Category: <span>Relationships</span>

Is it your shame you are carrying?

Is it your shame you are carrying
Emotions like shame are highly contagious

Shame, as the other core negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear, shock and disgust), might become toxic if not identified and dealt with mindfully and proactively. Toxic shame is particularly detrimental to emotional wellbeing because it is experienced cognitively and physically in a great variety of ways, which makes it difficult to identify it. While you might underestimate how low you feel when comparing yourself to others, for instance, and fail to connect the attitude to shame, the feeling feeds off your inadequacy. Like a virus that takes over your body without your awareness, shame finds its way into your system and weakens your self-esteem and healthy sense of self.

Since emotions are highly contagious, they move from one body to another swiftly. When we consider that shame is mainly there to create discomfort when we fail to confirm to social norms and makes us aware of a threat to our group status, it can easily lead to a great fear of rejection and abandonment. As social beings who thrive in groups, feelings of wrongness and exclusion triggered by shame have the potential to stop us from behaving in an authentic fashion. A false sense of self is then created to secure membership, regulate the inadequacy and re-establish an inner sense of safety.

Therefore, catching yourself when affected by shame is key to protect self-esteem and nurture the authentic, autonomous self. You can achieve that by asking yourself “Does this shame belong to me?” when feeling inadequate, less than, unappreciated, criticised, judged or not good enough. Like anger, shame is easily projected as a dysfunctional means to emotional regulation. Despite the harm it causes to those who are directly or indirectly affected by that process, it is repeated in a highly unconscious manner, damaging not only our ability to love and accept ourselves unconditionally but the quality of our relationships. If you find your shame not to be congruent with the beliefs of your free and confident self, give it back to whom it belongs. You can do that by moving your hands as if you were throwing a shame ball back to its owner, or tell yourself, silently, that the shame you feel is not yours to keep. Use your creativity and have fun with it. For challenging negative thinking that leads to shame feelings, I also recommend filling out a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts during periods of vulnerability.

3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life

3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life
When we suffer the effects of relationship trauma of any kind, we often start seeing ourselves, the world and others through a very biased, negative lens

Most of us who have a history of relational trauma struggle or have struggled int the past to have a rich and fulfilling love life. This is because relational trauma is one of the most painful and hardest to overcome. When we suffer the effects of relationship trauma of any kind, we often start seeing ourselves, the world and others through a very biased, negative lens. As a matter of fact, one’s traumatised and overprotective brain has the potential to harm or even destroy our ability to find fulfilment in life through loving relationships. In order to raise your awareness of dysfunctional thinking that might be making you unhappy, here are 3 rigid beliefs about dating and relationships that are damaging your love life:

1- I need to feel 100% confident and centred to start dating again

This is one of the most common perfectionist beliefs that, even though idealistic and incoherent with human nature, still leads to a lot of loneliness and life dissatisfaction. As social beings who are wired for connection, our healing path is through it. Nobody is perfect and a 100% anything, especially when it comes to relationships. We all learn together and from each other, with time and experience.

2- I cannot get hurt again

If this is what you repeat to yourself when you consider dating again, you suffer from emotion phobia – or a great fear of emotions such as sadness, anger and shame, for instance, as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment. We are equipped to handle painful emotions and overcome our grief. So yes, you can stand your pain, get over a relationship that has not worked out and try again with a better fit.

3- If I am to get involved romantically again, the relationship must work

As we learn mostly through experience and trial and error, if you consciously stop yourself from trying because you are too afraid of “failing” and feeling unlovable, your love life will suffer as a result. As in the professional and academic realms, success in your love life requires practice – what truly promotes knowledge and change – not inertia.

If you have identified with the above, I urge you to stop wasting precious time and start challenging negative thinking that is damaging your love life. When you embrace your imperfections with courage and tolerance and, therefore, every part of you and your humanity, you become more emotionally mature and prepared to face the challenges of modern dating.

What is a dysfunctional relationship?

What is a dysfunctional relationship
Dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth

No relationship is perfect, but some are more functional than others. If that is a fair reflection of reality, what makes certain relationships less healthy or more dysfunctional than others? The answer lies on the quantity, intensity and frequency of the dysfunctional behaviours that shape and define relationships as such.

