Feelings: The Language of Connection

Time and time again, the most powerful shift in couples I coach happens when they start expressing their feelings to one another.  Our emotions are truly the language of connection.  And so it is tragic that we in the West have mostly been cut off from our feelings.

Emotions are not simply whatever we put after the phrase “I feel…”  Unfortunately, we’ve learned to replace feelings with lots of thoughts.   “I feel like you don’t care about me.”  “I feel left out.”  “I feel judged.”  These are all thoughts presented as feelings.  A great litmus test to determine if you’re talking about a feeling or thought is the phrase “you ___ me.”  If you fill in that phrase and it makes grammatical sense then it is likely you are expressing a thought rather than a feeling.  “You don’t care about me”, “you left me out”, and “you judged me” are all thoughts and not feelings.

Alternatively “you happy me”, “you sad me”, and “you angry me” don’t make grammatical sense, and so are actually feelings and not thoughts.  Many of us use the words “I feel” as if they are magic words that make everything that comes after them a subjective emotional experience.  But humans see through that.  Saying “I feel judged” and “I feel hurt” have two very different impacts upon listeners.

So why does sharing our thoughts lead to so much antagonism and conflict, while expressing our feelings raises the probability of experiencing connection?  There are two reasons for this.  One is that thoughts inherently have a true or false value.  A thought is either “right” or it is “wrong”.  And none of us really want to be “wrong”, especially when we are in conflict.  This is because our culture shames us for being “wrong”.  When we are “wrong” we get bad grades in school, we sometimes subject to ridicule, and often we are treated with more mistrust.  And so it is only natural that we will do almost anything to prove ourselves “right”.

But unfortunately this “right” vs. “wrong” game is at the center of unhealthy conflict.  As long as you see conflict as essentially being about who is “right” and who is “wrong”, you will be stuck in a loop of conflict.  You may be able to win a particular “battle” but the war will never end.

The second reason why sharing our emotions helps create connection is because feelings are universal and illicit an empathetic reaction in others.  We all experience the same emotions.  We all know what it is like to feel sad, lonely, shame, hurt, and joy.  And so emotions are the easiest way for me to empathize with your experience.  And emotions naturally illicit that empathetic reaction because to express our feelings is a vulnerable act.  When we speak with vulnerability, others are naturally drawn to empathetic reactions.  While this isn’t a guarantee, it is much more likely for a listener to react with empathy to “I feel hurt” than “I feel judged”.

So consider building your feelings vocabulary.  Practice identifying and expressing your emotions, even if you start by just doing this with yourself.  You can even do the deeper practice of finding what emotions lie behind your thoughts.  Translating your thoughts into feelings is at the heart of the work of making your communication more compassionate and a bridge to connection.

June 27, 2016Permalink

Needs: The Signposts of the Soul

We all have needs.  And those needs go far beyond just air, food, water, and shelter.

We need love, warmth, acceptance, community, friendship, honesty, respect, connection, and the list goes on and on and on.  The Center for Nonviolent Communication has created a wonderful list of potential needs.  This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but it gives you an idea of all the various things we need.

Our needs are truly the signposts of our souls.  To unpack that statement I first need to be clear on the difference between needs and desires.  There is a helpful acronym: P.L.A.T.O. which stands for “person, location, action, time, and object”.  If at any point you are thinking about or asking for a specific person, location, action, time or object then you are talking about a desire rather than a need.

For example:  “I need you to stop talking so I can get this work done.”  That example is an expression of a desire not a need.  The statement includes a specific person (“you”), doing a specific action (“stop talking”) and presumably at a specific time (“now”).  So the real needs that lie under that statement may be things like “focus”, “help”, “quiet”, or “peace”.

But isn’t that just splitting hairs?  No, and this is where the signpost comes in, because YOUR needs are a sign for YOU of what YOU need.

In the example of “I need you to stop talking” the focus is on the other person.  Even though the sentence starts with the word “I”, the underlying message is “you need to stop talking.”  But in fact the other person doesn’t need to stop talking!  Clearly their inner most self is desiring maybe “connection”, “partnership”, or “play” so what they need is to talk.  The speaker’s inner most self is needing “focus” or maybe “quiet”.  Do you see that difference?

