One Thing You Should Say to a Loved One

Here I go with the shoulds and shouldn’ts again πŸ™‚ Yesterday we talked about something that you should never say to a loved one, today we focus on something you should say to a loved one:

“You can count on me.”

In order to be independent, we have to be dependent. We are a relationship species and our attachment system works in us to aim for a secure base in order to feel safe. This requires our ability to rely on others to be our emotional anchors.

And the same goes for us. InΒ  healthy relationships, we rely on another’s presence and investment. In order for the relationship to be fully healthy, this is a reciprocal process. When we know that the relationship provides shared stability, we feel grounded and it gives us permission to be curious about ourselves – leading to movement and growth.

You can count on me; what a lovely thought. πŸ™‚

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One Thing You Should Never Say to a Loved One

I tend not to rely on the “shoulds” or the “shouldn’ts” when giving suggestions to clients as those two words lock us into some rigid thought patterns which work against movement and growth. When it comes to relationships; however, there is one thing you should never say to a loved one:

“Make me happy.”

We grew up with notions of fairy-tale love; love that completes, love that comes in on its’ white horse and whisks us off to a castle to live happily ever after. (That does sound kind of nice!) But it isn’t realistic. It doesn’t show the work of love, the investment of love, the time and effort of love. Sometimes we may not say those actual words to a loved one, but it is believed, implied, or understood as being a part of their job.

We are not responsible for another person’s happiness. We are responsible for our own happiness. Are we responsible for how we make other people feel? Of course we are. We make choices every day that either feed the health of the relationship, or foster its dysfunction. Do we want to be with someone who cares about and shares in our happiness? Absolutely! But when it comes to happiness, it is our responsibility to work towards a feeling of contentment across all fields, including the love we have with others.

And so, love compliments. It compliments the love and respect we have for ourselves, it builds upon inner contentment, it becomes woven into our being through action and intent. Love will compliment and give power to the happiness we set out to seek for ourselves. πŸ™‚

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Healthy Coping Strategies for Family Systems

In our third and final post in this series about family systems, we look at steps we can take when dealing with a closed family system and/or fostering an open one. The first step begins through understanding and acceptance that the relationships we have are not always the ones we want. I often refer to our propensity towards eternal hope, and we can often stay stuck in a place of wishing that our familial relationships were easier/better/kinder, etc.

Understanding that sometimes we have to manage our familial relationships, gives us the permission to put some much needed steps into place:

  1. Boundaries. Boundaries are an important part of a healthy family system. Giving people their space for privacy, trying to understand their position in times of conflict, aiming for balance in terms of time spent together, the expectation of good manners and kind behaviour towards each other, rules for repair.
  2. Take space when you need to. If you are trying to work with a closed family system, there will be times when you will need to distance yourself from the chaos of it. And that is okay. Communication is key in letting family members know that space is important right now as some much needed processing needs to take place. In a open system, members tend to be able to find some balance between time spent together and time spent apart to best maximize both the individual and the group.
  3. Use your voice. One of the ways we focus on good communication in families is to be able to tell others how something makes us feel. There are times that we can overlook a slight or a jab, and other times we can’t. Very often, we will sacrifice our own needs or wants in order to not create conflict. Beginning to recognize what can’t be overlooked is an important step in telling a loved one that their behaviour hurt you in some way. Being able to say something calmly, focused on fact and feeling, short and sweet, will allow you to feel as though you said what needed to be said regardless of the outcome.

Relationships can be tough. They also require work. But they are also the most rewarding and fulfilling social connection that we have; working towards the health of a relationship becomes our number one goal in living a life that is focused on meaning, love and overall contentedness.

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Open Family Systems; Optimal Growth

Continuing our exploration from yesterday in which we looked at closed family systems, today we will examine what an open family system looks like. In an open family system:

  • Individuality is regarded as just as important as the group dynamic. The family as a group is an important element – it is one of the things that provides its members with stability and consistency. In an open system; however, there is just as much emphasis on who its members are as individuals, and those qualities are honoured.
  • Unconditional love is present. In an open system, family members are praised for their successes and forgiven for their mistakes. The group does not suffer as a result of an individual’s mistake. That is not to say that the family does not struggle at times through challenges, and there can be conflict, but an individual is supported through that process and not outcasted as they would be in a closed system.
  • Other people are accepted into the system. In an open system, families accept the partner choices of its members. Again, there may be trepidation or concerns about who a family member has chosen, but the emphasis to conform is not present.
  • Chaos is not typically present and there is a focus on repair. Conflict may arise at times in an open system, but generally speaking, it doesn’t reach chaotic levels. If there are disagreements, there is a also focus on repair. This allows resolution among the individual parties which in turn, strengthens the group.

