Category Archives: Personal Growth

How to become more effective in your own life

When Does A Relationship Need Help?

Your relationship with a car that’s important to you is not so very different from your relationship with a person who’s important to you.

Especially when it comes to maintenance, repairs and the willingness to notice and invest what is needed, when it’s needed.

My husband Mark tells a great story about a friend; a car; and that wonderful state of denial we can all get into.

************

It snowed in Seattle in the 1970s. Epic years. Mark and his friend (let’s call him “Steve”) were skiers. On this particular day, several more feet of snow had fallen in the mountains and the lads needed to get up there.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 6.53.22 AMFor reasons Mark no longer remembers, Steve took his father’s car for the trip without checking in with his folks. A nice, newer model Toyota Crown with a great heater, ski rack and winter tires. The oil pressure light was out, but other than that this was a great, reliable car.

[Yeah, sometimes you know you ought to spend money to fix a small thing, but hey – you can remember to top up the oil. No big deal.]

Apparently neither Steve nor Mark noticed a small slip of paper fall from the dash board and out onto the garage floor….

[Sometimes we miss those important memos, caught up in the momentum of our days.]

Excited for the powder they set off East on Highway 2. Music blaring.

They got gas at a service station at Monroe, but didn’t check any of the other fluids. No warning lights? No problem!

[That “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude, right?]

Not long after, they began to hear a click, click, click.

They kept driving.

[What do you mean we’ve got to talk?]

Which progressed fairly quickly into a clunk, clunk, clunk.

They kept driving.

[Sure, things might not be perfect, but I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and just keep hoping that s/he will be fine / get over it / change / shut-up / be happy again. It’s worked in the past.]

Then a Bang! Bang! Bang!

They kept driving.

[Now things are so loud I’m frightened it might be serious. Certainly don’t want to know about that – gotta ski!]

Then three things happened in quick succession.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.04.15 PM

  • Smoke began to pour out from under the hood;
  • Steve pulled over
  • The car died.

Steve flipped the hood release and the lads peeped into the engine.

Mark takes over: “So there we are looking in. It’s all steam and heat and burning smells. I look down into the heart of the engine just in time to see a molten piece of metal drip onto the snow beneath. Literally – the engine is so burnt up it’s melting! And Steve turns to me and asks – incredulously – “Hey Mark, do you think it’s serious?”

That moment, right there ~ you need help!

 Not (only) because your engine / relationship is broken probably beyond repair.

But because you might, finally, be sufficiently motivated to ask.

However, if you’ve been reading between the lines, you’ll have noticed that there are all sorts of other moments, long before the death of your car / relationship when a peep under the hood and some proactive attention, service and repair could have saved the situation from ruin.

Here’s a checklist for you.

If any one of these relationship tools is weakened or outright broken, I highly recommend you get some professional help.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.05.29 PMYOUR INTERNAL SENSORS

 Like that oil pressure sensor in the Toyota, you have on-board sensors that can fall silent.

You may need professional help if your emotions (anger, resentment, frustration etc) are disconnected from the possible causes of these emotions. Put another way, if you’re walking around with a stew pot of feelings and no idea why – your sensors are off.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.43.26 PMYOUR FEEDBACK SYSTEM

Is the light on your dashboard burnt out?

Even if you can figure out what is making you angry or jealous or disappointed, if you can’t find a way to bring this feedback to the person who most needs to hear it, your relationship is at serious risk.

As a family therapist I can state this is perhaps THE most common reason relationships fail. Once one or both parties stop bringing useful feedback into the system, the system begins to decay.

There are lots of reasons why folks stop speaking up for what they feel, need and want, and if you are one of these folks this is a great reason to seek professional help.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.47.22 PMYOUR COMMUNICATIONS

When Steve and Mark took off skiing, they did not notice as a small memo fell out of the car. Steve’s dad had left it on the dashboard. It read:

“Add 3 quarts of oil before driving.”

Had they seen this (and acted upon it), the car would not have ended up on the scrap heap.

In this case, Steve’s dad simply did not make sure his note would be seen. Maybe he should have taped it to the window; or made an announcement over dinner the night before.

So, it’s all very well to have inner sensors and prompt and timely feedback, but if the way this feedback is communicated is ineffective, the car may still end up in the junk heap.

Think about it. Are you too vague, too hostile, or too late with the feedback you give? Do you dissipate your truth in gossip to all the wrong people?

“Problems communicating” is the number #1 reason couples give for why they seek help and a little coaching here can go a long way.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.30.26 PM YOUR REGULAR CHECK UPS

Had the lads been curious about the overall health of the car, a simple dip-stick oil check at the Monroe service station would have given them a clue about the car’s oil crisis.

Relationships get heavy wear and tear, especially in long term partnerships involving kids, pets, houses, mortgages, savings, elderly relations, a business etc.

  • There’s a reason that cars have scheduled service checks ups.
  • There’s a reason our bodies get wellness check ups.
  • There are many good reasons for why it would be a good idea to stay curious and open to noticing if your emotional relationships are happy and healthy, or could use some tune ups.

To paraphrase:    “Just because it don’t seem broke don’t mean it ain’t.”

If you are not sure about the health of your relationship, ask your partner.

And… see below.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.39.26 PMYOUR ABILITY TO ATTEND TO SMALL WARNINGS

Right at that “click, click, click” stage, had Steve pulled over, diagnosed a lack of oil and added some, the car might still have been saved.

By all means stay curious (see above) but  definitely get more curious if you begin to sense some warning signals.

Is anything less enjoyable or happy than before? Is silence replacing communication? Is one of you getting extra busy, or staying away?  Might your physical symptoms have an emotional cause?

If you can no longer have a honest heart-to-heart  (what my daughter calls a “D & M” for deep-and-meaningful) conversation,  it would be wise to schedule a session for you both with a professional just to see what’s under the hood.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 2.59.25 PMYOUR ABILITY TO TAKE ACTION

Remember the “clunk, clunk, clunk” stage? It still might not have been too late to stop, take stock, and solve the problem.

But, those lads kept right on driving. It’s so wonderfully, understandably human to put the blinkers on and hope that s/he will be fine / get over it / change / shut-up / be happy again. However, if you want to keep the relationship alive, prompt and “just right” action is needed.

Question is, what action?

Often this is where the affair, drinking binge, show-down-fight, new baby, or “mid-life crisis” becomes the action-of-choice.

If you are at the stage of wanting to do something – anything – to take care of your emotional pain, make an appointment with a good relationship therapist, pronto!

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.02.00 PMYOUR ABILITY TO OVERCOME YOUR FEAR

Still stuck like a deer in the headlights? Is your head pounding or your heart thumping like that poor, straining engine in its last revs?  Are you too frightened to admit there is a problem, and too clueless as to what to do?

Meet FEAR. Utter, paralyzing terrifying fear.

It’s emergency room time folks.

Before you hit the “I’m outta here ~ this relationship is dead” button, make an appointment. Alone. Together. It does not matter at this point. Remember, you are by the roadside. Your engine is near dead. It’s time for the experts to give an honest opinion and offer some solutions.