In this way we often project our needs onto others.  So going back to the example, if the person who needs “focus” or “quiet” owns their need, and doesn’t project those needs onto the other person, then they now have the power to take care of themselves.  Instead of relying upon this other person to “get with the program” they can take steps to meet their own needs for “focus” or “quiet.”

Of course, one strategy to get those needs met might be to ask this person to stop talking.  But when I own my needs, and don’t put them on other people, then all I can do is ask them to help me, not demand it.  So instead of “I need you to stop talking”, it might look like “Could we talk at a later time?  I’d love to connect with you, but right now I really need some focus so I can get my work done.”

But if the person says no, if I’ve owned that my need for “focus” is a sign to me of what I need then I can go about finding other ways to get it met.  Maybe I suggest to this other person “hey, let’s take a walk and chat, but when we get back I really need to focus” or “hey, I really need to focus so I can’t talk right now.  I’ll go back into the study/bedroom/living room/etc, and maybe you can call your friend to chat.”

You see our needs are messages, signposts, from our inner most self, our soul, telling us what we need.  They are not messages about what other people should, ought, or need to do.

May 29, 2016Permalink

Navigating the Intimacy Paradox

Intimacy is a paradox.

We both crave it, and hate it.

Richard Rohr, in his book Immortal Diamond clearly and succinctly summarizes this paradox:  “intimacy happens when we reveal and expose our insides, and this is always scary.  One never knows if the other can receive what is exposed, will respect it, or will run fast in the other direction.  One must be prepared to be rejected.  It is always a risk.”

And yet, “such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy, and intimacy is the way that love is transmitted.”

This tension of our craving love which comes through intimacy and wanting to shield and protect ourselves from rejection and hurt will always be there.  Intimacy is a paradox.

If an intimate, personal, deep relationship is going to survive, then two partners are going to need to learn how to wade through this intimacy paradox.  And I want to suggest that a core ingredient to living with the tension is creating safety.

How?

Actively choosing to be warm.  Choosing to be warm is choosing to be supportive rather than negative.  It’s choosing to be patient rather than hurrying.  It’s choosing to be understanding rather than critical.

I imagine you’ve experienced someone whom you’d describe as warm, or warm hearted.  And maybe you think that’s the result of some innate personality quality, in their genes, or simply a wonderful life.  But the truth is it’s a choice.  People choose to be warm every day, and often they choose to be a warm presence in the world because they know what it’s like to experience coldness.

To practice choosing to be warm:  think of your friend, partner, someone you already trust and care about.  Picture them, imagine and connect with specific things about them you appreciate, care about, and cherish.  Be in that state of warmth.  With practice you can do this also with co-workers, bosses, acquaintances, and people who drive you crazy.

Verbalize your understanding, compassion, empathy, and support.  Yes, you’re going to have judgmental thoughts. Whomever you’re trying to build intimacy with will probably share something at some point that you’ll want to reject.  But that doesn’t mean your partner needs to hear those words.  And please, don’t mask judgment with advice.

Advice is so often rejected because people don’t experience compassion and understanding in advice.  People experience empathy through someone else acknowledging their feelings, concerns, fears, and insecurities.  Choosing to not fixate on my judgmental thoughts, and rather turning my attention to what’s going on for you in this moment.

Finally, be present.  Be here and now.  Set aside any distractions whether physical or mental.  Give the other person your full attention.  Breathe a little slower, take your time, slow your brain down, and take in the other’s self-disclosure as it unfolds.  You’ll also have tons of thoughts and other mental distractions.  But just like choosing to not fixate on judgmental thoughts, we also need to choose to not let our brains distract us mentally.  Your thoughts can only distract you with your consent.

Finally, practice being present by meditating.  Move slowly and pay attention to every detail while washing the dishes or walking the dog.  Pay close attention to the taste and texture of food while you eat.  Anything that brings you more into the present moment.

