The Following Group is Bad for this Compelling List of Reasons:

The Following Group is Bad for this Compelling List of Reasons:

By Joel Christie

Social media has become one of our culture's biggest outlets of expression. People share all kinds of things from their lives, including things that may make others uncomfortable or angry such as their views on social justice issues, politics, or religion. (I do this routinely.)

I suspect much of this has to do with our need for validation, but may also come from a desire to bring attention to things we feel are important. But I have increasingly come to believe that what we share is often counterproductive to the causes we are trying to advocate for. I’m talking specifically about posts that champion one side while vilifying another, categorizing that other group as idiots, narcissists, buffoons, bigots, greedy bastards, pigs, racists, blind zealots, and so on. Immediately we may think, "But they’re every bit as bad as the article says! Worse even! Have you heard what these people think?" And no doubt many of our friends would agree with our position. Yet I maintain that many and maybe even the most of these posts are self-sabotaging. I suppose it's possible you could grab the occasional neutral person who nods and decides "Yes, I now agree that this group of people are indeed awful after having read this." But in general, I doubt it.

If the group you are describing would not agree with the way you are describing them, it will almost certainly have a polarizing effect where both sides draw further into their separate war camps. There are endless examples I could choose from, but I'll go with the current barrage about college students, calling them lazy, weak, stupid, delusional, and a host of other names, mostly having to do with older generations being dissatisfied with how these college students are conducting themselves. To be clear, my point here is not about accuracy or inaccuracy. I do not seek to defend or attack college students by using them in my example, only to question the effectiveness of such posts. We could substitute virtually any topic where strong disagreement exists, and my point would be the same, even in the examples where I personally am the guilty party.

Of course, whether my post is “effective” will have a lot to do with my own expectations. If I’m hoping for someone with significantly different views to consider my perspective then I'm unlikely to find many takers with “The case for why people who think like you are bad” approach. People don’t like being called names. If I want them to listen to me, I’ll need to use inclusive language, and must embrace the difficult task of helping them feel they are genuinely invited to the table of discussion. But I suspect that this is the root of our collective problem: do we really want these people with whom we so strongly disagree to engage with us? If we dislike them as much as our language suggests, the answer is probably no. I think much of the time, what we want is to vent and to rally with our allies because it feels good to be right. Or maybe sometimes we just want to hold up our middle finger while we watch the world burn.

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Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

by Joel Christie 

One of the first things I emphasize when working with a couple is that relationships inherently require work. The couple generally nods and indicates that they are well aware of this. So I emphasize it again: No really, relationships require hard work. Not just this one. All of them. There aren't any lasting relationships out there that just sail along without serious interpersonal problems at least sometimes. So the fact that you two are frustrated and genuinely upset with each other does not mean you're doomed. True, you guys could potentially split up, but if that's what you decide to do, you'll eventually find serious areas of frustration with your new partner. At least you two know where many of your areas of frustration are. So now, if you want to, you can start working on these areas together.

Naturally, if the couple decides to stay together, they want practical steps that will lead to positive results, so here is one practice that I think can be useful to almost every couple: Learn to communicate that you really hear what the other person is saying, and that you care about their feelings, opinions, and circumstances.

Imagine Susan says, "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." Then imagine Brian responds by saying, "So basically I'm just going to have to do everything by myself: cooking dinner, getting the house clean, and never having any help from you ever again. So then we'll both die sad and alone from sheer exhaustion. Great." Then maybe Susan says, "Why do you have to be so sarcastic all the time? You are so selfish."

Her initial statement was: "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." If you were guessing what Susan was hoping for when she said this, what would you say? That she was trying to provoke a fight? That she doesn't care about Brian and just wants him to have to take care of everything for her? Hopefully not, although unfortunately couples can come to believe these types of things about each other when they repeatedly fail to connect and do not find ways to demonstrate to each other that they really understand where the other person is coming from. I would guess that what Susan was hoping for was understanding. She was probably hoping Brian would say something like, "Yeah, you really have been busy. I totally get why you're tired." The entire conversation might have looked different after that. Instead, Brian struggles to get past his own frustration.

