Everything 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.
Relationships 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.
Have you ever reached out for connection, and your partner didn’t respond? Or walked away? Or talked about a completely different topic? Maybe something like this: “I had seven participants in my class today!”… Silence… (second attempt) “I made $60!”…She walks away… (third attempt) “The group is so enthusiastic and committed. They really try to get it.”… “My aunt called, she wants to come over for Thanksgiving.”
Gottman calls these responses “Turning away”. In his 40 years of research on relationships he found out that the key to happy, stable, and healthy (literally: happily married couples live on average 4 years longer, have better functioning immune systems, and are more resilient) relationships, is turning toward bids for emotional connection. The response itself is less relevant, as long as the act of turning toward conveys the message: “Hey, I hear you, I see you, and you matter so much to me, that I want to connect with you and hear what’s going on for you.” I guess turning toward works so well, because it acknowledges that the other person is worthy to be seen and respond to.
Turning toward might look like this: “I had seven participants in my class today!” “Wow, that’s great. That’s the third time you had such a big turnout.” “Yeah, people are loving it and bringing friends. I made $60!” “I can imagine you feel proud and relieved that your commitment and efforts are helping people.” “Yes, I do. The group is so enthusiastic and committed. They really try to get it. They even practice in between.” “I am so happy for you. It sounds as if your needs for contribution, community, and appreciation are met.”
Feel the difference?
Turning toward invites more dialogue, and more connection and understanding.
Turning against is the third possible response to bids for emotional connection. Your partner starts arguing, criticizing, making sarcastic remarks, judging, ridiculing, or anything else that conveys disrespect, conflict and disconnection. “I had seven participants in my class today!” (sarcastic) “Wow, my goodness, isn’t that something. I had 18 in my class today.” (more timid, still trying to connect) “I made $60…” “As if that’s gonna help.” (almost discouraged, still hoping for connection) “The group is so enthusiastic and committed… They really try to get it…” “Who cares? You spend six hours on that class, and come home with nothing.”
In this week of atonement, this day of Yom Kippur, I invite us to ask ourselves how often we turned away or against a bid for emotional connection. We might ask ourselves how we can convey to our partner, friend, child, sibling, parent, co-worker, neighbor, anyone that we care enough about them to acknowledge and appreciate their bids for emotional connection.
We can start a circle of connection, community, and appreciation.
Wouldn’t that be lovely?
You want help to turn toward bids for emotional connection? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.
My grandfather and I are standing on the porch, ready for our daily 30 minutes of connection.
He stops and listens to the birds. “It is so beautiful here, so peaceful. I feel so happy to just stand here with you and listen. To feel the breeze on my skin, the sun on my face, to hear the songs of the birds. Just quiet. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go… I loved that back home. Sitting in the yard with my wife, your grandmother, watching our children run around. I loved working in my office and seeing your dad play with his cars on the carpet. I loved being with my family… It’s all I ever wanted…”
Tears drop down his eyes.
“You live in the world I dreamed of… Peaceful, safe, welcoming… I never wanted to be a hero. I much rather had lived a quiet life, full of love, laughter, togetherness. Much like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings… But we don’t chose the times we live in, we only chose how to respond to them…”
Tears roll down his cheeks.
“It is like you clearing up the poison ivy. Of course, you much rather read a book, or go for a hike, or relax in the sun. But that’s not your choice. Your choice is to eradicate it now or let it grow till it covers your grounds and blocks your path. I knew that if we didn’t stand up against the Nazi’s now, the consequences would be far worse, for far more people, than any risk I took individually. I didn’t chose my time, I only chose how to respond. I wished I had never had to make that decision.”
He starts sobbing.
“I wished I had seen your dad graduate, marry your mom, have her kids, be promoted at work… I wished I could have held you in my arms, your siblings, your cousins… I wished I had lived to be old enough to witness your dad grow into the source of support he is, for your mom, for you and your brothers and sisters, for his siblings, for his family-in-law… Gosh, he is a rock… An incredible son… An amazing man…”
“I never chose the time I lived in, only my response… You honor me most by enjoying and appreciating the world I tried to contribute to.”
We sit together, quietly. Then his sobbing calms down.
“Your times are different. And it is your choice how to respond to them. I hope you bring your delight and gratitude into your response.”
You want help to respond to the time you live in? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session.
