How to Communicate Hard Feelings Effectively

Our choice of words matter, and when it comes to close relationships, like our partners, our children, our parents, etc. it really truly matters a LOT!

communication

Today I would like to focus on the way we sometimes express our frustration, anger or disappointment to a loved one. First of all, it is totally normal to feel frustrated, angry or disappointed with the people we love, however, the way we express those feelings can be detrimental to our relationships or,  it can be constructive…

After many years of therapy, self-reflection, and serious work on becoming more conscious and mindful, I have found that there are ways to make our communication positively impact our relationships, but it takes some practice and awareness, for sure!

But, first things first, when we are hurt or angry, it is hard so see clearly and act mindfully, so the first thing to do is to take a little distance from our feelings and become more objective and more conscious.
Now, how exactly do we do that…. well, unless you have a well-established mindfulness or meditation practice, this doesn’t come very naturally for most people, so it is important to have some tools that can help us take that distance from our emotions (sometimes on the spot! before we jump at our loved ones with all our complaints and rage!)

I work with kids, and as a mom as well as a yoga teacher, I have found some techniques that are very helpful to calm down negative emotions, here are some tools that any adult can use and/or share with children in their lives:

1. Take 3 deep breaths before you react to whatever is making you angry
2. Go outside and take a brisk walk, run or kick a ball
3. Punch a pillow
4. Listen to music that you like or sing a song
5. Close your eyes and think of a calm place or pleasant thought or something funny
6. Draw a picture
7. Write down your feelings, or a letter to the person you are mad at (you don’t need to send it)
8. Talk to someone about your feelings (not the person you are mad at!)
9. Ask for a hug, make sure it lasts a few breaths! (Again, not to the person you are mad at!)

The first one is the fastest and most accessible one, for adults and children alike. As simple as it may seem, taking deep breaths is incredibly powerful, simply because when we breathe slowly we are counter-acting the “fight or flight” response that kicks in automatically when we feel threatened (in this case angry,) the brain gets the message to slow down and lower its guards, so we can see the situation for what it is and not for what our blurry vision – affected by our feelings – will make us see.

There is a difference between the reality and what you see as “the reality,” when emotions are involved. Knowing this, and accepting it, is the first step to becoming more conscious.

So, let’s say that you can efficiently distance yourself from the emotion (whether it is anger, frustration, sadness, etc.) so you are able to calm down on the spot, which doesn’t mean you don’t feel the emotion anymore, it simply means you are able to acknowledge it for what it is and take responsibility for it. This doesn’t mean you just ignore what the other person did or said, or the fact that you feel angry, but it is important to take responsibility for your feelings!

Nobody has the power to MAKE YOU feel this way or that, YOU are the only one with that power, in other words, what you feel is your responsibility alone, which in turn, does not mean that the other person has NO responsibility in the matter, they are responsible for their actions just as much as you are for your reactions… do you follow?

So, it is crucial that if you want the relationship to stay healthy and grow, you need to handle communication effectively. So now we come down to the choice of words.

See, once we have taken responsibility for our feelings, we don’t need to blame the other person, but we can, and should, point out the facts, and express our feelings in a way that does not trigger the other person’s defensiveness or other negative feelings.

If we communicate in a healthy way, it will be clear enough for the other person how we are feeling, and they will have the opportunity to take responsibility for their part, without becoming defensive.

Here is a simple everyday situation as an example of how communication can go wrong, or right depending on the words we use:

Case Study:

Husband and Wife are getting ready to leave the house for an invitation and they are running late, they only have one key to their car and they can’t find it! (The last person who drove the car was the husband). The wife is starting to feel angry at a familiar scenario, and she hates to be late!

Scenario #1:

Wife: “You have lost the key again! You always do this, why don’t you leave it in the key holder by the door, it isn’t hard, that is why there is a key holder there!!! Now we are going to be late!” (in an annoyed tone)

Notice the direct accusation and blaming: YOU have lost the key, YOU always do it!

Husband: “Stop blaming me! you are the one who was taking for ever to get ready, if you could skip your hour long sessions of hair brushing we could be ready much earlier and then deal with this with less stress, plus I told you ages ago to make another copy of the key!” (in an angry tone)

Notice how the husband, feeling accused and blamed, goes immediately into “defensive mode” and tries to retaliate by taking his turn on accusing his wife of the first thing he can think of.