This isn't to say that we should discard Brian's frustrations here. Rather, this is about what's most important for the relationship: connection. Brian and Susan can certainly choose to remain in there separate places of frustration, unwilling to acknowledge the other person's place of hurt. But if they do, they will have to deal with their problems alone, without feeling cared for or aided by their partner, which will almost certainly lead to resentment and erosion of trust. Honestly, this isn't about Brian being a bad guy; it's about what will allow this couple to handle this stressful situation together. Very likely, both Susan and Brian have valid complaints, and indeed, if both Brian and Susan are able to express this to the other person—"Hey, I hear you. You're feeling really overwhelmed with all those extra hours at work," or, "You've been taking on tons of extra stuff around the house lately, and that's really starting to wear you out."— they'll stand a much better chance of figuring out a solution. But again, to be clear, finding solutions is really a distant secondary benefit, because there is no guarantee that just by listening to each other Susan will stop having to work so many hours, or that Brian will no longer feel overwhelmed by housework and other responsibilities. In fact, most problems couples face remain unresolved. And strangely enough, this fact remains true even with happy couples.

Okay, so what about the problem though? Does this mean my issue just get ignored? Temporarily, it might mean that. After all, if both people are trying to shove their own problem to the front of the line as the most important one, it's very unlikely that the couple will end up feeling connected, or that either issue will be satisfactorily discussed anyway. On the other hand, if over time, the couple develops the ability to safely share their issues, believing that it will be received with compassion and understanding, the likelihood that both people's problems and concerns receive the attention they need increases. Patience and trust are cultivated. The connection between the couple grows stronger. And their ability to handle difficult and stressful situations improves as well, not because they can suddenly solve every problem they encounter, but because they both have confidence that they have found someone with whom they can explore these difficult issues with, someone who cares enough to let them finish, and who makes it clear they understand and care.

How does this process start? By one or both people deciding that they will start it. By me repeatedly communicating to the other person that I care about their pain, disappointment, and frustration rather than simply responding with my own list of hardships. And by me believing that forming these connections with my partner is more important than solving a problem anyway, even if we happen to solve plenty of problems along the way.

Author's note: But what if the other person doesn't do it back?! It's a fair question. I'll take a crack at that issue in the next installment of Thoughts from Relationship Land

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Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

by: Joel Christie

Admit it: sometimes you want to change other peoples minds. Sure, we love our slogans like "to each their own," but take a quick glance at Facebook or any number of talk shows and you'll notice people busy at work trying to change one another's minds. Hey, it's okay. We're kind of wired this way. Unfortunately, I think the way we go about it is often much more derisive than we intend.

Take any topic people disagree and also care about. That certainly includes politics, social issues, religious issues, etc., but you can find plenty of fodder in the supposedly mundane as well. Ever see a Facebook post like: "The new Jurassic Park was epic!!!" followed by someone quickly slinging a ninja star into the mix: "That movie was so dumb it made me wish the dinosaurs were real so that one of them would kill me and put me out of my misery. How could anyone like something so stupid? And P.S., it's called Jurassic World now, not Jurassic Park." And then a small internet war erupts.

What's happening here? It's more than just the need to have an opinion validated. It's the need for the other person to change their view so that it better fits with my own. Maybe this person feels uncomfortable with diverging views, thinks he or she know better than the other, or believes he or she is just trying to help. Or, perhaps this person just wants to conquer whomever he or she happens to disagree with because it feels good to be "right." But wouldn't it be cool if we were all a little better at talking to each other, and as a culture began to gain confidence that we could disagree and still like each other? Sure, some people are great at this, but I suspect many feel their choices are limited to locking horns or avoiding a heated discussion completely. But here are a few things I think can help people engage in disagreement with much greater potential for a fruitful outcome:

1.) Learn to be okay with disagreement. We say things like, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion," but in reality, divergent opinions tend to make us uncomfortable, producing anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and fear, which we often want to get rid of as quickly as possible. We think "Why don't they just admit that I'm right?? Then there wouldn't be a problem!" Yet most of us would acknowledge that firing insults or "logic" missiles at someone rarely changes their mind. More likely they fire back or disengage. So why do we do this?

