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Empathy works. It always does.


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Turning toward bids for emotional connection

Image courtesy WikipediaEverything we do and everything we say is a bid for emotional connection. We want a sense of emotional connection with the people we feel close to. We want to know that we matter to them. We would love them to respond by turning toward us, even when our bids show up like anger, frustration, blame, withdrawal, criticism, contempt, or stonewalling. We would love them to see any of these behaviors simply as a request for help, even though it sounds like a demand. “Please, help me get unstuck from this place of suffering and isolation. Please, help me find ways  to support my unmet needs in a way that includes your needs as well.”

As the receiving person it might be challenging to have compassion for the anger, stonewalling, criticism until you find the precious person with a beautiful, universal, human need in the behavior you don’t like.

Instead of turning toward by responding with acceptance, empathy, and compassion we might much rather turn against or turn away. “As if you are such a perfect person, asshole that you are!”, we might yell back in despair of the hurt that’s triggered (amplified by our personal baggage). Or we simply walk way, close the door, and shut down our heart to protect us from feeling, hurt, despondent, dejected.

Image courtesy David ShankboneRelationships where partners, friends, siblings, coworkers habitually turn away from each other don’t last long. Relationships where people have a pattern of turning against each other last a little longer, although they end too, eventually. Partners who practice turning toward, no matter the challenges, create long-lasting, intimate, fulfilling, joyous, and stable relationships. (Gottman & DeClaire, The Relationship Cure, 2001, p 1-57). That is not to say that it is easy to turn toward when you are triggered. You might need time alone for self-care. You might need an empathy buddy for support. You might need self-expression to meet your needs for consideration, emotional safety, and inclusion.

And I can promise you: it will improve any relationship.


Which choice are you making the next time your partner, friend, sibling, coworker, or child makes a bid for emotional connection that is hard to decipher? You want help to practice “turning toward” as your new habit? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if and how I can help you.