So, in this scenario the angry and negative feelings keep escalating, and there is a full blown fight, which is not about the lost key anymore but about the couple’s feelings overtaking them and completely shutting off communication.

Scenario #2:

Wife: “You have lost the key again! You always do this, why don’t you leave it in the key holder by the door, it isn’t hard, that is why there is a key holder there!!! Now we are going to be late!” -Same as scenario #1

The husband feels accused, but takes a few deep breaths and realizes that his wife is really worried because she hates to be late and it is her frustration talking at him, he also realizes that she may have a point about him being a bit disorganized, in fact he was already feeling a bit guilty for the loss of the key… so here is his response:

Husband: “Honey, I understand you are mad because you hate to be late, and I am sorry we cannot find the key, you are right, I often put it in different places which makes it harder to find it, I apologize but let’s try to find it together and make a note to make a copy so we have a backup key in the future, and I will be more careful to leave it in the key holder”

To this, the wife’s anger immediately deflates and she replies:

“I am sorry honey, I didn’t mean to blame you, we don’t really know what happened, it is just that I really dislike being late, but never mind, we just have to keep looking and yes, we need to make a copy, sorry I have not gotten to do that as I offered. Let’s keep looking and hopefully will find it soon. I will call our friends to tell them we will be late.”

Scenario #3:

The wife is feeling really annoyed at her husband, but before she says anything, she takes a deep breath and notices that he is frantically looking for the key and probably feeling bad already about not finding it, so she says:

“Honey, I feel really frustrated because we are going to be late, I know these things can happen, but it is a good idea to leave the key always in the key holder to avoid this happening in the future” (In a loving tone, not an accusatory one!)

Husband “I know, I am sorry, I will find it and will be more careful in the future to leave it in the holder when I use it, why don’t you call our friends to tell them we will be a bit late and let’s make a note to make a key copy as soon as possible”

In scenarios number 2 and 3 one of the partners averted a fight by being mindful, but at the same time expressing their feelings and the facts in a very effective manner.

You can see how the example above can be applied in many other cases and with different relationships. The specific situation or facts don’t matter as much as the way we react to them, and how we choose to communicate.

So, here is how we can avert fights and grow our relationships:

1. Taking a step back, before our feelings take over our actions and reactions

2. Choosing the right words to express ourselves, here are some ideas:

State the FACTS instead of accusing the other:
We will be late, as we can’t find the key (fact) vs
We will be late because YOU lost the key (accusation)

Take RESPONSIBILITY for your feelings instead of blaming them on others
I feel frustrated when we are late, it makes me feel embarrassed (taking responsibility for one’s feelings) vs
You make me look bad, because of you we will be late, and it is embarrassing! (blaming the other for our feelings)

DON’T ASSUME the other person is guilty, even if it seems obvious!
I wonder where the keys can be. Do you remember what happened after you parked the car last night? (Unassuming) vs
You lost the key again! (Assuming the person is guilty)

If you take these simple steps and practice them over and over, I assure you that your relationships will grow stronger and healthier and that you will feel a lot better with yourself and others!

Thanks for reading!

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The importance of expressing negative emotions/feelings

The topic for this week has been inspired by a great book I am reading at the moment, it is called: “Siblings Without Rivalry” by Faber and Mazlish. As a mother of 6-year-old twins, I have to deal with my kids’ fighting and bickering and sometimes it drives me off the wall (I am sure many parents can relate). Being a single child I had no experience with having a sibling, so I really wanted to understand my kids and especially find ways to help them improve their relationship in every possible way.

siblings

As it turns out, I am learning many fascinating things about the dynamics of having a sibling, and how the relationship with a sibling can affect the rest of our life, for good or bad. Our parents, as well as our siblings become our first and closest teachers, so the way we interact with them will deeply shape the way we relate with other people and situations later in life.

So, I wanted to delve a little deeper into one of the main messages in this book: The importance of expressing negative emotions! It is quite simple but really profound.

I have always been a strong believer in expressing our emotions, all of them, even the negative ones. However, most people, when they are growing up, are taught to keep those emotions under control by simply repressing them, they are made to feel ashamed of them, to feel something is wrong with them and therefore, on top of having to suppress those emotions (hard enough for a child), they add more negative emotions to the mix: shame, guilt, inadequacy, etc.

