Every year I hear from readers who are dreading the holidays, because it means dealing with their difficult relatives on a level they can avoid the rest of the year. Why is it so uncomfortable, threatening, and miserable dealing with these human beings you're related to? How has Covid made this even worse?
It is important you understand one critical thing about human behavior, we are all programmed toward one subconscious, evolutionary goal, to look for threats and protect ourselves.
Neuroscience experts say, from an evolutionary perspective, [our] ultimate goal is reproductive fitness. This means we have a subconscious tendency toward things like resource acquisition, self-protection, disease avoidance, social affiliation, status, and mate acquisition and retention.
In simple language, you are a walking, talking threat protection system, at work 12/7 to protect and defend yourself.
Experts say "this protection system is highly sensitive to fluctuating circumstances, and is more likely to be engaged when environmental cues signal that [you] are more susceptible to a threat." The Covid pandemic has done this to you. It has increased the perceived threat level that other human beings pose.
For two years, you have been told to stay six feet away, avoid contact, and protect yourself by wearing a mask, which puts a wall between you and others. You are more threatened by other people than you ever were before, and this could be negatively affecting your relationships.
In my opinion, Covid is making you more likely to get offended, feel more protective (selfish) and react more defensively. Add to this the current political divide and all the other divisive issues in play online, and you have a recipe for judgment, intolerance, defensiveness, division, and a lack of compassion and forgiveness. Do you find it harder to forgive others the last two years? Are you holding more grudges?
Covid is also making you more sensitive to loss or feeling taken from. If I asked you to make a list of everything you have lost the last two years (including quality of life, financially, and emotionally) it would probably be a long one. The loss you have experienced is subconsciously putting you on guard to watch for other losses. This means you might be feeling more protective of yourself than you ever have before. Are you more sensitive to mistreatment or more easily bothered by other people's behavior? You might be functioning in a fear of loss state, which is making you more protective than ever and this could negatively affect your family gatherings this year.
Evolutionary psychology also tell us that when we function in a fear state our emotions will drive our behavior more than our logic will. When you are functioning in stress (a fight or flight state) your frontal lobe actually shuts down, which means you are less logical, more emotional, and more defensive.
Take a minute and ask yourself, am I reacting to people with more defensiveness than I did two years ago? Am I quicker to be protective or get offended? Do I find fault, gossip, or talk about the flaws in other people more than usual?
If you can see a pattern of fear driven feelings and behavior in yourself, here are some things you can do to calm your protective tendencies and make your holiday more peaceful:
Remember that ultimately what other people think or say about you doesn't mean anything.
It doesn't diminish your value and it doesn't have meaning or power, unless you believe it does. You can be completely bullet proof if you just see yourself that way. Choose to see all humans as divine, amazing, scared, struggling students in the classroom of life, just like you. When they behave badly, choose to forgive it, because most of the time they don't intend to harm you. They are just functioning in fear.
Don't take anything personally
Everything other people do and say, is driven by their fears for and about themselves. It is never about you. As a matter of fact, all behavior is just a request for love and a sign that the person doesn't love themselves. It a relative says something offensive this year, let it bounce off and hit the floor. Don't let anything stick and whatever you do, don't pick it up and stab yourself with it later. You are in control of how much other people can hurt you.
The way you judge and value others, is the way you will judge and value yourself.
If you fault find and judge the mistakes or flaws in other people as making them less valuable, you will subconsciously see your own flaws as making you less valuable too. You can only love and accept yourself to the degree you love and accept your neighbors. Work on seeing their value as the same as yours, their mistakes and flaws as their perfect classroom and find love for them in spite of their negative qualities and you will find a new level of love for yourself too.
You aren't responsible for other people's happiness.
You are only responsible for your own choices, thoughts, words, and deeds. These are the only things in your control. Allow the universe to be in charge of other people and their behavior. The universe has their perfect classroom well in hand and doesn't need you to stress about it. Let go of feeling responsible for even the people you love. Focus all your attention on choosing your own positive feelings and behaviors, and allow others to be in their perfect classroom journey no matter what they are experiencing.
See whatever happens as your perfect classroom
This means you choose to see everything that happens as here to serve you. You choose to see everything that happens it a blessing in disguise to help you grow and become stronger, wiser or more loving. This means even when others say offensive things, gossip or judge you, it is nothing more than a chance to practice choosing to see yourself as bulletproof.
Be the question asker and give compliments
Instead of dreading the relative's questions, take the initiative and be the question asker at the party. Spend the whole time asking each person questions about themselves and their lives. This means you don't have to talk about yourself and your life at all, which is safer. It also means showing you care and are interested in knowing about and understanding others. Look for ways to compliment and validate others in the room. This creates an atmosphere of building people up instead of tearing them down.
Be the love in the room
Focus all your attention on making others feel important and valued. You cannot do both love and fear at the same time. If you are laser focused on giving love, you won't have the bandwidth to worry about yourself. Spend every minute of the party making others feel comfortable and accepted and your fears will go to the back burner.
Avoid controversial topics
I have a friend who puts a list on the front door of all the topics that are against the rules to bring up at her family gatherings. Politics, religion, vaccination, and the new Covid variant top her list. This takes all the hot topics off the table before the party even starts. Consider having a jar filled with safe "get to know you questions" that driven understanding, compassion, and love instead.
You can use Covid as your excuse to bow out of anything
If you don't think you can handle the family gathering and stay balanced, it's okay to bow out. You have the perfect excuse this year. Just say you might be feeling sick. But, this doesn't excuse you from the work of learning to love each person and yourself at a higher level. This should still be your goal, but if you need more time before stepping into the hot zone, it's okay to practice loving them from afar this year.
Even though you are subconsciously programmed to look for threats and protect yourself, you are also deeply programmed to love. I believe your love is really who you are. Focus this holiday season on being love and making others feel safer everywhere you go.