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 3.11.39 PMYOUR ABILITY TO LEARN FROM PAST MISTAKES AND MOVE ON

When Mark and Steve look at that engine dripping its molten metal onto the snowy roadside and Steve asks “Hey Mark, do you think it’s serious?” we all know the truth, right?

That engine has died.

Too much damage has been done.

Too many opportunities to make small repairs have come and gone.

This happens with relationships too.

There can come a time when what was once a robust, lively vibrant family car / relationship is now unrecognizable and beyond hope of revival.

It can still be a good time to get some help grieving, and learning how things could be different “next time.” Especially if this is not the first car you’re wrecked. Or the first once-wonderful relationship that has burned up before your eyes.

END NOTE

What did Steve and Mark do?

Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 12.39.06 PMAccurately appraising the situation — “Well, the car’s not going anywhere now!” — they grabbed their ski gear, locked the car and hitched up to the ski area. After an epic day they hitched down to town, got a towing company to move the car to a nearby gas station off the road, and confessed to Steve’s dad.

This is perhaps the most surreal part of the story. Astonishingly he was not mad! He took responsibility for his part in the communication break down. They were down one car for a while, and then the family bought another car, which they still let Steve drive!

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the eighth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    → Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #7 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
  6. Happy Families
  7. Self Leadership

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.

NEXT WEEK?

In March I’m exploring the third in my Top 12 Relationship Skills series.  For January and February we’ve been focusing on only 50% of any given relationship ~ YOU.

In March we’ll talk about the skills you need when handling the other 50% ~ THE OTHER PERSON.

How can you take all you’ve learned in January and February and use it to understand other people?  Ready for a little primer in how to think like a therapist?

Self Leadership

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.06.49 PMYou’re poised, hand on the doorknob, about to enter a challenging situation.

Inside are people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions will impact you.

Your heart’s racing, your head’s throbbing, your jaw is clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face is a shifting map of anxiety.

Right then, do you wish you’d made time for some emotional preparedness, or are you fine with that same old charge-in-and-deal-with-the consequences mode?

Some of us go through our whole lives charging about and dealing with the emotional fall-out. But sometimes, after one emotional blitzkrieg too many, it occurs to us that maybe there’s another way.

We left Holly right here last week as she was about to attend a niece’s birthday. There, at yet another family gathering with her four married siblings and their flock of offspring, she would typically experience herself as being pitied and gossiped about. All traces of her strong, professional and capable self would be replaced by a self-doubting, fumbling and emotionally labile alter-ego. It could have felt, yet again, like a no-win situation.

This time however, things were very different.

Holly had had enough of the cross-her-fingers-drink-too-much-and-hope-things-won’t-be-too-awful approach to relationships with her family.

  • She’d recognized how she could be strong-yet-compassionate in most places, yet weak and whiny around her family. Hummm… so there was more than one version of herself.
  • She’d seen how these weak and whiny Parts of her seemed to show up in familiar ways, and how she’d behave as if she was being run by a much younger vulnerable and reckless version of herself.
  • She’d learned how to notice these shifts – to be both the one with the emotions and the one noticing herself emoting.
  • And she’d had some experiences lately where she was able to notice the younger, emotional Parts of herself and interview them as if they were separate people. She could attend to those Parts and find out what they believed and feared.
  • And, most important for today’s post, she’d learned how to bring compassionate leadership to these inner Parts.

She’d started down the life-long path toward Self-leadership.

************

We left off last week wondering about Self-leadership.

SELF ~ I described Self as that which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.

If you meditate, this might be a familiar concept.

Meditation, like encountering your Self, brings perspective and freedom. The moment you notice your mind as it thinks, chatters, forms and shares opinions, fosters fears and tells tales – then you are not your mind. You are your mind + an observer. So, who is the observer?

“You” – some separate “You” – is noticing the drama, which means that you are not the drama.

There are loads of advantages to spending time connecting to this centered place (here are 20-scientific-reasons-to-start-meditating)

But inviting this centered “You” to be a Leader for your inner world expands upon the benefits of normal meditating in an astonishingly helpful way.

The WHAT ~ SELF-LEADERSHIP describes a state where your inner, loving, wise Self brings a healing combination of genuine curiosity and loving compassion to all your inner Parts such that they can tell their story, feel heard, release their extreme positions and let go of untrue limiting beliefs so they can trust You, your Self, to lead the way. It really is a leadership thing.

Huh?

I’ll break this down using Holly’s situation. (See here is you missed meeting Holly last week).

Remember, Holly is already practicing 4 important things:

  1. She recognizes there’s not just one Holly; that she has a variety of inner Parts;
  2. She notices how these Parts interact and have a purposeful relationship with one another;
  3. She is so aware of her rich inner family of Parts that she can actually speak FOR these different Parts; e.g., “Part of me is dreading this family gathering, as usual. But another Part’s excited to try something different.”
  4. And, she is finally coming to believe she doesn’t have to be a victim of her moods and frightened young Parts. She is ready to cultivate ~

The HOW ~ SELF-LEADERSHIP

To teach something, I think it helps to break it into clear steps. However, over time this way of bringing your full compassionate Self into any given moment can happen instantly.

Know too that initially it helps to put some time and effort into this sort of self-reflection, before you encounter a tough situation. Holly chose to work with me for a few sessions to make sure she was on the right path. But this work can be done alone – which is why I am excited to share it with you here.

Here’s the process ~

1.   ROLL CALL ~ Identify the Parts who might get triggered by a specific event.*

It helps to get an image in your mind’s eye and treat each Part as an intact person, with feelings and needs. Here are the five Parts Holly identified.

  1. Her inner recluse
  2. Her no-nonsense task-master
  3. Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married
  4. Her devil-may-care
  5. Her yearning-to-connect

* This can be hard so don’t beat yourself up if you are only aware of 1 or 2 Parts of you. If you are interested in getting better at this visit here for an IFS therapist in your area. A couple of sessions with a professional who is trained in helping you discover these Parts can make a big difference. Or drop me a line (gemma@gemmautting.com) and I’ll give you some pointers.

2.   CHECK-IN ~ One at a time, check in with each Part.

Keep it simple. Just ask ~

  1. What are you afraid will happen?
  2. What do you need from me to make sure that doesn’t happen?

Here’s Holly and her Recluse demonstrating.

Holly          So I hear you’re worried about an upcoming family birthday. I’d love to know what you’re worried about.

Recluse      I’m worried it’s going to be so noisy and chaotic and I’ll feel trapped in there with everyone thinking I’m going to freak out!

Holly          Yes, I know that feeling and it sucks! What do you need this time to feel less trapped?

Recluse      Well,  I guess I’d feel better if I could give myself permission to take a break when things get too loud. Maybe I could just let Sally know I’m going to take the dog around the block for 20 minutes, which might help a lot.

