Can I Come in with My New Girlfriend?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

A long-term client of mine, a smart and warm man, who I have coached through different personal and professional challenges and previous relationship struggles, just came in with his new girlfriend of one month. I was thrilled—and so was his girlfriend. There is a man who is aware of the importance of working on himself and on a relationship from the very start. Both, he and his partner, have had—like all of us above a certain age—previous experiences of how we can get hurt in relationships. They both recognize the importance of getting to know each other well and of navigating potential pitfalls with awareness.

Most of my clients come in when there is a crisis and when they have already been struggling for a while. What if we didn’t wait until the path we are travelling on has so many potholes that our relationship car is in acute danger of breaking down on this road, but if we committed from the start to doing regular maintenance?

Different religious affiliations offer premarital counselling or marriage classes prior to making the commitment. Some of those sessions might be more helpful than others but the intention is to get to know each other better. Counselling offered by a church might not be a consideration for all couples, depending on one’s spirituality or lack there of.

Premarital coaching, or simply relationship coaching from the start of a relationship, is an alternative, independent of your religious affiliation. It helps both partners to learn to communicate about challenging topics and to learn to hold each other in those vulnerable moments we all experience. Coaching allows us to become aware of patterns and to release them. Relationship sessions enhance any relationship and help us to be able to be our best self in our long-term relationship or marriage.

You might wonder what there can possibly be at the beginning of the relationship, when we are in the honeymoon stage and everything looks rosy and hopeful. There actually are a lot of topics to explore.

What kind of questions might we ask in a relationship coaching session at the start of a relationship?

  1. Let’s talk about values. What are my top values in life, what are my partner’s?
  2. Let’s become aware of our subconscious. What beliefs and fears have I learned based on my family history and my past relationship history?
  3. Let’s talk about expressing affection. What is my primary love language, what my partner’s?

  1. How do I tend to handle conflict, and how about my partner?
  2. Do I know what my emotional triggers are and can I share them with my partner?
  3. Let’s talk about mutual support. What emotional support do we both hope to get from each other? What practical or financial support?
  4. What does it mean to each of us to commit to a relationship?
  5. What did our own parents model for us concerning love and a long-term relationship or marriage?
  6. What attracted me to my partner and who do I believe my partner will help me to be?
  7. Let’s talk about goals. What personal and professional goals do we both hope to achieve and how do we see the partner’s role in that?
  8. How are we planning to create a life-work balance?
  9. What is a comfortable balance for spending time with my partner and with other people?
  10. Let’s talk about needs. What are my top ten needs, what are my partner’s? How comfortable am I expressing my needs?
  11. Who will take on what responsibilities at home?
  12. Let’s talk about money. How do we feel about differences in financial income, joint accounts, debt, keeping a budget, having spending money, paying bills, completing income tax, financially supporting parents or previous children, and so on.
  13. Let’s talk about our families and the in-laws. What boundaries with regard to family interactions do we both need? How do we show up as a team with third parties?
  14. Let’s talk about future or current common children and/or step-children and about parenting. Where do we have overlapping ideas where do we differ? How are we going to handle differences?
  15. Let’s talk about intimacy and sex. Do we need to learn to talk about this sensitive topic? What are our hopes and expectations?
  16. Let’s talk about spirituality. What are our beliefs and practices? Where are there differences and can we be tolerant of each other’s differences?
  17. Let’s talk about monogamy and affairs. How do we both feel about one of us slipping up? Can we both commit to talking to our partner when we experience an attraction to somebody else, in order to strengthen the bond between us and to avoid sliding across the line with an outsider? Can we also commit to not talking to a person who is not a “friend of the marriage”, about our relationship problems because this builds a bond outside of our relationship? (For more information and to learn more about what this means, check out my blog series “Affairs”.)

 

Contact me for individual coaching sessions,

couples’ sessions or workshops.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog or listening to my podcast. 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!

 

Courageous Love

TALK DESCRIPTION:

Every message we get growing up has conditioned us to believe that finding “the One” will be the answer to our inner pain, our loneliness, sadness, fears or insecurities. The truth is that our partner can no more relieve our sense of unloveability and unworthiness than food, alcohol, drugs or other addictive activities we engage in to distract ourselves from our emotional pain, can.

The missing piece we have not been taught is how to parent ourselves in a way that allows us to take care of our own inner vulnerability and to show up as our best self with our partner.

When both partners do the inner work, couples replace their distant, controlling, or needy way of relating to each other with what Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, calls “courageous love”.

How do we love courageously? How do we become accepting of everything we are and all our partner is?

Click the link below to listen to my 15 minute long Costa Rica talk

“Courageous Love”.

This talk is available on the PDA or on YouTube

 

WHAT IS THE PDA?

The PDA is the largest personal development content app among i-phone and android apps. A growing number of experts and transformational leaders are currently joining this app platform. You can watch their videos, read their articles, receive free offers and engage with them in many different ways.
I am honoured to be one of the coaches offering you lots of interesting content in video, audio and written form beyond this website. And the best thing is this app is 100% FREE!

 

Contact me for individual coaching sessions,

couples’ sessions or workshops.

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!

 

Relationships Are Like Bicycles

“We’ve started taking each other for granted”, says my client ruefully. “We used to talk for hours, now we turn the TV on, fall asleep on the sofa and go to bed when we wake up. I used to shave even on the weekends, bring my wife flowers and look forward to the next weekend get-away with her. Now I wear sweatpants when we are alone, and we go on vacation with friends or family to avoid being bored with each other. What happened to us?”

Is this client alone with his experience? Far from it. Relationships are living, growing entities that change. Relationships want to be not just created but taken care of along the way. In fact, relationships are like bicycles in more than one way.

When you have a shiny new bike, the model you have longed for before you were able to buy it—or a shiny new car for those of you who are not bike lovers—you treat it with great care and attention. You make sure the tires are always full of air, it is clean and dry and doesn’t start to rust, you might buy new accessories for it, which make riding the bike more enjoyable, and you always lock it up securely when you leave it somewhere. Over time, the bike becomes older, less important, you get used to having it. And when spring arrives and you remember that it is sitting in the back of the garage, you realize that it has collected dust, has lost the air in the tires and the water bottle holder has broken off. It requires attention and maintenance. Part of you wants a new bike, but you do not throw this beloved old one out unless it is absolutely beyond repair.

