Category Archives: Communication

“From Hints to Commands . . .

It’s tough to get our needs met, so do try

Requests not demands.

A communications tip as Haiku!  Seriously now, when you want something from someone you love, how do you typically go about getting it?

Do you ~

WISH – you need a fairy godmother (or mind-reader); how’s that working for you?

HINT – you need Sherlock Holmes, so better be ready for clues to be misinterpreted.

INVITE – you better make what you need done sound exciting and be prepared for better offers to come up for the invitee.

REQUEST – you get to be clear about what you want, and prepare to be OK with a “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe”.

DEMAND – you feel fully entitled to what you want and you may even get it, but be prepared for some push back.

COMMAND – you have authority and “vil have zis done Macht schnell. “Yes Sir!” Captain Von Trapp tried it for a while but can’t say it won him much love and affection.

There are pro’s and con’s to each.

  • I have to admit to wishing my family would spontaneously apply the Harpic and clean the loos after each usage, and occasionally I’m duly surprised. The fairy Godmother has sprinkled her dust and  – hey Presto – lovely loos! So – the Pro is the possibility for pleasant surprises, the con is the intermittent nature of these rewards.
  • Hinting? “Well, I’m pretty tired, I think a lazy afternoon would be great” could turn out as I’d hoped and we all loll about with good books and gentle background music, or be misconstrued as “Let’s invite the neighbours over to chill with us –  I’ll BBQ!”
  • Inviting? I’ve tried inviting my children to share their English homework for my “oh-so-gentle” review. Strangely they prefer to suffer the praise or scorn of their teachers. Clearly I’ve made one too many “It could be good to expand on this point…” remarks. But at least my kids are still speaking to me, and they are making (and have made) their own steady progress as writers.
  • Requesting? Much better. I get to be clear and feel that I’m entitled to ask for what I want just as those of whom I’m requesting something are entitled to say “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe”. Takes a bit of creativity but leaves everyone feeling engaged and resourceful.
  • Demanding? Has a bit of a negative connotation. With no clear hierarchy, having one person demand something from another – with a snippy  “Clean up!” “Pass the salt!”  “Ask nicely!”  – it tends to elicit a surge of resistance and an indignant “No!” even if, and here’s the rub, you actually wouldn’t mind doing any of these things if asked nicely.
  • Commanding? Reminds me of that scene in Young Victoria where the newly married Queen tries commanding Albert to stay with her one night after they’ve had their first newly wed power struggle. He knows he’s being commanded by his Queen, but because he is first of all her husband, he turns on his heel and walks deliberately from the room. Yes! It does not work to command anyone you love. Period.

How do you usually try to get your needs met?

Is this working for you?

What might be a more effective approach?

 

Coming up.

An “Easy as ABC” way to get needs met.

 

 

Respond, Don’t React

Your spouse gets home, flings down their bag and snaps “What a hell-of-a-day! I need to go for a run. What’s for dinner?

Your knee-jerk REACTION might be “Ask me about MY day why don’t you! You’re so selfish you think the entire planet revolves around you!”

Your more thoughtful RESPONSE might be “Sorry you had such a terrible day. I’m pretty bushed too. Go for your run, and then can you finish dinner prep? I think 30 minutes of Yoga will cure what ails me.”

When we REACT we’re so deeply zoomed in on our own perspective there’s no room for any more information. We lead with our egos, assume we know enough to make snap judgments, take everything personally, and are entirely vulnerable to outside conditions for our mood.

When we RESPOND we swap out the zoom lens for the wide-angle. We pull our focus out beyond our immediate, limited perspective so we can see self-in-context. We become the director of our movie rather than the actor. As director, we can change the script at any time. We become “the one who watches” rather than “the one who reacts.”  In the pause, or space, this zooming-out creates, we can choose our response.

We humans tend to dwell in (and between) one of two psychological states most of the time

  • REACTIVE – we feel stressed, victims of events, rigid, and tend to say and do things we later regret
  • RESPONSIVE – we’re relaxed, in charge, flexible, and at our best.