2.) Become more aware of your own emotions. As we pause to mindfully notice our emotions, we become increasingly capable of deciding how we truly want to respond, rather than simply reacting out of our lower/reptile brain. The reptile brain handles the important job of protecting us from threats, but can also cut us off from empathy and a desire to connect with the other person. As you can imagine, this is even more problematic if both people are operating out of the reptile brain, confirming back and forth to each other, "You're a threat!" and "Yes I am and so are you!" However, by noticing what is happening within us, we can increase our ability to keep our upper brain regions involved as well, particularly as we make this a mental practice we strive to do over and over.

3.) Develop genuine curiosity for the other person's perspective. This doesn't mean you have to end up agreeing with him/her, but few things shut communication down faster than when it is obvious we don't care what the other person has to say. How do we demonstrate curiosity? Ask genuine questions, not "land mine" questions meant to reveal the other person's ignorance or stupidity. And then listen.

4.) Focus on your own experience rather than trying to prove all the reasons the other person is wrong/ignorant/stupid/etc. "I really thought Jurassic World was fun. It made me laugh several times, and had a bunch of cool looking dinosaurs eating people." In couples counseling, we often tell people to use more "I" statements, and I think a similar principle certainly applies here. Consider the difference between "I am feeling upset about this," vs. "You are really pissing me off."

5.) Admit that you're not necessarily open-minded on every topic. A good way to gage whether I am open-minded on a particular issue is to ask, "What might begin to alter my beliefs/ perceptions about this issue?" If the answer is, "Basically nothing," then this probably isn't one of the issues you feel particularly open-minded about. And that can be okay of course! But it may make a discussion with someone who holds a differing view quite frustrating. And if neither person is open to changing their views on the issue at this time, it's worth asking "What am I hoping will happen as a result of this exchange?"

6.) Revisit the question of, "Why is this issue important to me? What would it mean if my views began to change?" That doesn't mean you have to change, it means you are creating an opportunity to better understand yourself and your own beliefs. Include in these questions, "What don't I understand very well about this part of my beliefs?" And then feel free to explore, even conversing with people you may completely disagree with. Who knows, maybe you'll both discover something new and valuable.

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The Talent Question

The Talent Question

by Bethany DuVall

As an artist, I hear it from people all the time:
"I appreciate art, but I have no talent."
"I can't even draw a stick figure."
"If only I had the talent, I would paint/draw/write..."

So I started asking people: What do you think talent is? Almost everyone had the same response: Artistic talent is the mystical unicorn that carries your ideas directly from your brain to your hand so that they flow seamlessly out from your fingers onto the canvas.
I've never met this unicorn. Here's what I know about talent and art making:

1. Getting your hand and your mind to work together is a skill that you can learn. A mechanic who's been working on cars for twenty years will usually be better at her job than a mechanic who started six months ago. This is not because of talent. It's because of practice.

2. Coming up with images and ideas for creative projects, appreciating beauty in all its forms, and connecting your experience with creative expression – this is talent. We all have it to some degree. A mechanic with the intuitive ability to understand engines as a whole will pick up the skills faster than one who does not, but both will pick up the skills with practice.
Even if you have both the creativity and the skill set, it is very unlikely that you will ever produce an image that is exactly like the one you imagine. In 23 years of painting, I never have. In fact, accepting this has had such a profound impact on my work that I remember the exact moment of that epiphany.

In 1997, I was alone in my college dorm painting. I was working on a piece I'd tried twice before and had wasted miserable amounts of acrylic and canvas on these failed attempts. But I couldn't get the picture out of my head. It was Father Gregory from the movie The Mission. He sat on a rock in the middle of the rain forest playing a primitive recorder while native tribesmen stood among the trees, weapons raised, ready to strike. As he'd played his haunting melody, the tribesmen cautiously lowered their weapons and came out to listen. Father Gregory's voice came over the music: With an orchestra, we could have charmed them all.
I'd seen the movie only once, about four years earlier, but Father Gregory's comment on this moment had stuck with me. I kept trying to capture it, and kept failing.

But this time, it was working, sort of. Father Gregory's face under my brush was correctly proportioned, but the features and pigment were off. The trees around him were taking on a washy, haunted look. This was not how I remembered it. I remembered beauty and peace. There was a quiet violence in the painting before me.

