Problem-Solving: The Work of Satisfying Relationships

Smiley_svgUnresolved problems and conflicts in your relationship contribute to stress and tension, which leads to relationship dissatisfaction. Ask yourself, “Is it okay in my partnership to identify, have, and talk about problems?” All people have problems to work through. To create healthy communication we must not deny problems as a way of dealing with them and we must be able to discuss them. When we deny our problems we can become depressed, overeat, drink, and otherwise act-out compulsively. In contrast, addressing problems as they occur contributes to feeling connected to our loved ones, which leads to lower levels of stress, spontaneous expressions of affection, and improved mood.  Keep in mind that the best time to resolve a conflict may not be immediately. It is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time to cool off.

Problems are part of life and the work of long-term relationships.  So are solutions. We may spend more time in the drama of a problem than solving it. We end up missing the point, the lesson, and the gift.  Successful partnerships involve a willingness to listen to and be influenced by the needs and opinions of one another.  It’s necessary to talk about and solve our problems if we want a decent manageable life together.  Starting a discussion with criticism or blame is a common way two people escalate to hurting each other.

During conflict a means of monitoring anger is to notice when your voice rises, this is a warning signal that you are getting closer to blaming or having an outburst. When you lash out you become the “problem” and the drama continues.  You step into the role of the persecutor, your partner becomes a victim to your ranting, and eventually someone will take the rescuer role to make things better.  The problem often does not get addressed.  Eventually intimacy and your sex life are ruined with this ongoing pattern of relating.  Problem-solving skills can be developed and used to cope with relationship disputes and can also be helpful in other areas of your life.

Problem-solving techniques are effective when applied to problems of conflict directly or to problems that might contribute to disagreements (e.g. work conditions, financial concerns, health problems, etc.). Good problem-solving is closely related to changing your thinking; it’s changing your belief that problems are overwhelming and impossible into a belief that they can be addressed successfully. You and your partner need to attack the problem and not each other.  Start discussions with a positive meaningful comment about your partner’s strengths before sharing the issue(s). End your communication with a positive statement about how you will do your part to making the connection stronger.  Be willing to discover and correct blind spots about your behavior.  Resolving problems requires clearly defining the issue to overcome obstacles and find solutions.

Example: Poorly defined problem:

“I’m unhappy and depressed in my relationship.”

Example: Well-defined problem:

“I feel unhappy with my relationship for most of the day, every day because my partner is not affectionate. When I’m unhappy, it’s hard for me to interact with my partner and I end up sitting by myself watching TV for hours or I call a friend to discuss the state of my unhappiness. This makes me feel unloved, lonely and frustrated. My friends are irritated with me for my constant complaining, and my partner is angry at me for my emotional distancing and isolation.”

Resolve your frustration by clearly stating what you need from the other person.  Describe your request in clear terms. For example, you might say, “I would like you to hold my hand more often” rather than, “I wish you were more caring.”  Wait for a response. Be a good listener and don’t interrupt, focus on what is being expressed and check out what you heard your partner say.  Edit unnecessary negative comments.

Next, how do you want to change? Set realistic, specific, concrete goals.

Example: 1) I would like critical thoughts about my partner to be less often and 2) less frequent 3) I would like to be able to spend time with my partner and share affection 4) I would like to communicate to my partner about what is making me angry.

Now for the fun part of solving problems, this is a time to loosen up thinking and to generate as many solutions as possible, even if they seem dumb or impractical.

Example:

1) Stop talking about my anger to friends and start talking to my partner.

2) Talk to my doctor about my depression and/or couples counseling.

3) Ask my friends to talk to me and urge me to think positively.

4) Practice taking deep breaths when I start to have critical thoughts.

5) Exercise when depressive and critical thoughts start.

6) Go on a weekend getaway to relax and connect with my partner.

7) Give to my partner what I need from him or her (e.g., affection, patience, acceptance, etc.).

Now go for the solution. Try out the top 2 or 3 solutions. Give 110% effort – it will only work if you really want to change.  Expect to be challenged, as it often takes some persistence before a problem is fully solved, but give yourself kudos for the effort.

