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Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Shared Values

This is the second post in my Relationship Series and will cover the importance of shared values in your relationship.  Values are important in your partnership because values are going to help define what is important to you as individuals and as a couple.  This doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything, but it is important that you agree on the issues that you define as most important.

We get our values from many different places.  Our parents, our communities, our beliefs, and our broader culture all help to shape our value systems. The great thing about values though, is that as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world we live in you will get to decide what your own most important values are.

When you enter into a relationship with another person, you might find that you share a lot of common values and beliefs, or you may find that you clash on some issues.  However, learning to refine and validate your own value systems will help clarify for you as a couple what is most important for your future together.

When I work with couples in therapy, we often spend time defining those shared values and learning how to use those values to strengthen the relationship and find common ground to work through conflicts. We do this by going through a few steps to explore and clarify those values. You can also work on clarifying values with your partner by processing what your most important values are, exploring how you developed those values, and deciding how important your individual values are to your relationship as a couple.

Clarifying Values

Look over the following values and number them 1 through 10 as to what is most important to you. You should do this individually, and then talk together about your responses and see if you both have similar priorities.

  • Love
  • Financial Wealth
  • Respect
  • Career Success
  • Education
  • Family
  • Power
  • Friends
  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Spirituality
  • Religion
  • Political beliefs
  • Peace
  • Fun
  • Beauty
  • Free time
  • Morals
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Stability
  • Fairness
  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Nature
  • Wisdom
  • Relaxation
  • Safety
  • Popularity
  • Intimacy
  • Trust
  • Adventure
  • Loyalty
  • Reason
  • Variety
  • Discipline
  • Self-expression
  • _________
  • _________
  • _________

 

If you share a lot of these values and rank them similarly, this means that you have a great strength in your relationship that you can use to guide you when you have conflicts.  If you find that your answers are extremely divergent, then this tells you that as a couple you may often have clashes over significant value differences, and it may be difficult to reconcile those divergent values.

How To Know What Is Important

Clarifying your own values can help you figure out if there are conflicts that you have been having as a couple that are not really in line with what your most important values are.  For example, if Peace is a really important value to you, but you find that you are having a lot of arguments over things that are less important to you than peace, then this tells you that perhaps you have been placing too much emphasis and wasting too much energy on those conflicts.

Alternatively, if you are having significant conflict over perhaps the division of chores in the home, you may discover that Fairness is really important to one or both of you. While arguing over chores may seem petty from afar, if this is a value that is not being upheld in the home, this presents an opportunity to talk as a couple about how that value can be better incorporated into your relationship so that there are fewer conflicts in this area.

The good news is that you as a couple get to decide what is most important to both of you.  Understanding what is most important to your partner as well can help you to find common ground and understand each other better, which will lead to better conflict resolution.

Where Do Your Values Come From?

Another important step in understand your shared values is to understand where your values came from.  You may have learned to value certain things because of your parent’s values, or because of certain experiences you have had in your life.

For example, if you have ever experienced poverty or economic instability in your life, this could be an important part of why financial stability is important to you. While some people may say or believe that money is not important to the relationship, you may find that your individual experiences shape why your values may be different in some areas.

You may also discover that your own values do not necessarily line up with the values that society imparts on all of us, or you might discover that while your parents may have upheld certain values when you were growing up but you no longer share all their beliefs or values.

Ask yourself what values are important for you to live by, and then ask yourself if you are actually living by those values.  If you find that you value respect, but you know that you have not always been respectful to your partner, then this is an area that you can start to work on so that you are more closely living by your own values.

Using Shared Values to Resolve Conflict

Once you have talked as a couple about what your individual and shared values are, then you can move on to discussing how to apply those values to the conflicts that you are having. Have a discussion about how any conflicts that you have had related to the values that you have decided are most important to you.

This may also mean that you recognize that a conflict you’ve had actually doesn’t reflect your values, which means that you can use that information to change how you resolve conflict in the future.

