Helping with the Meltdowns

We all know what it feels like when we are overwhelmed. There are some days where our emotions get the best of us and our rational brain doesn’t have much room in our decision making.

Imagine then, what it feels like for children; when their already emotional space gets flooded, their every frustration building with the crescendo of a crashing wave. Here are 5 tips to help with the meltdowns;

  • Be the calm. Matching their emotions with a bigger version will only increase the stimulation. Managing your own emotions while holding space for your child’s helps to validate, diffuse and comfort.
  • Re-direct. As adults, we have learned to be comfortable with the discomfort by using distraction. The same thing can work with our children; when we suggest an alternative, it often helps in creating a sense of control for the child.
  • Listen. Get down to their eye level; let them tell you what is wrong. Label and agree with their feelings. We can both validate and maintain boundaries which allows for teaching moments about behaviours.
  • Problem solve. When the meltdown is over, and calm has returned, that is when we can look at solving the problem – whether that is immediate or for ‘next time.’
  • Guide, not control. Sometimes our own fears about being the perfect parent will get in the way of what is happening in the moment which can lead us to needing to control. We can temper this by seeing ourselves instead as a guide, helping our littles navigate the emotional road.

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Inferior or Superior?

Think about someone that you have difficulty with. It could be a family member, co-worker, friend. There may be value in keeping the relationship, or they are in your orbit by way of circumstance – in any case, there are times when you struggle to maintain your composure or feel drained of your energy around them. When you reflect on your last few interchanges, ask yourself, “In their presence do I feel inferior or superior?” 

Generally speaking, we will lean one way or the other. We may feel inferior if that person tends to be controlling or dominant. Feeling inferior can occur if we feel pulled to justify or explain ourselves. We may feel superior if we feel compelled to always give advice. Superiority can also come when we see ourselves as more ‘put together’ or successful than the other.

One or the other, the feelings of inferiority and superiority come from fear. Fear that we are not good enough, that we don’t measure up. Fear that our insecurities will be revealed.

We are better served to recognize if this is happening and instead move to recognizing the equal in another. Below all the layers, we are the same being. When our ego is gently pushed aside, we are able to see that the space for equality has no room for fear, but rather leads with unconditional positive regard.

There will  always be relationships in which boundaries need to be in place and sometimes space needs to be taken, but we can do so with kindness and a respect for the equal in another.

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What Does Bad Timing Have to Do with Anything?

The short answer? A lot. One of the biggest communication traps we can get ourselves into is that of bad timing.

Communicating how we feel or what we need isn’t always easy. There are a lot of variables to consider: recognizing what our need or feeling is, deciding whether or not we want to bring it to someone’s attention, how we are going to bring it up, who is on the receiving end of that conversation and whether or not it is going to be understood. We also need to consider when to have that conversation. The variable of timing is often overlooked and it can make the difference as to how the communication plays out. Let us consider some grounds rules for timing:

  • If you are feeling angry, that isn’t the time to bring something up. We are much better served to take some space from the emotion and let our rational brain chime in as to how we want to respond.
  • If you are feeling easily overwhelmed or on the verge of a meltdown, you may be too emotional to be able to communicate effectively. We are wise at this point to ‘sleep on it,’ or instill the 24 hour rule to see how we feel about it the next day.
  • If you are exhausted, get some sleep first. Nothing makes us more vulnerable than a bleary-eyed state.
  • Wanting to talk about something when getting into bed or when someone is trying to get out the door is most likely not going to go well as it creates the feeling of being blind-sided. A better option is to find an opportunity when both of you are relaxed and have the time.
  • Choose a private space. Saying something in front of your in-laws, children or friends is going to add insult to injury.

Timing is an important part of communicating well. When we attempt to create a time and space for telling someone how we feel we are contributing to the health of the relationship as we are moving from the position of “I am important and so are you.”

