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Entries in courage (5)

Tuesday
Feb252014

The "how" of those difficult conversations.

I often get asked in sessions and groups about the HOW of speaking to others assertively. Most often the concern is about finding the words to do this in a way that does not make a tricky situation even worse. Above all, we are trying to have our feelings and our concerns heard by others. 

We all, me included, need reminders of helpful ways to have these conversations. I found this excerpt from Quest for Life's founder, Petrea King's, book Your Life Matters – The Power of Living Now. 

The formula of ‘I notice… I imagine… I feel…’ explained below, can be a very useful one for dealing with challenging conversations.  When we use this formula - perhaps not with the exact words - we’re endeavouring firstly, to describe the behavior or the situation that we see is happening.  Secondly, we’re endeavouring to compassionately understand how it might be for the other person, and thirdly, we’re letting the person know how we’re feeling about the situation.  This formula conveys that the other person is not the problem.  It’s as if we stand hand-in-hand together looking at the problem rather than seeing each other as the problem.  Here are some examples of how this formula might be used:

‘I notice that your room is a mess and I’ve asked you three times this week to clean it up.’ (Perhaps this is better directed at your children rather than your partner!)

‘I imagine it is not a priority for you, however, it is for me.’

‘I feel angry and upset that what I’ve asked you to do hasn’t been done.  Can we talk about this, please?’


This approach is very different from screaming at the kids and telling them how hopeless and feral they are. It can work well on the really difficult conversations that we often avoid such as:

Example 1

‘I notice that whenever I want to talk to you about what happened to me when I was a child you change the subject…walk out of the room…go to the fridge…tell me not to be silly…tell me it’s all past history’…or whatever the behavior is.

‘I imagine you don’t want to talk about it because it’s in the past…it’s a painful subject…you think I’m blaming you…’ or whatever you feel compassionately might be the root cause of their dismissal.

‘I feel sad…alone…humiliated…angry…estranged from you…because we don’t seem able to communicate about this subject.  Can we please talk about it together?’

Example 2

‘I notice whenever I want to talk to you about driving more slowly you become angry…speed up…go quiet…get moody…laugh it off.’

‘I imagine that driving fast is something you enjoy…you don’t realize that you’re speeding…that it’s just the way you drive.’

‘I feel really frightened when you drive that way and I’m wondering how we can talk about it together.’


Example 3

‘I notice that when I try to talk to you about the fact that I might die from this disease you change the subject…try and cheer me up…tell me to be positive…tell me I’ve got colour in my cheeks…pour a Scotch…stop me.’

‘I imagine that you might be as frightened of the future as I am…might find it as difficult as I do…are as sad about the possibility as I am…it might be your worst nightmare too…you don’t have words for it either.’

‘I’m feeling more and more alone with my thoughts because you only seem able to hear the “positive” or cheerful parts of me and I need to talk to you because you’re my best friend…I’m sad and lost and want to share my thoughts with you…I’m isolated by my fears and need to talk them through with you…I can’t make arrangements and let you know what I want in the future and I feel anxious about that.’


Example 4

‘I notice that when I’ve mentioned your driving in the past nothing changes…you become angry…you laugh at me and tell me I’m a scaredy cat…you ignore me.’

‘I imagine that my thoughts and feelings on the subject are of little interest to you…an aggravation for you…of no consequence to you.’

‘I feel angry and upset that you ignore my pleas for you to drive more slowly and I’m letting you know that I’ll be making other arrangements to arrive at the destination…I won’t travel with you in the future…I’ll be driving from here on in.’


Sometimes this simple formula is best presented in the form of a letter.  If the subject that you want to discuss is considered a thorny one and conversation about it seems impossible, then putting it in writing can have real benefits - it enables the other person to read your thoughts and react to them privately; they can throw the letter on the floor, re-read it and weep, ignore it or mull over it and come back to you later for a discussion.

Sometimes it is enough to have conveyed the information about how you feel and things begin to change automatically.  And sometimes it’s not even about the other person at all but communicating the feelings fulfils our need to understand and heal our emotional self.  Don’t expect a response from the other person.  If they choose to ignore what you’ve written, then you know more about that person and their ability to respond.  Their response might equally come in the form of a hug, a gesture, a kiss on the cheek or a flower on your pillow.

The important part is that you have fulfilled your responsibility, which is to acknowledge and express yourself in a way that was never intended to wound - our intention is very important.  If there is any intention to wound the other person, there will be a hidden barb in your words.  Make sure your intention is honourable and that it is an honest communication based on the need to share your thoughts and feelings.

