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The Armored Heart Part II: Developing Resilience

The Armored Heart Part II: Developing Resilience

So, you are like the rest of us and have a well-armored heart? Are you tired of guarding the chinks in your armor and tired of not allowing yourself to feel anything much?

Here’s some tips on developing a RESILIFIED heart than won’t shatter when it takes a hit. With a resilient heart, you can ditch the defenses and hard exterior and start to connect with other people and your own feelings.

1. Scary armor protects the biggest wounds. And that includes you. If you protect yourself by being aloof, angry, victimy, depressed, violent, workaholic, controlling, self-serving, etc. you may be keeping people at a distance because you have been hurt deeply in the past. Big scary defenses cover the most tender feelings. So don’t be put off by armor. Be curious and compassionate about what it protects.
2. Identify your wounds. What topics generate big reactions in you? Rejection? Disrespect? Failure? If you have unfinished business from your past around these issues, try to figure out what events created these issues. Often it is something from your youth. When you understand WHY you are a little reactive, it helps you to get some perspective on the cause of your feelings.
3. The best defense is a good offense. People who lash out, are often trying to deal with pain from the past that has been triggered by the present. Sure, you might be the trigger from the present, but the pain is festering from long ago. Learn to see people’s overreactions as clumsy attempts to protect themselves from pain that hasn’t healed. They have unresolved issues. Don’t take it personally. They would probably do the same thing to Mother Theresa if they were around her long enough!
4. Recalibrate your thoughts. Learn to shift from negative, self-deprecating self-talk to loving and empowering cognitions. Instead of telling yourself, “He always treats me like trash because I’m a loser,” you can recalibrate it to, “His mom treated him like trash, so he has a problem with women. But I’m strong enough to leave if he doesn’t change fast.” This last type of thinking engenders both resilience and compassion. See my post on replacing and repatterning negative thoughts.
5. Learn a new tactic. Instead of reacting with old patterns from the past, learn new, thoughtful, empowering ways of responding. Instead of lashing out with anger, write your feelings in a journal. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, talk to a trusted friend. Instead of isolating yourself, contact a buddy and play a game of half-court basketball. With more healthy ways to respond, you develop more resilience.
6. Give yourself a medal. Notice when you are able to be more resilient than in the past and validate your progress. Even little bits of progress. Resilient people make a big deal of good stuff, and a little deal out of bad stuff. Give yourself props for any good stuff!

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The Armored Heart Part I

The Armored Heart Part I

Most everyone has experienced a broken heart or hurt feelings. It is part of the human condition. But what do we tend to do after we have experienced that heart-felt pain? Most of us decide to shield ourselves from any more pain by defending ourselves with emotional armor.
“I’m never going to get hurt like that again!” we tell ourselves, “In the future, I’ll protect myself!” Then we armor-up with all sorts of defenses: anger, intellect, denial, avoidance, addictions, busyness, work, leisure, distractions, conflict, cynicism, etc. Anything to protect our hearts from vulnerability and the possibility of feeling more pain.
Some armor is spiked and bladed. Some armor is engraved with flowers and curlicues. But it is still armor. It exists to protect us from shattering pain.

But what’s the problem with shielding ourselves with impenetrable armor? That’s right — we don’t feel any pain, but hey, we don’t feel any of the good stuff either. It’s like taking a shower with a raincoat on. We feel numb. We miss out on joy, love, tenderness, empathy, bonding, sharing and a host of other human gifts. So what’s the solution to a fragile heart that might get hurt?
The solution is not to shield one’s fragile, brittle heart, but to develop a RESILIFIED heart. A RESILIFIED heart isn’t fragile and brittle. It is more like a rubber ball— it can take a few emotional “hits” without shattering. It can even be “slam dunked” by life events and a resilient heart will eventually bounce back. A resilient heart doesn’t need armor.
Fr. Alfred D’Souza said the goal of life is to “love as if we’ve never been hurt before.” When we develop a resilient heart, we can approach that goal without endangering ourselves.
How do we develop a RESILIFIED heart? More in my next post.

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ARE you there for others? Here’s how to know

ARE you there for others? Here’s how to know

“You’re never there for me!”
“It’s like you aren’t really here, even when you’re in the same room!”

Have you ever heard this from a friend, family member or romantic partner? Have you ever been mystified about what that means?