Relationships are also like tandem bikes because when you fall off, you get back on. You don’t let your partner pedal alone for the rest of the ride, sulking how hard this riding a bike thing is, and you don’t leave the bike by the roadside for somebody else to find. You might vocally make your displeasure heard, but you grab the darn thing by the handle bars and you hop back on, to realize round the next corner that you do still enjoy the wind blowing in your face and the trees whizzing.  You gratefully ride into the sunset together, balancing along on this bike which you had so many adventures with already.

Is it time to pay more attention to your marriage or primary relationship again? Don’t just make New Year’s resolutions but follow through and book a session now.

NEW YEARS SPECIAL

Between December 15 and January 15 get 15% off your first couples’ session.

Contact me for individual coaching sessions or couples’ sessions.

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!

“Only Over My Dead Body” – Hiding Parts of Us in Relationships

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

David was always interested in motorcycles. But when he and Lisa met during university, he didn’t have the money to buy a bike. Lisa lost her cousin in a motorcycle accident and felt very strongly that riding a motor bike meant taking an unnecessary risk. When David and Lisa fell in love with each other, they were fascinated by their differences in personality and character. Within the first year of their marriage, their daughter arrived, and two years later, their twins followed. David put the wish for a bike aside, especially because he knew how Lisa would feel about him riding one. She told him he would only ride a bike “over my dead body”. So David exiled the part in him that was dreaming about riding across Canada on a bike.

David also used to love watching action and science fiction movies, but Lisa did not like any kind of violence. He slowly began to exile the part in him that found enjoyment in these movies. Lisa preferred to go to the theatre, art shows and other cultural events. David felt out of place in those settings. At first, he went with her because he simply loved to spend time with her, but then he became more and more reluctant. Lisa asked him less and less to go to these activities. They stayed home more. Instead of finding a friend to join her, she began to exile her culture loving part for David.

Lisa was always interested in meditations, Reiki and in crystals. When David met Lisa, her apartment was full of crystals, she went to a weekly Reiki share and meditated every day. She considered learning how to use crystals for healing and how to read tarot cards. She easily connected with others and made new friends quickly. As much as David was originally fascinated by her intuitive and spiritual nature and by her ability to connect with others, it over time began to scare him; he felt left out and threatened. He would either get clingy and retreat when Lisa met with her spiritual friends, or cynical and offensive. When that cynical part took David over, he called her friends “airheaded dreamers” who were into “new age nonsense”. Lisa stopped going to the Reiki shares and when her kids arrived, she even stopped meditating. The crystals were banished to a corner in the basement, and she gave up on her dream to be a healer. She exiled the part of her which thrived on intuitive and spiritual endeavours.

Lisa also loved animals, but David was bitten by a dog when he was young and did not want pets. Lisa gave in and exiled her pet loving part for David. After all, David had given up his interest in bikes for her. Each time she met somebody on the street walking a St Bernard, her favourite kind of dog, she longingly stopped to pat the dog, wishing she could get one for her kids and for herself.

Ten years after they originally met, David and Lisa appreciate each other as parents but they have an almost non-existing life beyond their children. Both are carrying resentment because they feel they had to hide away some parts of themselves. David’s brother just bought himself a bike and took part of the summer off to ride from coast to coast. David is feeling a dissatisfaction in his life and annoyance towards Lisa but can’t quite put his finger on the reason for it, until he realizes the connection. There is a part in him that feels trapped and angry. And if he does not address this, the part might take over in a destructive way. Lately, he has found himself very attracted to a female colleague who embodies freedom and danger for him by the way she lives her life.

Lisa has also been feeling depressed. The other day, she bumped into a spiritually minded girlfriend who she had lost touch with. When her friend Valerie told her how she has opened an alternative healing centre with a group of people, Lisa realized how much her spiritual part has been starving. She accepted her friends invitation to check out the centre but did not tell David about it, weary of how he will feel about this.

David and Lisa have done what we often naturally do in relationships. We all have many different parts. Some parts are given space in our relationships, others don’t get any room for expression. Some of our parts we already had to hide away and exile when we were young because we were told that they were bad or wrong. Or we experienced that we were hurt when showing one of those more vulnerable parts. Those hidden childhood wounds affect our relationships subconsciously in a variety of ways. Shadow Energetics works on embracing these dark or light shadows which other people mirror back to us. IFS (Internal Family Systems) Therapy also works towards more wholeness by connecting, unburdening and reintegrating these younger exiled parts.

Beyond our original exiles, we often also disown parts of us when we are in a relationship, in order to make our partner and ourselves feel safer. Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, calls these parts neo-exiles. These are parts of us that are exiled because they are seen as threatening to the relationship.

When they met, Lisa and David were drawn to each other by the longing we all have to be loved and feel safe. Lisa liked how strong David was and how he could fix anything around the house or solve any practical problems. She liked that he was, as she says “a typical guy”. He was confident, had a strong male energy and seemed to be in control of things. The younger child parts inside of her felt looked after and safe.

David loved Lisa’s free spirit and passion. She was more outgoing than he was and had such a loving open way with people. He felt truly seen and loved by her ability to accept others. His younger parts were drawn to her emotional intelligence and fascinated by her joy for life and for people. He felt emotionally taken care of and accepted.

Over time, the qualities that attracted Lisa and David to each other became a threat to their relationship, due to their own vulnerable child parts which feared being unlovable and abandoned. They unconsciously chose to exile parts of themselves, out of fear of losing the relationship.

In order to reassure our partner and our own vulnerable parts, we might—similar to Lisa and David—exile certain parts of ourselves and expect our partner to do the same. “Unlike the parts you exiled when young, however, these neo-exiles once had a great deal of power. They aren’t used to being excluded, and they continue to have loud voices in your inner family despite their loss of influence. If, because of how you interact with your partner, there continues to be no room in your life for them, they can sabotage the relationship.” (Schwartz, You Are The One, 100)

Both Lisa and David noticed that they felt restricted in their expression of their passions and resentful about having to give up parts of themselves. They needed to become aware of the dynamics and the fears underneath.

