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Entries in relationships (13)


Less Alone in a Group of Strangers.

How can someone sit in a group of strangers and feel more calm, connected, heard, loved and seen than they do in their normal every-day life waiting outside the doors? 

The fact is that many people do. The company of strangers becomes a place to heal from "normal" life.

Many people feel alone, isolated, lonely, "different" - particularly when surrounded by friends and family. Even those who have large numbers of familiar people in their lives are more open, calm, comforted and less alone in the company of strangers - sharing their deeply-held and closely-guarded secrets, exploring their most challenging feelings and simply learning to be themselves in the absence of the expectations of others. 

Perhaps, with a group of strangers there is nothing to prove; we are not even sure what we should be hiding from them so we don't bother raising the facade we use with everyone else?

Maybe we recognise that there, we get to test-drive or at least explore a "new" version of us - one that feels better and fits better, one that is less exhausting than the version we currently show?

Could it be a sign that we no longer have the energy to raise that well-worn facade for yet another group of people - leaving us with no place to turn where we can truly be ourselves? 

It is when we choose to be what others expect of us that we are the most disconnected from ourselves. In living up to the expectations of others, we abandon our relationship with, and knowledge of, ourselves.

In the absence of these expectations, we are free to make other choices about how we behave, think, feel.

It's one of the great paradoxes of life that there, in a group of strangers, we are more at "home".

Sarah xx






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? 




Stepping back to let go a little.

I am writing this on the train as I return home from a weekend away with girlfriends. Nine of us left our children and partners for two nights and took a train ride to another town. There, we shopped, exercised, ate, drank, slept and didn't sleep, laughed and talked about lighter and weightier things than we usually have time for.

There is a shared knowledge that we are mothers but the experience is different for each of us because we are at different stages of parenting. One of us has two teenagers and an elder daughter who just got engaged to be married. Another has three children under 5 years old. Some of us work part time, some not at all outside the home (inside the home the workload is more than ample!). There are those with only sons, those with only daughters and a few with a mixture.

Even the mix of cultures is varied. Some have partners from the same culture while others are bi-cultural families living within a third culture. For this group, these things bring us together rather than segregate us.

Additionally, it is very rare for any of us to leave our families behind and run away for a weekend. For some it was the first time ever. For others it has happened a few times but those times can be counted on one hand.

A weekend away to reconnect to Self – outside the role of partner/wife and mother is a trip to another time. I heard the words 'before kids' frequently. “that was in another life” was met with nods of recognition. We know that our Self has been in there somewhere - under the roles we play in our day-to-day lives. We have, at times, almost lost hope of ever seeing our Self again.

At first, we need practice to reconnect. We try on that old Self and see if we recognise it in the mirror. We realise how much we have changed … and how little we have changed. We acknowledge the rich stories around us and are liberated by the differences and the similarities, the whispers and shouts of 'me too'. We let our vulnerabilities show more and more as the weekend goes on and we get tired of holding up the curtain to avoid being seen in our discomfort with ourselves without the protection of our roles.

We get glimpses of the life we know we must return to at the end of the weekend. Most of us are ready to 'go home' as we call it. We are ready to once again resume our lives as we know them.

Yet we do so a little differently. A little  changed for the chance to have stepped outside the box a moment and see what it all looks like from the outside.

The re-entry is not always easy. It requires letting go … again. We had to let go to come here, we have to let go to return. None of the letting go happens without a change, however imperceptible to the naked eye. Things are different for having let go, for the perspective created by a different view. A glimpse of ourselves, as we were, as we are … when no longer wrapped exclusively in the role of Mother and partner.

When did you last visit your Self?

sarah xx


Who's got your back?

There have been moments in my life when I have felt sad and disappointed at what appeared to be a lack of honesty in the world around me.

I wished that people would simply come out and say what they mean. I wished they would tell me when I had hurt their feelings, or check with me for the true meaning of what I was saying rather than assuming they knew. I felt that I was learning the ropes, stumbling blindly through social situations, trying things out - often blundering as I went. It seemed that everyone else knew how to do the social relationships thing, whereas somehow I had missed out on that very important gene. 

I also recall thinking that if dishonesty and judgement of others was the way to make it all work, then I was much better off without it.

In recent years, I found a person who is willing to step closer to the fire, risk getting burned by my response - because she believes in honesty in friendship too.  

She gently holds up the mirror and says "this is how it looks from out here - is that what you are hoping to project?". 

Sometimes my answer to her question about what I am putting out there is "yes I can live with that" and sometimes its "ummm, wow, no that was not my intention at all". 

Having this person around has taught me to be more honest, more brave, less concerned with the impression I am making.  She helps me focus on the values I hold and match my behaviour to those values. As a result I feel more authentic. 

It's a huge and important role she plays in my life - one I am extremely thankful for.

There may be someone in your life, who for the best reasons, is there right behind you. This person is human rather than perfect. They have their own stuff they are working out too... but when it comes to you, they are on your team. They are there gently saying "are you sure this is what you want?". They know you don't have all the answers. They offer you that knowledge without judgement.

They invite you to self-reflect without shame.

They have your back. 

Who is that person in your life? And for whom do you play that role?

sarah xx


Focus on the task at hand.

The reality, with 7 million others walking the earth (not counting the animals who can), is that your relationships with other individuals are not all about you, your stuff, your needs, your thoughts, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your wants.

When it comes to relationship challenges, your task is to work on the 50% that is your stuff - and leave them to work on the 50% that is theirs. 

Oh WAIT! Perhaps you belong to the "its all my fault" school? Or maybe you are a member of the "its all THEIR fault" crew.

And while neither of these is true - more importantly ... neither of these viewpoints is helpful. It's waaaaaaay more effective to look at things from a "what is theirs, what is mine" perspective; its often the only way to work things out. 

Imagine if we all worked on our own stuff and left others to work on theirs? Imagine if we did this without judging ourselves (big ask huh?) and without judging the other imperfect humans around us? 

This doesn't have to be wishful thinking - its all possible by making an important choice ... to do just that! 

Self-reflect ... thoroughly, regularly, honestly. Do it gently, kindly, openly with yourself. Breathe slowly and deliberately.

In doing so, you won't have much time to busy yourself with others people's faults. Not only that, but by practicing being kind and gentle with yourself, you will learn to do so with others. 

We are all here learning at our own pace, in our own imperfect way - our children included.

It's not all about you. Focus on the task at hand.