I considered gessoing over it – the artist's version of erasing the whole thing. But something was right about the painting, even if it wasn't what I was going for. I sat back and stared at it. I'm not sure for how long because the scene started stirring into different things in my head. In the movie, this scene was a triumph. But I was old enough now that I knew more about the devastation that European colonization and missions created in the Americas. I began to see that forcing the painting into my preconceived direction would be telling a story that wasn't true. I began to understand that however well-intentioned, this moment was an assault on a way of life.
I gave in to the direction the piece wanted to go. I let the musician become a native man holding the same recorder Father Gregory had played, and imagined the way the music would change in his hands. The trees became the faces of the listeners. They were screaming silent screams. It was disturbing and beautiful and true, and the best work I had done to that point.

You can learn skills. If you can't draw a stick figure, that's a good place to start. If you have ideas for artwork, or even just an appreciation for beauty, that is reason enough to learn the skills. The artwork has things to teach you. Our job is to meet the images in our heads with the best of our abilities and grow from there. And if you ever meet that unicorn, don't send it my way. I have too much fun learning from my mistakes.

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What to do with Paradigms

What to do with Paradigms

by Joel Christie

We all have paradigms, those patterns and structures that shape our thinking and beliefs in certain particular ways, wherein we like some things, and dislike others, trust some sources, and distrust others, etc., etc.. It's inescapable. And though it might be tempting to label this as a bad thing (as some indeed have), doing so would merely be acting out of one's paradigm. Ha. No, the fact that we operate out of paradigms is neither good nor bad, it is simply one of our primary ways of managing thoughts and information.

Our paradigms affect the way we live of course. If I have come to believe that all oranges taste bad, I may in fact miss out on that one magical, extraordinarily lovely type of orange that I would actually totally enjoy. However, the overriding hostility I feel towards oranges in general also helps me avoid eating plenty of yucky bad oranges I don't like. (I like oranges fine, by the way. But I know some anti-orange people out there... You know who you are.) Regardless, we all do this. We may attempt to not do it, insisting, "But I am open-minded!" Ah. But in so doing we are nevertheless demonstrating a paradigm diligently at work making sure we aren't close minded. Again, there's no need to worry about the fact that you and I and everyone else operates out of paradigms.

But that is not to say that the content of the paradigms we develop cannot be harmful. Certainly it can be, and in a variety of ways. I could come to believe that exercise is nothing more than an annoying waste of time that leaves me feeling sore, sweaty, and generally gross. Why would I want to spend my time doing something that makes me uncomfortable and that I don't enjoy? That's stupid. Duh. ...Except that exercise is also critical for maintaining health, regulating chemicals within my body, assists in keeping me on a consistent and reliable sleep schedule, and giving me energy though out the day, the lack of which could contribute to depression as a result of a dopamine deficiency, and a general sense of lethargy, which I also don't enjoy. Not to mention that exercise allows me to be in good enough shape to run from a bear if I should happen to come across one. All good things. And all things I will miss out on if my paradigm tells me there is no point to putting in the hard work that comes from exercising. It might also prevent me from discovering certain types of exercise which I enjoy. Bummer.

Some aspects of our paradigms are formed consciously: "Goodness, this seminar on Shakespearean literature certainly has helped me rethink the implications of Macbeth, just as I hoped it would." But many aspects of them are formed subconsciously, which means I may lack awareness about why I believe what I believe/ want what I want. "Hmm, now that you mention it, what drove me to sign up for that seminar on Shakespearean literature in the first place? I mean, I know I like Shakespeare and all... but why? Did it have anything to do with the fact that my father often praised me for being 'As witty as Shakespeare?' Dear God, I'm nothing but a puppet!" And so on.