The fear of not being lovable if we show our true self is at the core of the creation of neo-exiles. “There are many different versions of this neo-exiling dance, all fueled by one or both partners’ abandonment anxiety.” (Schwartz, You Are The One, 103)

The next step for Lisa and David is to work out ways in which these parts can be reintegrated into their relationship. What is a solution for David to live the part in him that loves the freedom of riding a bike and the excitement of action movies? What compromises can they find for Lisa to not have to exile her culture loving part, her spiritual energy and her dog loving part? Different techniques like IFS Inspired Coaching, Belief Changes through PSYCH-K® or Shadow Energetics, Emotional Releases or other coaching tools allow Lisa and David to create space for all parts of them.

Here is a JOURNAL EXERCISE if you are wondering about neo-exiles in your own relationship:

  1. What parts of yourself have you exiled / disowned in your relationship(s)?
  2. How much have your own fears led your partner—or other people you are in a relationship with—to exile parts of themselves?

 

If you are curious about finding out more about IFS inspired coaching and about working with your exiled parts contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

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!

Experiencing Shame: Women vs Men

“Will you stop guilt tripping me?!” exclaims Peter. His wife Linda, sitting across from him, stops with surprise on her face. “I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I am just trying to get through to you. I want to see changes…” Her voice trails off. Peter has shut down. His body language indicates that what he is actually feeling right now is not guilt but shame.

Even though Peter feels that Linda is trying to control him by making him feel guilty, the emotion that is actually triggered for him is shame. Guilt and shame are related, yet they have different directions and are dissimilar emotions. We experience guilt when we feel that we have done something bad, we have made a mistake or not the strongest choice in a certain situation. We are able to apologize and let the other person know we will make a different choice next time. The focus is on the behaviour and we are separate from our behaviour. Shame is way more debilitating. It is the experience of being bad, of feeling that there is something profoundly or deeply wrong with who we are. Shame is directed at the person themselves. What is most devastating about this emotion is that we believe we deserve our shame. Shame corrodes the parts in us that believe that we can do better.

Shame is highly correlated with depression, rage, suicide, addictions, and eating disorders. Guilt, on the other hand, is inversely related to these experiences because the more we are able to separate ourselves from our actions, behaviours or choices, the less we are pulled into self-loathing or the feeling of worthlessness which leads to depression and addictions. We are able to see that we did something that was not in line with our values but we do not experience being fundamentally bad.

Most of us grew up with being shamed by our care-givers. As parents, we need to make clear distinctions between who our child is and what they did. A sentence like “You are a bad girl/bad boy” instead of “you are a good girl/boy but you didn’t make a good choice”, teaches us to feel ashamed. We carry this shame into our adult life and it gets triggered by similar situations and events.

In my last article, we explored the Inner Critic voice more and talked about how to cultivate an Inner Champion that helps us to not get caught up in shame and instead to feel good enough. The more shame we carry inside, the easier it is for our Inner Critic to make us feel flawed and lacking.

Brené Brown has researched how men and women experience shame differently and that there are gender specific shame issues. If we want to help our partner to not be activated into experiencing shame, we need to understand more about this emotion and how it affects us all.

Most of us, like Peter, are unaware that we are even experiencing shame. We will substitute the word shame with guilt. It is part of our culture that it is shaming in itself to admit to feeling shame. The assumption is if I am acknowledging shame, or like Brené Brown says “claiming shame”, it means I am somebody who should be ashamed. The same can apply to fear or anger. There is a stigma to feeling these emotions, so we are not even able to recognize them correctly. Anger can often cover up fear or shame.

Brené Brown points out that shame is the birthplace of perfectionism and anger. She says, “in my experience, men have two switches when it comes to shame: pissed off and shut down.” Peter in our example shuts down and has shut down many times before in his interactions with his wife. Linda is unaware of how she triggers shame for him and is unable to help him out of that experience of shame.

It starts with recognizing and acknowledging the emotion of shame. “If we don’t claim shame, it claims us” (Brené Brown). It corrodes all our relationships and we might give up on them because we can just not stand the feeling of not being good enough anymore. When we claim this emotion as what it really is, we can work with those younger parts in us which we have exiled because they were shamed by somebody in the past. Working through shame gives us the gift to live a life without playing small. It’s the opportunity to step into who we truly are, and to build the respectful loving relationships we really want.

According to Brené Brown’s research, shame is different for women and men. The women she interviewed told her that shame is “being rejected, not being able to do it all and most of all shame is people seeing you are struggling or failing”. Linda feels most ashamed when she feels she didn’t manage to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect daughter and perfect career woman. Peter can trigger her shame when he shares with their common friends or his mother that Linda had a fight with her own mother or yelled at their daughter. She feels deeply ashamed when what she says is “private” is revealed without her consent. These are the areas she feels vulnerable and exposed in and Peter has a hard time understanding that being exposed and seen as flawed triggers the experience of shame for his wife.

One woman in Brené Browns studies said, “You work hard to keep up appearance and shame is when the mask is being pulled off and the unlikable parts of you are seen. It feels unbearable to be seen.” Shame for women is often also being an outsider and not belonging. Not getting “a seat at the table with the pretty popular girls”.

The shame experience that comes up for a lot for women is when others see that we are not holding it all together. Life for women is often about making sure no one ever sees how hard you are working to hold it all together. Not only is it shaming to not be able to keep all the balls in the air, but it’s shaming when people see us struggle.

Shame is also connected to what we as women believe to be feminine qualities. According to Jim Mihalik’s Research from Boston College, that is “being thin, nice, modest, and using all our resources in the pursuit of looking better”. So there is shame attached to not having the perfect body or not looking perfect at all times. Being caught in our pajamas or not having the perfect slim and trim body that the media have brain washed us into believing we need to have. PSYCH-K® or the belief change technique from Shadow Energetics can help reprogram our gender stereotypical subconscious beliefs.