Dr. Sue Johnson, a psychologist who has researched couples bonding for decades, has an easy formula to remind us how to support people in distress. Because of our human need to be in a supportive relationship, we naturally reach out to others when we are distressed

When we are upset, we make a bid for connection which essentially means, “Are you there for me?” The answer had better be “Yes!”. Here’s how your behavior can answer in the affirmative. The acronym ARE is a reminder of the 3 parts of the bonding formula:

A = Available: Are you available? This includes being available physically or by phone or other means to make a connection. Physical presence is the strongest form of availability, but technology can offer instant availability too. If you can’t have a serious chat right that second, at least respond in some fashion and estimate when you can connect with your friend.

R = Responsive: Do you respond in appropriate ways? Many times a soothing response includes a physical need being met. Does your friend need a hug? Drink? Food? Rest? Warmth or cooling? Soothing music? Massage? Just some company so they aren’t alone? Maybe they need an act of service to make their life easier.

E = Empathetic: Are you emotionally available? We all know people who might show up, but they don’t know how to join you in your distress and provide empathy. Allow yourself to feel what your friend feels and suffer a bit with them. If they are crying, let yourself tear up, too. If they are frustrated, you can be frustrated with them a bit. Take their side and feel it from their vantage point. Reflect back what they have said and ask them if you are understanding their feelings correctly.

Following this pattern, you can possibly start to think about how to solve the problem. But don’t rush into problem-solving mode until your friend is better regulated.

After your friend or family member feels that you are “on their same page” they will most often feel much calmer and resilient. Good Job! You really ARE there for them!

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The 3 R’s of Dealing with Upset People: Regulate, Relate, Reason

The 3 R’s of Dealing with Upset People: Regulate, Relate, Reason

Dr. Bruce Perry is a brilliant psychiatrist who treats victims of trauma. Since traumatized people are often more volatile than others, he has suggested a 3-step approach to problem-solve with those who are distressed: Regulate, Relate, Reason.

If we imagine the brain as basically three different layers of development, with different functions, we can use Dr. Perry’s steps to address the three different parts when someone is upset. In very simple terms, we can think of the brain as early, middle, and later development.

Reptilian Brain
The earliest developed brain would be the “lowest” part of the brain and brain stem— sometimes called the “reptilian” brain. This part of the brain controls body systems and instinctive reactions not under our conscious control (for most of us, anyway): temperature, heart rate, respirations, hunger, thirst, hormones, etc. It can cause us to fight, flee, freeze or faint before much conscious thought is activated. As some lecturers state, “This part of the brain is basically concerned with three different issues when presented with a stimulus: ‘Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate it?’ ”

Mammalian Brain
The next developed part of the brain is the center section which incorporates the limbic system. This part of our brain is sometimes called the “mammalian” brain and it networks with many parts of our brain. This is the seat of our emotions like fear, anger, anxiety, and possibly love and attachment. Feelings of fear, affection or revulsion may be processed here and then affect the other parts of our brain.

Humanistic Brain
The last developed part of our brain (Which, incidentally, doesn’t finish forming until our mid-twenties) is the cerebral cortex, and specifically, our pre-frontal cortex where we make decisions, plan goals, think logically and rationally, and can make thoughtful judgments. This is where large parts of our personality are manifest and could be called the “human” brain. Interestingly, when the lower parts of our brains are activated significantly, this rational part of our brain goes “off-line.”

This hi-jacking of our logic becomes obvious if we try to solve an algebra problem (humanistic brain) when we are running from a tiger (reptilian brain). It can even be difficult to remember to practice safe-sex (humanistic brain) when we are madly in love (mammalian brain) and are sexually aroused (reptilian brain).

Knowing this basic bit of neuroscience, we can understand, now, why a man who attempts to reason with an upset woman (tries to fix the problem) will end up becoming frustrated—if not exiled. Reasoning is a function of the prefrontal cortex and can only function if the reptilian and mammalian parts of our brain are not triggered. So here’s the order of go for de-stressing a distressed person, at least according to neuroscience. While the topics are Dr. Perry’s, the descriptions are my approach.

1. Regulate. This means that you need to remove sources of fear or anger from the person. If necessary, take them to another locale where they aren’t being confronted by the “tiger.” Then, encourage them to go for a walk with you, breathe deeply and slowly, flex and relax their muscles, cuddle with their dog, or listen to calming music. You could give them a hug or a back rub, get them a glass of water, rock in a swing together, sit in a hot-tub together, nibble on crackers together. Give the person at least 20 minutes to calm down. Don’t try to fix the problem or talk about who’s right or wrong — yet.

