The Cost of Hidden Insecurity

I often work with clients who come in because their relationship with a loved one or a coworker is difficult. They have tried to navigate the relationship, but there is little space for them, and they find themselves feeling defeated, criticized or feeling ‘lesser than.’ Upon exploration into the relationship through examples, we begin to identify what appears to be a deeply hidden insecurity in the other. So hidden in fact, it is often protected by what appears to be confidence, intelligence and knowledge.

Hidden insecurities are often found in:

  • The Know-it-All. When a person acts as though they know everything, it can often create inauthenticity.
  • Arrogance. When an ego is too big, that is a sure sign that an overcompensation is occurring.
  • Always having to be right. This isn’t about having an opinion, it is about needing to be right. And anyone who doesn’t agree is ‘stupid.’
  • The Oppressor. When one person needs to feel above someone else, they will often use criticism and control; coming across as the strong one.

All of these personality types have one thing in common – they crave significance. Something in their early childhood has led them to feeling insecure and an overcompensation has occurred in which they must convince themselves of their worth. Unfortunately, it affects those around them by automatically assuming that they are superior in some way.

These can be difficult relationships to manage; the patterns are often quite engrained and therefore rigid. Sometimes, it will lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Other times, it is often through boundary setting and a ‘straightening of the spine’ that clients find some space in the relationship; at the very least to not tolerate being made to feel small.

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5 Signs of Interdependence in Relationship

We know that we have achieved a healthy place in relationship when we have interdependence; a secure sense of self is present, while also recognizing the importance of human connection. Being able to maintain a sense of high self-esteem while in relationship includes:

  1. Space. When two people are in a healthy relationship, they recognize the need for time apart to pursue personal interests. There is the knowledge that self-care activities are important and that it is okay to create space for them.
  2. Common Ground. Just as our own needs are important, a healthy relationship also looks at time spent together. How do we spend our downtime as a couple? What activities do we enjoy doing together? Do we have common goals for the future? Interdependence in relationship requires striking a balance between space and common ground.
  3. Consistency. Healthy relationships tend to be stable and predictable. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we recognize the importance of secure attachment and the elements that create a sense of unconditional positive regard – not only for our partners, but also for ourselves.
  4. Responsiveness. This includes being open to feedback; it also requires a sense of knowing when times in the relationship require us to be there for our partners.
  5. Honesty. Healthy relationships will support interdependence by valuing honesty as a foundational part of growth. When we have high self-esteem in relationship, we are able to openly communicate our needs and are curious about our partner’s experience as well.

When we feel secure as to who we are, we create space for someone to compliment our life. We can recognize the importance of give and take, while also honouring our own needs and interests. Interdependence is a safe place to be 🙂

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What Does Validation Look Like?

In yesterday’s post, we explored invalidation and how some commonly used statements are actually not helpful in the moment. Our goal is validation: When we simply allow another person their feelings, when we listen with the intent of trying to understand, we are creating space for their experience:

“Would it help to talk about it?” or “Tell me what happened.”

“Okay,” “I see,” “Yes,”  – these are verbal prompts that simply let a person know that you are listening.

“How are you feeling about it?”

“What do you think about that?”

“That must have been (hard, frustrating, sad, upsetting)”by listing the emotion, we validate the feeling.

“I imagine you are feeling pretty (hurt, dismissed, scared)” 

“It’s completely understandable that you feel that way.”this type of statement normalizes the experience, making the person feel less alone. 

“I can see why this is so upsetting for you.”a way to align with someone. 

“What is your gut feeling about this?”a good way to move towards solution, but not intrusively.

“How can I help?”another good way to ask someone what they need from you.

A common theme from all of these statements is curiosity. By simply being curious, we are opening up the space to not only listen, but to understand. We can gauge from the answers if someone is looking to simply vent, or if they have come to you for advice. When we actively attempt to recognize another person’s experience, we validate their feelings; with that comes appreciation, comfort and a sense of being heard.

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What Does Invalidation Look Like?

We have all experienced the dismissive feeling of  invalidation. When we are vulnerable in telling someone how we feel, and their remarks somehow negate or disregard those feelings, we automatically experience a sinking of spirit. This often leads to shutting down and zipping up as we have felt brushed off, denied and rejected.

Although a person’s remarks may come with good intentions, it is important to understand that these types of remarks skip over the feeling and miss the mark:

“Relax.”

“Calm down.” (I always get a chuckle out of the meme that says ‘Never in this history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.’ Tee hee)

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”  Ouch!

