Stress Isn’t The Problem… – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/08/24/stress-isnt-the-problem/

My own counselor opened my eyes to this.  I came to her last week saying “oh man, I’m sooooo stressed, it’s terrible.”  And she looked at me and said, “you know stress isn’t your problem.  It’s your reaction to stress.”

With such a simple sentence my counselor opened my mind to a brand new way that I could have a relationship to stress.  I, like most people, have a very troubled relationship with stress.  When stress happens I do a number of unhealthy coping behaviors.  I hyper focus on the “problem” losing sight of other things in my life.  I engage “do it” mode which throws me into action, not taking the time to simply be with stress.  I sometimes run away from stress, escaping into movies, socializing, and even Facebook.

With the help of my counselor, I sat down and just held stress’ hand.  I noticed that stress just wanted to let me know there were some glitches with my plans.  Stress wanted to make sure I knew I had some strong emotions to pay attention to, like anger, sadness, confusion, and fear.  Stress wanted me to slow down and breathe.  Stress wanted me to find ways to take care of myself.

Who knew stress wanted such beautiful things?

If you’re like me, you probably see stress as the problem.  “If only I didn’t feel so stressed out I wouldn’t binge eat/goof off online/lose sleep/over work/etc.”  But we’re confusing the experience of stress with our reaction to stress.  We’re not taking the time to simply be with stress.  Instead we throw ourselves into various distractions to try and numb out or avoid this feeling.

In this moment can you identify something you are stressed about?  Can you now just breathe?  Just breathe and be present to your stress.  Where is it in your body?  What is your stress asking you to do?  Cry?  Scream?  Hide under a blanket?  Is it asking you to take a nap?  To go for a jog?  What glitch in your plans is it pointing to?  Can you tell stress what you intend to do about that glitch and then set it aside?

This process is almost as new to me as it is to you.  So I don’t have any cheat sheet or clear cut, three step, process to building a healthy relationship with stress.  But I can tell you what, this past weekend my parents came to visit me and I got a lot of time practicing being with my stress.  And I learned a few things.

I don’t actually have to “do” anything.  And often there is nothing “to do”.  Just breathe.

I need to give myself space to express all my emotions that stress is pointing to.  Anger, frustration, sadness, fear, confusion, overwhelm, and tiredness.

When I’m paying attention I can set a new plan with stress and then take my attention away.  I don’t need to fixate, and fixation is simply a signal that I’m not paying attention.

Will you join me in exploring how we can build a healthier relationship to stress?  Can we even take on the challenge of befriending stress?  Can we reach a place where we actually welcome stress in like an old friend?

Let’s find out.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Embracing Our Imperfections & Their Gifts – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/08/09/embracing-our-imperfections/

You’re flawed.

And so is everyone else.  So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that you, and I, are scared that other people will find out this inescapable truth.  And when they do, we’ll experience rejection, embarrassment, shame, judgment, loss of respect, etc.  And it is this fear which is actually problematic, not our imperfections.

I see it in the couples I work with.  One partner is afraid to admit to another that they’ve made a mistake, that they’re imperfect.  They’re scared their partner might lord it over them for years, or leave them, or even worse lose respect for them.  So they refuse to admit they did anything wrong.

I see it in the individuals I work with who are frozen by this fear of being imperfect that they can’t get their work done.  Or they work so hard to do it all perfectly that each day they feel totally exhausted and like no one really knows the real person behind that costume of perfection.

I see it in myself.  I just moved (within Davis), and moving is stressful!  I was not the perfect partner these last few weeks.  I lost my patience and temper.  And at the sight of my own imperfections I was gripped in shame and guilt.  And that shame and guilt led me to questioning my value as a counselor and the growth I’ve pursued in myself for years.

Again, the problem isn’t imperfection.  The problem is our irrational fear that our imperfection somehow means we are less than.  It took my own counselor to point out to me that it is probably the moments where I admit my own short comings that I gain the deepest respect from my peers and clients.  That same counselor pointed out to me that really displaying my imperfections so loudly with my partner shows how much I trust her.

Sharing our imperfections with people develops respect and trust.

Who would have thought??  If I show you the parts of myself that hold me back, the parts of me that cause others pain, the parts of me that are socially unacceptable, then you’ll respect me more and trust me more?  This is one of those counter-intuitive truths that cannot be proven to you by elaborate arguments or beautiful stories.  It is a truth which can only be recognized through living it out.

