‘Love’

This sculpture is one designed by Ukranian Alexander Milov, and it’s purpose is to demonstrate what’s going on inside of people when we fight. It represents 2 people with their backs to one another in what can be assumed to be the aftermath of a fight or argument. There is distance between them, yet inside, their inner children are reaching out for one another. The sculpture is entitled, “Love”.

This image is so powerful because it accurately depicts what is going on inside of us when we experience conflict with our significant other. We get mad, we fight… Something the other person did or didn’t do causes feelings inside of us that we usually express as anger. Words are exchanged, voices are raised, points are proven, the past is brought up… ‘You always do this’, ‘You never do this’, ‘[email protected]#&’… I’m sure this is a familiar scene to most. After the words have been said, words which can’t be taken back, there is distance. Sometimes it’s physical – one of us goes into another room. Sometimes it’s emotional – in the same room, but miles apart. Either way, there is distance. Now, this sculpture encapsulates the fact that after all is said and done, inside we are screaming out for closeness, for resolution, for peace. What prevents us from reaching out and grabbing it?

Several things. First, and foremost, our pride. It’s hard to swallow it and say sorry, especially if we feel we have been wronged, or that the other person is to blame and should thus be the one apologising. Two simple words. So hard to say. This is someone you love, someone you have chosen, and who has chosen you. Say the words. It’s really worth it. Even if you really weren’t the perpetrator, it’s pretty much a given that you weren’t perfect in the fight (and aren’t, in general), so be prepared to admit wrongdoing, and bridge the gap that has cropped up between you. Humbling yourself like this will hopefully prompt your spouse to do the same – but even if it doesn’t, do your part. Extend that olive branch, and work on resolving the issue together, rather than facing off against each other.

A significant barrier that keeps us from reaching out is the fear of rejection; the fear of trying to make peace and being shot down or turned away. It takes a lot to swallow your pride in the first place, but to do so, reach out, and then be met with coldness or indifference, is unbearable. To be fair, a lot of this fear of rejection isn’t actually based on our spouse rejecting us, but rather on previous experiences with rejection that have primed us for it in all avenues of our lives. If your spouse does respond to attempts at peace with this type of rejection, they are acting out of their own pain, and maybe don’t know how to accept apologies if they feel guilty. This has the potential to devastate a relationship, so if you or your partner battle with it, come and see me for couples counselling so that we can work on fixing what is broken https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/.

The most obvious thing that keeps us from reaching out is anger. Simply, we’re still mad, and we don’t want peace, because we feel we are justified. You may be feeling this need for closeness I’ve been discussing, but residual anger keeps you from reaching out. This is perfectly normal. We’re only human, we can’t just sweep our feelings away and pretend like they never existed in the first place. My advice? Take a time out. Go and sit, be alone with yourself, allow yourself to be angry… For a time. Allow yourself time to calm down, and when you feel like this anger is under control, go reach out for your partner. Actions made, or words said in anger don’t do any good anyway. So take a moment to take some deep breaths, consider the good about your spouse, and then take the plunge.

Fear of the issue simply being swept under the carpet if an apology is extended is another barrier. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t mean, ‘It’s over, let’s pretend it never happened’, but for many couples, this is what it plays out as. It’s not always easy to delve into issues when an olive branch has been extended, and things are good and cozy again, but it’s so necessary, because otherwise the issues don’t go away, they simply crop up in the next fight. So once the ‘I’m sorry’s’ have been said, resolve to have a chat about what went down. Allow both of you some time for reflection, then come back together again once that’s done and debrief, when neither of you are angry anymore, and you’re both able to think clearly. If things get heated again, take a 10 minute break, and repeat.

Relationships aren’t easy. There will always be conflict, and no one is perfect, or perfectly knows how to resolve issues when they arise. But the most important thing is to remember why you love this person. It’s easy to forget, or to simply take each other forgranted, but there is something that keeps that fire burning, and remembering what this is, especially when times get tough, is the difference between being happy together, and simply getting by.

 

Fickle Feelings

I’m sure just about everyone is familiar with this picture, or the premise behind it – your reality and mine are different; different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. Right? While it is true that our own expectations, perspectives and experiences shape our views of everything, and thus create views that are different to those of the person next to us, this premise can be flawed in its execution. The reality is that someone drew that number, intending it to be either a 6 or a 9. So asserting that one or the other is correct is not simply a matter of perspective. There is in fact a right and a wrong, because there was a motivation behind the placement of this number.