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Two Factors to Longevity in Relationships

When we think about the longevity and sustainability of relationships, two factors play a big role:

  1. Compatibility. Do you share the same type of values with your partner? Are you similar in how you like to spend your time? Enjoy a lot of the same activities? Are you in agreement as to how to discipline children? Do you share a semblance of work ethic and ambition? Although we can certainly appreciate the differences that two people bring to a relationship, and can work with an opposite-attracts type of union, compatibility tends to rank higher in the ability to maintain a strong emotional bond. For established relationships, working towards common goals and values can help to strengthen compatibility factors and for anyone in the dating world, keeping the goal of a well-matched union will often lead to a healthier choice with less potential conflict.
  2. Unity. Very often our values and goals line up to create a team-like approach to our relationship, giving each other the feeling that we are joined “as a whole” so to speak. This does not mean that we are not individuals within the relationship, but rather it is the inherent feeling of consistency and integration in our movement forward as a couple.

Compatibility and unity are factors, invariably, that lead to a greater strengthening of our attachment system. Just the sound of those words together brings about feelings of security, and the notion of a safe space to land in. 🙂

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A Way to Look at Relationships

We know that in order to have a relationship with someone, it will require commitment. There are times when we perceive that being in a committed relationship means we have surrendered to it. This perception most likely has been created partly by society and the notion that “marriage comes with a ball and chain;” it can also come from learned attitudes/experiences of those in our family of origin.

Being in a healthy relationship does require consideration of the other, at times compromise and sacrifice, and an overall feeling of satisfaction and reciprocity. It is an opportunity to live and create a conscious partnership/marriage. When we make choices that support the health of a relationship, we are not surrendering to it; rather we are building it.

If we feel that we have surrendered ourselves in the context of the relationship – that we have lost ourselves to another – then the work begins in ourselves as we begin to self-reflect on our own identity. We do this by exploring our core values and beliefs, our characteristics and qualities, our interests.  We begin to move from the position that “I am important and so are you.” We recognize ourselves as a valuable part of the union of two people. (This can be applied to any relationship, not just our intimate one.)

The language we use to describe our relationships is important. We can move from the notion that we surrender to marriage into one of creating it; designing and framing one that feeds our need for a simple love and a deep attachment.

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Figuring Out the Right Amount of Bend

In a classic form of the “opposites attract” relationship, we have the passive versus dominant dynamic. Very often attracted to each other, the passive person appreciates the dominant person’s ability to make decisions, and it often quite happy to defer. The dominant person likes the alpha position as it gives them the feeling of control; most often sought as a means of feeling safe and secure. 

When a couple is aware of this dynamic and work together to best appreciate each other’s differences, both parties are quite content to work as a team and the longevity of the relationship isn’t compromised. It is when a couple is not aware of the dynamic that, over time, issues may arise.  The control element of the dominant person plays a role in creating what I like to refer to as the “bend principle.” Control likes to see another person bend 100% of the time, as that is where it feels safest; that is also where the biggest trouble lies, as you will eventually reach a point where the passive person begins to feel oppressed. 

This is where the right amount of bend comes into play, and it is an agreed upon measure by the couple. It is often based on a percentage; some people are quite happy with the 95 – 5% ratio, others will want it closer to 70-30%. In any case, it is about saying “I am happy to bend 80% of the time, but the other 20%, I want to contribute and have a say.”

Having this agreement works. It allows the dominant partner to feel safe in their alpha position while giving the passive person permission to have a voice when they feel strongly about something; working together to provide a sense of unity and teamwork. 

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Relationship Ground Rules

I will often see clients in therapy who are looking to date again yet are worried about repeating the same patterns as in their past relationships. When they begin to navigate the dating world, we have worked on some ground rules:

  • Know what you bring to the table. One of the activities I will often get them to do is write out a full page of their qualities, characteristics, values and interests that they bring to the relationships in their life. This acts as a good reminder when gearing up to go on a date, or when chatting with someone. If we know what we bring to the table, we will have less of a tendency to settle.
  • Know your deal breakers and your red flags. List them on a piece of paper – the deal breakers, are exactly what they sound like. If you start dating someone and you find out that they hit one of your absolute no-no’s, stop spending time together (don’t make the assumption that they will change for you.) Red flags we the things we are cautious about – if you begin to notice something that you begin to question as a possible pattern or dynamic that is all too familiar, you may decide to not pursue the relationship. People show you who they are early on – believe them.
  • Take the word potential out of your vocabulary. That is a word that shouldn’t be linked to romantic love.