Notice that whenever human being face calamity, natural disasters, or tragedy, there is an equal upswing of love that follows. Hard times can bring us closer together and increase our capacity for love and understanding or they can bring out the worst.
You have the power to decide what is increased in you this year, more fear or more love. Will you become more defensive or more compassionate? Instead of letting your subconscious decide your response, consciously choose. Decide to make the pandemic increase your compassion and forgiveness this year. You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
Most of the questions submitted to me from KSL.com readers are about getting along better with family members. When your relationships with your spouse, children, parents, in-laws and siblings are struggling, or there is disappointment, anger, resentment or distrust in the mix, it is terribly painful and can suck the joy from your life.
Most relationships that are in trouble started out with just minor issues, but over time the resentment and distrust have grown. Now that there has been a lot of bad water under the bridge, fixing the problem is much more difficult. Most people wait until a problem is huge before they seek help; they get therapy or life coaching as a last resort before splitting up instead of seeking help at the first sign of trouble, when a problem is easier to fix.
This also applies to your relationships with your children. Parents often tell me how they used to be close to their child and now their child won't talk to them. Most of the time, what has happened is a slow decline in trust, respect, validation, listening and communication. The change can be so gradual you don't realize the relationship is in trouble until it's almost too late.
There are things you can do to avoid these problems and/or address them earlier, but you have to first recognize a problem is happening. The following health checks can assist you in recognizing issues earlier.
Check the temperature of your relationship
Are things 'too hot' with conflict?
Is either of you feeling angry, defensive, confrontational, volatile or bothered? Is there conflict and fighting every week? Does someone get offended a few times a week? Even if this happens once a month, it is a sign that there is a problem that requires attention.
Heat in the relationship often means there is a fear of loss, mistreatment or feeling deprived in play. It could mean you or the other person is struggling with not feeling safe. They might be on the lookout for offenses in order to protect themselves. This is a big sign of trouble, but it's not hard to fix if addressed early.
You might show your partner this article and say, "I think we run hot. What do you think?" Ask questions about how safe they feel in the relationship and just listen. Don't defend yourself or try to fix it; just be willing to listen to how they feel and validate their right to have those feelings today. You could say "I can understand how you might feel this way. Thanks for sharing with me. Would you ever be open to getting some relationship help with this before it gets any bigger?"
Don't be afraid that things will get worse, scarier or more complicated if you seek help — it won't. Learning new skills and tools can actually turn things around quickly. Heat in a relationship is something to watch closely and remedy as soon as you can. Reassure the person that you are on their side and have their back and want this relationship to thrive. Seek some professional help and get some skills and tools to help you resolve conflict in a calm, mature, less emotional way.
Are things 'too cold,' meaning quiet or distant?
Is there distance between you? Do you feel there is a wedge of some kind in play? Is something dividing you? This is something you want to address right now, while the distance is narrow. If you let this issue fester and grow, it can become as large as the Grand Canyon, making it almost impossible to cross.
If one of you has the habit of getting cold and quiet when bothered, this is not healthy relationship behavior. It could mean you don't have the skills and tools necessary to talk about the issue or you don't feel safe enough with your spouse to try talking about it. Either way, you need to learn how to make yourself feel safe so you can address issues and problems in the moment, and not stuff them.
Again, I recommend you seek professional help on communication, strength and self-esteem. Don't wait for years of coldness to pass by and freeze the relationship up.
As you know, a healthy body temperature is on average 98 degrees Fahrenheit. But even a tiny three-point increase means you have a fever of 101 and are really sick. It doesn't take much to knock your relationship out of balance, too.
A healthy relationship temperature is one where both parties feel safe with each other and there is mutual love, respect, admiration and appreciation. Check the temperature every day and don't let heat or cold continue untreated. I have written many articles on solving specific relationship problems in the past that you can find searching KSL.com
Take the relationship blood pressure
What direction is your relationship pressure going? If it is not rising/improving, then it is going down. Just like blood is constantly on the move in your body, your relationship is always moving. It is either getting stronger or it is weakening.
What are you doing to move it forward and improve it right now? Are you reading books together, engaged in life coaching or counseling, spending quality time together, asking questions and listening, validating each other, doing nice things, planning dates, making time for intimacy, or showing that you admire, respect and appreciate your partner? Check your blood pressure and make sure you are doing something each day to keep the relationship rising. See if your partner is on board to work on this together.
How much does this relationship weigh?
Is your relationship heavy or light? Is it a place that feels sluggish and weighted down or is it light, happy and fun?
You might have gone through some heavy stuff together, and this adds burden and strain to your relationship. If this is the case, you may need some professional help to give you skills and tools for coping, being resilient and bouncing back.
In the meantime, commit to bringing more joy and fun into the relationship. Make it fun and light to be with you. Plan fun activities together, watch funny movies, go outside, have some adventure, and start choosing some joy every day. If you or your partner are struggling with depression and this sounds nearly impossible, get some help with this. Don't let the heaviness become a permanent thing.
Check for investment in your relationship health
For any relationship to be healthy it requires investment. It might require you to invest some money — for dates, activities and fun together — and it will absolutely require an investment of time and energy.
Your time is your most limited resource and there are many things competing for it. You have many responsibilities and demands that make it easy to lose track of what is most important, but your relationships with the people you love, in the end, will always be the thing that matters most. Ask yourself how you can invest in making sure your relationship is healthy.
There are many options that don't cost a lot. You can read relationship books from the library. You can go on free dates like hikes or picnics. But all of these require you to invest some time and energy into it. I promise it will be worth it.
