Why Having Mixed Feelings Is Not a Bad Thing
Have you ever experienced contrasting emotions or ‘mixed feelings’ toward something or someone? Have you ever had a hard time making a decision because you had felt both positive and negative emotions toward the decision? Maybe you felt trapped, stuck, torn by two opposing forces?
If your answer is yes, what you have experienced is called ambivalence. It surely isn’t pleasant, but it’s an inevitable part of the human experience. It’s not uncommon for people to think things like:
“I have a great job opportunity, but I love my current job. It feels like, whatever I decide – to stay at my current job or to accept this new one – I’d regret it”.
“I love my husband, but I get attracted to other people. What is happening? Do I really love him?”
“My children bring me so much joy, but they often make me crazy. I want to spend time with them, but I also want them to leave me alone.”
There is nothing weird about these kinds of thoughts. People are complex beings, and with that comes the complexity of their thinking and emotions. Although we would like to have a perfectly clear picture of what we want and how we feel at all times, because of this complexity, it is not always possible.
Ambivalence is a state of internal conflict, experiencing both positive and negative thoughts and feelings about the same person or issue at the same time.
We all experience mixed feelings from time to time; it’s an inseparable part of human life. But it’s also an uncomfortable state, the one we often don’t know what to do with. Our minds like to be certain – that’s what helps us feel safe – and ambivalence brings just the opposite of that. Having seemingly contradicting feelings toward something can make us anxious and torn between options.
So, how do you get rid of ambivalence quickly and effectively?
A short answer is: you don’t and you shouldn’t. Instead, you learn to deal with it.
Ambivalence Is Not a Problem – Intolerance for Ambivalence Is
We, humans, are complex beings who walk around trying to put each other into neat little boxes – good/bad, right/wrong, mean/kind, etc. We are prone to black and white kind of thinking, trying to categorize people and experiences. This is normal to a certain extent – we are trying to quickly make sense of what is happening around us and predict what to expect. Simplifying life like this can be useful – in today’s fast-paced, over-stimulating world, our ability to filter, reduce, and simplify can help us properly function. However, if we are not careful or aware of this kind of thinking, it can carry an emotional cost.
The problem arises when we don’t know how to deal with mixed feelings. We say to ourselves: “These two things can’t go together, so which one will I choose? Which of these realities is “truer”? Which one wins, and which one will I deny and minimize?”
Extreme intolerance for ambivalence is called “splitting”. It refers to an inability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, and views of other people and oneself. People who use “splitting” see the world in absolute terms, without any room for shades of gray. For them, depending on the situation, people are seen as “perfect” or “total failures”, something “always” or “never” goes right, etc. They seem to not be able to integrate the idea that, what we often consider as “good” or “bad” traits, can exist in the same object. This, as you can imagine, can cause problems in relationships. It makes keeping long-term, stable, healthy relationships almost impossible, and the ability to optimally regulate own emotions and moods incredibly difficult.
The problem, then, is not ambivalence itself, but our intolerance for ambivalence.
Having Mixed Feelings Is Completely Natural
What’s true is that we can hold multiple emotions and opinions at once, even the ones that look contradictory on the surface. They can exist together without canceling each other out. Emotions are states that come and go; they are not permanent. Having both positive and negative feelings towards a person and/or a situation is completely natural.
- love your children dearly AND still feel overwhelmed or angry with them.
- feel like you want to spend more time with your partner AND need some time alone.
- love someone AND know it’s not healthy to keep them in your life.
- compassionately understand what led someone to do the things they did AND still hold them accountable for their behaviour.
- believe in yourself AND still be afraid of failure.
- grieve AND still hold space for joy.
Being able to see and accept that people, circumstances, and situations, as a whole, contain both “good” and “bad”, is one of the defining features of mental health.
Having tolerance for our mixed emotions is beneficial for several reasons.
First, when we accept that we can have multiple, seemingly opposite emotions at the same time, we don’t invest so much energy in suppressing some emotions or trying to explain which of these are true and which are not. Instead, we can re-focus this energy toward accepting our experience, understanding ourselves, and making better decisions about complex life issues.
Second, when we accept our experience instead of trying to repress or run away from it, we can have a deeper understanding of ourselves and make better decisions about complex life issues. A straightforwardly positive or negative attitude toward something has a clear message: approach or avoid. With mixed feelings, we have the opportunity to review our goals and values and reflect on our beliefs. One study showed that mixed emotions are a sign of emotional depth, not indecision. It shows the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, which is often a reflection of emotional intelligence.
Third, intolerance to ambivalence is a relationship killer. One of the key elements of mature, healthy relationships is accepting the other person as a whole. We don’t have to like all aspects of someone’s personality to love them; in fact, it’s quite impossible. Mature love means being able to see different traits of another, to acknowledge that we feel positive and negative emotions toward these traits, and still love, appreciate, and choose this person. If we are not able to integrate both “good” and “bad” traits of another person into a whole, we may have an idealistic picture of what relationships should look like. This can create unrealistically high expectations, lead to “on” and “off” relationship dynamics, and put both individuals through emotional and behavioural roller coasters.
One Simple Tip For Dealing With Mixed Feelings
One way to do start building tolerance for ambivalence is to acknowledge that two seemingly opposing thoughts or emotions can exist in our mind at the same time. They don’t have to cancel each other out – make some room for both of them and, like a curious scientist, try to observe them without judgment.
What you can also do, then, is make a simple shift in language – replace BUT with AND. When we use BUT, we are implying that the two things between which the word BUT stands cancel each other out. However, when we use AND, we make room for all emotions.
For example, consider the difference between these two sentences:
“I love my husband but he makes me so angry sometimes”
“I love my husband and he makes me so angry sometimes”
Notice how the first has a worried, unresolved connotation. The air around the second one is, on the other hand, altogether different. One doesn’t negate the other; you get angry at your partner sometimes which doesn’t mean you don’t love him dearly. With “and” language, the tension stemming from the “but” language starts to dissipate. There are no angsty questions lurking, there are no dilemmas to resolve or apologies or justifications to be made.
Additionally, being clear with yourself about your values, about who you are, what you find important, and what you want to cherish in life can also help you resolve the state of ambivalence, or at least guide your decisions when mixed feelings are present.
Embracing ambivalence can open a whole new spectrum in your interactions with others and in understanding and accepting your own experience. Fulfillment and disappointment, love and anger, pain and pleasure, there is room for all of them. Instead of instantly labeling, we can get curious instead – about ourselves and others. With this idea in mind, with openness for all emotions, we can explore and better understand what is happening, inside and outside of us.
The world is not an either/or place; our lives are full of shades of gray.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Burton, N. (2012). Self-Deception II: Splitting. Psychology Today.
Schimmack, U. (2001). Pleasure, displeasure, and mixed feelings: Are semantic opposites mutually exclusive?. Cognition & Emotion, 15(1), 81-97.
Schneider, I. K., Novin, S., van Harreveld, F., & Genschow, O. (2021). Benefits of being ambivalent: The relationship between trait ambivalence and attribution biases. British Journal of Social Psychology, 60(2), 570-586.
Zimmerman, E. (2016). Is Ambivalence Healthy? Researchers Have Mixed Feelings. Stanford Business.
How to Repair a Relationship After a Fight
So, you and your partner just had a fight. Maybe it was around a small issue, maybe it was over something big, and maybe it was a perpetuating argument that has been repeating for months or years now. It blew up and a mixture of relationship poisons like harsh words, broken trust, shouting, contempt, criticism, silent treatment, resentment, hurt feelings, etc. left a bitter taste. But you want this partnership to continue. You want to repair your relationship, to restore connection between you and your partner, to get things back where they were or, more possibly, make them better. But at the same time, you don’t want to be hurt (again).
So, what do you do? How to heal a relationship after an argument?
According to Dr. John Gottman, most, if not all, couples argue, which is not a problem in itself. What determines the course of a relationship is how romantic partners see and handle those conflicts, how they relate to each other, and what they do after a fight to soothe and repair their relationship.
In other words, all relationships go through cycles of rupture and repair.
Ruptures in a relationship are inevitable…
When things are going well in a relationship, we feel respected, connected, and emotionally safe. We feel liked and appreciated, we are responsive to our partner’s emotions and needs, and feel like it is reciprocated. In short, we feel in tune with one another. Over time, this sense of mutual attunement contributes to building strong bonds and intimacy between people.
However, this harmonious state can be thrown off balance from time to time due to different factors, such as stress, insecurities, wrong assumptions, miscommunication, etc. We are not mind readers, no matter how finely tuned we are to each other’s moods and sensitivities. Mistakes and “misattunements” happen, and they can lead to ruptures in a relationship.