“I know how you feel,” or “I hear ya.” Maybe my experience is different.

“That’s nothing to get upset about.” Well now I have two things to be upset about. 

“This happened to my (aunt, sister, friend, brother) once.” And in telling you their story, they have just jumped over your experience. 

“It could be worse.”

“That is nothing to get worked up about.” Well, I am worked up about it, that’s the point!

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” GRRRR….

“You should feel lucky.”

“Just don’t think about it.”

“Don’t be so sensitive.” Wow, is there something wrong with me too?

These types of statements are invalidating because they aren’t helpful in the moment. Perhaps your intention is to align with how someone else is feeling, or you are drawn to fix it for them; maybe someone else being in pain reminds you of your own pain and you are trying to avoid it. In any case, when we use these types of statements, we deny someone their subjective reality and their process.

Tomorrow’s post will explore validation and what it looks like.

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The Antidote to Contempt

Resentment can be quite insidious. What may begin as a few annoyances can build to a point where you are holding your loved one in contempt. The anger of contempt comes with its own army….all of those frustrations have now gathered and are ready to fight. You come well armed, yet your loved one isn’t prepared for the attack.

Dr. John Gottman lists contempt as one of the most destructive negative behaviours in relationships:

“Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict—particularly dangerous and destructive forms of conflict—rather than to reconciliation.”

The antidote? Fondness and admiration. Gottman says that when we focus on what we love about our partner, it helps to sustain us through times when we feel annoyed. The same can be applied in all of our relationships where contempt can fester.

It isn’t always easy to bring those positive attributes to the forefront of our mind – our negative bias can get in the way, so can our anger. But it is possible. A proactive tip includes writing out a list of all of your loved one’s qualities. This can be a helpful tool in reminding us that the good outweighs the bad – it can also help to temper our response when we need to speak to them about our concerns, needs or feelings. It helps to bring the rational mind into our emotional space; putting contempt at bay and healthy communication on the front lines. 🙂

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React or Respond; It’s Our Choice

We have all had those “0 to 60” reactions. Something gets triggered in us, our temper flares and our reaction is immediate. Hopefully, whatever words or actions that came as a result of flying off the handle, will be repairable. Unfortunately, the repair piece is often forgotten, and excuses replace an apology:

“You made me so mad I couldn’t help myself.”

“If you didn’t piss me off, I wouldn’t yell.”

It is in these moments that we must check ourselves. Yes, we can’t control another person’s behaviour or choices – but we can control ours. And we can begin by asking ourselves “Am I going to react to this, or am I going to respond?”

Reacting is 0 to 60 with little thought to consequence. Responding involves the step of slowing down long enough to make your own choice as to which direction this is going to go. Reacting is full emotion, responding includes a deep breath and some rational thought. Reacting is chaotic, responding is calm. Reacting is incomplete, responding is mature.

And if, in trying, we still make a mistake – we can respond to our reaction with a genuine apology:

“I am sorry that I yelled at you like that. This is not the way I want to behave and I am working on changing it.”

React or respond – it’s our choice. 🙂

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How We Can Honour Our Differences in Relationships

There is often an opposite energy attraction in our intimate relationships. People who lack confidence for example, are often attracted to those who have it. Introverts tend to attract extroverts, passive personalities will often be paired with dominant personalities. Sometimes the differences are linked to a quality (such as shyness), a value (financially secure) or a temperament trait (sensitivity). In any case, we often unknowingly attract ourselves to someone who provides a yin to our yang.

These differences are meant to be complementary to each other. What one lacks the other provides, and there is an element of interconnectedness that creates stability as they interrelate to each other. And yet, these very differences are often most felt when the relationship is under stress – what you used to admire in your partner, you begin to resent.

How then, can we honour the differences in our relationships? The first step is be aware of them. We often navigate blindly, unaware that the differences can teach us something about ourselves. Communicating with each other to acknowledge the difference brings it into the relationship as a working part.

The second step is to accept that they exist. If we don’t accept that the differences are what they are, it can lead us to feeling resentful towards our partners and pushing them towards change (as we usually believe that our position is most valuable.) Accepting our differences allows us to move towards compromise when faced with an issue.