All your relationships require investment to maintain, and even more investment if you want them to thrive. This applies to spouses, partners, children, parents, in-laws and friends. You can health check all these relationships daily to help you see where extra TLC or attention is needed.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSl.COM
This week I want to share some interesting things about human behavior that will help you understand yourself and your loved ones and why we behave the ways we do. I have been teaching people skills and coaching people through relationship problems for over 25 years, and in that time I've come to realize that whatever bad behavior you are seeing in another person (or yourself) it is being driven by their (or your) fears.
If you read my column regularly you've heard that before, but today I am taking it a little deeper because there are some other important truths about human behavior and fear that might also help improve your relationships. Here they are:
Fear always wins
What I mean is you subconsciously make decisions from your fears, way more often than by love or values. Your need for safety is your most basic need. Maslow didn't agree with me on this when he created his hierarchy of needs though. Maslow put food and water as the most basic need and then safety after that, but I think he got it wrong.
This is because, if you are starving but at the same time you are being chased by a tiger, you wouldn't stop to eat. Your safety comes first. Once you were safe, then you would worry about food and water. This makes sense if you are being chased by a tiger, but it doesn't work well in your personal relationships, when you are choosing between fear and love.
When your spouse offends you, you will automatically react from fear and protect yourself before you will respond with love. It's your natural programming to do so. I wish this wasn't true, but your subconscious fears will almost always override your love, values and intentions, unless you consciously choose otherwise.
Behavior driven by fear is inherently selfish and void of love
This is because you cannot do love and fear at the same time. Fear-driven behavior is all about protecting yourself and seeking safety. It is not about the other person and what they need. All bad behavior is driven by fear for ourselves and this selfish, loveless behavior creates a divide in relationships.
When you show up in fear you trigger the other person's fears, too
When you show up in a relationship in fear (instead of love) you trigger fear in your partner. They can feel that you don't love them in that moment and that scares them. They feel unsafe and they automatically respond back in fear, to protect themselves. You will then feel this lack of love in their response and you will be triggered further.
This is the vicious cycle I see in almost all relationships. Can you see it in yours? One person gets scared and responds in fear and this triggers the other to respond in fear and soon, there is no love showing up?
We can change our fear-driven bad behavior and choose love
This fear-driven behavior is something we can work on and change, but it takes a great deal of mindfulness, awareness and practice. Everything I write and teach comes down to recognizing when fear is driving, choosing to feel safe in that moment, and choosing to show up in love not fear. I will be the first to say that it isn't easy, though, because we are subconsciously wired for fear. We do have the power to watch our behavior and thinking for fear reactions though, and consciously choose love-driven responses.
Here are some examples of how fear over love reactions happen:
Example 1: A child loves his parents and wants to make good choices for himself, but he also fears not being accepted by his peers. He might be fear of failure dominant, which means he needs acceptance and validation so badly, he might choose to follow his friends and make poor choices in order to feel safe and accepted. His fears around acceptance will drive his choice, and he will choose safety over love for himself.
The parent loves this child but also fears losing them and failing them. When the child makes a bad choice, the parent gets fear triggered. They react badly, yell, scream, ground the child for a year, or punish them in whatever way will make the parent feel safer again. They might become controlling, if this feels safer. Their parenting behavior is fear-driven though and it is all about them, not what the child needs right now. The parent will put safety before love, the same way the child did.
The answer here is to help the child build their self-esteem and have less fear of rejection, so they don't need approval from their friends so badly. He needs help making choices that are love driven for himself. The parent needs to learn to trust their child's journey and see life as a classroom, not a test. They need to have less fear and more trust in their value and journey. This will help them parent from love and wisdom, doing what's best for their child, not what feels safer for themselves.
Understanding each other's fear-driven behavior brings compassion for why they did what they did though. We understand it because we have the same fears and they drive our bad behavior too.
Example 2: A husband loves his wife, but he has a great deal of fear around losing or wasting money. When he sees the wife has spent money on food that didn't get eaten and went bad, he gets angry and upset with her, even treating her badly. He subconsciously thinks being angry and unkind to her will teach her to be more careful with money, which will make him feel safer. This is fear-driven bad behavior, and he is obviously choosing to act from fear not love.
The wife loves her husband but has a deep fear of failure and feeling attacked and criticized triggers her badly. She doesn't at this point feel safe with her husband. So she pulls back, gets silent and stays away from being close to him. This is also a fear-driven bad behavior that means she is choosing fear over love. She thinks she is safer pulling away.
The husband feels his wife pulling away from him and not wanting to be close to him. This fear-driven behavior of hers triggers more fear of loss and anger in him. Instead of showing up with love at this point, he gets more angry, because that subconsciously feels like it's protecting him. This further triggers her. This vicious cycle of choosing fear over love can continue until there is no love left in the relationship.
The real answer here is for the husband to get help around his fears of loss, waste and money. He most likely has fear issues around being mistreated and disregarded, and these are his fear issues to solve and manage. He must learn to see loss and recognize that acting from fear won't create what he wants in his marriage. He has to learn how to handle situations with love and respect, if he wants love and respect back.
The wife hopefully can see why her husband behaves the way he does and understands that when he lets fear dictate his behavior, it's not really about her, it's about his own fear of loss issues. She must learn to manage her fear of failure issues, so when she is criticized, she can see it's about his fear and not take it personally. She must learn to make herself feel safe so she can show up with love and forgiveness when he is scared.
Here are the core principles from all this:
This was first published on KSL.com
I love your book "Choosing Clarity." I work in it every morning and plan to for the rest of my life. I have a problem with my spouse, though. She goes on and on with negativity and has for 30 years. She claims it's a fact she is a loser and a failure. I just don't want to hear or validate that anymore. I could listen for hours, and she never moves to a more positive place. She recounts over and over every failure she can find. She is never interested in trying to see it a different way. She won't read your book or try anything to feel better. She has post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. How do I proceed from here? I am so tired of it, and now she says I don't listen or care. I am just so tired of the same conversation that is so negative. What can I do?