For men, shame is “failure, at work, on the football field, in marriage, in bed, with money, with your family, with your children, it doesn’t matter.” Shame is being wrong as opposed to doing something wrong. Shame is a sense of being defective. Shame occurs when people think you are soft or afraid. Shame for men is connected to being perceived as weak. And shame is being criticized or being ridiculed. Peter feels when Linda criticizes him that he is defective and a failure as a husband, a father and as the provider of the family.

How can Linda and Peter get out of this dynamic of triggering each others shame and either of them shutting down, or getting angry in response?

As a first step, they both need to learn to become aware when shame is being triggered for either of them and have empathy for each other. Present day interactions bring up our conscious and subconscious childhood memories. With IFS (Internal Family Systems), Linda and Peter can rescue and unburden the inner children which have experienced shame in the past. As they heal these parts in themselves with self-compassion and empathy, shame loses its power over them. As they both work individually on their own childhood experiences related to shame, they are activated less and less into this emotion. They are able to communicate differently and problem solve better without this incapacitating emotion taking over.

Let me finish with another quote by Brené Brown:

“Show me a woman who can sit with a man in vulnerability

and really hold space for him,

I show you a woman who has really done her work.

If you show me a man who can be with a woman in struggle,

who is in pain, and he can just hear her and validate her,

without trying to fix it or make it better,

I show you a man who has done his work.”

 

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts in general or the emotion of shame specifically, contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

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!

 

 

You Are My Valued Tor-Mentor

In my last article called “Relationship Dance” we met Sue and John, who were caught up in a dynamic of one of them retreating and the other one pursuing. There are other patterns we fall into as a couple.

Karen and Frank came in because they agreed that Frank’s anger and jealousy was destroying their relationship. Their dance was that, whenever he was stressed and upset, she tried to rationalize with him. She wanted to show him that there was no reason to feel stressed. However, the more she rationalized, the more he felt judged and not heard, and the angrier he usually became.

A similar dynamic was going on in regards to Frank feeling jealous of Karen’s relationship with her two adult sons from her first marriage. Karen was dismissive of his insecurities and told him that her sons would always be more important than he was. The more jealous and angry he became, the more Karen wanted to avoid him and not even come home but rather stay the night at one of her sons’ homes when she visited them.

Both partners show up in this dance taken over by their protective parts. Frank’s protectors are jealousy and anger. Karen’s protectors are the rational part, a dismissive part and a part that wants her to hide or run.

We have learned to exile our sensitive and vulnerable child parts. Those parts in us are often love-starved and carry limiting beliefs about relationships. We enter intimate partnerships and hope to get the love those exiles crave from our partner. Because our vulnerable child parts are clingy, needy or feel inadequate, our partner often ends up feeling overburdened or not good enough. Due to the fact that we are disconnected from our own vulnerable inner children, we end up judging each other for having exiled parts and protective behaviours.

Internal Family Systems work, or short IFS, offers a solution to this seemingly impossible cycle. We all have a source of love within us referred to as “Self”. This is our compassionate core essence. From Self, we can retrieve our exiled wounded child parts and become the primary caretaker for them. When we take good care of our own parts and they trust us, they don’t have to take over. The exiled children don’t have to desperately bond into our partner. Our protective parts, like the controlling one, or the angry one, or the retreating one, can also relax, instead of dominating the interactions. That makes it easier for our partner to be the secondary caretaker of our vulnerable inner children.

In our sessions, Karen was able to witness how the angry and jealous protectors were revealing some very vulnerable younger parts inside of Frank. When Frank was 5, his dad died, and when he was 8, his mother surprisingly remarried while Frank was staying at his grandparents. When he came home, everything had changed. The little boy experienced a tremendous amount of grief over first losing his dad and then losing the close connection with his mother. He never grew to like the step-father, who he felt was an intruder. When his mom remarried, he felt betrayed and abandoned. He had learned that the people he loves will leave him and betray him.

Using IFS, he was able to re-parent himself and assist his younger selves to let go of the beliefs and emotions they were carrying. After releasing these burdens, his protectors were able to relax. His jealousy as well as his anger were greatly reduced. Karen gained more empathy for him and helped him to work through any remaining jealousy issues. She made sure that she included him in talks and activities with her sons and their families. She started reassuring Frank on a regular basis with words of affirmation that his feelings were as important as her sons’ and that she had no intention of abandoning him.

Karen did her own parts work to discover that underneath her rational part was a younger self that felt overburdened by taking care of her bi-polar mother. Just as Frank’s protectors were triggered by Karen, Karen was triggered by Frank reacting “irrationally” and “unpredictably” just like her mother. The rational voice had become her survival strategy to cope with being the emotional caretaker of a parent. At the same time, she felt resentment about needing to be the caretaker and transferred that to Frank. The retreating protector of hers would also kick in and would instruct her “to run away”, just like she did when she was 16 and moved in with her uncle and aunt.

Karen reparented her vulnerable younger exiled parts as well. Frank began to understand how Karen’s responses had nothing to do with him but everything to do with her childhood experiences. He learned to calmly let her know in different situations that he appreciated her being rational but that he needed her to non-judgmentally acknowledge his feelings.

Our relationships are without doubt our greatest teachers. When our partner pushes our buttons, we are given an opportunity to heal. Schwartz talks about our partner being our “tor-mentor”. Our partner mentors us by giving us an experience of pain and bringing the old attachment wounds to the surface.

“…our partner can be an invaluable tor-mentor—that is, a person who mentors us by tormenting us. It is very difficult to find all our basement children when we’re not in an intimate relationship because often we only become aware of them when they are triggered by an intimate partner. Inevitably, our partner will act like an early caretaker who hurt us, and we will have an extreme reaction—and attachment re-injury. If we follow the trail of emotion to its inner source, we will find yet another exile in need of our love.” (Richard Schwartz, You Are the One You Have Been Waiting For)

 

Join me on Sunday, August 12 for a workshop in Mississauga from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. You will learn how to work with your parts, especially the critical inner voices and transform them, how to parent your inner child parts and heal them, and how to acquire the ability to lead more and more from Self. For more information or to register, please call me.