If you were lucky enough to have been raised in an open system, you are most likely carrying on quite nicely. The lessons we learn from an open system allow us to bring those principles to our own children. If, however, you were not raised in an open system but wish to have one, begin first by examining these characteristics, reading about secure attachment, and adopting a flexible and open thought process to what each individual brings to the group as a whole. Tomorrow we will close out this series with some coping strategies for dealing with a closed system as well working towards an open one.

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Closed Systems and How They Affect Relationships

When we look at family dynamics and what is healthy versus what is unhealthy, one way to do that is through the perspective of whether or not the family works from the position of a closed system or an open one. Today’s post will look at the closed system and how it affects the relationships within it. If you come from a closed family system, here are some of its characteristics:

  • Conformity to the system is required. Both for the spoken and unspoken rules, members of the family are expected to conform. As a result, family members struggle with issues of control and rigidity.
  • The group is regarded as greater than the individuals within it. Very often, in a closed family system, children are raised with their parent’s intentions and not their own and as a result, little emphasis is placed on individuality. Acceptance comes at a cost.
  • There is often enmeshment in a closed system due to co-dependence. It is often quite common to have adult children continuing to live at home in a closed system (*note: there is a trend for young people to return home after college to save money – this is not the same as adult children living at home due to enmeshment.)
  • There tends to be more chaos. With greater need to control, rigid thinking, and oppression to individuality, you are creating a breeding ground for conflict.
  • No information comes in and no information goes out. The closed system wants allegiance and is very protective of its group. This can often create hesitation in someone seeking therapy, as they feel a great sense of disloyalty to the family.

Growing up in a closed system is an oppressive process. Some people will take the path of least resistance and will adhere to the system; others will begin to believe in the system as being the “best way” and will continue its dynamics in their own families; others will decide that what they want is an open system; one that is based on healthier principles and optimal growth. Tomorrow we will look at open family systems, followed the next day by healthy strategies.

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When to Take the High Road

Yesterday’s post touched on the issue of emotional suppression. As we get better at understanding and processing our emotions, we also begin to realize that sometimes we need to say something to another person about how they made us feel, and sometimes we choose not to. Sometimes, the choice to take the high road is the one that presents to us as the healthier option. Here are some general guidelines as to when to take the high road:

  • if your attempt to communicate is falling on deaf ears. If repeated attempts are not working, perhaps denial has gotten in the way. Dealing with a person who tends to be inflexible in their thinking will often produce the same result as they are not open to hearing it.
  • it isn’t the right time. Sometimes a moment calls for an open conversation and sometimes the timing is off. ‘Sleeping on it’ is always a good rule of thumb in creating enough space for processing.
  • it will only lead to conflict. If we know that someone is defensive or conflict driven, sometimes it isn’t worth the time or energy for the debate.
  • it just doesn’t feel right. When we take the time to reflect on how we are feeling; when we examine the what if’s about speaking up or taking the high road, our instincts will usually guide us in making the decision.

The important piece when taking the high road is to remain committed to processing the emotion surrounding the upset. Perhaps you have brought it to therapy, talked with a trusted friend, taken a long walk to mull it over. When we choose to take the high road it usually comes with a feeling of peace; choosing grace to build upon itself. And when it just doesn’t feel right to take the high road, that is when we pluck up our courage to say something – rewarding the effort and not the outcome, reminding ourselves that we are important too. πŸ™‚

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Am I Dating A Narcissist?

As I often note, everything exists on a continuum. The same can be said for narcissistic behaviour; if it goes to far, it can develop into a disorder. Unfortunately, if you are dating someone who exhibits narcissistic traits, you will most likely be left in their dust, as they require a whole lot of time and attention and often have difficulty giving it back. Here are some traits that tend to be narcissistic in nature and can lead to you wondering if you are dealing with a narcissist.