This is hard since you cannot fix or change another person. No amount of begging, pleading or trying to solve it will ever change someone until they want to change. This can be discouraging and exhausting.
The good news is there are some things you can do to maintain your own positivity and encourage your partner to want to change themselves. Here are a few suggestions:
Don't try to fix it or be responsible for it
Most negative people want understanding about the pain they are in; they don't want a solution. They simply want you to know they are in pain, scared and unhappy. Your natural instinct will be to find a solution, but all they need you to say is "I am sorry your hurting. It sounds painful. I hate knowing your hurting because I love you."
Don't offer any solutions, especially if you have offered solutions in the past. Allow them to be where they are and be responsible for it. If you offer solutions, they may think that you're partly responsible for fixing it, which you cannot be. It's not your problem to fix, it is theirs.
Just affirm that you love and care for your spouse. If they ask why you aren't offering solutions anymore, tell them you realized they are the only person who can change it, and it's best to just love them where they are.
Stop trying to change them
The more you try to change someone, the more they will dig in and insist on staying where they are. They want to be loved and accepted where they are right now, even when they are really hard to live with. If they can feel you are disappointed in them and wish they were different, they will resist any change even more.
Stop saying or acting like you want anything different. This creates a space where they will be more open to change.
Use the encouragement technique
You cannot change another person, but you can encourage them when they want to change themselves. This is how it works: Imagine the way you want your spouse to think and behave. Make a list of the qualities you wish they possessed and the way you wish they behaved if they were being their best. Then, look for any signs of that kind of behavior. When you see it, make sure you mention how awesome they are.
Be specific and tell them how wonderful it is that they are acting more positive and happy now. Tell them what an upbeat, positive person they are being.
The goal is to show them this is the person you see when you look at them. People always want to live up to your highest opinion of them, so they may decide to be like this on their own. Just make sure any comment you make is positive and don't respond to the negative behavior at all.
Change your belief about human value and make it the language in your home
The only way this person will feel different or think differently about themselves and their life is if they do some work to change their beliefs.
We all currently have a belief that we might not be good enough. It sounds like your partner even believes she is a total failure. This is not a fact, just a belief. It comes from a deep foundational belief that human value can change and has to be earned. As long as a person believes that, they will always feel "not good enough."
The best way to change self-esteem for every member of your family is to teach them a new, better belief – that all human beings have the same, unchangeable, intrinsic worth and there is nothing they can do to change that. Talk about this new belief often with your family and make it the language in your home. Your partner will start to get it if you talk about it often.
You could also offer to encourage them to work with a coach or counselor if they want to better understand the principle. It's better to let them learn it on their own with their private coach than for you to try to teach it to them.
Encourage your family to have compassion for others
The way you judge other people is always tied to the way you judge yourself. If you are hard on yourself, chances are you are also hard on others and quick to see their faults as diminishing their value. As long as you do that, you will also see your own faults as diminishing your value. So, if you encourage compassion for others and really work on seeing them as good enough, you will also grow in love for yourself.
Help your family to trust the journey as your perfect classroom
Share with your family the idea that we are on the planet to learn and grow, and the universe is a wise teacher bringing the perfect lessons we need every day. This means when we have failures, they don't change our value; they are just lessons here to teach us something.
Talk about this principle often in your home and let your spouse hear it. Don't preach it or try to teach it to them, though. Just talk about it as something you believe.
Understand this partner can be your perfect classroom
We tend to surround ourselves with people who can become good teachers in our journey. I wonder if this partner struggling with this issue can be the perfect spouse for you. What can you learn?
If you keep asking this question, the universe will provide an answer. Maybe it's to learn to love others when they are hard to love. Maybe it's about loving yourself or trusting God more. When you see your spouse as part of your perfect classroom, you can have more patience with and compassion for them.
(Note: This suggestion is not meant to be applied in situations that involve abuse. If you feel unsafe because you experience emotional, mental or physical abuse, you must seek outside help.)
See your spouse as scared, not negative
By attaching negative labels to your spouse, you're more likely to have less compassion for and experience more frustration with them. It would be more accurate — and more helpful — to see them as scared and lacking some skills and tools than to see them as a negative person. Your spouse is just a person who is struggling because they don't know a better way to process their life, but that doesn't affect their value at all.
Have some boundaries when you need them
Lovingly tell your spouse that you are sorry they are hurting and you love them. But it's also OK to let them know you can handle about five more minutes of negative talk, and then you'll need to either focus on some positives or leave the room. Make sure they know this isn't about them, but about what you need to stay balanced today yourself.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
After 20-plus years as a life coach and human behavior expert, I have discovered some interesting patterns in the way we humans react to situations. I believe there are three basic types of reactions to offenses, and understanding these reactions could make it easier to find the best response when you get bothered.
The three basic reaction options are:
Where the fear comes from:
I wish I could say that the trust and love response comes naturally to us, but it usually isn't. People-pleasing and defending yourself are hard-wired into most of our subconscious programming. Let me explain why.
In prehistoric times, people lived in groups and depended on each other for survival. If you were rejected it could literally mean death. If you were kicked out of the group or tribe, you probably wouldn't survive on your own. In my experience working with people as a master life coach, it appears that this has left us all with a deep subconscious need for approval and acceptance by others.
I believe this is why what others think of you feels so critical or important: You are hard-wired to believe that your life depends on approval (even though it doesn't). This means, there might always be a part of you that desperately wants to be liked, accepted and get along with others. This part of you might be so scared of conflict it would rather allow others to mistreat you, than risk rejection.
It is my experience that you are also subconsciously programmed to feel unsafe in the world and believe that you must protect and defend yourself from threats all around you to survive. I believe, again, this is a deeply wired survival mechanism but one that causes a great number of problems in relationships.