Regardless of how and why our paradigms are formed, we can be confident that they will deeply impact the decisions we make, the way we feel about ourselves and others, and the things we enjoy or don't enjoy in life. Examining our paradigms not only helps us understand ourselves better so that we have a clearer sense of why we believe what we believe, it can also open up space for us to challenge and change beliefs we may possess which contribute to depression, anxiety, poor self esteem, and plenty of other belief-rooted maladies. For those interested in such change, a good way to begin examining a paradigm is to ask myself how I came to believe something, and why I still believe it, or no longer do. Journaling can be one way to do this, or simply sitting alone with my thoughts. Conversation can also help me unpack my paradigms, though of course this means I will be rubbing up against someone else's paradigms. But that's okay! These why questions can lead to greater illumination, producing a stronger sense of self confidence and also indicating areas where I would like to see growth and change occur in those portions of my paradigms no longer satisfy me. And that can be downright life changing.

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The Cost of Our Expectations

The Cost of Our Expectations

by Joel Christie

Healthy expectations have the potential to create boundaries and direction within our lives, such as "I expect to be treated respectfully by others," or "I expect that my hard work will help me solve problems and achieve goals." If these things don't happen as I expect, it may signal to me that change is needed. Useful. Healthy. Good.

But let's be clear: many of our expectations are not only unhealthy, they are outright destructive. "I expect my boyfriend to take me to Paris every other weekend. A girl deserves to be treated right, doesn't she?" Or what about: "I expect my wife to buy me a Ferrari for my thirtieth birthday. She'll do it if she loves me." And this one: "I expect my kids to behave perfectly, in every situation, always. Forever. With no exceptions. Period."

See? Expectations can be trouble. You might think, "Well duh, of course those expectations are a problem because they're completely unreasonable." Ah-ha! But that's the real issue, isn't it? We almost always think our own expectations are reasonable. "I expect my kids to get straight A's—I certainly did, after all," might seem reasonable to mom or dad, but for the kid who is genuinely giving his or her best only to fall short, we could probably imagine those expectations feel quite different. "But she's not giving her best," I often hear parents say. So in this case, the unreasonable expectation might be that the child always gives her best. And yet do any of us always give our best? Of course not. But we tend to have this strange ability to muster up sympathy for our own tiredness, boredom, lack of effort, etc. Hmm...

When we say, "I expect," what we're really saying is, "I will not tolerate less than..." Not only can this set us up for frequent disappointment, it can also send a strong message towards those whom our expectations are aimed at that we will not accept them unless they meet our expectations. This not only feels lousy, it is also very hard on relationships. Have you been on the receiving end of someone's expectations that you were unable or unwilling to live up to? It sucks, doesn't it.

I've heard the objections to this. "So I'm just supposed to throw my standards out the window? Not hope for anything? Not expect anything of anyone?" Not at all! What it means is that we learn to shift our expectations towards being healthier and more realistic. If my son is struggling with math, and I come to realize that he frequently puts in considerable effort, my expectation can change from "Get straight A's" to "Keep on trying; I like that you're learning the value of perseverance."

Rethinking our expectations absolutely doesn't mean I suddenly become a doormat in my relationships, or that I am not passionate about anything. No, changing our expectations in this way means coming to understand that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and that sometimes I will feel disappointed by others just as they feel disappointed by me. In those moments, I can either choose to communicate how disappointed I am by the way this person has failed to meet my expectations, or I can express that I care about them. But it's tough to communicate both of these things successfully at the same time. (Often, a good indicator of which of these I am communicating comes from the way the person responds to me.)

The cost of expectations can be steep indeed. Parents who communicate to their children time and time again that they failed to live up to expectations might or might not end up with children who learn to perform and achieve as required. But their children will very likely remember that mom or dad didn't approve of them when they failed, making their love feel conditional. And it's much the same in our relationships as well. If what I expect from others is perfection, I will always eventually be let down. And so will they.