A rupture is a disruption of the emotional connection we have with a loved one. It can be small, like saying something insensitive unintentionally, or big and potentially non-negotiable, like a breach of trust. Typically, ruptures are colored with unpleasant feelings like hurt, anger, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, etc. No matter how much effort we put into a relationship, some ruptures will occur. What happens after the rupture is important. If left unaddressed and untreated, resentment can build and emotional intimacy weaken. However, if both partners engage in repairing, their relationship can not only heal but grow and thrive.
…Repairs are what matters
Repair attempts are any actions or statements that are aiming to prevent a conflict escalating out of control, or, in some way, aiming to extend the olive branch after an argument. According to Dr. Gottman, repair attempts are a “secret weapon” of happy couples, whether they are aware they are using them or not. They are an act of loving behaviour not only toward your partner but to the relationship itself. They communicate: “I care about you and about this relationship, so I am willing to be vulnerable and try to connect with you. I am not trying to win this fight, I am not against you. Instead, I want our relationship to win this fight. Please join me”.
All relationships are different, so repair attempts will vary from couple to couple. Some examples:
- Offering an apology (“I am sorry about what I said earlier, I didn’t mean it”)
- Statements that communicate you are still a team (“I love you”, “I know it’s not your fault”)
- Sharing appreciation (“Thank you for sharing that with me”, “I admire that you…”)
- Empathizing (“I understand”, “If I was in your shoes, I can imagine seeing things the same way”)
- Cracking an inside joke
- A small invitation to talk, like softly tapping a spot beside you, or offering them a drink or a snack
- A gentle physical touch, like holding their hand or offering a hug
It takes two to tango, and two to repair a relationship
Repair attempts take courage and insight, and need both partners in order to work. That’s right, both partners need to engage in repair for it to be successful, no matter who may seem to be more “wrong” or more “responsible for the damage”.
That said, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues tried to find the most effective kinds of repairs through a series of research. The problem was, they couldn’t find any consistency – sometimes the most beautifully crafted and honestly spoken apologies didn’t work, while other times, something that seems trivial, like a silly grimace, was very successful. They couldn’t quite figure it out until they started looking at the partner on the receiving end of a repair attempt. They found out that it’s not exactly the nature of the repair that makes it successful; it’s the willingness of the other partner to notice and receive those attempts.
Now, this willingness doesn’t stem merely from other partner’s mood or good will, but from a number of different factors, one of the most important ones being the “balance in their “emotional bank account” which, most simply put, refers to how much they have felt seen, heard, understood, and appreciated in the relationship, especially lately. But it’s not so simple of course – this balance depends, again, on both sides. It takes making deposits to the emotional bank (like responding to partner’s needs, showing interest in what’s going on with them, empathizing and being there for them, showing appreciation for who they are or what they do, doing small acts of kindness, etc.) and also recognizing these efforts. But that’s a topic for a whole another blog. Let’s get back to the practical stuff.
Usually, the responsibility for an argument lays on both partners, although it doesn’t always seem like that. However, sometimes one partner shares a larger portion of responsibility, and only after they may realize how much they have hurt their partner. If that’s the case, check out our article “How to apologize the right way after you hurt your partner“.
6 steps to repair a relationship after a fight
Now that you know that ruptures happen even in the happiest relationships, and that mastering the art of making and receiving repair attempts is crucial for healing a relationship, let’s see what you can do to de-escalate the tension after a fight with your partner and get your relationship back on track.
1. Take a time-out and explore how you feel
Repairing a relationship after a fight takes many gentle moves. However, it can be really difficult to be gentle in the heat of the moment or right after, especially when you feel hurt or angry. If you feel flooded with intense uncomfortable emotions, trying to resolve a conflict right there can be counterproductive – extend or escalate it, or even trigger a new one. Instead, in the aftermath of a heated argument, it may be best to give each other some time and space to take a breather and decompress. You can both use this time to process what happened, feel your feelings, and explore what this argument meant for you. This will be very important later when you sit together to resolve the issue.
A useful thing you can do to collect your thoughts and get in touch with yourself during this time is to follow a 3-step process:
- Do a brain dump. Like emptying the contents of a purse onto the table, spill the contents of your mind onto paper. All of it. Write down everything that you think and feel, without any particular order and without a filter. No matter if it doesn’t make sense, no matter if it sounds silly, just get it all out.
This technique is particularly useful and relieving when you feel overwhelmed by uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. The act of taking the thoughts out of your mind and seeing them on paper helps diffuse the issue and calm your mind a little, because there are not so many different thoughts bouncing around.
- Sit with your feelings. After you wrote down everything you think about (and you may feel drained but relieved at this point; it’s normal), make some room for your feelings. How do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Can you name those feelings? Remember, you can experience different feelings and they can exist at the same time. You can feel love and anger toward your partner, you may appreciate them and feel disappointed about what they did. It’s okay, it’s your space; let the feelings flow.
- Think about what your partner can do to help you feel better. Ask yourself – what do I need? What it would take for me to feel different? What is my partner’s role for this to happen, and what is my role? Clearing this out can set you up for a more productive recovery conversation.
2. Refocus from “Me vs. You” to “We vs. The Problem”
When people feel hurt, angry, betrayed, disregarded, or disrespected, they tend to either attack or put up a wall and dismiss whatever the other person is trying to communicate (or both). These are self-protective actions, and they’re understandable. However, in romantic relationships, they rarely lead to a productive solution. Self-protection might be the first impulse in the moment, but remember that your partner probably feels the same way, and it won’t take you where you want to be – connected and safe with each other again. So, what will take you there then?
One person needs to break this cycle and show courage to expose themselves to a certain extent, to be vulnerable, and re-focus from protecting themselves to protecting the relationship.
If you want to fix your relationship, you need to be on the same team. You are in a relationship not by force, but because you choose to be with each other. Your partner is not the enemy. You are not the enemy. You two, together, as a team, have a problem, that you may be able to fix together. But it takes someone to be vulnerable enough to take the first step.
Stepping back from a self-protection attitude and turning toward a relationship-protection frame of mind is not easy. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult, maybe some of the hardest work you can do as a couple. But it is the strongest tool you have for building your emotional bond and helping your relationship thrive.
3. Actively listen to your partner and validate their feelings
Feeling heard and understood is the need that lays in almost all conflicts. To fix the relationship after a fight, you can start a conversation by asking your partner to share their feelings and their point of view. For a moment, set aside your perspective, set aside judgment and prejudice, set aside the need to disagree and defend yourself, and just listen. Express interest in their needs, feelings, hopes, what hurt them, what they desire, what they lack. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. Ideally, you want to come to the point where you understand how the way they see things and how they feel make sense. Even if this is difficult, try to find something you can agree with or that you understand, and acknowledge that.
You can validate their feelings by expressing understanding: “I understand now. I would probably feel the same way if I were in your spot” or by repeating or summarizing what they said: “It sounds like you felt hurt by what I said.”
Validating your partner’s feelings at this point doesn’t mean you agree with what they said during the argument or with their point of view. It doesn’t mean they are “right” or that they “won”. It just means you are willing to show them that you are there for them, that you are ready to listen and understand because you care about what’s important for them. When you start listening with a goal to understand, not to respond, it fulfills the need to feel heard and understood, and does wonders for rebuilding trust, safety, and connection.
Hard? Yes. Effective? Yes, yes, and yes.
4. Share your side without pointing fingers
It’s important to share how you felt during the argument and how you experienced it. While doing this, it’s crucial to make sure you avoid blame and criticism. You can be in a conflict without telling the other person: “You’re bad!”
Focus on using “I statements” and avoid pointing fingers with sentences that start with something like “You always…” and “You never…”. For example, statements like: “You never listen to me” and “You don’t care about me” are a big no. And no, a crafty construction like: “You made me feel unheard” is not an “I statement”.
“I statements” are in a form of: “I feel – When – (bonus: Because)”.
For example: “I feel frustrated when I am constantly interrupted in a conversation” or: “I feel overwhelmed and upset when you yell at me during a conflict.” You can also add why this is so important to you, for example: “I shut down and it’s difficult for me to continue the conversation. Also, I feel scared when it happens and I really don’t want to feel this way with you.”
What “I statements” ultimately do is create a more positive and less hostile atmosphere for communication because they frame a situation as something to be solved together, instead of sounding like a complaint about the other person or an attack on their character. This way, you decrease the possibility of your partner becoming defensive and increase the likelihood of them truly listening to you and adopting that “same team” mentality.
