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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.


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When was the last time you turned toward conflict?

When was the last time you felt angry with someone? Do you remember your response? Did you close off and suppress your anger to maintain some sense of acceptance, emotional safety, peace? Or did you blame, judge, criticize in an effort to support your needs for transparency, being heard, emotional safety? Or, maybe, did you turn toward your friend, expressed yourself with compassion and listened with respect to understand your friend better and restore the connection?

Image courtesy to Wikimedia.orgJohn Gottman has 40 years of relationship research under his belt. Married couples, friends, siblings, co-workers, parent-child relationships. You name it, he researched it. He describes all interactions between people as bids for connection. “Honey, will you pass me the sugar?” “Dad, I need help with my homework.” “Will you come to my birthday party?” Even a bitchy “You’re late.”, or an enraged “Get of my back, f*ck off with your anger.” are bids for connection, a longing to be understood for our experience.

It took me a while to get the concept. Usually I see anger, dishonesty, blame as clear signals to disconnect, and I feel relieved to do so. One less conflict in my life.

The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. When we habitually turn away or turn against bids for connection, including conflict, we have less and less intimate relationships that help us weather the storms of our lives.

Let’s take the example of “F*ck off with your anger.” Not the most inspiring bid for connection, and we can respond with empathy and compassion. “I hear you’re fed up with the way I express my anger. Do you want more respect, harmony, support for your sense of well-being?” Sounds pretty open, doesn’t it? That’s what turning toward does. It conveys a message of acceptance, ‘your experience matters to me’, and a willingness to understand and restore the connection.

Turning away shows up as silence, disregarding, interrupting, being preoccupied. Turning away seems to be devastating for relationships, because the implicit message is ‘I don’t care about you, or your experience. You don’t matter.’

Turning against is more contemptuous, belligerent, contradictory, domineering, critical, or defensive. There are many flavors. It could sound like this “As if you’re such a sweetie-pie.” “What did I do? Nothing! It is you who is angry!” “You’re blowing it out of proportion, as usual, drama queen.” Painful responses, because I am arguing your experience. In the long run partners lose trust that they’ll be heard, and they’ll retreat within themselves and withdraw emotionally.

What is your habitual response? Turning toward? Turning away? Turning against? And how does that impact your relationships? Do they deepen, grow stronger, build up trust? Do they evaporate, dissolve, disappear? Or does conflict, distrust, withdrawal increase?

You want help to give turning toward a try? Contact me for a free, discovery session. I would be delighted to help, 512-589-0482.