For example, let’s say an argument occurs because one partner brought home some friends late at night that their partner didn’t know or feel comfortable around.  One partner may rationalize that they should be able to bring home whomever they want to their home, and feel irritated at their partner for getting upset. However, if through a discussion they can recognize that this act didn’t live up to their shared values of safety and respect, then they may be able to better understand their partner’s discomfort at the situation. Understanding the importance of shared values and the role they play in the strength of your relationship can help you both make decisions that are a good reflection of the values you want to uphold.

No one feels good when they fall short of their own values.  We can often feel shame, embarrassment, or defensiveness when our actions do not match our own values.  Recognizing that your values are an important part of who you are and making conscious attempts with your partner to center your shared values in your relationship will help strengthen your partnership and resolve conflict in a healthier way.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For other posts in this series, check out:

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

I’m going to be starting a new series on relationships, and this will be the first post and  cover Couples Communication. I previously did a series on Cognitive Distortions that resonated with many of my readers, so this will be another series in which I will go in-depth to cover a lot of information in one area over a series of posts.  Here I will cover the 3 main communication styles and how they impact your relationship, and cover how to use assertive communication for better conflict resolution.

I have worked with countless couples in therapy, and the number 1 thing that couples come in seeking help for is communication.  This makes sense, because communication is really the cornerstone of any relationship. In fact, even when I am seeing people for individual therapy, we also often end up going over communication styles and assess what can be improved in the area of communication because it is SO important in every area of your life.

For couples, communication problems are often at the heart of so many problems that couples face.  In a relationship, the health and strength of the relationship isn’t measured by how much conflict you have with each other. All couples have some conflict, so being conflict-free isn’t the goal. The problems arise when it comes to how you resolve that conflict. When you learn to communicate well, then you can resolve conflicts in a healthy and productive way that nurtures and supports your relationship rather than in a way that tears down your bonds and causes pain and distress.

What are the 3 communication styles?

Essentially, there are 3 forms of communication, and as a couple you may both use different forms of communication during conflict, so depending on what your tendencies are as a couple both of you may need to do some work to change how you communicate with each other. The first step towards building healthier communication as a couple is learning what kind of communication style you are using and figure out whether it is healthy or if there needs to be some changes.

Communication can be broken down into these 3 styles:

  1. Passive

Passive communication is when you are attempting to let someone know how you feel without really coming out and saying it. Passive behavior can mean being avoidant and choosing NOT to discuss problems when they arise, usually because you don’t like conflict or you want to avoid an argument.  Passive communication can be giving someone the silent treatment, or it could be using non-verbal cues like rolling your eyes, crossing your arms, giving someone a mean look, or walking around the house huffing and puffing but then saying “Nothing” when your partner asks you what’s wrong.

  1. Aggressive

Aggressive behavior is pretty clear when you see it: yelling, screaming, slamming doors, violence, insults, inappropriate sarcasm meant to cut the other person down, condescending comments. This way of communicating is harmful and damaging to relationships, and damages intimacy and the mental health of both people in the partnership.

  1. Assertive

Assertive communication is open, honest, and direct when it comes to expressing your thoughts and feelings. This kind of communication feels good because you are expressing yourself and making your points, without attacking your partner or shutting down their thoughts and feelings. Assertive communication is about standing up for your thoughts, feelings, and rights, without trampling on your partner’s thoughts, feelings, or rights.

What does it mean to be Passive-Aggressive?

Some people use the term passive-aggressive to describe themselves or others, but I dislike that term, because what it really amounts to is using passive behavior or communication to convey an aggressive sentiment or emotion.  When people say someone is being passive-aggressive, they usually just mean the person did something passive, but they meant it in an aggressive way.  Ultimately it’s passive behavior, and it’s still unhealthy for relationships.

What Does Unhealthy Communication Look Like?

Unhealthy communication is either passive or aggressive. These two communication styles are often part of a cycle that builds up over time and conflicts start to sap the energy and joy out of your relationship. You don’t want conflict so you avoid sensitive issues. Then resentment builds up until one or both partners explode.

Passive behavior is unhealthy in relationships because it does not resolve problems, but instead leads to resentment building up as emotions are stuffed down and problems are ignored. This often results in the “volcano effect”, where resentment and hurt feelings builds up over time, but is never addressed, until something triggers an explosion, and then aggressive behavior breaks through and there’s an unhealthy, aggressive argument.

Aggressive communication also doesn’t resolve conflict, because when you are aggressive towards your partner, the other person will do one of two things: they will feel intimidated and shut down, because they are trying to stop or avoid the aggressive behavior, or they will feel threatened and get defensive, also becoming aggressive and escalating the situation further. Now you’re both yelling at each other and nothing is getting resolved. Many couples who argue in this way find themselves highly stressed, often hurt, and insecure about the status of the relationship because it feels so volatile.

Aggressive behavior hurts your partner and reflects poorly on you if you are the one engaging in this communication style. It also has the effect of damaging the intimacy in your relationship and breaking down your emotional connection to each other. It’s harder to trust your partner when they are aggressive, and conflict doesn’t get resolved because the focus ends up on stopping the aggressive behavior rather than resolving the original problem.  Aggression also contributes to passive avoidance, because when one person is trying to avoid the aggressive attacks, they do not bring up issues that they have because they are walking on eggshells all the time.

What Is Healthy Communication for Couples?

Healthy communication for couples happens when both people learn and practice assertive communication with each other.  This means addressing problems when they come up and understanding how situations impact each other as a couple. When you both practice assertive communication, then when conflict arises you have a discussion, not an argument.  Assertive communication doesn’t come easily to everyone, but it is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Assertive communication involves first understanding your own feelings and being able to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a way that is open, direct, and honest. This happens when you take the time to reflect on how something your partner did or said made you feel, and then focusing on communicating your feelings, rather than just criticizing your partner’s behavior.

Often the problem is not, for example, that your partner intended to do or say something to upset you, but the way something happened may leave you feeling disrespected, hurt, or confused. It is important to communicate how their behavior or words made you feel, by saying something such as “When you said ……, I felt…..” rather than just ignoring the hurtful comment or responding with aggression such as “Don’t you dare you speak to me like that!”

How Do I Use Assertive Communication with my Partner?

There are many opportunities to practice assertive communication. You likely already do use assertive communication at times, but you may also alternate between passive or aggressive communication depending on the dynamics in your relationship.  Focusing on practicing assertive conflict resolution will benefit all your interactions over time, and you will become more confident in how you express yourself.

Practicing assertive communication also enables you to keep the focus on the conflict, rather than your behavior. Too often, partners can blame each other for their behaviors while arguing, which enables the original problem to slip out of focus while the argument turns into who is in the wrong for their response to the conflict.

To practice assertive communication, start to use some of the following statements when you want to discuss a conflict or situation that needs to be resolved or expressed:

  • I feel hurt when you say….
  • It is not fair that……
  • I feel resentful when….
  • My biggest fear is…
  • I felt let down when you….
  • I didn’t deserve…
  • I’m most angry when…..
  • I want you to understand that….
  • I accept that you…
  • I hope that you understand…
  • I need to ask you to….
  • I need to tell you that….
  • I feel scared when….
  • I feel supported when you…

 

These are all the beginnings of assertive statements that center your thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Using these kinds of statements will help you to communicate more assertively, but it will not stop your partner from reacting either passively or aggressively.  Both people in a relationship need to agree to work on using assertive communication for you to transition from having arguments to having discussions.

However, you don’t have to wait for your partner to get on board to start practicing your own assertiveness. You still have a responsibility to be healthy even if your partner doesn’t want to change. However, if your partner is not willing to engage in finding solutions to how you both communicate, then it might be time to evaluate whether you both want the same things out of your relationship.

Ultimately, practicing your communication with your partner will help you to become more assertive and confident in other areas of your life.  Your partner is who you want to feel the safest with though, when it comes to expressing your feelings, so make sure that you are making healthy communication with your partner a priority.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship” and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Do you Apologize Too Much?