Most psychological growth is about shifting the balance of these two states from REACTIVE toward RESPONSIVE. Meditation, mindfulness and therapy are all focused on teaching and practicing the three “Conditions of Responsiveness” (for want of a better term!)

  1. Cultivate Self-Awareness
  2. Inhabit the Pause
  3. Expand Possibilities

Here are my Top 3 Tips for Boosting Your Mastery of Each Condition

1. Cultivate Self-Awareness ~

  1. Check in with yourself.  Identify a trigger that gets your attention several times a day ( an hourly alarm, red traffic lights, a passing airplane, an urge to check Facebook). When you notice this, check in. What mood are you in? How do you feel? Parrott Emotions Tree 2001  Do you need anything? (see Use Feelings to Identify Needs). Note a few words about your state, e.g, 9:00am – exhausted, hungry, anxious; 11:00am – sugar buzz, irritated, bored.  This simple practice gets your out of your experience and allows you to “Be the one who watches.”
  2. Put your shoes away. I learned this at convent boarding school. Lose your beret or prayer-book and there was Sister Francis ready to swat. You probably don’t need to track your beret, but the simple practice of being mindful about the placement of one item in your life pushes your awareness.
  3. Replay a moment. In some down time, reflect upon a part of your day that comes to mind. What were you thinking? How did things go? Could it have gone better?  Again, this simple reflection and critique expands your ability to “be the one who watches.”

Inhabit the Pause ~

  1. Buy time.  Right at the impact – an incoming stimulus from your selfish spouse, angry kid, unreasonable boss – right then before you react, try taking a long slow, deep inhale; take off your glasses and rub your temples; stand up and stretch; shift your body somehow to break the spell.
  2. Be Honest.  Say something like “I’m working on not reacting, so give me a moment here.”  “Humm – let me think about that for a while.”
  3. Invite a Do-Over.  “Wow, that hit me the wrong way. Can you say that again, but more slowly, (more gently, less loudly)?”

Expand Possibilities ~

  1. Name the Issue.  To demonstrate you’re not trapped in your own perspective, name what you think is bugging you.  “Hang on, sounds like we both had dreadful days.” “You want to have a mid-week sleep over even though that’s against our family rules?”
  2. Invite Fantasy.  Rather than a knee-jerk insult or “No!” expand the realm of possible responses by inviting the other person to tell you what they wish you’d say. “Well high there Mr. Bad Day! What would your fantasy perfect wife say to that?”   “Well my darling, you know we think mid-week sleep-overs are a bad idea, but tell me, what do you wish I’d say?”
  3. Team Up. Unless there’s an emergency, you probably don’t have to come up with the definitive answer right now.  If you’ve named the issue, sought out some idealized (and probably impractical) possibilities, try teaming up for find a win/win. “Hum, how be you run first, then take over dinner while I do 30 minutes of Yoga.” Or “What’s so special about that night for the sleepover? Might other nights work? What is the real issue here?”

As with any of my suggestions, I’m always interested to know what works and what else you’ve tried that works for you.

PS: Another longer posting – sorry! This just over 800.

FREE~Attitude Adjustment

Dear Reader,

Do you, like me, swing from gripe to gratitude throughout the day? Today’s gripe? A costly sewer repair. Today’s gratitude, I have not lost any family members to war ~ see BBC World News.

I call this my BBC News Therapy.  I just have to listen to a story about rape in India, some new Gaza bomb, brutality anywhere, anything that hurts animals or children and my gripes (even about expensive sewer replacements) seem utterly trivial.

Clients have agreed with me – there is something very helpful about getting perspective on your life this way.  My friend Julia asked me once, “Gemma, if you could dump your problems into a big pot and pick out someone else’s problems instead, would you?”

Yipes – dump my expensive sewer for my friend’s recent diagnosis of a brain tumor, or the sudden death of a beautiful 21 year old daughter, or a failed pregnancy, or a Tsunami divorce or or or…no way!