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The Value of Play

The Value of Play

by Aubrey Gainey

Work Hard, Play Harder. We have all heard that motto from time to time, maybe in a meme we saw on Facebook or from a friend describing their weekend festivities. This simple saying can emerge as a justification for a recent vacation to Vegas or serve as an excuse to play golf for the third time this week. Are there any actual benefits from this life mantra? Is it actually healthy to work hard, but play harder? As a counselor in training, I explored this notion of play and the benefits adults can acquire from this simple, yet easily forgotten behavior.
As a counselor education student, I am studying and learning about play therapy (in particular for children aged 3-12). Research has shown that play therapy has helped children overcome obstacles, cope with trauma, and grasp stressful life challenges through the use of play. Although it may seem very simple, there is an art and science to this type of therapy. Young children cannot verbally discuss their concerns, so they are able to express their emotions through the act of play. Unstructured play gives children a sense of control in their lives and provides them an outlet to express themselves. As Friedrich Froebel once said, "Children's play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import."
So how do we play as adults? Is it forbidden once we are no longer children? What does it look like in adulthood? Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget to have fun on a daily basis. We go to work, then come home tired, and find ourselves doing obligatory activities like laundry and dishes. Why should playing only be every now and then? Who said it should only be for kids?

Here are some ways you can incorporate play into your daily life:

1) Play through your long lost hobbies...
When was the last time you did an activity that you really enjoyed and that you would consider play? I know that forcing myself to go to the gym is not one of them, but riding my bike on a beautiful day around a lake? Bingo! I used to love to ride my bike as a child and somewhere on the path to adulthood, this fun hobby got lost. Think back to things in life that you truly enjoyed doing. It doesn't matter if you were "good" at it, just that you genuinely loved the process. Try to remember what activities brought you a feeling of happiness and contentment. Pick up that paint brush again and start painting. Turn on your favorite music and start dancing. Grab your basketball and head to a nearby court. Try not to judge yourself, just accept and enjoy this moment.

2) Play with your pets...

Try playing Frisbee or throwing a ball with your dog. Not only will your pet be thankful for this, but you will also get exercise without realizing it. Playing a simple game of throw and catch can also create a sense of mindfulness. Throughout the day, our mind is in a million places at once and focusing on one activity can decrease stress by allowing us to stay in the present moment. The simple act of petting your dog/cat can act as a relaxation technique and reduce that tension from all of the stressors in life.

3) Play with your kids...

Playing with your child helps build a strong connection and a healthy parent/child relationship. Instead of just watching your kids play, join them. Even though sitting on the park bench may seem like the adult thing to do, playing with your kids can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will you burn more calories moving around than sitting, playing is fun! Push your child on the swing set and then swing yourself. Kick around a ball with your kid, and then play a game of Simon Says.
Don't have children? Take your nieces or little cousins to the park. I'm sure your relatives won't mind the free babysitting. Another great bonus: laughter is guaranteed! It will bring you right back to childhood.

4) Play for exercise...

We all know the benefits of exercise and at some point have bought a membership to the gym. Does going to the gym have to be the only way adults get fit? No! Playing can be a great way to stay active and will help you feel more energetic, happier, and more alive. Instead of going out to dinner or sitting on the couch with friends or loved ones, do a fun activity together. Not only are you connecting to others, but you are also doing physical activities that will reduce your stress and get you healthy. Take a walk in a park with a friend or go jogging with your partner. Join an adult kickball team or sign up for a salsa dance class with a buddy. Make exercise fun again so that you will enjoy incorporating it into your life. It doesn't have to be torture when you think of it as play.

5) Play for wellness...

Play can serve as an easy, fun, and cost effective stress reducer. Although the act of play can be very simple, it is often abandoned once we leave childhood. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist, said that fun is an essential part of our basic human needs. Notice that he didn't say want but need. Even as adults, we need to include fun into our lives in order to make us feel balanced and healthy. How do we have fun? Play!
Don't underestimate the power of play, because not only can it help you stay balanced, it can make you happier and less stressed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is a happy talent to know how to play." Just because we have been on the planet longer, does not mean that play is restricted from our lives. Play can be a valuable asset to add to your life, no matter what your age. When's the last time you played?

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Conflict Can Be Less Awful. Seriously, It Can.

Joel Mag liveCynthia Morales Live1

by Joel Christie and Cynthia Morales

Few of us enjoy conflict. Maybe the debate team captain? Or possibly trial attorneys? But if we're being honest, most of us would say we feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and even afraid of conflict. But why is that? Cynthia and I are both counselors who work with HD Counseling, LLC, and we thought we would take a few minutes and explore the question: What is it about conflict that seems to be so unsettling for us as human beings?
[Note: This discussion pertains to non-violent, non-abusive conflict.]