Embracing our imperfections is an even more radical process than sharing them.  Embracing means that we acknowledge not only the presence of our imperfections but also the great gifts that they bring us.  That’s right; your imperfections hold gifts for you.

How on Earth can you discover what gifts your imperfections hold for you?

Think about one of your imperfections, one of your flaws.  One of mine is pride, thinking that I am superior or better than others.  My pride leads to lots of pain…I can get stuck in comparing myself to others (and having to “win” in that comparison), it can lead me to being stubborn and self-righteous, and it can lead me to looking down on others.  I must confess that in admitting this part of me in such a public way certainly gives me the willies!

So how can I find the gift that my pride has for me?  In what circumstances does my pride serve me?  Well it gives me confidence in new situations, it gives me self-assurance that I can figure out new problems, and it gives me moments of self-satisfaction, moments where I feel like I am enough.

Now of course, without a doubt, my imperfection of pride leads me into personal suffering and I’ve seen it cause pain in others.  But to find the gift that your imperfection is offering you ask yourself one of these questions:

  • In what circumstances does this imperfection serve me?
  • What skills have I gained because of this imperfection?
  • What have I learnt about myself and humanity because of this imperfection?
  • How does this imperfection help me connect with others?

If you really explore you’ll find the gifts.  The shortcomings and pain will still be there, but go ahead and let yourself embrace your imperfections.  Discover how the flawed parts of yourself make you a more amazing and beautiful human than you’d be without them.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Thought Feelings – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/07/27/thought-feelings/

Our culture does a really poor job of delineating thoughts from feelings.  Most of us get the two mixed up in most of our normal conversation.  And this actually creates a big problem.

Have you seen Inside Out yet?  If not, go!  This movie is phenomenal.  One of its key messages “diminishing one emotion, diminishes all of our emotions” is quintessential to a lot of psychological healing.  But to follow that advice you have to know what your feelings are and what your thoughts are.  While it is true that we need to create space to feel all of our emotions, it is not true that we need to dwell on all of our thoughts.  In fact, dwelling on thoughts often leads to things like depression, rage, and anxiety.  But being fully present to our emotions leads to relaxation, peace, and joy.  So it’s important to know the difference between thoughts and feelings.

Another reason it is important to know the difference between thoughts and feelings is that emotions actually help us build intimacy.  Our thoughts really push us into debating rather than relating.  The marketplace of ideas is also a marketplace which is full of disagreements and debate.  And this is very helpful in terms of science and law, but it is not very helpful if you’re trying to build intimacy with your friends or significant other.  We all need intimacy, the feeling of being fully seen and accepted by another person.  And emotions are truly the pathway to intimacy, not thoughts.

My first tip that will help you in almost 90% of situations is that if you hear yourself saying the words “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” you are about to say a thought.  It’s almost guaranteed.  So catch yourself, and check in “what am I really feeling right now?”

For example:

“I feel like she was being rude to me.”

“I feel that this isn’t fair.”

“I feel like I am on top of the world!”

All of these are thoughts.  They are a personal opinion, or personal evaluation, about some event.  In the first example, this person may be feeling angry, frustrated, hurt, and maybe even disappointed.  In the second example, this person may be feeling angry, scared, anxious, confused, and maybe hurt.  In the third example, this person may be feeling excited, hopeful, joyful, and most definitely happy.

But there are other thoughts which we present as feelings (thought feelings) which are harder to spot.  For example:

“I feel attacked”

“I feel abandoned”

“I feel left out”

These are “thought feelings”.  Underneath all of these statements is a subtle “you”.  You could rewrite all of these examples to say:

“You attacked me.”

“You abandoned me”

“You left me out”

And when we say these “thought feelings” other people can hear that subtle “you”.  Another way to look at it is that all three of these examples are “feelings” based upon a particular analysis of the situation.  For example:

I hear my partner’s comment about needing more help with cleaning the house and I feel guilty because I know I haven’t been contributing much.

I project that feeling of guilt onto my partner and come to the conclusion “she/he wants me to feel guilty!  She/He is attacking me!”

I then state out loud “I feel attacked!  Don’t you know, I do….”