3.   MAKE A PLAN ~ Take each fear seriously, and make a plan.

Stay compassionate with all these Parts of yourself. Chances are they are young and they need you to take their concerns seriously. Imagine a little fellow in his footie PJs is frightened the under-the-bed monster is back. He just needs you to take a peek and let him know if it’s all clear. Then he can feel safe. Would you do that for him? Same difference here.

Does this seem too simple?

Here’s what is going under this simple façade ~

1.   You’ve gathered great data. By focusing not only on what’s “out there” in the external world of people, you’ve also focused “in here”, on your internal family of Parts.

2.   You’ve taken stock, assessed potential dangers and identified potential allies. You’re forewarned.

3.   You’ve taken charge. When you feel a situation is heading south (which you can do easily now since you’re in communication with those Parts of you on the emotional front lines) you are in a position to check-in with all the Parts who are triggered; weigh their possibly conflicting needs;  review the pre-planned solutions; make a decision and lead your inner family of Parts in a way that is as good as possible for the all of you.

Remember how it was before you knew this stuff?

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.06.49 PMRemember that  doorknob?

You were poised, about to enter a challenging situation. Inside were people whose words, deeds, whispers and decisions would impact you.

Your heart was racing, your head throbbing, your jaw clenched, your shoulders tense. Your face was a shifting map of anxiety.

You had no control over anything. Talk about a vulnerable place to be!

And, now that you have some skills?

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.43.58 PM

Same challenging situation behind those doors.

Same possibility that the words, deeds, whispers and decisions of the people inside might impact you.

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 1.51.00 PM

But this time, you’re not alone.

You’ve invited your wise Self along.

Your younger Parts have been encouraged to share their concerns. They feel much less anxious now they’ve been heard.

You’ve got a plan.

Your Self has your back.

That’s Self Leadership.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the seventh article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #6 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
  6. Happy Families

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.

NEXT WEEK?

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 2.38.13 PMMy friend Hannah and I love to swap good quotes. One of her favorites is from Eeyore, who comments to Pooh one day

“Not all of us can. And some of us don’t.”

That is of course true for lots of things, including this sort of inner work. Sometimes, try as we might, we can’t bring our Self to have enough authority to lead our pack of inner Parts.

Try as we might, we get triggered by things our partner, boss, child, in-laws or friends say to us. Next week I’m gong to talk about what you can do then, when you feel you’ll be forever held hostage by your highly emotional Parts. Because, I suppose, the opposite of Eeyore’s statement would be ~

“Not all of us can’t, and some of us do.”

WANT MORE?

You might enjoy this.

The Brain’s Ability to Look Within: A Secret to Self-Mastery

The author makes a great case for the benefits of tuning into our inner selves.

Happy Families?

Imagine your family is oblivious to your feelings and needs, but still demands your loyalty, presence and engagement with family events. The “Lady Edith” dilemma. This is also Holly’s (whom you’ll meet in a minute) predicament.

Is there anything either of them can do to improve this situation?

Maybe this isn’t your problem, but perhaps you have other relationships which leave you feeling bruised, frustrated and yearning to change?

Welcome! This is a place to explore what it means to cultivate great relationships with partners, family, friends, kids, neighbors, work mates. With people you love deeply, and with people you’re tempted to dislike, or even write off.

In January I made the case that step one in creating great relationships is to get to know yourself in a whole new way. In brief:

  1. Recognize there’s not just one “you”. Notice how different people elicit a different version of you. We have distinct inner Parts. See here.
  2. Your Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading, critiquing, judging, dismissing, ignoring or protecting another Part. See here.
  3. This is not random. Your Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage your day to day, to exile your deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse your inner pain when it is triggered. See here.

This month I’m exploring how – in the midst of this community of Parts – we can become proactive and choose how we show up.

************

Meet Holly (with the tough family). Her story is an amalgam of several prior client situations. She’d love to improve her relationship with her family and we meet her now as she anticipates attending a family birthday.

Holly’s one of five kids and the only one not yet popping out the grand-babies for her folks who have morphed from stern, judgmental, distant parents into indulgent and fawning grandparents.

It’s yet another birthday for a niece or nephew, and Holly’s been summoned to attend since, as her mother says every year and for every birthday “How could you miss! Don’t you want to celebrate with your family?

Holly is already familiar with her variety of Parts who get triggered by these events:

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.39.17 AMHer inner recluse starts screaming and a feeling of suffocation begins to overwhelm her at the thought of the noise and chaos that happens when 20 people gather to eat sugar and offer too many gifts to a small child;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.40.21 AM

Her no-nonsense task-master starts trying to plan how to entertain the younger kids so there will be some planned cohesion to the afternoon’s chaos;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.44.20 AM

Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married Part swoops in and she finds herself alternately sobbing and raging at her parents’ agenda for her in the days leading up to the event;

 Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.46.34 AM

Her devil-may-care Part makes sure she brings several additional bottles of Prosecco so she can always pour another glass when the going gets too tough;

Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 7.47.26 AM

And her yearning-to-connect Part braces for the disappointment that usually follows when Holly tries to have a meaningful conversation with her favorite sister Sally at family gatherings.

Holly has done some terrific emotional homework.

She’s discovered her ~

Managers – the recluse & her no-nonsense-Parts

Exiles – her vulnerable-not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married, & yearning-to-connect Parts

Firefighters – her devil-may-care Part

(see this Post if you are not familiar with these terms)

And she knows how these Parts tag-team to keep her functioning at these family events. Her Managers keep her alternately seeming like a one-woman island unto herself, or chivvying everyone like a kindergarten teacher, both of which are acceptable to her family and serve to minimize her need to connect at any meaningful level with them. Alternating aloof with busy has the added advantage of minimizing her exiled emotional pain which is easily triggered by her family’s judgment and distance. And, as soon as the pain is tapped into, it’s “fire-fighters-to-the-rescue” and somehow her glass is constantly re-filled with the highly effective “lets-numb-out-on-booze” response.

But she wants to do this differently. These behaviors only reinforce her family’s dim view of her mental stability and life choices. She wishes she could be with them as she is in other contexts, where she experiences herself as strong, interesting and capable.

Holly knows no one in the family (with the possible exception of Sally) has the desire or ability to change how they all relate, so it’s up to her.

With me, as well as working to understand the variety of ways she shows up and how they can trip her up, Holly is also learning to speak FOR her Parts, not FROM them. This means (with reference to the upcoming birthday party) that rather than act out her feelings of frustration with her family by huffing, sighing, rolling her eyes and snapping at them, she can say (even if only to herself to start with)  “You know, Part of me gets frustrated by these high-stress family gatherings, but there’s also a Part of me who’s happy to be invited and wants to continue to try and connect with my siblings.” See here to learn more about this idea.

So – what should Holly do?

Below are 4 options for Holly. You choose ~

_____a.   Cross her fingers and just go.

  • Pros: no effort needed in prior planning and you never know! The family might be attentive, kind and finally interested in her life; the kids might be calm and the cake tasty.
  • Cons: This never happens! Last birthday ended up with her leaving early, drunk, and in tears after screaming at Sally.

