Improving Relationships, Starting with You

“Hi, it’s me. I’m the problem, it’s me.”  
Taylor Swift. 

This line seems to be everywhere right now, and it is catchy! It sticks in your head and plays on repeat. This holiday season as we come together with our friends and family, there will inevitably be some stress and interpersonal conflict to navigate. Perhaps we should take Ms. Swift’s musical advice: Instead of venting to our friends about the behaviours of others we could grab a cup of hot chocolate and engage in self-reflection or journal writing about ourselves. 

One of the most common reasons individuals discontinue therapy is because they quickly realize the work is internal rather than external. It is so much easier to sit and complain about everyone else. Accountability takes work, it is also where the most growth and healing occurs. I saw a meme once that said, “I go to therapy to deal with those who don’t.” It did not sit well with me. Therapy is for you, for you to figure out what triggers your behaviours, why you are attracted to others who may cause you harm or to act in unhealthy ways you do not like. It is somewhat natural to blame others for the discomfort in your life. The reality is your circumstance will not change or improve until you take a good look at yourself and understand the way you show up with others. Self-reflection requires you to look at your own triggers, negative core beliefs, and responses to the trauma of your childhood or previous relationships. Going to therapy, or engaging in self- help, cannot change anyone in your life, except you. Perhaps even more importantly you cannot do the emotional work for others, save yourself the heartache and spend that energy on you. 

I need to be really honest with you, this work is incredibly painful and difficult. As humans we go to great lengths to avoid feelings. We run, eat, bike, drink, work too hard, keep ourselves really busy to avoid feeling what we need to. However, to feel, is the only way through it. And man is feels awful, but then it feels really good after. I promise. 

This holiday season, and in life in general, if you find yourself frustrated with others or your emotions elevated, take a moment and turn inward. If you are angry or want to lash out, then it is about you. The other person may have done something you do not like, but if you are not calmly reacting, then you need to look at your own triggers. After your initial focus on the other person’s behaviour stop and try the following: 

1. Take a deep breath and try to find relaxation in your body, shake it out, find some calm. 
2. Ask yourself, what are my triggers in this situation? What is going on for me? Helpful hint, this is likely a core belief being triggered and using the words “I am…” can help. For example, the root of the conflict might be that you are not feeling loved or liked by others, or not enough of a friend, partner, or parent.
3. Once you know what is going on for you offer yourself some self-compassion. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation, how would you comfort them?Offer these same kind words to yourself. You can also engage in a self-soothing activity, something that makes you feel comforted. 

4. If you want to talk through the issue with the other person focus on you and not their behaviours. Be honest about what is going on for you instead of trying to get them to change their behaviour. Using statements like I feel…, and the story I am telling myself… may help the other person have a greater sense of empathy for you and they will likely be less defensive, thus hopefully promoting a healthy conversation. 

The holiday season really is about coming together, and in order to do so in a healthy way we need to do the hard work to understand ourselves within our relationships. Celebrate you this holiday season through a gift of self-awareness and accountability. 

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.