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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: May 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Emotional Mountains or Mole Hills

One of the great discussions that happens here in the office is this:  how is it that what is so very important to one person can be so much less important to another?  

It seems like a no-brainer of a question really, but it pops up in all kinds of different ways when we are working out our relationship issues, our character issues and our emotional pain.   Why is it that what feels so big, so important, so meaningful to one of us, means less or packs a smaller emotional punch to another.

Some folks need more emotional connection and more emotionally packed conversations.  Others need more "quantity" time.  Some of us need a lot of contact with our family of origin, extended family or friends.  Others need more alone time,  marital time, time with the kids.  Some of us value more material things, others more spiritual. 

Some folks prioritize physical health, some emotional, some spiritual.

Some of us need a clean house, for others messier is fine.  Some of us think that cooking for a spouse is crucial;  some value gifts, remembering birthdays, anniversaries or favorite foods. 

So on the surface it all seems reasonable, rational, understandable. Workable.

Except when these things get infused with expectations, and when they become the barometer for determining  or defining our self worth or the worth of others.  And more so when they become the barometer for how much we are loved or honored or cared for in the relationship.

I'm not saying they don't matter.  They do.  It's just that differing on these things does not necessarily mean we are not loved or valued.  When we push our own priorities too far, we may be pushing other good things away as well.

We all draw our lines in the sand.  We determine how much we are willing to give and why.  How much are willing to tolerate.  We make our own terms and we decide how far we are willing to go to sacrifice our terms in order to stay with a person or in a situation. 

And sometimes we think, "if he did this, then I would do that."  Or "if she would just.....then I would...." and there is truth to this.  We do negotiate terms, but often, we view ourselves as the one who is doing all the giving.  And sometimes we are doing more or less at any given time.

I think we do better, though, when have an idea about what our emotional mountains are, and what others' are. And when we accept them, and not argue them down, or infuse our own with too much power, we have a better chance of feeling better and getting and giving more. 

Our emotional mountains and mole hills are usually what they are because of what has shaped us earlier in life, even if we are only mildly aware of it.

It's not that we should tone down what we need (though sometimes that's one right thing to work on),  or that we should not aim to honor and respect the needs of our partners, it's just that we have to consider that our mountains may be someone else's molehill and we have to work with that. They are not always a sign of love and value.  There's more too it than that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Leading With the Anger (going in circles)

One of most common concepts that comes up here in the office for couples is this:

Leading with our anger affects the relationship. Usually negatively.  I know I've written about this before, but it bears repeating.

Here's the dilemma: If we are hurt, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, we want a few things, usually from our partners.  We want to be understood.  We want our feelings and our opinions to be validated.  We want to be in sync with him/her.  We also, if things are super bad, want to punish, frustrate or hurt our partner.  Usually we come to this when we cannot communicate our feelings or don't feel they are received in any other way. 

And here's the problem:  When we don't get what we want - what we feel we need -  we tend to  - depending on our own individual character - lead with the anger.  Some of us explode, curse, yell, name call, bang around.  (I'm not addressing physical or emotional abuse at the moment).  Some of us retreat, ignore, avoid.  Either way, it's leading with the anger.  And it has a devastating effect on the relationship.

It seems at times like its a chicken and egg thing, meaning:  she gets hurt so she yells, so he backs away so she yells so he doesn't respond so she insults him so he ignores her so she gets more hurt so she threatens so he gets mean so she gets hurt so she gets mean back..... Or he feels disrespected and loses it and she gets hurt so she loses it so he gets hurt and feels like a failure so she nags so he gets frustrated so he yells at her so she gets hurt again so yells at him so......

You get the picture.  So where do we break out... or break in?  What do we do with the emotional pain?  How do we release our anger without damaging our relationships?  How we get understood when we feel there is no one listening?  How do we live - can we live - without being understood as much or as deeply as we feel we need to be?  How we stay in sync or with good feelings when it hurts so much, when we feel we are right?  When we believe that we have a point, more than a point and we can't seem to make headway or live with the day to day distance, fighting or fallout?  How do we feel safe, protected and good about ourselves?

One thing we can do, just to start, just to try, is to not lead with the anger.  Yes, we do have to look deeper, I do believe this.  Its never about just one thing, or just one angle and we have to be willing to take a real and longer look at ourselves and our responses.  And take good care of our anger and our pain.  But we if we lead with the anger, no matter how right we are, no matter what we believe we deserve or how much love we think is there, or what that love should mean, we are just keeping the circle going. 

We can lead with something better.  A wish, a need, a real acknowledgement of the other's feelings or perspective, a feeling, a kind word, a pause before we charge and react.  Even if we are right, even if we are hurt.  When the feelings are so deep and wide it's hard, but if we don't change what we lead with, or be open to the effect it has, no matter how right or justified we are, we will (as the 12 step folks like to say) only always get what we only always got.