_____b.   Decline the invitation and avoid the whole thing.

  • Pros:            She would not get hurt that day.
  • Cons:            She’d pay for it for years to come in guilt trips from the family.

_____c.   Just pick one Part and stick with it. Right now she’s totally blended with the imagined security of her no-nonsense Part. That’s the one!

  • Pros:            If she could do this, it might work. She’d organize the smaller relatives, stay busy, avoid talking with anyone else, and leave early.
  • Cons:            Zero buy-in from the other Parts pretty much guarantees that they’ll show up. And then we’re back to option a.

_____d.   Practice some pre-emptive self-leadership so she is aware of her inner dynamics and can trust her Self to finesse whatever happens.

  • Pros:            Knowing she can keep her Parts attended to, Holly is free to enjoy the Party. She can risk having conversations with family members because even if they can’t control how they are with her, she can handle what is going on for her. As she masters her ability to be compassionate and present with her internal community of Parts, she notices she is able to feel acceptance and compassion toward her external community of people.
  • Cons:            Getting to this stage takes a strong desire, a willingness to be honest, and a level of compassion toward oneself that takes time to cultivate.

OK – if Holly’s goal is to improve her relationships with her family, which of the above scenarios would you pick for her?

Most folks choose options a, b or c and those are good if your goal is to simply cope, or get through something. But improving things takes a different approach.

If Holly is committed to improving her relationships, then it’s up to her to BE someone else, and DO something different, which makes (d) a compelling option.

What’s this pre-emptive self-leadership Holly needs before she can enjoy herself at the party?

Self-leadership describes a state where your best self, or maybe your true self, becomes the wise, loving adult to all your younger inner Parts.

This true Self (which I’ll now refer to as Self) is the you which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.

Self is present when your heart melts into compassion for these young Parts, instead of the usual judgment, criticism, and impatience.

You’ve met this Self before.

It’s the still point at your center when you meditate.

It’s where music and art can take you.

Or the particular beauty of earth ~

DSCF0323

Or the vast, unknowable majesty of space ~

Screen shot 2015-02-10 at 7.22.32 AM

Self is the still-point amidst all the hubbub.

NEXT WEEK

Discover how to connect to your Self, and learn how to bring this Self into a loving relationship with your Parts. This is the key to that pre-emptive Self-Leadership Holly will need (we all need) if we are to connect deeply with others. And it begins when we connect with our Self.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the sixth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Top 12 Relationship Skills

Click the box for the full list →    →    →

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to  previous articles, with #1 being the first and #5 the article before this.

  1. My Top 12 Relationship Skills
  2. Part of Me Wants . . .
  3. Little Miss Sunshine
  4. The Purpose Driven Life
  5. Report The News – Don’t Act it Out

Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.

Report The News – Don’t Act It Out

Welcome!

This is the fifth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip was to Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.

See January 7th14th, 21st & 28th).

The next important skill I wish I’d learned builds upon these ideas: I wish I’d learned how to be pro-active and choose how I show up in my relationships.

Put another way, who is really in charge of all these inner parts? Do they duke it out and the Part with the meanest emotions gets to win? It can certainly feel like that. What happens when I swear up and down I’m going to be ~

  • A calm good listener when my teenager has a melt down – but I end up screaming too;
  • Trusting as my spouse goes through job interviews – but I end up offering advice and we fight;
  • Open to feedback at my annual review – but I’m defensive and whiny;
  • Patient with my aged parents – but frustration totally takes over.

Not that I’m comparing or anything, but it seems to me that some folks can actually stay on script. If they decide to be good listeners, or trusting or open minded or patient – astonishingly they are. They have “a decider” and they listen to him or her.

They seem to have some on-board leadership.

This month I’ll help you discover and strengthen your own self-leadership.

************

WHAT DOES SELF-LEADERSHIP LOOK LIKE?

Being self-led is in the same area of self-mastery as ~

  • self-control
  • being conscious
  • having the lights on in the attic
  • being awake
  • being enlightened.

They are big ideas and can seem too grand or unattainable.

But, when you bite off one small ability at a time, this is a very do-able skill. Brings to mind my motto for this year which is on my favorite mug .Cup & PotThe goal (or “aim” since this is not a goal-oriented journey) of self-leadership is that you become increasingly aware of what you ~

  • Feel
  • Think
  • Believe
  • Say
  • Do

This idea underpins every self-improvement journey – emotional, cognitive, spiritual, narrative & behavioral  – that you undertake. What we are looking for here is a way to take a meta position in our day to day experience. This means we are able to cultivate a little distance between the ~

  • one who feels, and the one who notices that you have certain feelings
  • one who thinks, and the one who notices that you have certain thoughts
  • one who believes, and the one who notices that you have certain beliefs
  • one who speaks, and the one who notices that you are saying certain things
  • one who acts, and the one who notices that you are acting in a certain way.

Do you see it?

You are already more than one person. You are the one feeling, thinking, believing, speaking and acting, as well as the one who notices your self doing all of this.

Of all the 12 relationship skills I’m exploring this year, getting your heart and mind around this one point will probably pay the biggest dividends.

The best metaphor I can come up with today is . . . the weather report.

Yup – the weather report on TV. It’s not meant to be entertaining. It’s meant to give you useful news-you-can-use as you go about your day. It’s usually delivered in a similar format you come to count on, and it’s not too hyped up or prone to exaggeration.

Here’s one from the BBC describing the weather expected on June 12, 2011. You don’t need to watch much to get the idea. The reporter calmly observes what is happening and what might soon be happening. There’s not too much drama and this allows you to take it all in.

Now watch the one below and notice the difference.

 

The second one is goofy and fun, I know. But here’s how to use this contrast to think about the first step in becoming more conscious about your own emotional, Parts-driven process.

There is a BIG difference between reporting the weather with some perspective of the big picture, and reporting the weather by acting out each possible meteorological event. The first method gives a reassuring sense that the BBC and its reporters will prevail – no matter what the weather. The second one has us feeling buffeted and concerned that the studios themselves will be knocked off-kilter by the storms they are reporting on.

Same for how you report on your inner Parts. If you can cultivate that bit of distance from their emotional content, and report on them from a distance, the listener will have the sense that there is someone in charge. But if you get pulled into any particular Parts storm (screaming, crying, arguing, playing victim, etc) the listener gets buffeted about and will be reacting to just that Part. Instead, you want them to be in relationship to you. The all of you. When that one who notices does the reporting, he or she can see the big picture and take the lead.

Here is what it looks like to report FOR your Parts versus FROM your Parts.

A) FOR YOUR PARTS – “You know, Part of me feels a bit skeptical about this explanation and another Part is frustrated since finding just the right metaphor is tough. But I gotta tell you this is playful and fun and there are Parts of me really hoping you like this.”

Versus

B) FROM YOUR PARTS – “You might hate this and I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to describe my main point. But I really hope you like it.”

What do you notice about your reaction to these two ways I’ve just communicated with you?