Example: I will plan to talk about my feelings regularly, I will practice deep breathing when I start thinking critically, and I will show appreciation to my partner.

Solving problems involves accountability for one’s actions and giving up the role of a victim.  The feeling of anger is normal and healthy in long-term relationships.  When anger is appropriately expressed it draws people closer to each other, increasing satisfaction.  Anger is always a secondary emotion to the feelings of hurt and/or fear.  Expressing anger aggressively is temporary relief from shame and feelings of powerlessness.  Everyone feels trapped from aggressive communication.  Aggression is fueled by rage not anger.  If aggression is a problem outside intervention will be necessary. Co-creating a satisfying relationship involves understanding each other’s perspective, not taking another’s communication as a personal attack, and sympathizing with feelings, especially when there is conflict.

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Thank you for reading this post. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create healthy relationships.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

 Roberta

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Caring About How We Think in Abusive Relationships

"Thinking" Courtesy of Wikipedia

“Thinking” Courtesy of Wikipedia

Researchers of cognition estimate that people experience upwards to 60,000 automatic thoughts a day, and for most of us 80% of our contemplations are negative. These negative  thoughts are repetitive ideas that we continuously tell ourselves throughout our lives. They are primarily formed from experiences with feelings and actions in our family environment and intimate relationships. They are not facts and are often not accurate reflections of reality. Especially when our family communication patterns are destructive and our intimate relationships are abusive. Our inner dialogue has a strong effect on  emotional states, actions, and how we cope with life.

Imagine you have a problem with an emotionally abusive partner that you are trying to cope with. You could think, “This is not about me, I can manage, even though it is difficult,” or, you could think, “This is hopeless, there is nothing I can do right, I’m completely overwhelmed and it’s impossible to make a change.” How might you feel, think, or act differently in these situations? If you feel anger or resentment, the challenge is to acknowledge it, learn from it, and then release any self-destructive thoughts.

Thoughts can affect your reactions to your partner’s emotional abuse and your ability to cope with it too. In particular, thinking his or her abusive behavior is about you. Participating in the emotional cruelty with your partner is likely to make you feel more helpless to change and to suffer more. In contrast, thinking that makes you feel competent to cope with the relationship can make you feel better about yourself and allow you to change the circumstances. When you feel misery, force yourself to think grateful thoughts. When you feel blamed, reassure yourself that who you are is okay.

Thoughts often seem to be out of our control. Even so, the truth is that we can learn to monitor our thinking, notice thoughts that are more or less helpful, and make choices about how to counter or change those thoughts. By doing these things, we reduce thoughts that contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and increase thoughts that contribute to feelings of competence, confidence, and determination. These thoughts can then help you a) act more effectively with your partner and b) stop creating your own emotional pain c) help you leave your relationship. This also helps you make emotionally fulfilling choices like spending time with loved ones, accomplishing your work or educational goals, or reducing the negative effects of your abusive partner.

The three steps to changing your thinking are to:

1. Notice your thoughts (if you are feeling bad, you’re thinking negative thoughts).
2. Ask yourself, “Is the thought helpful or harmful. Is it accurate?”
3. Change your thought, if harmful or inaccurate; counter it with a positive coping thought and behavior.

Thoughts can be empowering thoughts or self-defeating thoughts. They can be thoughts that reinforce you to believe in your value or thoughts that punish you for being or making a mistake. Looking at your own relationship experiences, which types of thoughts are most likely to be helpful? Where does your mind hang out? Make a list of these inner dialogues to help you notice the thoughts that make you feel bad. This action will help you to stop attending to the seemingly involuntary thought processes and the continuous negative monologues.

Questions to ask for empowering coping thoughts in an emotionally abusive relationship are:

1. Am I blaming myself for something over which I do not have control?
2. Are there any strengths or positives in me or the situation that I am ignoring?
3. Have I had any experiences that show that this thought is true all the time?
4. If a friend had this thought, what would I tell him or her?
5. Have I been in this type of situation with my partners before? What happened? Is   there anything different between this situation and previous ones?
6. What have I learned from prior experiences about the signs of an abusive relationship that could help me now?

These actions will help you in emotionally destructive relationships and can help you get through times of stress in healthy relationships. Listen to that voice in your head and do what you need to do to take care of your thoughts.

