Do You Trust Me?

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Do you remember the carpet riding scene from the Disney movie “Aladdin”? Jasmine inquires if the magic carpet is safe. Aladdin responds with the question, “Do you trust me?” Jasmine is surprised, and he repeats the question. “Do you trust me?” She looks up at him and firmly replies, “Yes.”

Princess Jasmine has never gone for a ride on a magic carpet, nor does she know Aladdin. Her reaction is based on a gut feeling and Hollywood wants us to believe that trust is this easy and straightforward to achieve. Is that really true? Where and how do we place our trust?

The trust expert Rachel Botsman points out how in the past trust used to flow upwards in our society by us placing trust in the people in power; today it flows sideways through our social networks. Sideways means to our collegues, friends, neighbours and so on, including strangers. In today’s world, we have lost faith in institutions, in bankers and in leaders, whether political, economic or spiritual leaders.

Does this mean we are less trusting than we used to be? Botsman says that the contrary is the case. While we are mistrustful of authorities and institutions, we are meanwhile placing our trust in our peers, including strangers on the Internet, or in technology itself. We are renting our home out to unknown guests through Airbnb, going on blind dates with people we have met on dating sites, are exchanging currency digitally and so on. Our smart phones or apps on those phones ask us on a regular basis for access to almost our entire life, our location, our photos, our microphone, our contacts and so on.

Humans are interdependent and cannot live life without making choices on who to trust. The mistrust towards anybody or anything which has a monopoly of power can be a good thing if it leads to the empowerment of the individual. The question is how the vacuum of not trusting who we used to trust in the past is filled today. Being more aware of the abuse of power, especially where there is a money trail, and for example reading the ingredient labels of food and cosmetics carefully, researching the vaccine your child is about to receive, or being cautious that our politicians are free of any hint of corruption, is certainly keeping us all safer. At the same time, we often seem to be very trusting when it comes to the convenience of technology.

As a relationship coach, I am especially interested in how trust shows up in our one-on-one relationships, especially in our primary love relationship. What components does trust have and how do they affect our relationships?

Trust is usually a process. Trusting means placing our faith or confidence in something unknown. That could be a person, a new idea, a new product and so on. There usually is a gap between what we know and what we don’t know, and we call this gap a risk. If I trust because I feel I can predict or even be certain how the other person is going to behave, that is not really trust. Having trust is the confidence in what we are not certain about. Life can hold some unpredictable magic carpet rides for us.

Trust is about being vulnerable. We cannot be sure of what is going to happen tomorrow, yet we need to approach life with trust. When we get married or start a committed relationship, we cannot ensure that we will still be together twenty years later. All we can do is to decide to do our best and trust our partner to do the same. However, during a relationship, trust is in a constant flow and must be maintained while we interact with each other.

A real issue regarding trust is poor information. From a lack of information, we often make assumptions and end up with unrealistic expectations. Have we had those tough conversations before entering into a relationship? Conversations about common future goals, about common values, about having and raising children, about money, and about other major topics which tend to lead to perpetual problems for many couples? In relationships it is of uttermost importance to have real conversations, in which we are transparent and up front about our expectations. In the euphoria of being in love, most of us skip those conversations that could provide us with necessary information. We might end up in a relationship and realize that there are trust issues due to not having gathered the necessary information.

Botmans feels it is helpful to think of trust in context, and I agree. If you are my friend, you might for example trust me to take care of your child because you believe I am a capable mother, but you might not trust me to fix your computer issue—or cook you a five-course meal—because you know I don’t have the competency to do that. However, perceived competency is only one aspect of trust.

What are the ingredients of trustworthiness? Research has shown that there are four key factors:

  1. Competence (skills, knowledge, experience)

Let’s assume you are my neighbour and you know I used to be an elementary school teacher and that I have raised my own children; those children appear to be well-adjusted and have a good relationship with me. Therefore, you might trust me to look after your child because you feel I am competent as a caregiver. You do, however, not trust me to solve your computer issue because you know I neither have the skills, knowledge nor patience required.

Applied to a love relationship, this might mean that you perhaps trust your partner to drive you somewhere because you know he hasn’t had an accident in 25 years and you believe he is a good calm driver, but you don’t trust him to balance the household budget because he never learned the skill of making ends meet.

 

  1. Reliability (time, responsiveness)

If you call me to ask if I could watch your child but I don’t respond appropriately within a reasonable time frame to your request, you will lose trust in me despite my competence.

If you have asked your partner to pay the bills but he procrastinates and only pays the bills after three more reminders and when they are past due, you also won’t trust his financial competency due to the lack of reliability. Meanwhile, you might experience that you only had to ask him once if he could drive you to a doctor’s appointment. You feel you can rely on him driving you; you trust him in that respect. You don’t trust that he is reliable as far as paying the bills.

  1. Benevolence

We also check how much the other person cares. If you have the impression that I like your child, I have learned their name and at least some details about them and I have indicated in the past that I care about you and your family, your trust in me as your child’s caregiver is also going to be higher.

If you feel your partner cares about money and is trying hard to balance the budget, pay bills or save money, you will trust him more than when you are under the impression that he does not care about money. The same applies to driving you. If you feel he cares about getting you safely to were you need to go, your trust in him as a driver increases.

 

  1. Integrity

More important than any of the other three key components, more important than honesty or authenticity are our intentions. If there is a misalignment regarding our intentions and the other person’s intentions it also feels like the other one is not trustworthy.

If you feel I am watching your child because I am expecting you to vote for me in the next condo board president election in return, you will lose trust in me, independent of my competence, reliability or benevolence.

The same applies to your partnership. If the goal of future safety is high on your list of values and having fun in the moment is lower on your priority list, but your partner’s value system is opposite, you are dealing with a mismatch. Your partner’s intentions of living well in the present clashes with your intention of creating financial safety. That gap in intentions or expectations makes your partner untrustworthy to you in regards to financial matters.

 

Knowing all the ingredients of trustworthiness, we end up with a different level of trust in each relationship. We trust other people more or less in different areas. We all have principal areas in which we want to experience being able to trust.

In a relationship we can increase trust, by working on all four key components: our competence, our reliability, our benevolence and by being clear about our intentions and value systems. Open and honest conversations about values and priorities, combined with the willingness to meet each other’s needs, increase the trust in a relationship.

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!

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Learning Addictive Patterns

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

I was curious to know which topics you might want me to speak about in my next podcasts. My poll on Facebook resulted in different requests. One of your requests was anxiety. Another one was addictions.

The latter one is a much more complex topic. I might need to preface, that I am not an addiction councillor. One way in which I can speak to the topic of addiction is in how far it has touched me personally. Another way is to share my understanding of the origin of addictive behaviour. I grew up with a close family member who was an alcoholic and thus have experienced how destructive and challenging an addiction is for the entire family. I was also at one point in my life in a relationship with a man who had an alcohol problem, until I realized that we cannot help somebody who is not ready to change. I had to make the self-loving choice to get out of that relationship.

I believe it is important not to downplay addiction, no matter how socially acceptable the substance or activity somebody engages with in an addictive way is. I believe that as parents, grandparents and educators we can make a huge difference for the next generation if we understand how addictions begin. Making sure that children do not learn addictive patterns of behaviour is as important as teaching them their ABC’s or math skills. What can we do to address addictions? Let’s explore why addictive energy shows up.

