The Nothing Box

Have you ever watched the hilariously funny clip “A Tale of Two Brains” from Mark Gungor’s “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” seminar? His serious intention for the seminar is to improve the married lives of the people attending, even though he presents the relationship information like a stand-up comedy show. His strength lies in using humour and having his audience roar with laughter while he explains male and female differences. Among others he discusses how our brains are different. A man’s brain, he says, has different “boxes” for different topics and they “don’t touch”. A man is able to focus on one “box” at a time. He jokes that women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire in which everything is connected to everything. He continues saying that men have one particular box in their brain that women are unaware of, the “nothing box” and it’s their favourite box.

Have you ever asked your husband or son “What are you thinking?” and the answer was “nothing”? That’s what Gungor is talking about. Women cannot fathom the concept that one could not be thinking anything at a given point in time—unless you are asleep or dead. We tend to think that he just doesn’t want to share or must be hiding something from us. And as humans we might even fill his silences in with negative assumptions. Perhaps we wonder if he is thinking something bad about us or our relationship, or if he is keeping secrets from us. We perceive his response as holding something back because we are comfortable even just sharing fleeting thoughts and feelings, no matter how “silly” they might be. If he wasn’t thinking something negative, he would share, we assume.

When we say, “What are you thinking?” it translates into “I feel disconnected from you. Connect with me by sharing your inner world. I want to know how you are feeling and connect on a heart level.” Men’s reaction to our question might meanwhile be feeling intruded upon, and the response is an exasperated, “Why does she need to know everything?” He might also feel that he has nothing of importance to share. He literally feels that he was thinking of “nothing”.

The female clients that come to see me typically complain that men are emotionally unavailable. They want to feel more connected to their partner. And their natural go-to for connection is words. All they often want is for their feelings to be acknowledged. That translates for us women into being seen and being heard. Men, on the other hand, often complain about feeling smothered, suffocated or intruded upon when women want to talk. Their need to retreat and to work things out internally is perceived by the woman in their life as rejection or as an incapability to be vulnerable and connect. Men want to feel connected, loved and accepted as well, but their ways of connection are often fundamentally different.

When men are stressed out, Gungor jokes that they just want to go to their nothing box. The last thing they want to do is talk about what is stressing them out. He quips that when a woman is stressed she “has to talk about it or her brain will literally explode”. And men feel obligated to fix it but “if you are trying to fix her, she is gonna kill you. She doesn’t want your advice, she doesn’t want your help. She wants you to shut up and listen.”

Michele Weiner-Davis:

“We don’t feel close to our partners

unless we have had a good talk recently”

As women “verbal communication is our lifeline. We don’t feel close to our partners unless we have had a good talk recently” (Michele Weiner-Davis, Getting Through to the Man You Love). And we have a very clear idea what a good talk is. We are not talking about meaningless chatter or small talk. We are also not talking about an exchange of information. “Good conversations are about feelings—deeply personal, soul baring feelings. The more personal, the better.” (M. Weiner-Davis)

I find I crave those intimate conversations and so do my daughters. When my 17-year-old daughter comes back from a sleepover with her girlfriends, she raves with a satisfied smile. “We were up late, talking. It was sooo great. I was glad there were no guys at this party because we really connected…” The only male, she connects with in the same way as with her girlfriends is a gay friend. He “gets it”. He understands that there is no such thing as “too many words”, “too many emotions” or “too much sharing”.

Real connection to us is being vulnerable, trusting each other with our inner world and having the other person listen, understand and affirm our feelings. For us an intimate conversation is an end in itself because it brings us closer to people and therefore makes us feel safer. We are seen and heard, and we belong. Too frequently we assume that men are like us. “From a woman’s perspective, men have two modes. They are either engaging in meaningless chatter or they are actively avoiding conversation, and it’s generally the latter.” (M. Weiner-Davis). We overlook that intimate conversations might feel unsettling to them; all too often they are out of their element.

In the sixties and seventies, research was focused on our behaviour being learned and not biologically determined. We began to expect men to learn communication skills and connect in the way we do. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, the gender differences when it comes to communication stem from a different upbringing. Men learn to use conversations for negotiations and to achieve a position of power or respect. Life is about independence and avoiding weakness and vulnerability.