Thirdly, we need to openly communicate about those differences when the relationship is under stress. This is often when the chasm, created by our differences, begins to feel too wide to cross. Being able to talk about the contrast, allows each person to feel a sense of interdependence within the relationship, building a bridge back to the other and rebalancing the yin to our yang. 🙂

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Give a Little, Get A lot; June is Seniors Month

June is seniors month! Although we can appreciate the elderly people in our lives all year long, it is especially heartwarming to know that a month has been dedicated to them – and such a lovely month as well. We can learn a lot from people who have had life long experience – I loved being around my grandparents; there was a calmness to their energy that I admired. As we lived many miles away from each other, part of our communication included hand written letters; it was always so exciting to get a letter from Grandma 🙂

In honour of Seniors month, I am bringing attention to two organizations that might interest you. The first is called ElderWisdomCircle. From their website:

“The ElderWisdomCircle™ is an online inter-generational program pairing advice seekers with a network of older adults (“Elders”) who provide empathetic, caring, and supportive advice based on their own life experiences. Elders answer advice letters via the Internet, offering readers of younger generations free, personal advice on a wide range of topics—love and relationships, family and child-rearing, career and self-improvement, and much more.”

How cool is that? On both the website and Facebook page, you will find featured advice: anything from “My partner is grieving,” to “Sorry Dad, I don’t like your GF.”

To check out ElderWisdomCircle: https://www.elderwisdomcircle.org/

The second organization featured in this post is Love for the Elderly, a non-profit that collects letters for seniors and distributes them (they do so in over 60 countries and 6 continents) by being linked to seniors homes and activity centers. On the website, you will find all the information you will need to send letters to seniors.  What a lovely way to send some love and support to the senior citizens of our world. Love for the Elderly also feature other ways to contribute such as being a Kindness Ambassador.

To check out Love for the Elderly: https://lovefortheelderly.org/

Give a little, get a lot. 🙂

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One of the Top Ways to Love Unconditionally

To love someone unconditionally takes a conscious effort. We have our own value systems, attitudes, opinions and beliefs. We have ways we like to do things, habits that have formed over time, and individualised experiences that help form who we are in relationship. And as a result, if we are not careful, love can become conditional. It can be overt or implied; conditional love involves a ‘set of rules’ that one must follow to feel approval and acceptance from their loved one.

Unconditional love includes acceptance of who a person is. It is not about their behaviours, choices or their level of success or achievement. Loving someone unconditionally involves stability, consistency and being attuned to their needs. What is one of the top ways that we can consciously love someone without condition? Show up.

  • Be intentional. Check in on loved ones, ask how someone is doing. Invite someone over, suggest a time to chat.
  • Listen with an open mind. Feeling validated is a core component of feeling accepted.
  • Be open to being vulnerable. Sometimes we are going to get feedback that may insult, anger or hurt; this may require being vulnerable to our own actions that may be hurting the relationship in some way.
  • Be mindful of relationship manners. Get somewhere on time; don’t be the friend that always cancels or doesn’t answer texts.
  • Remind someone that they are loved. Sometimes our loved ones are struggling to make healthy choices and we need to set some boundaries – within that process, we can still say “I love you.”
  • Create opportunities for joy. Moments of joy and laughter help to cement the relationship through shared experiences.

Loving unconditionally is not always an easy process. By showing up, we help another to feel accepted, appreciated and cared for. We help feed their soul.

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4 Attention Seeking Behaviours that Are Not Cool

Communication in relationships takes work. It is one of those things that doesn’t always come easily; firstly, due to our emotional brain and how it likes to trump our rational brain, and secondly, we have often learned unhealthy communication patterns throughout our relationship history.

When we get annoyed or angry with someone, it is often a natural response to lean into attention seeking behaviours. In those moments, we have shifted to a focus on being right; on having our feelings justified. Four attention seeking behaviours that, in the long run, hurt the relationship include:

  • Threatening to leave the relationship. Using ultimatums when you are angry serves no valuable purpose. We can only change ourselves – threatening to leave as a way to induce change never works in the long run as it creates a promise out of fear. We should only use an ultimatum when we are prepared to follow through. 
  • The silent treatment. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that the silent treatment is effective. It’s sulking. Period. Something didn’t go your way, so you punish the other by not speaking to them for days. The silent treatment is an immature anger response.
  • Trying to induce jealousy. Any time we compare a loved one in our lives to someone else (an ex, sibling, friend), we are character shaming. Nothing good can come of that.
  • Behaviours that tend to be dramatic in nature. Eye rolling, ignoring texts or phone calls (or excessive texting), slamming of doors, smashing something. Those behaviours do get attention, but not the right kind as they pull our loved one into a game, and not into repair and solution.

Relationship communication tends to work best when we are aware of our attention seeking behaviours and work to curb them. Whatever is learned can be un-learned; this will lead to healthier communication habits that will ripple out in all aspects of our relational lives.

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