We need to begin with a definition of addiction. Recognizing addiction can be quite intuitive and you might feel that you will recognize an addiction when you see it, but in order to discus the topic we need to come to an agreement as to what qualifies as an addiction. An addiction can be defined as “something to which we have a strong predilection for and have little control over our actions in relation to the desire” (Dr. Alexandra Katehakis). We may find that a lot of our time is spent either engaging in the addictive behaviour itself, or in preparation for the experience of it. Unlike other things which we enjoy a lot, an addiction can have a certain component of secrecy and also shame connected to it. This is especially true when the behaviour we are engaging in is at odds with our own personal value system. Denial might also be part of the addiction.

Most people think of drinking or taking drugs when they hear the term addiction. However, there is a long list of addictive behaviours we engage in. Just a few examples of those behaviours are addictive eating, depending on alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, taking drugs or medications, addiction to sex or pornography, engaging in workaholic behaviour, addictive exercising or working out, gambling, compulsive shopping and overspending, addictive consummation of TV, video games or other electronics, obsessive engagement in social media and much more.

Why do we interact in an addictive way with certain substances or activities? What is going on with these behaviours?

These are all short-term coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from unpleasant emotional states. We have been conditioned to respond to emotional pain, sadness, overwhelm, stress and other uncomfortable emotions by eating, drinking, smoking, or distracting ourselves with any of the other above mentioned activities. Even nervous habits like nail biting, lip biting or twirling hair are subconscious attempts to deal with unpleasant emotions. They have become our pacifiers.

Short-term, these activities might feel like they give us some relief, calm or comfort us, but we have not addressed the real problems by engaging in these behaviours. We have taken our emotions and pushed them down with food, alcohol, drugs and we have distracted ourselves from acknowledging and feeling them.

Every emotion gives us feedback about unmet needs or another situation which needs to be addressed. When we are, for example, experiencing sadness or grief, it’s because we are feeling a loss. We need to process that loss. If we are feeling anxiety or fear, we need to take action steps to explore this and achieve greater safety. If we are feeling that something is unfair, it is a call to “make fair” or forgive and let go. If we are feeling anger, we need to investigate what more vulnerable feelings are underneath anger and need to be addressed.

Instead, we ignore the messenger. We are doing what we have learned as children when we were comforted with a pacifier or with food. Our caregivers didn’t know that the soother to make us stop crying, or the cookie to sweeten the disappointment, or the tub of ice cream for the heartache, or the bag of chips to stuff the anger down would become our automatic go-to and our basis for any addictive behaviour.

When I was teaching elementary school, we had an interesting unit one year, an extension to the regular curriculum, which was proposed by an older colleague of mine. The unit, which we taught in the grade 3 classrooms, was around recognizing unpleasant emotions and developing different action strategies. The idea was for the students to learn that soothing with food, TV or electronic activities only led to the emotions temporarily going away, while seeking human contact and talking to a person of trust was soothing, but also helpful in regards to changing the emotional state or addressing the underlying need that wasn’t met.

Addictive behaviour is often established in early childhood. Human beings need other human beings for regulation. It is the job of the primary caregiver to be present as a secure anchor for the child and as an interactive regulator who soothes, comforts and supports in a gentle and loving manner so that a state of high sympathetic arousal (fight or flight) or parasympathetic responses (freeze response or dissociation) can be turned into feeling safe and secure. What happens instead, due to the fact that parents themselves have not learned to rely on human interaction but to rely on outside stimulants, is that they model addictive behaviour when they are emotionally aroused.

Only 54% of people in our society today have experienced and learned a secure attachment style. Parents can only do the best based on what they know and understand. Children who do not have conscious and emotionally present caregivers inevitably find strategies in order to survive and often carry these energy-relieving patterns into adulthood. The result of these childhood experiences is a dependency on external soothing often combined with distrust that others are willing and capable to meet their needs.

Does or did your toddler have a pacifier? Once they are two and a half or three years old, you will probably be advised that it is time to take this soother away. Be aware that with this common habit they have already made the first experience of an object to go to for comfort. Make sure you let your child make the decision of how and when to give the soother away. I heard a lovely story the other day of a mother explaining to her daughter that she is so big now and doesn’t need the soother anymore but that her younger cousin now needs it. She is allowing the daughter to decide without pressure when it is time to wrap the soother up as a gift and pass it on.

At the same time, the mother of course also needs to offer her presence, and the presence of the grandmother who looks after her daughter a lot, as human alternatives to the soother. When we expect our toddlers to get rid of their pacifiers when they are not securely attached, they will inevitably develop other habits of soothing. They need to learn that they can count on their caregivers. We might not personally be able to be there for them all the time but we can direct them to trustworthy and conscious adults who will support us. That way we can provide that secure anchor for them and teach them how to soothe through human contact rather than addictive substances or activities.

The particular addictive substance somebody is abusing is only the secondary problem. The primary underlying problem is that we learn addictive behaviour. Rather than judging others for their addictive behaviour, let’s take an honest look in the mirror and examine in which ways we also tend to reach for outside stimulants. In which ways are we comforting or distracting ourselves instead of facing challenging emotions and addressing our unmet needs? The best thing we can do to change the problem of addiction is to start with how we handle our own emotions. Let’s throw out our adult pacifiers, so that we can teach the next generation a healthier approach to handling our emotional states. After all, our emotions are like a friend who never lies to us.

 

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!

Angelika
905-286-9466
greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Why Won’t You Apologize?

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Sue is at the stove making dinner. As she turns to tell her children to get ready, she sees six-year-old Adam ripping a Barbie doll’s head off while his four-year-old sister stares at him with fear in her eyes. Adam is watching his sister and seems to take pleasure in her response. Sue is shocked and disgusted. Before she is aware of how she feels and why she was triggered into those feelings, she says to Adam. “You are horrible! That was just mean and malicious! How can you do such an awful thing? Don’t you care about your sister’s feelings at all? You need to apologize to your sister right now!” Adam feels deeply ashamed. He hears that there is something inherently wrong with him.

Twenty years later, Adam and his girlfriend Sarah are having a fight. Her choir had their first performance and he forgot. He stayed late at the office to work overtime and went out for a drink with his colleagues afterwards. His seat in the theatre stayed empty. Sarah is upset. “How could you forget? Don’t you care about my life and my feelings at all? You are horrible!” Adam’s shame is triggered again. He doesn’t say anything. When his girlfriend says, “you should apologize, but clearly you don’t care!” Adam gets defensive. What he doesn’t do is take responsibility for his mistake and apologize.

Apologies are almost impossible when we are stuck in a place of shame. Being able to say, “I am sorry” requires a solid foundation of self-worth. We need to feel that we are fundamentally lovable even if our behaviour in a situation has caused somebody else pain. Adam has learned that he is fundamentally flawed. Criticism and the anger of a loved one trigger self-loathing in him. He feels like he is six years again, being told that he is horrible. Only when we have a solid basis of self-esteem can we take responsibility for a mistake and for the effects our words or actions had on another person.