As a first and universal principle, dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. One’s needs, wants, vulnerabilities and negative feelings are not expressed clearly and with confidence for a fear of rejection and abandonment. Therefore, the authentic self does not flourish in the presence of the other, but it is hidden behind a facade of togetherness created to comply with his or her expectations.

Even though such expectations have a major influence on the dynamic and health of any relationship, in the dysfunctional modality they tend to be high and unrealistic. As they are not openly talked about, negotiated democratically and with reasonable compromise, they do not correspond to individual differences, needs and limitations of the authentic self. Failure to live up to one’s own idealised standards or the other’s expectations culminates in feelings of not being good enough, incompetent (fear of making mistakes/not pleasing the other or “getting it right”) and unlovable. The permeating inadequacy brings about a tendency to fault finding, blaming and holding grudges.

Due to emotional neglect, dependency and immaturity, emotions are not processed autonomously or through the empathic presence of the other.  As a result, behaviour is largely motivated by unconscious feelings of fear, shame, anger and anxiety that have great negative impact both on an individual and relationship level. Lack of adequate emotional support, validation or willingness to listen and change one’s behaviour leads to a building resentment that makes one seem to explode over “nothing” from time to time.

In dysfunctional relationships, boundaries are not clear or respected, as well as one’s wishes, likes and dislikes. As values and personal roles are rigid, the dynamic is highly uneven and favours a dominant/active and submissive/passive dyad, which is frequently kept through denial and in an unconscious fashion. In such scenarios, the relationship is used as a weapon of manipulation and control. Refusal to conform with the dysfunctional dynamic and play its rigid roles is followed by threats of abandonment, be them overt/verbal or covert, through emotional distancing and passive aggression.

In cases where there are attempts to address problems and solve them, motivation is weak and tends to wither over time. For that reason, the trajectory of dysfunctional relationships is marked by ups and downs. While one takes on the responsibility of the relationship wellbeing, the other refuses to fully acknowledge the effects of his/her attitude and quickly reverts to a habit of denial, neglect or resistance to change. Because dysfunctional relationships are made of two highly independent units that do not work cooperatively, they are also filled by feelings of powerlessness, shame, discontent and isolation.

If you would like to refrain from feeding a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, be it with your partner, relative, friend, colleague or boss, self-awareness is key. While it should not be anyone’s responsibility to carry the wellbeing of any relationship solely on their shoulders, by addressing and changing your own behaviour you can become a model of self-esteem and emotional maturity.

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children

How to model emotional maturity to your partner and children
By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness

The best way to influence your partner and children is through modelling self-esteem and emotional maturity. By improving the connection with your own body and emotions, you become an example of integrity and centredness. As what we see has greater impact on us than what we hear, the way you treat yourself has the potential to affect your children’s and partner’s relationships with their own selves, as well as the one they keep with you. To become a healthier archetype, here are four simple ways on how to model emotional maturity to your partner and children:

Be emotionally congruent  

Due to their emotional intolerance, emotionally immature individuals have a need to repress and deny their emotions. To give an example of wholeness and promote wellbeing to your loved ones, allow yourself to be the way you feel. Denying your sadness or forcing yourself to smile, for instance, are behaviours that perpetuate shame and emotional neglect. Contrary to popular belief, repressing our anger, sadness and fear, or pretending they do not exist does not help us feel better, but robs us from our power to process them in a healthy manner and connect with others through vulnerability. Feeling one way and behaving another sends out the wrong message, as if our true feelings were unacceptable and should be rejected.

Talk consciously about feelings

The simple exercise of naming how we feel helps us regulate emotionally. Telling your partner or children “When you ____(behaviour), I feel ____(feeling/emotions)”, allows you to express how you feel and address a problem without sounding aggressive, which may help you avoid lengthy and unproductive arguments. Noticing your partner or children’s anxiety, for instance, and asking questions such as “You look anxious, is there something bothering you?”, can help them connect with their feelings and feel comfortable sharing them with you. When initiating such conversations, remind yourself to act in a non-judgemental way, give them your full attention and listen to what they have to say.

Tolerate negative emotions

Emotional maturity is all about self-acceptance and intimacy. You cannot accept yourself and have a fulfilling, intimate relationship with anyone (even yourself), however, if you reject negative emotions. When you repress and deny them, be it in yourself or others, you neglect and alienate. All emotions are parts of who we are and deserve to be honoured. Emotions also exist without apparent meaning, they just are. Resist the temptation to rationalise them, learn how to tolerate discomfort and allow them to just be.