So – in this spirit of gratitude and abundance I was drawn to an interesting challenge from Chris Guillebeau, whose quirky project and Blog The Art of Non-Conformity Dispatch   I’ve been following for several months. Chris is inviting us to participate in a social experiment by offering something of what we have or do for free.

Well – I’m not long on stuff. But time? I have 86,400 seconds a day, remember?

So, might some of these seconds be useful to someone who has never met me, as a free gift? Someone who normally can’t afford good counseling? Someone who could use someone on thier team for a bit, to listen and help sort an issue out?  Here’s what I do:

  • I listen deeply
  • I ask questions
  • I listen to your answer
  • I listen to your answer so deeply that I can perhaps discern before you can the tendrils of solutions to your problems
  • I work with you to co-create a plan forward
  • And to create some accountability
  • And follow-up.

So, here’s my FREE Attitude Adjustment OFFER

I am giving away two FREE two-hour counseling sessions  (we’ll meet twice, each time for one hour) to two NEW people ( sorry existing clients, but you can offer this to a friend )  who contact me at gemma@gemmautting.com with FREE ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT in the subject line.

In the body of the email, I’d like you to tell me 3 things:

  1. Who is the counseling for (you or someone you know)
  2. How do you hope it will benefit you (or someone you know)
  3. How will this benefit to you (or someone you know) also benefit others?

If you are new to this blog, visit my web site https://gemmautting.com/ to learn more. Then, pop me that email.  I’ll even pay for your long distance phone call too – I live in Auckland New Zealand – using skype.  If you too have skype – all the easier!

I’m going to be reading responses through the month of March. On April 1st I’ll write to everyone who wrote to me and let you know whether or not you’ve “won” the two free sessions.

I’m a relationship expert, so don’t limit yourself (or someone you think might benefit). Think how two hour-long sessions, focused on your ~

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Friend
  • Lover
  • Boss
  • Co-worker

might make a world of difference.

Can’t wait to hear from you,

Warmly,

Gemma

PS: Three people have asked for this already and I’m too much of a softie to say no. But this offer does need to be officially closed as of today – March 21st 2013. Thanks to those three for inviting me to share! Excited to work with each of you.

Can I Trust Again?

Would you let an elephant stand over you?

If you’ve never met Tara and Bella their love and trust are inspiring. Tara & Bella

For someone whose spouse has been unfaithful, it can seem easier to imagine a huge elephant foot hovering over their ribcage than it can be to imagine offering their heart to this person again.

What IS trust?

How do we earn it in the first place, and is it possible to restore trust once it’s broken?

Trust is earned as we run 3 criteria* through our emotional and logical filters.

  • INTENTION – an emotional evaluation ~ does this person mean to do me good?
  • CAPABILITY – a logical assessment ~ is this person capable of doing what they say?
  • HISTORY – a logical proof ~ in the past, has this person been predictable and reliable?

We probably all know folks who seem to trust way too easily, becoming vulnerable with no logical input. Conversely, too much logic and we’ll never allow ourselves to be vulnerable . That’s the “magic” if you will, of trust.  It’s that Goldilocks place where we are “advisedly vulnerable.”

So – how did Bella come to trust Tara, and visa versa? How can we begin to rebuild trust with someone who has hurt us badly?

For Tara and Bella – they sensed their mutual “Lets-be-friends” intentions; they were both capable of bringing joy through play and loyalty; and historically, day by day, they built up evidence to support these truths. Bingo – massive trust such that Bella can lie on her back and know the vast foot rubbing her tummy will be comforting, not crushing.

I have found that even when two partners both want their relationship to heal after a breach of trust, the process is confounded by ~

  • Lack of a clear goal (how will we know when trust is regained?)
  • Paralysis over the first step  (is it forgiving, forgetting, penance, transparency – what?)
  • Aftershocks (waves of loss, betrayal and hopelessness undermine honest effort)
  • Foggy Progress (no clear feedback loop for either partner).