5. If you haven’t already, discover what the fight was really about
Fights about little things are often not about those little things at all. A fight over doing dishes may be, at its core, about unmet needs, failed expectations, respect, etc.
For example, imagine a scenario where Partner I didn’t do the dishes (again!) and Partner II complains about it, which blows up into an argument. What may be happening for Partner I is not that they just don’t like doing the dishes, but that they felt angry and unloved. They may be overwhelmed at work and worried about their mother who is sick, and they had a super stressful day. So, they perceive complains from Partner II as a sign that they don’t care about their feelings. On the other hand, for Partner II, not doing the dishes after many complaints and conversations was a sign of disrespect; they felt unappreciated and taken for granted because they put in the efforts to change little habits that are bothering Partner I and make little sacrifices to make their life together more comfortable, but don’t feel the efforts are recognized or reciprocated.
So, the fight was, obviously, not about the dishes. It was about the deeper needs of feeling loved, respected, and appreciated. When we don’t communicate openly, we can easily overlook what is really going on, which can lead to miscommunication, resentment, and cycles of unproductive arguments without a real solution. So, in our example, when Partner I and Partner II discover what the fight was really about and which needs, wants, or expectations were not met, they can discuss together what they can do in the future to change that and help the other person feel better.
6. Work together toward finding a practical solution
Now that the situation calmed down and you shared your perspectives and feelings, try to come up with a solution that will prevent a fight like this from happening in the future. Discuss what both of you can do to help each other feel better about the issue. Ideally, you want to be able to put this topic to rest and move on, with both of you intentionally taking steps to stick to the plan you agree on.
In our previous example, Partner I can, for instance, make sure they share their feelings more often and communicate with their partner when they feel stressed. At the same time, they can show appreciation by noticing little efforts Partner II is investing in their home by expressing it with words and with initiating completeying some housework tasks, when they can. On the other hand, Partner II can make sure to check in with Partner I more often and make room for some slipups without turning to criticism. They can also set boundaries, make sure they don’t give over their limits, and don’t sacrifice their time and energy without it being necessary because it can lead to resentment. Both partners can also come up with a more detailed plan about what they would do and how they can discuss better if this problem comes up again.
If the same issue happens over and over again without a resolution you can both agree on, it may be wise to see a couple’s therapist. The right professional can help you tremendously in understanding your and your partner’s thoughts and feelings, emotional triggers and needs, identify the reason you’re stuck, and help you learn skills to better communicate and solve problems.
Disclaimer: All these tips refer to after verbal arguments. If your relationship is physically or emotionally abusive, try to find a support system and consider a safe escape plan. An experienced professional can help you get through it and guide you in creating a plan of the next steps.
An argument in an otherwise healthy relationship can actually bring you closer, if it’s handled the right way. If conflict resolution is done right, it can bring positive things, such as learning how to meet each other’s needs better, how to communicate more effectively, and how to adapt to one another so you can both thrive. Overall, it’s a process, but it can be a powerful one. Try it, and good luck!
If this article was helpful to you in any way, please be free to share it with your friends and family. Also, share some of your useful tips for fixing a relationship after an argument in the comments.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
How to Overcome Procrastination (10 Tips Backed by Science)
Procrastination is something we all experience. You certainly know the feeling – staring at a blank page, having an assignment waiting for you, delaying starting a large project, and doing everything except what you are “supposed” to do. You carry around this heavy, dark cloud of procrastination, feeling miserable for hours or days, but you are still unable to make the first step toward getting it done. And even though you may be irritated, agitated, you can’t sleep… you can’t work either. Until finally, something happens, and you get it done. Often in a guilt-infused panic mode, at the last moment, but you get it done.
The quality of your work may suffer. The quality of your life definitely does.
But why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate, even when we know we will feel bad about it? The answer to this question is not simple and goes much deeper than just “laziness” or “irresponsibility”.
Why do we procrastinate?
Contrary to what most people believe, procrastination is not about being lazy or lacking willpower. Since it’s such a widespread phenomenon, numerous researchers tried to get to the bottom of it and understand the roots and reasons behind it.
“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions induced by certain tasks – boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
– dr. Piers Steel, a professor of the University of Calgary
There are many potential reasons for procrastination, but the majority of results of scientific studies show that they come down to three groups of explanations, or can be a combination of them. They show that, usually, procrastination may be:
- a result of our brain’s natural tendency to be more drawn to instant gratification than long-term benefits
- a habit we use to cope with stress and provide emotional relief
- a way to protect our sense of self-worth
Procrastination is not a time-management problem; it’s an emotion regulation problem. So let’s get deeper into it.
I Procrastination is something our brain naturally does
The brain is pretty amazing. It is probably the most complex thing humankind currently knows. And yet, it can sometimes seem, well, a little lazy. The problem is, our brains are programmed to be more drawn toward instant gratification than toward future benefits; they’ll rather take immediate satisfaction than focus on the big picture and delay pleasure for the sake of long-term goals. In general, we struggle with tasks that require effort now in return to future possible benefits. That is why it can be so difficult to stick to long-term goals such as weight-loss programs or saving for retirement.
An interesting study from UCLA showed that, when we imagine our future self, our brain’s activity is similar to as if we’re imagining someone else completely. In other words, when you imagine yourself a day, a week, a month from now, it’s like you’re imagining, say, a mailman or a worker you said “Hi” to once at a random store. A complete stranger. So, in a nutshell, an emotional part of your brain doesn’t really care about your future self as much as it does for your present self. Not even close.
Looking from this perspective, procrastination makes sense. It explains why it’s so easy to procrastinate, and why it takes effort and active attention to break the pattern and actually start working on something you know is important for your future self, but your present self doesn’t like doing.
II We procrastinate as a way to deal with stress
Here is a funny paradox – although we know procrastination, long-term, increases our stress levels and brings a whole bunch of uncomfortable emotions, initially, we may use procrastination as a stress-relief habit.
When we feel stressed, drained, overwhelmed, or we have a low level of frustration tolerance (low ability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations), our brains may use procrastination as a way to gain some strength and energy in the present moment. If you have something stressful going on in your life, if your brain is filled with overthinking, worrying, overplanning, anxiety, high expectations, etc., and you have something boring or challenging to deal with, your brain may be like: “Are you kidding me?! I can’t deal with this too! Give me some break!”. So, we turn to procrastination as a way to try to lower the level of stress by doing something we find less overwhelming. Watching cat videos is much less demanding than making 15 phone calls, isn’t it?
Since your brain is, pretty shortsighted, it automatically turns to short-term stress relief, even though, long term, stress will increase due to procrastination. If this worked a couple of times, your brain may start adopting procrastination as a habit it can turn to when you need to deal with something you have no motivation for and your stress levels are high.
But what about situations when we procrastinate on things we love and value, those that are really important to us?
III We procrastinate as a way to maintain a good self-image
Here is an even funnier paradox than the previous one – when we really, really want to succeed, but are also very, very scared of failure, we may self-sabotage as a way to self-protect. In other words, we may use procrastination as both, a way to sabotage ourselves and, that way, preserve our good self-image. Let’s explain.
The self-worth theory of motivation asserts that one of our primary needs, as human beings, is the need to be accepted, by ourselves and others, and the primary way we see this happening is through achievement. In other words, we feel the need to be seen as competent and capable, because this gives us a sense of self-worth, and we are ready to sacrifice our other needs to preserve that image.
Basically, many of us have a simple model in our head that our performance determines our inner capabilities and our skills, which determine our success, and this success determines our self-worth, how we think about ourselves. Naturally, when this is the case and we are facing an important task, our anxiety and fear of failure skyrocket. Performing well on a task becomes crucial because, if we fail, it is not just the work we did that is at stake, it’s our self-image as well. But we still want to do it, it’s something we value and find important. So we have two strong forces battling inside us – a driving desire to achieve and a paralyzing fear of failure.
When the desire to succeed and the fear of failure clash…
We can strive for success, really want to do something, but at the same time be afraid of failure and what it means for us. When we are overly striving both away and toward something, we can feel stuck. This is exactly how people often describe procrastination – as being stuck, against a wall, feeling like having an obstacle they can’t get over.
When this is the case, we may use procrastination as a “middle ground” between these two motivations, a smart strategy to protect the picture of ourselves as capable individuals. If we procrastinate on a task that we value and care about, there are two scenarios:
- If we fail, we have built a good excuse for ourselves – “Well, I didn’t have enough time to do it better. It’s probably not an accurate representation of my abilities”.