What I notice is that when I speak FOR my parts (example A), I am able to hold my ideas and agenda more lightly. I’m able to see which Parts of me are showing up. Noticing and reporting lets me slow things down. And as I name the Parts I don’t feel so overtaken by them. In fact, just the act of reporting on them give me some perspective and distance.

When I speak FROM my parts, I feel less resourceful, more wedded to an agenda (that you like my work) and somehow I feel more needy. Like my happiness is dependent upon your response to me. Yuk!

OK, let’s go back to the 4 examples at the start of this bog written in blue type. These are examples of how I want to behave in one way, but end up behaving quite differently. Here’s how these situations could be transformed by this one skill: The skill of Reporting FOR instead of speaking FROM your Parts.

READY?

 You want to be ~

1)            A calm good listener when your teenager has a melt down, but you end up screaming too;

  • Think S.O.S.
  • STOP                    and take a deep breath.
  • OBSERVE             your impulses. What Parts are up?
  • SPEAK UP            Report on your inner Parts situation, like the weather person does.

e.g.; “Oh boy Molly. When you end up screaming at me, Part of me wants to scream right back at you. I’m a whole mix of emotions. Part is just plain mad for sure. But Part of me is frightened – I always worry when you are out in the car late. Part of me is disappointed since I thought we’d been through this last week and made a plan. And Part of me totally empathizes with you. I did things like this when I was your age.”

2)            Trusting, as your spouse goes through job interviews, but you end up offering advice and  having a fight;

  • Think S.O.S.
  • STOP                    and take a deep breath.
  • OBSERVE             your impulses. What Parts are up?
  • SPEAK UP            Report on your inner Parts situation, like the weather person does.

e.g., “You know Bill, when you tell me about your interviews I have all these mixed responses. Part of me wants to help by giving advice but I know that bugs you and makes you think I don’t trust you. Part of me feels so proud of you – that you keep on going even after several rejections. Part of me wants to rescue you and say to give up – it’s too hard! What do you need from me right now?”

For the above examples, you could give your Parts report out loud.

These next two are more subtle because you’ll be better off giving yourself your own inner Parts Report before you say anything. You want to be ~

3)             Open to feedback in your annual review – but you are defensive and whiny

  • Think S.O.S.
  • STOP                    and take a deep breath.
  • OBSERVE            your impulses. What Parts are up?
  • SPEAK UP           Report to yourself on what is happening for you.

e.g., “Humm I can feel my cheeks reddening and I’m mad this guy hasn’t noticed all the great things I’ve done. I want to defend myself but don’t want to come off as defensive and whiny. Let me think of what to say that keeps me respectful but powerful.”

 4)            Patient with your aged parents – but frustration totally takes over.

  • Think S.O.S.
  • STOP                    and take a deep breath.
  • OBSERVE            your impulses. What Parts are up?
  • SPEAK UP           Report to yourself on what is happening for you.

e.g., “Ok deep breath time. I know Dad is lonesome and loves to tell his tales. But I’ve heard that story what — 1,000 times now? Part of me is about to hit the walls and another Part wants to interrupt and head him off at the pass. Can I think of a story that I might actually enjoy hearing again?”

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

See if you can report on your inner Parts – like the BBC reporter. You can try saying what you notice out loud to someone “You know, Part of me wants to go to that movie with you, and Part of me really wants to stay home with a good book.”

NEXT

Once you know how to notice and report on your inner Parts activity, you’ll be ready to know how to make decisions, based upon this information. Like the “go-to-movie-or-stay-home” dilemma above. Now you notice the varying points of view, how does your decider decide?

HINT – it has a great deal to do with the wisdom of your inner “one who notices.”

FEATURED IMAGE

Prince Charles reading the Scottish weather forecast on the BBC, back on May 10th 2012.

The Purpose-Driven Life . . .

. . . OF OUR PARTS.

Welcome!

This is the fourth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

So far I’ve presented 2 of the 3 main ideas ~

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:

This week? 

3. How and Why do our Parts relate?

Plus ~

  • How on earth does any of this help my relationships?
  • And, who’s really in charge of all these Parts?

************

HOW AND WHY DO OUR PARTS RELATE?

It can feel random when we first tune into our inner chatter and hear loads of contradictory messages, but each Part is absolutely acting purposefully, and when we come to see what their purpose is, everything shifts.

In any given moment our Parts are relating to one another, brokering how we show up. When things are going along reasonably well and there’s not too much external stress we can show up with access to our good feelings and (we hope) with the lid tightly shut on our bad feelings. Most of us walk a fine line between happiness and despair, or between confidence and embarrassment. We never know if something will trigger all those nasty feelings we’ve shoved away deep within, under the carpet of our inner basements.

Indeed, the purpose of our Parts has as much to do with managing our pain & shame as it does with the pursuit of happiness.

I’m going to paraphrase a bit here from Richard Schwartz (the founder IFS), and you’ll find much more about this in his book Internal Family Systems. We manage or inner system by organizing our Parts into three groups.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.18.52 AMMANAGERS – This group’s purpose is to be highly protective, strategic, and interested in controlling the environment to keep things safe. When things go well, these are the Parts we become most familiar with as important aspects of our personality. These are the “front men & women” who manage how we go through our days –  learning, growing, adapting, relating and scanning for danger. Freud would call these parts our Ego. Our managers can be balanced and kind, or forced by context and circumstances to be strict bullies within us.
Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.26.12 AM

EXILES – These are our shadow sides, exiled out of consciousness and out of the public eye because they’ve been tasked with holding onto (and burying deeply away) our pain, trauma, ugly beliefs, shame, unlovability, unworthiness, and not-good-enough-ness. Their purpose is to protect us from experiencing the emotional pain that has been inflicted upon us. When perfect little babies are born into an imperfect world, Exiles exist. Some of us have so much pain and suffering these highly vulnerable Parts can’t stay locked away and the person finds they have to relate to the world from a place of shame – which, paradoxically can be liberating and freeing (think AA meetings which begin with acknowledging something which, when hidden, we are ashamed of, but when shared, can be healed: “Hello, my name is X and I’m’ an alcoholic.”

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.23.42 AMFIREFIGHTERS – This third group behaves like, well, firefighters! They are our first responders when there’s danger that an exile’s pain might be coming up. Their job is to react powerfully and automatically to stifle or sooth our shadow feelings. So – if we’re jilted by a lover and it triggers our deeply exiled sense of “not good-enough-ness” that we took on from critical or abusive parents, our firefighters step in and douse the feeling with highly distracting and often very damaging and extreme alternative behaviors – like over drinking, over eating, obliterating the conscious mind with drugs, accessing blind rage, disassociating and more.

OK – you’ve got the 3 main ideas for January and the first of ~

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

#1  Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

  1. Each of us has a variety of ways of showing up. We have distinct inner Parts. See this post;
  2. Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading or critiquing or judging or dismissing or ignoring or protecting another Part. See here:
  3. This is not random. Our Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage our day to day, to exile our deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse our inner pain when it is triggered.

Want to play with this?