Sarah is hurt and continues to be upset. Adam feels not good enough and, in an attempt to stop the uncomfortable confrontation, he says, “I am sorry” in an irritated voice. His apology comes with the meta message that Sarah’s feelings are silly and annoying. He adds, “You could have reminded me again yesterday that the performance was tonight” and essentially blames her. A little later in the conversation he says, “I am sorry but you are overreacting. It’s not as if you had a solo performance!” Because of the deep shame he feels, he is unable to validate her feelings and take responsibility for his absence with an authentic and heart-felt apology.

What constitutes an effective and honest apology?

  1. It is never too late to apologize. If we apologize within the first minutes after an event, the repair is easier. As Stan Tatkin points out, when we can repair very quickly, the experience does not pass from short term memory into long term memory. On the other hand, if the repair does not occur quickly, the behaviour is regarded by the injured party as a “trait” and will be encoded in their memory as such.

However, Adam can still apologize when he has calmed down and has taken a moment to put himself in Sarah’s shoes. Going back to the conversation at a later point means a double apology is required; a heart-felt “I am really sorry, I wasn’t at your choir performance as I had promised” followed by, “I am sorry I felt too ashamed to apologize properly right away.”

  1. Apologizing requires listening and understanding. The willingness to sit with Sarah’s disappointment and validate her feelings is required from Adam. “You must have been so disappointed”, “I understand why you felt like I didn’t care”, “I am sorry you felt abandoned” and so on.

  1. Apologizing means taking responsibility for one’s part in a situation. Adam needs to look into Sarah’s eyes and show her through his body language, his tone and his words, that he is sorry for forgetting. An authentic “I know I really screwed up!” or something similar shows that he is not trying to pass the blame.
  2. The word “but” negates an apology. A true apology only focuses on our behaviour, without making excuses. Harriet Lerner in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize” reminds us to keep “but” and “if” out of our apologies. “I am sorry if I offended you” is for example also a non-apology, as it questions the validity of the other person’s feelings.

Just as there is an art to apologizing, there is also an art to receiving an apology. In accepting the apology, there is also no place for a “but” or a lecture. Sarah needs to receive Adam’s heart-felt apology with grace and openness. She needs to simply thank him for apologizing and save any further discussion, for example about Adam having been forgetful lately, for another time.

As parents, grandparents, and educators, who want to raise children who are ready to say sorry, we have to keep in mind that saying less is more. If a child apologizes, we need to accept the apology with a simple thank you instead of following with a whole lecture. We need to give them credit for being mature and responsible enough to offer a true apology. Making statements about the child’s character instead of their behaviour and lecturing them only causes further shame instead of a positive experience. A true heartfelt apology is not just a gift to the person we are apologizing to but it is also a gift to ourselves as it raises our self-worth when we are able to take responsibility and act in integrity. Let’s remember to make apologizing an experience of personal growth and increased self-esteem for the next generation.

 

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!

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

A Sacred and Safe Space for Workshops

The word “sacred” means different things for different people. It is usually something that is regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, or a group of people, or an individual person. In different traditions, there are different places, objects or rituals which are considered “sacred”.

According to the encyclopaedia, “A sacred place is first of all a defined place, a space distinguished from other spaces”. To me it is a space created and upheld through intention and awareness to form an uplifting, safe, peaceful and spiritual area. Our intention to be respectful is key in creating and using a sacred space.

We might want to use certain rituals to honour the sacred space and to shift into a clear intention of what we want to feel and experience in the sacred space. This sacred space can be an area in your house which you set up with intention, perhaps as a meditative corner, possibly with an altar or other meaningful objects. Nature itself can be your sacred space and you might create a ritual around this. One of my best friends finds her daily meditation by going for a walk. This is her sacred and soul-nurturing ritual, her sacred time.

Part of focussing on the sacred is to set aside certain times and spaces as sacred, which means as something basically different than the everyday world we live in. When I offer a workshop, my intention is to provide a sacred and safe space for all the participants. With the upcoming Dream Workshop, I am more than ever focussing on the sacred as I have the immense pleasure to facilitate this class together with my friend Susan Webber, who is a spiritual artist and teacher.

Prior to this workshop, we have visited the space where we will be teaching and have performed a small ritual outside, asking permission from the ancestors to use the space. As a response, four—not just one but four—swarms of geese, which symbolize fertility, unity and intuition, flew over our heads. What a perfect symbol and encouragement for our workshop.

Did you know that geese never leave one of their own behind? Should a goose become injured during the flight to the south, another goose will leave the migrating flock to stay with the injured one. That sense of community is certainly what we would like to create with our workshops. We can have the experience that we are all one and can hold the space for each other during challenges times and experiences, or when we do our healing.

Geese are known as gifted navigators and instinctively know the way to warmer climates. They forge ahead, confident and brave, and thus are a symbol for courage and for trust in their team. Geese have intricate methods of communication. They smoothly take turns to fly at the front of the flock and communicate with each other about when and where to land. They keep each other safe. Taking this workshop is all about tuning into our intuition and listening to our more instinctive parts, like our inner child. It is also about safety in the group, and growing together as a spiritual family, in which healing and growth is possible.

During the workshop, we will use rituals to create a safe and sacred space. Susan will guide us through a smudging ceremony and a story ritual around the camp fire, and I will lead you through meditations. We will make sure that everybody feels safe to speak, explore and share.

Any personal healing work requires a safe space. This applies even more so when doing our dream work. Sharing our dreams with others requires vulnerability and trust. We need a space in which others listen respectfully and lovingly and do not intrude with their interpretations. Everybody allows everybody else to be the expert on their own dreams and the meaning of those dreams.

When you decide to join us for a workshop, you make the decision to set aside sacred time to do soul-nurturing work. You are part of this team of dream explorers, which holds the safe and sacred space for everybody else. Together we can be like the flock of geese, forging ahead to discover new lands.

Sacred space is where you connect with who you are at a soul level, where you find yourself again, and sometimes again and again. Workshop participants often return for further workshops to learn something new, but also to experience and connect in this sacred and heart-opening space once again.

 

Join us—for the first time or again—on Dec. 9/10, 2017 for the Dream Workshop in Lowville (Burlington). For more details click here or contact me

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!

Indigestion – Your Body Speaks Your Mind

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

Our body communicates to us through physical symptoms. Sometimes the message is in the symptom itself, or the effect it has, or the changes we have to make due to it. In previous articles, I have highlighted the meaning of colds and of pain, especially of headaches. Today, I would like to take a closer look at indigestion, stomach issues in particular.

Eating is not just about absorbing nutrition for our physical body. It is also about swallowing and assimilating our experiences. Digestion is about absorbing everything that is happening to us along with our feelings, and eliminating that which we do not want. Our digestive system can be a good mirror of our emotional state. When we feel safe and happy, our digestion tends to be reasonably maintenance free. If we are experiencing conflicts, stress, or emotional turmoil, that often shows up in indigestion.

Indigestion - Louise Hay 1

Often food and love are also connected, or even become interchangeable depending on what beliefs we have learned and how food was used when we grew up. Many of us have been rewarded or soothed with food. Food can become a substitute for love, attention and comfort. We might have learned to use food as a STERB (Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviour) to distract ourselves from uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anger or fear. That unconscious way of using food often increases the indigestion.

