Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why It's Uncool To Freeze People Out

Have you ever had somebody get upset or angry with you and stop speaking to you?  I notice that it happens frequently, with my patients reporting how painful it is to be on the receiving end of the Big Chill. It can happen with not only children, but with full grown and educated adults.

Putting loved ones in the chill box and shutting down and not responding to them is highly unskilled and emotionally primitive behavior. It doesn't look good on a small child, but this poor coping strategy looks even worse on adults.

If you recognize this pattern in yourself, it's time to do some self-reflection. Where and when did you learn this passive aggressive pattern of behavior? It can actually feel worse to your loved one than punching them. Your behavior is actively making the relationship less safe for the other person. It's a power grab of sorts, in an unfair and childlike delivery.

Is this how you watched the adults in your family solve differences or work through competing needs?

Who did you go to when you were upset as a young person growing up? Was there anyone safe who would listen compassionately, or did you learn to stuff your upset feelings inside and get your retaliation by refusing to speak to others?

Perhaps now is the time to update your skill level if you notice that you have this tendency to punish others by not speaking. Emotionally mature people use words to express if they feel angry, hurt, or mad and need a little time out to cool themselves down before talking things through.

It's perfectly okay to be upset, hurt, or angry. In relationships with another person, you won't always get your needs met. You are not always more important than the other person. You won't always get your own way. Dealing with disappointment and frustration are two things we all need to get good at. It's part of our human experience.

The next time you have the urge to pout, sulk, or freeze your loved one out by not speaking to them, think again. Choose a better, more grown up path. Your relationship can only be as close and secure as you and the other person cab build it. Don't dismantle what you are building because you are reverting back to childish tactics. You deserve better, and so does the other person in the relationship with you. Develop some new strategies. The deep freeze may be a good place for ice cream, but it's a bad place to put your most valuable relationships.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Taking the Risk of Opening Up

It's always a big risk emotionally to open up to someone else: to be real and vulnerable. Opening up means chancing rejection and hurt. It's also the only way to know and be known, and develop authentic and close relationships. Taking healthy risks is sometimes good for us.

Over the years, I've counseled lots of young adults, men and women, who have survived their parents' divorce. They witnessed the pain, betrayal, hurt, loss, and if they were fortunate enough to see it, perhaps they saw their parents accept the loss with grace and move along towards a future. Judith Wallerstein's research on children of divorce, in her ground-breaking study at the Center for Family in Transition, showed us that children of divorce are more scared about risking, opening up, and potentially being hurt than their peers.

Whether you've experienced your own losses and disappointments, or watched it happen to those close to you, building a protective barrier around your heart is not a good strategy. In order to avoid being vulnerable, sometimes people resort to sarcasm, numbing themselves with alcohol or substances, acting "chill" like nothing matters, or shutting down all possibilities for closeness.

In relationships, we have to take calculated risks to succeed. You have to try, even if you're afraid. You have to ask for the things you want and need emotionally. If you don't open up and invest and open up to close, intimate relationships, you don't get them. In relationships, it's no deposit, no return.

Risking enough to selectively open up to others is an essential part of the human journey. It means you can share your hopes and fears, your struggles and your triumphs. Vulnerability and openness is reciprocal as well, and a relationship is deepened as each person reveals more of him or herself over time.

We can take healthy risks with opening up in parenting by putting down the parenting role from time to time to share appropriately a bit of ourselves beyond the parent. It could comfort your child to know about a time when you messed up or learned from a mistake. Sharing beyond the mask of parent could make you more real.

In friendship, taking a risk to invite someone closer to you, to get to know you, or to take the time to really get to know them could be an important road in. Many adults are more afraid to open up and reach out to make new friends than children are. I think it's ideal when a person is open enough to be able to add friends throughout their life cycle, not just in youth.

Risking openness and being vulnerable gives our relationships the opportunity to go deeper and grow more meaningful. Healthy risks push us to grow and be known. Why would you settle for anything less?