Watch movies and see if you can distinguish what parts are coming up for the characters. Here’s a fun one for you to get started. Below is a scene from Woody Allen’s movie Blue Jasmine.  It’s the story of a wealthy financier’s wife who tumbles down through the social strata as she looses touch with reality (inner and outer) as her anger, shame and drinking increasingly unhinge her.

In this scene, you may be able to detect her ~

  • MANAGERS – struggling to proactively maintain appearances with dignified work and options;
  • EXILES – the bursts of shame and unworthiness that pop out
  • FIREFIGHTERS – look for the background drinking and struggle to manage the shame

HOW DOES KNOWING THIS HELP MY RELATIONSHIPS?

I’m answering this first of all with the wonderful Brene Brown quote at the top of this article:

If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues, like the bottom line or attendance or standardized test scores, you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything.

Until you become aware of the rich complexity of your own inner system it’s as if you’re flying blind in the dark, with no instruments.

As long as you are not hitting another plane and you’re not being buffeted too violently, you can get away with blind flight. But as soon as you hit turbulence and your wings tip, or you go into a spin, or you want to avoid what might be an obstacle ahead and you start randomly punching at buttons on your instrument panel, your progress, your impact, your position and your recovery are totally random!

If you want to be a competent pilot in all weather conditions, you need to learn everything you can about your airplane. What are all the moving parts of your airplane, how do they interact and which instruments communicate with them and how. What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

If you want to be competent in relationships through good times and bad, you need to learn everything you can about your self. What are all your moving Parts? How do they interact and how do you impact their behavior? What are the emergency safety features and do any parts need to be repaired or updated?

Hope that metaphor works for you. We’ll keep exploring and deepening this answer .

WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE OF ALL THESE PARTS, WHERE’S THE LEADERSHIP?

Great question. Come back in February when I’ll be exploring this issue each Wednesday.

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

If you’ve not encountered Brene Brown and her work on Shame, you might enjoy either of these two TED talks she gave:

1. The Power of Vulnerability

2.  Listening To Shame

PHOTO CREDITS

Little Miss Sunshine & Family

Welcome!

This is the third article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Click the box for the full list    →    →    →Top 12 Relationship Skills

January’s tip I’m guessing no one taught you in school is the idea that there’s not just one you. And in fact it really helps to recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

Last week we talked about learning to recognize this phenomenon by noticing how we are constantly buffeted by mixed emotions. And since we can all relate to having mixed emotions, it’s perhaps not such a leap to think of these differing perspectives as representing important-but-separate aspects of ourselves. As different Parts of ourselves:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.

From “There’s A Part of Me” by Jon Schwartz and Bill Brennan.

Taking it one step further, it can help to think of these Parts as being in relationship to one another. Like family. Some families work to balance the needs of individual members with the needs of the group. Some not so much. Some family members speak up loudly and often, some are silent. And all have their outliers and eccentrics like . . .  Olive Hoover’s family from the movie Little Miss Sunshine.

Let’s play with this for a moment. So the idea here is to imagine those conversations you hear in your head are taking place between distinct inner characters, or Parts-of-you, each with his or her own narrow view of what’s needed to keep you functioning and safe. Olive has a loud-mouthed self-medicating grandpa intent on his next “fix”; a brilliant but tortured uncle processing multiple losses; a teenage brother focused on getting into the air force academy and who refuses to talk until he does; an exhausted over-working mother desperate to keep the family eating, sleeping and safe; a self-obsessed father focused on his career as a motivational speaker, and, of course, Olive who is close to her grandpa and who wants the chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Yet, as you’ll see below,  “no one gets left behind.”

If you’ve never seen the film, do treat yourself. Meanwhile, whether you’ve seen it or not, take a peep at the official trailer. Even this 2.5 minute clip makes the point: we’re a mess of well-meaning contradictions striving to get along, both inside and outside the family.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This week?  Where do these “Parts-of-me” come from, and what do they do?

In brief, your Parts (which contribute to your overall personality) are a mash-up of your biology and your environment. You were born with the predisposition to thrive in two realms;

  • Your outer system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) other people;
  • Your inner system, by figuring out how to get along with (and even love) yourself.

Predisposed to get along?” I hear a Part of you sneer! What about Olive’s grandpa screaming about the chicken dinner? He seems to hate everybody. Or brother Frank wanting to kill himself. He seems to hate himself.

Those are fair observations but my guess is, both Grandpa and Frank weren’t born with these extreme perspectives. At birth they, and all of us, were perfect little babies born with everything they needed to contribute their unique way of being to the world.

Problem is, they (and all of us) were born into an imperfect world. They (and all of us) were born with unique abilities to feel and think and express  but, because they (and all of us) exist only in relationship to others (other people with feelings, needs and agendas in your outer realm and other Parts of you with feelings, needs and agendas in your inner realm) things don’t always go smoothly.

Parts are forced out of their valuable roles [ . . . ] by life experiences that can reorganize the system in unhealthy ways. A good analogy is an alcoholic family in which the children are forced into protective and stereotypic roles by the extreme dynamics of their family. While one finds similar sibling roles across alcoholic families (e.g., the scapegoat, mascot, lost child), one does not conclude that those roles represent the essence of those children. Instead, each child is unique and, once released from his or her role by intervention, can find interests and talents separate from the demands of the chaotic family.

While some people get understandably pushed into destructive roles because of trauma and abuse,

more often, it is a person’s family of origin values and interaction patterns that create internal polarizations which escalate over time and are played out in other relationships.

from Richard Schwartz’s overview of IFS.

Which leads me to talk about what Parts do?

Going back to the idea that we are intended to thrive or at least, to take it down a notch, to-get-along-well-enough-with-our own self and our family or chosen community, then each of these inner personalities has a role to play to help us thrive.

According to Richard Schwartz (in his book Internal Family Systems, page 19) human systems (both our inner system of Parts and our outer system of relationships) thrive to the extent they enjoy ~

1)  BALANCE It’s a fairness thing. Parts and families need their fair share of ~

  • influence on decision-making – they need to know their ideas count
  • access to the groups resources – they need “enough”
  • responsibility – they need to contribute
  • safety – they need boundaries that are neither too rigid nor too loose.

2)  HARMONY It’s a cooperative thing. Parts and families thrive when an effort is made to work cooperatively toward a common vision whilst recognizing each person has specific styles, gifts, ideas and abilities. Our Parts are tasked with helping create and maintain this harmony.

3)  LEADERSHIP It’s a “Who’s in charge?” thing. Parts and families need help to ~

  • Mediate disagreements and polarizations and manage the feedback they give one another;
  • Ensure all members are protected and cared for;
  • Allocate resources, responsibilities and influence fairly;
  • Provide the broad vision and perspective for the whole system;
  • Represent the system to other systems;
  • Honestly interpret feedback from other systems;

4)  DEVELOPMENT It’s a learning thing. We may be born with all these wonderfully sensitive Parts designed to help us thrive with balance, harmony and leadership but, as I noted up top, perfect babies are born into an imperfect world. Our Parts have to grow and mature yet all of us to some extent, have parts who get stuck. They hold on to old beliefs and fears or, through trauma, freeze in place.