- If, on the other hand, we succeed, we can say to ourselves how capable we are – “Wow, I succeeded despite such a short time I had”.
It’s a win-win situation. Except it is not, because we sacrifice our peace of mind and, often, the quality of our work.
So, how to fight this?
How to stop procrastinating?
The first step toward overcoming procrastination is to be aware of it. Procrastination comes in many disguises, from guilty Netflix nights to being “busy” and doing seemingly important tasks to avoid what is really important. It’s not always easy to recognize procrastination for what it is, until it’s too late. To overcome it, you first need to stop and notice it. The second and crucial step is unravelling what lies behind it. What is your, individual reason for putting things off? From there, you can take some steps toward managing those reasons and get rid of procrastination. Here are some suggestions and tips.
I Fight procrastination by training your instant-gratification brain
Sometimes, when it comes to doing things that we are not motivated or we don’t like doing, we need a little extra push to get things going. Two things can be helpful to overcome our brains’ automatic tendency to grasp for instant satisfaction:
Re-balance the cost-benefit analysis
Instead of letting the emotional part of your brain run the show, turn up your logical, rational side. Consciously make the benefits of taking action feel bigger and the disadvantages of the “pain of doing it” feel smaller. So, you want to focus on the reward of taking action or finishing a task and make it outweigh the pain of tackling it. For example, you can visualize how great it feels to tick it off of your to-do list, or tie finishing each step of a task to a treat, to something you’re looking forward to. Try experimenting and see what works for you to re-balance things and get started.
Bridge the gap between your present self and your future self
Be aware that your brain is short-sighted and that it sees your future self almost as a stranger. Thus, keep reminding yourself – it’s still going to be you. You, with your kind of thinking, your memories, your experiences, your problems, and if you don’t take action now, you’ll probably have another set of problems to deal with. Imagine if you had to face those problems right now – how would you feel? Really try to bring that feeling into the present moment. Uncomfortable? That’s exactly how you’re going to feel if you let the consequences of your inaction for your future self to deal with.
In a similar manner, when you set goals, while it’s important to imagine long-term benefits, make sure your present self knows what’s in it for them too. Find a way to make the process more enjoyable short term. Play with little rewards and see what feels good each step of the way.
II Beat procrastination when you are stressed and overwhelmed
Like any habit, procrastination can be broken, or changed. In short, every habit has three parts: trigger, response, and reward. In the case of procrastination, the trigger is stress. Your response is avoiding the task. The reward is a little bit of stress relief. What you can change in this cycle is your response. You are always going to have stresses in your life – you can’t change that, but you can acknowledge it and change the way you respond to it.
So, instead of seeking stress relief by avoiding a task (and then beating yourself up about it and becoming more stressed), you can:
1. Take the time to notice what’s going on underneath
Stop and acknowledge what is really stressing you out and taking your energy.
2. Avoid self-criticism
Forgive yourself for wanting to avoid the stress by procrastinating. There is no need to criticize yourself; that will increase the stress.
3. Identify the first step and use the “5-minute trick”
When we have to deal with something complex, it can be difficult to start because it can seem overwhelming. Finding the smallest first step that you can start with is usually helpful. A goal or a task like: “Learn Italian” is huge, and facing it in that form can feel paralyzing. On the other hand, “Search for an Italian language teacher and contact them” or “Go to the bookstore and buy an A1 Italian language workbook” seem much more manageable. To make it even easier, commit to working on the first (or any) step for only 5 minutes. Usually, you will find yourself continuing beyond that, but it’s a good place to start, because that is the most difficult step.
4. Find another way to get stress relief
Your brain needs some energy, and is trying to get it in an inefficient way – through procrastination. Make sure to compensate, but from a different source, something that is better and healthier for you. Promise yourself that after the work you do, you will do something to recharge yourself. This is not self-indulgence, but a reasonable way to look at your needs and provide yourself with enough energy to continue functioning efficiently.
To sum up, these steps may go something like this: “I procrastinate – I may be stressed about this and this and that – It’s okay, I need some relief, and my brain is trying to do this by turning to procrastination. Let’s change that. I will work on this for a limited amount of time, and instead of inefficiently trying to get some energy through procrastination, I will provide it to myself by doing this and this and that afterward”.
III Overcome procrastination when it comes from fear of failure
People who are very fearful of failure (and many high-achievers and perfectionists fall into this category) often have a kind of simplistic model in their mind: performance = ability = worth. Sometimes we procrastinate on things that are important to us, that we love and value, because we are scared to make a mistake and what that would mean for us and our self-image.
If you recognize yourself in this, here are a few things you can do:
1. Notice it for what it is and don’t let it slide
Ask yourself what is going on, what you’re afraid of. What kind of uncomfortable feelings does this task inflict on you? Then think about how realistic this kind of thinking actually is. Are you focusing on the negative or catastrophizing? Is some kind of black and white thinking present? Do you impose some “should” or “musts” on yourself? Talking to a therapist about it can also help.
2. Change your self-talk and tame your expectations
Catch criticism or perfectionism and realize it’s not helpful. Instead, you can look at things as an opportunity to experiment. Have a kind and friendly attitude toward yourself and approach a task with curiosity: “Let’s see how this will go” instead of “Everyone will think I’m a failure”. Self-compassion is incredibly helpful in this, you may want to incorporate it into the way you think and treat yourself.
3. Focus on your values instead of on your fears
Think about your values, what is important to you, and connect them with a task you do. How can you make this task less scary? Instead of focusing on what you are fearful of and why you don’t want to do the task, come up with a list of why you want to do the task, what is drawing you toward it, what is motivating you.
4. Challenge the performance–ability–worth relationship
You are more than your accomplishments. You don’t appreciate your friends because of their performance, academic or career success, but because of their other qualities, such as kindness, humor, loyalty, their ability to listen, their quirks and uniqueness. Our abilities and performance are connected, that’s true, but not always; there are many factors that determine our performance. We don’t always perform perfectly, even though our abilities may exceed what we show at the moment. It goes vice versa as well – admit it, there were situations in your life when you got lucky and got an A on a test when you really didn’t deserve it.
Be mindful of your natural brain’s tendency to procrastinate and re-balance things.
Be gentle with yourself and find a way to de-stress in a healthy way.
Acknowledge the fear, and take it along for a ride. You got this.
Do you have some useful tips on how to deal with procrastination? Share them with us in the comment section below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please be free to share it with others.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
5 Crucial Differences Between Worry And Anxiety
Heading to an intense job interview, facing an unexpected event that could change your life significantly, expecting important news… they are enough to kick anyone’s worry and anxiety up. It’s normal and expected. We worry about stuff we find important in our lives, such as finances, relationships, work, etc. Worry is a natural mechanism that can be helpful – motivate us to take action, come up with a strategy to improve our situation and solve the problem. However, as many of us know, it can get out of control and become unproductive, paralyzing, disruptive, and turn into full-blown anxiety. But where is the line? What is the difference between worry and anxiety? How much worry is too much?
People use these terms interchangeably, but being worried is not the same as being anxious. Although worry and anxiety are both associated with concern and discomfort, they manifest differently and their implications for our mental and physical health are very different.
Here are 5 things that can help you distinguish the two and answer the question: “Am I anxious or just worried?”
1. Worry is concrete and directs you toward problem-solving. Anxiety is vaguer and marked by rumination.
Worry is more specific than anxiety. When you are worried, you can pinpoint exactly what you are worried about. With anxiety, it’s not so easy – it’s more of a general feeling of uneasiness about a number of different scenarios. Thus, worry usually prompts us to act, to solve the problem, to use our coping skills, and build a strategy for dealing with a given situation. Anxiety, on the other hand, is paralyzing – it doesn’t direct us toward a concrete solution. Rather, we get caught in an endless spiral of “what ifs”, unable to come up with a solution.
2. Worry usually resides in your thoughts. Anxiety is all over the place – in your mind AND your body.
Worry and anxiety affect your body in different ways. Worry is usually limited to your thoughts that you can verbalize, such as: “I don’t know if I will be able to make it in time” or “Will I be able to pay rent this month?”. You may experience some unpleasant sensations in the body, such as tension and short-term emotional distress, but those are mild.
Anxiety, on the other hand, you feel both in your mind and your body, and pretty intensely so. The physical reactions can vary and can include tightness in the chest, pounding heart, sweating, rapid breathing, trembling, “knot” in the stomach, nausea, trouble sleeping or concentrating, etc. Together with worrying thoughts and an endless spiral of “what ifs”, it occupies our whole system, so it’s not surprising that when we are anxious, it can be really difficult to focus on something else.