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

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!

Relationship Dance

Sue and John have come for help with their marriage. In their first session Sue seems desperate and eager to figure out what is going on with them. John has come along but he appears distant and disconnected. As the session unfolds, a not uncommon dynamic becomes apparent: One partner is the one who pursues closeness, the other one distances him or herself.

Sue tries to reach John frantically through her words, her emotions and her body language. One moment, she reaches out to him lovingly and patiently, the next she hurls some strong emotion at him. Nothing seems to penetrate his stoic and unemotional stance. Neither touch, nor loving words, nor angry ones, nor tears, make a difference.

Sue and John are in a vicious cycle that Terry Real calls “stance, stance, dance”. Her stance is to reach out for love and attention, his stance is to resist and retreat, and thus their familiar dance unfolds. The more she asks for closeness and emotional connection, the more alienated he feels. The more he senses her longing for connection, the more he feels “broken” because he is not able to provide the intimacy she seems to need. The more he feels inadequate, the more distant and closed off he becomes. As he retreats further, Sue interprets this as a rejection. She thinks, “there must be something wrong with me that he does not reassure me with loving words”. She tries even more desperately to get through to him. One moment she is loving, the next moment she gets angry or pushes him away. Nothing has an effect.

Reading my description you might feel for either Sue or John, and you might feel inclined to judge the other one as either “too needy” or “too cold”. While both are deep down longing for a secure loving relationship, they clearly have different ways of showing up in relationships. They might draw the conclusion that their partner is just not the right one for them, but a similar dance would most likely occur again with another partner. We have just often not been taught how to get out of our patterns and how to create that secure relationship we all want.

In the 1950s, Psychoanalyst John Bowlby brought our attention to the fact that our early experiences with our caretakers have a profound influence on our relationships. Mary Ainsworth tested Bowlby’s theory in the laboratory with mothers and infants and she distinguished four basic attachment styles.

  1. Babies who had mothers who were consistently and tenderly responsive to their baby’s needs were able to quickly soothe themselves when separated because they were securely attached. They had learned through the consistent loving parent that life was safe and that they were cared for.
  2. Infants of mothers who were consistently cold, rejecting, rigid or even neglectful, developed an avoidant attachment style. They showed little emotion and seemed to be indifferent to being separated from their mother. They had learned that it is best not to need or rely on anybody else. Stan Tatkin calls this group of people islands and speaks of people having “island tendencies”.
  3. Another group of mothers were inconsistent. They were sometimes appropriately nurturing and connected according to the child’s state of mind, at other times not. These children tended to clutch to their mother when they were together, and became inconsolable when they were separated. Stan Takin’s name for this ambivalent attachment style is waves. When we have experienced that our primary attachment figure is unpredictable and inconsistent, we crave their reassurance but learn to be unsure of being able to get it. Like a wave at the shore we might reach out to our partner and then retreat, reach out again and then retreat.
  4. The final group of children were victims of abuse or highly neglectful and unpredictable parenting. They showed a disorganized attachment style, and when separated from their mothers their trauma manifested as moving in circles, rocking back and forth or going into a frozen state.

The estimates are that only about 50%-56% of children have experienced a secure attachment style. That leaves every second one of us with an attachment style or at least attachment tendencies which can create issues in personal interactions. With these acquired attachments styles, we have also learned specific subconscious beliefs about ourselves, other people and the world. We might for example have learned that we are a burden, not important or lovable. Or that other people can’t be relied on and that the world in general is not a safe place for us. We all have certain attachment injuries. Some traumas are less intense than others but they all affect our relationships, especially our close love relationships.

Maybe you have guessed that John is an island and Sue is a wave. The more she comes crashing onto the shore of the island he has retreated onto, the higher his protective walls become. His history holds the answers to why he avoids attachment. John’s mother died when he was five years old, and he learned to get attention by being the brave stoic little soldier, independent and not needing any help or emotional support. His grandmother, who raised him, was controlling and rigid. That made him even more determined to be independent and play his cards close to his chest.

Sue, on the other hand, grew up with an older mother who was inconsistent. One moment she was overprotective and fearful, the next she was distracted and absent-minded. Sue remembers being very shy as a child and not wanting to part from her mother when it was time to go to school. She got most attention from her mother when she was helpless and needed something. She also had an emotionally distant father whose attention she tried in vain to get.

When our intimate partner does or says something that is similar to what our primary caretaker did, we experience what Richard C. Schwartz calls an “attachment re-injury”. We experience the same betrayal, fear, abandonment or humiliation, and the old limiting beliefs about ourselves, other people and the world seem to be confirmed. When John retreats, Sue experiences the same insecurity she went through as a child. When Sue wants to connect, John feels intruded upon just as he felt as a boy, and fears that his independence is threatened. By learning to communicate better, to resolve conflicts or make compromises, a couple might make some progress, but we are missing the mark because the attachment injuries are not unearthed.

The first step necessary to shift out of a specific relationship dance is conscious awareness of the pattern or patterns and the underlying attachment styles. When we bring attention to what a pattern is, it already slows down the habit loop. The awareness begins to disconnect some of the circuitry of the brain that makes the habit so powerful.

For Sue, the awareness is that she feels abandoned, disconnected, alone and unloved when John retreats. She starts to feel desperate and reaches out. What she wants is to feel safe and loved. For John, the awareness is that he feels intruded upon, smothered and inadequate. His protection is to close down. What he wants is autonomy and to feel good enough. If they connect to their needs and motivations for their individual stance, they are already creating space for something different. Without further interventions, they might still repeat the behaviour but it already weakens the pattern because they are now aware of their underlying motivations.

Becoming aware of the pattern and motivations also shifts our focus from “my partner is the problem” or “something must be wrong with my needs” to ”the pattern is the problem”. Sue and John can both shift into thinking, “how does he/she feel vulnerable in this dance?” Sue can realize that John is scared about being too close and feels inadequate. John can become aware that Sue’s intention is not to encroach on his independence, but that it is about her vulnerable feelings of abandonment. The second step, for both of them, is to work on the original attachment injury.