Do you Apologize Too Much?

There is a tendency that some people have sometimes to apologize for things that do not require an apology, or to apologize for things that were not their fault.  This is a habit that comes from a place of wanting to be considerate of other people, which is a good trait and a good quality to have.  However, when we over-apologize, it can have the effect making you feel responsible for things that you shouldn’t be responsible for, and this pattern can contribute to a lack of confidence in how you feel and how you come across to other people.

Some people are so accustomed to apologizing for everything that happens, that they feel awkward when they make the effort to NOT apologize when it’s not needed. This can be a people-pleasing tendency that has become an ingrained habit. Other times it may be a response to anxiety or fear of judgement, but it can manifest itself in ways that merely serve to contribute to overall anxiety. The tendency to apologize for things when you have done nothing wrong may make you feel like you are in a constant state of needing to attend to other people’s feelings and comfort, leaving you feeling as though your own feelings and comfort do not matter.

What’s the Problem with Apologizing Too Much?

There is research that suggests that women tend to apologize more not because they are too sensitive or because men have more ego strength, but because women tend to perceive more wrongdoing in their own actions, whereas men tend to perceive smaller offenses as not worthy of requiring an apology.  In other words, women tend to judge their own behaviors more harshly, leading them to find more scenarios in which they feel an apology is merited. Over-apologizing is not a trait only women experience, but it may be more likely to be true if you are a woman, particularly one who has been taught to attend to other people’s feelings more than your own.

Here are some scenarios in which you may have become accustomed to apologizing, but that do not actually require an apology:

  • Expressing remorse for something that was out of your control
  • Apologizing for being in the way when someone else bumps into you
  • Apologizing for being offended at something someone else has done to you
  • Apologizing for having feelings or for crying when you are upset
  • Apologizing when someone else interrupts you
  • Apologizing for making a simple request such as asking the time or a small favor
  • Apologizing for apologizing

All of these situations are scenarios in which either someone else should actually give an apology, or in which there is no need for an apology at all because there has been no offense committed.

For example, have you ever been confiding in a friend about a painful experience, and then when you started to cry, you apologized to your friend for crying? This is an unfortunately common reaction that many people have when they start to cry, and the implication is that you have done something wrong by becoming emotional when talking about a painful experience. However, in this situation your friend is probably not offended at all that you started to cry, and in fact you have done nothing wrong; you are  reacting in a perfectly appropriate way to an expression of your emotions.  Why is an apology required? For disturbing the peace? No, you do not need to apologize in this situation.

When you begin to realize that you do not have to apologize for reacting to situations in perfectly normal ways, you will start to feel more confident in yourself. However, if you start to practice asking yourself whether an apology is needed before you issue one, you might find that you feel strange or uncomfortable when you stop yourself from apologizing.

Isn’t This Just Being Polite?

No, apologizing when it is not needed is not a form of being polite. Some people have this tendency because they have been taught or socialized to believe that they should always make sure other people are comfortable, even when they are personally uncomfortable.  This is true in those cases when someone bumps into you awkwardly, but then you apologize for being in the way.  Sure, you’re trying to just be polite and diffuse the awkwardness of the situation.

However, this is almost an invitation for people to walk all over you. Maybe this will not manifest immediately in the present moment, but over time, this tendency to always present yourself as the one who’s in the way can begin to undermine your own confidence in yourself and shows others that you are not going to stand up for yourself when someone has wronged you. This is most problematic in the way that this habit contributes to your overall demeanor around others. It doesn’t mean someone is going to start bullying you immediately, but over time it contributes to the perception that you will not fault others when they take advantage of or otherwise harm you. You can be polite and kind to others without apologizing for other people’s offenses.