Try this.

Both partners focus on the unfaithful partner’s 3 compromised Trust Tanks ~

  • INTENTION
  • CAPABILITY
  • HISTORY

Considering these three tanks, the hurt partner gets to answer the question:

“When you hear your partner tell you they want to do whatever it takes to win your love and trust back, how full is each of their tanks?”

Trust Tanks

This is a more-or-less typical response.

INTENTION is at 97%  ~ The hurt partner believes their unfaithful partner genuinely wants to repair the damage. This tank will notch up to 100% as the unfaithful partner keeps reassuring the hurt partner that this is exactly what they want – their intention is to keep doing everything they possibly can to win back the trust.

CAPABILITY is at 65% ~ The hurt partner is somewhat encouraged. He/she has noticed that in the effort to re-build trust, their partner has done everything asked of them: made their phones and computer fully transparent; switched departments at work; put a block on the affair partner’s number; worked extra hard to be there for the kids, etc. This tank will slowly fill as the couple discusses the twists and turns of what the hurt partner needs that the unfaithful partner is capable of delivering. E.g., “I realize I need us to have a plan for what happens if we bump into your affair partner one day together.”

HISTORY is at 2% ~ It sounds like bad news to be at only 2%. However, the good news is that this tank can fill one faithful day at a time as history is re-written. The couple can decide if one year is enough to have this tank refilled, or if it will never go above say, 90% in recognition of this event.

Now you have ~

  • A clear goal ~ filling each of the tanks
  • A step by step path ~ as the partners identify what is both needed and possible to fill the tanks
  • Infrastructure ~ to counter the aftershocks, now understandable in the face of low History levels
  • A feedback mechanism ~ by using these percentage estimates to talk about how each tank is filling.

May your journey toward “advised vulnerability” bring you to a place of safety so, like Bella and Tara, you can walk in the woods and wag your tails together.

* I heard these distinctions of trust at a Family Therapy conference ages ago. Long since lost my notes and can’t remember whom to credit. If you know – do write me. I’d love to be able to give credit and read more by who-ever-wrote about this first.

 

“Talk to me baby!”

Here’s the question ~

Is it possible to have real, juicy, effective and intimacy-building conversations without sounding like you’ve morphed into some self-help sap, or are reading aloud from a psychologist’s best-practices manual?

Of course!

Listen up.

Inspired by Dan Wile  – a wonderful California-based couples therapist whose work champions building intimacy one conversation at a time – I’m presenting my own take on how you can show up as the non-communications-major, bumbling, inarticulate, feisty and often forgetful self that you are and still have the real, juicy, effective and intimacy-building conversation you both crave.

  • Presume incompetence   Unless every conversation goes smoothly, and leaves you and your partner feeling more connected and in love, you’re probably a novice communicator like the rest of us.  So – since this is most likely the truth – embrace it.
  • Leap first   Reveal your hand. It’s a great way to start. See the previous post on  7 steps for speaking with your partner more effectively. It might get things started if you let your partner know some of the things brewing for you.
  • Flush out the Demons   Our minds are never tabula rasa in conversations. It helps if you can notice what you’re dragging around: a sugar headache, an assumption you’re fixing to confirm, a flaw you’re trying to catch-in-action, a point you’re trying to prove. If you can just fleetingly be aware of these – even if you can’t flush them out – maybe you can herd them to the corner so you can listen with fewer distractions.
  • Do the Hokey Pokey   Put your whole self in. Listening is highly physical (and cognitive – see next point). Don’t sit there like a stuffed panda: Nod some. Get closer. Lean forward. Furrow the old brow if you’re confused. Engage with what your partner is telling you with an impressive array of body parts.
  • Sweat some   It’s hard work listening. Engage that pre-frontal cortex (it uses about a bagel’s worth of energy a day). If you don’t turn on the brain and think about what you’re hearing, odds are good you’ll miss 25-50% of what’s coming at you. So, reassure your partner you’re “actively listening” as the good communications experts invite us to do. This will help you to…
  • Interrupt   Sure, it can lengthen the time it will take you and your partner to hash a topic through, but you’ve already presumed incompetence on both your parts. If you want to interrupt because you’ve genuinely lost the plot and want to understand – go for it. Get their attention, jump up, lean back in your chair with a “Woa there, I think I’m getting this but you lost me when you said … can you put it another way?” But, if you want to interrupt because you want to make your point and stop understanding your partner, then don’t. In other words, interrupt to clarify not to steal the floor.
  • Disagree   At some point your partner will wind down. Now, hold on tight to the idea that you do not need to agree with what they said – all you have to do is let them know that you know what they said.  Try saying “I’m not saying I agree with you – I may or may not, I’ve not thought about it yet – but I do want to be sure that I am getting things from your point of view. So, for you it’s about . . . “.  And off you go – summarizing your partners main points.
  • Common Enemy   The goal of all this week’s postings has been to help you get to know what’s going on inside of you with sufficient clarity that you can talk about it with your partner and unite together on the same side against the common enemy of disconnect-in-the-face-of-whatever-it-was-you-were-originally-fighting-about.