I Notice...I Imagine...I Feel I Notice...I Imagine...I Feel (58 KB)

There are plenty of models to choose from when it comes to conflict resolution. This one struck me as both easy to remember, and easy to execute.

What do you think? 

Sarahxx

 

Tuesday
Feb052013

How am I making it through?

Apparently, the key to overcoming a long-held fear is to begin ... and so I did.  (here is what I did)

It helps to have important dates and milestones along the way: tests and assignments due regularly, and the grande finale of an exam in a couple of weeks that marks the end - except for the bit about waiting to see if I passed!. Some of the dates near the start were about giving up, pulling out, deferring. They were opportunities to bail on the whole mad scheme – to give into the fear. 

Make a start – that’s the hard part. 

Turn around and face the thing you fear. Diminish its power over you.

Name what scares you the most. Share it somewhere – write it down, tell someone, say it to the wind – whatever! Just get it out.

Then put one foot in front of the other. Each day do something little that helps you towards your goal. 

When (not if – cos it will!) looking at the big goal makes you feel queasy, glance away and decide on how you will proceed for today only. 

When the distractions arrive, or the self-talk creeps in telling you “it can wait” or “this is more important” – tell yourself “you made a start, this other stuff is resistance, you are on the path towards a goal and the only thing for it is to keep going”.

And the big distraction I was offered was impressive.

A couple of weeks into the course my son broke his leg. In our case, this meant that he needed to have three weeks off school, then it was two weeks school holidays. When he could finally return to school, I needed to go four times a day to help him up and down three flights of stairs (no lift). I had to pull back on my work hours, change appointments, stop doing as much writing, socialising, reduce my “free” time and dig in for a month.

When I was sitting in the hospital for two days while they sorted out his leg, I thought to myself “oh no, I just started … maybe I should pull out, this is going to be too hard to manage all at the same time”. It would have a been a decent excuse. But I knew it was just that!

An excuse. It was my fear talking.  So I kept going. 

And here I am, with two and a half weeks to go before the exam (THAT’S a whole other experience!) and while I am feeling quite anxious about the exam experience, I know that I am almost there. I know that I am closer to my goal than I would have been if I'd never started… that I am one big step closer to the thing I have wanted for so long.

I say a big step closer because this wasn't simply a case of studying a subject that doesn't enthrall me, this was about overcoming a fear that has plagued me for twenty-five years.

And now I am free - not because I passed (I don't know how this all ends) but because I am beyond the point where the fear has control of my life and my choices.  

Name the fear that is standing in your way ...

sarah xx

Thursday
Sep062012

Is your motivation is intrinsic?

Setting goals and having dreams is something we are all encouraged to do. Having courage, living our values, doing the work, growing and evolving - we are also encourage to do these. The key to lasting the distance and making sure you move along the journey you want to be on is intrinsic motivation. 

My experience since writing this post has been interesting. Eight years of thinking about it, talking about it sometimes but vaguely, writing about it privately … and then wham – there I am sharing it with the world. After pressing the initial ‘send’ I decided to take it a step further and email the link to my family – knowing that they don’t regularly read my blog meant knowing that this experience was not going to be known by them unless they stumbled upon it.

Then I published the link on FaceBook. Now all the people I have known across the years from school through to now were sharing this piece of my life. Freaky stuff!!

The traffic on my site peaked quickly. I watched it do so, and watched myself racing around my mind grasping for a hiding place … followed quickly by a reminder to myself that this is what I had created and I needed to suck it up, stand in the discomfort and breathe (which I did).

When you put yourself out there (like I did) you have to be quite clear about your motivation for doing so (which I was). There needs to be somehow an understanding of the process that is involved – I don’t mean “how” you are doing it, but more like “why” you are doing it and what it means for your own individual evolution. Yes, large parts of it relate to sharing with others so they know they are not alone - but altruistic notions may not be enough to get you through the cold, lonely, vulnerable, terrifying, incredibly painful and difficult experience of having it ‘out there’

Intrinsic motivation is the key. Do it for your Self. Tie it to a value: self evolution; self witness; self-awareness; letting go … tie it to anything that is for you - and you alone.  That is what intrinsic motivation is. 

Those moments where you want to run and hide will be tough – but if you know that you are doing it in service of a value you hold, you can sit in the vulnerability and know that you are living a whole-hearted, full life. 

 

Sarahxx

Monday
Jul162012

Shut-down vs sharing into the big, loud, silence.