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Thank you for reading this article. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to the self-judgment and critical thoughts. And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-acceptance and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

Chronic Pain, Self-talk, and Distraction

841479_17427852One important part of a chronic pain control plan is changing your self-talk. Self-talk is the dialogue you have inside your head in response to a situation or pain episode. For example, you are having a pain episode, your self-talk might go something like this: “This is hopeless, there is nothing I can do, I’m completely overwhelmed and it’s impossible to stop this pain.” One way to change your pain experience is learning how thoughts and actions influence your feeling and coping. By paying attention to negative self-talk and changing your thoughts you can learn to reduce and better manage pain (including emotional pain). Negative self-talk can affect the severity, duration, and intensity of your pain experience and your ability to cope with it too. In particular, catastrophizing (thinking that make things seem worse than they really are) about pain is likely to make you feel more helpless to cope and to suffer more. If you learn to recognize the thoughts that crank up your pain and distress, you can replace those thoughts with calming, soothing thinking that brings your pain level back down. You could think, “This is something I can manage, even though it is difficult.” By doing this you are more likely to feel competent to cope and to feel better about yourself and distract from your pain.

In addition to changing your self-talk, you can also learn skills to focus your attention in certain areas and distract yourself from others. A helpful skill for reducing pain or emotional distress is distraction. You may believe that there is nothing that can be done to stop your pain. You may feel that you need to be dependent on drugs in order to cope. You may believe that you need to get rid of pain in order to live life at all. People with frequent or chronic pain often pay a lot of attention to bodily sensations. This means that they are very aware of pain and often suffer more as a result. The good news is that we have some control of our attention and can choose to focus on something else. Although some pain experiences or sensations are so strong that it’s very hard not to pay attention, most of the time we have some control over where and how much we focus our attention. Have you ever noticed that you’re not as bothered by pain if you’re involved in doing something interesting? This is because you’re just not as aware of pain (or distressful emotions) if you’re distracted by something and not paying attention to your body. Attention is the first step to perception. This is not ignoring pain, it is paying attention to something else. If you notice your pain when you’re doing a task, you don’t need to get upset, just return your attention to the activity of the moment.

Tips for Distraction and Changing Your Attention

Monitor your self-talk, reduce thoughts that make you feel bad and increase thoughts that contribute to feelings of confidence.

Do things that you enjoy and help take your mind off pain or feeling distressed.

Treat your senses. Light a scented candle, buy fresh cut flowers,  indulge in a massage, or take a hot bath.

Find positive meaning from your pain or disabling experience.

Schedule events with close friends or family.

Contribute to a cause or do something nice for someone else.

Make a gratitude list of things that are good in your life. Read it when you feel pain. Read it everyday.

Distract your thinking. Read a book, watch TV, or do a puzzle.

Generate different physical sensations. Sit outside in the sunshine, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, pet a dog or cat.

Look at something beautiful, like a flower or a piece of art. Go to a museum. Look at nature.

Listen to music that is soothing or uplifting. Pay attention to the sounds around you like birds, the wind in the trees, or ocean waves.

Have your favorite meal or dessert. Eat an orange slowly, paying attention to the flavor and texture.

Working on changing your self-talk is only one part of a chronic pain control plan. Strategies like distraction with pleasant activities and soothing sensations can be helpful. By figuring out what thoughts work for you and practicing attention diversion when you feel pain will result in feelings of control, less dependence on pain medication, and a better quality of life.

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Thank you for reading this article.  My learning journey with chronic physical pain is a result of my experience with phantom limb pain.  I was graced with the gift of self-acceptance upon realization that my forearm was amputated.  Before my limb loss, I sacrificed my emotional and spiritual well-being for perfectionism and looked to others for approval at the cost of trusting my intuition and developing my self-worth.  My drive for perfection was crushed along with my arm.  I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to self-created emotional pain.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

Stress, Chronic Pain, and Breaking the Habit of Thinking Negatively

250px-Dramaten_mask_2008aInevitably there are times of stress in our lives.  Stress, negative thinking, emotions, and pain are interconnected.  Stress makes us feel anxious, short-tempered, and overwhelmed. When the stress is internal we feel out of balance.  When stress is external and internal we experience our most difficult times with physical pain, we tend to tense our muscles, even if we aren’t aware of it, which can lead to more pain.  When we are feeling relaxed or happy, we tend to have less muscle tension, which can lead to less pain.  And when we are pain-free, it’s easier to feel relaxed and engaged in life.  We feel emotionally better and are better able to be there for ourselves and those we love.

