Your Experience is the Key

One of the best parts of my job is that what I read for work directly translates to my personal life. I recently lost myself reading the Gottman’s new book Fight Right and Julie Menanno’s Secure Love (both excellent). Lately, my mind has been circling around ideas such as attachment styles, turning towards, not away from, bids for connection (a Gottman classic), and what healthy conflict looks like. I have a heightened awareness of how little I learned growing up about navigating conflict well or using effective communication. It is an interesting process unlearning, and overriding, the unhealthy communication patterns in our brains.

If you have ever sat across from me and talked about relationships you likely heard me say, “in healthy, safe, and secure relationship that would look like….” on repeat. This is usually my way of reframing the unhealthy insecure behaviours into secure attachment, or close to as they do fall on a continuum. 
I like to focus on exploring our own experiences rather than the behaviour of the other person. It is important that I am upfront here and state that this skill is very challenging to engage in. It will however enhance any healthy relationship when done well. Let’s face it, it is so much easier to focus on what the other person is doing instead of what it feels like for us, or what it triggers in us. The problem is when we do that we are driven by shame. When we look inwards it can be a painful process as it requires us to look at our development process, relationships with our family, and trauma histories. The benefit though is that we do the work to heal ourselves from the past and we learn how to better communicate with the other humans in our lives. 

The next time you find yourself lost in thought or complaining to a friend about what another person has done challenge yourself to limit this, some venting is okay, too much is counter-productive, and ask yourself the following questions:

What am I feeling right now? Yes, feelings, just name it, that’s all.

What is being triggered in me (ex. am I feeling unloved or not good enough?).

What is it about me, not them, that I want the other person to know? Think, how does their behaviour impact me?

When in conflict stating, “well you did this” or a “you, you, you” focus tends to escalate conflict or keep it at an uncomfortable stale mate. The old faithful “I” statements really do go a long way. This is because if I focus on vulnerability and my own experience rather than your behaviour, you are more likely to hear me and offer empathy and understanding. We are ego centric humans. The more I hear “you” the more likely I am to be defensive, critical, in contempt, or stonewall you (think silent treatment). According to the Gottman’s these are the four horseman and the greatest indicators of unhealthy relationships. We need to learn to go deep into understanding who we are, what hurts us and why, and then learn to communicate this well. There are several podcast and books (including the two listed above) that can help, as can meeting with a mental health professional.

See if you can have a conversation with an important person in your life and express what something you both experienced meant to you. Challenge yourself to not use the word “you” and see what happens. As always this is meant for non-abusive relationships where there is hope of both parties acting with kindness and respect. If you are in an abusive relationship, or are not sure if you are, please reach out to your physician for resources. 

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.