I would dearly love to know if any of these suggestions are helpful – or not! Thanks in advance. Gemma

“I Feel Like You Should..”

“I feel like you should…”  If this is how you’ve been talking about your feelings, it’s time to learn how to be more honest and effective.

It’s a bit like “I love you, but . . . ”

You’ve lost me at the “but”.

Sometimes, talking to people we love about things that matter is too hard to even get started. This is where emotions come in handy.

I’m blogging about emotions for two reasons.

  • Learning to notice and name what you feel helps you figure out what you need;
  • Learning to talk effectively about what you feel and need is key to great relationships.

Say you and your partner are both foodies. It’s what drew you together. You thought “We both adore cooking, it’s going to be fun!” But after a few months of Honeymoon best-behaviour (when neither of you spoke up for what you really wanted) you began to resent “cuisine compromise.” Neither one of you ever truly made a dish – it was all “What do you think – add the sherry or red wine vinegar?” You longed to have the kitchen to yourself to make a disaster or delicacy all on your own. You’re savvy enough to know you’re supposed to talk feelings and “I” statements so after one helpful tidbit too many you blurt out “I feel like you’re way controlling – I can make a potato salad for heaven’s sake.”

Great start – you’ve noticed a surge of anger and spoken up for something you want.  You’ve let your feeling of “angry” identify your need for “kitchen autonomy.” Odds are your partner won’t take it that well though. You may have lost ‘em at “You’re way controlling.”

Here are 7 steps for speaking with your partner more effectively.

  1. Presume do-overs. Cut yourselves some slack for botched first ( second and third) attempts. It’s rare for couples to talk effectively to one another on the first go-around.
  2. Figure out what you feel. Check your cheat sheet, Parrott Emotions Tree 2001and/or read “I Feel So Bad!
  3. Use your feelings to identify what you need.  See this posting.
  4. Break the ice with something. “Wow – who knew I had such strong feelings about potato salad?”;  “I was a toad in there – sorry! But I’ve figured out why I was all snappy. Are you open to hearing it?”
  5. Just talk through your process. Literally, lead them through what you’ve just done in steps 2 and 3. Tell them how you sleuthed out what you felt and maybe what you think you need.
  6. Get curious. What does your partner feel and need?
  7. Get creative When you both know what you each feel and need you can come together on the same team against the disconnection you both felt. Now you’ll feel more like collaborating together for some win-win solutions.

“Well, we want more independence, but to cook together some too. And new – so maybe a class or two? And guests – livens things up. What else do we want?”

And you’re off.

Watch for that shift from “I” and “You” statements to “We” statements.

This is key!

