Simplistically Compassionate – How compassionate communication can help in fragile relating styles.

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Most couples bring unresolved, negative past experiences to a new relationship such as fear, uncertainty and emotional distress.  With these experiences guiding the relationship, it is difficult for one or both parties to believe that they can depend on each other when in need of emotional support.

When one party in the relationship has been disappointed by the lack of emotional availability of the other, the individual in the relationship that is in need of emotional support might respond by acts of desperation to get the other person’s attention.  They might also respond by using acts of avoidance.  An act of desperation can look like an ultimatum, or consciously or unconsciously creating a situation where one might appear to be helpless or needy.  With acts of avoidance, the other person might create situations where they are always busy; therefore, they spend very little time together, or the person might be present physically but not present emotionally.

Unfortunately, neither one of these attempts usually work.  The act of desperation usually pushes the other person further away and the act of avoidance usually places additional tension and feelings of loneliness in the relationship.

Sometimes the answer for a deeper connection is simply knowing what you need from your partner and verbally communicating those needs.  I’m sure that one might be thinking if the person’s relating style is fragile then they can’t possibly know how to articulate what they need.  That could be possible.  However, it can start with something as small as saying how you feel.  I know you might be thinking that sounds too simplistic to be the answer.  However, research has shown that most couples do not know how to confront or how to negotiate to positively resolve the issue at hand.  We also cannot connect with the person we are currently in a relationship with because we are using the same unsuccessful communication tactics that we have used in previous unsuccessful relationships.  Because we lack the insight in how to resolve the issue at hand, most couples end up in a power struggle that spills over into other areas of the relationship.  Simply put, we do not know how to compassionately communicate with the people we love.

Compassionate Communication

I use the term compassionate because the person who is communicating must care enough about themselves to be honest and they must care enough about the other person not to be offensive in their word choices.  Also, they must be compassionate about the success of the relationship.  What does Compassionate Communication look like:  Validation and mutual respect.  Meaning,  using statements that validate you; always state how the behavior makes you feel and never assume that your spouse or partner knows what you feel or that they have ill intentions.  Always allow the hearer of your statement and/or feelings to respond while seeking a point of emotional connection after the statement and the response have been made.  Compassionate communication strengthens the connection between the couple and it builds a trusting anticipation of future dialogue.  This style of communication will help the couple build a passionate, trusting and successful style of relating that can lead to a deeper emotional connection where both parties feel supported and understood.

Fed Up with the Set Up Equates to Readiness

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “ready, set go” Webster Dictionary defines the word Ready as “prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action.” One of the factors I assess when I see clients for therapy is whether they are ready for soul searching, insight and working through the issue at hand. What do I mean by that? Many clients travel various different routes in life before they decide to come for treatment. They have many experiences, disappointments, events that are difficult to explain and some that do not make much sense. There are situations that are unfair and painful. Most times, the pain and the fear of the unknown is what keep clients from coming in for treatment. The fear of the unknown can be as simple as what will change in me or my life once I start the journey of working through the pain and fear. Sometimes clients present for treatment, but are not ready to handle the inner work that comes with the insight that is explored and revealed. This can slow down or even discontinue the treatment process.

When a client is ready to deal with the presenting issue or issues, several events have already taken place:

1. The issue at hand has impacted the client’s social life.
2. The issue at hand has impacted the client’s most intimate relationships.
3. There could be a physical impact of the presenting issues, i.e., not sleeping, eating less or more, feelings of fatigue.
4. There is a psychological impact of sad feelings, anger, constant racing of thoughts, feeling overwhelmed.
5. The loss of something very dear to the person has changed their view of life or their life in general.
6. Financial trouble or concerns.
7. Feeling as if one is not in control of their life anymore.

Most of all, clients have reported that they are just tired of things being the way they are, and are ready for an experience or action. There that word goes again – Ready. Are you ready??

The serenity prayer and family therapy

Monday, April 4th, 2011

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

This is known as the Serenity Prayer, but this could very well be called the family prayer.  Most people live to change the people they love.  It is only when that desired change is met with resistance will that person realize that the change process is really about them and not the other person.  Most times it takes a while before we realize that we cannot change our family members, but we can change how we relate to them.  This epiphany is a way of accepting things we cannot change.