Sometimes we tend to go so far when considering our unique perspectives, that we forget that just because it’s our opinion, based on our feelings, doesn’t mean its right. When we start acting in accordance with these flawed perceptions, and refuse to budge because they’re based on said feelings, we can expect issues in relationships, yes; but we also lie to ourselves and rob ourselves of any chance we had to learn and grow. To consider why we feel how we do, and whether we are right to feel that way our not. To take control of how those feelings impact our lives, and to decide how we act or respond based on the information.

There are some who have a tendency to assume their own way as law, as irrefutable and empirically proven facts. Blaming differing perspectives is no excuse for ignorance parading around as expertise. Without having considered the circumstances behind certain decisions, no one can safely assume that their perspective is the right one.

I have found that one of the biggest problems of the human condition is that we tend to think of our feelings as an external entity that we have no control over, when in most cases, the reverse is true. We then excuse any dodgy behaviour as being the result of our emotions, ‘Sorry, but I was so angry’… Self-awareness is required in order for us to realise that hey, maybe our feelings aren’t entirely right. Maybe if we attempt to consider the position of the other person, or even ask them what their position is and why, we will see that our feelings were based on a flawed premise in the first place, and they don’t have to drag us down or make us feel bad.

Sooo are my feelings ‘wrong’?

Not necessarily. It’s true that we feel things, and that sometimes we simply can’t get over things and keep on living life as if our emotions have no control over us. Feelings are feelings. Pain is a feeling we have no control over, for example. But anger isn’t, and we can control how we act based on it. We can lash out in anger, or we can take a breather and reevaluate the situation. We can consider the other person – they too, are acting out of their own emotions, which may have nothing to do with you, and if we can attempt to understand those, we can ensure our own reactions are appropriate. This lends itself to EQ, something I discussed in a previous blog post https://www.abbygreen.co.za/eq-iq-happy-life/.

 People who act solely based on the emotion of the moment, out of the immediacy of the situation, in the here and now without considering alternatives – these are people whose emotions control them; these are people who are predictable for being totally unpredictable. There are so many things in our lives that we are totally powerless over. Take control of the things that we aren’t.

Look where all this talking got us

Communication is a recurring issue that crops up in couples counselling. There is oftentimes a big discrepancy between what is being said, and what is being heard. Why? Well, because everything we hear is through the lens of our own expectations, biases, experiences, perceptions and even our current moods. Something as simple as tone of voice used can determine the reaction of the listener. It is in our nature to defend when we feel attacked – and when we go into defense mode, we aren’t in a space to hear things the way they are being said, but rather we interpret these things in the here and now, based on how they make us feel. The result? Miscommunication.

 

Sometimes we hear what we expect to hear, rather than what is being said

We prepare for attack, when perhaps there isn’t any. We prepare to be put down, when maybe no one was even trying to. We feel guilt for wrongdoing, so we project the blame in order to protect ourselves. We assume we know what the other person is talking about, where they’re coming from, and why, without actually giving them the opportunity to express their own thoughts or feelings. We wait in silence for our turn to speak, planning all the while the words we will use to inflict the pain we are feeling; sometimes, we don’t even allow this period of silence, we simply fight to have our own views heard, and raise our voices louder in order to make our own points clearer. We are, generally, beings that are quite aware of our own failings and shortcomings. Some, we wear on our sleeves. Others, we hide so deep down in our hearts that they influence our behavior without us ever being aware of it. However, when any person seems to be saying something, to us, about us, that touches on this sore place, we react without thought. So places where our own self-esteem falls short, usually because of our own insecurities, prime us for criticism, even if none was offered.

So, how to combat this

The first, and the most important thing to do, is to take a step back when things get heated. Take a time out to gain some perspective. When conflict arises between you and your partner, take the focus off of yourself and consider where they are truly coming from: Are they really angry because you came home a bit late? Or did they just have a bad day and really need you home to comfort them? Are they not feeling prioritised in the relationship? Ask questions to make sure you understand the issue at hand and are not simply hearing what you expect to hear. Be prepared to admit when you are wrong, and ask forgiveness. Leave the past in the past! Often a small problem becomes a massive blowup because there is another unresolved issue lingering in the background throwing gasoline on it. One problem at a time. Baby steps.