Your thoughts and behaviors are related to your feelings and can result in more positive or more negative moods.  For example, if you spend time with friends during stressful periods, you tend to feel more balanced and peaceful in spite of your physical pain or life circumstances.  Spend a whole day sitting by yourself at home and thinking about how hopeless and helpless you feel, you are much more likely to feel down or grumpy than if you are able to be active and distract your thinking.  At the same time, it is normal and understandable that pain will sometimes make you feel stressed, unhappy, depressed, anxious, frustrated, or angry.  The goal is not necessarily to avoid your feelings and thoughts, but to learn how to manage them, along with your pain.  You have choices about how to stop the thoughts, emotions, and actions that lead to greater levels of emotional and physical pain. You may have experimented with compulsive or addictive behaviors to avoid or temporarily stop your pain.  These temporary pain relievers do not solve the problem; they postponed it.

At the same time, physical pain can be your body’s way of letting you know when something is wrong, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference between injury and pain that doesn’t indicate damage.  In addition, painful emotions can be our awakening to stop the thinking or behaviors we are doing that cause pain.  For example, a backache could be caused by an injury, but it could also be caused by our thoughts and feelings leading to unnecessary stress or tension.  Think of the saying, “ Ninety five percent of what I have worried about in my life has never happened.”  Similarly, you might have back pain because of a damaged disc, or it could be an achy muscle from exercise.  You know your body best, so it is important that you learn the differences between types of pain so that you can make good decisions about when you should try to distract yourself or change your thinking and when you need rest or medical care.

Self-care may not come easily during times of pain.  Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself, what do I need emotionally?”  One way to benefit by taking care of yourself is to do at least one or two activities a day that you enjoy or that make you feel good.  These activities can be almost anything, from reading or watching TV to spending time with friends and family to taking a class or volunteering for a cause that makes you feel good about yourself.  One activity that is known to reliably improve feelings and lower stress levels is exercise.  Exercise activates endorphins in the brain, which are a natural painkiller and are 20 times stronger than any man-made pain medication. People who exercise regularly feel better, sleep better, and generally are happier.  In addition, exercise improves muscle tone and strength, which contributes to reduced pain.

Tips for Improving Your Well-being

  • Monitor your thinking, notice thoughts that make you feel bad, and make  choices about how to counter or change those thoughts.
  • Meditate everyday.  Sit quietly for 10 minutes; think about how you can be a better person.
  • Find positive meaning from your stress or disabling experience.
  • Reduce thoughts that contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and increase thoughts that contribute to feelings of competence.
  • Be an optimist, look for the lesson in your pain, and seek something good from your adversity.
  • Deal with your emotions.  Acknowledge stress, anger, hurt, and anxiety.
  • Take a walk every day.
  • Have regular scheduled events with close friends or family.
  • Find time to be alone with your partner.
  • Make time for laziness.
  • Be healthy inside.  Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and good carbohydrates (e.g. whole wheat bread or pasta).  Avoid junk food.
  • Treat your senses.  Light a scented candle, buy fresh-cut flowers, and indulge in a massage, or take a hot bath.
  • Sleep.  Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Be creative.  Spend time learning new things.  Work in your garden, paint, or build something.
  • Do something for someone else.  Volunteer or do something nice for a loved one.
  • Do something to make you feel the opposite of how you  feel now.  If you’re feeling frustrated and helpless, take a walk or watch a funny movie.  If you’re feeling sad read positive affirmations.
  • Put a mental wall up between yourself and the pain, thoughts, or the emotional distress.  Detach and deny your pain, box it up and put it on a shelf.