You have a part of you that is always looking for mistreatment, slights, danger or threats in the people and situations around you. You might even get defensive too easily and be quick to jump into conflict because it feels safe to protect yourself.
These two types of reactions are so deeply wired into your subconscious programming that they can happen fast. Your brain doesn't need to think about either of them; they are immediate reactions.
You may also notice that one of the two fear reactions is more dominant in you than the other. You might still do the other on occasion, but you are more likely either a defender or a people-pleaser. Which behavior is more frequent for you?
What your 3 options look like:
Now, let me show you how understanding the three reaction options will help you in a real-life situation.
Let's say your partner does something that offends, bothers or hurts you. You will have one reaction that shows up immediately as your dominant fear response. Don't do this. Take a minute and step back; before you say or do anything, see if you can identify all three options and what they would look like in this situation.
Option No. 1: Fear-of-failure response
You can react with fear-of-failure behavior allow yourself to be mistreated. You could silently resent the other person, be bothered by them, get quiet, sulk or talk about them behind their back. You could see them as the bad guy and play the victim.
If you choose to react this way, you may get some sympathy, love and attention when they notice you are sulking, but your spouse may also lose some respect for you. This immature behavior, over time, cam damage the relationship.
Option No. 2: Fear-of-loss response
You can react with fear-of-loss behavior and confront them with anger or get defensive. You could judge them and see them as the "bad guy," seeing them as worse than you. You could accuse them and put them down, which is ego-based fear behavior. This response feels stronger, but there is fear behind it; it is not real strength, and there is no love in it either.
If you choose to respond this way, your ego may feel better temporarily, but you could be slowly destring the relationship as your partner could begin to resent you.
Option No. 3: Trust and love response
You may actually have a couple of trust and love, balanced behavior options in these situations: You might choose a "let it go in love" response or a "talk about it with love" response. If done without fear, in a balanced place, seeing you and the other person as equals, either of these options could be a good choice.
The "let it go in love" response is where you recognize that their bad behavior probably wasn't intentional, wasn't really about you, or wasn't meant to harm you. Because you recognize that, you choose to forgive it or let it go and hope they will do the same with your small, unintentional mistakes. You can do this from a place of strength when you know they can't actually diminish you or your value and that whatever happened was your perfect classroom journey anyway. You can respond with love toward them and yourself, with no resentment, and completely let the offense go.
However, if this is something that happens frequently and/or you know you can't let it go without having a conversation about it, you can do that. But you must have this conversation without judgment, defensiveness, anger, emotion, fear or criticism. You must start the conversation by seeing the other person as an equal, not the bad guy. You have the same value as your partner no matter what either of you does. You must not talk down to them in any way. You must strive for a mutually validating conversation that comes from a place of love, accuracy, kindness and respect.
You should first ask your partner what was going on with them in that moment, what their intention was, and what they thought and meant. You then get to listen and strive to really understand them. Following this exchange, you can ask permission to share what you experienced and ask for what you would like them to do differently next time or moving forward.
Either of these responses might be the right one for you and you should pick the one you feel most capable of doing from a place of trust and love, without fear or judgment. Next time you get offended, try identifying each of the three options and see if it helps you rise and be your better self.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
I work with many couples who are struggling to get along, handle conflict and feel safe with each other. When they tell me about the disagreements they have, I can always see some simple questions they could have asked that might have stopped the fight before it started.
It might help you apply this article to yourself if you could think back to a specific fight or conflict you have had in the past and replay it in your mind. Then imagine what might have happened if you had tried the suggestions below.
Conflict usually begins when someone says or does something that makes the other person feel insulted, criticized, taken from or disregarded. I call this the triggering incident. When these incidents happen, the other person then feels they must defend or protect themselves, and they often respond with a defensive response or counterattack.
The best time to stop a fight is right when the triggering incident happens — before you get defensive or make a counterattack. But it is difficult to stop and think clearly when you have just been offended.
Stopping at the triggering point is going to take some practice and some battling with your ego — because your ego always wants to react defensively or attack back. Your ego shows up to protect you any time there is a perceived threat, but it's important to remember your ego is fear-driven and not capable of love-driven behavior. If you let your ego respond from fear, you are always going to make the situation worse.
The other thing to keep in mind is that most triggering incidents are unintentional and driven by our own fears. When people feel unsafe they behave selfishly and carelessly, and most of the time it isn't really about you at all.
So here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you pause, get out of ego, get more information and respond to triggering events in a more mature, balanced way:
What am I feeling?
The moment a triggering incident happens, walk away, close your eyes, ask for a minute to get your head clear, or just pause and pay attention to what's happening inside yourself. What are you feeling? How did that trigger make you feel?
Don't stop asking questions here, though. You don't want to let your ego make these emotions bigger. Before you start ruminating about the offense, ask some more questions.
Am I applying meaning to what was said or done?
For example, maybe you're thinking: "My spouse making that comment means they don't care about me at all." Does it really mean that? Take the meaning away and just look at the content of the comment or action alone.
How am I perceiving this?
Ask yourself: Is there any way that I am hearing or perceiving this to be malicious while it wasn't meant that way? Do I have a tendency to feel insulted or taken from easily? This could mean I see offenses when they aren't really there; own it if this might be true.
You may want to ask the other person about their intent. Did they mean that to sound critical or judgmental, or is that just the way you are hearing it? Give them a chance to explain their intent. Ask this from a place of really wanting to understand the other person, not from a place of judgment where you are talking down to them.
Was it malicious?
Ask yourself: Do I think this person purposefully wants to hurt or offend me? Is there malice in their actions and do they intend harm? Or, do they love me and just say or do thoughtless things because they aren't paying attention?
What is going on with your partner at this moment? Are they tired, hungry, distracted or experiencing fear that might keep their focus on themselves? Could there be another reason they did this triggering behavior, one that isn't even about you and has no malice in it?