$86,400 ~ A Day

Part 3 of 5 “Emotions 101.” Today we explore  ~

You get $86,400 a day and you’re “Fine?” How about Astounded, Excited or Triumphant

My friend Byron in Boise, Idaho (USA) told me of a way I can access $86,400 a day, for life. He sent me this gift right as I was writing this post about how to inspire folks to live a little. To discover inner states beyond “OK” and “Fine.” To be motivated to wake up and notice (and maybe sniff) the roses. He told me how I can access this gift today, even in the face of another ordinary, cereal-and-toast, off-to-work, home-again-too-late, TV-and-dinner-and-bed sort of day.

What a gift!  So, I thought I’d share it with you.

It’s something to think about.

Imagine you have won the following prize in a contest:

Each morning your bank deposits $86,400.00 in your private account for your personal use. However, this prize has rules, just as any game has certain rules.

  • Rule #1  ~  Everything you didn’t spend during each day would be taken away. You may not simply transfer money into some other account. You may only spend it. Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400.00 for that day.
  • Rule #2  ~  The bank can end the game without warning. At any time it can say, “Game over!” It can close the account and you will not receive a new one.

How would you feel?

OK?”

Fine?”

Or maybe astonished at your luck; relieved at no-more-money-worries; eager to get out and spend; excited about the possibilities; anxious that the game may end without you fully participating; elated at the wanton generosity; longing to make things better for someone else; deeply compassionate for the wider world which now, perhaps, you can help.

Not sure you can find enough good words to describe your inner bliss? Click here ~  Parrott Emotions Tree 2001 ~ for a fabulous list of emotions you can easily sort through.

Wow – what a high!

You can imagine feeling so alive, so vibrant, so present as you take care of yourself, your family and those around you. You’d spend every cent every day since you couldn’t save it. You’d be quivering with the challenge and responsibility for how to make your daily investments of dollars.

What if I told you this was not a game, but reality.

To access your prize, just substitute “Time” for “Dollars”.

Each morning you wake up to another 86,400 seconds as a gift of life.

At the end of the day any unspent seconds will not be credited back to you. You’ll have the memories for how you invested your seconds yesterday. You’ll have the excitement of a whole new 86,400 coming tomorrow – you hope. But the living of these seconds – that’s your own wild and juicy ride.

What to do?

Notice you’re alive! Notice what words you’d use to describe how you feel in these seconds of alive. Are they variations on themes of love, joy, gratitude and surprise? If so, great. Get specific about how great you feel, pay attention to what helps get you to those states, and tomorrow – when you have your next 86,400 second installment – do these things some more.

Start spending!

PS: If you feel bad in the face of your 86,400 seconds see “I Feel So Bad”.

Tomorrow:    “I feel like you should…”  If this is how you’ve been talking about your feelings, it’s time to learn how to be more honest and effective.

 

“I Feel So Bad!”

Part 2 of 5 “Emotions 101.” Today we explore  ~

“Of course I numb, distract, dismiss or bury my feelings when I feel so bad.  Got any better ideas?”

Yes, I do actually.

Think about what you’d do if you decided your stomach-ache was a medical, not emotional, condition. You’d go to the doctor and describe each symptom as accurately as possible:  “Well doc, it feels like this knife stabbing me, but not continuously. It started over here see, above the belly button.  Now it’s down here, lower right. Boy it gets worse when I sneeze, and driving over here didn’t help any.”  And so on.

The more timely and accurate your description of the pain, the more timely and accurate the diagnosis; in this case, possible appendicitis. So, how do we talk about emotions like this?  On a continuum between Woody Allen’s overindulgence and John Wayne’s heroic suppression is a just-right spot where feelings can be discussed in a timely and accurate way.

“Sure!” you scoff, “Like I’m ever going to want to talk about how bad I feel.”