There will be times when your partner is simply being oversensitive, or is projecting their own bad day or bad mood onto you. It happens. Have grace for each other. Be prepared to be the least when you see your partner needs you, and offer comfort rather than engaging your own defenses.

Of course, if your partner is overreacting, telling them so will calm them down immediately…

Transactional Analysis and Fighting

One of the biggest issues I see in the course of couples counselling relates to the futility of fighting. Instead of discussions aimed at resolving an issue by coming to a compromise, fights end up being just that – conflict that leads to both parties feeling frustrated and angry, oftentimes having said things in the heat of the moment that they’ve cause to regret upon reflection.

Why do we fight?

The purpose of any kind of disagreement is to come to a resolution, to result in some kind of change. However, our human nature steps in when we get upset, and so our first instinct is to defend, rather than to listen, reflect, and then respond accordingly.

Transactional Analysis (TA)

TA is a theory that aims to explain behaviour and relationships based on early-life experiences, and it outlines three separate personas or ego states from which we engage when we get into conflicty situations;

The Parent persona tends to mimic those behaviours observed by the child in the parent during their upbringing. They tend to be more authoritarian and less flexible in their stances.

The Child ego state refers to behaviours replayed from childhood, and reactions that range from withdrawal to stubborn refusal to negotiate.

By contrast, the ideal state, the Adult, functions in the ‘here and now’ according to each unique situation.

Of course, acting in a way that is totally independent of our childhood experiences is incredibly difficult, because these experiences shaped who we are. So one piece of advice I always share is to take a timeout when emotions start running high, a little break where there is an opportunity to regroup, rethink and consider the situation from a place that isn’t totally controlled by emotion. The emotional center of the brain cannot function when the logical part is, so engaging in activities to activate this part is a great idea when it comes to taking a timeout – things like reciting the alphabet backwards, which requires focus. Emotions should start to abate, leaving space for a more objective view of things.

Having a good understanding of which ego state your partner is coming from when in a conflict situation can give you insight into processing their reactions better and responding to them more appropriately. This in turn will lead to them reevaluating their own responses and adapting accordingly. An ideal scenario is one where each party resolves to be present in the moment, listen actively, reflect and propose a solution to the presenting problem. If you require assistance with managing your arguments, contact me to make an appointment https://www.abbygreen.co.za/couples-counselling-in-centurion/

 

 

 

 

 

Love Languages

One of the biggest issues I am faced with in the course of couples therapy is that of love being ineffectively expressed, and so inadequately received by each partner in the relationship. This disconnect can leave us feeling unloved and unappreciated, simply because our spouses are expressing their love for us in a way that is different from how we need to feel loved, and vice versa.

Gary Chapman first coined the concept of ‘Five Love Languages’, and I aim to explore what these are, and what they mean for us in our relationships, in this post.

Five Love Languages

The first, is Words of Affirmation. People for whom words are their primary love language express their love through them – words of comfort, compliments…

Acts of service is the second love language, one for whom love is expressed as deeds, as things they do for another.

The third love language is that of Receiving Gifts – presents and gifts given by their loved ones are most effective in showing love for these individuals.

 

The forth love language, Quality Time, involves uninterrupted, undivided time spent together. 

 

 

 

 

The fifth and final love language is Physical Touch – yes, hugs and kisses; meaningful, purposeful touch. 

So, what is the relevance of knowing anything about love languages? Well, the importance of it is twofold – being aware of one’s own love language goes a long way toward being self-aware, and having a comprehensive understanding of what love feels like for you, so that you can engage in behaviours in order to have this need met. The second, and most important, point regarding love languages is one that arises when two people in a relationship have two different love languages. Because we are all different people, this is to be expected; however, it can lead to either party feeling unsatisfied and unloved, simply because they are not getting their love needs met in the way that is most effective for them. They, in turn, are most likely attempting to meet their spouses love needs in a way that is familiar to them – which is not necessarily right for their spouse.

Ok, so imagine your love language is touch – you like holding hands and hugging and kissing, but your partner’s love language is receiving gifts. So whenever you touch them as an expression of your love, they do not respond the way you would like. You end up feeling rejected, or like you aren’t loved with the intensity with which you love. Now, your partner loves getting flowers, and so they often buy you gifts like chocolates. You accept the gift with grace and move on with your life, without giving it too much thought. Most likely, your spouse feels just as rejected as you did when they didn’t respond to your touch.