The more assertive way to handle it when someone else bumps into you is to wait for them to apologize to you, which is what would be truly polite, and then accepting the apology with grace by saying simply “Thanks, but I’m okay”, or “You’re excused”. The thanks is for the apology, the reference to being okay or excusing the other person is a verbal forgiveness for the offense of bumping into you. If someone does not apologize for bumping into you, you can either choose to ignore it, or say “You’re excused”.  This way the implication is clear that you are not the one who has done something wrong, but you are gracefully excusing the error regardless of the offender’s reaction.

Practicing this new habit in more inconsequential situations such as an accidental bump in a social setting will help you gain confidence for when you need to stand up for yourself in more consequential situations.  When you really need to speak up for yourself because of unfair treatment in the workplace, or when a friend has said something hurtful to you, you will be better equipped to handle the scenario confidently because you have been practicing accepting responsibility only for the things you are actually responsible for, and not letting others off the hook for their own offenses by taking unnecessary responsibility.

When Is an Apology Really Required?

Genuine remorse is a different experience altogether.  When you have done something for which you are truly remorseful, you should apologize. A genuine apology is an art in itself, and giving a sincere apology is an important part of mending relationships and living up to your own values. A genuine apology should first be sincere, it should explain why what you did was wrong, it should include acceptance of responsibility, and it should include an offer to make amends if possible.

You might need to apologize for snapping at your friend when you were actually upset about something happening at work, or for being late to an appointment where someone was waiting on you, or for not following through with a commitment you made to help with a project. Being able to verbalize a sincere apology is an important skill to have, and can go a long way towards reducing hostility in a relationship or for preserving your reputation.

However, when you apologize for things that do not require an apology, it can undermine your confidence and leave you feeling powerless when others take advantage of you. If this feels like a familiar situation to you, start by beginning to notice all the times you apologize, and begin asking yourself whether that was necessary.  Then start by trying to reverse this habit in those smaller, inconsequential scenarios, so that you can begin to build confidence in your ability to assess when an apology is really needed.  Just taking these small steps can go a long way in boosting your overall confidence and helping you to become a more assertive person.

9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People

9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People

Everyone is going to come across people in their life that are just difficult to deal with.  There are many different kinds of difficult people, and in order to have a healthy mindset and not let these kinds of people bring you down or derail you from your goals, it is helpful to be able to identify these kinds of people and learn how to manage their personalities.

Difficult people can make it harder to stay positive and get things accomplished, and they can occupy more of your mental energy than they deserve.  In order to combat these kinds of people, you need to first identify what kind of personality you are dealing with, and then have a strategy to cope with them when they come your way.

First, understand that difficult people are the way that they are because they have learned that behaving in a certain way works in their favor in one way or another.  Being difficult may mean that others do not criticize them, or that they get their way more often. They may have found that attacking others helps them avoid being attacked themselves, or they may feel more powerful when others acquiesce to their demands. Whatever their reason, they are usually immune to the normal ways of communicating with others because they have found a method that helps them feel better about themselves or get more of what they want.

Next, make sure you know what NOT to do when dealing with difficult people:

  1. DON’T take their behavior personally. Other people’s behavior is always about them, it’s not about you. Chances are they treat everyone this way, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are being personally attacked, even if it seems that way.
  2. DON’T try to mimic their behavior or beat them at their own games. This will usually add fuel to the fire and just stimulate more conflict.  Moreover, difficult people can be very manipulative and could use your actions against you.  This tactic rarely turns out well.
  3. DON’T try to appease them by trying to make them happy all the time to avoid conflict. Difficult people will tire of you when they figure out you won’t fall for their games, but if you feed them what they want, they will always come up with more demands to make.
  4. DON’T try to change them by rationalizing or appealing to their empathy. You cannot change others, you can only change yourself and how you respond to people and situations.
  5. DON’T give up. You will get better in time with dealing with difficult people when you become more confident in yourself and your abilities. This is about not giving up on yourself. You are free to give up on trying to change difficult people, though.