3. Worry leads to thoughts you can typically keep in perspective. Anxiety makes you jump to the ‘worst-case scenarios’.
There is a logical component in worry – your brain is trying to protect itself from real and present danger. Anxiety has a wild imagination and brings you into a panic mode for things that, if you stop and think about it logically, or ask someone else, are not very rational. When you are anxious, you overestimate the risk and believe that you will not be able to cope with the consequences.
Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether our concerns are rooted in reality or if they’re completely irrational, especially when we are stressed. What can help us distinguish between worry and anxiety in these situations is the degree of our ability to control our concerns. Usually, a good sign that normal worry turns into anxiety is an inability to put the break on and get it under control.
4. Worry is temporary. Anxiety is more longstanding.
Worry is usually short-term; once we solve the problem or a concerning situation passes, our worry disappears. With anxiety it is more complicated; since it is so vague and intense, it can linger for long periods of time. Also, it is rarely satisfied – when one thing is solved, you start getting anxious about something else.
5. Anxiety often interferes with your daily functioning. Worry usually doesn’t.
If the levels of distress and discomfort are so intense that it makes it hard for you to function (to eat, sleep, concentrate, think about something else, etc.), it is a pretty clear sign of anxiety. Worry is uncomfortable, of course, but it is not as intense and it has milder effects on our physical and mental state.
Tips To Manage Worry And Anxiety
Experiencing worry and a certain level of anxiety is normal. However, when it comes to the point of disrupting your daily functioning – and even before that point – it’s time to react and take steps to decrease it and bring it back to manageable levels. Here are a few tools to try:
1. Schedule worry time
When your mind persistently goes back to the same worries, again and again, this technique can be very helpful. Simply, determine 15-20 minutes of your day that are dedicated to worrying only. This is your time to worry all you want. Outside this time slot, when anxious thoughts arise, tell yourself something like: “I see you, thoughts, but your time is scheduled at 8 PM tonight. I’ll meet you then.”.
Check out more about this technique in our blog post: One Powerful Technique to Ease Your Worrying Mind and Anxiety.
2. Pay attention and question your thoughts
Your anxious mind is not very rational, and will often lie to you and speak nonsense such as: “Everybody thinks you’re a failure”, “You can’t do this”, “You’ll never get this promotion”, etc. When you catch these thoughts playing in your head, stop and remind yourself that they are the product of your anxious brain. Then challenge them by asking yourself questions such as:
- How helpful are these thoughts?
- Are they really true?
- What is the evidence against them?
- What are some other ways I can think about this situation?
- What would I tell to a friend who had the same thought?
Remember, your thoughts are just that – thoughts. They are not always a perfect reflection of reality.
3. Stop jumping to an imagined future and connect with the present moment
There is an old quote from Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese philosopher, that says: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Although this quote oversimplifies both depression and anxiety (there are many different factors that contribute to them), there is some truth to it. An anxious mind is overly focused on what might happen in the future, spiraling down the hole of endless “what ifs” without an answer. This kind of thinking is unproductive and keeps us in the anxiety loop.
Taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness and focus on the present moment can help take your thoughts away from the past and the future, helping you re-center and think more realistically. If you’re interested to learn more about mindfulness and its benefits, our blog posts Return to Now: Living in the Present Moment and 6 Reasons Why Integrating Mindfulness Into Your Life Is Helpful might be a good place to start.
A few mindfulness techniques you can try:
- Mindful meditation
- 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, two things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Focus on your breathing – inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer.
- Focus on your body and how it relates to the space around you. Feel the ground beneath your feet, how your clothes touch your skin, where you’re sitting or standing, etc. Then ask yourself: “What is wrong with this particular moment? Am I safe right now, this minute? Let’s go one minute at a time.”
4. What are your strengths?
We all face difficulties and hard times during our lifetimes; it’s inevitable. Sometimes our worries come true, and we need to cope with real adversities that come up. Fortunately, research shows that we are, usually, more resilient than we may think.
Resilience is the ability to move through adversaries and rise from them. It is a set of skills and psychological traits that allows us to cope with struggles and recover from them. There are some things we can do to build our resiliency and rise back from difficult experiences more quickly. Read more about it here: 3 Things You Can Do to Recover From Setbacks More Quickly.
In the end, it’s important to know when anxiety increases to clinical levels, so you can react promptly.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by severe, persistent worry that is excessive for the situation, and extreme avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations. These symptoms cause distress, impair daily functioning, and occur for a significant period.
If you are experiencing anxiety so often that it interferes with the quality of your life and impacts your physical and mental health, please do not hesitate to ask for help. There are proven and very effective ways to treat it and cope with it successfully, so you can be happier, more productive, more satisfied You.
How do you cope with worry? Share your tips with us in the comment section below.
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Personal Core Values – A Road To Meaningful Life
Had something like this ever happened to you?
- Someone said or did something that you strongly disagreed with, but you didn’t say anything and then felt guilty about not speaking up?
- You set goals and then failed to meet them.
- You’re so busy pleasing other people that you don’t get the time to focus on what you want, and then you get angry at others?
- You suppress what you want to do because it’s not “practical” or because you have so many things you “have to do”
If any of these resonate with you, the reason behind it may be that your actions were (or still are) not aligned with your core values.
What Are Core Values And Why They Matter So Much?
Core values are fundamental beliefs and principles that you find important in life. They highlight what you stand for, what drives you, what you see as valuable. They represent who you would like to be and how you would like to live your life.
When making different decisions, our core values give us direction. They should provide the goals and criteria that influence the path we take, what we choose, how we behave. We derive a sense of fulfillment when living in line with our personal values because our motivations and actions are aligned with what we see as important in life.
Choosing your personal core values is one of the most critical decisions when it comes to living a fulfilled life. When we don’t honor our values, we can feel lost, unmotivated, like something is simply “wrong”, and our mental and emotional state can suffer. On the other hand, intentionally creating a life that is in accordance with your values instead of automatically and habitually responding to what happens around you, without awareness and purpose, increases the chances of finding a sense of balance, confidence, and fulfillment.
How To Find Your Core Values And Make Your Life A Little Bit Easier
Many of us have no idea what our personal core values are. And in a way, it’s not surprising. In a society that actively asks us to conform, it’s not uncommon to focus on meeting other people’s expectations so much, that we lose sight of what is really important to us. Our core values get buried beneath what we think we should value.
So, turning your attention inward and engaging in an attitude of curiosity about what makes you tick and what you think is important, can help you understand yourself better. From there, you can make wiser choices, and do it more easily.
But how to do this? How to determine your core values?
One way can be to, for starters, pay attention to how you feel in different situations. What makes you angry, sad, frustrated, bored, happy, excited? Examine these situations closely – what is the main theme?
Here are some questions that can help you start thinking in that direction:
- If you could have any career, without worrying about money or other practical constraints, what would you do?
- What kinds of stories inspire you?
- What kinds of stories make you angry and upset?
- Think about three people you most admire. What is it that you appreciate about them the most?
- What are you the proudest of?
Sometimes, a wide list of core values can also help. A shorter list, like the one on the picture below, may be useful. Or maybe a longer one, like the one HERE, is something you find more helpful and inspiring.
What you can do is take a look at the list and select 10-15 values that most resonate with you. As you work through, you may find that some values you picked are similar or naturally combine. For instance, if you value community, generosity, and kindness, you might say that service to others is one of your top values. So, analyze your choices and try to narrow down the list, to combine the values into groups. What are the main topics? These larger “groups” you made – those should be your core values.
Regularly Revisiting Your Core Values Is The Key
Our brains loooove instant gratification. Humans are wired to avoid short-term pain and chase short-term pleasure. This is why you fail to resist eating that yummy cake on your fifth day of diet (again), or why it’s so difficult to give up smoking. Small things that give us instant pleasure or delay discomfort, but don’t serve us long-term, are something we all occasionally give priority to. We sometimes lose sight of our more important goals and of our higher values. This is why, if we want to make wiser, healthier, more fulfilling choices, it’s crucial to keep revisiting them, so that we bring them back to the front of our mind and keep ourselves in check. Try to be present and act from a conscious, deliberate mind most of the time rather than letting automatic responses guide your behaviour. In other words – act as a pilot, not on autopilot.
Of course, not every activity you do will match your values. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. However, to have that sense of meaning and fulfillment, like you’re doing something “right”, you need to be aware of your value system and try to spend most of your time doing things congruent with it. If you feel guilty or empty doing something, if you don’t find any meaning in it, perhaps these actions are not meeting your values, or even worse, are going against them.