The point isn’t whether this analysis is true or not true, the point is that this analysis of the situation is happening.  Stop trying to analyze the situation, and just notice “how am I feeling?”

In conclusion…I’m just going to plug one more time: Go See Inside Out!

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Setting Healthy Boundaries – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/07/11/setting-healthy-boundaries/

For some of us being able to say “no”, turning down offers, and choosing to disengage is incredibly difficult.  To do so comes with guilt, anxiety, and even shame.  And so we just keep saying “yes”, we just keep stretching ourselves too thin.  All to avoid those unpleasant feelings and inner stories that come with saying “no”.

For some of us saying “no” is easy, it’s knowing when to say “yes” that’s hard.  Some of us know very well how to set boundaries and we do it with full confidence and assurance.  There’s no equivocating over whether or not to say “no”, in fact “no” is our default.

I confess I am someone who has had a hard time setting boundaries, being able to say “no”.  So I certainly know that dynamic from the inside out.  And I’ve worked with several clients who are automatic boundary setters, who for them “no” is the default.  Both of these dynamics that I’ve described above are unhealthy.  When I don’t say “no” when I really need to, then I end up overstretched & overtaxed, and that takes a toll on my mental, emotional, physical, and relational health.  And I can see that for people who “no” is the default they tend to experience more isolation, have more enemies, and have more conflicts.

So what can I say in less than 500 words to help you if you’re in either of these camps?

Pay attention to your needs.

Let me start with those of you who have a hard time saying “no”.  I know when I said “pay attention to your needs” that probably just set off all your inner stories of “being selfish”, “being overly needy”, and “but helping others is more important!”  You have learnt that to focus on your deepest needs is “selfish” and “wrong” from how you were raised, maybe because your family confused “wants” and “needs”, and maybe because when you were younger in your family it was actually not safe for you to express or assert your needs.  Maybe when you were younger in your family there were other family members or life circumstances which were so extreme, were such a crisis, that there just wasn’t room for your needs.  None of that was healthy, and none of that means that you’re selfish for taking care of your needs.

You deserve to have your deepest needs met.  You deserve to have rest, peace, your own time, and your own space.  And if you can actually pay attention to your deepest needs they will show you where you need to say “no”.  So try this, each day identify moments where you said “yes” and that was emotionally taxing for you.  Yes, even the smallest moments where this happened.  And then open that link above and note what needs of yours saying “yes” didn’t meet.  Do that for a few weeks and you’ll see dramatic changes in your ability to set boundaries.

Now for those of you who automatically set boundaries.  My advice to “pay attention to your needs” may seem very counter-intuitive.  And it is.  From the outside it looks like that’s all you do is pay attention to your needs.  But actually you’re also operating from your own mental stories.  You have learnt to be overly protective of your space and self because maybe when you were younger there wasn’t enough attention given to your needs, or your family modeled overly strong boundaries even with you, or maybe there was something that happened that really hurt you and you are still reacting against that.

And so folks who have overly strong boundaries, I advise you to pay attention to all your needs.  Not just your needs for security, space, and freedom, but also your needs for connection, participation, closeness, and intimacy.  If you pay attention each day, do you notice times when your “no” leaves you lacking connection, closeness, and intimacy?  If so just begin to notice that, and if you keep noticing it each day for a few weeks you’ll also see dramatic changes in your ability to say “yes”.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Do Not Become That Which You Protest – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/06/28/do-not-become-that-which-you-protest/

Let me be absolutely clear:  I am thrilled with the Supreme Court’s decision and I believe LGBTQi people deserve equal rights in marriage and all other facets of life.

And I am challenging myself, my fellow LGBTQi allies, and the LGBTQi community: let us not become that which we protest against.

For centuries, homosexual people of all stripes have been labeled as “other”, “immoral”, “misfits”, “dregs”, and even “evil”.  People have been hated, despised, and persecuted for their sexual orientation.  At the root of all of this is one group, certain heterosexual people, perceiving itself as superior to another group, homosexual people.  In fact all intentional violence can be boiled down to “I’m better/more important/more righteous/more pure/more powerful/superior to you.”

Let us not turn the blessing of this victory into a curse.  Viewing others who we disagree with as less than is at the root of all contempt.  And contempt breeds disconnection, physical and emotional violence, and self-righteousness.  When we portray ourselves as better than others because we support gay marriage and they don’t, then we are becoming that which we protested against.