Finally, here are some tips to deal with a few different kinds of difficult people:

  1. Negative Complainers: Complainers are people who have a hard time trying to find the positive in anything. When they get something good, they find a way to find fault with it. When they receive a compliment, they shoot it down.  These kinds of people can be exhausting to deal with because they constantly need other people to prop them up and boost their ego.  They typically do not have much confidence in themselves, and they use other people to make up for this by constantly requiring the people around them to make up for their negativity. To deal with this kind of person, avoid arguing with them about their own terrible outlook.  Instead, respond with something like “It’s too bad you feel that way. When I feel like that I usually try to look for the positive”.  Don’t give them the solutions.  This reinforces their behavior.  Instead, turn their negativity around by encouraging them to come up with their own solutions.  If they can’t, just repeat that it is unfortunate that they feel so stuck.
  2. Aggressive People: Aggressive people try to intimidate others into doing what they want. This usually serves to keep attention off of them so that they don’t have to change. They expect that others will be intimidated into silence or will respond back with aggression, which helps them avoid responsibility.  The approach to take with these people is to stay calm, refuse to be intimidated, and remain assertive with your viewpoint. When you remain calm while they are losing their cool, they end up looking like the crazy person, and you look rational and level. They will eventually run out of steam, or get frustrated with their inability to make you break your calm, and they will have to calm down.  The key here is not to let their behavior influence yours.  I know it will feel difficult, but this is why you will gain the upper hand eventually. When others learn that they can’t bully you, they will eventually stop trying.  However, there may be times when you need to set boundaries by saying something like “I’m not going to engage further in this conversation until you are able to remain calm.  I’ll talk to you later.” Then, end it. Refuse to engage further until they stop the aggressive behavior.
  3. Snipers: Snipers are similar to aggressive people, but they use more subtle messaging and methods to attack you. They tend to be hostile and they make people uncomfortable by making snarky remarks, sarcasm, disapproving facial expressions, and other innuendoes to try and intimidate people.  This makes them feel more powerful and boosts their ego because inside they are actually insecure and need to make others feel small in order to feel good about themselves. The way to combat this kind of person is two-fold.  One way is direct confrontation. This requires that you are confident in yourself and your assertive skills.  You might say something like “That comment sounds like you’re making fun of me, and I don’t appreciate it”.  Some people will be so shocked by your ability to pull this off that it will stop their behavior. Another approach with this kind of person is the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach. No matter how rude and nasty they are, just respond with kindness and sincerity. Sometimes this approach works because kindness is disarming. It is hard for most people to be unkind to someone who is always kind to them.  This won’t work with everyone, so choose your approach wisely.  This is not about being fake, it’s actually about being sincere.  If you approach all people with love no matter who they are or how they treat you, you are being true to your own values, if those are your values. The kindness approach works for me personally, because it is literally just easier for me to be kind to others than to be snarky, but that’s just my personality.  I’m good at being assertive too when I need to be, but kindness is my default, so that’s where I often try to start.
  4. Avoiders/Silent People: Some people do not have the assertive skills to deal with confrontation in a healthy way, so they will avoid you when they are upset, or they will use passive tactics such as giving you sullen looks, or respond to your questions with “I don’t know” or “Nothing’s wrong”. These people can be hard to deal with because they require a lot of your emotional labor to figure out what is wrong, or they require you to be the one to fix things all the time when there is a conflict.  These people get away with not doing the work to fix problems by not talking or refusing to act.  It works because other people who are uncomfortable with silence or tension will do the work to fix things. The approach to take with these people is not to play into their avoidance. The sooner you confront the issue, the better. If you know what the issue is, ask questions that can’t be avoided, such as “I can see that you’re upset, so let’s talk about what just happened”. Calling them out on their behavior right away in an assertive but friendly tone can help resolve problems so they do not fester.  If, however, they refuse to engage or talk, then let it go and ignore all further behaviors.  If you try to talk to someone and they will not engage, then they just have to sit with their frustration and silence because they made that choice.  You do not have to continue to try and coax them into talking or go through enormous effort to cheer them up or get them to talk to you. Choose to go on with your life or your day and do not take responsibility for the inaction or avoidance that others choose.  When they see that their mood is not going to ruin yours, it becomes less effective to avoid talking.