May 2, 2016Permalink

“Well, I Didn’t Mean It Like That…”

“Well, I didn’t mean it like that…”

Sometimes you, and I, try to apologize for the impact our words have on others by trying to explain the intention behind them.

Certainly sometimes explaining our intention is helpful in terms of clearing up a misunderstanding.  But have you ever tried to explain your intention and met with even more hurt, anger, resentment, and shut down?  That’s because explaining your intention isn’t an effective way of apologizing.

Explaining your intention can be a way of denying the impact of your words.  If my friend hears me calling him “irresponsible”, and I respond “well, I didn’t mean that”, I am avoiding the fact that my friend was hurt.  I am essentially telling my friend “you shouldn’t feel upset or hurt because I didn’t say what you think I said, and so you experience is wrong.”  Oof.  If we really spelled it out like that it is easy to see why that message is offensive.

Sometimes it is true that other people hear things that we didn’t say.  However, telling them that they are wrong for being upset or hurt doesn’t actually help.  In Compassionate Communication, all emotional pain (hurt, anger, disappointment, sad, scared, etc.) is a signal of disconnection.  So when my friend hears in his head me calling him “irresponsible”, he becomes disconnected from me, and thus experiences the pain of feeling hurt and upset.

Compassionate Communication teaches that the only way to heal disconnection is through empathy.  Again, for minor offenses maybe clearing up a simple misunderstanding is sufficient to reconnect.  But when someone experiences a lot of emotional pain from our words, they need empathy to try to reconnect.

Now, empathy is not the same thing as agreeing.  So I can empathize with my friend who heard me call him “irresponsible” without agreeing that I called him that.  How?  By connecting with his feelings and needs.  “Oh wow, I’ve really hurt you by saying something that makes you think I called you ‘irresponsible’.  I’m sorry.  It seems like you feel angry and hurt that I maybe don’t fully respect/trust/think well of you?”  I am trying to show compassionate understanding to the emotional experience my friend is having in this moment.  Nothing more.

Once my friend and I are reconnected, then I have a better chance of clearing up my actual intention.

My final thought, when you think the impact your words had on someone is out of sync with your intention, before you question their experience examine your intention.  Our behavior when we are triggered to a fight-flight-freeze reaction is driven by subconscious drives and impulses.  Even when we’re calm, our subconscious plays a role in our behavior.  Sometimes it can take minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days before we fully know why we said or did a certain thing.  So before you jump to explain that your intentions were pure, good; take at least a few moments to consider whether some part of you really did intend the impact experienced.

And if you discover that there was a part of you that intended the impact that was experienced, then confess it.  Admit it to your friend, partner, family member, coworker, boss.  Authentic connection is only possible with real honesty.

 

April 18, 2016Permalink

What Surrounds You Shapes You

I saw this powerful PSA on Facebook the other day:

Powerful, right?

It’s true, children are sponges.  Whatever their parents (& peers) say and do, they absorb it and it shapes how they act.  And those models stay there for a long time.

I am not a parent, and so I have no business dispensing parenting advice.  So I won’t.  But I do want to say to all you adults, that the way you communicate is a product of how you were communicated with as a child.  Not only how your parents talked to you, but also how your peers and friends talked to you.  Your communication style is a product of the media you consumed growing up, what you saw as cool and admirable.  You didn’t learn what to think and how to behave in a vacuum.

The way you and I were raised, the kind of environment we grew up in shapes how we act in the world today.  I was raised to “go for my dreams” and so I live with this belief that the work I do in the world needs to be personally fulfilling, and I avoid work that I label as “drudgery”.  Many people are raised to “make sure there’s food on the table” and so they live with this belief that getting any work is good work, and that whether it is fulfilling or not, you have to do whatever you need to do to make a paycheck.

It’s not about one kind of culture and upbringing being better or worse.  In fact seeing one as better than another is also a product of the culture that surrounds you.  So it’s not about judging some people as having a “better” or “worse” upbringing, it is about learning what has shaped you.  It’s about uncovering how the culture you grew up in shapes your behavior today, so you can decide how you actually want to act.  And it is about deciding if what you have currently surrounded yourself with is shaping you into the person you want to be.