So if you show your partner love through touch, and they through gifts, there can be a disconnect which, as I mentioned earlier, can lead to issues that could really have been avoided if you just knew and understood the love language of your spouse. They like receiving gifts, so you buy them gifts to show them love in a way they can appreciate – in the same way, your spouse knows how much physical touch means to you, so they grab your hand first, or steal a kiss, in order to make you feel loved. Love goes both ways – showing love needs to involve using your own love language, but also speaking love to your partner in a way that they can understand.

If you’re keen, try this quiz and find out which love language you are: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/

 

Public Faces, Private Lives

The disparity between who we are and who we want others to think we are is oftentimes irreconcilable, especially in modern times, where more people are privy to intimate details of our lives than ever before.

Three faces…

A popular adage that I’m sure we have all heard before, is that of the Japanese positing the existence of three different faces; the one we show to the world, the one we show to those closest to us, and the one that we show to no one. It then follows that this final face is the truest reflection of who we are.

Why is it, then, that we possess so many different faces? Linking this back to our topic, I am convinced that the standards set by users of social media lead to us feeling like our own lives lack punch, are not interesting enough, and so are somehow inadequate. This leads to us putting on a show publicly – posting the funniest pics, happiest photos of ourselves, and all around creating an image that obscures who we really are, and the internal struggle we may be going through. Those who laugh the loudest are often the ones crying inside; those who act like they don’t need approval, often need it most. 

Public faces, Private li[v]es

Before the integration of social media into our everyday lives, these issues still existed, of course. This is an age-old problem, and one that most likely will not find resolution anytime soon. The difference between now and then is the availability of material for comparison. In days of yore, one had to guess at the superiority of the lives of others – today, it is broadcast (however inaccurately) for all to see.

However, it’s not all bad. These days, the instant accessibility of information means that we are not alone, and we do not have to carry our burdens alone, either. If you are suffering under the illusion that you have to hide who you are in order to ‘fit in’ or gain acceptance, seek help.

 

 

 

The Danger of Social Media; Comparison

‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, plus a social media overreaction’                                                                        – Yago Paramo

Things like social media and the ease of access to information really do make the world a smaller place – a global community. People separated by time and distance have the opportunity to reconnect, while others find they no longer have to lose touch in the first place.

Social media has a great many advantages, and positive qualities to go with it. However, I’m not convinced that these advantages outweigh their potentially destructive counterparts. And so, the inspiration for today’s post – the danger of comparison. As human beings, we can’t help comparing ourselves to others; from a young age we are taught to do so. The concept of standardised testing is a prime example of this – our performance is measured against and compared to the performance of others, and we are accorded a rating or rank as a result. Same thing applies to so many other aspects of our lives, and so it is no surprise that the same would apply when it comes to social media, the single most pervasive influence in modern society.

 ‘Stay in your lane…’

‘… Comparison kills creativity and joy’. So what’s the link between social media and comparison? Well, people don’t ordinarily post about the mundane, rather, they inundate their profiles with the best parts of their lives. Parties, travel, fancy dresses, outings… People sleeping late and lying around in their pajamas all day because they have nothing better to do is not something we come across when scrolling through social media. ‘Two minute noodles for dinner again’ is not a phrase we are accustomed to happening upon while greedily ingesting the lives of others. No. We post about the best parts of our lives, and so that they look enviable and exciting to onlookers. These same onlookers then have a tendency to compare this seemingly glamorous life with the trivial and ordinary activities of their own, and are of course, doomed to come up short.

Social media has this innate capacity to make people feel inferior. No one knew or cared, really, what others were doing at this very moment in days of yore. People focused on their own lives, and did things for the joy of living life, not with the end goal in mind of how this particular activity would make their life look more interesting on social media. I, for one, am not opposed to going back to these simpler times. Of course, then even this post would be a diary entry accessible to only me, so it can’t be all bad…

 

The Impact of Social Media on Relationships

Social media has incontrovertibly become a massive part of our existence. Our lives are stored on the little devices we carry in our handbags or pockets – reminders, alarms, contact details, facebook, pictures, even GPS is now stored on our phones. We can go nowhere without them, and so we never do.

Why is this a problem?

Having your phone with you at all times is not where the problem comes in, it keeps you connected, right? Wrong. While we do indeed remain connected on social media, we are losing out on human connection, and communication. People these days are far more interested in sharing their lives on social media than they are in actually engaging with another human being.