What do I want to happen?
Ask yourself: What do I want this day or night to look like? What kind of experience would I like to have with my partner today? Are there reactions to this triggering incident that will create what I want and others that would totally destroy what I want? Consciously choose a response that will create what you want.
How often does this happen?
Ask yourself: Is this kind of offense something that is happening often? Is the behavior creating fear about this relationship not working long term? Is that scaring me? If it is, then you must address the behavior, but you must do that the right way and at the right time. Think about the best time and place to have this sensitive conversation.
Then, make sure when the right time comes, you ask the other person if they are open to having a heartfelt conversation about the relationship. Get their buy-in to do this. Let them know that your intention here is to make the relationship stronger, not poke holes in it. You are not mad at them, and this isn't about attacking each other; it's about understanding each other better. Let them know you love them and give them some validation around all the things they do right.
Start the conversation by asking them questions about how they feel the relationship is going. Is there anything that concerns them or scares them? Is there anything you could do to show up for them better?
Spend time here listening to understand them, how they see things and how they feel. Honor and respect their right to think and feel the way they do. Ask lots of questions and stay here until they feel heard and understood. If you do this right, you will probably learn some things about your partner you didn't know.
Then, ask permission to share something that has been creating a little fear in you. Ask if they would be willing to listen and not get defensive, reiterating that your intent here is to strengthen the relationship and understand each other better.
Remind them that you love them, then explain the behaviors that are triggering you using "I" statements. Try phrases like "I feel," "when I hear this I experience this," "in my opinion," and "from my perspective."
Try to avoid "you" statements that feel like an attack. Tell them that when they say or do these things it triggers some fear in you and explain what your fears are. Own the fact that your reactions may be more about events in your past than they are about your partner in the present. Talk it through while staying focused on mutual understanding, respect and a desire to know each other better.
The people closest to you typically don't mean to intentionally offend you or put you down on purpose, but it does happen. If they intentionally meant harm, there are a couple of places it can go from there:
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
Believing your own views are right is a troublesome tendency that we each must watch out for. It shows up as an overattachment to our own ideas and opinions and the tendency to see other perspectives as wrong.
When you get overattached to your opinion, you also tend to look for reinforcement confirming that you are right. It's called confirmation bias and you are drawn to shows, articles and books that confirm your current opinion over things that challenge it. You subconsciously seek this confirmation because it has a positive effect on your self-esteem.
Feeling like you are right doesn't actually increase your value; it just temporarily makes your ego feel better than other people whom you see as wrong.
If people struggle to see value in themselves, they often seek what I call "group self-esteem." They align themselves with a group of people who see themselves as superior to another group, and because they are a member of this superior group they get a little self-esteem boost.
The temporary benefits
But again, thinking you are right is only a temporary ego boost because being right doesn't actually give you more value than the people on the other side. Many people believe their ideas, opinions and beliefs do make them the "good guys" and more valuable than people with different views and beliefs. You can see this happening all around us.
People need to believe that their opinions make them better than others for two reasons:
1. They need the self-esteem boost that comes from feeling superior to others
This often happens when they don't get enough self-esteem from their appearance or performance. So, taking a strong stand on their views becomes their "thing" that sets them apart and makes them feel valuable. These people will talk about and share their views liberally because it reinforces their sense of value. They are overly committed to being right because it makes them feel better.
2. They get a sense of safety from their strong opinions and ideas
Feeling sure about their views gives them a sense of solid ground to stand on. Their opinions and views can make them feel in control and provide some stability. Beliefs can create our sense of security in the world; the problem is that when we rely too heavily on our opinions for security, we can become stubborn and stop learning, growing or experiencing people and ideas outside of those views.
There are some benefits to being overcommitted to being right, but there are also some troublesome consequences from being this way. Here are a few of them:
1. You only see life from your own perspective
You cannot help seeing the world through your own lens — a lens that was created from all your past experiences and knowledge. Yours is a very unique lens, too, because no other person on the planet will ever have your upbringing, your family, and your life experiences. You are literally the only one who can see life through your lens.
This is important to understand because your lens is also not accurate. It is all you know and can see, so it feels accurate, but it is — and will always be — just your perspective. There is an infinite number of other perspectives from which things look totally different. This is why any number of witnesses can watch the same event and see it very differently. This is why witness testimony can be unreliable. People always see the world through their skewed lens.
Recognizing this and understanding that all you can ever see is your own skewed opinion, perspective, and views means being open to honoring and respecting other people's right to see the world from their perspective. It is also all they can see, and from their perspective things will look very different from yours.
There is great wisdom and compassion to be gained when we step out of judgment and our need to be right and experience, listen to and learn from other people's perspectives. If you only watch your perspective's news program and read books that support what you already believe is the truth, you will miss out on the richness of the human experience and all its diversity.
2. You don't learn anything
A funny thing happens when you think you're right in your opinions and views: You stop asking questions and you stop learning. You subconsciously believe you know all there is to know, so you don't care what else is out there. It is only when you are willing to question what you know, and are truly open to being wrong, that you can learn. Wise people know that the more you learn, the more you understand you have more to learn.
There are always going to be more questions than answers. Being willing to question your views and knowledge makes you intelligent, a perpetual student, and ensures you're always growing. True wisdom is always questioning what you think you know.
3. You don't connect with people
If you are overly committed to your own opinions, you will miss opportunities to connect with other people — primarily because they won't share their perspectives with you. They can feel that you aren't open and don't provide a safe place to share, so they will keep their views to themselves.
There are billions of amazing humans out there with interesting stories and experiences, many that are beyond your ability to comprehend. Because you have never experienced life in their shoes, you don't know what they know. The more different they are from you, the harder it can be to cross the divide and connect with them; but when you do, you grow in incalculable ways.