In fact, since this primitive part of your brain can’t process language well, keep your words to a minimum. Talking too much when someone is really upset can easily overwhelm them since language requires more sophisticated brain work than they can probably muster.

2. Relate. Do you notice in #1 there is an emphasis on togetherness? Recent neuroscience has confirmed that our brains become attuned to one another and that we actually “co-regulate” with someone else better than trying to “regulate” alone. So this next step is about reaffirming the relationship.

After they have been able to settle themselves a bit and they aren’t breathing hard, wild-eyed, and agitated or sobbing uncontrollably, you can talk a little more than the first step. Keep the thoughts simple and basic. Tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them how much you value their friendship or partnership. Reassure them that you want to try to be there for them—even when they are upset. Express your respect for them as a person and how you want them to feel supported when they are struggling. Again, don’t talk about the specifics of the problem yet. Those facts will often be overwhelming to the relational brain (mammalian brain).

You may want to evoke some happier memories that you share. Images can be recalled together, and sometimes laughter can be stimulated at this time. You can say, “Do you remember the time that jerk dumped me right on my butt? And you threw your popcorn at him because I was crying so hard?” That memory reminds you both of the relationship and evokes emotions pertaining to the relationship. Anything that reminds them that they are a worthwhile person and you will stand by them will usually be very calming.

3. Reason. Finally, it may be time to start reasoning together. Yes, you heard me correctly. It MAY be the right time. But you may need to wait for another opportunity to problem-solve.

Being distressed is exhausting, and in this weakened state the person can easily be re-triggered or become overwhelmed. Many couples take a “time out” before trying to problem solve. Many parents find that waiting a few hours is a good strategy before trying to “fix” the situation. Also, you want to make sure that you are in a calm and confident frame of mind, and that may require some time to regulate yourself.

Reasoning together is more properly addressed in a longer format, but suffice it to say that your job is primarily to listen nondefensively to the other person’s concerns and then share your feedback in a non-threatening manner. Don’t accuse or find fault with the other person. Simply do your best to see things from their point of view. After you feel you understand one another, you can collaborate on possible solutions.

When you are able to use these steps in this order, you will likely find that you will feel more confident around people who are distressed. And they will feel more confident around you.

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Take Responsibility and Take Control

Take Responsibility and Take Control

“It’s all your fault!”

Few people like to be blamed for failures. Fewer people want to admit that it is “my fault.” In fact, most people do everything possible to shift the responsibility for setbacks to others. Here’s what it looks like in real life:

“You’re the one with the problem, not me!”
“Why should I change? It’s hopeless unless the system changes.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t blame me!”

But this mindset is a giant missed opportunity.

When we shift the responsibility for problem solving to others, we get stuck. We get weak. We become victims. We get stuck waiting for others to act to make our lives better.

Those are not a power positions. We get weak because we don’t exercise our agency and intellect. And we are viewed as weak and helpless by other people. We see ourselves as weak and helpless. It is a form of victimhood.

Blame is most often used as a way to displace emotional distress onto another entity. If I’m distressed and I don’t know how to handle it, I will often externalize my feelings. I point outward to someone or something else and push all my distress onto them. Whenever you see someone blaming, you know for certain that they lack confidence to cope. They are scared spitless so they spit on someone else (to put it politely).

So why do we shun taking blame? Why do we shirk responsibility?

Fear mostly. Fear of humiliation. Fear of consequences. Fear of failure. But you can change this dynamic.

When we actually TAKE responsibility rather than dodge responsibility, everything changes. As Stephen R. Covey says, “When we are responsible, we are able to respond.”

We brainstorm solutions. We organize ourselves and others. We execute goals. We solve problems instead of covering our assets (to put it politely, again). Suddenly, we are in control.

Here are some benefits:

1. Personal Power Increases. When you say, “The buck stops with me and I can do something about that,” your power to command the situation expands exponentially. You get out of the back seat and get into the driver’s seat. You grab the steering wheel with both hands, hit the gas and tell the others to hold on. You see yourself as a leader with power to change things.