Because this blog post isn’t just about what happened to you growing up, it’s also about what kinds of things you surround yourself with right now.  This is why support groups are helpful for people struggling with addictions.  Support groups take people out of the environment where the drug use is the norm, and put them in an environment where the norm is to try to be healthy.

If you’re wondering why you feel sad, cynical, and angry take time to examine what is going on around you.  Are you working at a job whose environment is poisonous?  Do you watch media that paints a bleak picture of the world?  Is the music you listen to full of despair?  Do your friends communicate with honesty & compassion, or with sarcasm and disingenuously?

It’s not enough to decide that you want to start acting differently.  It’s not even enough to uncover what shaped you growing up, though that is an essential first step.  If you want to make a change in yourself, you have to change what surrounds you.

April 4, 2016Permalink

Observing Yourself

In Compassionate Communication there are five major skills.  One of them is called “observation”.  At first, I thought this skill was all about noticing and talking about what you literally see.  So instead of “this room is a mess” saying “I see a couple of dirty dishes on the table, and a bunch of books all over the couch”.

But the skill of “observation” also goes much deeper than this.  The skill of “observation” also means observing yourself.  What thoughts are you having?  What stories about this situation are you telling yourself?  What are you actually experiencing in your interior world?

Observing ourselves is difficult sometimes.  I’ll share a story about losing my own ability to observe myself.

Back when I was in college I was dating a woman who went to a different college about 4 hours away from me.  One day I saw that she had an AOL Instant Message (AIM) away message up that said something suggestive about a cute librarian.  And I really lost it.  It’s hard to discern what I was thinking or feeling in that moment because I was just gone.  I was sending text message after text message, calling and leaving messages.  I was just lost in a sea of jealousy and anger.  I was probably telling myself stories like “she doesn’t love me” or “I can’t believe she is cheating on me”, but I really can’t say for certain what was going through my head.  I was a whirlwind of reactivity.

I’m sure everyone reading this knows that it ended up being a pretty harmless, innocent away message.  Nothing was happening between her and this librarian.  She thought the away message was funny, but she was not amused by my 10-15 texts and two Voicemails.  And I was mortified when I could see that my reaction was way out of proportion to what was going on.

Do you know moments in your life where your reaction is way out of proportion to what is actually going on?

In those moments we need this skill of being able to observe ourselves.  If I could have stepped back and watched what I was thinking, telling myself, and doing my reaction would have been totally different.  I would have been able to see the irrational story that I was telling myself, and how untrue it was.  I could have seen that my behavior was intense.

So we need to be able to observe ourselves.  And this is a skill, which means it can be strengthened over time and with practice.  So I want to close with some exercises to help you build the skill of observing yourself:

  • Noticing Thoughts & Stories:  This is a meditation where you engage in something, but then you observe and notice all the thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs that arise in you.  So you might watch a TV Show, or a political speech, or read a poem, or go for a run.  And while you do this activity you just notice your thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs.  As you’re engaged in whatever activity keep asking yourself “what I am I thinking now?”  “What story am I making up about this thing?”  “What feelings do I have in this moment?
  • Who Do You Think You Are:  This is an exercise where you take an inventory of all the things you think you are.  So write at the top of the paper “Who I think I am…” and then just write for 5 minutes all the things you think you are.  And just notice what comes up in response to that prompt.  Don’t judge, evaluate, or critique whatever comes up, just notice it and write it down.
  • Observe Memories:  In this exercise you need to bring to mind an experience you had similar to the one I shared.  An experience where you lost yourself in the moment, you weren’t able to observe what you were thinking or doing.  Try to relive that moment in your imagination.  Where are you located?  What do your surroundings look like?  Who is there?  What are they saying and doing?  Play the memory through like a movie.  And as you play it through try to just notice what thoughts, feelings, stories, and needs are coming up in you in this moment as you relive that moment.
March 20, 2016Permalink

The Limits of Communication…And What You Can Do About Them

Some people come to my workshops, and say:  “Hey, this stuff is great, but doesn’t this stuff only work as long as the other person is also willing to communicate with compassion and honesty?”

