Posts Tagged ‘struggle’

Individuation and Holding on to Our Sense of Self in Loving Relationships

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog

Holding on to our sense of self in loving relationships is a tough act. The process of individuation is the key to our emotional maturity and renders us able to balance our desire to please another with our drive to do what feels right for ourselves. Family dynamics either hinder or support our individuation. Think about it: As a child, were you encouraged to think, feel, and act as an individual? (Do not confuse independence with individuality). Or did your family demand for the most part that you cooperate and that you please them in order to be accepted and loved?

If this balancing act were not difficult enough in our families of origin, it becomes more precarious as we move into adult relationships with partners and spouses. As our partner grows in importance to us, so does the struggle to cooperate with him/her and stay true to our sense of self discovery and innate need for expansion. It’s easy to understand this dilemma when we recognize that of all the needs we have, loving relationships are the most critical for our happiness and well being. We are social beings who desire and require connectedness with others to thrive.

The struggle to remain connected while holding on to our sense of self can cause great confusion for couples because they are unaware of what is transpiring. When one is repeatedly succumbing to the needs of the other for the stability of the relationship, the toll can be physiological and emotional. In truth, the “pleasing” partner is out of integrity with him or herself because cooperation is taking place at the expense of individuality. A therapeutic term for this kind of relating is fusion or emotional dependence – not to be confused with love. The more emotionally dependent we are on our partner, the more we are going to be threatened by their potential rejection.

What makes this dynamic even more complex is the fact that we tend to choose a partner who possesses a similar level of emotional maturity to our own. One partner may predominantly acquiesce; one may predominantly control; and both may frequently disengage, but all these behaviors reflect an emotional dependence that slowly erodes the relationship.

If this is sounding like you or your relationship, take a breath. With awareness and the willingness to take action, change is always possible. The following are some ideas to consider if you recognize your weak sense of individuation is hurting your relationship and requires work:

1. Learn ways to manage anxiety/hurt instead of running away from it or putting oneself/another down.
2. Become aware of tendencies to catastrophize and awfulize situations. Check out your motives for doing this.
3. Look at your boundaries. Are they healthy? Are you able to speak up for yourself in a respectful way and state a difference of opinion?
4. Get to know yourself better – your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses — and see them as opportunities for expansion.
5. Find ways to increase your self esteem.
6. Practice communicating your needs with others – friends, family, and your partner.
7. Stop taking what your partner or another does personally – then you can better understand what’s going on.
8. Become aware of tendencies to withdraw in your relationships and explore what’s happening—what emotions are coming up for you when you do this.
9. Consider your childhood experiences and how some of those may be triggered today – especially with your partner.

Welcome the difficulties that arise in relationships – don’t panic. They are your indicator and opportunity for growth and personal transformation.Take responsibility for becoming a better YOU — you’ll be amazed how your partner and others around you change as a result.

  Roadblocks to Listening that Hurt Relationships

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog

More than anything, we all want to be heard and understood. It seems like it should be so simple, but of course it’s not. Language is multi-dimensional and can get us into all kinds of trouble. Sometimes, it may seem safer not to say anything at all. Sound familiar? Not only do we have to choose the “right” words, we need to think about our tone, timing, and the result we want from the interaction. Despite our best intentions, the following are common roadblocks that cause breakdowns in communication across all relationships and disconnect us from those we want to be close to. Many of these responses are fear based.

Can you identify which roadblocks to listening you struggle with most and when it happens?

The Mind Reader

…. assumes what the other person is feeling and/or thinking—without checking in and asking. Frequent guilty parties: couples and parents.

The Judge

…. evaluates what the other person is saying from his own perspective, not the speaker’s. Frequent guilty parties: parents and kids.

The Daydreamer

….. finds it hard to stay “present” in the conversation and gets “lost” in past memories or future fantasies.

The Appeaser

…. is overly ready to agree without really taking in what the other person’s concerns are. Often this will sound like, “I know …. or “You’re right ….”

The Rehearser

…. is missing what’s being said because he or she is busy rehearsing a response.

The Screener

…. only pays attention to what’s important to them and ignores the rest.

The Counselor

…. is focused on a solution instead of understanding what the other is trying to communicate.

The Derailer

…. changes the subject as soon as they feel the topic is something they find threatening or uninteresting. Note that teens are especially skilled at derailing. Watch out parents!

The Debator

…. argues with the other person instead of letting them be heard. Teens can be great Debators!

He/she who Must Be Right

…. this person resists any suggestions that he or she could be wrong.

How to Change these Patterns

1. The first step in changing these patterns is to become aware of WHAT we’re doing.
2. The second is to be curious about WHY we’re being triggered to respond in a certain way, feelings that arise, and who most triggers unhelpful reactions (usually those who mean most to us).
3. The third step is to learn HOW to adopt new ways of communicating.

We often need the help of a counselor or psychotherapist to identify and understand our communication style. As I work with clients, I examine carefully how they make contact with me and the environment. Learning new vocabulary may be part of what’s needed to change communication patterns like those above. We may have had poor role modeling in our family and literally don’t know the words to use so we “have a voice” in the conversation in a way that keeps us connected to someone, especially when a difference of opinion or conflict arises. The good news is that change is always possible.

Establishing a Positive Approach to Bedtime

Written by Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT on . Posted in Blog

Are you and your child waging a daily war as bed time approaches? Do you feel stressed and anxious as you think of the inevitable struggle that’s become an ongoing event in your home? First, be assured this is a common issue, and second, know that your child is not being “difficult” but most likely has anxiety about being separated from you. This separation anxiety may arise for a number of reasons—some obvious and some not so obvious. Keep in mind that while they may not be able to verbalize many of their thoughts, toddlers and young children are highly sensitive and can sense stress and conflict in their environment. Being “difficult” or “acting out” may be their best attempt to try to communicate distress.

Establishing a predictable and positive bedtime tradition is key to making bedtime one you and your child can use to feel close and have fun while preparing your little one’s transition to sleep so you can put your feet up, catch up on chores, enjoy some alone time, or snuggle with your partner. Most importantly, make sure you allocate plenty of time for your child’s bedtime routine. This may mean pushing meal time up a little earlier. You want to create a bedtime tradition that your child eagerly looks forward to. Children love music so much and it’s a great transitional tool that teachers use frequently. And the beauty of bath time is that it not only teaches good self care and cleanliness, it relaxes your child’s muscles and has a calming effect.

At the appointed time, give your child a ten-minute advance notice that bath time is coming up. Put on some fun CDs of children’s songs and encourage your child to dance and sing as he/she gets undressed and you fill the bath with warm water, bubbles, and toys for playing.  You’ll be surprised how much longer children will enjoy bath time if they have music in the background that they can sing along to as they play. Encourage your child to think of bath time as one of quiet, enjoyable play, not just the means of getting clean that is a precursor to bed. Your child may be happy in the bathtub for up to a half hour or more. When ready, help your child out and into pajamas. Have a comfy chair selected, ideally in their bedroom or a quiet part of the home for reading. (Be firm about how many books your child can choose). Some parents may prefer to read books in the child’s bed. When reading is done, sing a couple of songs before you tuck in your child for the night. For children who are having an especially hard time separating from parents or are fearful of the dark, always be open to leaving on a night light in the room and leaving the door ajar. For these children, allowing them to fall asleep to a lullaby or story CDs is a good option as it focuses their attention away from anxious thoughts that may be interfering with sleep