Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism

A couple of weeks ago a client was coming in for his session and he wanted to talk about our coach-client relationship. He needed me to listen to a complaint he had. He felt I was being unfair by putting all the responsibility for his relationships with his family members onto him. After all, the other family members should be given half of the responsibility. Part of me wanted to say “But that’s not what I meant…” and jump into an explanation and justification. I had to tell myself to breathe and to really be present with his words.

I needed to listen carefully to hear that he was feeling unsupported by me as his coach. I had to ask myself if there was a shadow showing up for me with this particular client. Was there an energy mirrored back to me by him that I wasn’t comfortable with and was I therefore rushing him to shift out of it? Was I pushing him too hard because I experienced him as a conscious man and had higher expectations of him than of an average client? Or was the approach and tools not the right ones for him? How was I being unfair to him and unsupportive?

I am very grateful to this client for speaking up and making me aware that there was a shadow projection going on. It would have been easier for him to just not return for the next session because it requires courage to speak up. He had the courage to bring it up and I was able to realize that I perceived him as not taking enough responsibility for his part in most of his relationships because he reminded me of somebody I know. So I was focusing on what he could do better instead of focusing on his progress.

Whether with a client, or in any of our other relationships, it is not always easy to respond to criticism without defensiveness and to stay open to hearing the complaint underneath. As mammals, we are hardwired to want to feel good in comparison to others and to not be rejected by others, so that we are not abandoned by our tribe, who we need for survival. So we have an inbuilt physiological response to being criticized. Stephen Porges speaks about how our body tenses up and how being criticized can shift our autonomic nervous system into defense mode as if we are being attacked. We experience a physical and emotional constriction.

Gottman highlights the importance for the speaking partner to make productive complaints rather than being critical and for the listening partner not to get defensive. Criticism and defensiveness are two of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who slowly erode our relationships.

The person who has a complaint needs to remember to deliver their complaint without blame or anger and as diplomatically and gently as they possibly can. But what about the person who is at the receiving end? Sadly, in our human interactions, it is unusual for the person who is being criticized to respond with curiosity and wanting to understand, rather than defensiveness. So, what can you do when your partner or somebody else criticizes you?

I find it helps to remember to breathe and self-regulate, so that we can truly listen and get to the complaint underneath the criticism. Dr. Kelly McGonigal recommends to “breathe with all your senses”. She reminds herself to “breathe with her ears”. You can feel how your body feels and strive to have a posture of openness. Drop your shoulders, come into your body and notice your breathing. “Lean in” as much as possible instead of shrinking away and protecting yourself. Leaning in translates into your body language and fascial expression and shows the other person that you are willing to listen and take their feelings and thoughts seriously.

Dr Rick Hansen talks about tracking moment to moment that your body is still okay and that you are not in mortal danger, you are not dying, even though our primitive brain might be under the impression that we are in danger. Dr Joan Borysenko even suggests to use a mantra like “All is well” to calm ourselves down when we feel attacked by criticism.

Instead of going on the defence due to our own feelings of inadequacy, which tend to get triggered, we need to just be quiet and listen properly. We need to be curious about what the other person has to teach us or needs from us. It can help to be honest and say, “I feel defensive right now but I don’t think this will help you or me so I am trying to stay open to what you are saying.” The admission of your own defensiveness, allows the speaker to feel heard and to explain a bit more how you can meet their needs.

Have the attitude to turn criticism that is usually hurtful into something actionable. Remember that underneath a criticism is a longing. Here are some examples:

Complaint: You never hold hands with me anymore.

Longing: I need some affection and holding hands makes me feel loved and connected.

Complaint: Why is it so hard for you to say thank you?

Longing: I feel unappreciated and would really love if you told me more often that you are grateful for what I do.

Complaint: You always overreact when I tell you bad news.

Longing: It would be much easier for me to tell you bad news if you stayed calm. Can you please take some deep breaths and not respond right away.

Complaint: You don’t know at all what I like!

Longing: I wish you would listen more when I express my likes and dislikes and show that you care what I like.

For more examples click here.