Values can change over time. This is also why it’s essential to check in with yourself from time to time about what you value the most and if you’re acting in line with it. This can help remove those conflicting feelings that sometimes arise as a result of not staying true to yourself or not having your values clearly defined.
What are your core values? Let us know in the comment section down below!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Dahlgaard-Park, S. M. (2012). Core values – the entrance to human satisfaction and commitment. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 23(2), 125-140.
Sagiv, L., Roccas, S., Cieciuch, J., & Schwartz, S. H. (2017). Personal values in human life. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(9), 630-639.
How To Deal With Self-Criticism
I’m going to mess up.
I’m so stupid.
I’m a failure.
I did well that time, but anyone could have.
Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?
In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.
Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?
Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.
Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.
When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.
This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.
So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)
Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.
By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.
An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.
So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here are a few tips and techniques.
1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic
Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.
Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.
You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.
You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.
You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.
You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.
2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.
This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.
Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.
3. What would you tell to your best friend?
Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.
RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions
Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.
In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Here is how to use it:
Step 1: RECOGNIZE what is happening
Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.
“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”
Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is
Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.
“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”
Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness
Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀
○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?
Step 4: NON-IDENTIFICATION with thoughts and feelings
When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.
You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.
How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!
And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review, 71(3), 193.
Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).
Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 826-840.
Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach. Online HERE
4 Ways To Combat Winter Blues Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic
Changing seasons can be beautiful, but they don’t delight everyone. If you find your moods falling as fast as the thermometer during winter, you are not alone. Seasonal changes can also bring change to the whole sense of our well-being. While some welcome the changing leaves of the fall and fresh show of the winter, others may find themselves having difficulties to get up in the morning or to concentrate, feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or sad. We refer to this later, less pleasant group of feelings that many people experience during colder months, as winter blues.
Winter blues are fairly common – about 15% of Canadians report that they experience mild changes in their mood, energy levels, alertness, and appetite during fall and winter. So why is this happening?
When Winter Blues Join Coronavirus Pandemic
During the winter, as we all know, days become colder, shorter, and darker, and we spend much more time inside. The lack of daily sunlight can throw off your circadian rhythm. This can cause your brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that affects your mood. With winter approaching and us spending more and more time indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic, the result can be a chemical imbalance in our brains that makes us feel low and sluggish.
Even before the winter weather arrived, we were already experiencing a lot of stress, anxiety, and emotional loss this year. Coronavirus pandemic left a bitter taste of resentment and exhaustion that we’re still experiencing. The negative effects are now maybe even more prominent than in the first wave. Holidays are cancelled and, due to our global responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe, we can’t cheerfully reunite with friends and family to celebrate. Many are struggling with routine and the lack of energy, with loneliness and feeling of isolation, with disturbed sleeping patterns, with worry about the future. Our brains have been on high alert for months, and we are drained and tired. This is why winter blues can be amplified this winter season – our coping mechanisms and emotional resilience are wearing thin and it’s becoming more challenging to lift our moods, which is especially needed during the cold season.
Even though times are difficult – after all, pandemic fatigue joined winter blues, and that’s not an easy enemy to battle – we can still do many things to lift our moods and energy levels while staying safe. Here are some suggestions on how to combat the winter blues amid the pandemic.
1. Go outside
The fresh air and the light of the day can greatly increase your mood and energy.
One of the most common, and most significant, causes of winter blues is the lack of sunlight. It can mess with our biorhythm and disturb the normal production of chemicals in our brains that are in charge of our sleeping patterns and mood regulation. Talking yourself into taking a walk when it’s freezing outside can be hard, but the benefits are tremendous. Research shows that just a 20-minute walk every day can have a profound positive impact on our brains, helping us reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increase attention capacity and focus. Even just spending some time on your balcony or in your backyard and soaking up the winter sun can be helpful.
2. Get Moving
Motivation follows activation. Lift those endorphins up.
When we are feeling mentally tired, we don’t feel motivated to take action. However, ironically, what can help us feel better and actually increase our motivation is – action. Action often comes before motivation. Engaging in an activity can help us take a different perspective, think more clearly, give us a sense of achievement and, from all that, improve our mood and increase our energy. So it often works kind of in a reverse direction.
Additionally, the positive effects of regular exercise on our mental health have been shown to be so large, that it became a very common part of treatment for depression and anxiety. Exercise reduces symptoms of depression due to the increased release of endorphin, a brain chemical related to positive mood, increased energy, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Therefore, including any physical activity that you like to your daily routine is something that can be really effective in decreasing the effects of winter blues.
3. Connect with others
In a time when avoiding contact is crucial, staying connected is priceless.
Loneliness and isolation tend to make the effects of the winter blues worse. In our efforts to physically distance during the pandemic, we have to put our usual ways of socializing on pause. However, maintaining our relationships, even through virtual methods, is essential for our mental health. Social support is one of the best buffers for different mood problems, depression in particular. Technology brought so many wonderful opportunities to stay in touch with our loved ones and nurture our relationships. Social networks, video calls, different messaging apps, regular phone calls – whatever virtual platform you feel most comfortable with – are all great ways to connect, share support, or just get the basic social contact we all, as humans, need for optimal functioning.
4. Try light therapy
A special artificial light could compensate for the lack of sun during the winter.
Light therapy is a standard treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it is very effective in reducing the symptoms. It works by balancing out your circadian rhythm and increasing serotonin. If your winter blues are persistent, and especially if you are not able to spend time outside, you may want to consult your therapist and invest in a full-spectrum light box specially designed for this treatment.
Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder
Although you may feel more unhappy than usual, the winter blues usually do not drastically affect your ability to enjoy life or cope with everyday challenges. On the other hand, if depressive symptoms are more severe, lasting for at least two weeks and seriously disrupting one or more areas of life – from work to personal relationships – we are talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a subtype of major depression that usually appears and ends at about the same time every year. While winter blues can be banished on your own with some changes in your routine and habits, SAD is a serious condition that requires professional treatment. A combination of light therapy, counselling, and sometimes medication is shown to be effective in treating this condition.
If you are struggling to cope, please don’t hesitate to ask for help.
What do you do to brighten your mood and feel more energized during these cold months? Share your tips with us!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.
Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L. M., Gill, H., Phan, L., … & McIntyre, R. S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders.
Toxic Positivity: What To Say Instead of “Just Be Positive”
“Everything happens for a reason”
“It could be worse”
“Delete the negativity”
“Just don’t think about it”
“Never give up!”
You’ve certainly said or heard some of these phrases before. It’s fairly common, and people who say them usually have good intentions – they are just trying to help somebody feel better. However, as you probably know if you heard some of them while you were going through difficult times, they don’t work. In fact, they can sometimes make you feel even worse, right?
But why is that? How can too much positivity possibly be a bad thing?
When Positivity Becomes Toxic
Keeping a positive attitude during stressful times can be incredibly helpful. It can help us cope with the situation, feel hope, and keep working toward a solution. However, being positive and optimistic doesn’t mean we won’t ever feel unpleasant emotions. Having a positive attitude is a good thing. Pushing positivity to the detriment of your authentic emotions is not.
Toxic positivity is an idea that we should focus only on positive emotions and positive aspects of life. It’s an attitude that being positive, and only positive, is the right way to live your life. This implies that any unpleasant emotions are considered as negative, and should be avoided.
It would be great if it was possible to feel good all the time. However, not only that it is not, but it can be even harmful to us and the people around us. Rigid and intense as it is, toxic positivity doesn’t leave space for experiencing all human emotions and being authentic. Instead, it encourages the person to remain silent about their struggles.
Toxic Positivity Can Be Harmful To You And Your Relationships
We have all kinds of emotions. Emotions are messengers. When instead of listening to ourselves and allowing ourselves to feel, even (and especially!) when these feelings are not comfortable, we fight and resist them — we create tension in our body. Different studies show us that hiding or denying feelings, oh the irony, makes them bigger and increases stress.
Our unpleasant emotions show us where we need some gentleness and compassion. They inform us that something is not right, not necessarily in our surroundings, but in the way we see the situation as well. They encourage us to pay attention to the parts of ourselves that need healing or the places in our paths where we need to take a turn. By suppressing or avoiding some emotions, we don’t allow ourselves to fully express and be honest. The result is denial, minimization, and invalidation of authentic emotional experience. When we go into hiding like that, we deny our truth. And the real truth is – life can be tough sometimes.