This is why people say travel to faraway places changes you. Taking time to get to know people, who are vastly different from you and honoring and respecting their right to their views — even if their views bother or offend you — will help you gain compassion and wisdom. Spending all your time with people who agree with you gets you nowhere.
4. You don't experience love at the highest level
I personally believe — though I am open to being wrong about all of this — that differences are a perfect part of our life's journey because they stretch our ability to love others and ourselves. Differences trigger fears in us and push us out of our comfort zones. Think about some people in your life that you have a hard time loving or even liking. What are the differences that create these feelings? For some reason, your subconscious mind that has decided these behaviors in these people make them unworthy of love at some level.
The problem with letting these feelings go unchecked is that as long as you see their faults as making them unworthy of love, you will also see your own faults — though they may be different ones — as making you unworthy of love. You literally cannot love yourself except as you love your neighbor. If you stay in judgment of them, you will also stay in judgment of yourself. If you want to truly love and accept yourself, you must work on seeing every other human being as equal in value and worthy of compassion. You may never understand their perspective or behavior, but you know that's because you cannot see the world through their lens.
Being open to understanding and learning from other people takes you to a higher level of love and creates a wiser, more open and beautiful way of living. But you cannot get there if you are stuck in your need to be right about your current views.
Opinions vs. morals and values
I also want to say that opinions and views as I have addressed them in this article are different from your morals and values. Morals and values are beautiful choices you make about the rules you want to guide your behavior choices. They are still made from your perspective, but they are the consciously chosen systems to live by. What you want to avoid is pushing your value systems onto others — because they have the right to choose their own — and being closed off to changing your values as you grow and learn.
You could choose to stay open and question everything including your values, your views, and your opinions, and constantly measure them against love. There are so many dimensions to the human experience, and nothing is ever fully black and white, but love for yourself and other people may be a good measure in choosing values that create positive things in your life.
These are, of course, just my perspective and ideas, but I do like the results that are created in my life when I choose to see life as a classroom — purposefully designed to stretch my compassion and ability to love. I also appreciate the comments to my articles that challenge my ideas and premises and I am always open to being wrong.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
About a year ago I found out my spouse had not only been looking at inappropriate things online, but she has also been leaving comments on posts and videos of other men. It has completely destroyed me. I feel betrayed. I feel like I'm not good enough. She, of course, says that it meant nothing to her. But when I try and tell her how much it has hurt me, she doesn't get it. We have been fighting over this for over a year, and the only way to stop fighting is for me to just act like I am over it. I AM NOT OVER IT! In fact, I'm still sick about it. But the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe I am the one overreacting over it. I'm so lost and confused. ... Can you please help me? She did delete the app she was doing it on, but I feel like the damage is done and I don't know how to move forward.
I'd like to address your question by giving you a procedure you can use whenever you get offended or have a fight or a problem with anyone in your life. This is especially helpful when trust has been broken and you don't feel emotionally safe with your partner.
In a situation like this, you only have two options in response. It is very important that you understand the consequences of each option and make a conscious decision about which is right for you. If you don't make a conscious decision, your brain will make a subconscious decision by reacting and you will probably make the situation worse, not better.
Here are your two options:
1. Respond from a place of fear
Understand that you cannot show up in love and fear at the same time. If you choose fear, your love goes out the window and your focus is on protecting yourself. This means your behavior will be selfish. You will not do or say things that show love and compassion for the other person; you will say and do things that make you feel safer.
The other person will feel the selfish energy around what you say, and they will likely not feel safe or loved by you. They will then focus on protecting themselves, too, and they won't be loving toward you. If you both show up in fear often, no one will be giving any love and it's less likely that the relationship will work.
2. Respond from a place of love
This means you choose to respond with love toward yourself and the other person. You can only access your love and respond this way if you have first chosen to trust that you are safe. You will need to trust that the universe is on your side, that your value can't change, and that you cannot be "not good enough." This will help you have the capacity to choose to show love, compassion and forgiveness to the other person.
When you respond with love, you can choose to allow the other person to make mistakes and still be worthy of your love because you want the same grace for your mistakes. You can forgive their past behavior completely, seeing it as just a lesson for both of you and not part of who they are. Choosing to forgive and love the other person is likely to make them love you more and create the best outcome.
How to respond from a place of love
Having said that, the love option isn't easy to choose; fear is a lot easier. Fear comes naturally with no effort whatsoever. Choosing love and forgiving the other person can feel much harder, but there are some things you can do to make it easier.
It's important to note there are some situations when the loving thing to do is love yourself enough to leave. If you truly believe the other person has no intention of changing or improving, you might feel leaving is the best thing for you. Only you are entitled to know if and when you have reached this point. Trust your heart and you will know. This is also a love-motivated choice, not a fear-motivated choice.
You may also want to work with a coach or counselor on your self-esteem. Work on letting all human beings have the exact same intrinsic value as you and giving up judging other people and seeing them as less than you. This is the secret to feeling more worthy and loveable yourself. If you see faults and mistakes in others as making them less, bad or unworthy, your own faults and mistakes will also make you feel less, bad and unworthy. If you let every other human make mistakes and still be worthy of love, you will start to see that you are too.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
This one is a tough one for me. We have 6 kids (plus several spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends) in our family that we adore. They all live nearby and we love having them come visit for family holidays. I'm in a pickle here, though, and need your advice. I'm an avid news and science follower and have followed the COVID pandemic closely. Unfortunately, my sister even passed from COVID last month so I am really concerned about it. The problem is that my husband says he has had enough of this pandemic and the isolation and has invited all the family to come for Thanksgiving. We've had lengthy conversations about it and he knows I think that we should visit remotely as instructed by our leaders. What do I do given that we disagree so strongly about this? I know I am sensitive because of my sister's passing, but I worry about the health and safety of ALL our loved ones. Shouldn't we be setting a good example for our family and following guidelines?