And my answer is always something like: “Yeah…sorta.  But even if the other person doesn’t want to engage in honest and compassionate dialogue, these tools can still help you in that situation.”

First, I am going to explain the limits of communication.  The first big one is:  People can always hear whatever they want to hear.  You’ve probably experienced this.  You try to deliver some criticism to your partner, child, or parent in the gentlest way you can.  And then the person shoots back at you “Oh, you mean I’m no good at x.”  That’s not what you said, but it is what they heard.

The second limitation is:  other people have free will.  Other people can choose to act and respond in whatever way they want!   Someone can choose to communicate with malice and abusively.  Someone can choose to not listen, shout their own opinion, and then storm out of the conversation (literally or figuratively) when they don’t hear what they want to hear.  People have free will, and sometime people exercise that freedom in ways that really irritate us.

Finally, the third biggest limitation to compassionate communication:  it’s almost impossible to use when you are triggered to a fight-flight-freeze reaction.  Like every other animal, when we are overloaded with stress we get triggered to some sort of fight, flight, or freeze reaction.  And once we’re triggered, all these communication tools go right out the window.  The reason is that to use these skills of honesty and compassion we have to be in our rational mind.  But the rational mind is shut down during a triggered state.  So we physiologically cannot access the parts of our brain where compassionate communication is stored.

So those are some big limitations.  And right now I’m feeling a little scared that I’ve scared away all my readers by laying those limitations out so clearly.  But now the second part of my answer: “these tools can still help you out in these situations.”

For the first limitation, if you notice that someone isn’t hearing what you’re actually saying then it means they aren’t present with you, and that they’re probably triggered about something.  So I’d recommend empathizing with them.  Remember, empathy isn’t the same thing as agreeing.  Empathizing is merely listening with warmth, presence, and acceptance of who they are and how they see the world.  So if you can listen in a way that shows you care, that brings you into connection with the other person, then you are both going to be in the present moment.  And once you’re both in the present moment, you have a greater chance that the other person can actually hear what you are saying.

For the second limitation, remember that everyone is responsible for their own feelings, needs, and behavior.  So if the other person wants to choose to act in a mean, aggressive manner, and you know you’ve communicated with honesty and compassion, then this other person’s reaction has really nothing to do with you, it is really all about them.  You are not responsible for their experience, and you do not need to internalize their attacks and abusive language.

For the last limitation, you’ll need to cool off alone before you can reengage your compassionate communication skills with this other person.  And the best way I know how to calm down is self-empathy.  Connecting with your own feelings and needs can help you release tension, discharge heavy emotions, and become more connected to yourself.  Self-empathy helps you cool off so you can better reach out to the other person with compassion.

Finally, remember that compassionate communication doesn’t promise that you will always get your way, or that all conflicts from here on out will go smoothly.  They won’t.  Compassionate communication merely offers a different way for you to engage in conflict.  And if you engage in conflict, and all aspects of conflict including the limitations, with honesty and compassion a new process will be born.

February 21, 2016Permalink

Blaming

I want to share this fun cartoon of a small snippet of a Brene Brown talk.  The cartoon is about blaming.  Blaming is pointing the finger and identifying who or what is responsible when something goes wrong.

Blaming is an attractive activity.  If I can figure out who or what is responsible for my plans being ruined, my day being thrown off, or for a terrible tragedy then I can establish a sense of control and blaming can distract me from the pain I am experiencing.

For example, on Saturday (the day I’m writing this) I was supposed to go to an anti-Racism workshop for the Episcopal Church.  I was supposed to be one of the small group facilitators.  But then that morning, as I was getting ready to go I pinched a nerve.  The entire left side of my back had shooting pain any time I twisted or lifted my left arm.  My neck and shoulder had a sharp pain anytime I turned my head to the left.  And this happened 10 minutes before I had to leave.