2. Intellect Develops. The challenge of taking responsibility for problem-solving stretches your intellect. You get to be creative. You get to be focused. You get to think divergently and convergently about something that matters. Your neurons reproduce like crazy and your brain is literally rewired for new connections. You get your Master’s Degree in Crisis Management.

3. Experience Enhanced. Taking responsibility broadens your experience in matters you may have little skill with. Sure, you may have a crash course in a new field, but you don’t have to crash. Grab the opportunity to learn and grow and you will end up soaring above the chickens who are content to duck their heads in the coop while the eagle flies overhead.

4. Reputation Grows. Taking responsibility (or even blame) is so rare, that you will be noticed. And remembered. You will stand out as someone who is gutsy and generous. Your peers will respect you because you didn’t just dump on them. Your boss will be impressed because you are making her life better. This new responsibility will open doors that you can’t imagine now. People watch the leaders who are willing to take on a problem others are ducking. Even if you can’t entirely solve the problem, you will get big props for the attempt, and for anything you do to improve the situation.

In World War II, soon after D-Day, General Patton’s Third Army was hopelessly stymied because of a huge traffic jam in the town of Avranches, France. Tanks and all kinds of vehicles crammed the streets, impossibly bogged down. The logistical nightmare inevitably spawned complaints and blaming, but no solutions. General Patton took matters into his own hands. The general himself, cut through the clog, strode to the center of town and forcefully directed traffic to unsnarl the mess. For an hour an a half, the three-star general shocked and amazed the convoy as they realized in passing the identity of the efficient traffic cop! Their respect and faith in him rocketed.

When you take responsibility, even in a blameworthy situation, you will find your powers strengthened, intellect grown, experience enhanced and your reputation increased. So, go ahead and take the blame. . .your response will change everything!

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3 Steps to Personal Happiness

3 Steps to Personal Happiness

Define Personal Happiness so you know what you are shooting for. Without a clear definition of happiness, you will not set proper goals to achieve personal happiness. There are many voices telling you and selling you about what personal happiness is. Remember that most popular media are driven by greed for your money and not genuine caring about your well-being.

Magazines, movies and popular music may be entertaining, but are not well-researched sources of answers. Instead, search for answers in sources of traditional wisdom that have served societies for thousands of years or, if that seems daunting, search for well-researched scientific studies that point the way to happiness. Interestingly, good research tends to support sources of traditional wisdom.

The eminent psychologist, Martin Seligman, has studied human resilience and happiness for years. He finds that happiness comes in about 3 forms:

• Seeking Pleasure—seeking physical comfort and pleasure can create a sort of happiness. But it doesn’t last long, requires escalation to get the same pleasure, and can end in compulsions like overeating, over spending and sexual compulsions. Drugs, Sex and Rock and Roll might feel good for a moment, but the consequences are often devastating.

• Work/Service – Many people find happiness in useful work or service to others. Staying occupied and thinking of other’s welfare outside of our own engenders satisfaction and happiness. The New Testament states : “Cast your bread upon the water, and it will come back to you.” In other words, seek the welfare of others first, and you will find that benefits return to you. This small poem is a source of traditional wisdom: “Make someone happy, just try it and see, and you will be happy as happy can be.” Focusing on how we can serve others often puts our problems into perspective and gives purpose to our lives.

• Find Meaning in Challenges – the most inspiring way to find happiness is to create it for yourself even when you have significant problems and even suffering. How do you find happiness when life seems incredibly difficult? Seligman suggests that when we can find meaning in overcoming challenges or even enduring suffering, that this ability creates the greatest amount of personal resilience to stressors. How do we find meaning in life’s trials? Again, we need to seek for answers to life’s existential questions in sources that are tried and true. While pop culture often directs us to avoid the growth that comes through trials, other sources of wisdom can teach us how to blossom where we are planted – which sometimes is in a very barren patch of ground!

One recipe for success is to incorporate some of all three factors into your life. Take time to enjoy the pleasures of life around you, devote your time to meaningful work or service for others, and find nobility and meaning in overcoming the difficulties of life by adhering to a tried and true philosophy that answers the great questions of life for you.

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Self Validation is One Secret to Resilience

Self Validation is One Secret to Resilience

Joan Landes, CMHC

One of the distinctions between resilient people and fragile people is their use of self-validation. Resilified people are able to “bounce back” from setbacks and are able to provide their own props. Resilified people don’t passively wait for others to notice their good efforts and say something encouraging. Resilified people are good at self-validation.