Next time your partner criticizes you, take some deep breaths, let them know you are doing your best not to get defensive, so that they know what you are struggling with and perhaps they can reassure you that they love you. Then listen very carefully for the longing. Be curious what you can learn.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions to help you deal with criticism and defensiveness.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

You can also join me for this meditation to practice staying open instead of getting defensive

Clearing Your Relationship Baggage – PART 2

Listen to PART 1 and 2 of this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

We cannot emotionally complete our past until we are aware of what our patterns are. If we don’t understand our patterns, habits and beliefs, we bring our emotional baggage into the next relationship and our relationship history will keep repeating itself.

The first practical step to achieve clarity is to examine the relationship history. Let’s look at Robert and Ellie who just broke up.

This is Robert’s Relationship history:

Robert grew up with a critical and controlling mother. He often felt like he could do nothing right.

1997, Grade 7, Emma

Emma was the first girl I kissed. She told her girlfriends that I was a bad kisser. I felt embarrassed and like a failure.

1999, Grade 10, Hannah

I had a long-time crush on Hannah before I finally asked her out. We went to the movies. I wanted to be respectful, but she made fun of me for not trying to feel her up in the dark theatre. I felt embarrassed and like I can’t win, no matter what I do. I didn’t ask her for a second date.

2000, Grade 11, Lara

At my brother’s 19th birthday party, I got drunk and hooked up with Lara. After the party, I was too embarrassed to call her. A month later she had another boyfriend. I always regretted not having followed up with her.

 

2001/2002, Grade 12, Veronica

I went out with Veronica during my grade 12 year. We broke up twice because she nagged so much. I always felt that I wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted somebody who talked more and was more secure and more self-confident.

2003-2008, Anne

Anne and I had a long distance relationship for the first three years. When we both ended up in Toronto after graduating we moved in together. Luckily, we only rented an apartment. Within three months, it was clear that we could not live together. She was a neat freak and I was constantly walking on egg shells, trying to keep everything tidy and clean. She also didn’t like my friends and I allowed her to control who I spent time with. She drove me nuts and I broke up with her when I met Christina. In fact, I had an affair with Christina before I moved out of the apartment Anne and I shared. When Anne found out we had a huge blow out with her yelling and kicking me out.

2008-2011, Christina

Christina was much more easy going than Anne. At first, we had a lot of fun together, partying and going dancing a lot. Eventually, Christina also started nagging. She was very high maintenance. She often complained that I wasn’t making enough money. That made me feel inadequate and angry. I liked her less and less. She would get very angry at me when I forget to tell her something. She would even throw things at me. Her yelling reminded me of my mother. I totally shut down when she yelled. She even went through my pockets, phone and computer to snoop after me. I stopped sharing with her. After one huge fight, I swore I would never trust her again. I moved out to live with my brother Frank until I met Ellie.   

2012-2017, Ellie

I thought Ellie was different. She seemed so understanding and non-judgmental at the beginning. She was younger than me but she also wanted to buy a house, not a ridiculously huge house like Christina but a townhouse, a good investment. We both had stable jobs and it made sense to buy something together from the start. Most of my buddies and even my brother were getting married and it felt like Ellie could be “the One”.

There were some signs early on though that she needed to know everything about what I was doing. At first, I gave up some of the stuff I like to do but I soon felt trapped like I had felt with Anne and Christina. I also felt that I couldn’t do anything right. Ellie always wanted to talk and that usually meant she was unhappy with something. I didn’t want to have another failed relationship, so I just started telling her that I had to work later some days to have some time to myself. I felt like my needs didn’t matter.

During the summer of 2016, Lara reached out to me on Facebook. I knew Ellie was checking my friends on Facebook so I never added Lara, instead I started communicating with her in secret. I knew Ellie would insist on meeting her as well. When I met with Lara for lunch for the first time, I felt so good. I finally had somebody I could talk to about my issues with Ellie. Her husband had cancer and she also needed somebody to share with. I felt like she appreciated me. I felt what I hadn’t felt in a long time: good enough and capable. We first met once a month but in 2017 we started meeting once a week.