 

You will not always get the outcomes you want when dealing with difficult people.  As stated before, you cannot change other people, you can only change how you react to them.  But difficult people do not have to ruin your mood, your day, or your life if you choose not to let them.  There may be some situations you cannot avoid, such as when you have a toxic boss or a family member that likes to ruin Thanksgiving.  But remember that your power lies in you being in control of your own behavior and your own reactions, and living true to your own values.

 

Are you an Empath?

Are you an Empath?

Human beings vary in their degree of sensitivity, by which I mean that there are some people who are highly sensitive and who feel emotions very intensely, whereas there are others who display little sensitivity towards others and who also do not seem to be as affected by their environment or the people around them.  Empaths are people who are empathetic and sympathetic towards others, and also experience the world as a highly sensitive person.

From Sociopaths to Empaths

There appears to be about 3-5 percent of the human population that fall under the category of sociopathic, which does not mean that they are all murderers, but does mean that they operate their lives in a way by which their primary concern is always about themselves, and they do not have the ability to see things from the perspective of others. They may feel very little true guilt or shame about doing harmful things to others. Another 1 percent is considered psychopathic, with higher percentages of both sociopaths and psychopaths found among criminal populations.

There is another end of the spectrum though, who are rather the opposite of the sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists, which is those who are highly sensitive individuals, sometimes referred to as Empaths.  Interestingly, highly sensitive people comprise about 20% of the population.  Empaths are a kind of highly sensitive person that extends their ability to experience the feelings deeply of others as well as themselves. Empaths are people who identify with and feel intense empathy towards others. This does not mean that they are inherently fragile or overly-emotional.  It means that they feel things deeply, think about things deeply, and take on the emotions and experiences of others as their own.

Who Are the Empaths?

Being highly sensitive is a temperament trait, not a disorder or a problem that needs to be solved. In fact, it is a trait that likely has some benefit as a survival trait, because high sensitivity exists in over 100 different species of animals as well.  For example, certain dogs may be more sensitive and empathetic, which makes them amazing companion animals and also great therapy dogs.  These animals, as well as highly sensitive people, are very responsive to small changes in their environment.

Empaths often find themselves worrying not only about their own problems and experiences, but the problems and experiences of their friends and families, people they may not even know, and the problems of the world at large.  While many people do think and care about these things, empaths tend to have a more intense personal emotional response to these things, and may find themselves exhausted at caring so much about everything.  Both men and women can be empaths, and highly sensitive individuals exist in similar rates in both men and women.

Empaths typically have the following characteristics as part of their general personality and constitution:

  • Highly emotionally responsive, ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others
  • Easily empathize with animals
  • May cry easily, even at seemingly innocuous moments, commercials or movies
  • Tend to be creative and curious, with a desire to learn about and understand the world
  • Susceptible to over-stimulation, such as crowds, loud noises, or over-work
  • May be inclined towards caring professions, such as nursing, mental health, or teaching
  • May burn-out easily and need reclusive time to recover
  • Tend to observe quietly and take things in
  • Mentally process information deeply and thoroughly

Empaths may often feel different than others, feel misunderstood, or have a hard time understanding why others in the world care so little compared to them. This can lead to a tendency towards introversion, although not all empaths or highly sensitive people are introverted. Many empaths have been told throughout their lives that their way of perceiving the world is wrong, or that they need to “get over” their feelings.  However, recognizing that you are a highly sensitive person or an Empath may help you to understand more about what your unique needs are by learning to value the traits that you have and use them as a strength.

What do Empaths Need?

Empaths tend to work well independently, and also work well in settings that are one-on-one with another person.  Workplace environments with a lot of people, or that are very noisy and simulating may leave empaths feeling drained rather than energized. Socializing may lead to similar experiences.  Knowing that certain environments will feel over-whelming and lead to feeling unwell may help empaths make decisions about career paths and socialization choices that will lead to more fulfilling experiences.