What, exactly, is self-validation? Here’s a couple of examples and you can decide for yourself.

Jessica is learning to ice-skate. She keeps falling down on the frozen ice. Jessica’s mother says, “Don’t give up, honey! You’ll get it!” Jessica says to herself, “This is stupid. I’d rather play video games.” Jessica takes off her skates and wants to go home.

Jeffrey is also learning to ice skate. He falls repeatedly and his brothers jeer him, “Give it up!” they say with a sneer, “You can’t rollerblade either!” Jeffrey remembers how he learned to skateboard as well as his older brother at a younger age. “I’m not going to let them get away with that! I’ll stay on the ice ‘til my blisters pop!” He imagines himself shooting a goal in a big hockey games and refuses to give up. He begs his mom to stay an extra 30 minutes so he can practice more even though she is slightly annoyed at him.

Which skater self-validated and which did not? Right. The one that showed resilience and grit self-validated. Here are some features of self-validation:

• It focuses on hope and success in the face of discouragement and setbacks.
• It is generated inside the person and doesn’t come from external sources.
• It can consist of positive self praise as simple as, “Awesome, dude!”
• It can consist of positive affirmations, “You only fail when you quit! So don’t quit!”
• It can consist of a vital vision of success in the future or in the past.

Here’s what self-validation is not:
• It is not narcissism nor conceit because self-validation motivates working towards success rather than resting on your laurels or putting others down.
• It is not wishful thinking because it motivates action and perseverance to attain goals.
• It is not “beating yourself up” as a way to shame yourself into better behavior. Berating yourself only weakens your sense of efficacy and confidence.

Some people have great difficulty with self-validation. They don’t feel comfortable affirming their good efforts. If you are one of these people, you may also feel uncomfortable receiving compliments and expressions of approval from others. You need to get over it to be more resilient! Here are the steps:

1. Start Small. Choose a word or simple phrase that doesn’t sound too effusive or fake. Some possibilities: “Not bad!”, “Awesome!”, “Good Job!”
2. Add your name. Adding your name seems to make a bigger impression on your brain. “Good Job, Dave!” and “Awesome, Jen!” are a nice step up.
3. Don’t add self-criticism. If you add something like, “Finally!” or “It’s about time!” or “Never thought you would ever do it,” these types of thoughts cancel out the validation part! (By the way, don’t do that in your communication with other people either!)
4. Say it aloud. When you become a little more confident with giving validation in your head, start saying it aloud. Eventually you can say it with gusto!
5. Involve your body. Clap your hands, hug yourself, do a touchdown celebration, slam your fist into your hand, do a dance step. Football players understand the strength of partying after the play and you should too.
6. Add specifics. Eventually you can validate specific efforts and successes, not just general ones. “Kudos for getting that project done early, James!” or “YES!!! I knew you could nail that basket, Tim!”

Have fun giving yourself the props you always wanted but probably didn’t get. Why wait for someone to notice? Notice your own good efforts and build resilience with self-validation.

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Saying “Yes” is Best

Saying “Yes” is Best

Healthy boundaries are one of the foundations of healthy couples, families and organizations. Please read my posts on how to establish healthy boundaries for information on where to start.

But if you feel you have a pretty good grip on establishing boundaries, then the next step is to allow as much growth and freedom within the bounds which have been set. How to do this? Start saying “Yes” as much as possible.

Too often, I think we tend to say “No” as a reflex.

“Mom, can I have a cookie?”


“Darling, let’s try something new . . . “

“No, I’m tired.”

“Boss, can I come in late tomorrow if I work through lunch?”


Maybe we don’t want to be inconvenienced by the implications of saying “Yes.” Perhaps we see “No” as safe and “Yes” as risky. Possibly, we grew up in a family culture where “No” was the norm. For whatever reason, many of us are known for saying “No.”

We might see the risks and inconveniences of saying “Yes,” but let’s look at the downside of being a “no-monger”.

1. People stop asking. Your chance to influence them vanishes when they avoid you. Without your influence, the other person could end up making an unhealthy choice.

2. People may start sneaking. Kids, spouses and employees will start sneaking instead of asking. They may begin being dishonest with you because they fear consequences. Then, when you find out they have been sneaking, you often react with righteous indignation, anger, shaming, etc. Then they avoid you even more!