If you want to know how IFS (Internal Family Systems) offers a way to heal our attachment injuries and childhood traumas, please read my upcoming blog article called “You Are My Valued Tor-Mentor”, which will be posted in a few days.

If you don’t want to miss the article you can subscribe to email notifications. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. I greatly appreciate your time and your support!

I offer sessions for individuals and couples and you can contact me for a free phone consultation.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

A Missing Piece in Couples Therapy

I am—despite that odd question arising after my last blog—not in the business of uncoupling people. I am more than ever invested in how I can guide couples to have a deeper committed long-term relationship in which both can feel safe. I have more recently discovered what the missing piece is in regards to being able to show up as the loving and compassionate Self with the other person. The answer lies in a particular practice which I will elaborate on more later in this article. But let’s first of all look at what is commonly done in therapy or coaching sessions and what the value of those approaches is.

Couples therapists like Stan Tatkin and Sue Johnson, who are based in attachment theory, empathize how important it is to create a secure attachment in our partnership. Stan Tatkin focuses among others on knowing each other’s threat signals and creating a “couple bubble” in which both partners feel safe with each other. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, says, “When EFT is successfully implemented, each partner becomes a source of security, protection, and contact comfort for the other. Each partner can assist the other in regulating negative affect and constructing a positive and potent sense of self.” (Susan M. Johnson: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy).

For both of them, the answer to feeling safe, less anxious and less depressed lies in the connection between the partners. The goal is for each partner to learn how to show up as the unconditionally loving attachment figure for the other spouse. Your partner is your primary go to and the one who provides the safety for your childhood wounds to be healed. Their premise is that you need somebody outside of yourself to heal the past. If your partner is really struggling to be that person because their own defenses are triggered in the relationship this journey can be frustrating. Unless one partner already has a secure attachment style, the process of creating this attachment requires some time and commitment to working this out together.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, whose research-based insights and techniques I use in my sessions with clients, also have a wonderful set of tools to truly empathize, perfect communication between the partners, compromise successfully, and to avoid the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which predict the end of a relationship.

Other couples therapists, like Willard Harley, focus on women’s and men’s needs being different and on making deposits into each others love bank, which is the emotional account we all have. I acknowledge the importance of our needs by teaching my clients the non-violent communication steps developed by Marshall Rosenberg to express our feelings and needs successfully.

All these are fabulous tools and techniques that can make a big difference in our closest relationships. When couples are willing to not just learn but also practice these techniques, their relationship improves. Besides making the commitment to put the time in to practice relating differently to each other, couples must learn how to handle situations when one or both partners get triggered into states of high emotional activation, into what is called fight or flight. When this happens, destructive patterns of interaction are activated and amends and repairs need to be made. Often the spouses feel discouraged by that setback. And that is were Richard C. Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems Therapy, known in short as IFS, comes in as a missing piece.

IFS helps couples replace their distant, controlling, or needy way of relating to each other by what Schwartz calls “courageous love”. This courageous love is accepting of everything we are and all our partner is. Within each of us is a group or “family” of sub-personalities, which Schwartz calls “parts”. Just like in a family, these parts have intricate relationships with each other. Some of the more known parts are the Inner Critic and the Inner Child, but we have many parts which, according to Hal and Sidra Stone and their system of voice dialogue, are either primary personality parts or disowned personality parts. IFS, in comparison, focuses mainly on two kinds of parts. One type is the “protectors”, which have the function to keep us safe; some of them are responsible for us going into fight or flight mode. There are also the “exiles”, which usually are younger wounded child parts.

Every message we get growing up from our family, our friends and the media, has conditioned us to believe that finding our soul mate, the One, will be the answer to our inner pain, our loneliness, sadness, fears or insecurities. The myth is that a special someone will come and love us unconditionally and heal all our childhood wounds. “We’ve been told that the love we need is a buried treasure hidden in the heart of a special intimate partner. Once we find that partner, the love we crave should flow elixir-like, filling our empty spaces and healing our pain” (Schwartz: You Are The One You Have Been Waiting For”)

The truth is that our partner can no more relieve our sense of unloveability and unworthiness than the short term energy relieving behaviours (STERBS) we use to distract ourselves from our pain. The external focus on other people or on STERBS, like food, alcohol, drugs and so on as well as addictive activities, can only provide temporary relief. In fact, this very assumption that our partner is our rescuer is the reason why so many relationships struggle and fail.

“From watching movies or TV, listening to songs on the radio, you’ll be convinced that everyone, sooner or later, will find their one, true, happily-ever-after relationship. The person who will heal you, complete you, and keep you afloat is out there. If the person you’re with isn’t doing that, either he or she is the wrong person altogether or you need to change him or her into the right one” (Schwartz).

We subconsciously pick a partner who matches the template of our original care-taker who has wounded us by making us feel “less than” or unworthy. And we set out with the unconscious agenda to relive the past but this time around change this person’s mind about our worthiness to heal that original wound. The problem is that our partner acts so much like our caretaker that he or she triggers our protectors. When the euphoria of the honeymoon period is over, and the love naturally changes, we get scared and, as Schwartz puts it, set to work on one of three projects.

The first “project” is to get our partner to change into that loving rescuer that we are hoping he or she will be for us. “We plead, criticize, demand, negotiate, seduce, withhold, and shame” (Schwartz). Naturally, most partners resist these attempts to change them and become defensive. They feel unloved and not accepted.

The second project that we embark on is to figure out what our partner doesn’t like about us and then strive to become what we think he or she wants us to be. In this case, the criticism and shame is directed at ourselves. We are no closer to true love and acceptance than when we are trying to change the other person.

The final project kicks in when we give up on getting the love we crave from our partner. We begin to close our heart to him or her and we do one of three things. We either search for a different partner, we numb down enough to stay with our original partner, or we fool ourselves into thinking that we need to live alone because we believe our true needs for love can never be met in an intimate relationship.

Women engage more in the first two change projects mentioned above, while men tend to more quickly retreat into the third behaviour. Shutting down externally often seems like the safest choice for men, especially when they experience strong inner angry protectors. Men often fear what they might do if they let that rage take over.

Women tend to define themselves through relationships and are socialized to take care of their inner child parts through relationships. When those exiled child parts are upset, they usually want to change things in their relationship so that the distressed inner child can get the love and comfort from their partner in order to feel safe and secure. Hence, women are more often the initiators of change-oriented discussions.

We tend to assume that women are more connected to their emotions and we jump to the conclusion that they should be better at parenting their own inner children. However, women focus so much on taking care of others and on getting their inner child’s needs met by their relationship, that they are no better at nurturing their own parts than men.

Schwartz talks about a cruel joke that is being played on all of us. “We’ve all been setup—victims of a cruel joke. First we are loaded with emotional burdens by our family and peers, and then taught to exile the parts carrying them. Then we are told to go out in the world and find that special person who can make us finally like ourselves. Together we and our partner enter the striving, frenetic whirlpool American lifestyle that preludes time together, isolates us from community, depletes and stresses us out, and offers innumerable addictive distractions that further isolate us. When we can’t make this impossible situation work, we feel like total failures—as though something is wrong with us.” (Schwartz) Meanwhile, we never had a fair chance due to the baggage many of us have and the pressure of modern life, but most of all due to the complete ignorance on how to deal with our inner turmoil, other than expecting our partner to miraculously make it go away.

The missing piece you have not been taught is how to parent yourself in a way that allows you to take care of our own inner wounds and to show up as your best self with your partner. You can stop searching outside of yourself because you are the special person your vulnerable inner child parts have been waiting for. Once you realize and embrace that insight fully, your partner will be released from the pressure to have to be the perfect unconditionally loving parent for your younger selves. IFS is essentially attachment theory taken inside.

In your partner’s place, your Aware Self will become the primary caretaker of your inner child parts so that your partner can be a secondary caretaker. Instead of your power parts, for example your Inner Pusher or Inner Perfectionist or Inner Pleaser, to just name a few, parenting your vulnerable inner children in their limited way, your true Self can give those parts what they so desperately need. Those protective parts are parentified inner children. They have taken on the job to protect you and thus parent the vulnerable child parts but are often quite burdened by it.

IFS is a psycho-spiritual model of therapy in which all human beings are perceived as healthy and whole. The Self is the spiritual aspect of this therapy. It is a myth that we have to learn or build compassion. Our true self is naturally accepting, loving and compassionate. All humans have this inner wisdom and healing energy. The Self is the healing entity. It is meant to be the natural leader of the inner system of parts. The Self is eternal, knows all and is not affected by any trauma. It connects us to others and to all living things. It is presence, heart-openness and conscious awareness. The Self is characterized by the eight C’s of self-leadership that Schwartz names. The Self is compassionate, calm, curious, connected, confident, courageous, creative and possesses clarity.

When you take care of all your parts from that Self, you can also show up from that calm, connected and compassionate stance with your partner. The way you relate to your own parts is mirrored in the way you are able to relate to your partner’s part. If you for example have a relationship with your own fearful part, you can be compassionate with your partner’s scared part.

When our power parts, for example anger, control, defensiveness, judgement, righteousness or even our distant rational self are triggered, we are usually blended with them or have a feeling of being taken over by them. Interactions with our partner from a place of anger, judgement, righteousness, defensiveness or control are clearly not productive but are greatly damaging for the relationship. Instead of our power parts taking us over in a given moment, we ideally want to be able to speak for the parts rather than being immersed by them and speaking from those powerful parts.

We also want to be able to speak for our vulnerable inner child and their needs rather than having the child take us over. When that child takes over and jumps into the driver’s seat, we might show up as overly scared, helpless, or moody. Our partner is left wondering what to do with this child-like behaviour and finds himself or herself in an involuntary parenting role.

The myth of us having a monolithic personality, which translates into being only one mind, is according to Schwartz one of the greatest causes of distance and conflict in our intimate relationships. That awareness of our parts, our natural multiplicity, on the other hand, is the greatest antidote. Instead of believing our partner is this angry or controlling person, or they are this distant judgmental person that shows up at times, we can relax into the awareness that this is just a part of them and that it serves the function of protection. When both partners are totally flooded by their protector parts, the knowledge that this isn’t a permanent condition but that the protectors on both sides will relax and the two Selves will emerge is extremely eye opening and comforting. We can then both work with our own parts to get back into Self and then repair and reconnect with our partner from a loving and compassionate place.

Not only does the knowledge of the multiplicity help us navigate through storms, but it can also deepen the intimacy and love. We all have fears that once we have exposed our parts that cause difficulties, we will forever be seen by the other person as having character flaws. If both partners understand that those are just parts of each of them, parts that simply need empathy and acceptance, it is easier to respond to each other lovingly. As we learn to love and accept all our own inner parts, we also learn to love and accept all parts in our partner.

“There is something magical about trusting that all of you is welcomed in a relationship. It’s as if you are a single parent who feels ashamed of how ugly, stupid, or frail some of your children are” (Schwartz). When this process of welcoming all parts of oneself and of ones partner is mutual, it provides such a secure couples connection that the protectors can relax more and more and both partner’s younger parts know it is safe to come out.

Join me on Sunday, June 24 for an “Intro to Your Parts and to Your Self” workshop from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. This workshop is based in Jay Earley’s parts work. For more information please call or email.

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.

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 Do I Ask My Partner to Attend a Coaching Session with Me?

Do you feel that your long-term relationship could benefit from couples coaching but you are concerned that your partner is not open to the idea of seeing a coach? I am often asked, “how do I get my partner to come with me to do couples work”?

In my workshops and one-on-one sessions, I teach individuals and couples how to express their feelings and needs using the non-violent communication model by Marshall Rosenberg. The four step process ends with making a request—not a demand—to have your need met.

Couple’s therapist Ellyn Bader also has an interesting perspective on expressing needs to our partner. She points out that a lot depends on the wording we use. To translate that into NVC wording, we can express our need for something, but the request has to be a true request, not “I want you to”, not “I need you to”, and certainly not “You need to”.