Here are four (possibly life-saving) reasons to reconsider ~

  • NAMING ~ Since I’m a novice sailor I’ll use a sailboat analogy. I’m at the “sad, mad, glad” vocabulary stage vis-à-vis sailing. I get in a boat and see ropes and sails. Captain Helen comes aboard and distinguishes the main sheet, jib sheet, halyard and boom vang for “ropes”. She sees a main sail, jib and spinnaker for “sails.”  Having a precise vocabulary for all the distinct parts of a sailboat allows Helen to describe quickly and accurately what needs attention and when. “Pull that rope Gemma!” will get us capsized. “Haul in the main!” might result in a nice tack. Building your vocabulary is Step #1 toward emotional (and nautical) mastery.

(Click below for Parrott’s 176 Emotions sorted into 6 main categories)

Parrott’s Emotions Tree 2001

  • CLAIMING ~ Once you can distinguish (for example) annoyance, torment and envy from the general feeling of angry you get to claim them. You are entitled to your feelings! Even the ugly ones. Especially the ugly ones! Too often we screech to a halt here and think “Oh no! It’s not nice to feel tormented by Kindergarten violinists and note a huge surge of envy for the art teacher whose room is blissfully quiet.” But if this is what you feel, claim your experience. It’s like saying “Oh, better not mention the lump to the doctor. Lumps aren’t nice.” Tell her for heaven’s sake!
  • DIAGNOSINGAngry is highly imprecise. Makes it hard to know what’s wrong. But sit with annoyance, torment and envy for a while and you’ll have a much more accurate picture of your inner state. This violin class is not working for you; you are annoyed – tortured even – by the noise, and beginning to recognize you need a change. Older students? Teach a different subject? So, with diagnosis comes…
  • Treatment TRANSFORMATION ~ Take one feeling at a time and ask yourself “I feel annoyed with this violin class. What would I rather feel? What’s the opposite of annoyed? Gratified? Pleased? Yes, I want to feel pleased with my day’s work, so what do I need?”  Now you are off down the rabbit hole of transforming your inner state into one you’d much rather experience. (See Blog How to use feelings to point to needs)

Tomorrow:   “I’m fine.” Great, so is my wine! Aren’t you enthralled, excited or triumphant? Let’s liven up your happy place.

Stomach Flu or Fear?

Part 1 of 5 “Emotions 101.” Today we ask ~

“When my gut knots, how do I know if this is physical or emotional feedback?”*

Great question.

You feel a sudden knotting in your gut and it could be one of many things, right? A bad shrimp or gas? Possibly. But might it also be a twinge of anxiety, a pang of love, the rolling longing of loss or a wave of fear? Before we conclude whether it’s shrimp or sadness, let’s take a deeper look at emotions.

Simply put, emotions are feelings that identify distinct, shifting states of mind, like sorrow, anger and joy. In more complex terms, emotions are the response of a multitasking brain, which reads cues from the senses and cross-references these with thoughts from past experiences.  A crude analogy? Emotions are to personality as weather is to climate.

Emotions may signal a change in our environment, a change within us or a change in both. These signals are generally fleeting in comparison to other states of mind. As a result, emotions are distinct from moods, which can last for hours, days or even weeks. They’re also distinct from personalities, the lifelong set of traits that comprise our individual, predictable reactions to situations

Thanks to Paul Ekman’s ongoing research since the 1950’s  we know that humans (and other animals – see Bekoff Animal Emotions) share six universal emotions:

  • 6 Universal EmotionsDisgust
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Surprize
  • Joy

In evolutionary terms, emotions are motivators.

  • DISGUST in the face of something gross stops us touching or eating it;
  • ANGER in the face of something threatening prepares us to fight or flee;
  • FEAR in the face of something potentially deadly inspires caution;
  • SADNESS in the face of loss promotes group cohesion;
  • SURPRIZE in the face of novelty indicates “warning, something outside our norm”;
  • JOY, laughter and a positive affect (whilst still not well understood) seem to provide a rationale for decision-making which promotes longevity.

Bottom line, learning to accurately recognize and express emotions – within our culture, community, family and primary love relationships – is key to our effective engagement in society.