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Thank you for reading this article.  My learning journey with chronic physical pain is a result of my experience with phantom limb pain.  I was graced with the gift of self-acceptance upon realization that my forearm was amputated.  Before my limb loss, I sacrificed my emotional and spiritual well-being for perfectionism and looked to others for approval at the cost of trusting my intuition and developing my self-worth.  My drive for perfection was crushed along with my arm.  I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to self-created emotional pain.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

Coping With Chronic Pain and Stress

By learning how thoughts and actions influence our feelings and coping we can learn to reduce and better manage life’s emotional challenges.  The figure below is the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) paradigm for negative automatic thoughts leading to painful emotions and resulting in unhelpful (actions) coping strategies.  The thinking process is repetitious and circular, whereby thoughts lead to feelings that lead to actions continuously ( I could not add directional arrows to my diagram).   Thoughts, behaviors, and emotions affect our physical experiences and sensations, including emotional pain, and vice versa.  How we think also affects the severity, intensity, and duration of chronic pain episodes, emotional pain, stress levels, and disease progression (i.e., diabetes, terminal cancer, arthritis,  back pain, etc.)

THOUGHT

                                          “I’m not achieving enough”

PHYSICAL PAIN & STRESS LEVEL INCREASE

                                         w/NEGATIVE THINKING

ACTIONS = “Isolate”                                             FEELINGS = “Fear”

This approach teaches us ways to change thinking and behaviors to best cope with stress/pain and reduce negative thoughts.  You may believe that talking about your fears is a weakness.  Or you may perceive that other people believe these things, causing you to feel embarrassed and angry.  Either way, you might hide your fears from others, criticize or make excuses for yourself, and smile when you are feeling sad.  It is estimated that a deep thinker (perfectionist) has somewhere around 60,000 automatic thoughts per day.  Research shows that for most people, 80% of thoughts are negative and repetitious.  As the saying goes, “It is a bad neighborhood in my head and I try not to go there unsupervised.”

You may believe that there is nothing that can be done to stop your negative thinking and to better cope with stress.   Learning to tune-in to ourselves, learning to listen to ourselves takes practice. You may be dependent on others for approval in order to cope or don’t talk to anyone about your concerns.  Lastly, you may believe that you need to get rid of your problems on your own in order to live your life.  You believe that you have to endure alone. These beliefs are mental traps!!!

Thinking you are not achieving enough during these unpredictable times can be stressful and tiring and this can make it hard to think clearly, leading you to feel frustrated and hopeless.  However, it is possible to improve your mood and to learn to cope effectively with your problems that remain unresolved.  By learning to focus on the things you have control over, you can change parts of your reality by choosing how you will think and behave.

 Total reality is made up of at least the following parts:

1) What you see, hear, and can measure, 2) how others think and act, 3) how you think and feel, and 4) what you do.

EXAMPLE:    Different responses to negative thinking and stress can produce many types of  “realities.”

WHAT YOU SEE, HEAR, AND CAN MEASURE

My thoughts tell me I’m going to lose everything, I’m  not good  enough, and I must be worthless.

HOW OTHERS THINK AND ACT                                               1.  Supportive

2.  Dismissing

3.  Critical

 

HOW YOU THINK (you have a choice)                                    1.  This is what my mind does.

2.  I can change my thoughts.

3.  I can’t stand it!

WHAT YOU DO (you have a choice)                                        1.  Isolate

2.  Get angry with others.

3.  Appreciate what is good in my life.

4.  Learn techniques to cope effectively with stress.

Negative thoughts may be interfering with your life by keeping you from doing the things you want to do.  It is important to remember you do have some control over your thinking.  You may feel vulnerable and powerless when negative feelings appear.  But keep in mind (excuse the pun) that you can learn to notice your thoughts, feel your feelings, figure out if there’s something you need to do, and then go on with your life.  Life works best when you take charge of making change in your thinking.

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Thank you for reading this article.  My learning journey with chronic physical pain is a result of my experience with phantom limb pain.  I was graced with the gift of self-acceptance upon realization that my forearm was amputated.  Before my limb loss, I sacrificed my emotional and spiritual well-being for perfectionism and looked to others for approval at the cost of trusting my intuition and developing my self-worth.  My drive for perfection was crushed along with my arm.  I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to self-created emotional pain.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

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