Cynthia: To start I'll share my mental associations of conflict and they may resonate with our readers. When I hear the word "conflict" my mind immediately goes to problem, unpleasant, bad, defensive, and a feeling that I just want to avoid it. I get a twinge of anxiety, a fleeting wave of guilt and even a brief passing of irritability which come right on the heels of thoughts about some of my own personal experiences. Just by being mindful of myself in this way I quickly accessed some fear-based internal experiences related to conflict.

Joel: Great point about remembering past conflicts and how much they can affect us; times when I was hurt or felt like I "lost" or at least wasn't heard or understood. And depending on how I see these interactions, I might start to feel like my views don't matter very much. I might feel like I usually end up trampled, or possibly that I have to trample the other person if I want to be heard, respected, validated, etc.

Cynthia: Conflict can bring us to a pretty discouraging mental space, definitely. Your description suggests some valid reasons for conflict's bad reputation. When I think about why we fear conflict, I believe some of us learn to regard it as this terrible, awful, no good, very bad situation that leads to an even more terrible, awful, no good very bad situation. Some of us are programmed that way for legitimate reasons. Conflict itself has the capacity to threaten crucial aspects of wellbeing such as belonging, validation and self-esteem.

Joel: Yup.

Cynthia: We want to protect those things, and how we do so determines the nature of conflict. In a more defensive type of mindset, we may unknowingly be drawn into an argument with someone that has less to do with the issues at hand and more about securing power of our wellbeing. Hence the trample or be trampled approach you mentioned.

Joel: Earlier you also talked about a list of negative things we might associate with conflict, starting with the fact that it will involve some kind of problem. And if we don't think there is much of a chance that the problem gets better as a result of the conflict, I think that could be another reason we want to avoid it. That, and not feeling equipped to deal with disagreement and conflict, like you were saying.

Cynthia: That's a great point, Joel. Our beliefs and attitudes about conflict definitely influence our relationship with conflict. If we believe we aren't able to handle it, then that can leave us feeling pretty helpless about things, and even scared that things will get worse. When we view conflict through fear-based lenses, we perpetuate ineffective conflict resolution skills. However, conflict doesn't have to be seen that way. We can mindfully view conflict as an opportunity to achieve some important positive growth both within ourselves and in our relationships with others. It's the first step to being able to navigate the obstacle course that is conflict.

Joel: I think if we can remember our own durability before, during, and after a conflict, that helps a lot; being able to tell myself I am okay and that I still like myself even when someone disagrees with me. Am I putting too much importance on others validating me, when they are flawed human beings just like I am? Also, knowing that it's not automatically bad if the process of conflict is clumsy or uncomfortable. That's normal. But if I can't accept that I may have the added pressure of wondering why I can't be suave and perfect all the time. Hopefully, instead I can focus on listening to what the other person has to say while remaining true to my own beliefs and values (where that applies), and knowing that my own views do not have to be discarded just because someone else does not like them, or agree with them.

Cynthia: Absolutely Joel, and you conveyed a really empowering lesson about how we can embrace conflict.

Joel: I love giving empowering lessons.

[*Cynthia hits Joel with a half-full mug of coffee*]

Cynthia: Being mindful, compassionate and accepting of our experiences during conflict can lead us to being better prepared to work through it. Being less attached to the outcome of conflict also helps us to hear the person with whom we have conflict. It defuses that power differential I mentioned earlier and allows us to hold both our own beliefs as well as the other persons in a much bigger space of compassion. Conflict doesn't have to be so bad, huh?

Joel: It really doesn't, although the very nature of it—two people seeing things differently, and having those "at-odds" ideas or beliefs intersect—probably means that conflict will still be stressful for most of us. And I do think there are instances with certain people with whom it is wise to choose not to enter into conflict with. This doesn't have to mean cowering in fear, especially when we have that concept clear in our own mind: "I am making a choice not to engage in conflict with this person because I do not believe it would be productive or helpful. I am not running from them, or falsely acquiescing to what they want. I am simply not engaging in conflict with them at this time." Using your own good, discerning judgment, it might even be appropriate to tell the person some of this. Regardless, as Cynthia said several times, so much of this has to do with learning to control our own fear and being able to accept differences that may exist even after the conflict has "resolved." If we can do that, conflict will have much less of a negative impact on us.