So – back to the question, is this a stomach ache or an emotion? In this case, the answer may be “Both!” Emotions show up in the body to get attention. Ask yourself if it’s possible you have a medical reason for a stomach ache. If so, deal with it first, then check back. Still got that twinge? Sit quietly and ask yourself, “What do I feel?” Pay close attention to the thoughts, images and associations that come up. They’ll probably have your answers in the form of some feelings. You’ll need to be a bit of a sleuth if you’ve become better at hiding your emotions than feeling them. If you draw a blank, cut yourself some slack. It’s not surprising you may not know since neither schools nor society promote emotional intelligence. See if any of these popular avoidance techniques are familiar.

Rather than FEEL, do you ~

  • Numb out with too much food, alcohol, sex, drug use?
  • Distract with too much exercise, work, TV, reading, busy-ness, other compulsions?
  • Dismiss with too much intellectualizing, analyzing, superficial conversation?
  • Bury ‘em under righteousness masked as love and peace?

When you dodge – rather than feel – your feelings, you’ll experience ~

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Meaninglessness
  • Being both bored and boring
  • Blowing up over minor incidents
  • Feeling tense, on edge, disconnected, unmotivated
  • Minimal love for yourself or others.

What to do?

Try this. Complete the following sentences:

  • If I did not [insert your current avoidance behaviours] , and instead just sat still for a while, maybe I’d feel _______________ [guess at a feeling here].
  • It makes me so mad when _________________ .
  • Last time I cried was when _________________ .
  • Last time I felt this pang of joy was when _______________ .
  • The one thing that totally disgusts me is ________________ .
  • The one thing I really want to do, but fear is stopping me is _______________ .
  • “It was such a surprize when _________________ .”

Now you see how you experience the six universal emotions. Great start. There are however over 600 words in English to describe emotions (and 42 face muscles to express them) so odds are good you have other feelings too.

If it is hard for you to find the words for your emotions right when you feel them, try some of these exercises.

  • Note any strong emotions you have for a month.
  • Keep a dream journal – what emotions are present there?
  • Try and be specific – if your sweetie asks “How are you?” check in with yourself and answer honestly.
  • Note intrusive memories and the feelings attached.
  • Talk with a friend, minister, counselor, therapist.
  • If you have Asberger’s Syndrome, here’s a great resource.

Tomorrow:  Sad? Mad? How about Lonely, Wistful, Incensed, Ashamed? Dump the kindergarten terms for your complex internal maelstrom.

* I blew through my self-imposed 500 word limit – sorry! This article is 790.

Don’t Die Without . . .

Expressing Your True Feelings

 

In Bronnie Ware’s heartfelt blog http://www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-Dying.html she notes that the five most common regrets of those near death are ~

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

How about that!

Feelings – those things I’m constantly encouraging us to become more familiar with and fluent in – rank as the number 3 most devastating loss when not expressed.

Here is what Bronnie wrote:

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

What does it take to express your feelings? If you are not sure, join me for Emotions 101,  a five-part fun series running 4th – 8th March 2013. Topics include ~

1. Is that a feeling, or a stomach ache? Don’t laugh – it can be hard to tell sometimes. Learn how to recognize your emotions. (Blog on 4th March  2013);

2. Sad? Mad? How about Lonely, Wistful, Incensed, Ashamed? Dump the kindergarten terms for your complex internal maelstrom.  (Blog on 5th March 2013);

3. “I’m fine.” Great, so is my wine! Aren’t you Enchanted, Elated or Thrilled?  Let’s liven up your Happy place. (Blog on 6th March 2013);

4. “I feel like you should…”If this is how you’ve been talking about your feelings, it’s time to learn how to be more honest and effective. (Blog on 7th March 2013);

5. “No you don’t!” If this is how you respond when someone shares their feelings, come learn how to listen so people will open up to you. (Blog on 8th March 2013).

So – whether you’re Oscar Wilde ~

I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them. ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

or Elizabeth Gilbert ~

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

you’ll find something of interest. See you for Emotions 101,  4th – 8th March 2013.