So what’s the alternative?  Can we, those who support gay marriage and the LGBTQi community, listen to those people who oppose gay marriage with compassion?  How do you listen to someone with compassion when that person is arguing certain groups of people don’t deserve a particular right or privilege?  Why should we even try to do that?

We need to try to listen to the other side with compassion because if we don’t then we’ll listen to them with contempt.  We’ll listen to them through the filter of “they’re confused/immoral/backwater/morally corrupt/bad”.  And viewing “others” as “bad” is at the root of all violence and dehumanization, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal, or social violence.  As we know from Brown v. Board of Education, the end of segregation doesn’t mean the end of racism.  The national conversation about sexual orientation and discrimination will continue.  We’re bound to continue to hear voices of those who oppose homosexual marriage and treat LGBTQi people as “other”.

So how do we do that?  First it takes time and patience.  We need to be willing to admit when the conversation is getting too hard for us to stay in connection.  Instead of trying to “stay in it”, be willing to confess “I’m feeling overwhelmed, can we continue this conversation at another time?”  So often we stay in a conversation far past our breaking point, and that is when the real vitriolic words start to fly.

Second, stop trying to convince anyone.  Logical or illogical persuasion has never been transformative.  What is transformative is relationships.  So stop trying to persuade others that they are wrong, or your friends that “those people” are wrong.  Start having relationships with those “others”.  Ask them how they’re families are, what they like to do on vacation, what’s their greatest passion in life.  It is through relationships that people are changed.  So let us all commit ourselves to building relationships with those we disagree with.

And may we not join these relationships to change the other, may we enter these relationships in the hope of being transformed ourselves.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

The Man Box – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/05/30/the-man-box/

There is such a thing as male oppression.

I hope you are familiar with the terms oppression and privilege.  There are people in our society who are oppressed, who are treated unfairly and held to unrealistic standards, based upon an arbitrary part of their identity.  Traditionally we think about how women, people of color, the working class & poor, homosexuals & gender queer, and the disabled experience oppression.

Then there are other people in our society who have privilege, who gain certain advantages often at the expense of some other individual’s oppression, based upon an arbitrary part of their identity.  Traditionally we think about how men, white people, the middle class and the wealthy, heterosexuals, and those who do not have any disabilities experience privilege.

As the above lays out we traditionally we see men as having privilege and women as experiencing oppression.  And that is true.  Men categorically get listened to more than women in business meetings.  Men are paid more than women when doing the exact same job.  Men are raised with the mantra “be big, you’re a hero” while women are raised with the mantra “be small, you’re a caretaker”.  Of course, I’m speaking in generalities, and there are always exceptions to these broad social dynamics.  And we need to acknowledge the broad social dynamics because they are so pervasive, that if we don’t call them out they will remain invisible to us.

So yes, men have privilege.  But men also experience oppression.  Men are given a very limited range of what is “acceptable” male behavior.  And that limited list is not always life affirming or affirming of one’s individuality.  The simplest example is that men are not allowed to cry.  Heck, we men are really only allowed two emotions: mad & glad.  So every time I as a male experience fear, sadness, shame, or disappointment I need to transmute that emotion into anger.  And constantly feeling and experiencing anger isn’t just hard on other people around me; it’s also hard on me.

But let me share with you this short TED talk which powerfully demonstrates male oppression:

There is a way out of the male box.  It is not only possible, it is essential that we males need to learn the way out and how to support our brothers in leaving the male box.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Three Tips on Helping Your Partner Feel Heard – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/05/02/three-tips-on-helping-your-partner-feel-heard/

I affectionately call myself a “monologue talker”.

What does that mean?

It means that, given the space, I will just talk, and talk, and talk.  When my girlfriend asks me how my day was, I’m likely to give a 10 minute monologue with a blow by blow of each moment.  Or when she asks me to explain something that I’m reading, I’ll not only explain the concept, I’ll go into various perspectives on it, my own feelings and reactions, the arguments and counterarguments I find most persuasive, etc.  It’s frustrating for both of us (and luckily for my clients and students I’ve learnt to edit myself when I’m in the role of “counselor” or “teacher”).