A friend of Ellie’s saw us and when she found out that we had been meeting in secret, she totally lost it. I understand why Ellie feels betrayed but I don’t know how I could have had my own needs met and also make Ellie feel happy and secure. I am moving out as soon as our house has been sold.    

 

Robert’s former partner Ellie also has a Relationship History:

When Ellie was five, her parents divorced. Her dad left and remarried. Ellie felt unwanted by him and his second wife. Her own mother was depressed and Ellie had to take care of her emotionally.

1999, grade 8, Ben

Ben asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. We hung out a couple of times each week. I felt proud and totally trusted him. Six weeks after he asked me to be his girl, he told me we couldn’t hang out because he had a “family thing”. The same evening, I saw him in town, kissing Anne-Marie, who everybody knew was “easy”. I felt really stupid that I didn’t know that he had lied to me. I felt rejected and betrayed.

2001-2003,  grade 9 & 10, Michael

Michael and I were friends first. He had a lot of problems at home. I was a good listener and I felt he needed me. When he and his family moved away, I was devastated. He had promised to stay in touch but he didn’t. I felt huge sadness which felt very similar to the feeling when my dad left.

 

2005, grade 12, Adam

I was dating Adam for six months. During prom night he got drunk and I felt embarrassed by his behaviour. I was glad that he moved away for university. 

2007-2011, Brian

I met Brian at university. He was a year younger than me. Each time I brought up wanting to get married after university, he said he wasn’t ready. In 2010, he moved into my apartment because we felt we could save money. Things went downhill from there. We had different schedules and he liked to be out late partying. I felt anxious when he was out with his friends. He felt I was asking too many questions and that I was too boring.

2011-2017, Robert

When I first met Robert, I loved that he was older and more serious. He liked that I listened to him and helped him solve some problems. He also seemed to try so hard to make me happy. I felt special. It seemed like a good decision to buy a house together but over time Robert retreated. He stopped sharing with me and talking to me. When I tried to talk to him about problems, he usually got defensive. I felt unimportant, not heard and rejected. Each time he stone-walled, I felt anxious and pushed him even more to be honest about his feelings and needs and to open up. We accumulated many issues that Robert refused to talk about. I felt rejected. When I found out that he had weekly lunch dates with his high school friend Lara and confided in her regarding our problems, my entire world collapsed. I am sure he is in love with her. I feel replaced and betrayed. Robert substituted me just like my dad replaced me with his new children. I broke up with Robert because I cannot trust him again.   

 

When we read those relationship histories carefully we can see unresolved emotions and repeating patterns for both partners, as well as limiting beliefs and habits they have learned. Robert’s unresolved emotions and patterns are feeling not good enough, feeling embarrassed, feeling criticized and feeling trapped. He believes that his needs don’t matter and his habits are to be secretive and to close up with his partner the more he feels controlled. Instead of addressing his needs he tends to move to the next partner who initially seems more understanding, only to find himself in the same cycle after a while.

Ellie’s patterns are to feel not heard, embarrassed, excluded, rejected, unimportant and replaced. She believes that she has to be a good listener and to be needed like her mom needed her. Her habit is to push when her partner retreats and to be controlling due to her fear of being replaced.

Both Robert and Ellie re-created what they most fear. Robert continually experienced feeling trapped, being controlled and feeling not good enough. Ellie repeatedly experienced feeling left out, rejected and replaced. Their issues fit into each other. Their relationship was an opportunity and incentive to resolve those issues and heal their old wounds.

The romantic relationship history is a discovery action. Discovery and completion are not the same. The exercise helped Robert and Ellie to remember all their past relationships in ways they had not looked at them before. They examined each of them for uncompleted emotions and the beliefs learned through the experiences. However, intellectual knowledge is of limited value. At the end of each relationship, we are left with unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations. There are always things which we wish had been different, better, or more. Robert and Ellie need to do some deeper work on completing the relationships, including taking responsibility for their part, forgiving the other people and themselves, clearing out lingering emotions, and completing unfinished communications.