Acceptance is tricky in a family where there is maladaptive behavior.  However, acceptance is the best treatment plan for boundaries.  It is almost paradoxical.  For instance, one can’t change the behavior of another, but they can remove themselves from the pattern in which the behavior is carried out.  Hence, the struggle of trying to get a person to stop or change the behavior ceases and the acceptance of creating healthy boundaries for oneself so that they will no longer be a part of the maladaptive behavior begins and wisdom is birthed.

In family therapy, the problem is approached with the intent of creating desirable change in the maladaptive patterns of behavior that a family has established.  When equating this concept to a family, it helps us to understand the pattern of behavior that is behind how a family relates and communicates.

When a family comes for help, one of the first things that a clinician is told is the presenting symptoms, i.e., a family member gets drunk every weekend, my spouse is having an affair, our daughter is disrespectful, our son is failing school, my spouse is never at home, etc.  These can all be viewed as symptoms, but they are also the way a family relates, which can be signs that something is wrong.  For the clinician, the pattern of relating is used to analysis the movement of the family.  To unpack this concept further, within families there are roles, rules and then what I like to call the “state” of the family or homeostasis.  In other words, how the family usually relates to each other.  The family can experience this state as being pleasant, dramatic, troubling, hurtful or even unbearable.  What is certain is that no matter what event happens in the family, the family manages to get back to their “state” or way of relating to each other after the event has ended.  It is this redundant pattern of behavior in families that resist change.  Within these patterns is what family therapists call circular causality.  The behavior of one person causes the behavior of another; however, this is not to suggest that the behavior of one party is to blame.  The behaviors of both parties have to be present to create the pattern or circular causality.

Often these patterns are carried out between two people in the family (a dyad), and at times there can also be a triangular relationship to help maintain the “state” of the family.  Within this dyad and/or triangular relationship, there is a circular and causality pattern that has developed.  For instance, one person becomes distant and the other person becomes the pursuer.  This can take shape in one person nagging and the other person not coming home.  Another example is favoritism is shown to the older brother and then the younger sister becomes disrespectful to the parents.  Some families recognize the pattern, but others are deeply entrenched in the patterns of behavior, and they only know that the family is suffering from the maladaptive behavioral pattern.  Sometimes this is all that is needed to get a family on the right path – the wisdom to know the difference between maladaptive and adaptive behavior, and the courage to bring that behavior to the light.  What maladaptive behavioral patterns have been established in your family?  Are you ready to set healthy boundaries?

His decision, your outcome: dealing with father alienation

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Today, I would like to talk about women who have never had a relationship with their fathers or any father figure while growing up.  In the field of psychology, we call this ‘father alienation.’  Even adult women who were raised with their fathers can still experience father alienation if their father was not available to them emotionally.  Whether the reason is that a father was not around or available to his little girl, for some adult women it has left a social and relational deficit when dealing with the opposite sex.

The adult woman from a family where she experienced father alienation can go without answers to some of the most difficult questions such as:  why did my father leave, and why did he not try to make any contact with me; why was he emotionally distant; and  how am I like my father?

She might also struggle with questions that can change the landscape of her relationships.  Those questions might be:  who will walk me down the aisle;  how do I relate to a man if I have never had a man in my life; and, where does he fit in my life?  For many women the answers to these questions have set them on a journey of unhealthy relationships, self-doubt, low self-worth and body image challenges.  The internalized pain of being abandoned and never being affirmed by the first man in a female’s life can take on the appearance of  biological and psychological disorders.

In addition, the unconditional positive regard that a little girl did not get from her father sets in motion a social, relational and psychological development trajectory that can result in that daughter growing up to be a woman who lives a co-dependant, unhealthy lifestyle.  Most women would like to believe that the impact (or lack of impact) of a father has nothing to do with the type of woman they have become, but most researchers and psychologists believe otherwise.  As a father shows unconditional positive regard to their daughter, that daughter observes her father on a deeper level with expectations of the future.  These futuristic expectations are grounded in four fundamental principals.

  • Positive Self-concept
  • Feeling confident in male-female relationships
  • Comfortable with showing affection
  • Healthy interpersonal skills

Each one of these principals are essential for raising healthy daughters who then turn out to be healthy women.

Have you experienced father alienation?  Let’s talk about it.  You might be surprised to find that you are not alone in living with the residue that father alienation has left like fears and self-doubt in your current heterosexual relationship.