I felt powerless.  There was no way I could drive safely to the event (30 – 40 minutes away on the highway), so I had to call someone to go and tell one of the organizers of the event that I couldn’t make it.  I couldn’t call any of the organizers myself because I didn’t have any of their cell numbers.  I felt utterly embarrassed and ashamed.

But it was so hard for me to acknowledge this as a strange coincidence.  I needed to find someone to blame, to discharge my shame of having to cancel.  So first I blamed the organizers, “Why do they have to schedule these trainings so early in the morning on a Saturday!  If they had just scheduled it to start a few hours later, I’d be able to make it just fine.”

Then I blamed myself, “I am such a baby!  I don’t have any pain tolerance at all.  If I just would exercise more often this would NEVER happen to me.”

Then I (comically) blamed God “Clearly God did this to me because for whatever reason she doesn’t want me to go to this training.”

But all this blaming doesn’t do me any good.  It was really a waste of time, it pushed me deeper into resentment and anger at myself, and it alienated me from those around me.  So please, let’s drop the blaming, the point of the finger.  Can we stop looking for who or what is at fault, and take a look inside of ourselves at the pain we are feeling?

February 6, 2016Permalink

Understanding Privilege

I have been born with a tremendous amount of privilege.  I am a straight white male, who grew up in an upper middle-class, Christian home.  All of these different accidental properties of my identity and upbringing carry with them unearned advantages.  These unearned advantages are called “privilege”.  I do not feel guilty about this, nor should I.  Part of the very definition of “privilege” is “unearned”.  It is merely an accident, chance, that I got this life, and not the life of a lesbian black woman, born in a Muslim home in the projects.

We need to understand the dynamic of privilege, and the corresponding dynamic of oppression, if we are going to make any progress in communicating across racial, class, gender, and sexual orientation lines.  There are many more dimensions of privilege and oppression, but for simplicity I am going to focus on these four dimensions.

Many people who experience privilege shy away from this conversation.  Often out of guilt, fear of being attacked, or fear of being characterized as “bad people”.  But the truth is: if you are white, male, straight, and middle class or above, then you have privilege; and it isn’t your fault.  Being white means that growing up I never experienced racism, I was taught my ethnic group’s history in school, I was always able to socialize with people of my own race, and the heroes in movies were always my same race.  Being male means that growing up I was encouraged to speak up, to take charge, to dream big and reach for the stars, and that I was special.  Being straight means that growing up my sexual preferences were always catered to, and portrayed positively in media, I was not teased or harassed simply because I loved someone of my own gender.  Being raised upper middle class meant that I grew up in a household with lots of books, all my physical needs were met and never in jeopardy, and my family was able to send me to summer camps and support me in participating in extra-curricular activities.

So as you can see, being born with privilege isn’t “bad”…in fact these are all wonderful things.  Things I would want for every person on the planet.  And that’s just the thing, not everyone on the planet gets to have these advantages.

So while privilege in and of itself is not “bad”, being unaware of one’s privilege is in fact destructive.  I as a male was taught to speak up, compete, and win.  I was taught that I was smart and capable, and I was encouraged to be assertive.  If I am not aware of that upbringing, then when I enter into a dialogue with a woman I am more likely to interrupt her, talk over her, and look down on her for not being “strong enough”…or I might look down on her for being “too aggressive” and “not lady like” when she does speak up for herself, and possibly interrupt me.

Those who experience oppression are not angry with the people who are privileged.  They are angry with the system of privilege & oppression.  They are angry about people who are unaware of their privilege, and out of that lack of self-awareness they hurt, ignore, or undermine those around them.  It isn’t wrong for you to have grown up privileged.  But if you don’t get honest about what privilege you grew up with, then your ability to communicate with those who grew up with oppression will be limited.  If you don’t examine how privilege has shaped and molded your behavior and outlook, then you won’t be able to see the ways in which your own behavior ignores, hurts, or undermines the experience of those around you.

Here are some questions to help you get started in exploring what privilege you have:

  1. Is your skin color white?  If so, how has growing up as a member of the “dominant” racial group served you?
  2. Are you male?  If so, what messages did you hear growing up male that encouraged you?
  3. Are you straight?  If so, how has your life been made easier by heterosexual imagery being reflected in the media?
  4. Are you, or were you raised, middle class or above?  If so, what differences did it make in your upbringing that your family had the financial means to create a womb of comfort around you?