Bader feels that saying “I need you to go to couples coaching with me”, will most likely result in your partner feeling he or she has no choice. They might feel cornered, resistant and get defensive, as there is no room to move. Fears or shame can be triggered for them around seeing a coach or sharing your private conflicts and challenges. They might not even feel they can express their feelings when approached this way. The more autocratic we show up when we express a need, the less likely it is that our partner will want to be open and cooperative.

Here is a better way of approaching the topic. “I really want to go to coaching. I hope you will join me. Here is why I want to go: I realize when you and I get into conflict I don’t handle it the best way possible. I want to learn to understand you better so we can create a better relationship. I want to become a better version of myself and connect at a deeper level with you.”

Notice that all of these are I-statements. You avoid blame or finger pointing. You simply take responsibility for yourself and the change you want to make. You give your partner a free choice to change or stay the same. Ellyn Bader even advises not to use the word “need” at all. Approaching your partner from a softer place allows them to give generously from an open heart and to express their own concerns or hesitations.

It can also help if you highlight the personal gain for your partner when going to couples coaching. You probably have specific topics you want to work on. Let your partner know that you are willing to also work on what they want to change in your partnership. For example, you want your partner to acknowledge your feelings more, and your partner wants to improve your sex life. Knowing they have a potential gain by agreeing to sessions gives them a motivation to come other than the fact that you want them to.

If despite making a request rather than a demand, your partner is not willing to come for sessions, you have the choice to make an appointment for an individual session to do your own relationship work. Even when only one person changes, the relationship itself changes. All relationships are a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Others reflect to us what we believe, think and how much we love ourselves. Our partner always reflects our core wounds from childhood.

Some potential questions to examine in individual sessions could be:

– How has my partner disappointed or hurt me in ways similar to how I was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My father discounted my feelings and fears and my partner does the same.

– How might I have disappointed or hurt my partner in ways similar to how he or she was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My partner had a mother who was controlling and demanding. Each time I become controlling or demanding, I remind him of his mother. As a child he felt not good enough and guilty. When I let him know that he is not acknowledging my feelings, he is triggered into not being good enough again. He feels guilty.

– How do I let myself down in ways that are similar to how I feel let down by my partner?

e.g. I don’t take good care of my own feelings.

– Where am I expecting my partner to take care of me in ways I am refusing to take care of myself?

e.g. I expect him to acknowledge my feelings when I am not willing to sit and work through my own feelings.

– What am I making these disappointments mean?

e.g. My feelings, needs and fears don’t matter and will never be acknowledged in a relationship.

– What am I making our challenges mean about the possibilities I have for happiness in romantic partnerships?

e.g. I can’t be myself in a romantic partnership. I have to suppress my feelings and fears. I will never feel safe or accepted to be me.

– What is my limiting story around love and relationships based on my childhood wounds?

e.g. Men are not capable of acknowledging feelings and fears. Women need to make sure they don’t show up as “too needy”, or they lose their partner.

– How do I set my partner up to respond in a way that perpetuates my childhood experience?

e.g. I don’t express my feelings and fears calmly, and instead, I get very stressed and anxious. I express myself loudly and anxiously, using control to manage the anxiety. That triggers my partner into feeling the same way he felt when he was a boy.

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.

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!

Paul Married Alice – Is There a Perfect Match?

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“Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail, when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul, Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about.

The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but then when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou  wanted sex because he always wants sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.”

These wonderful paragraphs written by Dr. John Gottman illustrate so perfectly that we are all faced with challenges in our love relationships. Nonetheless, most of us have a desire to pair up. Everything in our life is about relationships. From the moment we are born to our last day on earth, we are in relationships with others. We are only here because our parents had a relationship, and we learn from them, or from our first caregivers, about relationships. Have we just been socialized to be in a love relationship to reproduce and to not be alone and therefore safer, or is there a deeper purpose to it?

150 years ago, people married for economic reasons and they didn’t expect much more from that union but a decent relationship. Today we marry or pair up for love. Hand in hand with marring for love comes the romantic idea that the one person we choose to spend our life with should fulfill an endless list of needs. Our partner is supposed to be an amazing lover, our best friend, a fabulous parent, our confidant, our emotional companion, our intellectual equal and spiritually on the same page as well. We are looking for that one kindred soul that can wear all those hats for us and can fulfill all our needs and desires.

Not too seldom, we are chasing the idea of a relationship that feels safe and harmonious, yet at the same time exciting and full of sexual chemistry. We want closeness, safety and intimacy, as well as excitement and sexual attraction. We live in an era where we feel we are entitled to pursue our happiness. If our partner turns out to be quite human and not able to be all we expect, we feel disillusioned and might start to wonder if there is somebody out there who is more compatible. “We used to divorce because we were unhappy; today we divorce because we could be happier. Divorce used to carry all the shame; today choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame.” (Esther Perel, TED Talk)

Undoubtedly, we might be more compatible with some people than with others. However, what we tend to forget when we have this long list of what we want and need from our partner is that our partner, no matter who he or she is, will always bring up our unresolved childhood issues.

“Romantic Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.” (Harville Hendrix, Making Marriage Simple)

In our marriage or love relationship, we re-create our old unresolved hurts and we receive an opportunity to work through those wounds. Our partner reflects our fears, insecurities and our ability to love ourselves. Our partner mirrors to us what personality traits we have disowned and what patterns are unresolved within us.

Every relationship issue which comes up is a gift for us. It is an opportunity to become more whole. It shows us what we need to embrace inside of us for greater self-love and for more unconditional love and acceptance of others. All relationships, especially the ones with our close loved ones, are an opportunity for us to evolve, to release old patterns, to heal old wounds, to grow and to become a better version of ourselves. Our partner is our teacher, just as we are hers or his.

So is there a perfect match? If you believe the perfect match is a relationship which is smooth and without issues, then the answer is no. But each of these matches Gottman describes could be a healthy, loving, and empowered relationships when both partners work on themselves and on their relationship. We intuitively and subconsciously pick exactly that person with whom we can recreate our issues and heal our emotional wounds. When you wonder whether another person might be more compatible with you, remember that usually the grass only appears to be greener on the other side of the fence.

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.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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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