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.

couple-beach cropped

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.

 

 

How a Heart Coherent State Helps Your Relationships

thorns-have-roses

This beautiful quote reminds us that we can appreciate the roses with the thorns. What exactly happens to our physical, emotional and mental state and within our relationships when we are able to shift from the nasty thorns to the beauty of the roses, from dissatisfaction and negativity to appreciation?

John M. Gottman, the author of “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, uses different markers to predict whether a marriage has longevity or not. Arguing itself is not the problem, but rather how couples argue. If we have built a strong loving friendship, of mutual trust and appreciation, we can disagree respectfully and with good humour and we are less likely to experience stress. However, certain kinds of interactions with each other are so lethal that Gottman calls them the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

four-horsemen

Criticism

When our needs aren’t met in the relationship, we need to speak up, express our feelings and complaints, and request a particular change. A complaint focuses on a specific behaviour or event. Criticism, on the other hand, is global and expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other person’s character or personality. Criticism is understood as blame. It for example sounds like this: ”Why do you never help me? I am always alone with the kids. You just don’t care. You are lazy and selfish.”

A complaint on the other hand, could sound like this: “I would like to talk about putting the kids to bed. I am tired at the end of the day and frustrated because I feel alone with this task. I understand that it’s harder for you to put them to bed because they are more used to me, so can we please talk about how you can help me? Could you give them their bath and I read the good-night story?”

 

Contempt

The second horseman originates from a sense of superiority over the partner. When my partner triggers me into contempt and judgment, it is helpful to ask what shadows are showing up for me. What energy is the other person showing up with and what is my relationship with that particular energy? Feeling superior over our partner and expressing it by eye rolling or contemptuous remarks, especially when sarcasm, mockery or hostile humour are used is a form of disrespect.

It is sometimes challenging not to respond to a certain trigger in our partner with frustration, but contempt is poisonous for any relationship. When we notice it, we need to reign ourselves in and focus on everything our partner is good at and capable of. Rather than seeing them as defective, we need to keep their behaviour apart from who they are. We can instead concentrate on everything that we like and love about them.

 

Defensiveness

Defensiveness is an understandable response to criticism, but unfortunately not a productive one. It is a way of blaming our partner. If we insist on being the “innocent victim” or on being right, we have already lost the game. There are no winners in the game of right and wrong. Defensiveness, whether in the form of whining, explaining, or getting angry, just escalates the conflict. The only way to win is by taking responsibility for our words and actions.

four-horsemen-and-their-antidotes

Stonewalling

Criticism, contempt and defensiveness can lead to one partner tuning out and disengaging. In a typical conversation between two people, the listener gives cues that he is paying attention, for example eye contact, nodding of the head, other facial expressions, short noises to indicate they are listening. The stonewaller tends to look away without a sound, like an impassive stone wall. To the talker, it seems like the stonewaller doesn’t care.

The person stonewalling, however, might respond to feeling flooded with overwhelming emotions of feeling shell shocked or defenseless. Unfortunately, trying to avoid a fight by not responding is also a way of avoiding the relationship issues. 85% of the time, stonewalling is a male behaviour. The reason lies in our evolutionary heritage.

In prehistoric times, the females were nurturing the children and the males were responsible for hunting and protection. Females biologically needed to be able to calm and soothe themselves quicker to be able to produce enough milk to nurse the young children. For the early hunters however, vigilance was a key survival skill. They were more likely to survive when their adrenaline was high and remained high.

Biologically, men have a harder time to soothe and calm themselves when there is a conflict. Their heart rate and blood pressure stay accelerated for longer. Based on these evolutionary differences, it is not all that surprising that men are less likely to initiate a talk which could lead to a confrontation than women and more likely to become defensive and stonewall to avoid it. Frequently feeling flooded leads to emotional distancing and to feeling lonely.

In a love relationship, we are in each others care. It does not matter why our partner is in distress, or whether we agree with the stress or not; it is our job to relieve the stress for our partner and to take turns doing this for each other.

Emotions like fear, anxiety, impatience, frustration and anger are energetically depleting emotions. The same applies to emotions like despair, grief, depression, sadness and loneliness. Renewing emotions, on the other hand, boost our resilience to stress, improve problem solving skills and increase our intuition and creativity. We are then able to have productive talks with our partner.

Joy, appreciation, gratitude, peace, forgiveness, compassion and love are all renewing emotions. These emotions positively affect our heart rate, lower our cortisol level and increase the hormone DHEA, which is linked to different anti-aging benefits like less inflammation, improvement of bone density and muscle mass, less depression and mood swings, better cognitive functions, weight loss, heart health, balanced blood sugar and increased sexual functions.

heart-coherence

A daily practice of going into a heart coherent state helps us to relieve our stress greatly and to quickly re-balance our mind, our emotions and our physical body. The results are that we are less reactive, able to think more clearly and able to solve problems from the more advanced parts of our brain.

Heart coherence is achieved through heart focused breathing. Just imagine you are breathing in and out through the centre of your chest for 5 seconds on the inhale, 5 seconds on the exhale. Breathe at least three breath cycles in and out through your heart centre. Continue to breathe this way and bring up heart-felt feelings in the centre of your chest. Connect with a memory which is full of love, laughter, joy, peace, appreciation or gratitude. Relive the memory, feel it. Stay in this coherent heart state for at least ten minutes. You can practice this with your eyes open and in different situations in life, for example when you are walking down the street or driving in traffic. It is important to be in coherence in every day life, not just when we are going into meditation or are in solitude. Next time you have a difference of opinion with your partner, it will be easier to drop into your heart. You can then speak and listen from that loving heart place.

 

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Relationship and Belief Change Coaching

Angelika Baum

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca