Telling The Truth: Creating Authentic Relationships

This is a repost from Jennifer Lehr MFT’s Healing Tips Blog, originally posted on Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Sometimes it is hard to tell the truth because:

* We don’t trust our perceptions.
* We are afraid of hurting the other person.
* We are afraid we will make them angry or they will abandon us.
* We don’t realize that relationships are about relating.
* We have been taught to take care of others by not being ourselves.
* We assume that we are 100% responsible for the relationship.
* We see ourselves as powerless in the relationship.
* We are afraid of being transparent, real and seen.
* We are afraid of our power.

If we don’t tell the truth, the other person has no way of knowing who we are, what we are thinking or feeling, or how they are impacting us. We assume (perhaps unconsciously) that they do not have the ability to navigate through their own feelings in response to us. Although this may be true, by not telling the truth, we rob them of the opportunity to rise to the challenge of relating to who we are, of having a truly authentic relationship with us.

Learning to tell the truth is a big process. Often we have been taught since we were little to put other’s feelings ahead of our own. We have been taught that relating is being the same as the other, rather than allowing our differences. In order to alter this and honor ourselves, we need a new perspective. We need to know that as we take action and speak the truth in a way that empowers us, our lives will re-align. Our actions have impact and allow us to change, creating our lives. We are no longer held hostage by our fears of voicing ourselves, of being seen. As we become truthful, those we interact with get to choose whether or not they can also step up to the challenge. In either case our relationships will change. We will become closer to those, who whether they like it or not, support hearing our truth and honesty. These relationships will deepen and we will no longer feel as alone. We may lose relationships with those who do not want to hear how they affect us, who do not want to know who we are. When this happens, we may experience grief. Rather than being trapped in resentment, or fear, we have the opportunity to grieve and let go of our expectations, accepting the limitations of that person and relationship. A reorganization of our lives and relationships occurs.

How do you not tell the truth? Look at someone in your life who you don’t talk to directly about his or her impact on you. Imagine telling them something they do that is difficult for you. Notice what feelings come up: discomfort, fear, shame? Notice how you choose the feelings associated with not telling the truth: frustration, feeling trapped etc, rather than the feelings that emerge when you do tell the truth. Both sets of feelings are uncomfortable, but one will lead you to freedom and authentic, healthy relationships, and the other will keep you trapped and dis-empowered. It is your choice. What kind of relationships do you want to have? What kind of life do you want to live?

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Female Intensity – Male Logic

You are getting so intense – he said.  No shit, I think to myself- every cell of my body is screaming.

Well if you stop ABC then I will stop XYZ he says, trying to fix the issue we were caught in.  What!!!!  He missed the whole point – that I worry about him, that my emotions have a logic, that we don’t live in a one-person universe.

For him, safety meant that I would stay calm and logical.  For me, safety meant that I would be understood, that he could tune into my world.

Men and women are really different.

The other day Mike and I were buying eggs from a local woman who had chickens. There were some roaming about freely, others in a pen and still others, smaller ones in another pen. That third group looked like they were chickens to eat.  She acknowledged that yes, that third group was for eating.  Mike asked her if they had names. She put her hand up to the sides of her head, like putting on blinders to block out a thought or an image. She said that she still struggles with the butchering of the chickens. She raises these chickens and knows each one of them.

Later, we went to a local shellfish farm and bought a filet of salmon.  Except it started (as they all do) as a whole fish.  I walked into the back area to watch the fish be filleted.  Mark the owner cut into the dead fish with a very sharp knife.  Dark red blood flowed out and onto the sink. I hadn’t seen a fish gutted since I was a child and my father caught them himself.   I hated that living and eating involved so much death and sacrifice.  This fish was so clearly another life, with red blood just like mine.  As a 3rd generation fisherman, cleaning and filleting fish was second nature to him.  But it left me with an awareness of the relatedness of all of us.

Women have thousands of years of history attuning to others, to babies and children, to lovers and husbands and friends. Women are wired with an awareness of connection. When the baby cries they hold it and soothe it.  When the baby is hungry they feed it.  Women learn to read the needs and feelings of others. Their brains wire to be able to do this.  This is what makes them feel safe and nourished. When women are aroused emotionally, it is because there is danger to a baby, or someone they are connected to, to the connection itself.

Men have thousands of years of history shutting off their sense of empathy and attunement while they are bringing an axe down on the neck of an animal for food, or going into battle.  Survival depends on this ability.  At the same time, heightened emotion is required to go into battle and possibly kill. Whether it is their own emotion, or the emotion of the enemy coming after them – emotions are dangerous. Interestingly, there is both an emotional charge which ramps up the adrenaline and a shutting off emotionally so that they can actually kill.

Men tend to struggle with the emotional intensity of females. Women tend to struggle with the ‘logical’ part of men.  And because of this we can miss the underlying need to connect.

These ways of being are wired into men and women. They are patterns and tendencies that have developed as part of our survival since the beginning of our human history. They are encoded in our DNA.  It is part of who we are. Yet, to have a successful relationship we have to be able to transcend this.  We have to be able to understand each other and find a way to have a real communication about what is going on between us.

We can use our brains to help us.  When my husband says, ‘you are getting too intense for me,’ I am now more able to stop myself and calm down.  When I say, ‘you are trying to fix it and I need you to get what is really going on for me,’ he is more able to listen and understand what I am talking about.

This story is a bit black and white and simplified greatly, yet it explains part of what often occurs between men and woman. It is also more complicated than this.  Our past history, the genders of those in the relationship, our own individual sensitivities, and a number of other factors enter into our personal relationship story.  Our deep underlying needs to feel safe and seen erupt into view quickly when threatened.  Yet this might give you a bit of a map to help yourself understand what is happening in some of your relational interactions.

Understanding what you are actually reacting to requires the work of looking at ourselves and unraveling the impact our history has had on us.  It requires seeing where we felt unloved, threatened or hurt and how that is being triggered now.

As we dig down through the layers of our histories and difficulties, we can get to the part of our love that is beautiful and often fragile.  We can step back and understand the big picture while we also appreciate the beauty of our partner, their vulnerabilities and songs their lives sing.

This doesn’t come quick or easy, but it is so worth learning.

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Learning to Reconnect

It had started like a regular day weekend day.  John and Patti were taking a walk.  The sun was shining.  Life was good.  But then, John sheepishly told Patti that he would not be working on a project they had told Patti he was going to do, and that had been planned for that weekend.  He said that he felt too busy and had other things he would rather do that day, and that there would be lots of time to get it done.

A cloud immediately moved over Patti’s world. She felt as if a rug had been pulled out from under her. She didn’t know why.  Over and over she heard the words in her head, ‘you are all alone, you can’t depend on anyone.’  She felt herself pull back away from John.  She realized she felt set up.  He had promised something and had broken his promise.  She felt as if she could not trust him and as if he was ‘taking the easy way out,’ instead of honoring his word. For Patti, it was a big injury.  She needed to know that she could rely on him.  Trust was very important to her.

John on the other hand felt as if he had been backed into a corner.  He didn’t know how to explain how he felt.  He didn’t fully understand why Patti was so upset.  As they talked, he was able to say that he hadn’t told her he didn’t want to do it on her time frame because he didn’t want to disappoint her, so he had agreed to keep her ‘happy.’  He realized that he didn’t know how to get to be himself and get his needs met when they were different than hers. He didn’t know how to say no and feel safe.

Because of the disconnection that occurred, both John and Patti fell into deep feelings of despair and hopelessness.  They each moved into their own ‘default places.’

Over the difficult conversations that continued throughout the day, Patti was able to convey that she didn’t know how she could trust him, trust his word, and also how she could feel as if they were a team, as if he would take care of things she needed him to address, without her keeping an eye on his progress.  And John said that he understood that it was wrong of him to have ‘set her up’ with a false expectation and a broken promise, and that he needed to learn how to articulate his real feelings.

The break was partially repaired because they were able to talk about the deeper attachment issues that had been activated – things like:

  • Are you really there for me?
  • Can I be myself and still be okay in this relationship?

Patti and John were not able to ‘compromise’ until each of them had their real feelings on the table.  Then they could address the underlying issues. They had worked out a way that Patti’s need to have John participate in some of the projects that were overwhelming her, could be met by John, without him feeling as if he were having to ‘answer’ to her.  Patti could address John’s need to not feel controlled, and to have his different process and way of taking care of things respected. John could address Patti’s need for someone who was helping her and not just leaving her carrying a load of responsibility that was too big for her.  He could also address her need to be able to trust his word – that he would do what he said he would do, and not make promises that he was going to break. But they both were still quite raw and not yet back to their regular sense of connection. Because of this they were vulnerable to having their wounds get re-triggered.

Later that evening, they fell into a very unproductive conversation when they were talking about what happened in ways that weren’t related to their deeper attachment needs.  As John talked, he implied that Patti’s more conservative financial view was the problem in this situation.  This tact effectively stopped the conversation for Patti because it wasn’t addressing the deeper attachment needs of ‘I need to know I can trust you,’ ‘I need to know you have my back,’ and ‘I need to know you will be happy even if I want something different than you.’ Instead of continuing to connect over their deeper needs, Patti became more frustrated and tense and the conversation became difficult.  She felt as if he was taking an ‘I’m right and you’re the problem’ stance.  As she became more upset, John felt the pit of his stomach tighter.  He became confused. He didn’t understand what just happened.  He was just talking. What was happening?

They dropped the conversation and both moved into their own confused and separate upset worlds. The intensity of each of their feelings shows how this situation tapped into old wounds for each of them.  Because of this intensity, both of them got lost in a private world of hurt feelings. Although they were able to talk and were attempting to be supportive of each other, it wasn’t until the following day that they were clear enough to be able to see the other’s vulnerabilities and reconnect.

The next day it was much more clear.  Patti was back in her ‘regular’ reality and as she looked back at the previous day, it seemed like another reality. Those intense feelings had evaporated and no longer had any hold over her. Patti realized why she had been so intensely triggered, both the first time when John went back on his word, and the second time when he was talking about the problem in a way that could only turn into an argument.  She realized that the intensity she had experienced was due to old wounds from various events in her childhood and life.  She felt as if she had stepped into, and then back out of, a time warp. The day spent in that time warp had felt like falling into shards of glass. She was relieved to have gotten through it.

At the same time John was realizing that his fear of reactivity also came from events in his life when a person would ‘switch.’ The unpredictability and emotional volatility he had witnessed as a child had left him scarred and scared.

Although Patti felt relieved herself, she realized that still had to help John to recover as he was still lost in old feelings.  She knew none of it had been done on purpose by either of them. John had some learning to do about how to be fully present as her partner. She knew that she was now able to reconnect. She also knew that reconnecting without understanding what had happened meant that this kind of event might continue to occur without hope for improvement. She told him that she had gotten the oxygen mask on herself, and she was now available to get one on him. As they talked, what had overtaken them became clearer.  They were able to reconnect emotionally and previous day’s pain faded into the background.

The reconnection included both of them realizing more about their own and their partner’s needs and difficulties. They were understanding how deep their wounds were, and how important a ‘safe’ attachment was.  This insight allowed them to reconnect more easily and quickly each time they had a disruption. As their relationship continued, both John and Patti continued to heal, because they were willing to explore what had happened between them, and attend to each others’ injuries.

 

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Creating our new world

This is  part of our mission statement. We believe that we must become our ideals in order to create them.  As we sort through our grief, anger, insecurities and learn to communicate and support each other, we are creating a new world.

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Honoring the spirit of others

Recently I was shocked to learn that a friend and colleague died this spring. She was only 55 years old. I wish I had known of her struggle. I wish I had been in greater appreciation of the moments that I had shared with her. We often forget that every connection we have will not always be there, or not in the same way.

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Automating now

The writing is done.  We are automating now!  Can’t wait till WeConcile comes out.

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