Toxic positivity can be harmful to your relationships too. When somebody is sad, anxious, fearful, what they need is support and understanding. Generic positive phrases can, although unintendedly, send the message: “You are not allowed to feel this way. Stop. It’s not okay to not be okay.” This is not helpful; it can make the person feel guilty or unheard. To them, it can sound like their emotions are not valid and important, and that they are wrong to feel the way they feel.
How To Support Someone Without Being “Too Positive”?
Feeling connected to and heard by others is one of the most important contributors to good mental health and happiness. When someone is going through a rough patch, we may not be sure how to support them. What to say to help them feel better? What to do? How to help them recover from setbacks more quickly? You may be inclined to tell them to “look on the bright side” and to “be grateful for what they already have”. However, these monochromatic statements are usually not helpful, because they are, on the basic level, dismissive. When happiness and positivity are compulsively pushed, the person doesn’t have the opportunity to feel truly heard and accepted, understood and supported. Instead, it can seem like he or she is rushed to stop feeling the way they feel, their emotions minimized and invalidated.
If we, instead, let the other person connect to their emotions and allow them to share them with us without judgment or the urge to run away to positivity, we are giving that person much-needed space to be authentic and still accepted. We are sending the message: “You can be yourself. It’s okay to not feel okay. I am here anyways”.
With toxic positivity, although it is usually not our intention, we are showing the other person that we are uncomfortable with their feelings and that we will put ourselves in the first place, urging them to stop feeling the way they feel so we can stop feeling uncomfortable. A much better, more comforting approach, is to show the other person that we are ready to sit with them with their emotions, that they are not alone, and that we are there to patiently give them our compassion and support. It can be truly healing.
So, what can you say instead of generic, “encouraging” sentences to support someone? Here are some suggestions:
It is important to acknowledge the reality of our emotions. Once we honour our feelings, we honour the whole of ourselves. We accept our positive parts, but also other, not-so-pretty sides. Accepting and loving ourselves as we are is the path toward balanced emotional life and better well-being.
If you like this article or think someone can find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media or leave a comment down below.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
How Your Attachment Style Shapes Your Relationships
Do you ever wonder why you attract a certain “type” of people? Do you have patterns that you seem to repeat in relationships over and over again? Or maybe you noticed how the majority of your relationships unfold and end in a similar way?
This is not uncommon. All of us have a certain ‘style’ of connecting to others that we tend to repeat, which can result in similar patterns of outcomes throughout our relationships. These patterns are called ‘attachment styles’.
What Are Attachment Styles And Why Should You Care?
Attachment style is the way you relate to other people, the way you usually feel and behave in relationships in order to meet your needs. According to attachment theory that originates from research of Bowlby and Ainsworth, this pattern is established in early childhood.
Our parents have many different and important roles for us during our childhood. One of them is being an attachment figure through which we form beliefs and expectations on how relationships ‘work’ and what we should do to meet our needs for intimacy, belonging, and safety. Depending on the nature of our early relationships with our caregivers, we develop an attachment style that we, later, bring to relationships in our adult life.
Understanding your attachment style is a big deal because it can tell you a lot about how you relate to your friends, family, and romantic partners, what you do to meet your needs in relationships, why you may have specific insecurities, etc. Knowing your attachment style gives you an insightful perspective that can help you ‘break the pattern’ if you feel stuck or find yourself having very similar problems in relationships or repeating the same mistakes.
Although the way we behave in relationships has its unique elements for each of us, there are 4 most common global patterns of attachment in individuals:
Let’s take a detailed look at each of them and what kind of childhood patterns may they came from:
Secure Attachment Style
“It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
People with a secure attachment style tend to build stable, trusting relationships and feel relatively confident in them. They are comfortable with intimacy and don’t have a problem sharing their feelings or asking for help or support. In romantic relationships, they have their independence and also let their partner have their own, but are at the same time okay with depending on others and feel like they can trust them. They have a positive view of themselves and others and don’t have difficulties feeling connected or expressing love openly.
Secure attachment background:
- Parent is emotionally available most of the time and responds to the child’s needs in a loving, soothing way
- Usually, the parent is also securely attached and successfully balances firmness with warmth in their parenting style
- The child sees the parent as a secure base from where it can independently explore the world and then safely come back for comfort and nurture when it feels the need
- The child learns that it can get love and care from other people, that it is safe to give needed space to others without the fear that they will leave them, but that it is also safe to depend on others
Avoidant Attachment Style
“I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. Feeling independent and self-sufficient is essential to me.”
People with this attachment style can seem emotionally distant and rejecting in close romantic relationships. They are uncomfortable with intimacy and feel like people usually want to get closer to them than they would prefer. One reason for this may be the fact that their independence is very important to them, which is not a problem on its own; however, they tend to equate intimacy with depending on someone, which is why they may have trouble with it and try to avoid it. In a way, they believe that the only person they can fully lean on is themselves. Thus, they have a hard time opening up to others and don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
Avoidant attachment background:
- Although the parent usually meets all child’s practical needs, he or she often does not respond to the child’s emotional needs and can seem emotionally unavailable most of the time
- In times when the child needs extra support and comfort, like when they’re scared or in distress, the parent can react in rejecting ways – become annoyed, harsh, neglectful, criticize or ridicule the child
- The parent may discourage displays of strong emotions, both positive and negative
- The child learns that it’s not safe to count on others for emotional closeness and that he or she should be independent and take care of their own needs and emotions. As a defence mechanism, it can suppress their true feelings and basic needs for connection and intimacy
Anxious Attachment Style
“I want to be very emotionally close to others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me.”
This attachment style is characterized by insecurity and worry about rejection and abandonment. Anxiously attached people are often preoccupied with what other people think of them and have a hard time feeling secure in their relationships. In their need to gain approval and feel safer, anxiously attached people often require reassurance and “proofs of love”. However, it never seems to be enough. They seek high levels of emotional closeness and can be very sensitive to other people’s moods and behaviours. It is not rare for these individuals to “cling” to their partner or try to control their actions. This can lead to behaviours that others sometimes see as demanding, needy, or overly emotional.
Anxious attachment background:
- Parents are often inconsistent and unpredictable – sometimes loving and caring, other times emotionally unavailable or highly critical
- Parents sometimes expect their children to worry about them and their needs, which is overwhelming for the child
- The child is frustrated and confused, so it tries to find ways to secure the love and support, but unsuccessfully. Their efforts sometimes give results, but sometimes not, and the child doesn’t know what to expect
- The child learns that it can get love and support from others, but also that it can lose those precious sources of connection at any moment
Disorganized Attachment Style
“I am uncomfortable getting close to others and find it difficult to trust them. I want to belong but when I become close with someone I get scared, so I back away.”
Research shows that this attachment style, in comparison with other styles of attachment, more often can result from unresolved trauma or abuse in childhood. It manifests as a strong ambivalence toward intimacy. People with this attachment style desire closeness and connection with other people; however, when they get it, they suddenly become distant and cold, or experience uncomfortable emotions and display some extreme behaviours. They seem to be in a constant state of internal conflict – they want to trust other people but feel they can’t because they are convinced they will get hurt, they want intimacy and also reject it, they ask for affection but then quickly get overwhelmed by it and push people away, etc. As a result, their behaviour can be unpredictable and their relationships, sometimes, very intense, “dramatic”, or unstable.
Disorganized attachment background:
- A very inconsistent and unpredictable parent(s), with sometimes extreme behaviours
- The child wants to go to their parent for safety, but the closer they get, the more fear they feel because the parent’s behaviours can be terrifying at times
- The child learns that intimacy is something simultaneously very valuable and very threatening. They crave it and, at the same time, see it as something dangerous that can easily hurt them. It is impossible to integrate these two views, which leaves the child in a constant state of internal conflict and distress
Good News – Attachment Styles Are Not Set In Stone
It is true that different parenting styles affect children differently, shaping the way they understand relationships. However, it is important to note that this relation is not so simple. Research shows that it is not so much what happens to us as children but rather how we understood and made sense of what happened to us that predict what kind of attachment style we will develop.
Furthermore, your attachment style may not be permanent. Some researchers indicate that attachment styles can change as we get older. More precisely, our attachment sometimes tends to lean toward more secure as we age. Researchers explained this as a result of changing ideas about goals, values, relationships, stability, and trust.