For women, conversations are negotiations for closeness. They seek and give confirmation and support. Conversations are a protection from being pushed away, a struggle to avoid isolation. The main purpose of communication is to be included, to create closeness through vulnerability. If you want to read more about the male and female genderlect, as Tannen calls it, please read my blog “You Just Don’t Understand”.

Weiner-Davis, in contrast to Tannen, believes that the differences are based on how male and female brains function differently. Is this the result of learned behaviour or a biological difference? That seems to be an “who was first, the chicken or the egg” question. It might be both. Our left hemisphere deals with rational and logical thinking, the right hemisphere with more abstract concepts, communication skills, feelings and emotions. According to Weiner-Davis, males predominantly depend on the left hemisphere and it is harder for them to move between the two hemispheres than it is for women. “That’s because the corpus callosum, the delicate fibres connecting the left side of the brain to the right side, is 40 percent larger in women than men… Therefore verbal activity, comprehension, and other language skills—all right brain functions—simply come more naturally to women.” (Weiner-Davis)

Willard F Harely reminds us in his book “His Needs, Her Needs” that the need for intimate conversation is at the top of most women’s lists, usually within her top five needs. Harley’s mission is to teach couples to understand and meet each others needs more. There is certainly value in understanding each other’s priorities and different values and making real efforts to meet each others needs. Women can learn to meet their mate’s needs more and men can learn to venture into her world of words more. As long as we remember that he might only be a visitor to our world and not take up permanent residence there. Problems arise when we believe that the importance verbal communication has in our life is right and his silences are perceived by us as wrong.

As women, we tend to measure our success in terms of how we are getting along with our loved ones. Are we close to our partner, our children and other family members? Do they feel comfortable sharing with us and do we know how they are feeling? Men often judge themselves by their ability to set and accomplish goals. They realize the importance of dedicating time and energy to accomplishing a career or athletic goal while they tend to expect relationships to run on autopilot.

Usually, partners come to see me because the woman has initiated it. She is hoping he will learn to be a sensitive communicator who wants to connect the way she does. There are of course exceptions to the rule, there are some men who love connecting through words. Yet, many men use different avenues to connect. Harley names the need to engage in recreational activities together as a need that in general seems to be higher on the list of values for men than for women. Men also tend to connect through sex. Of course there are couples where this is reverse. In general, Women often need to feel close to engage in physical intimacy. Men use love making itself to connect. “Guys feel appreciated and cherished when we acknowledge them as sexual beings.” (Weiner-Davis)

We need to take a step towards each other. Neither way of connecting is better than the other. They are just different and if Weiner-Davis is to be believed, a result of different wiring in our brain. We have to stop making it mean something negative that we don’t tend to reach out to each other in the same way.

Here is my appeal to both partners. Men, when women want to have an intimate conversation, this is not about controlling you or intruding on your privacy! Your female partner just feels disconnected, excluded or alone. It makes her feel safe and loved to really talk. Do your best to share your thoughts and feelings and truly listen to hers. You don’t have to have the solution to her problems; in fact, it’s best if you don’t. She wants to feel that the two of you are a team, solving issues together. And most of all, she wants to know that you care about her feelings. That’s when she knows you accept and love all of her.

Women, when your male partner needs some space and doesn’t want to talk, breathe through your feelings of abandonment and anxiety which might come up for you. Remind yourself that he has to go into the “nothing box” in his brain because being in that nothing box relieves his stress. Talking through things might create more confusion and anxiety for him than clarity. Allow him to deal with things his way. He will reach out and share when he is ready. When you stop pursuing him to talk, that’s when he knows you accept and love him the way he is.

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Why We Judge Our Parents

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Do your children seem judgmental of some of the things you do? Or do you feel triggered into judgment and lack of compassion in regards to your own parents?