In my own life, I have tried to implement down times, where I don’t grasp desperately for my phone the moment I am left alone at a lunch table – rather, I sit and look around the restaurant, trying to take in my surroundings. Without exception, every single person in the place has their phone out. I’m sure if anyone was interested in looking around, I would appear to be some kind of mad woman, sitting alone, ferreting out my environment, rather than checking my phone.

The same thing goes for other occasions – family gatherings, braais, birthday parties… Phones are always out, always on the table. Who knows, something important might crop up. But the accessibility of our cell phones means that they provide constant distraction, and result in too much time being spent checking them – again, causing us to lose out on actual human interaction.

Ask yourself…

Are we so busy taking photos of our food that we forget to enjoy it? Are we so caught up in making our virtual lives look amazing that we miss out on the opportunity to actually make them so? Are we so interested in following what our friends are doing on social media that we miss actually connecting with them in person?

Communication and Parenting

What changed?

Parenting today is quite different from what it was in the ‘olden days’. Technology and the ever increasing need for both parents to work in order to make ends meet has left a rift between so many parents and their children. Our lives are so busy, and the family order that we once knew has changed, and in some situations, deteriorated so completely that parents feel they hardly know these children they brought into the world.

TV Dinners

A question I ask of most of my clients is this: “Do you sit together, at a table, at dinnertime?” Without fail, the answer has been ‘No’. TV dinners are the way now. This is something so vital, something we never questioned growing up, because eating at the table was so ingrained is us, but yet it is absent from most of our lives now.

              VS        

Communication Breakdown

Technology is a massive reason for this disconnect between parents and their children. Social media means that children can go hours without lifting their heads from those little devices, and they become more comfortable communicating over the web than they do in real-life. Of course, parents are just as guilty of this, and this addiction to phones leads to a massive breakdown in communication.

Fast-paced = Chill at home

Another big problem, not so easily combated, is that parents work such long hours, with days that are so full and non-stop, that when they get home they just want to unwind, watch TV and not have to think. This is, of course, not inexcusable, but needs to be dealt with nonetheless. It’s not that TV and chill should not be a part of anyone’s lives, but rather that it should encompass a smaller percentage of our time.

Solution?

Simple. Make that concerted effort for phones to be put away. Sit together at the dining room table. Talk to your children. Sometimes, it’s really as simple as that.

 

 

The Role of Communication in Depression

As part of my series on communication, this post discusses what was touched on in the last one, incorporating communication and depression.

While I still firmly believe it is overdiagnosed, there are, of course, people who truly do suffer from depression, and find that their lives and the things that used to give them pleasure hold no allure for them anymore, and that they themselves are merely empty shells, barely a shadow of what they used to be. Depression is a serious disorder, and while medicine is the go to for treating it, I propose that it should be the last resort, rather than the first.

The role of social support

The pain and emotional turmoil that become part of the daily lives of people with depression cannot be downplayed. This is often exacerbated by the fact that people around them do not have a full understanding of this turmoil, and as such admonish their loved ones to ‘Get over it’, or ‘Snap out of it’. This is simply not possible. Helping a loved one with depression involves being aware, or at least sympathetic of, the plight this individual is suffering through. The isolation that can be the result of people around them not fully grasping their inner emptiness can be combated by their loved ones increasing their own knowledge and understanding of depression, and being able to communicate this with them. Simply talking it out is certainly not the cure, but someone who understands and cares enough to be there, even sitting in silence sometimes, being the tranquil, steady support, can be invaluable, and communicate to the individual that they are loved and accepted.

What else can be done?

Encourage your loved one to engage in things that used to make them happy. You cannot force this, but you can be a reminder of it. People with depression will avoid things that used to make them happy, and attempting to refresh their memory as to why this thing or activity brought them pleasure can create a spark. A healthy diet, exercise and enough sleep are also important tools for people with depression – communicate this to them and provide the support they may need to get into it.

Don’t give up on them.

Simply because they are not ‘Coming right’ as quickly as you like, doesn’t mean that in their heart of hearts they don’t know that you care, or that you aren’t playing a crucial part in the process involved in them reaching inner peace.

While you can provide social support, people with depression need professional help – they may be reluctant to seek it, but depression is too serious an issue not to be dealt with, or to be taken lightly.