Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complaint: You never hold hands with me anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more examples click here.

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

Should I Come With My Partner, Or Alone? – Couples Coaching Versus Individual Coaching

Sometimes people say to me, “That belief change work that you do is so different/weird/unusual that the only way I can get my partner to see you is if we come in together for a couple session.” I usually reply, “That is fine”, knowing that once the partner has met me, they will feel more comfortable to try out something new and different.

Whether someone comes alone or for a couple’s session, relationship work requires making individual changes. We are all human and most people hope their partner will do most of the learning and changing in problem areas in the relationship. However, we can never change our partner; we can only change ourselves. You have the choice between different formats of working on your relationship: in individual sessions, in couple’s session, or in a workshop. What they all have in common is that we need to take responsibility for changing ourselves.

In an individual coaching session, we will assess the situation, determine the goals of where you want to be in regards to you relationship, and then begin the work on the subconscious level to create the desired shifts. Even if just one participant in a relationship changes, the relationship itself is changed, and any change in the relationship ultimately changes both participants. If you wish to change the way you interact with your partner, the first thing you must do is discover the underlying subconscious causes for destructive patterns.

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In a couple’s session, we will also asses the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and begin the work on understanding each other more and interacting differently with your partner. A couple’s session is not so much the place to do deeper individual work but to work on the third entity, your relationship, together. A relationship is a team effort. What is good for your partner is also good for you and your relationship.

During couples coaching, we will be focusing on the team. You can expect to learn more successful skills for interacting. I believe my primary role is to coach you to improve your responses to each other and to assist you in creating a solid foundation or, as Drs Gottman call it, a sound “relationship house”.

Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall under the “Four Horsemen”:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
  • Contempt

My goal is to provide you with the knowledge and the tools to shift out of those destructive patterns and to practice a more successful communication and more productive ways of interacting with each other.

four-horsemen-and-their-antidotesYour job is to create your own individual goals for your relationship. As a coach, my job is to help you reach them. The tools I can offer you become more effective when you are clear about how you aspire to be. The major aim of couple’s coaching is to increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner, and the patterns of interaction between you.

The key tasks of couples coaching are increasing your clarity about:

  • The kind of life you want to build together
  • The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and relationship you want to create
  • Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
  • The skills, knowledge and tools necessary to achieve the above tasks

To create the relationship you really desire, there are some investments and choices for each person to make. The first investment will be time. It takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: making the time to come for sessions, time to be together on a regular basis to have fun together as well as time to work on the state of your union. This time might conflict with your personal or professional time and it is easy to “forget” to schedule that time in. However, in order to improve your relationship, you need to make the relationship your first priority.

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The second necessary choice is to step out of your emotional comfort zone. Be prepared to be open to try new ways of listening and speaking, for example listening from your heart and being curious instead of interrupting or closing down, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. You need to take emotional risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to move forward with your relationship.

The third investment is one of energy and persistency. It takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious, remembering to be more in tune with each other, more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, speaking each others love languages more, etc. It takes effort to remember what you have learned and to act upon it when you have left my office. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored or shut out, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop criticizing or withdrawing.

When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important than what action to take. Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy. The bigger challenge is learning why you don’t do it. We are all often quite limited in our ability to respond to our love partner, and he or she is quite limited in their ability to respond to us, due to our childhood experiences, old triggers, and subconscious beliefs. The more you learn about yourself and your partner and make the subconscious shifts, the more you are able to increase your repertoire of responses. You can then shift from impossible to possible.

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Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our responses. Coaching gives you the best results if you focus on changing yourself. The hardest part of couples coaching is accepting that you will need to improve your response to a problem, how you think about it, how you feel about it, or what to do about it. You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. Your feelings, needs and requests will be acknowledged and met, as you are prepared to meet your partners.

When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?” A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be or act in this situation?” Becoming the best you that you can be, means becoming a more effective partner, and that in turn is the most efficient way to change a relationship.