Give emotional support

Emotional support is not problem solving. When you focus on a solution to what you perceive as “a problem” (i.e., a negative emotion), you lose connection with the emotion. Therefore, when you notice your partner or children feeling affected by negative emotions, display a curious and accepting attitude. Resist the antagonistic urge to tell them they are OK or shame them for feeling angry or cranky, and openly validate the way they feel. To show empathy, mirror the way they feel by making simple statements with emotion and feeling words, such as “I can see you are angry” or “It is OK to feel sad”.

All the above require courage and patience and rely on your ability to tolerate emotional discomfort. To succeed reproducing in practice what you have read here, do not give up or switch back to your older self when feeling awkward and inauthentic. Trust that those feelings will change with time. Emotional freedom and tolerance are quite addictive, and once you have managed to introduce such positive habits in your own life and start feeling their benefits on your physical, emotional and relational health, you will wonder why you have not changed your attitude earlier.

The dos and don’ts of emotional support

The dos and don'ts of emotional support
Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think

Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think. When we acknowledge that most of us were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and perfectionism, it becomes clear how a lack of emotional intimacy affects our ability to deal with feelings naturally. The habit of distancing ourselves from feelings, especially when negative, and refusing to embrace their wisdom and our own vulnerability, only creates an even bigger distance between others and ourselves. If you would like to change that scenario and feel more connected, here are the dos and don’ts of emotional support:

1- Do not problem solve

Emotional support does what it says on the tin. Therefore, it is not about coming up with ideas to solve a problem, but dealing with the feelings that surround it. Unless there is a clear call for help, most of us do not need practical advice when talking about the issues that concern or upset us. It is also worth noticing that the urge to “help” and solve other people’s problems or afflictions – even when help is neither needed nor requested – is at the core of codependent behaviour.

2- Focus on feelings

Emotional support comes from a place of attunement to another person’s need for having his or her feelings recognised and validated. There is nothing more comforting when we are feeling low, frustrated or anxious, for instance, than having someone around us that respects our inadequacy by honouring the way we feel. When you say to someone in distress, “I can see that that is upsetting to you”, regardless of what is going on or if you agree with that person’s reasons or emotional reaction, you make him or her feel seen, accepted and understood.

3- Do not make it about you

Our complexity as individuals is so immense, that no experience is ever felt in an equal fashion by two different people. As soon as you start talking about your experience, giving examples of how you have dealt with a similar issue to the one brought up by the other person, the focus is turned to you. As it has been mentioned before, emotional support is not about analysing and comparing experiences and, supposedly, learning from them, but noticing and addressing feelings.

4- Do not antagonise

To antagonise is to oppose, which is the opposite of what is understood by “to support”. While an emotionally congruent and supportive person favours the expression and recognition of feelings, be it in himself/herself or others, an antagonising, selfish or emotionally neglectful one has the habit of ignoring, repressing, avoiding, denying or normalising them. When you behave like the latter, you are not giving emotional support, but alienating the other. You can do that quite automatically, unintentionally and unconsciously, by using common sense judgement, motivational speech, excessive positive psychology and platitudes, for instance.

5- Be empathic

Empathy is like a mirror, or the ability to feel, see and experience what the other is feeling, seeing or experiencing. Simply put, when someone feels sad, angry, fearful or disgusted, those are the feelings you focus on and seek to validate. Moreover, you display an empathic attitude when you do the following:

  • Take time to listen: let the person speak and do not interrupt. Do not rush to get that tissue or glass of water either, but focus on what the person has to say first.
  • Stay with the inadequacy and embrace it. Be emotionally tolerant by allowing emotional expression and flow.
  • Agree with the other. Put yourself in his or her shoes and try to see the world from his or her perspective.
  • When lost for words, use the following:

“It must have been hard”

“I see that that is upsetting to you”

“I also hate when that happens”

“I hear you. That must have been annoying for you”

 “Feeling anxious sucks, doesn’t it?”

“ I can see that you are angry, what happened?”

“It is awful when that happens”

“You must have felt uncomfortable”

“I understand that that is not easy for you”

“I am sorry you feel that way”

“I see your point”

“That’s sad/scary/disgusting/awful/annoying!”