Apparently, siblings are the first trigger of negative emotions during childhood because of the inevitable rivalry that arises between them. Experts in the field agree that at the root of siblings rivalry is each child’s deep desire for the exclusive love of his parents, simply because parents are the source of all security for a child (food, shelter, warmth, affection, a sense of identity, a sense of worth, etc.) So, the sole presence of another child threatens that security.

So, those feelings are NORMAL and to a certain extent healthy (from a preservation point of view if you wish). Now, the way children learn to deal with those feelings is extremely important for their future, and parents can help a great deal in this learning process. The very first thing to do is validate the child’s negative emotion, and that can be very hard for parents.

If a small child says he hates his baby sister, he does not mean it of course, but he is expressing a deep frustration. A very young child may not even have the words to actually say what he is feeling, so he may just push or hit his little sister for no “apparent” reason. In these two scenarios, most parents are likely to respond as follows:

1.- If child says he hates his baby sister:

What a parent may say What the child actually hears and feels
Do not say that! I can’t say what I feel (feels repressed)
That is not nice! I am not a nice person (feels guilty, ashamed)
Of course you don’t hate her My feelings are not real (feels he cannot trust his feelings)

2.-If child hits his sister:

What a parent may say What the child actually hears
Don’t be mean! or You are a bad boy! I am a bad person (feels guilty and ashamed)
What is wrong with you! Something is really wrong with me (feels inadequacy and fear)
You can’t do that! I can’t express what I feel (his feelings are wrong)

So, as a child grows up, he learns to keep his emotions under control by suppressing them, and he internalizes all those messages of guilt, inadequacy, not been good enough, not trusting his feelings, and so on.

Instead, parents could help the child find creative ways to channel his emotions, by first allowing them to be, validating them and letting them know that they understand what he is feeling, without judgment nor criticism. It is very important to make a distinction between allowing feelings and allowing actions. Parents can permit children to express their feelings, but they can’t permit them to hurt each other. Parents can help children express their negative feelings without doing damage, and there are many effective ways to do so.

Many of the frustrations and repressed feelings we have as adults came from these childhood moments where we learned that we could not expressed what we felt, whether it was anger, sadness, etc.

Another typical example that causes so much damage (especially in men) is the urge to have boys hold their tears, to learn to suppress them with comments such as:

  • Boys don’t cry
  • Don’t be a girl (this one is even worse, as it carries within it, a message of great disrespect to girls and therefore to women)
  • You are a big boy now, it is NOT ok to cry (suddenly they are not allowed to feel sad anymore, just like that!)

Ignoring a child when they cry is also very negative, because it gives them the message that their feelings (in this case their sadness) is not important, it’s not worthy of attention. Even though as adults we may feel that their crying is over something unimportant, from a child’s perspective that something may be truly important.

It is all about simply acknowledging and respecting their feelings, regardless of where they came from.

As adults we will still feel sadness, anger, frustrations, etc. many many times, so we need to first be ok with our feelings, acknowledge them, respect them (self acceptance) and, then know how to channel them in a non-damaging way (self control). These two simple things will give us enormous peace and control over our lives! Remember that Control is not the same as repression.

Also, as adults, if we are not in touch with our feelings (if they are so badly repressed that we don’t even feel them anymore), we will not be able to truly relate to other people’s emotions, so we will be less capable to establish deep, intimate relationships, and be emotionally present for others.

So, if you want to learn more about the ways you can help your kids and give them some vital tools, or if you wish to better understand the hurts of your own past, I really recommend this book. Click here
to see it in Amazon.

And last but not least, it is very important to realize that we are NOT our emotions, we cannot be defined by them, but we ARE entitled to feel them, and we CAN channel them positively!

Have a great week!


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Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

I was just watching Amy Cuddy’s TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are and it got me thinking about this very important way of communicating.

bodylanguage

I have always been interested in the way people relate and communicate with others, and I always knew that body language plays a very important role in that communication, more so than we care to admit. However, I never knew that our body language could actually have an impact on the way we, ourselves feel.