You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and what you judge in your partner. The people closest to us naturally mirror shadow traits to us that we have learned to disown as “bad” or “wrong”. When shadows show up in a couple’s session, we can integrate those disowned shadows or personality parts in an individual session. That shadow work allows you to take a step towards each other instead of judging each other for your differences.

shadow-couple-archway

All significant growth comes from disagreements, dissatisfaction with the current status, or the desire to make things better. Paradoxically, accepting that conflict produces growth and learning that is the key to more harmonious relationships. In each relationship, there are perpetual problems. You will be introduced to tools to process conflicts more successfully, to find compromises for perpetual problems, and to build a more solid foundation for your relationship.

The most important qualities for effective communication are trust, respect, openness and persistence. Successful communication expresses how I feel and what my values and needs are. Productive communication avoids blame and requires taking responsibility. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each.

 

If you’d like help with your relationship, contact me for a free phone consultation. Before you come for a session please read the blog “How To Get Most Out Of Couples Coaching”.

From September 29 to October 1, 2017 you can take part in the

“Relationship Energetics” Workshop.

This three day workshop uncovers hidden subconscious dynamics and helps you to create healthy, empowered and fulfilling relationships. For more information please click here.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

 

 

The Dance of Our Parts in Relationships – PART 2 Bonding Patterns

To understand how we interact with our spouse or partner, we need to know about our inner children and about bonding patterns.

BONDING PATTERNS

Bonding patterns are basic units of interaction between people. The primary bonding pattern emerges at birth between the child needing nurturing and the mother giving nurturing. Our primary bonding patterns with our parents or primary care givers become recreated in all our relationships as adults. We are able to solve the issues from our original families in those new relationships.

The mother parts of the woman are bonded into the son parts of the man, and visa versa, the father parts of the man are bonded into the daughter parts of the woman. Bonding patterns represent the interactions between our sub-personalities or selves.

Our Aware Ego allows us to become aware of the bonding patterns, for example to realize that we are in our inner child part in an interaction, or our parent part in another interaction. Through this awareness, I can separate from this bonding pattern. The bonding pattern itself won’t disappear but I am able to meet my partner from the place of my Aware Ego. It gives us choices in our interactions as opposed to interacting automatically.

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Hal and Sidra Stone

Hal and Sidra Stone are very clear that there is nothing wrong with the parent-child bonding pattern. It is a basic unit of interaction. It is always present in our love relationships. It happens automatically and allows us to be intimate and close. When we love somebody we are protective and want to take care of them. Judging these bonding patterns as “co-dependency” is not helpful. As human beings, we are naturally inter-dependent. The key is to become aware of the bonding dynamics in our relationships, enjoy them when they have a positive impact, but also separate from them when they cause problems.

The positive bonding pattern can tip over into a negative bonding pattern. When the negative bonding pattern is activated because our vulnerability is triggered, we might switch from “good parent” to “judgmental parent”, and that’s when we realize we are in a bonding pattern.

Let’s take an example. Mark makes more money than Barbara and enjoys buying gifts for her or surprising her with get-aways or other special activities. Barbara feels good about having things bought for her as it reminds her of her father who had a similar love language to show his affection. Over time, she is getting used to those gifts and might ask Mark for something more expensive, for example a bigger house. At that point, Mark’s vulnerability is triggered and his fear that he is unable to keep up these expenses. If he is not aware of his fear—and most of us aren’t—he will move from the loving caring father who fulfilled Barbara’s desires into the judgmental father. Barbara is stunned to hear him say, “You are really ungrateful and spoiled. Why do you need an even bigger house? Who do you think you are married to? A millionaire?”

Barbara’s inner child is surprised and hurt and she might in turn judge Mark now as being controlling with money or cheap. With awareness, they are able to realize they are in a parent-child bonding pattern. Mark can then from his Aware Ego explain to Barbara, “My fear was triggered by you asking for the bigger house. I am worried we won’t be able to carry a higher mortgage. Several people have been laid off at my company and I am afraid this might happen to me as well down the road.” Instead of having to protect her inner child by going into a primary personality part to defend herself, Barbara can now respond with love and understanding from her own vulnerable part.