When I teach the Shadow Energetics Workshop, I give examples for how couples carry each other’s shadow traits, how siblings are often functioning from opposites, and how children trigger our own shadows. When I was teaching day one of the training last weekend, it occurred to me that I don’t highlight as much that children are also triggered by the shadows their parents mirror to them. Our parents reflect to us what we have disowned in ourselves and we do the same for our kids.

Henry Ward Beecher points out that we don’t really know the extent of the love our parents felt for us as children until we have become a mother or father ourselves. I would like to add that we also don’t know what it feels like to be judged by our children until it happens to us. The experience of walking in the parental shoes gives us a different perspective on our own parents and their struggles. Being the parent means that we are mirroring shadow traits for our teenage or young adult children as well. It is uncomfortable to be at the receiving end of those projections but we need to keep in mind that this is not about us, as much as it feels that way, but it is about what our children have learned to disown; and we may even have taught them to disown that particular trait or energy.

When it comes to technology or other modern day problems that need solving, I am quick to throw my hands up in the air, going into helplessness. My daughters will help, but lately there has been some impatience from their side. They pride themselves on being independent and able to problem solve well. At their age, they have disowned their own neediness for outside support a bit. It appears to them as a quality that is not desirable, a shadow they have renounced.

Ironically, raising my daughters, I always affirmed their independence and encouraged them to put their mind to problem solving because my own mother mirrored helplessness to me. Independence is a very useful quality. At the same time, we are naturally interdependent as human beings.

Helping others with an open heart and gracefully accepting help from them in return connects us on a heart-to-heart level and fosters greater compassion and understanding for one another. What would society look like if everybody just took care of themselves without extending a helping hand? No energy is “bad” or “wrong”. Being able to ask for help is as useful and beneficial as being independent.

As a parent, it is my job not to take the response of the younger generation personally and to keep mirroring this shadow to them until they are ready to embrace it. We need to learn from each other in this situation. Their independence encourages me to problem solve more myself before turning to somebody for help. At the same time, they also need to be connected with that energy of “neediness”. As humans, we are all needy for emotional support and practical help from each other.

According to author James Gilliland, who has written about the seven essence mirrors, the fifth mirror reflects our parents to us: “It is often said we marry our father or mother. We often also become them, acting out the same healthy and unhealthy patterns we learned as a child.”

I used to see my mother as overly fearful and helpless, especially when something unforeseen occurred, and I also judged her for what I perceived from the outside as “settling” for a situation she was not happy with. Once my sister and I had grown up, she was clearly bored. I used to question why she didn’t find something new, something that was challenging and fulfilling.

Today, I certainly have more fears than I had when I was twenty. My daughters’ courage sometimes leaves me breathless. When the older one travels all over the world by herself or the younger one charges forward without fear of rejection, I have to remind myself that they are safe and to trust them to be okay. In some ways, I have become my mother. The horizon of the next generation is always a bit broader; it is a different world.

I also notice that the lure of what is familiar is strong. Starting something new can require a lot of positive self-talk and belief changes. It has a scary element to it. I did not have that empathy when I was younger. I lacked the understanding that what my mother was mirroring to me was what I had disowned within myself.

Sometimes we realize that we have become somewhat like our parents, other times we wake up to the fact that we are married to our father or mother. In an older blog, I wrote about Benjamin who grew up with a stepfather who was a raging alcoholic. Ben learned that anger is nothing but destructive and that he is weak and helpless when confronted with it. Before Ben realizes it, he is married to Grete, a partner who in that one important way is a replica of his stepfather. She didn’t appear to be angry when they first married, but their interactions bring this energy to the surface. When she is frustrated, she hides her vulnerability behind anger and she yells. Ben, however, has learned to be afraid of anger and aggression. When somebody only slightly raises their voice, not to mention starts yelling, his reptilian brain instantly goes into the fight, flight or freeze response. The more Ben freezes and avoids her instead of communicating what is going on for him, the more disconnected and invisible Grete feels and the louder she becomes, desperately trying to get through to him. They are caught in a cycle of frustration. Ben feels unsafe and unloved just as he felt during childhood. He judges Grete for being too angry. Grete feels invisible and unimportant, which is her childhood experience. She perceives his stone-walling as a danger cue and, if you so like, a counter-attack.

Ben shuts down because he feels controlled and powerless just as he did when he was growing up. As a child, he felt terrified of his stepfather’s anger. By the time he was a teenager, this fear had turned into stubborn resistance. Ben perfected the non-response, a completely still-face and quiet defiance of the man he hated. Grete mirrors his stepfather to him and he cannot help himself; he flips either into the helpless little boy or the stubborn teenager. In that quiet defiance and non-response lies Ben’s power. He is unaware how this dynamic perpetuates the problems they have. Even though Grete seems to be the stronger one on the surface, underneath the tip of the anger iceberg is always a more vulnerable experience.

Anger lives in Ben’s shadow and because it is an energy he is disconnected from and fears, he is bound to attract it into his life through other people, like his wife, until he integrates this shadow quality. Grete judges Ben for being weak and passive. The only way out for Ben and Grete is to embrace the opposite energy more. Ben needs to get in touch with his own anger and stand up calmly and assertively. That will allow Grete to be in her female energy more, be softer and gentler, allowing him to be more masculine and strong. By taking steps towards each other, they are both becoming more whole and are able to communicate and interact more productively.

Are you stuck in a parent-child interaction with your partner? In which ways do other people mirror your mother or father to you? And in which ways are you mirroring a disowned part for one of your children?

If you want to  work on your own triggers and shadows to live more conscious relationships contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

How Relationships Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

I remember how I looked with complete lack of compassion at my mother when I was a young adult in my twenties. I couldn’t understand why she felt to hopeless, helpless and unhappy because I was young and had my entire life still in front of me. In her generation, there wasn’t much to accomplish anymore once your children were grown up. All a woman without a career had to look forward to was the arrival of her grandchildren. And when her first grandchild came, her oldest daughter (me) even lived far away in a different country on a different continent. Looking back now, I realize how once she was over 60, she desperately tried to find meaning as a homemaker with grown-up kids, even though she didn’t take any pride in any of the housewifely activities. She was the happiest when she could go out, connect with people and exercise.

When interacting with her, she usually seemed needy and clingy to me because I wasn’t in touch with my own neediness. I judged her for self-medicating with alcohol and over-exercising because I didn’t understand how we all use STERBS (Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviours) to distract ourselves from our pain. She had depression and anxiety, even though it wasn’t called anxiety back then. I just perceived her as ridiculously worried about things and unnecessarily afraid. My dad, a typical male of his generation, was overidentified with the rational mind and ridiculed her emotions and fears. And my sister and I kept her at arms length when she started getting too anxious. She had nobody to turn to who made her feel a bit safer, a bit more loved. Not until many years later when I was an adult myself with two daughters did that understanding and compassion for how hard it must have been to be her slowly set in.

Today depression and anxiety have become an epidemic. Some experts, for example the Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, suggest depression and anxiety need to be managed by interventions at the level of thought; other experts suggest there is a problem with our emotions. I believe we need to address both, our thoughts and the underlying beliefs as well as our emotions. The changes we make and the techniques we can learn need to consider both. But how do our relationships play into our thoughts and emotions?

From an attachment standpoint, part of the reason for anxiety and depression is a lack of connection. We are mammals who need to bond and connect with others in their lives. My mom was reaching out to a husband who did not know what to do with emotions and to two daughters who didn’t know that she was mirroring certain traits for us that we had disowned inside ourselves. The relationships in our life either help us to manage the depression and anxiety or they trigger it even further.

Partners who are not securely attached to one another, are typically highly anxious and/or depressed. We relive our childhood fears and experiences with our partner. Our partner is a proxy for all the other relationships we have ever had, going all the way back to our first attachment figures, our mother and father.

When we want to address depression and anxiety, we need to grow resources within ourselves, but relationships themselves can also become a resource and a safe heaven to find release. According to attachment theorist John Bowlby, people who feel depressed are experiencing an inner narrative about feeling lonely and not seeing themselves as important to other people. Sue Johnson points out that in our primary relationship, this plays out as the experience of not being seen, not mattering and not being needed. The emotions triggered are those of feeling unlovable and unworthy, of not being good enough in relation to other people.

So from the view of an attachment theory based clinician like Sue Johnson or Stan Tatkin, the cure for depression and anxiety lies in healing the loss of connection that was experienced in earlier relationships, which is being mirrored in our present relationships. Tatkin points out the effectiveness of face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact between partners. That connection through the eyes is stimulating and can upregulate the partner who feels depressed or anxious. It also focuses the depressed person outwards, instead of in their own head. It is like an outside meditation, keeping the focus on the present moment instead of the painful past or the worries about the future that are playing out in a depressed or anxious mind.

The importance of the eye-to-eye connection has been studied on mothers and infants. The more the mother makes contact face to face, giving the baby reassuring facial cues and being attentive, the more secure and happy the baby feels. The still face experiments with babies (for example conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick) on the other hand have shown that a still face in the mother and a lack of connection through visual and auditory responses create a response of fear and anxiety in the child.

The same still applies to adults. We are social mammals. There is a tremendous power when two people allow themselves to be truly present in and dedicated to a relationship. All our past relationships come out through the present-day love relationship to be completed and healed. Initially, the anxiety and depression might be intensified in the interactions, but partners can learn how to help co-regulate each other’s emotional states. According to Tatkin, the partner can become the best antidepressant and anxiolytic.

Tatkin points out the importance of “landing together at night and launching together in the morning”. Ideally, we start the day with our partner and we end it again in the evening by sharing about the day and connecting. He states that co-sleeping creates an important connection, even though that requires that issues like intense snoring, sleep apnea and restless-leg syndrome are being treated successfully.

In order to hold each other and down-regulate together, it is useful to have a tool to rate and communicate the emotion(s) that come up. Jayson Gaddis’ NESTR ritual would be one such tool. The N stands for the Number of activation. 1 is not triggered at all and 10 would be extremely activated, for example feeling high anxiety. The E is to pinpoint the Emotion that we are experiencing. The S calls to find the sensation in the body which comes with this emotion. And T is for becoming aware of the Thoughts or the inner narrative that goes hand in hand with the emotion. R is a reminder for Resources that the individual can connect with to either regulate themselves or regulate together with the partner.

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet on how to love someone with depression and how to love someone with anxiety. There are of course many different degrees of depression and anxiety disorder, and differing responses are required. Often both issues come hand in hand. The numbness of depression can be a protective mechanism so that we do not need to feel more frightening emotions.

A few things you can do for your partner or another person close to you to deal with mild anxiety or mild depression are to truly listen, acknowledge, empathize and normalize. Your partner needs to know that you care and that what they are experiencing is understandable and normal. Do your best to be patient. Fears may be illogical but they are still very real to the person. Encourage your partner and lift them up. Tell them why they matter to you. Whatever you say or do, keep in mind that your only goal is to make them feel safer and more loved. Arguing about right or wrong makes no sense when fears are involved.

When your partner finds the courage to express an emotion, validate it with your words, your tone of voice and with simple actions. You can ask if they want a hug or if they want to be held. If something you do makes them feel anxious, adapt. If you are, for example, triggering an anxious response in your partner because you drive faster than they do, respond by saying, “I am sorry, honey” and slow down. This is not about you and if you are a good driver, this is about an irrational fear that your partner is experiencing. You can either choose to get defensive and be right or you can be a partner they feel safe with.

Or if your partner has a hard time getting out of bed and finding meaning in life, don’t judge or ridicule, don’t preach about how good their life is or become a fixer or pusher. Gently encourage. Small steps of doing something different are huge leaps forward when dealing with depression. Imagine your partner just had surgery. You wouldn’t push them to leave the hospital and be fully recovered the day after. Just slowly walking down the hallway on your arm would be a huge accomplishment for them. It is the same when recovering from depression. Small changes every day are progress. Provide companionship as your partner establishes healthy habits and rituals of movement.

For both anxiety as well as depression, be present and be in your heart. If you feel judgment like I used to feel for my mother, it’s because your own shadows are triggered and that is where the work needs to be done.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other, so you can be a relief to each other when anxiety or depression show up.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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!