Indigestion is without doubt caused by the “wrong” foods, but also just as much by worry and stress. Feelings of “worry” and “fear” are held in our stomach. When we can’t “stomach” what is happening in our life, when the reality is too scary, bitter or sour to digest, or is proving too much to bear, indigestion and heartburn could be the result. According to Deb Shapiro, a helpful question to ask when you are experiencing acid reflux is, “What issues or feelings are you swallowing that are bitter, sour or upsetting?”

Indigestion - Louise Hay 2

For Inna Segal, acid reflux is also a sign of experiencing difficulties in regards to digesting life. Our body is letting us know that we are feeling uncomfortable with what we are seeing, feeling, hearing, and experiencing. We might feel irritated, frustrated and out of control. We are resisting life in some way.

Lise Bourbeau reminds us of letting go and allowing things to unfold instead of worrying or trying to control something. She also notes that the stomach sits in close proximity to our heart. A loving, accepting and peaceful heart has a calming influence on our stomach. On the other hand, thoughts such as “this is not fair”, “this is wrong”, “why do I have to take this”, or “this is not what I wanted” block the flow of energy. The more tolerant we can be and the more we can go with the flow, the easier life is to digest.

Indigestion - Louise Hay 3

Just as Deb Shapiro and Lise Bourbeau provide useful questions to investigate our symptoms of indigestion, Dethlefsen and Dahlke also suggest to listen to our inner feelings and to consciously come to grips with inner conflicts and incoming impressions. We need to ask ourselves what we are unable or unwilling to “swallow”, what we are feeling sour or angry about or what is eating away inside of us. The ability to digest life with ease requires openness and surrender.

Indigestion - Louise Hay 4

Meditation, affirmations and of course subconscious belief changes help to address the symptoms of indigestion. One meditation mantra I suggest is “Let It Be”. If you are interested in investigating your symptoms more, to clear out fears and to change limiting beliefs at a subconscious level, using PSYCH-K®, L.E.E.P.’s (Life Enhancing Energy Processes) or Shadow Energetics, please 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!

Further RESOURCES in regards to the body-mind connection:

  • Lise Bourbeau, Your Body’s Telling You: Love Yourself!
  • Thorwald Dethlefsen & Ruediger Dahlke, The Healing Power of Illness
  • Louise Hay, Heal Your Body
  • Narayan-Singh, Messages From Your Body
  • Inna Segal, The Secret Language of Your Body
  • Deb Shapiro, Your Body Speaks Your Mind

Giving Birth to A New Year

I just had a birthday, one of those that are supposed to be a big deal. I had a truly wonderful get-away with family and some of my closest friends, yet this transition into a new decade of my life did not unfold completely smoothly. This had me contemplating the mix of emotions which can come up prior to a birthday.

I have always felt a certain heaviness and sensitivity around the time of my birthday, and this year even more so. And had you asked me why, I would have told you that I wasn’t quite sure, couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Each year, I wondered if it was the fall and the upcoming winter that felt sad, or the hopes and expectations for the day itself which felt heavy. I knew it had nothing to do with getting older per se. I do believe that with each passing year we become wiser and that each new decade of our life brings new adventures and gifts. Yet, the emotions around this time of year always felt a bit like grief.

alone-depressed-grieving

This year, my wise friend Dhebi DeWitz said something that really resonated with me. She reassured me, that “it is not uncommon with the week or two weeks leading up to a birthday to feel the heaviness of the old birth year ending and the energies die off that go with it. Just ride it through and know that it is a cycle coming to an end. Then things start fresh energetically with the birth of your new year.”

Her words prompted me to start an internet search. I was amazed how many articles I came across on the topic of “birthday blues”, “birthday depression” or “birthday sadness”. I had no idea this was such a wide spread phenomenon. We all know what birthdays are supposed to be like. They are supposed to be joyous occasions, a time of celebration, a time when friends remember friends and families get together. It suddenly dawned on me that just like Christmas, Mother’s Day or other holidays which are overloaded with expectations, birthdays can also be challenging for several different reasons.

  1. As Dhebi pointed out, something old ends and something new begins. We might need to experience some feelings of grief and of letting the old go as we open up to the new year, or even new decade of our life. There is an energetic shift. That energetic shift can be exhilarating, but may also come with apprehension about the unknown. A birthday can be bitter sweet and that is alright.
  2. 2. Unless you are like my uncle—who literally hopes everybody will forget his birthday—we often have a need for this day to be more significant than other days. Some of our essential needs are the need for appreciation, love and celebration. It is natural that we are hoping for the day to be out of the ordinary and to feel significant or special, celebrated and appreciated.

celebration 2

What we have to be aware of, however, is the tendency to measure people’s love for us by how they respond to our birthday. Everybody has a different love language, and while some people are very good at giving gifts or words of affection, others are better at showing their affection through spending quality time with us or by doing something for us (acts of service). It also all depends on how much value others attribute to birthdays in general. It is easy to misinterpret somebody’s action or non-action in regards to our birthday and make it mean something it does not mean at all.

  1. Just like the end of a calendar year and the beginning of a new one, a birthday can also mark a point where we are contemplating our goals and where we are at in life. Suddenly, a certain goal we have not achieved stands out more, or a particular milestone has not been accomplished. When we are struggling with work, relationships or fertility issues, certain birthdays can be a trigger for sadness or depression. We might have hoped to be at a certain point in our career, or to own a house, or to be married / in a long term relationship at a certain age, or we might feel we are running out of time in regards to having children. We are experiencing grief in regards to our dreams, yet, we are expected to be happy on this special day of ours. Whether a birthday is depressing or joyful largely depends on those artificial deadlines we have set for ourselves.

dreams-house-marriage-children

As humans, we are capable of organizing our life into past, present and future. We have a certain life expectancy and particular birthdays can be more emotional because the number represents something to us. At 20 we are not a teen anymore, at 21 we are considered to be even more of an adult, 25 is the completion of a quarter of a century, 30, 40, 50, 60 and so on mark the beginning of a new decade, 50 is half a century, at 65 we are considered senior citizens, perhaps when we turn 76 or 83 or 87, we wonder how much longer we have because one or both of our parents died at that age, and so on.

  1. Another factor that influences how satisfied we are around our birthday is conscious or unconscious childhood memories of happy or unhappy birthdays. Perhaps, we mourn the long-gone magic of a childhood birthday. Or perhaps, we have had disappointing experiences and we have learned limiting beliefs about ourselves, about deserving and about celebrations. That experienced disappointment might literally be stuck in our body and energy field and can easily be triggered again, unless we release the emotion.

boy-crying

  1. We might not be fortunate enough to have someone in our life who organizes a party or other birthday celebration, and there is work and stress involved in planning the event. That stress is magnified when we feel grief about having to plan and prepare ourselves. How much that sadness hits us depends again on our beliefs, our unfulfilled needs and longings and what meaning we attribute to a particular birthday.