The short answer is yes, of course, you should absolutely follow the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when you celebrate Thanksgiving, which include hosting a remote gathering or wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, among other things. Having said that, I think your real question is: "How do I convince my spouse to follow the COVID-19 guidelines, and how do I handle the disagreement?"
The answer to that question is simple because it's the same answer no matter what the disagreement is about. You need to have a mutually validating conversation with them, where you both feel heard, understood and valued, and you need to come up with a compromise that honors both your feelings.
I believe knowing how to have mutually validating conversations is one of the most important relationship skills we need to have because it means you can talk about anything and not digress into a fight.
Here are some steps for how to do that:
1. Let go of your need to be right
If your goal is to convince him he is wrong and win the argument, he is likely just going to get defensive. A mutually validating conversation is not about being right and getting your way; it's about making both parties feel heard and understood, actually understanding the other person and their feelings, and honoring and respecting their right to feel the way they do. This requires you to be generous and caring as you go into this.
2. Make sure you see the other person as the same as you
This means you don't see yourself as smarter, wiser, more educated, more morally right, or above the other person in any way. You remind yourself that you have faults, too, and you both have the same intrinsic value all the time — that cannot change. This prevents you from talking down to the other person, which will always offend them. It also should prevent you from feeling intimidated or less than another person.
3. Set your agenda and feelings aside upfront
This means you are going to start this conversation with only one goal in mind: to ask questions, listen, understand and make sure the other person feels fully heard, honored and respected for their right to think the way they do. This conversation must start all about them, and not at all about you and your views. I sometimes need to set my feelings, opinions and agenda in another room and shut the door before going into a conversation like this. You must dedicate yourself upfront to just caring about how the other person feels.
4. Ask the other person questions about their thoughts and feelings
Ask your husband if he would be willing to talk to you about Thanksgiving and help you understand how he feels about it. During this step, you will ask great questions that show your desire to understand and give the him space to share all the details about his views. You want to spend as much time here as possible because this is the step that makes the other person feel safe with you, heard and valued. Make sure you don't agree or disagree with anything your husband says. This is not about you yet. This part is just about listening and caring about how he feels.
5. Ask permission to share your thoughts
After you have spent a lot of time listening, and you can tell your husband feels heard and understood, you may ask him if he would be willing to let you share how you feel about it. You might want to ask a couple of permission questions so you can create the safe space you need. This might sound like:
6. Speak your truth without attacking the other person
You will do this by following two rules:
Avoid bringing up any behavior from the past by saying things like, "I feel like you never care what I think, remember last Christmas?" Instead say, "Would you be willing to care about what I think about this, this year?"
Make sure you don't insist on making the other person be wrong; you just have different perspectives, and both deserve to be honored.
7. Find ways to compromise
Obviously, though, only one plan for Thanksgiving can happen. Some kind of compromise must be reached. You might ask if there is anything you could do to make your husband feel like the family is there with you while gathering for the meal remotely.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
My spouse and I keep getting in these fights where she does something like ignores me when I am trying to talk to her, and this offends me and I get angry and slam a door, which really offends her and makes her feel attacked, which starts a big fight that lasts all week. The fight morphs and quickly becomes about who treats who worse. And in this drawn out fight, no one wins. After days of being mad and miserable we will start to move past it, but only until one of us offends the other again. What can we do to break this cycle of offending each other?
The root cause of these fights is you both functioning in a fear state where you feel unsafe with each other, and this is making you wear what I call "mistreatment glasses." Mistreatment glasses means you are subconsciously looking for mistreatment and offenses that will prove that you aren't safe with your partner and that they are the "bad one." Whatever you are looking for you will find. If you are looking for mistreatment, you will find it. If you are looking for proof your partner loves you, you will find that too.
Unfortunately, almost all of us feel unsafe in the world (at the subconscious level), and this keeps us on the defensive a lot of the time. When you feel unsafe, your ego steps up to try and protect you. It does this through defensiveness and casting the other person as the bad one. That is why it feels like a win (to your ego) when you can show that your partner treated you worse and you are the victim. But this is really not a win; no one wins when you get offended by small things and always see your partner as the enemy.
Below is a process you can use when someone offends you. Following it will help you step back out of ego to see the situation more accurately and respond more maturely.
Note: In this article I am only addressing how to deal with the garden variety of arguments, not situations that involve abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has information on how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how one can get help.
See the other person's bad behavior accurately
When someone behaves badly or offends you, there are four possible reasons for this behavior. Knowing them will help you accurately access what is happening in each situation. The four reasons people behave badly:
If this offense happened for any of the other three reasons, you must step back, stop taking this personally, and choose to not get offended — because it isn't about you. They don't feel safe in the world, and a person who doesn't feel safe has no choice but to focus on finding a sense of safety; they aren't capable of anything else. They may need some professional help to work on their fears around not being good enough and things not being right. So, the negative coping behaviors can be negated.
Be responsible for your response to the offense
You are responsible for your reactions and responses, and this should be your only concern. It is the only thing you have control over and the only thing that matters now. You must choose to respond with love, not fear.
If you get defensive and respond from a fear state, you are now doing the exact same thing the other person did to you. You are demonstrating fear-based bad behavior, and responding badly back is just as bad as responding badly first. It's the same bad behavior driven by the same cause.
Respond to an offense with love
Offenses and your reactions happen fast though, so you will need to practice and prepare ahead of time to be able to remember these steps in the heat of the moment. You might want to read through this procedure daily or replay past offenses that you reacted badly to, running through these steps to see what you should have done.
Procedure for reacting to offenses:
You and your partner may also need some coaching or counseling to work on the underlying fear issues that cause you to feel unsafe with each other. I find most couples who fight a lot need individual coaching to get their subconscious fears under control before they can create a healthy relationship. Always be willing to take this on and work on yourself.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.