Empathy fast-tracks connection.)

– Give them your undivided attention- don’t try to listen while playing with your phone, reading an article, watching T.V., etc.

-Suspend or let go of your agenda. We can’t listen to the best of our ability when we are preoccupied with our points of argument, feelings, and experiences.

Sometimes executing these things is trying. We might get scared that we’re not going to get our say in the matter or that we’re going to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Interestingly, couples who practice turning against and turning away report feeling this way while couples who practice turning toward report a decrease in such feelings.

Relationships can be difficult enough when we are on the same team. They feel nearly impossible when we pit ourselves against one another.


Love and Be Loved,