Relationship ground rules allow us to know our worth; we are less likely to have our blinders on and can make rational decisions when it comes to love.

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The ‘Boredom’ of a Healthy Relationship

Many people come to therapy in order to help understand and then change their unhealthy relationship patterns. Over time, they have begun to notice that they are attracted to a ‘type’ – perhaps they tend to choose someone who is controlling or dependent, emotionally unavailable or needy. Givers tend to be attracted to takers and those who are passive to those who are dominant. In any case, they do the work – uncovering the pattern, figuring out how and why that dynamic has appealed to them and then looking at what a healthy relationship does look like. They have goals to not repeat the pattern, to act on the red flags, to have a healthy relationship.

For anyone who has had a relationship pattern that tends to run hot and cold or one in which love and approval are intertwined, sometimes entering into a healthy relationship seems boring.  They have met someone who fits the criteria of a healthy relationship, and yet this niggling feeling comes in that there isn’t much ‘spark.’

It is at this point that we can’t confuse consistency with incompatibility. Healthy people tend to be emotionally consistent, stable and dependable. If we confuse that solidity with ‘boring’, we may be landing in seeking what is familiar, not what is healthy.

We are much better served to first recognize the default position so as to stay the course to see if compatibility is present – to feel he stability of a healthy relationship, to be able to rely on its foundation of trust, commitment and securely attached love. To understand in this case that ‘boring’ is good. 😉

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The Relationships We Manage

I like to say that there are three categories of relationships in our lives. There are the healthy ones; those we feed, are invested in, and consciously continue to build. There are the toxic ones; those to which we eventually learn how to strip them of power and in some cases, end the relationship altogether. And then there are those that we manage; relationships that aren’t quite in the healthy category, but we are not ready, or in a position, to remove them entirely from our lives.

We live in a society in which “family means everything,” and “blood is thicker than water;” expressions that certainly ring true for anyone who has grown up in a home that was not touched by dysfunction or abuse. Societal norms can make us feel pressured to continue to try and adjust ourselves within a relationship, simply because they’re family; leaving us at times to wrestle with uncertainty and compromised values.

Perhaps a better solution, is to be able to look at the relationship we are struggling with and ask ourselves, “Are both of us invested in making this healthy?” If the answer is no, and it is pretty clear that only one of you is doing the work, then it really is okay to give ourselves permission to manage that relationship. Sometimes that comes in the form of placing in some much needed boundaries, other times it may mean taking a bit of space to slow things down; in any case, it becomes okay to accept the relationship as one that perhaps needs a bit of regulation and direction from time to time.

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Communicating With a Loved One Who Has Dementia

In an article entitled “8 Principles for Communicating With People With Dementia” by Andrew Budson and featured on Psychology Today, he provides some excellent advice on how we can communicate with a loved one who has dementia. Some of those principles include:

  • Keeping in mind that truth is relative. For someone with dementia, what feels real to them is going to be different than what feels real to you. Understanding that can help you to:
  • Remain calm. A person with memory loss can ask repeated questions, or be unable to perform tasks that they were once able to do easily (such as work the remote control or the telephone.) Budson reminds us that “those with dementia will often absorb our moods by unconsciously perceiving our body language and tone of voice; thus we may inadvertently cause agitation if we become irritated.”
  • Dementia is a team sport. Budson recommends involving family and friends when caring for a loved one with dementia.

There are 5 more principles listed in Budson’s article and they are all worth reading. To access the full article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/managing-your-memory/201811/8-principles-communicating-people-dementia

To visit Andrew Budson’s website which features the books he has written on Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders: https://www.andrewbudsonmd.com/

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