We have to be kind to each other and ourselves when it comes to these bonding patterns. They are natural and we spend a lot of time living in these bonding patterns. Most bonding patterns exist in a positive form. They are not causing trouble. As long as Mark is behaving like a good father and Barbara is the pleasing compliant grateful daughter they might not even realize they are in a bonding pattern. However, the moment Mark becomes the negative father to the frightened little girl inside Barbara, it lets them discover that Mark was taking on the role of responsible father and Barbara was letting him take all the financial responsibility.

This bonding pattern also exists the other way round. When our inner child isn’t taken care of by us, our inner child will hook into our partner and expect them to take care of him (or her). When real physical children come along, and the woman is all focussed on nurturing the little baby, the little boy in the man can become triggered. He might unconsciously drift into a more passive role and let the good mother in the woman run the show. He most likely is not even aware that the only way he feels he can get her attention is by being a little boy himself. That can quickly tip over into a negative bonding pattern when the woman refuses to mother her partner as well because she feels overwhelmed and vulnerable with her new role already.

A bonding pattern tips over when our vulnerability is triggered. That could be because we are frightened, hungry, tired, abandoned, lonely or feeling misunderstood, unappreciated or unloved. When our needs aren’t met, a primary self comes in and takes over. We might get angry or judgmental. These conflicts can go on for a long time or be re-activated over and over again, especially if we are not aware of the mirrors and our disowned selves.

When I have disowned certain things in myself which my partner carries for me, I might get angry at what I don’t like in myself. If Susan is over-identified with being productive and her partner is able to relax and do nothing, she might begin to criticize and judge him for being “lazy” or a “procrastinator”. If John is more serious and his partner is more playful, he might over time judge her as being “immature” and “childish”. If Rita is thrifty and her partner is less concerned with saving money, she might judge him as “irresponsible” and “wasteful”. The ability to relax, be playful or be generous which each of them originally loved in their partner is later on the trigger for judgments.

They might express these judgmental opinions either in words or with looks and in turn their partner will flip into judgmental parent judging them for the opposite. At that point, love “goes out the window”. What once was dear and fascinating to them about their partner is what they now hate. The partner’s inner child feels betrayed and is quite confused, “Wasn’t this the wonderful person who at the beginning loved me for who I am?”

Our disowned selves which we are so ready to criticize in the other person become the bats we are beating each other up with. We forget that what our partner mirrors for us is what we need to embrace and heal inside ourselves. We need to stop when we find ourselves being judgmental and examine how our vulnerability was triggered. How do I really feel underneath this judgmental voice?

We also need to realize that no energy is bad. Energy exists in polar opposites when we have not fully integrated an energy. What if Susan allowed herself to relax more and just be in the moment without the pressure to be productive? What if John took life less seriously and allowed himself to be more playful and laugh more? What if Rita realized her fear is triggered around money but that she can allow herself to be more generous without ending in poverty or debt?

It’s the job of the Aware Ego, not your partner’s responsibility, to properly parent your own inner child. Like a real parent, the Aware Ego has to learn to be a parent to the primary selves and to the vulnerable child. That parent voice is not critical or harsh like the inner critic or a primary self can sound. The parent voice is encouraging, loving and takes care of the inner child’s needs.

If I consciously take care of my own inner child, I won’t expect my partner to do it for me. That prevents these negative bonding patterns from continuing and opens up opportunities to communicate openly about our true feelings and our vulnerability. By taking care of my own inner child, I give myself the gift to have deep, intimate, mutually supportive and honest relationships.

 

If you want to listen to Hall & Sidra Stone’s “The Dance of Our Parts in Relationships”, go to http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/bookshop.php

Hal & Sidra 4

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Relationship Coaching

Angelika wide picture for blogs smaller

Angelika, 905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

The Dance of Our Parts in Relationships – PART ONE Primary Personality Parts

“Relationships don’t die a natural death.

They are murdered by either

ego, attitude or ignorance

or all of the above.”

