Tag Archives: Psychology

FOR COUPLES: Expressing the “F” word: Feelings

Communication problemsWhile some people seem to express emotions easily, most people have to learn. Having emotional language skills is crucial to not only the relationships we have with others, but also the relationship we have with ourself. If we can’t name our feelings and share them, we are a long way off from being able to process them and use them in a healthful way. Having an honest emotional vocabulary is crucial to emotional intimacy, though this communication art is easier for some of us than others.

There’s a joke I make about men. I like to say that most of them act like they’re afraid to say the “F” word — FEELINGS. And  I’m not totally off base here. Men and boys are socialized to express less emotional communication and I think the are also biologically wired to have less emotional awareness than women. There’s even a diagnosis is the therapist’s bible of mental disorders, the DSM, called Alexithymia, which basically means an inability to connect feelings with words. In recent years a Harvard professor, Dr. Ron Levant came up with the phrase “normative male alexithymia” to describe how American males are culturally conditioned  to repress their vulnerable and caring emotions, causing them to become underdeveloped in emotional expressiveness.

But a fear of talking about feelings is an equal opportunity affliction. Since feminism gave way to the no-rules relationship revolution, an age where emotions are less and less risked, many women have followed the example of men. I would venture to say that women’s greatest assets — an awareness of emotions and verbal skills — have been abandoned by too many of our gender.

The solution? To delve into the the squeamish sea of honest communication that focusses on personal feelings rather than points fingers at others.  One of the reasons this is a challenge for some is that this important skill was neither taught nor modeled by our parents. Parents of the 1960’s more often practiced critical parenting rather than emotionally intimate parenting. Critical parenting sounds like this: Johnny you are a messy boy! Look at that disgusting room. No TV for you, bad boy! Emotionally Intimate parenting sounds like this: Johnny, I feel angry when I have to clean up your mess and I want you to feel proud of your room, so I’m going to help you become neater by saying a clean room means a reward of TV. See the focus on feelings, in this case anger and pride, with a positive reward instead of shame as the behavior shaper.

So, assuming that you were parented in the more common, critical way, here’s a crash course in how to use emotional language to grow intimacy in all your relationships. First of all, in every communication, try to identify your own feelings and express them as a reaction to someone’s behavior rather than an assault on their behavior. People get less defensive when they hear the words, “I feel” than when they hear “You are.”

Having trouble labeling that uneasy feeling in your stomach? Here’s Dr. Walsh’s handy dictionary of the most common feelings people express. I like to call them the twenty power words of emotional intimacy. Next time you tell a story to someone, add your emotional experience by saying “I feel,” followed by one of these words: Nervous, Happy, Sad, Angry, Disappointed, Hopeful, Ignored, Embarrassed, Envious, Jealous, Lonely, Excited, Surprised, Proud, Scared, Guilty, Aroused, Uncomfortable, Rejected, Loved.

This kind of language will open the door to the most tender parts of your psyche and help you become more accessible and ultimately more lovable. It will also model skills for others, including your kids. Yes, even your sons. Using emotional language is a bit terrifying at first, but trust me, it can enrich all your relationships. “I feel” quite confident about this.

Watch my youtube video on:

How to Communicate and Be Heard

Happy Holidays Even When They Aren’t

491As I write this, I am sitting in a bright sun room surrounded by thigh deep snow and loving family. We are having such a peaceful, happy Christmas that my teenaged daughter asked my brother why all nine of us (and the extra 15 who are coming for dinner) didn’t just live together all year round. The answer, of course, has to do with practicality, jobs, schools, extended family in other places, etc.

But her sentiment was sweet. For our family, the holidays are a time to put all our problems on hold and be reminded how we fit into our clan. In our place in the great white north, we cook, eat, watch movies, play card games and go on long walks in crunchy snow. Here we emotionally refuel before heading back to our real lives and the general stresses of life.

Not everyone is so lucky. Many people come from families ravaged by poverty or illness or abuse, that communing with family is only a reminder of a painful past. Christmas is not merry for all. But it can be better. That’s the thing about life. We are all dealt a hand of biological predisposition and environmental circumstance. Some things we can control. Others we can’t. But what we can control are our reactions to adversity.

In some ways I believe life is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we believe that our lives can be better, than we can create it. Thoughts are things. Our thoughts create our moods. Our mood shapes our behaviors. And our behaviors influence the response from our environments. We all have the power to enrich our lives with better relationships and more healthy environments. And it all starts with the montras cycling in our heads. What positive message can we implant today?

WATCH MY VIDEO: How to Forgive Someone


FOR SINGLES: Are you in RelationSHAPE?

