This is Where Growth Begins

I had a yoga teacher who once told me, “When in a pose you feel your muscles begin to shake, that’s the place the yoga starts.”  Her explanation was that “yoga” means “the union of breath and movement,” and only when the movement becomes difficult enough, will you need to rely on breath to get you through.  Like childbirth, I thought.

Therapy is not so different from yoga.  There is a place where it becomes very difficult to move forward.  That tender wound inside we guard so fiercely comes close to being exposed in session, and as we move toward it our breath, metaphorically or literally, becomes shallow.    

 Therapy is little more than finding that union and staying there until something shifts.  Your therapist can be kind, understanding, wise and articulate, but her job is still to move you into the zone you’ve avoided for so long.  She will delicately unearth the most reflexive of defense mechanisms, and bring to light all that aches for you to examine and make meaning of. 

 And you will resist her.  You amazing, resilient, hearty individual know what it costs to bear the unbearable, to speak the unspeakable.  You will not go softly.  No matter.  Whether you arrive wholeheartedly or begrudgingly, fully or completely check-out, you will not exit the same person that entered.  Owning your vulnerable places is the way through.  The obstacle is the way, as they say.

 Know that therapy will, on its best days, be difficult.  But take heart: this is where growth begins.  Once you have seen a bit of yourself become unlike it used to be, once you have moved in one small way, you will begin to believe you can be anyone you want to be.  And that is no small miracle. 


How to Listen Like a Relationship Pro

They say that active listening is the key to great relationships, but what can that possibly mean?  Certainly paying attention to your partner when they speak is important, but is that really the key to a great partnership?  Yes and no.

 Relationships have tons of moving parts, but at the core most people want the same thing: to be loved for exactly who they are.  The question is how do people come to feel loved? 

 When we listen we rarely hear the emotional content, even though it makes up a large portion of what is being communicated between partners.  Underneath the presenting issue is a message about what someone wants to feel when he or she hears your response.  Here are some examples:

 Your partner says:

When I get home from work I’d love it if we could spend some time together.  It’s been a long day of meetings and I’m feeling a little raw.  You know how critical everyone can be.

 What your partner means on an emotional level:

The people in my meetings today really got in my head.  I’m feeling insecure (upset, angry, hurt, etc.) and want to be around you because you make me feel safe.  Will you soothe my insecurity when we get home?

Your partner says:

I don’t like going to your parents’ house because I often feel uncomfortable.  Someone always says something that gets my hackles up and you seem to weigh in on both sides.  I don’t know where I fit in.

Your partner means:

At your parents house it seems like you revert to being their child, or at the very least you abstain from taking sides when they disagree with me.  As an outsider, this makes me feel abandoned by you.  If you bring me into an uncomfortable situation I would like it if you could run some defense.  I would feel like you value our relationship if you’d be loyal to me sometimes.

In these examples you can see that the emotional undertone is far more serious and pressing than the outward content.  Not noticing these cues tends to escalate innocent conversations into fights.  With practice (and the cooperation of your partner) you can begin trying out your skills at decoding the underlying messages in your conversations. 

The key to mastering this skill is to keep in mind a few points:

 1)   Be patient.  No one taught you to communicate this way.  It’s going to take practice.

2)   Test out your theory and have your partner redirect you along the way.  This sounds like, “I am wondering if you are angry because I don’t show loyalty to you at my parents’ house?” Response: “Kind of.  I would like your loyalty, but I’m not angry.  I am kind of hurt.”

3)   Realize this is a vulnerable way of speaking so you need to treat it with some reverence.  This is not the time to joke around or be sarcastic. 

4)   Notice how things are different at the end of the conversation.  Chances are you will feel closer to your partner.  Feel free to thank him/her and reinforce this healthy intimacy with a kind word or a hug.

 If you are in doubt, try to put yourself in his or her shoes.  Active listening isn’t about hearing your partner better; it’s about understanding what they really mean.  Most humans experience feelings similarly, and you already know a lot about how your partner perceives the world.  You are in the perfect position to become curious about her or his point of view.  Communicating that you get it, and are willing to help, is all any of us usually need to hear to feel loved.

Why You Should Consider Screen-Free Quality Time

A lot of free time these days is spent online, watching TV or playing video games.  In fact, the amount of time we spend engaging with screens is increasing every year.  You want to hangout with your loved ones, and you want to watch your favorite shows.  Why not do them together?

 The most basic answer is that you’re not actually spending time together.  If we’re honest, interacting with a screen is different than holding up our end of a conversation.  Screen-time is a form of consuming- someone else produces content and you take it in.  Conversation, playing games or going for a walk is a form of creation; you have to offer input and energy in order to do those activities.  While these things take more resources from you, the reward for creative endeavors is higher levels of fulfillment.  Not every stroll around the block is life changing, but you certainly will experience more long-term satisfaction when you interact with the world.

 The second consideration is that spending relational time using screens actually costs you time with a partner, child or friend.  If you watched a TV show alone, then you would probably consider playing a game with your child later that day.  However, spending time watching TV together gives the illusion that you’ve spent time together when you haven’t actually gotten much out of it.   Instead of connecting later, you may find yourself reading a book alone or going out.  To your child, spouse or friend it will feel like you haven’t had time to bond that day, and you haven’t. 

 Good relationships require regular upkeep.  This can range from checking in with one another to sharing a conversation, a meal or a project.  A good rule of thumb is if you can talk while doing the activity it will strengthen your connection.  This is why you sometimes find guys working on things together in the garage.  They may not feel comfortable sharing what’s going on sitting around the kitchen table, but if they can work on something or shoot pool they often find themselves opening up.      

 Third, you’ve probably had enough screen-time today already.  When we factor in smartphones, work emails, waiting room TVs, the evening news and so on, our daily intake of screen time is often higher than we realize.  While screen-time can make our lives run smoothly and efficiently, it also taxes our brains.  Taking a break can lead to better emotional regulation.  An easy way to naturally ease out of screen time is to set aside relational time as “screen-free.”  Many people do this by silencing their phones during meals, turning off the TV while they talk, or reserving the time after dinner for outdoor games instead of playing them with friends online.  Making a commitment to yourself to not be distracted when you are with those you love will ease some guilt about being two places at once, and will make those in your life feel like the honored friends, family and spouses they are.