 Rose

(Rose Saroyan, Karmic DNA)

My friend Rose Saroyan couldn’t have said it better. My own marriage to the father of my daughters died the death of ignorance and a good portion of ego—mostly my ego—ten years ago. What I mean by that is, we could have made it work, knowing what I know today. Less ignorance and less ego would have allowed us to heal what was greatly strained after 13 years of marriage. We fostered a little girl for several years, and had two daughters of our own. We moved from Germany to Malaysia, back to Germany and then to Canada, starting all over each time. We went through a lot together without ever really knowing ourselves and the dynamic in our relationship.

After the death of our marriage, we created the second best thing: we build a respectful friendship as co-parents of two wonderful children. Yet, the fact remains that the love relationship died—like so many others—because we were not taught about our shadows. Our partners—just as our parents and children—are our mirrors. They bring out all our challenges, not so we can run away from them, but so that we can face them.

For quite a while now, I have been meaning to write about Hal and Sidra Stone’s insights on partnering and relationships. To do their extensive teachings justice, I will need to lay the foundations first. I have decided to write a series of two blogs on relationships, rather than leaving something important out.

Relationships are remarkable teachers for all of us and offer huge personal and spiritual growth opportunities. It usually is so easy to fall in love with each other and be fascinated by the ways in which the other person is different from us but complements us so beautifully. Then a few years down the road, we might find ourselves feeling irritated by exactly what we originally fell in love with in the other person. Why is that?

A relationship is not between two people but between two groups of people. Any relationship involves a multitude of selves in each person interacting with similar or opposite selves in the other person. To explain this further, let me elaborate on the idea of parts of selves.

 

PRIMARY PERSONALITY PARTS

We come into this world vulnerable, and our primary personality parts—which we develop growing up—protect that vulnerability. The objective of our primary selves is to protect the vulnerable inner child. Those could be power selves which allow us to protect our vulnerability by being angry or aggressive; or they could be ambitious selves which help us to make money and be successful; or they could be pleasing selves or gentle selves which make us lovable to the people around us.

The primary selves can take many different forms. It is hard to know what our primary selves are because we tend to identify with them. We see them as “that’s just how I am,” instead of realizing that they are just one energy we have inside us and that we have the freedom to step into another completely different energy. We tend to think we have a fixed unchanging personality, for example, “I am hard working, tough and aggressive”, or “I am sweet, loving, gentle and giving” or “I am passionate, dramatic and emotional”.

On the other side of every primary self, there is an equal and opposite energy. If I grew up identified with power and aggression, on the other side of that energy, there is somebody within me who is vulnerable and weak. If I grew up learning to always put others first and be selfless, on the other side of that energy, there is somebody who puts him or herself first.

Whatever it is that we have disowned in ourselves, that is exactly what the Universe is going to bring to us. The opposite and equal energy which we have disowned will be lived out through our children, our friends, our acquaintances, our business associates, even our animals, and most of all our husband or wife.

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Hall and Sidra Stone

Sidra, for example, when she first met Hal, was a very rational planner; organized, solution-oriented and careful with money. Hal was more of a dreamer, a visionary, trusting the Universe rather than carefully planning, able to sit in the discomfort of a problem rather than solving it in the fastest way, and a spender.

When we first fall in love with somebody, the vulnerable child feels safe, feels unconditionally loved and accepted. The primary selves can relax and sit back and stop protecting. We are more able to act from the opposites of our primary selves which are also available to us. If my primary self is, for example, serious and mature, I might be able to be more playful and light-hearted. Or, perhaps, I am a very busy person, always productive, using my time efficiently, making sure I never waste any time. When I fall in love and feel absolutely accepted the way I am, I don’t have to be busy to prove I am lovable. I don’t have to accomplish anything. My primary pusher self can relax. Suddenly, I discover I have time to just be in the moment, to take a walk, or to just talk to somebody.

Another thing that happens when we fall in love is that our inner critic, which always finds something to criticize and correct in us, disappears for a while. All of a sudden, I feel perfect; I feel lovable the way I am.

After a while, stress enters into the relationship and the vulnerable inner child feels threatened again. To protect that vulnerable part, our primary selves come back to fight for us.

TO BE CONTINUED

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For relationship coaching contact Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca