To build or destroy—this is the choice we have with our words every day, the watershed moments we face in those often undetectable pauses before we open our mouths (or keep them closed).
What are some tips for those involved in a family business, directly or indirectly? How can families maintain their family bond amidst the often tricky dynamics of running a business? How can family members best deal with emotions that can arise when members feel a threat to their power and place in the family, or their self esteem? Here are 4 proactive ideas to consider.
Have you ever listened closely to the way you talk to your self? It can be a little scary. Most of us grossly underestimate the extent to which a critical inner voice is doing most of the talking, and the barrier that this habitual opponent creates in our lives. Now, we all need a push now and again, to hold ourselves accountable, to be better, to do better, to care more, to live in line with our values and our potential. This can include some tough love, lest we fall into the snares of an unfulfilling life ruled by complacency and instant gratification.
That being said, we must understand that we have everything to gain by protecting ourselves from the spiritual pollution of negative self talk. As my spiritual teacher, Michael Berg says, speaking negatively, which includes about ourselves “puts a shell around our soul.” And this shows up physically as well. Brain research confirms that a self attacking inner voice sets us up for anxiety and depression.
ONENESS WITH ONESELF IS THE FOUNDATION
The idea is like this: Before we can create a oneness with our dreams and desires, and a oneness with others, we must create a oneness within ourselves. Yes, we want to grow into a more loving and compassionate person. So what’s the foundation? A relationship towards oneself filled with kindness, encouragement and self love. We don’t grasp how valuable we are, simply because we exist. Appreciating our value, believing in ourselves beyond logic, this is how we grow and change best.
QUESTIONNAIRE: AWARENESS IS KEY
So let’s get practical and talk about what negative self talk can really sound like. Awareness is the first essential step. Here’s a questionnaire to help you begin identifying where you and your inner critic stand. Please be honest with yourself. Your inner critic won’t like to be discovered but your soul will be thrilled. 0=never; 1= rarely; 2=sometimes; 3=often; 4=all the time (The higher your score the more care and priority I would recommend you place on healing your self talk.)
When I listen inside, I can hear myself…
— Judging myself harshly in a way that I would NEVER speak to a friend, colleague or anyone I truly care about. (e.g., I’m so stupid; Never good enough; I look awful today; Why can’t I be more …; I’m so disorganized; I’m so bad; It’s all my fault; I did well, what a relief.)
— Comparing myself to others. (e.g. They are so much farther along than I am; Why don’t I have what they have; Well I do that better than them.)
— Repeating a message I received growing up, from someone toxic or a dynamic. (e.g., You’re so annoying; You have to make them happy or they will leave; You are not worthy of love; When you’re thin, everything will be good; That’s a hobby, not a real job.)
— Saying extreme statements about my character when disappointed in myself or a circumstance (e.g., I’m a terrible mother; I suck; I have nothing to offer; I’m blowing it.)
— Panicking when I don’t live up to a fixed identity, like a Good-Person image. (e.g., I better do this for them or they’ll think I’m unkind; Oh no, they are not going to see that I have it all together.)
— Discounting my gifts, skills and credentials. (e.g., There’s no way I can do that, I’ve never done it before; My success doesn’t feel genuine, I feel like an imposter; I’m not really that smart; I’m sure there are others who could do it better; I’ll come off like a fool.)
—Anxiously needing to resolve conflict or move forward on a project or issue. (e.g., If I don’t email right away, they’ll think I’m irresponsible; I better fix this Now; Oh gosh they will think I’m terrible, I need to explain myself.)
— Preoccupied with how I look. (e.g., Ugg I hate how my stomach looks; With these thighs I’ll never find a date.)
— Second guessing myself and my decisions, day to day and long term. (e.g., You should have done it faster; You wasted so much time; You idiot, you could have handled that so much better; Maybe my way isn’t the right way.)
— Shaming messages when I’m not perfect, approved of or make a mistake, (e.g., I have to be the best at this; They have to accept me; I just can’t make a mistake or I’m a failure; shame on me for not being tougher; I better not even try because I might fail; I’m bad at the core)
ABOUT SHAME: HEALING ONE’S INNER CHILD
Before we go on, I feel we need to spend a minute on shame. Especially related to our internalized and shaming messages (#3 and #10 above), it’s important to appreciate and not judge your inner critic. Likely, to protect from feeling judged, shamed or rejected in some fundamental way by caregivers, many of us develop an attacking way of relating with oneself to protect from the shame awakened by anything that resembles failure. If we can manage to control our behavior, our bodies, our image — or judge ourself first— then we create a temporary (and illusionary) feeling of safety.