This is a lot for one week. But bottom line, you’ll be ahead of the game in your relationships if you can recognize that in any given moment ~

  1. You’ve got mixed emotions – you’re a mash-up of your biology and environment
  2. Your mixed emotions are expressed through your own inner family of Parts – and each Part is trying to keep your inner and outer worlds more or less balanced, harmonious, well-led and adaptable.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store.

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

Bring to mind a dilemma you are having. A “should I do this or that” sort of dilemma. This is a terrific way to see your inner family at work. You are having a dilemma because two Parts of you are polarized. It’s like watching an inner ping-pong match – right?

  • Your I want to be happy Part says “Quit your job – you’re miserable!” and
  • Your I want to be secure Part says “You’ll never find another job. You’ll be destitute in two months. What are you even thinking!”

And some other Part is striving to find the wisdom of Solomon and be The Decider.

Now what you do about all of this is another article. But if you can at least find these Parts, you’ll be several important steps along the way to resolving the impasse.
NEXT?

  • How do these Parts relate to one another?
  • Who’s really in charge of all these Parts?
  • And how on earth does any of this help my relationships?

Part of me wants . .

. . . to finish writing this article, while another part of me really wants to go skiing.

Welcome to a conversation about mixed emotions. This is the second in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

#1 ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Whether or not you’ve ever met Mork from Mork and Mindy (an American sit-com which ran from 1978-1982 about a space alien, played by Robin Williams, who’d been dispatched from his planet Ork to observe human behavior) you might appreciate what a great job Mork does of observing his own inner chaos. See if you can relate ~

Mork’s a mess and we love him for it. No matter what organized, calm, more-Mindy-like demeanor we might present on the outside, our insides can be quite different. In there, we’re a slowly simmering soup of sentiment – and that’s on good days. On bad days when we blow it, or someone blows it with us, that low simmer steams into a rolling boil and the inner chaos spills out all over.

You’ve seen it, right?

  • You’ve done what you consider to be good work and then someone gives you “feedback.” Suddenly your confidence vaporizes and you feel as capable as a mole on a unicycle.
  • Your teenager is late home. Your catastrophizing worrywart is about to call the hospital when you hear the car pull into the garage. In an instant your worry is engulfed by a volcano of rage and despite that slight whisper you hear back-stage to “Listen first!” you explode through the door like a banshee.
  • Your heart is full of love and ready to share. Candles. Mood music. Surprise dinner-for-two in the oven. Your phone bleeps for an incoming text: “Running late. Don’t wait up.” Poof! Your secure lover is sucker-punched and replaced by a green-eyed jealous, suspicious gut-chewing-monster.
  • And how about those inner tug-o-wars between the Part of you who craves cake after dinner and that Part who champions height-weight proportionality? Or between your straight-laced Banker who advises putting 10% of your income away each month and your Zesty “Carpe Diem” who’s just put a deposit down on that Hot Air balloon ride?
  • Or, much harder, the Part who wants to leave the marriage and never come back and that other Part, who is afraid of being alone and worries there’s no one better out there?

~ There’s not just one YOU ~

Have you noticed that your personality is more multicolored than monochrome?

That nothing is as simple as it seems?

Even when, to expand upon an example from the above list, you may feel confident about a piece of work, that confidence was probably a negotiated alliance between your ~

  • WORDY PART who wrote and wrote and over wrote
  • EDITOR who sliced through the word count
  • RESEARCHER who can’t stand unsubstantiated claims
  • POET who delivered gorgeous prose
  • TEAM PLAYER who sought buy-in from all the necessary stake-holders

and that sense of incapacity following the “feedback” was probably not just one flavor but a blend of your inner ~

  • CRITIC who warned you all along this was rubbish
  • PERFECTIONIST who actually agreed with the feedback you received
  • INSECURE teen who craves the positive attention of others
  • NAY SAYER who always warns you against risk-taking.

As I said, we’re often a mess on the inside. But the truth is, this is actually very good news! This is news-we-can-use, if we’d only learn how.

I’ve come to understand myself more clearly than ever before thanks to the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and the model he developed called Internal Family Systems (IFS). As a brief intro I’m quoting from a short, accessible book* called There’s A Part of Me by Jon Schwartz (the founder’s brother) and Bill Brennen.

Normally, our parts work extremely well together. They coordinate, calculate, weigh in, and contribute to every decision we make, and they help us navigate a complex and sophisticated world. When they don’t work together, we experience conflict. As we will examine in this book, ironically it is mainly the parts of ourselves that want to protect us from potential harm that tend to cause emotional upset in our lives. We will look at situations in which our parts are in conflict, learn how we can recognize when this happens, and understand what we can do about it. (page 8)

Now this is useful stuff. Here’s a model which normalizes the chaos and offers a way into it, and then through it, that makes sense to me.

They go on to share their 3 main ideas about Parts:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store..

WANT TO TRY SOMETHING?

Tune in to yourself. Can you identify a conversation you’re having in your head and notice the different perspectives? Or, have you noticed that you show up one way with this person, and another way with that? What Parts are those? Is there already a familiar set of thoughts and beliefs that tend to pop up, unbidden? A critical voice, a fearful gut, a vulnerable heart, or a Part who whisks you into some nice numbing behaviors like mindless eating, smoking, drinking, spending? Just be present with awareness, rather than judgment.

Next?

January 21st  – building upon a great question from a reader’s comment to me in an email about the idea of Parts. Thanks SS.

The “angry you,” the “mean you,” the “gentle, loving you.”  Where do they come from?  From experiences we have had, from people and situations we’ve been in – to an unholy degree, from our parents and the “attachment” experience of our early years: What?

Featured Image (above)

Robin Williams as Mork. Still missing his fire on the planet.

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

Last week I set a challenge, for both of us.

My part?

I’m challenging myself to identify and share the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Those key things I’ve had to figure out over the decades in order to be happier in my own skin and behind my own eyes; those things that I’ve needed to grasp in order to understand other people; those things I’ve learned the hard way by all the failed connections, anger, sadness, loss, discomfort and unmet needs. These 12 skills are (so far) my answer to those unspoken “What if I’d known this?”” questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve bumped along on my own. To refer back to my math analogy of last week – what if I’d learned more than basic arithmetic at school before being asked to move into a world filled with calculus problems?

Your part?

Participate! Co-create this list. Here’s how. I’m exploring one skill per month, in one post per week – usually on Wednesdays. Check-in with me each week to see what you think of the ideas. I’m going to tell stories, post video clips, explore my reasons, & maybe share my own goof-ups. I’d love your feedback. Try these ideas on. Take them for a spin. Watch what happens. And remember – these are not exclusively “couples” skills. These are the building blocks for all loving relationships – loving ourselves, our parents, children, friends and yes, of course partners.

My hope?