When a relationship ends, it is most of the time impossible to achieve completion in a direct communication with your former partner. Russell Friedman and John W. James, the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute, have developed a very practical program to complete the relationships we have experienced and to clear out our baggage before we move into the next relationship. Contact me for more information on Grief Recovery Work, PSYCH-K®, Shadow Energetics or other “tools” I use to help you to dump your relationship baggage.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Clearing Your Relationship Baggage – PART 1

Listen to PART 1 and 2 of this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Robert’s girlfriend broke up with him. He says, “I should have known this wouldn’t work. She had so many issues. I always felt like I couldn’t do anything right for her. She made me so mad by being controlling. I felt so trapped. I am glad she broke up with me because I haven’t been invested in this relationship for a long time now.”

Statistics report a divorce rate of 50%, and if you include the romantic relationships which end, the estimated number is as high as forty ended relationships for each formal divorce. We all at some point have experienced the end of one or more relationships. Since we don’t learn how to grieve and complete relationships that end, we carry the unresolved emotions forward into the future.

Just like Robert, the perspective we tend to have is that the other person we were in a relationship with had a lot of emotional baggage. The more important question to ask is how much baggage we brought into the relationship.

Usually, when a relationship ends, both partners tend to assign the blame to the ex-partner. This victim mentality makes the completion of prior relationships impossible. The recitation of the painful loss story, especially when accompanied by a diatribe against the former partner, does nothing to encourage the storyteller to do anything different the next time around. We have to remember that we are always 100% responsible for our feelings and for our reactions to what other people say or do. Nobody makes us feel a certain way and nobody makes us act in a certain way either.

When we hold someone else responsible for our feelings, we put ourselves in an emotional jail. That jail is built on the idea that not only do others have the power to make us feel a certain way, but we have to keep feeling this way until they release us. The victim mentality keeps us blind to our part and seemingly removes us from the responsibility of having chosen to be with or stay with that person.

We are also responsible for following—or not following—our intuition. Our intuition is an early warning system. Usually, there is a point in every relationship where we know whether the person we are with is right for us. When we override our intuition, we cause ourselves and others emotional damage by entering into or staying in a relationship that does not work. Every relationship is of course work and compromise is part of that work. So as long as both people are willing to continue doing the work a relationship can function. However, often one or both people have an intuitive sense that the other person is not the right partner and make an excuse for why they should anyways continue with the relationship.

We are at least partially the architect of some of the relationship disasters because we always subconsciously act based on what we have learned growing up. Often people self-sabotage in a relationship out of the fear of getting hurt again. If you don’t get emotionally attached and instead withhold from your partner, you are already setting up the end of the relationship. In order to be really close and intimate, we need to allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable. We need to connect with and bond into our partner and stay closely connected to him or her.

Russell Friedman and John W. James, the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute and authors of “Moving On”, recommend an exercise in three parts, which helps you to discover your part of a relationship you are in or you have been in. Until you identify your part, you will carry your baggage into the next relationship because you can’t do anything different.

  1. Take Responsibility for How You Feel

Examples of not taking responsibility is, “she made me feel not good enough” or “he made me feel unloved”. Nobody makes us feel a certain way, but our partner often has an uncanny ability to trigger our earliest childhood wounds.

For Robert, his partner triggered early childhood feelings of “not being good enough” and of “not being able to do anything right”. She also mirrored his mother who he had experienced as controlling. He felt he had to have secrets like a teenager might who was rebelling against his parent. His need for freedom and alone time wasn’t met and he felt unable to express his needs.

Where in your relationship did you blame your partner for how you feel? Can you take full responsibility for the feeling and communicate to your next partner what your needs are?

 

  1. Where Did You Override Your Intuition?

Robert had an early intuition before he and his girlfriend bought their house together that their different values and goals in life would create many problems. However, he felt it was time to settle down because all of his friends where in committed relationships or married. He also felt it made financial sense to buy a house.

Think back to some of the relationships you have been in and see if you can recall when you intuitively “knew” that someone wasn’t right but you continued on anyways. What ideas did you use to justify going ahead? Be as honest as you can.