Maybe you have a romantic partner who is a “monologue talker”.  Maybe it’s a friend, a coworker, a boss, or a family member.  Or maybe you’re a “monologue talker”.  Here is the secret about us monologue talkers…we desperately want to feel heard.

And we think that the way to feel heard is to just tell you more and more details about our experience.  But it’s faulty thinking.  It’s actually sharing too much!

And so yes, we monologue talkers need to learn how to chunk down our messages so that we really give our listeners a manageable amount.  But waiting around for someone else to change on their own is frustrating at best.  So let me explain the healthy way to help a monologue talker feel heard and understood, and thus stop monologue talking.

You may have heard of “reflective listening” or maybe “active listening”.  It’s when, as the person listening, you reflect back a personal summary of what the other person said.  For example:

Bob (speaker):  I’m really frustrated about work!  My boss is cutting back hours, and he’s expecting us to still get done all of our normal responsibilities!  He’s insane!

Sally (listener):  Wow!  That does sound really frustrating!  It sounds like it’s really unreasonable of him to think you all can get the same amount of work done in less time.

You don’t reflect back word for word what the speaker said, you try instead to put it in your own words and summarize the speaker’s message.  And while for some, or most, of you may be familiar with reflective listening, let me give you three tips on how to do it really expertly.  In a way that could help that monologue talker in your life really feel heard (and just an fyi, this practice of reflective listening and some of these tips also really help you open up those with the opposite affliction, the “two word talkers”).

First, make an empathetic interruption.  I know this sounds contradictory, show that you’re listening by interrupting.  But I swear this will help monologue talkers.  Saying something like “wait, let me make sure I’ve got it straight so far…” or “hold on, it sounds like you’re saying…” if followed by reflective listening shows that you really care about what the speaker is saying.  It shows the speaker that you care about what they’re sharing and that you have been listening up to this point.  Doing this also is the number one way of helping monologue talkers begin to learn how to chunk down their messages into bite sized pieces.

Second, reflect back what they didn’t say.  In the example above with Bob & Sally, here’s how Sally could have reflected back what Bob didn’t say:

Sally: “Wow, I hear how frustrated you are with your boss.  Are you also anxious about what he might say or do if you can’t do everything in less time?  Do you wish that your job was simply more relaxed and peaceful?”

Bob never talked about feeling anxious about his job, nor did he say anything about what he wishes his work environment was like.  But Sally read between the lines, and intuited what might be going on for Bob that he isn’t saying.  She then reflected that back to him in the form of a question.

Third, react as if whatever the person is describing had happened to you.  React with your face and body.  If the speaker is talking about something sad, let your face and body drop.  If the speaker is talking about something alarming, raise your eye brows, open your eyes more, and make a shocked face.  I don’t mean try to act like it happened to you.  Acting often feels fake and it won’t work.  Really let yourself naturally react as if whatever the speaker is talking about had actually happened to you.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Who are you? – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/04/19/who-are-you/

“Who are you?”

I did an exercise once where I was asked that question repeatedly for 7 minutes.  “Who are you?”  “I’m Alex.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m a white male.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m a counselor.”  “Who are you?” etc.

This exercise may sound really frustrating.  I was in a room with roughly 150 people all doing the same exercise and I assure you, people were definitely getting frustrated by the process.  But it is also an eye opening and amazing exercise.  Questioning and examining who you identify as, what parts of yourself you use to construct your identity, is essential to being more empowered, more compassionate, and more joyful.

Once I got past the surface layer of identity (name, appearance, occupation, likes and dislikes) things started to get interesting.  “Who are you?”  “I’m a good friend.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who pushes himself to works hard and works a lot.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m very loving and compassionate.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone people come to for support.” etc.

Some philosophers have argued that since humans are such social creatures that we really don’t have any identity beyond who we are in relationship to other people.  And what about when we are alone?  These same philosophers say we are such social creatures that our identity when we are alone is determined by our relationship to ourselves.  They would say my answer “I’m someone who pushes himself to work hard and work a lot” points to a particular relationship I have with myself that constructs a meaningful identity.

But the exercise doesn’t stop there.

“Who are you?”  “I’m frustrated and tired and I would like some rest.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who thinks this exercise is dumb.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who thinks the world is safe.”  “Who are you?”  “I’m someone who believes in love and peace.”  etc.