If you are experiencing confusing emotions or heaviness around your birthday, know you are not alone and just ride it through, as Dhebi recommended. You are allowed to laugh and cry, to feel happy and sad, to celebrate and mourn, and to embrace the wide range of your emotions fully, no matter what day it is.

I embrace all my emotions

To release stuck emotions, discover more about your needs and how to meet them, or change subconscious beliefs, using PSYCH-K®, Shadow Energetics or L.E.E.P. (Life Enhancing Energy Processes created by Dhebi DeWitz) please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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The Blind Passenger

I had been contemplating this year’s Thanksgiving blog, when I came across this beautiful story by an unknown author on Spiritual-Short-Stories.com. It is perfect the way it is written, so allow me to just share…

The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver, and using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he’d told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg. It had been a year since Susan, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity.

Once a fiercely independent woman, Susan now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless, helpless burden on everyone around her. “How could this have happened to me?” she would plead, her heart knotted with anger. But no matter how much she cried or ranted or prayed, she knew the painful truth: her sight was never going to return. A cloud of depression hung over Susan’s once optimistic spirit. Just getting through each day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion.

 And all she had to cling to was her husband Mark. Mark was an Air Force officer and he loved Susan with all his heart. When she first lost her sight, he watched her sink into despair and was determined to help his wife gain the strength and confidence she needed to become independent again. Mark’s military background had trained him well to deal with sensitive situations, and yet he knew this was the most difficult battle he would ever face. 

bus-city

Finally, Susan felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Mark volunteered to drive her to work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city. At first, this comforted Susan and fulfilled Mark’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. 

Soon, however, Mark realized that this arrangement wasn’t working – it was hectic, and costly. Susan is going to have to start taking the bus again, he admitted to himself. But just the thought of mentioning it to her made him cringe. She was still so fragile, so angry. How would she react? 

Just as Mark predicted, Susan was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. “I’m blind!” she responded bitterly. “How am I supposed to know where I’m going? I feel like you’re abandoning me.” Mark’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. He promised Susan that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened. For two solid weeks, Mark, military uniform and all, accompanied Susan to and from work each day. He taught her how to rely on her other senses especially her hearing, to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment. 

He helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her and save her a seat. He made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus, or drop her briefcase. Each morning they made the journey together, and Mark would take a cab back to his office. Although this routine was even more costly and exhausting than the previous one, Mark knew it was only a matter of time before Susan would be able to ride the bus on her own. He believed in her, in the Susan he used to know before she’d lost her sight, who wasn’t afraid of any challenge and who would never, ever quit. 

Finally, Susan decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. She said goodbye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Each day on her own went perfectly, and Susan had never felt better. She was doing it! She was going to work all by herself! 

Blind-Passenger-silouette

On Friday morning, Susan took the bus as usual. As she was paying for her fare to exit the bus, the driver said, “Boy, I sure envy you.” Susan wasn’t sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live the past year? Curious she asked the driver, “Why do you say that you envy me?” The driver responded, “It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are.” Susan had no idea what the driver was talking about, and asked again, “What do you mean?” 

The driver answered, “You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, and gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky lady.”

Tears of happiness poured down Susan’s cheeks. For although she couldn’t physically see him, she had always felt Mark’s presence. She was lucky, so lucky, for he had given her a gift more powerful than sight, a gift she didn’t need to see to believe – the gift of love that can bring light where there had been darkness.

This touching story has me wondering if we aren’t sometimes all like this blind woman? We feel alone, struggling to go about our life, meanwhile we are watched over, protected and held without being aware of it. We are, in fact, safe and abundant beyond our wildest imagination. There is an abundance of love and support—if we could just see it. What if we opened our hearts and looked around to notice the fullness and abundance in our life with gratitude.

Thanksgiving - Happy Thanksgiving 3

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Angelika,

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I love you! I love you! I love you!

Energy follows attention. What you focus on, is what you get. That universal law applies to our relationships as it applies to anything else.

In the past, there was a theory that it is good to get your negative feelings out. Unfortunately, venting at our partner leaves him or her with bad memories. Over time, our brain responds with apprehension to high energy interactions. In fact, our brain starts to associate our partner with negative situations and with danger instead of with feelings of safety. Our brain goes on alert because we remember the hurt and emotional pain. Instead of triggering endorphins (feel good chemicals), the stress hormone cortisol is triggered. Our main job in our relationship is to be a source of safety for our partner, instead of another source of stress.

Our brain has, as Rick Hansen calls it, “a negativity bias”. We remember negative events more easily than positive ones. For our ancestors that negativity bias was important for survival. Drs. John and Julie Gottman state that five positive exchanges or comments are required to override one negative one. If we hear more critical comments than affirmations or appreciations, we are often left feeling defensive and uneasy with our partner.

Another reason why venting is not beneficial is that whatever you express, you also experience. Whatever you do to others, you do to yourself. When you yell at your partner, it is as if you are yelling at yourself. Your brain reacts to your own negative yelling in the same way your partner reacts. It triggers danger cues and the release of cortisol.

What would happen if we flooded each other with positive emotions and we were able to connect intensity with positive exchanges? Hendrix and Hunt suggest the following couple’s exercise.

3 Minute Exercise That Re-Patterns Our Brain

In preparation for the exercise, make a list of

  1. your partner’s physical characteristics which you like
  2. their personality traits which you admire
  3. some of their recent behaviours you appreciate, and
  4. come up with a global affirmation, e.g. they are terrific, thoughtful, fantastic, amazing, wonderful etc.

positive flooding

One partner sits in a chair and the other one circles him or her and floods the partner with positive adjectives. The first minute is focused on the physical characteristics. The circling partner identifies and appreciates all of the physical features of their partner in a normal tone or volume, e.g. I love your smile. I really like your silky hair. I love your soft hands.

During the second minute, the circling partner focuses on appreciating traits in a more excited tone, while raising the volume of their voice, e.g. I appreciate your warmth. I appreciate your kindness. I appreciate your intelligence.

During the last minute, the circling partner values and affirms behaviours the partner has displayed. This time they are raising their voice even more, e.g. I appreciate that you picked the kids up from school yesterday. I am thankful for your advice in regards to my boss. I am so grateful for you sending Aunt Edna a gift.

At the end, the circling partner comes around and stands in front of the sitting partner. He or she yells, “I can’t believe I am in a relationship with (married to) a person as amazing as you. I love you! I love you! I love you! You are wonderful/amazing/fantastic” etc.

Then both partners stand and give each other a full minute long hug to calm down.

 

The rationales behind this exercise are

  1. This interaction exercises, first, the sympathetic nervous system, and during the hug at the end, the parasympathetic nervous system. It activates the bonding hormone oxitocin.
  2. It creates new safe memories of our partner. Intensity is now connected to positive memories.
  3. It also takes us out of the resentful part of our brain where we have kept a list of the things our partner has done to frustrate or hurt us. It moves us into the part of the brain that wakes us up to how wonderful our partner is. Our perpetual issues or relationship problems have, of course, not disappeared. However, the shift into our prefrontal neo-cortex opens up the option to deal with them in a more civilized and calm manner than our primitive brain is capable of. From that part of our brain, we can be more curious about why our partner is the way they are, instead of being judgmental with each other.