Other studies also indicate that our later relationships and life events can alter our attachment styles. For example, going through a bad breakup or a divorce, experiencing betrayal, trauma, or abuse, can change our outlook on relationships and, consequentially, how we behave in them, how much we trust other people, what we are insecure about, etc. On the other hand, being in a relationship with a secure partner, scientists believe, can improve our sense of security in a relationship. It makes sense – being with someone who is caring and attentive, who pays attention to our needs and shows us they’re there for us, and who does these things consistently, can change our idea about relationships and show us that they can be stable and that we can be loved the way we are.
The point is, it is not all black and white. Our attachment style can depend on many factors, not just our parents’ behaviour. Frankly, adulthood is complicated, and the paths that take us to it are super variable. Although science suggests that, one way or another, our early relationships have a life-long impact on us, it’s never a simple thing to understand the intensity or the course of that impact.
We are all unique. The way we act is not just simply who we are born to be; what we learned we can also unlearn, what holds us back we can change, and what brings us closer to others we can embrace.
What is your attachment style? Let us know in the comment section below!
Also, if you like this article and find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1991). Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle. In C . M. Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde, & P. Marris (Eds.), Attachment across the life cycle (pp. 33-51). London: Routledge.
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.
Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (p. 3–22). The Guilford Press.
Hazan C, Shaver P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (3): 511–24.
Fraley C. R. (2018). Adult Attachment Theory And Research: A Brief Overview. Retrieved from: http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
How To Become More Assertive: An In-Depth Guide
Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts and feelings, your wants and needs in a direct and respectful way, knowing at the same time, that others have the same right. Assertiveness helps us be open in our communication and establish good relationships based on respect and honesty. Like any skill, assertiveness can be learned with practice.
In our previous blog post, we covered in detail what assertive communication is, compared it with two other common communication styles – passive and aggressive – and talked about its risks and benefits. But how exactly can you become more assertive? How to have that healthy confidence to stand up for yourself? What to do, what to say?
Here are 4 basic tips and principles that can help you on your way of becoming more assertive:
1. Recognize your values and your rights
Assertiveness is about standing up for your rights, beliefs, and values. It is about respecting ourselves enough to be OK with who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Thus, it’s important to define our values clearly and to realize that we have the right to live in line with them, as long as we do not violate the rights of others. When we are sure about our priorities and know we have the right to ask for what we want (which is not the same as necessarily getting it), practicing assertiveness becomes easier. Defining your core values and recognizing your assertive rights will help you make decisions with more confidence.
2. Practice saying NO
Rejecting someone’s request is uncomfortable for most people. However, learning to say no in a respectful way is necessary for setting healthy boundaries with others and with ourselves. A helpful first step toward feeling less guilty for saying no may be to recognize that you are rejecting the request, not the whole person, and that your wants and needs are as important as wants and needs of others. In the end, practice saying no with the simple realization that you are going to feel uncomfortable. The whole point is to build tolerance to this discomfort.
3. Communicate clearly and respectfully
Assertiveness is a golden middle between passive and aggressive behaviour. Thus, it is important to learn to express your wants and needs in a way that is direct enough, but not aggressive. The key is in confidence and honesty with respect toward others.
While paying attention to the words you say, don’t forget to keep your body language in check. Assertive communication is marked by open body language – straight posture, relaxed facial expression, kind but firm tone of the voice, smiling. If you communicate passively, your body language will be closed, stiff, you’ll avoid eye contact. On the other hand, in an aggressive communication style, there is are frequent head shakes in disagreement, eye rolls, loud or threatening voice, quick body movements.
If your tone of the voice, facial expressions, and gestures are incongruent with the words you say, people will tend to believe non-verbal signs over your verbal message.
4. Take responsibility
It is important to keep in mind that everybody is responsible for their behaviour. It is not your job to control how other people act or feel, but you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. Nobody can make you behave or feel a certain way – other people choose their actions, and you chose yours.
So how does assertive communication look like in practice? How to phrase what you want to say without shying away or coming off as too pushy? This little cheat sheet of assertive communication may be helpful on that:
Step 1: Address the behaviour, not the person
You can start by clearly describing specific actions that you are not OK with in a non-judgmental way. While doing this, it’s crucial to avoid pointing fingers and trying to induce feelings of shame or guilt in them. Describe the situation as you see it but try to be as objective as possible. Don’t exaggerate by using words such as always or never. For example, instead of saying “You are always late”, you may try saying something like: “You are 15 minutes late for the third time this week”.
One mistake that is often made in conflicts is labeling the person instead of addressing the behaviour. When the focus is on what someone is perceived to be rather than the behaviour they exhibit, the productive communication usually shuts because the person feels attacked and in need to defend their character. Instead, talking about specific actions in a non-judgmental way increases the chances of the other person focusing on solving the problem instead of becoming defensive and feeling the need to protect their sense of self.
For example, instead of saying: “You are so selfish”, you may try with: “I think that this specific action you did was inconsiderate”. See the difference? Starting the conversation in this manner does not guarantee that the person will not get defensive at all, but it can decrease the chances of this happening and increase the possibility of coming to a positive result.
Step 2: Use “I statements”
Sometimes describing the behaviour that you don’t like and asking for it to change is enough. However, it can often be useful to let the other person know how you feel and what you need in a particular situation. Express your feelings and needs in a clear and open manner that’s at the same time non-blaming and non-critical. While doing this, you should be careful to frame the communication from your perspective, describing how you feel.
Avoid focusing on the other person, or trying to blame them for how you feel. Instead, share your emotions and your needs in the context of their actions. For example, instead of saying: “You don’t help enough around the house”, you may say: “When you don’t help out with the housework, I feel overwhelmed”. This way, you take responsibility for your emotions (because don’t forget, nobody can make us feel the way we feel; we respond to what is happening according to our thoughts and beliefs), but simultaneously address the problematic behaviour.
Note that, sometimes, these “I statements” can seem like emotions, but they are really just about other person’s actions. For example, when you say something like: “I feel…manipulated, ignored, mistreated”, you don’t express genuine emotions. What you’re really saying is: “You manipulate, ignore, mistreat me”, which is, again, describing other person’s behaviour or, more precisely, how you understand their behaviour. “You statements” can sound overly blaming and critical, which, again, moves the focus of communication from finding a solution to self-protection.
Step 3: Listen actively and put yourself in other people’s shoes
Just listening is not enough for good communication. We need to be actively listening. Active listening means that we are fully engaged in a conversation, that we are trying to truly understand the message the other person is trying to convey, and that we are putting effort into making the other person feel heard, understood, and safe to speak. This means that we will show interest in what the other person has to say by, for example, nodding, leaning forward, not interrupting them, etc.
The key is listening to understand, not to respond. When we are focused on what we want to say next, we are focused on ourselves, not on the other person. That can prevent truly hearing and understanding their message, which can further lead to misunderstandings, bitter feelings, and overall unproductive communication.
Trying to see things from another person’s perspective and to acknowledge how they understand the situation can be incredibly helpful in creating a productive dialog. It can make the other person feel heard, understood, and respected, which makes them more likely to listen to you openly, and less likely to get offended.
Step 4: Offer a solution
People can’t read your mind. You can state what you’d like to happen next, or invite the other person for a discussion to find a mutually satisfying solution. You can say something like:
“I would like…”
“I think… What do you think?”
“I appreciate your concerns, what do you suggest we do? How can we get around this problem?”
Putting it all together, here are some examples of assertive communication:
“This is the fourth time this month that I’m doing extra work because you have fallen behind. I understand that you are busy, and I want to be a team player, but I am under a lot of stress when this happens. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I completely understand what you are trying to say, but I will have to disagree. I see the situation this way. How can we find a common ground?”
“When you are late to our dates, like you were the last three times, I feel frustrated because I need to wait. Also, I feel hurt because it seems to me like I am not a priority. I would appreciate it if you would respect my time and arrive promptly the next time.”
“I understand that you need my help, and I would like to help you, but I really need to take care of myself today because I feel run-down. How about tomorrow?”
“No, thank you” (Yes, this is perfectly fine to say, no need for excuses or explanations)
Assertive communication can feel stressful at first, especially if you’re used to another form of communication. Remember your assertive rights, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It becomes much easier with practice, and the benefits are numerous.
Do you find it difficult to communicate assertively? What are your experiences with this style of communication? Let us know in the comment section below. Additionally, be free to share this article on your social media; who knows, maybe someone finds it useful and get inspired to improve their communication skills.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Duckworth, M. P. (2009). Assertiveness skills and the management of related factors. General principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, 124-132.
Duckworth, M. P., & Mercer, V. (2006). Assertiveness training. In Practitioner’s guide to evidence-based psychotherapy (pp. 80-92). Springer, Boston, MA.
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