You want to ask for a raise. You have been working in this job for several years, and you feel confident that you add value. You want appreciation for the unique qualities you bring to your clients, acknowledgment for the results you’ve accomplished, and support for your financial sustainability.
You feel anxious even thinking about it. Expressing yourself vulnerably, is just not something you’re good at. You have some shame around your feelings and needs, and you fear rejection, ridicule or simple lack of interest. How can you ask for support for your needs?
It starts with connection.
Everything always starts with connection:
Sharing your feelings and needs. Your fear, your anxiety, your vulnerability. Your needs for acceptance and support. Maybe just your needs, if your boss is not a touchy-feely person.
You can ask for a reflection to make sure that the message intended is the message received. The other person might hear blame, or that you’re playing the victim, or a demand, even if that was not your message. Asking for a reflection allows you to clarify your message.
You can also ask for a response. Maybe she feels irritated, upset, or embarrassed. Maybe she needs understanding, connection, or acceptance. Giving her space to tell what’s going on for her deepens the connection.
This connection creates a context for your request.
Well. That’s easier said than done!
At least for me. I so often struggle with asking for what I want, that I often don’t even try.
The Mediate Your Life Intensive helped me.
We did a neat exercise: ‘the need behind the no’. You share your need for appreciation, acknowledgment, and support. You share your vulnerability and anxiety. You make a present-tense, action-oriented, positive-language request: “I want to earn $20 an hour starting next week.”
Your practice partner says ‘no’.
Hum? That’s not what you want! You’re stuck… Now what?
Well, the simple next step is to ask your partner which needs would be unfulfilled if he would say ‘yes’! Invite him to think of something that would support his needs and your needs!
To you it probably sounds as simple as 1+1=2. For me it was an eye-opener.
Engage your partner in a collaborative effort to brainstorm solutions that nurture ALL needs.
Not just his, not just yours, but everyone’s.
I’m gonna practice this right now with you, hoping to support your need for choice, and my needs for connection, acceptance and support.
It’s about my blog. I feel tender, excited and honored when I imagine you subscribe to my blog, because you find it funny, interesting, and encouraging. More subscriptions help me build an ‘author platform’ and -eventually- publish my book. Are you willing to decide today if you want to subscribe? I post five blogs a week, it is free, and you can always and easily end it. And if not, are you willing to share in one sentence why not? To support our need for understanding, and hopefully connection?
The cool thing about expressing what you want and being open to hear what’s up for the other party, is that you’re actually owning up to your needs and your experience of whether they’re being met. It’s about you validating yourself. You’re accepting and honoring your truth, whether other people get you or not. And the fun part is that in this stage of emotional liberation, there are no demands. There is just the acknowledgment “Hey, this is what’s going on for me. This is how I think you can enrich my life. How would that be for you?” Just like you would listen to the special needs of your bougainvillea. And in this happy space of offering your needs as beautiful and precious you open up to options that you never considered before.
I haven’t come from this place too often. Usually I demand that the other party validates my needs, because I carry so much shame for having them. I wished that acceptance, belonging, love weren’t that important to me. I wished I could do without them. And if not, my god, I wished I didn’t need to ask your help supporting them. And if I do, you have to say ‘yes’, because a ‘no’ would confirm that there is indeed something wrong with me. Like fundamentally wrong. A ‘no’ is not a message about what’s going on for you, but a reflection of me.
Image courtesy to wikipedia.org
This time it’s different. I notice that I completely accept my need for appreciation and to be seen for my contribution and commitment. Very matter of factly. ‘Yup, that’s me. I flourish most if these needs are met. Yup. Isn’t it wonderful?’ The self-acceptance allows a curiosity about what’s up for them. ‘Wow, that’s fantastic. Is that how you see the world? Is that how you would thrive? Wow.’ The openhearted curiosity invites a profound understanding. ‘Ah, yeah, I understand your experience, if you see the world from that perspective through these glasses. Now, take a look through my glasses and look at the same situation from my perspective. You understand that I don’t receive my salary as meeting my needs for appreciation through my glasses of habitual thoughts of not-mattering? Makes sense, hey?’ And the understanding invites a spontaneous desire to support all needs.
And maybe for the first time in my life, I understand, own, and accept that my experience in the world is determined by the glasses I wear. And, even better, that I am not my glasses. That I can take them off and put on other glasses. Or no glasses at all. Just as I chose. Just a perspective. Nothing more. I am WAY bigger than that.
Pretty cool, hey, for spring?
You want help to validate your own needs? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.