That you’ll become more aware of what you do that works – what brings you closer to people. And that you’ll become more hopeful and empowered as you consider those relationships that are fragile or cracked. Are there ideas here that will help you build a firmer footing?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After three decades of paying attention to how we connect with one another, I’ve come to believe that the essence of our human interactions can be pretty simply stated: We’re each trying to manage our feelings and meet our needs in the context of one another. And that’s why it gets so interesting.

At one extreme, to paraphrase Albert Camus, is the victim (someone who, for many reasons, is unable to advocate for him or her self) and at the other, the executioner (someone who ignores or crushes the feelings and needs of others). Neither path is satisfactory because the fact is, we need one another.

We need one another to show up with our true agenda more than we need either a resentful capitulation or a one-sided victory. Both these positions are destabilizing. There’s a score to settle. Pay-back and revenge are in the air. Someone has won or lost a battle but Peace has not broken out.

We need to be able to resolve issues with difficult neighbors; judgmental in-laws; stressed partners; angry children; our community – however we define this for ourselves. And, we need to be able to connect with happiness, celebrating the special moments, appreciating the day-to-day.

In brief there’s a whole lot of complexity to nurturing quality relationships and not a whole lot of teaching or guidance along the way.

So, about those skills.

I’ve gathered this list together from a variety of sources. Principally I want to acknowledge ~

My Top Twelve

It might not make total sense to you at first but I hope you’ll hang in here with me. And, because life is a work-in-progress, I may edit this list as the year progresses.

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

  • Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
  • Learn how to be pro-active: choose how “y’all” show up.
  • Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity.

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

  • Master the art of conversation.
  • Discover how to listen with your whole self.
  • Crack the empathy nut.
  • Practice kindness.
  • Negotiate with a win-win mentality.

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

  • Build (or rebuild) trust.
  • Apologize & “Do-Over” – when you blow it.
  • Forgive and move on – when they blow it.

SKILLS LETTING GO

  • Let go! Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow & carry on.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Next?

The 3 next January posts will be exploring the many facets of ourselves. How come we can be assertive, brave and magnificent with these folks, and yet feel like a blithering idiot with those? What is this constant inner chatter?  Why do we get caught in dilemmas with totally competing arguments racing back and forth in our heads? What’s going on “inside” ?

Featured Image

Did you guess why I chose today’s featured image? This is a community of Bonobos. Considered amongst the most peaceful and egalitarian of apes I figured we’ve got something to learn from them.  Thanks to World Animal Protection for this image.

© Gemma Utting , January 2015

“Wise up!” Don’t “Give up.”

What if, rather than giving up on (or “settling for” or tolerating-the- distance-between-you &) that “difficult” someone in your life, you wise-up? What if your relationship with this one person could be better. Much better?

  • Maybe you feel trapped in marriage “for the kids” and have given up;
  • Maybe you’re stumped by your angry toddler;
  • Maybe your teenager is going through a tough time;
  • Maybe your in-laws are getting to you;
  • Or your co-worker or boss;
  • Or a friend has drifted away and you miss them.

I wonder if, like me, you’ve ever felt confounded, mystified and downright defeated in your efforts to connect with another human being?

Most people I’ve asked can think of several examples of when they’ve given up on a relationship. They know people whom they conclude are too — angry, difficult, selfish, dumb, aloof, uncaring, disinterested (you get the idea). So they stop trying.

But might that be a bit like feeling confounded, mystified and downright defeated by a complex math problem that no-one ever taught you how to solve?

Schools invest years in teaching us how to understand numbers: How relationships between and among numbers work; how to handle positive and negative numbers; why numbers behave a certain way in certain situations; how to handle abstraction; how to resolve math problems.

No one expects you to go from simple arithmetic to calculus without a careful sequencing of new skills over time with a teacher, textbook and lots of practice.

We do however, expect kids to emerge from their teens into an adult world in which they need to identify and meet an astounding variety of tangible, financial, educational, and emotional needs from a dizzying variety of people whose motives, behaviors, feelings and needs are vastly different, mysterious and confounding with no teacher, no book and very little practice. We can all feel like giving up on challenges like this, right?

But what if we’d had years of schooling to help us understand people? How relationships between and among people work; how to handle positive and negative emotions; why people behave a certain way in certain situations; how to handle abstraction; how to resolve people problems?

In brief, our relationships are like calculus: Confounding and mystifying when we’ve not learned much beyond addition and subtraction, but beautiful and elegantly simple when we know what we are doing.

My invitation to you this year is to come back to school, with me.

Let’s have some fun in the relationship remediation room and finally figure out how to feel empowered in our interactions with people.

I’ll be your coach, this blog, the textbook. And you’ll be invited to get all the practice you need as we go along.

 Over the next 12 months I’m going to share the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they did.”

 

ACTION STEP

Think about that one person you’d like to improve your relationship with.*

I’ll be back in a week with my Top 12 list.

Warmly,

Gemma

PS: Happy 2015 ~ sending love across the world as the new year dawns in all the time zones.

 

  • For the purposes of this challenge, so you might have better odds at success, please do not choose a person with an untreated mental health diagnosis such as narcissism, deep depression, borderline personality disorder, dementia or bi-polar disorder. Nurturing your relationship with such a person is absolutely possible, but may take some higher-level skills and patience. Be kind to yourself to start with.

Astonishing People

Life throws Sh*t sometimes – right?

Maybe our marriage ends, or we find out our child has some disabilities, or we loose lots of money, or depression rolls back in, or we get sick, or our neighbor sues us over something petty, or we loose a job or can’t find one.

As my wonderful friend Julia Kittross says, “Everybody’s got something” to deal with.

Mostly, if we’re honest, I think we’d admit to going about life trying to prevent  bad stuff from happening. Sometimes that works and, like the child with his thumb in the dyke, help arrives,  the hole is repaired and the flood waters are contained.  Sometimes, no matter how much we work at our marriage, get the best medical attention, research investments, say our affirmations and focus on the positive, work to be a good neighbor, and brush up our job skills – bad stuff still goes down.

How many times does this have to happen before we get the point?  The point being, life’s not about preventing the bad stuff. It’s about growing into and through the bad stuff. Those challenges, large and small, that tumble us through our days and nights and months and years of this astounding human experience.

I heard a story today that will forever change me – just as the story I heard on the BBC more than 30 years ago led to me become a mental health counselor, this story will change me. I am not sure how.  I sit in awe of this woman. This story. The simple, human kindness offered in the face of near certain death.

If you have yet to hear the story of Antoinette Tuff, it is my privilege to introduce you to her now.

Screen shot 2013-08-23 at 3.26.20 PM

Click on the image to connect to a video of Antoinette being interviewed about how just yesterday, she stopped a gunman who entered the elementary school where she works. And how did she stop him? Not with another gun, that’s for sure!  Just by talking to him. By caring. By discovering her empathy for him; empathy wrought not because Antoinette has managed to dodge life’s tough stuff. Quite the opposite.

Gives me the excuse to quote from another hero of mine – Winston Churchill:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”