Aside from our verbal exchanges, we are constantly sending out a lot of signals that can be silent or not, and involve body movements, gestures, facial expressions, voice tone, loudness, etc. they convey a lot of information about the way we feel and the way we think.

Noticing the signals that people send out with their body language is a very useful social skill. Some people can read it naturally while others may be oblivious of it. Very often the difference between the words people speak and our understanding of what they are saying comes from non-verbal communication.

Aside from being aware of other people’s body language, it is very important to be aware of our own, since our body language can help us feel a certain way or achieve a certain goal. According to Amy Cuddy, we can purposely use body language to convey feelings that we are not experiencing, but we can also start to actually feel them, as she says in the video: fake it until you make it, or rather fake it until you feel it!

For instance, if you are about to be in a situation where you do not feel very confident, such as a job interview, an important meeting, giving a speech, etc. you can adopt gestures of confidence so as to convey confidence and by doing so, you may actually start to feel more confident.

You can spot a person’s level of confidence by looking at the following:

Posture – standing tall with shoulders back.

Eye contact – solid with a ‘smiling’ face.

Gestures with hands and arms – purposeful and deliberate.

Speech – slow and clear.

Tone of voice – moderate to low.

So, by adopting those gestures and tones, you may eventually start to feel more confident, also, the more people see you as “confident” the more you will feel indeed confident, so it is like a snow ball effect, it keeps growing in you.

This principle reminded me of something my therapist told me years ago when I was depressed, I had told her that I didn’t feel any motivation to do the things I used to like, so I didn’t do them any more. She then told me that things could work both ways, so she encouraged me to actually do the things, despite my lack of motivation, and she told me that the motivation would come after I did them, to my surprised, it worked!

I guess we often feel we need to feel a certain way to act a certain way, but we can act first and feel later… I never really liked the expression: “Fake it until you make it” because it seemed to reflect dishonesty in my view, but I really like Cuddy’s version: “Fake it until you feel it” because it definitely works!

So, next time you have an important meeting, a stressful reunion, a speech to give, etc. remember to “act” confident, using your whole body, and in time you will feel that confidence more and more!

If you want to read more about body language, below is a list of good resources.

Have a Good Week!

Related Resources:

Improving your non-verbal skills and reading body language

The key to understanding body language

How to become a master at non-verbal communication


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Respecting our Healing Process

Being in touch with our feelings is extremely important, more so if we are going through a traumatic life event.

sun

Everybody at some point in life is faced with a more or less traumatic event of any sort, whether it is the loss of a loved one, a divorce, an accident, a health challenge, a job loss, etc. Any event that creates a certain level of trauma and stress will produce feelings of grief, failure, guilt, despair, hopelessness, anger, etc. and it is very important to acknowledge those feelings in order to process them in a healthy way.

Sometimes I feel that in this fast-speed, efficiency-driven, brain-dominant, type-A culture, people tend to dismiss or ignore those processes. I often hear people’s reactions to their own grief or that of others and I am appalled at how little connection they have to their emotional needs, let alone that of others. No matter how hard life hits them, some people are just not in touch with their feelings, and that can only create further damage in their psyche and their physical health.

Although it is true that some people are more or less sensitive, we are all human, and we all need to go through these emotional processes, no matter what. In order to start healing we need to acknowledge our feelings, respect them, allow them to be, and give ourselves the time we need to heal. Instead, the tendency is often to dismiss, escape and ignore the process by using diversion and denial.

I often see people treat emotional processes with the coldness of a corporate executive decision, with a matter-of-fact attitude; thinking that they can just move on, make an effort, try harder, forget about it, and rebound almost unscathed.

The truth is, we can only move on in a healthy way, if we allow ourselves to go through the process of healing our heart first. If we do not allow this natural process to take place, we are only setting ourselves up for further suffering. Our brain and our heart work at a different speed, and in a brain-dominant culture, we do not give the heart a chance and the time to really heal.

Our brain constantly tells us to DO, DO, and DO, whereas our heart tells us to just BE. So, if you are going through a difficult time, remember to just BE and try to stop the compulsive doing and the compulsive thinking, this will help you connect to your heart and to your feelings. Our brain often forces us to jump into the next thing without allowing proper healing, and although we may find some distraction from our process in doing that, we are not being true to our needs.