3. The relationship suffers. When the request is shut down with a “No”, the dialogue ceases. The other person feels stonewalled and you miss an opportunity to bond. You don’t get to know the person and his or her desires and hopes. Even if you eventually have to deny the request, the conversation allows you to understand the person deeply. The other person will respect that process and you.

4. Self-confidence erodes. What message do we send to others about their capabilities when we habitually react with “No”? “You’ll hurt yourself.” ”You’ll mess it up.” “You will fail.” The recipient gets the message that they are incapable loud and clear. They will lack self-confidence.

5. Self-worth erodes. If someone has a desire and we often deny the fulfilling of that need, what message does that send about their needs/wants? That’s right. The take-away is, “Your needs don’t count. Your wants aren’t important.” It isn’t a huge leap for the person to believe that they don’t count or are unimportant. They will feel worthless.

6. Growth is stifled. With fewer new experiences, our growth is curtailed. We begin living inside a smaller and smaller box. Growing and learning is often risky and messy. But stagnation is the greatest risk of all.

These are pretty significant drawbacks.

Saying “Yes” will create the opposite results: More influence, more honesty, more understanding, more self-confidence, more self-worth, and more growth.

How do we get to “Yes” more often? Let’s use the example of a daughter who wants her dad to buy her a bike.

1. See it from their perspective. Do your best to see the issue from their point of view. Ask for more information about why they would like you to say “Yes.” Try to imagine how the person is feeling as they make that request.
Dad might say to the daughter, “Tell me more about wanting a bike. . . what would that mean to you? What will you do with it? What kind are you thinking of?”

2. Shift to an opportunity paradigm. Instead of using a “risk-based” assessment, use an “opportunity-based” assessment. What are the opportunities offered by the request? Growth? Learning? Build relationship? For instance, if someone asks for you make a purchase, instead of saying “No,” you could take the opportunity to share some details about your budget. Or you could brainstorm activities to generate the funding for themselves. Or you could map out a time-line in which the purchase may be possible. The opportunity for learning, growth, and building relationship can be leveraged.
Dad might say to his girl, “Mom and I simply don’t have the money right now. But if you mowed lawns for the neighbors, you could earn the money in . . . how long do you think it would take?”

3. Use the request to build the relationship. Talk to the person about what they need/want out of the request, and let this flow into a discussion about what this person wants out of life. Get to know the person better and align with them wherever you can to support their goals.
Dad could ask, “If you had a bike, what’s the coolest thing you’d love to do with it?” After she responds, he can build on that response with encouragement and support for her goals. “Wow, that sounds exciting! What would we need to do to make that happen?”

4. Discuss consequences up-front. Say, “If I agree to this, then we first need to think through the ramifications.” Talk about the risks and opportunities that could occur. Talk about how to mitigate the consequences and leverage the opportunities.
Dad: “So, Hortense, what happens if you crash on your bike and break your arm? Who would fix your bike and how would you play on your ball team? I’m just making sure you’ve thought this through.”

5. Participate with them if possible. Don’t let them have all the fun if you can help it! With family members especially, you can often find ways to join in their request in an enjoyable way.
Dad: “Riding bikes really is a blast. And it would be fun to go with you to pick out a bike. Shall we go together on Saturday to shop?” or “Can I help you mow the first lawn for the neighbor and give you tips?”

6. Receive a Report. In case you can’t participate with them, invite them to give you a run-down on the activity afterwards along with their feelings about it and what they may have discovered.
Dad: “So I understand you went on a trail ride with the new mountain bike? What was the best part? What would you change for next time?”

Getting into a new habit of saying “Yes” and following through on the opportunities that are presented, will convinced you that in many cases, “Yes is best.”

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Relational Repair: 7 Steps to the Fix

Relational Repair: 7 Steps to the Fix

In my previous post, “Relational Rupture: Now what do I do?,” we discussed the common reactions to ruptures in a relationship. But these instinctive reactions — Fight, Flight, and Freezing — do nothing to repair the problem and often magnify the distress.