 

If you are hesitant to try this dynamic exercise, consider cutting out negativity and shifting into appreciation with a different ritual. Drs. Gottman for example suggest a weekly “State of the Union Meeting”. The couple sets aside one hour a week to reconnect. The State of the Union meeting begins with giving each other affirmations and appreciations. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt propose to end each day by sharing three things we appreciate about our partner and vice versa. This conscious practice of appreciation requires us to pay attention to what we enjoy about each other.

positive flooding - joy

Re-patterning our brain, as well as other activities of shifting into appreciation, give us the opportunity to revive the love we have for each other. Gratitude and appreciation foster a secure bond and allow us to continually build a sound relationship house.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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How to Stop Telling Lies & How to Stop Inviting Lies

“That’s a nice top you are wearing. Is that new?” inquires my dad. “Oh, no! I’ve had that for weeks”, replies my mom. What she does not say is that the blouse has been hanging in her closet for three weeks and that it is the first time she is wearing it.

I have heard this and similar conversations unfold repeatedly while growing up. Once she got married at the age of 35, my mom was a homemaker; she did not have her own money anymore and she was married to a man who was thrifty. She liked to spend money, he liked to save it. At some point, she learned that his question often was loaded. He had a tendency to respond with “Did you really need another top? Your closet is full!” or he would at least give her “the look”. He literally would bite his lips together, fold his hands, look down and not say anything. It triggered her shame, and she made the choice not to lie directly but to conceal the full truth to avoid these unpleasant feelings.

In order to understand the nature of lying, we have to be aware that it exists on a continuum. At one end of the spectrum is the deliberate lie or the making up of information. Equivocations are also lies. They are more indirect, ambiguous or contradictory statements that do not offer the entire truth. Concealments are next on the continuum. Omitting important or relevant information is lying. And finally, exaggerations or understatements also don’t paint an accurate picture and are, therefore, not the whole truth.

Truth - Oscar Wilde 2

 

Let’s face it, everybody lies. Lies between spouses or relationship partners have on one hand the possibility to nurture, but they also of course have tremendous potential to destroy a relationship.

You might wonder if it is always bad to lie in a relationship. “Loving lies” actually help to solidify the bond and make the couple feel closer. An example would be to say, “That was a great dinner you made for me,” when we perhaps didn’t quite like the food, but we appreciate the effort. Or, “You look very good,” when our partner just got a bad haircut, because we are happy to look past any flaws in physical appearance, since we love them. A loving lie is not destructive, but actually strengthening.

As it is, people have different motivations for lying. Most people lie to avoid something. We might want to avoid conflict or tension in social interactions, or hurt feelings, or to stay out of trouble or conflict. Some lies are for personal gain: to get out of trouble or to enhance an image.

We lie to others, but we also lie to ourselves. There is an amount of self-deception going on in every relationship. For a relationship, it is important to know ourselves and to honestly and congruently express to our partner what we know about ourselves, our feelings and needs.

In their book, “Tell Me No Lies”, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson explore different stages of relationships and how to invite truths rather than lies.

 

Honeymoon Stage

At this point of the “game”, it is, according to Bader and Pearson, normal to focus on the similarities and not pay attention as much to our own wishes and desires. We can slip into lies of omission, exaggeration and understatement, in order to prove our compatibility to each other. Trying to be the same is an important step of aligning and minimizing the ways in which we are different. If I know my partner is neat or loves opera, I might not point out to them that without my cleaning help, I am quite messy, or that I prefer musicals to operas. I might think that I could try harder to be neat, or start to like the opera.

“The dark side of the honeymoon” occurs when couples refuse to acknowledge problems. Conflict avoidant people have the biggest issues. They avoid honest talks for fear of rupture of the relationship. They are seeking security over having their own needs met. Unfortunately, this means giving up parts of themselves that matter. When we always compromise and adapt, it catches up with us over time. We might end up being depressed, or silently angry and resentful.

shame-letters-cropped

“Part of the capacity to tell the truth comes from an ability to handle shame and guilt. Sometimes people keep things to themselves because they know what the truth would do to their partner. This is guilt. Others remain silent because of what they’re going to feel about themselves. This is shame.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 224)

 

Emerging Differences 

When couples evolve well, each partner begins to actively differentiate after the honeymoon period and speak up about things which are important to them and matter to them. They both risk moving into areas of disagreement and they learn how to deal with tension. It takes courage for both partners. Clearly, we need to be brave to tell the truth, and also to listen to our partner telling the truth.

 

The Lie Invitee

We don’t always like to hear the truth and might respond with anger towards our partner. It’s easy to villainize the liar, but has the person who is being lied to help create this dynamic? Bader and Pearson call the other person the “lie invitee”. Have I been a lie invitee in my relationships? You bet I have! When we respond with anger, or go into attack mode, or act like martyrs, we are not helping a conflict avoidant partner to be truthful.

angry-smoke

“Some people are completely unaware of the fact that they’re invoking lies, while others understand what they are doing but feel helpless to do otherwise. On the unconscious end, someone may say, ‘I am only expressing my feelings as a reaction to what my partner is telling me’… Someone more aware may think, I know I overreact to things I don’t want to hear or I know this is a leading question.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 37)

 

How to Hear the Truth and How to Respond

I can only guess what went on in my dad’s head each time my mom spent money, but I am quite sure it was something like this, “Here we go again! She just doesn’t appreciate that I am trying to keep our money together and guarantee our security for old age. She is just so impulsive and wasteful. Why did she need another piece of clothing? I wish I had a wife with the same values when it comes to money. A wife who is thrifty and asks my advice on spending money…”

Don’t make what your partner is telling you personal. It is not about you, but about them. Don’t listen with the goal to confirm a negative view about yourself or your partner. Instead, listen accurately. Listen more than halfway. Listen compassionately and patiently. Ask neutral questions to understand properly.

curious instead of furious)

Bader’s and Pearson’s most important advice is: Be curious instead of furious! You invite the truth by responding, for example, with, “I am glad you are telling me the truth about what happened! I’d rather know what happened than not know it. Now we need to discuss our different values / this situation / what to do about this problem…”

As the person who has to find the courage to be honest, it is helpful to tell your partner when expressing the truth that what you are about to say is not easy for you. Your partner can then be more aware of their response and make sure they listen calmly, say thank you for your honesty, and rationally solve the problem.

One of the biggest acts of self-deception in a relationship is the belief that one is the victim of what is going on but not a contributor. If you have been at the receiving end of lies or half-truths, examine how you might have contributed to this cycle. With that new clarity, you might want to go back to your partner and tell them, “This is what I have been doing that makes it hard for you to be honest with me. Let’s change it together. I would like to create an atmosphere that is conducive to telling the truth. You need the courage to speak up, and I need the courage to listen to what is really going on.”

 

Felony Lies

More extreme lies are what Bader and Pearson call “felony lies”, for example when a partner looks at the other claiming, “No, I am not having an affair! You are crazy for thinking I have an affair” or “No, I don’t have a gambling problem. That’s ridiculous,” when they have an affair or have gambled away the couple’s retirement money. With felony lies, relationships start to disintegrate. The trust is so violated and the honesty so absent that usually these couples end up separating or divorcing.