Once I got past my surface level identity (name, appearance, occupation, likes and dislikes), and once I got past my social level of identity (how do I relate to other people, how do other people relate to me, and how do I relate to myself), I then uncovered this layer of identity composed of feelings and thoughts.  For many people this is the final stop.  Western culture has consider the realm of thoughts and feelings as the most primal element of identity.

“I think therefore I am.”  Descartes planted the seed for Western culture to identify with thoughts.  You may believe that who you are is the constant stream of thoughts in your head.  You may believe that if you ceased to have a thinking mind then you’d cease to be who you are.  But I assure you that you are not your thoughts.  You are something deeper than your thoughts.

This brings us to the level of feelings, and I’ll add in here needs & values.  I am my feelings & needs.  But even this is not true.  You experience your feelings and needs.  You experience your thoughts.  But you are not your thoughts, feelings, or values.  There is a great meditation I use with many clients and students called the “Witnessing Meditation” where we just observe our thoughts, feelings and needs and see how they are in constant flux.  They are continually changing from one moment to the next, and yet there is something within each of us that is able to stay constantly observing the thoughts, feelings, and needs.

And so if your thoughts, feelings, and needs are in a constant flux, and you are able to stay constantly observing them, then it must be the case that you and I are more than our thoughts, feelings, and needs.  But then who am I?  Who are you?

“Who are you?”  “I am the one who observes all that is within me and all that is outside of me.”  “Who are you?”  “I am the container for an ongoing, ever unfolding process.”

“Who are you?”

“I am that which I am.”

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

Being Aware of Your Inner Experience – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/04/05/being-aware-of-your-inner-experience/

One of the main obstacles to communicating that I encounter in myself, and in clients I work with, is a lack of awareness of one’s inner experience in that moment.

It’s as simple as that.  We get into these fights, these conflicts, and we quickly lose all connection with our personal inner experience.  I might become focused on what my partner just said.  I become so focused on how that comment was unfair, mean, unhelpful, or whatever that I don’t notice my own experience.  Or I might become so focused on how this issue is insurmountable, that there’s no solution, and woe is me.  My full attention may be on the perceived outcome if I “lose”, that I can’t see anything else.  Or I might become so flooded with emotion that my brain just shuts down completely; I can’t think or notice anything, everything’s just gone blank and empty.

Where is your attention focused when you’re in a conflict?

Being aware of your inner experience is crucial to healthy, compassionate, and honest communication.  It also can be the most difficult thing to do during a fight.  What does it even mean to “be aware of your inner experience”?  It is the skill of being both aware of what’s going on inside of you and not being controlled by what’s happening in you.  Let me tell you a story to demonstrate this.

I was working with a couple; let’s just say their names were Jack and Jill.  I was working with them at the Relationship Skills Center where I sometimes work.  They started having a conversation about money issues.  Jack went off and said “you know Jill, the problem is how much you’re spending.  If you could just control your spending we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

This is a classic example of one’s attention being focused on the other person, on the external world, rather than the internal world.  Jack is focusing on what Jill is doing or not doing, how Jill could change, and what bad outcomes may come if she doesn’t change.

Jill also lacked much awareness of her inner experience.  You wouldn’t be able to see that on the surface however because on the surface all that she did was keep her mouth shut, looked straight down at the ground, crossed her arms, and slumped in her chair.  She was shut down.  Jill was really allowing the overwhelm of emotions within her run the show.  She couldn’t speak and couldn’t connect.

So I got them both to pause the conversation.  And I started working with Jill on processing her emotions.  I first asked her to just write for a few moments what feelings she was experiencing.  Then after some quite time of personal reflection, she told me and her partner about what feelings were going on for her.  When Jill was able to identify, name, and express her emotions she was no longer overwhelmed by them.  And in fact doing this inner reflection on what her experience was in that moment put her back in the driver’s seat rather than her emotions being in the driver’s seat.

Then I turned to Jack.  I asked him “It sounds like you’re angry about how Jill has spent money in the past?”  Jack agreed and continued “yeah, I mean I’ve been so angry that I’ve tried to tell Jill about the money issue, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to her.”  I continued empathizing, “it sounds like you also feel helpless about the situation, like you don’t know what to do to make any difference?”  “Exactly!  I’m really confused and overwhelmed about this problem.  And I just wish Jill would help more in trying to address it.”  “Oh, I see, so you’re really kinda lost, confused, and overwhelmed, and you’d really just appreciate Jill’s help and support.”  “Yes.”