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Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

By Alexis Honeycutt

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Bungee Jump
OK, so maybe not bungee jumping specifically. Any activity that is new or exhilarating would qualify for this category. Studies have shown that couples who participate in novel and arousing activities with one another, are happier. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most prominent is that novel activities aren't boring, and boredom is the mortal enemy of romance and a relationship killer.

It's easy to fall into familiar patterns of dating. I had some friends who lived their entire life within a three mile radius of their house, and who dated like planets in orbit around the same seafood restaurant. While they probably saved a fortune in gas, they probably didn't do their romantic life any favors.

2. Fight constructively
Conflict, miscommunication, and even arguments can (and do) happen within healthy relationships. However, without a clear set of rules, arguments can lead absolutely nowhere or worse, they can do long term damage to the relationship. Here are two ways to avoid the most common argument fouls.

A. Ask for clarification
During an argument it's easy to assume what the other person is thinking, and then to react to what you think they actually meant (we call this mindreading). In the heat of an argument it is very easy to assign, often mistakenly, malicious intent to something a partner is saying. Instead, practice listening to your partner and paraphrasing what he or she actually said instead of what you think they meant. Again, if you aren't sure, ask for clarification.

B. Specify the offense
Your partner forgot to take out the garbage (again). You yell "The garbage from Tuesday is still in the kitchen because you never take it out. You don't care! You're so selfish!"

Instead, pinpoint a specific behavior (taking out the garbage), and the way it made you feel using an "I" statement. Say "When you forgot to take the garbage out on Tuesday, I felt uncared for." Now instead of insults, the partner is presented with the way in which their actions caused distress, along with the specific action that caused the distress. It is much easier to work with a concrete concept such as "remember to take out the garbage" than it is to change an abstract notion like "so selfish" or "don't care".
By using these two rules couples can drastically improve the outcome of what could otherwise turn out to be a nasty (unproductive) fight.

3. Share their dreams with one another
Couples who share their wishes, hopes, and dreams, extend a symbolic invitation to their partner to support them in their endeavors. Couples who know each other's life dreams, who support one another in their realization, and who have mutual life dreams, stay together more often than those who do not.

Try this exercise developed by family therapist Virginia Satir: Sit across from one another, knee to knee. Hold hands and take turns sharing 1 statement on each of these topics:

A) Appreciations –

Name something you appreciate about your partner. Do you love the way his eyes sparkle when he is telling a joke? Is she a good Mother? Say so!

B) New news –

What's new in your life? This can be as simple as "I bought a new dress for the company party".

C) Puzzles –

What are you wondering about that is connected to someone significant in your life?

D) Complaints with request for change –

This could get tricky. Limit the complaint to one specific behavior and be sure to ask for change at the end. For example "You left the door unlocked when you left for work the other day, would you mind making sure it's locked when you leave from now on?"

E) Wishes, hopes, and dreams –

Here you have the opportunity to inform and enlist your partner in the fulfillment of your dreams, whether it be a vacation you'd like to take, a meal you would like to have next week, or the fact that you'd like to have another baby. This exercise is intended to create a safe space for the sharing of such ideas.

4. Develop a sense of autonomy
Couples also need time (without the other) to pursue their goals, and to maintain a sense of personal identity. After all, it's difficult to cultivate a sense of desire for someone who is attached to you all the time. So, if you are an aspiring chef who has been meaning to sign up for that cooking class, go for it. Partner not into it? Do it anyway. By doing so, you honor your unique self, give yourself space to develop your talents, and allow your partner room to do the same.

5. Have realistic expectations
Recent research suggests that when it comes to happiness, the key is not necessarily whether things are going well, but rather that things are going better than expected; and the lower the expectation, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will exceed the expectation.

So, communicate to your partner that you expect a card and flowers on Valentine's Day, but don't be heart broken when they fail to deliver a personalized, sky- written love poem, complete with fireworks. After all, they need to feel like they can be human, and still be accepted by you.

Bungee jumping anyone?

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