Again, it does not help anyone for you to feel guilty or shame for having privilege.  It is okay.  There’s nothing you did to earn these advantages.  But your work now is to become more aware of your privilege, so you can be a better communicator, and a better ally, to those who grew up differently from you.

January 25, 2016Permalink

Empathizing with Your Shadow Side

We all have a shadow side.  A side of you that you don’t want others to see or notice.  I know I have a shadow side.  There are opinions, feelings, and parts of my personality which I don’t want other people to see.  And it’s not just that I don’t want other people to see them, I also judge those parts of myself as “wrong”, “bad”, or “deficient”

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Let me give you an example.  I carry around a lot of anxiety.  Before any workshop or class, when waiting for a new client, when plans suddenly change, when something surprises me, when I have a perceived conflict with someone, when I’m not doing something “productive”, in trying to write the previous sentence my first reaction is to worry.

Now most of us wish our shadow side would just go away.  And we wish that not only because we judge it as “bad” but also because we have had some experiences where this aspect of ourselves has made our lives more difficult.  It’s messed up relationships, prevented us from being fully ourselves, and it’s made it hard to experience full joy.

And so you and I judge and evaluate this shadow side as “bad” because we think that the only way to get it to go away, to leave us alone, is to attack it.  But what you and I fail to notice is that by attacking this shadow side it only grows stronger and becomes more intense.

One way to respond to my anxiety is to say to myself:  “Come on, I need to toughen up.  I’m stressing myself out and it’s going to ruin the class.”  When I judge and put down my anxiety in this way, it only amplifies the stress.  This leads to a vicious cycle of suffering where my shadow side gets triggered, I negatively judge it, this causes more intense feelings of stress and shame, which results in even more of my shadow side getting triggered.  This cycle has never worked to help anyone heal or grow.

My other choice is to say to myself: “I can tell that I’m anxious and scared…I’m really wanting people to get something out of this class, I really want to help these people, I really want to be useful.”  That way of responding to my anxiety is empathizing with it.  And when I respond to my anxiety with compassion instead of judgment my anxiety calms down and I stay in charge.  I escape the cycle of suffering.

So let me break down what it means to empathize with your shadow side:

  1. Notice how you feel emotionally when your shadow aspect goes off.  Are you angry?  Scared?  Overwhelmed?  Stressed?  Sad?
  2. Notice what it is your shadow aspect is valuing.  Do you want to be safe?  Do you want love?  Do you want recognition?  Do you want to belong?  Do you want peace?
  3. Now reflect those feelings and values back to your shadow aspect.  Do so in a loving, understanding way.

Let’s say your shadow aspect is “being lazy” & “procrastinating”.  Is that part of you wanting to lie around the house all day looking for rest and comfort because it feels burdened and tired?  Or maybe your feeling scared because you want approval for the work you do?

Maybe your shadow aspect wants to be “perfect”.  Is that part of you wanting to be liked and loved and feels scared or sad that you might not be?  Is that part of you really wanting control and predictability?  Maybe you feel excited because you want to be recognized?

Maybe your shadow side is your short temper.  Are you angry because you want peace and harmony?  Are you frustrated and overwhelmed because you’re looking for respect?

You’ll have to explore for yourself what beautiful feelings and values your shadow side has, and you may need some support in exploring that.  And when you find it, and when every time your shadow side pops up you can view it with compassion and love, that is when you will no longer be so limited by this shadow side.

 

 

 

 

 

January 4, 2016Permalink
Free Practice Group

Twice a month I lead a free Compassionate Communication Practice Group. Open to those new and advanced students. We meet on the First and Third Monday of the month at 6 pm. We gather at 640 Hawthorn Lane in classroom 8. Classrooms are behind the church and to the left, next to the parking lot. Practice Group sessions usually run for 2 hours.

The next one will be on July 6th at 6 pm.