Also, in a brain-driven culture people find it hard to just BE with the pain of others, they feel the constant need to fix it, to give advice, to divert them from their pain; instead we should learn to hold someone in pain, with respect and presence, nothing else.

By being aware of your emotional healing process I do not suggest you sink into despair and shut yourself off completely, such an extreme reaction could happen in the presence of depression though, and depression can definitely appear following a traumatic life event, so it is important to be aware of it and seek professional help if needed. But what I mean is rather to be mindful of everything around you and acknowledge your feelings, take one day at a time and respect your own rhythm and timing, do not “force” anything.

No matter what people around you, or your own busy brain says, try to disconnect from your thoughts and the external pressures of others, in order to connect to your feelings and needs. Whatever you do, do not ignore your feelings, it will only hurt you more in the end.

Sometimes people don’t “feel” anything, or they think they are not affected by a given event, but this is a problem because the emotions are usually there no matter what, and if they are not “felt” chances are they are stuck somewhere in our bodies and will cause physical discomfort or even health problems, so it is important to watch out for those body clues, as they may be signs that there are emotions that need to be acknowledged.

There are many ways that can help your healing, but first and foremost you need to be aware, be patient and be loving with yourself. You can use meditation to quiet your mind and connect to your heart, you can practice body-mind disciplines like yoga, Thai-Chi, Qigong, etc., you can reach out to friends and family for support and help, or you could reach out for professional help if needed.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of grief, it is important to acknowledge it, respect it, and process it. If you honor your healing process and its timing, you will be able to learn from it, find true peace and move on effectively.

Have a good week!


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What does it really mean to be strong?

I have often struggled with the concept of strength what does it really mean to be strong? aside from having strong muscles of course 😉

strong

For a long time I felt I wasn’t strong enough, I felt I could be broken easily, I felt my emotions were so raw and deep that I could loose myself in them. After struggling with recurrent bouts of depression in my adult life, I came to the conclusion that I was indeed anything but strong, and I felt like a failure in that respect.

Moving to the US made things even more complicated for me, as the American culture really values strength, resilience, stoicism, undaunted optimism, etc. as great qualities.
On the other hand showing vulnerability, neediness, pain, despair, etc. are not OK in this culture, at least that is the way I perceived it, inside and outside my own home. I felt like I could not show my vulnerability because I would not be respected, let alone understood, so I didn’t.

But for the past few years, I have learned to embrace the side of me that feels vulnerable; I have accepted that sometimes I need help or a shoulder to cry on, and that is OK. I have realized that I am human! and it is OK to feel weak or needy or sad sometimes; hiding these feelings and pretending they are not there can only hurt us in the end, because all that energy gets trapped in our bodies and can cause many other problems including diseases and unnecessary anger.

I have realized that being strong has nothing to do with not feeling (or not showing) vulnerability, but rather with the capacity to feel it and accept it without judgment, to have the courage to ask for help and the bravery to let go of our pride.

No long ago, at a lecture by Dr. Ronald Siegel (one of my favorite authors), he explained the concept of the warrior in the Shambhala vision, which is very different from the concept of warrior we may have in the west. The Shambhala warrior is someone that is open and able to feel everything deeply, the pleasant and the unpleasant events of life and can withstand all challenges with acceptance and inner peace.

That is to me the meaning of real strength, not pretending, not hiding, not denying our vulnerability and our need for others, but rather embracing them with honor.

Sure we don’t want to dwell on negative emotions, we need to let all those emotions flow without getting stuck on them (in our heads), but it is OK to feel them at times, we just need to let them be.

I would like to share with you a few small pieces of a wonderful excerpt from The Invitation by Oriah:

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon,”Yes.”

If you wish to read the entire excerpt, you can find it here: The Invitation

So today, I feel I am strong, I feel I have the courage to love, to fall, to loose, to start over and most of all, to allow myself to experience all of it and share it with others.

And I want to raise my children not only to accept their emotions and be comfortable with them, but also to accept it in others and be supportive and compassionate. It is sad to see that some people are so uncomfortable with showing emotions that they are unable to relate to those that do, they can’t even show compassion and support to others because they have no idea how to handle their emotions, let alone other people’s.

So be true, be real, be vulnerable, be what you need to be, and trust your strength, it is there!

Have a good week!

Related posts: Embracing your Vulnerability


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