You can see how Jack shifts from focusing on Jill (“you’re spending too much”), to focusing on his own inner experience (“I’m overwhelmed and confused, and I would just like some help”).

So both Jack and Jill need to work on building up their awareness of their inner experience during conflicts.  Jack needed to shift from focusing on Jill to focusing on his own feelings and desires.  Jill needed to get on top of her emotional flooding by having time to reflect upon, identify, name, and express her emotions.

Where is your attention focused during a conflict?  And how could you bring your attention back to your inner experience?

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.

The Tools for Traversing the Swamps of Sadness – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2015/03/21/the-tools-for-traversing-the-swamps-of-sadness/

Traveling through the muck is part of the journey.

If you’ve ever seen The NeverEnding Story, there are many moments in long-term relationships where it feels like you and your partner are traveling through the Swamps of Sadness.  You know that place where there is mud, gunk, goop, and tar everywhere.  It’s difficult to trudge through.  With every step hope is sucked out of you, and despair clings to you like the mud on your boots.  You can’t tell how much further you have to go to get to the other side; you can’t even tell if you’re traveling in the right direction.  And if you stop, the sadness, the sludge, begins to drag you down.  The whole swamp suffocates you, the swamp consumes you.

I’ve been in lots of different relationships that have tried to handle the Swamps of Sadness differently.  I’ve been in some relationships where we won’t even go there.  We avoided it like the plague.  And it makes sense, who wants to travel through this swamp?  Who wants to risk getting stuck there?  But what’s funny is that the more we tried to avoid, ignore, and deny the existence of such a swamp, the more the swamp of sadness began to form around us.

You see, you can’t really avoid this swamp in relationships.  When you try to avoid it, or deny its existence, that avoidance and denial becomes the swamp.  You try to deny a large swath of the relationship, you avoid dealing with the difficult issues and questions which means the relationship can’t grow, and so the relationship becomes suffocated, sinks, and dies.

I’ve also been in relationships where we just get stuck in the Swamps of Sadness.  We headed in very optimistically, but ill-equipped.  And so as soon as the optimism fades, and it’s unclear whether there is another side, we begin to sink.  The sadness and the despair overwhelm us.  We stop moving forward and just allow ourselves to be sucked downward.

And I know, because I’ve been to the other side, that there is a way to navigate this swamp.   That there is in fact hope; and, getting through this swamp is essential to healthy, fulfilling, and deeply meaningful relationships.  And I want to give you the equipment you need.

First, you need to be able to communicate.  Navigating these swampy periods in our relationships requires teamwork and trust.  You and your partner need to be able to talk about what you each need to keep going, you need to create the safety and compassion to help your partner open up, and you both need to hear one another accurately.  Communication is key.  And you may not both be able to communicate perfectly throughout the journey.  In fact, I guarantee that you both won’t be communicating at your best throughout this entire trek.  There will be points when one of you can’t talk, and the other person needs to have the strength to keep communicating with respect, honesty, and love.

Second, you need to have patience.  You probably won’t be able to traverse this swamp in a day, maybe not even in a week, maybe not even in a month.  Sometimes the swamp is big, and sometimes you do in fact get stuck for a little while.  You have to be patient with your process.  If you think “we should have resolved this by now!” you are just one thought away from giving up, and it is when you give up that the swamp consumes you.

Finally, you and your partner need support.  You need help; you can’t just do it alone.  Now, for various couples, individuals, and issues/swamps this help will look differently.  Sometimes you’ll need the help of a relationship counselor, someone who can minister to the the relationship as a whole.  Sometimes you’ll each need one on one support from a counselor. And sometimes, all you need is the healthy support and guidance of a trusted friend, someone who will help kindle new hope in your heart and point you in the right direction.  A trusted friend whom you can confide in and know that you will just be listened to without judgment, blame, or advice.

And what is underlying all of these three suggestions is compassion.  You need compassion.  You need compassion for yourself, and you need compassion for your partner.  Compassion, empathy, understanding, loving-kindness is the guiding light that will lead you out of this swamp.

KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.