  1. They have a sense of entitlement and tend to feel they are superior to others. Although a narcissist is in fact, insecure, they present themselves in the beginning as being quite charming and confident. Not too long into the relationship, you will begin to notice that the narcissist only feels safe in top position, and they feel entitled to getting their own way, all the time.
  2. They have a constant need for attention. From you and from others; which often leads to narcissists either being unfaithful or finding someone else at the tail end of a relationship so that they aren’t alone. It is a process of validation that is tiring and without end.
  3. They have trouble taking responsibility for their actions. Narcissists tend to carry shame (that is masked of course by their sense of superiority), and so admitting that they made a mistake will threaten their tightly veiled system.
  4. They don’t tend to have a lot of empathy. Because their emotional capacity is limited, and they put lots of energy into producing a false sense of self, they really don’t have time to think about how you feel.
  5. They can turn on a dime. You are either the love of their life or their worst enemy; and they reflect both in their actions towards you.

As we all know, we can’t change another person. There are times in relationship, when changing our reactions or our choices can influence the relationship in a way that can produce a desired effect. Dealing with a narcissist; however, can prove to be a very unsatisfying experience as their need to maintain their false sense of self trumps their desire to have a healthy relationship.

Bottom line? If you see the red flags, heed them πŸ™‚

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Power in the Pause

In a past blog post, I spoke about the difference between a reaction and a response. Our reactions tend to be immediate – based more on the action urges that come as a result of our feelings, whereas a response tends to be more mindful. A reaction stays in the emotion brain, a response allows the rational brain to chime in.

The window of slowing down between a reaction and a response is the pause. It is that moment of recognition that things could go sideways fast – words that can’t be unspoken, behaviours that can’t be undone. There is power in the pause; it allows us to set our ego aside and become aware of the repercussions. It allows us to identify our feelings.

Taking a deep breath and leaning into the pause can help us to prevent:

  • the “0 to 60 response”
  • name calling or yelling
  • blaming others
  • “he said/she said” behaviours
  • “eye for an eye” behaviours
  • the look of hurt on someone’s face
  • the fearful look on a child’s face

Learning to slow down our reaction comes from the same place where we learned that it was somehow okay to skip past the feeling and go straight to the action urge. What is learned can be unlearned. When we know that there is power in the pause, we can use it to feel more grounded, stay mindful, and improve our communication skills. Sounds like a good plan to me πŸ™‚

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Healthy Relationships; Part 3

The choices that we make in a relationship are either going to help feed the health of a relationship or the dysfunction of it. In our last post about healthy relationships, I would like to talk about behaviour.

In any couple union, we are two individuals within a dyad. Although it is important that individual interests are respected within the relationship, the behaviours you choose are better served through the eyes of the relationship. Some examples of behaviours that feed the dysfunction:

  • not purposefully answering texts or phone calls (in an effort to avoid or ignore)
  • not asking your spouse if a certain weekend is free, or what needs to happen with everyone’s schedule before making individual plans (this is not about asking permission – it is about being respectful of everyone’s time)
  • making fun of your partner (in a way that is meant to embarrass or put down)
  • any form of unfaithful behaviour
  • expecting partner to carry more of the workload, finances (unless its agreed upon)

Examples of behaviours that feed the health of the relationship:

  • listening to your partner’s ideas or opinions
  • any form of affection or term of endearment
  • encouraging each other in accomplishments and successes
  • purposely doing small things for each other out of kindness

Whether you are contemplating a relationship, single and working towards one, or currently in a relationship, healthy relationships require trust, respect, open communication and investment. They can be built, but it is important for us to keep in mind, that in order for the foundation to be strong, we need both partners in on the work. πŸ™‚

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Healthy Relationships: Part 2

Yesterday we looked at communication and what that looks like in a healthy relationship. Today, the big word is investment. When a relationship is healthy, there is a general sense that both people are invested in the relationship. We can see this in the following ways:

  1. Respect. When two people care about the relationship, they are interested in their spouse’s wishes, feelings and opinions. They are able to respect each other’s privacy, not want to purposefully hurt their feelings and when they inadvertently do, they are able to apologize.
  2. Compromise. Decisions within a couple are not always easily solved; sometimes we can go up, down, and all around with conflicting opinions. But when two people are invested in the relationship, they understand that compromise and finding a solution are what keep a relationship strong.
  3. Having fun together. Invested couples enjoy each other’s company whether that be sitting across from the table from one another, sitting by a campfire, kayaking together, window shopping along a city street, watching a show together, going for a drive, playing a board game. They tend to find common interests in order to keep their friendship alive within the marriage.

Investment by both partners is an important element in a healthy relationship; it brings about feelings of security, comfort and the overall sense of a deepening love. Tomorrow will be our third part in our quest for what to look for in a healthy relationship.

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