However, it is possible to heal from felony lies. It requires new honesty. The liar is usually in a big hurry to be done with the situation, and is not sensitive to creating space for their partner to ask a lot of questions, to re-establish what is actually true, and to express some of their feelings about what happened. The process of how people discuss a conversation is very crucial to whether they get over the betrayal or not. A lot of small moments daily over a long period of time are required to regain the trust, instead of trying to rush it and expecting the partner to be over it right away. The absolute foundation of a relationship is not love, it is trust. As Peter Pearson likes to say, “It takes teamwork to make your dream work.”

It takes teamwork

Would you like to make your dream work? You can take a workshop or book individual coaching sessions.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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6 Ways of Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Marriage

A gorgeous young client of mine, who is dear to my heart, got married this weekend. I felt very honoured that she invited us in the small and intimate but truly beautiful celebration. It was such a pleasure to meet her family and friends, and to watch the couple step into this level of commitment. She and the groom, who are both very conscious people, had clearly put a lot of thought into meaningful traditions they wanted to include.

One beautiful custom they incorporated was the wedding sand ceremony. They both took turns pouring different coloured sand into one clear glass, forming a layered effect, expressing the coming together of their two souls into one new family. Then they shook the glass to mix the sand, symbolizing the strength of their relationship. Just as the sand cannot be parted neither can they. They are filled with optimism, love and joy as they are beginning their journey together as a new family.

wedding-sand-ceremony

Prior to this special day of hers, I was searching for some words of wisdom to share with her. I have seen her grow over the last few years, change into a powerful “manifestor” and attract the partner who is perfect for her. I have no doubt that their bond will increase with each passing day and that they will create a full and exciting life together. What advice is there that is actually useful when starting out as a married couple?

North Americans today have higher expectations than they historically ever did. We expect marriage to offer a route to self-discovery and personal growth. Time magazine author Belinda Luscombe, in the special edition on happiness, quotes Lisa Grunwald (who together with her husband Stephen Adler put together “The Marriage Book”), “The promise you make is not just to be faithful and true and to stay married, but to try and bring out the best in each other”. Couples can indeed “achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality, but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy into their partnership” (Eli Finkel).

The ones who know how to go about investing into their relationship would be couples who have been married for decades and have found ways to keep the love going. Karl Pillemer, a Cornell professor, interviewed 700 elderly people and recorded their wisdom in his book “30 Lessons for Loving”. The most important lessons about keeping the spark alive are

  1. Think Small (and Positive)

What keeps the love flame burning are the unexpected kind gestures, successfully long-term married couples say. Make a habit out of doing small, positive things for your partner. In other words, “turning towards” each other as Drs John and Julie Gottman advise, and having an accurate “Love Map” of your partner. That Love Map is a clear guideline to knowing what makes your partner happy or relieves their stress, and doing it often and unexpectedly. According to Pillemer’s interviews, three types of gestures when used frequently have a great impact on the relationship: surprises, chores and compliments. In the words of Gary Chapman, you are speaking these three out of five love languages of “doing services”, “words of affirmation” and potentially “giving gifts”.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 2

 

2. Become Friends

The importance of physical attraction to each other is a given. However, physical and sexual attraction are not enough to keep a relationship going over the long term. We grow older, our physical appearance changes, and friendship must become as much a part of the relationship as romantic love. The interviewed elders were also completely on board with Dr. John Gottman’s research on friendship among couples. Friends know how to have fun together and be good company for each other, no matter how long they have been together. Friends are also open to one another’s interests. The advice that these couples provided was to learn to enjoy your partner’s interests.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 3b

 

3. Expect An Active Sex Life

The elders describe their intimacy being as good or better than when they were younger. They have learned what their partner likes and they felt more secure and more comfortable with each other. The sexual spark changes and deepens, they say. “There is a kind of quietness there that’s quite deep. It’s very fulfilling. You feel a peaceful intimacy that’s in a way really more meaningful than the frenetic thing”, shares one of the men Pillemer talked to.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 4

 

4. Give up Grudges

Sometimes you hear the piece of advice “Don’t go to bed angry”. I have always felt that that was a bit of a cliché which worked for some people but not for others. What is a better and more useful piece of advice is “Don’t Hold Grudges”. When we keep resentment smouldering instead of resolving issues and letting go of the past, our relationship is in trouble. Most things we disagree about are not worth a long-term fight. Let hurts and conflicts truly go. Be quick to apologize and forgive. In fact, make forgiveness of your partner a regular practice.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 5

 

5. Get Help

If the spark feels like it’s dying, get help through counselling. Make a genuine and wholehearted attempt at working on the relationship. Relationships go through difficult periods. We might need to learn more successful communication skills, learn to forgive, or learn how to build a stronger relationship. The elders believe—and I wholeheartedly agree—that counselling or coaching is not just for overcoming a crisis but an important tune-up to keep the spark alive and to create a successful marriage or long-term relationship.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 6

 

6. Other “Secrets”

Some other “trade secrets” for keeping your marriage fresh, vibrant and exciting for a lifetime that the elders shared were: Take care of your physical appearance, travel more, reach out and engage together—for example in volunteer services—as a natural extension of your affection, embrace change, and last but not least, the beautiful advice to treat your relationship as if it was a “life-time date”.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 7

Would you like to make your marriage a “life-time date”? Does your relationship need a tune-up? You can take a workshop or book individual coaching sessions.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach 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!

What Makes a Happy Life?

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

Every year, at the end of the summer, when I have returned from our trip home to visit family, usually combined with a little holiday somewhere else in Europe, I am in a contemplative mood. I wonder what creates the happy and content feeling of the summer and how to keep it going the rest of the year. In previous years, I have written about vacations being a Vacation Away From My Planner Self, about Our Vacation Self and whether Vacations Make Us Happier.

As uncovered in previous years, the link is not a direct link between holiday time and happiness. There is, however, a correlation of happiness and spending time with family or close friends. The level of happiness is not dependent on the fact whether I can afford to go on vacation, but it is dependent on what I do during my time off. Deep nurturing connections, love, laughter, support, and acceptance are all factors in our experience of happiness. Spending time with a loving partner, or having fun with your family members or people who you feel close to, have the effect to increase your happiness.

One of the longest studies on happiness is the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For 75 years, several generations of researchers tracked the lives of 724 men from two very different walks of life. 60 of those 724 men are still alive today. Perhaps a bit gender biased in the original set-up when first started in 1938, the study at a later point included their wives as well. One group of the participants in the study started out as Harvard sophomores who almost all went to serve in WWII after college. The second group consisted of boys from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Boston, young men from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families.

Harvard Study+of+Adult+Development

Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of this study, reports about the findings and lessons on happiness in his excellent TED Talk “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”

The one main lesson that stands out in this 75-year-long study is that happiness is “not about wealth or fame or working harder” (Waldinger). Instead, the one important insight not to miss is that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier” (Waldinger).

Mark Twain - The Good Life 2

 The Harvard researchers have learned three important facts:

  1. Social connections with our family, our friends, and our community are extremely beneficial for us. They keep us physically healthier and allow us to live longer.
  2. It is not enough to have relationships, for example to be married or have family, but the quality of our close relationships matters. High conflict marriages in which we feel lonely and unsupported are detrimental to our health. When we are in a relationship with little affection or with toxic interactions, the stress and loneliness shorten our lives. Living in the midst of good warm relationships, on the other hand, is protective.The Harvard researchers found that they could predict—based on the relationships people were in during their 50ties—how healthy they would be at age 80. The men who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. In addition, most happily married men and women reported that on days when they had most physical pain, their mood still stayed positive. Men and women in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, experienced that their physical pain was magnified by their emotional pain.

couple, old, happy

  1. The study also showed that good relationships do not just protect our physical bodies, but they also protect our brains from decline. There was a clear correlation about being in a securely attached relationship in your 80ties and memory loss. Happily married people experienced that their memories stayed sharper longer. Those people who were in relationships wherein they felt unloved and felt that they couldn’t count on their partner experienced greater memory decline.

This does not mean that we have to always get along well. Relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time to be healthy. Waldinger reports that some couples could bicker day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could count on one another when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll. That is in line with John Gottman‘s research findings. He showed that marriages don’t suffer because of arguments, but that it depends on how a couple argues and what basis the relationship has.

As humans, we like a quick fix, but as Walding points out, “relationships are complicated, messy and hard work” and that this work never ends. I would like to add that relationships are also full of moments which are simple, joyful and easy. However, relationships always require attention and effort.

Harvard Study, old couple

The people in the study who were the happiest in their 80ties were the ones who had “leaned into relationships with family, friends and community”. What does it mean to lean into your relationships?

It starts with making time for family and friends, or doing something new together with a loved one, or reaching out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years. Forgiveness, letting go, healing our own wounds, opening our hearts, reaching out to have difficult conversations, and communicating successfully are all part of building relationships which keep us healthy and happy.

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The Purpose of Our Intimate Relationships

Naomi and Ben are both in their late twenties. They are part of a bigger group of friends. On and off they have crossed the line from platonic friends to friends with benefits. Ben seems to be comfortable with this spontaneous commitment-free arrangement, but Naomi is growing more and more dissatisfied with it. Yet, she feels the need to follow popular relationship advice and pretend to be strong and self-sufficient, appear busy and not interested in a serious commitment. Ben can have his cake and eat it too; he gets the excitement of being together intimately while not truly needing to be vulnerable. Meanwhile, Naomi is trying hard to be mysterious and is not expressing her genuine needs and feelings. She has noticed that Ben is more interested in her when she goes out with other guys. Lately, she has half-heartedly started going steady with Rick. All of a sudden, Ben’s interest is really peeked. He wants Naomi to break up with Rick and go steady with him instead. Naomi feels excited, yet guilty. She is confused by Ben’s change of heart as well as by her own feelings. What is at the bottom of this situation?

Attachment theory designates three main “attachment styles”, as well as combinations of them: securely attached, anxiously attached and avoidant of attachment. Stan Tatkin has named these three styles as being an anchor (secure), being like a wave (anxiously torn between attachment and non-attachment) and being like an island (avoiding attachment and favouring independence).

Attachment theory is based in research with children and their primary care-givers, and considers our evolutionary programming. We have been programmed by evolution to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and become attached to them to increase our chances of survival. Our brain has a mechanism that consists of emotions and behaviours that ensure our safety and protection by staying close to our loved ones.

baby-father-hands-cropped

In the 1940s, parenting experts warned that “coddling” would result in needy and insecure children. Parents were told to let their infants cry themselves to sleep, and train them to eat on a strict schedule. In hospitals, the common practice was to separate mothers and babies at birth and keep the babies behind a glass window in the nursery for the first days of their lives. In the 50s and 60s, attachment theory (Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby) proved that infants who had all their nutritional needs taken care of but lacked an attachment figure failed to develop normally. Their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development was affected.

In fact, attachment is an integral part of human behaviour throughout our entire lifetime. Our learned attachment style is relevant for a variety of relationship situations in adulthood. “We live in a culture that seems to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and especially dependency, while exalting independence. We tend to accept this attitude as truth—to our detriment” (Amir Levine, Attached). The co-dependency movement and other similar approaches portray healthy adult relationship attachment in a way that is similar to the detrimental views held in the 1920s about child rearing. According to these ideas, we should be able to distance ourselves from our partner and look after ourselves. If you are emotionally attached it is looked upon as “too enmeshed” and “co-dependant”.

couple-holding-hands

As much as I agree that we are responsible for our own feelings, we are also in each other’s care in a partnership. Partners can have a huge stress relieving effect on each other. The assumption that we should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is at odds with our biology. “Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood.” (Amir Levine)

If our partner does not know how to reassure us when we are stressed, we are programmed to continue our attempts to achieve closeness and reassurance. That might look like “neediness” or “clinginess”. In reality, we are only as “needy” as our unmet needs!

Needy

There is in fact a phenomenon that is called “dependency paradox” in attachment literature. “The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become” (Amir Levine). The ability to step into the world on our own stems from the knowledge that there is someone we can count on for emotional and physical support. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can step into the unknown, take risks, be creative, and pursue our goals and dreams. As adults, we provide the attachment role for our partner. We are able to provide a secure base for each other if we understand our attachment styles and work on being securely attached to each other.

When we flip between feeling insecure, anxious or even obsessive and feeling elated and passionate in our relationship, we might mistake this for love. However, what is most likely going on is an activated attachment system of somebody who has a non-secure attachment style. Jealousy, fear, and mistrust are not signs of love, but signs that we are in a relationship with an insecure attachment.

When we are in a relationship with somebody who has a secure attachment style, our experience is completely different. Securely attached people are

  • Great at de-escalating a conflict
  • Not threatened by criticism
  • Effective communicators
  • Not game players
  • Comfortable with closeness
  • Quick to forgive
  • Inclined to view emotional intimacy and sex as one
  • Respectful and loving with their partner
  • Confident in their ability to improve the relationship
  • Responsive to their partner’s needs and well-being

In such a secure relationship the true purpose of our intimate relationships becomes clear. The partners provide a sacred space for each other to be able to be who we truly are with all our needs and desires.

relationships_purpose

To get back to our couple from the beginning, Ben has a mostly avoidant attachment style. He sends mixed messages about his feelings, doesn’t like girls who are “too needy” or “too dramatic”, he pulls away when things are getting close, and he wants to keep the relationship light and non-committal. He feels most comfortable being aloof and independent. He only misses Naomi when they are apart, or once he realizes he might lose her to somebody else. Naomi, on the other hand, has a relationship history which has turned her from being secure in her affection for her significant other into somebody who longs for closeness but doesn’t dare to hope for a secure attachment. Their vibration matches. Ben mirrors her expectations and fears.

To get out of this painful pattern, Naomi needs to understand his attachment style and be authentic in regard to her own needs, feelings and dreams. We can all learn more securely attached relationship interactions. That shift begins with an honest relationship with ourselves.

Rumi_Love Barriers 1

 

If you would like to improve the relationship with yourself, your significant other and other loved ones, join

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for the three day Relationship Energetics Training

from Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017

EARLY BIRD ($150 down by Sept. 8) $595 

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