Here are ways that you can actually begin to repair the rupture. In a private conversation, do the following:

1. Find common ground. Discuss ways that you are already in agreement. It might sound like, “We both want this marriage to work. I know it is important to both of us.”
2. Own your part. Or even more than your part. This will sound like, “Hey, I know I blew it the other day. I didn’t perform well, and I just want you to know that I realize that. I could have done way better and just didn’t. I really regret it went down like it did. I’m sorry.” Don’t defend, justify or excuse yourself. Don’t blame, compare or counterattack. Admit it. Own it. Apologize for it. Don’t say something passive aggressive and condescending like, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” That approach rings hollow for many reasons.
3. Ask to understand. Willingly ask to understand the impact your actions had on the other person. Say something like, “I probably don’t even realize what you had to deal with after I screwed up. If you would clue me in, I would be open to hearing it. I care about what I’ve done and I want to understand anything you want me to know.” Then just listen with empathy. Don’t interrupt. Don’t justify yourself. Don’t counterattack. Listen very carefully, then. . .
4. Validate their point of view. You don’t have to agree with them. Just let them know that you can see how they would feel or think that way. Let them know that you think they are a valuable, worthwhile, intelligent person. They aren’t crazy, evil or weak. It sounds like, “It makes sense that you would go there. I think a lot of people would feel the same way (or, better, “I would feel the same way, too.”). I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Hearing your point of view makes a difference for me.”
5. Ask what you can change. Let them know that you are willing to make changes in the future. Make sure they know that any change takes some practice and not to expect perfection, but that you will honestly try to respond in a better way in the future. Ask them for a specific suggestion or two and do your best to commit to something they can value. It would look like this, “So, the next time something like this happens, what would be helpful for me to change? What would you appreciate from me?”
6. Express your increased trust. Communicate explicitly that coming to them was difficult for you, but that their openness and honesty strengthens your trust in them and in the relationship. Talk about how a relationship gets stronger when problems are worked out instead of avoided. Talk about how we can cut each other some slack as we make mistakes but want to do better.
7. Show appreciation. Express your gratitude that they would take the time to share with you. Express your gratitude that you have had a good relationship in the past and your confidence that the good relationship will continue.

Those are the basic seven steps to repairing a relational rupture. Now, if you are in a relationship with a sociopath or narcissist, they may continue to punish or manipulate your good-faith approach. If the other person doesn’t engage in the normal give and take of apologies/forgiveness/change for the better, you may wish to seriously reconsider the value of your relationship. Repairing ruptures is a two-way street and can only occur if both people want to fix the distress.

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Relationship Rupture: Now what do I do?

Relationship Rupture: Now what do I do?

If you are in any kind of a relationship, you are doomed to experience it — especially if one of you is human: The Relationship Rupture.

A rupture is anything that creates a disconnect in positive feelings. Relationship ruptures can be small (someone is late or forgetful or careless) or they can be huge, (Someone is unfaithful, dishonest, cruel). It is inevitable that either you or the other person will eventually fall off their pedestal. Now what?

Because we don’t know how to repair relational ruptures, most people will resort to one of three instinctive reactions: Fight, Flight, Freeze. Unless one’s actual safety is concerned, none of these reactions are highly resilient responses, because they further damage the relationship.

Fight: The reactor can be either active aggressive (Yelling, throwing punches/objects, etc) or passive aggressive (“No, nothing’s wrong. Sorry I forgot to feed your goldfish for a week.”)

Flight: The reactor leaves the relationship in some fashion — physically, mentally, or emotionally. Physical flight means putting some actual physical distance between you both. Perhaps the reactor is suddenly unavailable for that meeting or date or party. Mental flight may look like the person suddenly becoming busy with work demands, even at home. Perhaps the person becomes obsessed with a TV series instead of talking to you. Emotional flight can look like an infatuation with a new partner. Emotional flight can also be as simple as withholding affection, warmth, or happiness from the other.

Freeze: The reactor becomes numb, paralyzed, shocked or in denial. Like a deer in the headlights, the reactor feels unable to take action and often turns to others for support or direction. This can occur when an abusive mate threatens a spouse. Or when an abusive boss threatens an employee. Freezing occurs more often than we think.

Unfortunately, if we don’t have skills to repair the inevitable ruptures, we can get stuck in a downward spiral of negative reactions from both parties. The pain in the relationship becomes intolerable. Then, not knowing how to fix the distress, many people go through life “burning bridges” rather than “building bridges” after the rupture. And their lives are littered with the desolation of unrepaired damage.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When you learn some skills to repair relationships, you can actually make the relationship stronger than before the rupture occurred! Every time a person is distressed, it is a great opportunity to increase the trust and regard in the relationship. But you can’t react by fighting, fleeing or freezing. Read my next blog for tips.