The responses to this recent post have been few and varied: private emails; public posts; one or two phonecalls; and the rest has been about big, loud, silence.  While that silence could be enough to convince many of us that shut-down is preferable, there is a point at which shut-down becomes scarier than sharing. 

Many of us take the plunge and tell someone about the ‘stuff’ inside us… in the hope of being heard.  Many of us take that risk only to find that we are free falling into the big, loud, silence – or the discomfort of others as they change the subject, grapple for words to respond to us, tell us about their experiences instead, avoid us, tell us we are imagining it or that someone else has it worse than us, or that we just need to ‘get over it’. 

Once we have risked it once and found the vulnerability and silence too much to bear – what next? We push it down, we deny it, we take it to mean there is something wrong with us, we resolve to ‘sort it out’, we make a note-to-self not to tell anyone else … we begin the shut-down. 

Gradually we become skilled at the shut-down … until the day when we are not. The day when it starts to leak. The day when we turn to alcohol, drugs, food, work, sex, co-dependent relationships, self-harm in all its forms, anything we can find that stops the leak – even temporarily. 

Even with our new ‘coping skills’ we struggle along, battling the truth at every turn, convincing ourselves that shut-down is the only solution – because telling someone, sharing, sitting in the discomfort of our feelings is waaaaay too scary...

... until shut-down becomes scarier than sharing. Until we cannot stem the leaks anymore. Until we are watching as our life starts morph around us.

Then we realise that that shut-down is no longer a solution.

Change only occurs when the pain of staying the same becomes too great.

Are you there yet? 


Sarahxx

Thursday
May312012

My annual journey into the dark.

Last Saturday, my youngest child turned 8 years old. One of the most remarkable things about this event each year is that it provides me with a moment of recall and reflection: of a different, tougher time in my life - a time when I barely held on...

... a time when I was in so much pain that taking my life, or leaving my family was the only solution I could see to saving them all. 

Each year on my daughter's birthday I am reminded of her first year of life. I had barely finished breast-feeding her older brother before she was showing in my body.  There was little time (for me at least) to get a handle on the new world I was living in, the choice I had made and the consequences/results of that choice. There was little time for my relationship to catch up and right itself enough to handle a second child. Little time to re-find Sarah to the extent that I could find her again easily enough after a second child arrived.

Each year I recall the people around me who "saw" me. I remember the ones whe reached out to me in small ways to encourage me to hang in there (what for exactly I had no idea at the time), the people who told me it would get easier. 

It was a terrifying place to be. A place of such disconnection from my Self, my partner, my children and my place in the world around me. A lot of it felt familiar: I recognised the signs from feelings I had after the birth of my son.

I stood in my kitchen crying at 3am night after night, imagining my departure from the family and my death, or both. I came up with ways to distance myself further from my children and partner - to ensure that they would not have to put up with me any longer: not suffer my messiness, my anger, my pain, my abhorrence of those parts of my Self I found faulted, lacking, imperfect.

I wanted to run and hide from my incompetence, my inability to feel, my numbness, my psychotic moments. I wanted to save them all from me. I was certain my death would be a better all-round solution. I would do the one thing I could do to help them all - I would take myself out of the equation for good

I believed it was something that so many Mothers had no experience of ... and now I know that SO MANY do.

I didn't talk to anyone about how I was feeling: that would have been the ultimate failure ... to show the crazy shit that was in my mind? No way!

Then one of those 3am mornings I decided that I had to hang on: that an imperfect mother was better than no mother at all, that my 3am madness was just that ... a sickness, a dis-ease. 

I went in and woke up my partner (now husband). I told him the crazy stuff I had been thinking for months. I let it all tumble out into the darkness and cold. I let him see my insides. I risked it: I showed him my dirty, nasty guts, my diseased mind.

(He's a great sleeper and 3am wake-ups are not his forte - so you can imagine what it was like for him!!!)

I talked out all the acid and hate. I shared the black, dark poison inside me. I dumped it all upon him, unable to take responsibility for it all (at that point) or to know what to do with it: I knew I had to get it out into the light if I was going to be able to hang on. 

It was the moment I began the journey back. I knew by my actions that I wanted to live and love more than I wanted to die or leave.

I know now that I always wanted that and always will - but that mental illness has a way of making us think things that are not true. 

I know the value of having someone to turn to in the wee small hours of terror.

I know the importance of facing the fear, shining a light upon it, baring its core, sifting through the pieces to see what is, and what isn't real. 

I know the courage it takes. I understand the risk that it is. I honor and value that journey. 

I take it every year ... to remind myself of how far I went and how far I've come. 

Where does your journey take you? 

Sarahxx