“I understand how that must have made you feel”

“It must suck feeling that way”

  • Give the other a sign of your affection. If you have an intimate relationship with the other person, you can also offer him or her a hug or a kiss, once he or she has finished talking and dealing with his or her feelings of inadequacy.

Constructive x destructive criticism

Destructive criticism is the language of low self-esteem.

Giving or receiving criticism with dignity and compassion can at times come as a challenge. Everyone is able to recognise the benefits of seeing through a different perspective. Criticism fosters learning and self-improvement, be it in our personal or professional lives. When the moment of sharing a different opinion presents itself, however, criticism may feel difficult to handle gracefully.

As criticism has the potential to hurt and influence others in a powerful way, the responsibility of the giver remains the greatest. Our real intentions often get lost in the murky pool of human relationships. What may feel as a will to ‘help others’ can in true fact emerge from a deep, long-standing desire to control and manipulate. Even in cases when we are motivated by nothing than genuinely good intentions, communicating criticism with respect and consideration remains a fine skill.

Unfortunately, we are unable to mind read or predict someone else’s reaction to what we have to say. Our individual experiences with criticism have their unique way of shaping our perception. What may be OK for some may be damaging to somebody else. The best way to approach criticism is to see it as a double-sided coin. On one side it is constructive (good, productive and compassionate), while the other carries destructive features (it is ineffective, unproductive and selfish).

Constructive criticism is raised in a calm and collected manner. When you are exposed to constructive criticism, it feels like you are just hearing an added piece of information. Constructive criticism does not change the flow of conversation dramatically. It sounds like an offer of help that is too tempting to be refused. It feels like an invitation to become part of something good:

A: I know of some excellent books to help you write that piece, would you like me to show them to you?

B: Are you OK with making that pie? Do you think you could do with some help?

C: I’ve got some practical tips to improve your time-management skills, would you like to hear about them?

Destructive criticism sounds like a personal attack. It is emotionally charged and coloured with terms and expressions of negative connotation that make you feel inadequate and out of place. It changes the harmonious flow of conversation into something unnerving and unpredictable. Feeling cornered, you immediately switch to defensive mood without even realising it.

A: That has been poorly written. It doesn’t make any sense! It looks as if you haven’t either read or understand anything about the subject.

B: You don’t have a clue what you’re doing, do you? Without my help that is going to fall apart!

C: I can’t believe you’re late on that project. Why is it so hard for you to respect a deadline?

destructive criticism
There are two basic types of criticism: destructive and constructive.

As it is raised in order to genuinely help the receiver, constructive criticism is given with tact and respect, acknowledging the person’s skills and abilities that are already in place. It is rich in detail, clear and specific, so you know exactly what you have done wrong or could do with improvement. It is practical and straightforward; contributing positively towards enhancing the receiver’s learning experience:

A: I see what you mean by raising that point there; it is worth exploring it in greater depth. What about adding some examples to make it clearer to the reader? You could start with something like…

B: You mixed your ingredients well, you just need to butter that tin otherwise the base is going to stick on the bottom. You can still do it before putting it into the oven, but you will have to move the dough into another bowl first.

C: I like the fact that you have managed to get everyone motivated to work on our priorities. Since we are quite tight on time with this particular client, it would speed things up even further if you…

Destructive criticism, conversely, is exaggerated and vague. As its aim is to intimidate, belittle or even humiliate, destructive criticism lacks information that may be of learning value to the receiver. Instead of its focus being on specific behaviours, destructive criticism works as to discredit the entire person:

A: That’s absolutely awful. How can you expect anyone to understand that? You will have to do it all again!

B: That’s a disaster! It’s not going to cook properly! Baking is really not your thing!

C: I’d have expected so much more from someone in your position. Anyone would think you could have done much better than that by now!

Be it at home with your spouse or children, at work with your colleagues or employees or out with friends or extended family, sharing your views with respect and compassion can do wonders to everyone involved. Productive criticism helps people connect and grow. Taking time and patience to elaborate on your assessments always pays off in the end. Even if the concept of productive criticism has never had real application in your own life, you can start a new trend by using it with the people around you. It is never too late to incorporate positive changes into your behaviour. You can take over the rules of the game and turn criticism into a win-win experience.