 

  1. How Did You Self-Sabotage?

Robert had been hurt in prior relationships and entered this relationship with a heart shield. He was protecting himself from getting hurt again by emotionally giving less this time, by not sharing everything from the start and by sharing less and less during the course of their relationship. His justification was that his girlfriend would just get angry if he told her everything. His belief was that he would not be loved if she really knew him.

Did you protect yourself from getting hurt by not being open and honest in your last relationship? Did you have certain limiting beliefs, for example, “I am not lovable unless I am a certain way”, “If my partner knew who I really was they wouldn’t love me anymore”, “If I share my feelings it backfires”, “My needs are not important so I mustn’t be needy”, “Women/Men can’t be trusted” and so on? These are all subconscious beliefs which hold you back from creating a different relationship next time.

With techniques like PSYCH-K® or Shadow Energetics, you can change these subconscious programs and dump your old relationship baggage to make room for a loving and well functioning relationship.

To read PART 2 of this blog click HERE.

 

To do belief change work and

complete your prior relationships

contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Going With the Flow

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.

Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow.

Let reality be reality.

Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Lao-Tzu

What I especially like about this quote is the reminder to let reality be reality. How often do we ignore the reality we do not like or which nudges us to take action? We resist listening to what presents itself and hold on to the status quo. But what does it mean to go with the flow of things?

“Go with the flow” has become a very popular phrase. It means a state of nonresistance which encourages you to flow with life as if you are flowing on a river. “Go with the flow” is such a simple short and sweet statement. However, there are some pitfalls in this mantra.

Like many “spiritual” principles, the idea contains an apparent contradiction. Because of this, we might interpret the principle as “let life happen without using your will power.” It is quite easy to see “go with a flow” as a call to inactivity, inaction or laziness, waiting for things to fall into your lap, making the choice not to make a choice. When we don’t make a choice, another person makes it for us, or the situation becomes so unbearable that the decision is forced upon us. Inactivity is not what this spiritual principle means.

It is often quite easy to trick the mind into confusing going with the flow with maintaining the status quo of things, because our subconscious mind likes a sense of equilibrium. It prefers experiences that are familiar, pleasant and comfortable. When its sense of equilibrium is threatened, we unconsciously might choose to stay with what is familiar even if a part of us knows it’s not good for us.

That applies each time you are confronted with a situation or a person’s actions that are not acceptable but you are hesitating to take action. An example would be if you are dealing with somebody who is being passive-aggressive: someone is making rude, disrespectful or hurtful comments about you and disguising it as humor. “Oh, I am just kidding. Have a sense of humour!” Your sense of equilibrium may tell you to be silent about it instead of risking a fight. You may feel some physical response, perhaps some tension in the body, in your solar plexus or in your throat chakra, that prevents you from claiming your power and speaking up, speaking your truth.

But your body is actually telling you that you are not really going with the flow but that you are avoiding to unsettle the status quo. If we want to stay happy, healthy and, most importantly, true to ourselves, we need to listen to our intuition. If you listen to your intuition and speak up calmly and assertively to this person, your body gives you the feedback that you are on the right path. Your throat chakra clears up or your solar plexus settles down. You notice a sudden freedom, a greater “flow” and an increased ability to embrace life’s experiences as life unfolds.

You might have thought that going with the flow was about accepting the inappropriate comments or behaviour, just ignoring reality. But after exercising your assertiveness, you realize that acceptance means accepting the experience and letting go of the hurt, but not of the lesson this person has taught you. It is about following the call to action that the comments were inviting. You truly went with the flow. This person’s job was to teach you something about self-respect. You might even want to thank them (or the Universe) for the lesson.

Meditation can help us learn to go with the flow.  It gives us the clarity to see why certain doors or paths have been closed for us. That usually happens when we are not supposed to be in a certain place, be that a particular job or certain relationship, when we are meant to be somewhere different. It shows us new doors to knock on or doors that have already started to open for us. It also helps us understand where our fear of change has tricked us into believing it is best to “keep the peace”, keep the status quo of a situation, even if we sacrifice being authentic and happy. It helps us decide how to move forward, go with the flow to get to where we really want to go, be who we really want to be.

Join me for this meditation below to contemplate where in your life you can go more with the flow. You might also want to check out other free 10-15 minute long meditations.