A Happy CoupleI wish I could tell you that love didn’t suck, that finding a great partner is as easy as it appears in romantic comedies and that all relationships live happily ever after. That, of course, is what others (read: Disney and Twilight) may have subtly impressed upon your beautiful mind.

But I see you there staring at your iPhone deciphering your date’s texts’ like tea leaves, and obsessing about why he doesn’t call. Or, maybe you are wondering how to get your boyfriend or girlfriend on the same page in terms of relationship definition. You want to know how to have the “what are we?” conversation without scaring them off.  I also know some of you may have moved too fast to bed with your current love, and now that the sex-high-chemicals have died down.

RelationSHAPE is getting in the best shape of your life – attachment shape. Finally, there are those of you who are just plain confused about what healthy love should feel like. Are all guys and girls really the bad boys and nad girls, or are those the ones you are attracted to? What all of you may have in common is an insecure attachment style.own, you wonder if this is even what you want. Should you be keeping your options ope

Everyone has an attachment style. Your attachment style comes from a unique mixture of your biological predisposition and your early life experiences with your primary caregivers. Until now, most of the writing about attachment style has focused on parenting but now more people are taking a very personal look at how attachment style plays out grown-up romantic relationships. And it is possible to heal some old wounds and learn to bond in a healthy way. To feel at peace with your relationships.

In my book, The 30-Day Love Detox, I attained permission to publish an attachment test, that until now, has only been used in clinical settings. When you complete the test, you’ll know more about your attachment style and I’ll help you understand what you can do to train yourself to bond in a healthy way. Yes, you can learn to fall in love instead of becoming addicted to longing. You can choose intimacy over intensity. In a nutshell, RelationSHAPE is mental shape for authentic love. And you can do this.


FOR WOMEN: Ariel Castro’s Mind: What Can We Learn

Ariel CastroRecently, I sat in the London bureau of CNN watching the conclusion of the horrifying case of a man who held three women captive for more than a decade. The heart-wrenching statements of victim, Michelle Knight were certainly moving, but the rationalizations and perceptions of her violent captor, Ariel Castro were, for me, a slow drive by a bloody car accident — I was filled with both repulsion and a desire to know more.

That said, I also wondered if there is anything we could all learn from the workings of a mind so disordered. I suspect Castro suffers from a cluster of mental health ailments, including antisocial personality disorder and narcissism with sadistic tendencies, things that do not define him as legally insane but clearly make him a real threat to society. While the vast majority us will never fall into the depths of such psychopathic thinking, many of us can fall victim to blurry perceptions that affect our relationships.

Firstly, let’s address his chronic tendency to externalize all his behaviors. It’s the “she made me do it” thinking. From his screaming wife who made him break her nose “to silence her” to the teen girls who “made the mistake of getting in my car,” Castro blames everyone else including early alleged childhood abuse.

For the rest of us, this thinking seems preposterous until we remember the time we claimed partner “made me angry” our ex “made me take her to court.” Here’s a newsflash, folks. No one can make us have a feeling or make us behave in a certain way. Feelings begin with thoughts and if we THINK someone is making us have a feeling, then we shirk responsibility for our own emotional state or behavior. Of course, there is a flip side to that: people who internalize, blame themselves for every relationship misstep and have a hard time holding bad partners responsible.

But more disturbing than Castro’s “externalizing” were his preposterous perceptions about the emotional climate in his home. To say “there was harmony” in a home where three young women were kept in chains, repeatedly raped and beaten is a clear indicator of the reach of his irrational perceptions. But what of us? Do we ever make assumptions about our partner’s emotional state? Do we take the time to talk about feelings and create a climate where expression of feelings is welcomed?

The musings of a monster were awful to hear. But the rationalizations and defenses that healthy people use in everyday life, can carry a different kind of damage: ruptures in our intimate relationships.

Your Unconscious — Look whose driving your car!

10424_152186811833_115788661833_3449596_98040_aHow many times have you asked yourself, “Why did I do that?” I should have learned that doesn’t work.

I have a favorite metaphor to explain how unconscious processes drive our behavior. Imagine that you have grown up, away from your troubled childhood, and have created your dream adult life. You are in the back of a limo. You have cash. And you look great. The only problem is the limo driver. You can’t see his/her face and no matter how often you order them to take you to the finest restaurant and most beautiful mansion, that darn driver keeps turning that car around and going back to some dirty bird restaurant you ate at as a kid. And rather than taking you to a mansion, your driver keeps pulling up to the house you grew up in. Urrgh!!!

Whether you are a layperson, like most screen writers, and use the term “sub”-conscious, or have training in Psychology and like to look smart by saying, “un”-conscious, the meaning is the same. We all have early life feelings that are out of our awareness, yet drive most of our conscious life.

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