Empaths also may need to have down-time in between experiences that are overwhelming.  For example, after going to a party one evening, an empath may need to make sure they schedule time for solitude in order to recover and regain energy.  They may similarly need to schedule down-time after situations that require a lot of emotional energy, such as caregiving for others, volunteering for charity work, or even engaging with friends to support them.

Knowing if you are an empath may help you understand how to express your needs more assertively.  Empaths may often have difficulty asking for help or even saying “No” when others request help from them.  Their tendency is to try to solve problems for others, but this may sometimes result in the empathic person neglecting their own needs.  Learning to say no to some obligations or requests for help, and learning to schedule time for yourself in order to recover your sense of energy can have a positive effect on your overall mood and improve your ability to interact with the world.

As an Empath, recognize that your highly sensitive qualities are a strength, both to yourself and your community.  Sometimes, you may wish that you could not care as much because of how deeply everything affects you.  However, the world needs highly sensitive people who are attuned to others and who care about how others think and feel.  Empaths have likely long been the healers and the nurturers in human communities, and have been valuable to the societies they live in.  However, empaths can also learn to care as much about themselves as they do others, which they certainly deserve due to the value they bring to other’s lives.

How to Take a Compliment

How to Take a Compliment

When someone gives you a compliment, you have a choice about how to receive it.  I will say up front that this is a problem that I have personally struggled with at times in my life, but have worked to change over time.  Most of us intend to be gracious and appreciative when somebody compliments us, yet our responses do not always reflect that intent.  If someone compliments you, and your first instinct is to say “no that’s not true” or something else that minimizes and downplays the recognition, you may want to reflect on whether you are being truly gracious in that situation.

When you minimize, negate, or dismiss a compliment that you have received you are probably trying to convey a sense of humility and avoid looking as though you have been trying to call attention to yourself.  There is a good reason why you are trying to convey that message.  Women in particular have been conditioned by society to be polite, humble, and appreciative in every situation, and not to appear to be braggadocios or self-congratulatory, at the risk of being labeled stuck-up.  Men are not immune to these messages either, but they also are more likely to be conditioned to have confidence in themselves and to take credit for their accomplishments.  Regardless of gender, though, when you regularly dismiss any positive things people say to or about you, you are doing yourself a disservice and you may not be conveying the messages that you truly want to send.

First, consider the position of the person who has paid you a compliment.  They tried to say something nice to you, but you dismissed what they had to say because you were trying to be humble, or maybe just out of habit.  Now they have to spend additional time convincing you to receive the compliment and say “thank you” before the conversation can comfortably end.  Furthermore, if you continue to make self-deprecating statements you can end up coming across as actually fishing for compliments, because the other person is now in the position of having to refute all the negative things you are saying so that s/he does not come across as rude.  A situation in which another person tried to say something nice has now become an exercise in contradicting your negativity.  This isn’t humility, it’s insecurity.

Think also about the impression that you want to give to others.  The inability to receive a compliment graciously can have the effect of making you look insecure and perhaps even incompetent.  When you constantly refute positive things that others say about you, people may start to believe that you don’t want or deserve the accolades.  If other people see something positive in you, don’t try to convince them otherwise! That only ends up reinforcing any negative feelings you may have about yourself in the eyes of others.  It’s okay to take credit for the positive things you have accomplished, or feel good if you happen to be looking fierce that day.

Even small habits like dismissing compliments can have a negative impact on your overall sense of self-esteem and confidence.  However, this also means that making a small change in your habits can be a boon to your confidence.  It can be challenging to graciously receive a compliment when you have been in the habit of dismissing them.  Luckily, practicing this small change is easy and simple once you’ve recognized the problem.   If appropriate, you can give credit to others who may have helped you with whatever the accomplishment was that you have been recognized for.  Do not say it was all somebody else’s doing, though, because that again minimizes your contribution.  Above all, avoid negating what the other person has said, or arguing about whether the compliment was deserved.  The best, and most gracious way to receive a compliment is simply to say “Thank you”.