As a recent article in Psychology Today put so well, “There's one thing the inner critic doesn't offer: Room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck.” Today we have beautiful healing approaches that gently and powerfully help us to emancipate the child within, reparent him/her to not need those coping mechanisms, and the accompanying belief systems, like the child once needed to survive. (See Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems, and EMDR)
THIRD PERSON SELF TALK: A TECHNIQUE FOR SELF DISTANCING
The main technique for overcoming negative self talk I want to share is a cognitive approach called SELF DISTANCING and it’s based on ground breaking research by Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan's Emotion & Self Control Lab. By replacing the first person pronoun, I , with non-first person pronoun, You, He/She, or Our Name, we can gain emotional and psychological distance which allows us to speak to ourselves more like we would to a friend or someone we care about. Haven’t you noticed how it’s more clear when it’s about someone else’s life. Kross goes on to show that getting out of our first person mindset reduces the activation of the right amygdala, the emotional part of the brain— but at no extra cognitive expense. So this simple technique has great implications for unhooking us from the vicious cycle of negative self talk. Here’s an example of Gabriella new at giving presentations:
First Person (negative) Talk:
I am worried about giving this presentation. I’m afraid I won’t be good and powerful and that participants won’t want to continue. I’m afraid I will be a disappointment. The other presenters I respect in my field do such a good job and what if I am just not that good at it.
Third Person (affirming) Talk:
Gabriella, you can do this. You know this material and everyone who begins something new feels uncomfortable. What you will be sharing is something you deeply believe in and the most important thing is doing your best and coming from your heart. Gabriella, people will feel your passion and that’s the energy that makes the most difference. More than concepts. You can do this and you don’t have to be perfect. That’s not possible and not the point.
Rather than trying to shut down the inner critic or analyze the emotions underneath, Kross and his colleagues suggest trying to make this simple grammatical manipulation of first person to non first person self talk. And since negative self talk is a habit often decades in the making, be prepared to practice, and practice! I have tried this myself and love it. Even writing this blog has taken this technique to a new level for me personally. I would love to hear how it works for you.
As I gather the items I need to write this blog—my glasses, computer, glass of water— I watch myself grab for my phone. There is nothing that I need on that device right now. Other than the experiential example of what so many of us find all day and all night— that our phones have become an appendage, what co-author Russell Clayton of the University of Missouri describes as “The Extended Self.”
Of course, I’m not here to say we shouldn’t have phones. That would be ridiculous, given the tremendous benefits they provide and the reality of the species-level transformation that a life “plugged in” has created. At the same time, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up (or our faces down). We have reached a dangerous level of tolerance for our phone dependence, our egos normalizing by way of joking, avoiding, resigning.
I always like to write about what is real and true for me, and I know that my relationship with my phone often serves as a barometer for my relationship with myself, and my love for life. The truth is that when we cross over the line and our phone use becomes a problem, there are dangerous implications for our brains and our bodies, for our mental health and relationships, for our capacity to create true happiness and to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive as a soul.
I have learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah that where our attention goes is exactly where we go, this is who we become. So how can we tell if we are placing too much of our attention in our phones? How can we tell if our phone use is a problem in our lives? I suggest 3 important steps:
Educate Yourself on the criteria for and side effects of excessive phone use.
Observe Yourself on how your phone use affects your energy and makes you feel.
Unplug Yourself to create a daily and weekly sabbatical.
Let’s start with the first step, educating yourself. According to the National Institute of Health, the criteria used for drug addiction can also be used for our mobile devices. More specifically, take a look at this list below of indicators for a phone problem. Check off how many of these are true for you:
Conscious use of phones in dangerous situations or in prohibited contexts (e.g while driving)
Excessive phone use that causes social and family conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other shared activities
Continuing the behavior despite the negative effects and/or personal malaise it causes
Excessive phone use causing noticeable physical, mental, social, work, or family disturbances (e.g eye strain, symptoms of withdrawal, stress, and anxiety)
Chronic impulsiveness to check your device
Frequent and constant checking of phone in very brief periods of time causing insomnia and sleep disturbances
Increase in use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood
Excessive use, urgency, need to be connected
Need to respond immediately to messages, preferring the cell phone to personal contact
Abstinence, dependence, craving
Anxiety, irritability if cell phone is not accessible, feelings of unease when unable to use it
3 KEY SIDE EFFECTS: Let’s go a little deeper with our understanding of side effects from phone dependency.
Pleasure vs Happiness. The semantic difference between pleasure and happiness is subtle but the implications are huge, on the brain and the soul. I love this chart from a recent Business Insider article which helps us to see in the brain how pleasure seeking activities, like excessive phone us, create short term highs (dopamine) while fulfillment seeking activities generate farther reaching and more lasting contentment (serotonin). Phone use taps into our already vulnerable tendency to seek short term, pleasure-seeking gratification.
Mindfulness. If we are having trouble keeping our attention fully in the present, taking in the world and people around us, then one culprit could be the time spent in the online world. Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth found that happiness and being present in the moment are directly linked. We know this right? But the research is mounting that being mindful and in the present leads to greater self esteem and lower perceived anxiety and stress. When it comes to our phones and mindfulness, recent research has shown that smartphone involvement decreases our capacity for mindfulness.
Anxiety/Depression. Late night phone use in particular has been linked to increases in depression and declines in self esteem and coping ability. Phones OUT OF THE BEDROOM are becoming the new “buckle up for safety.” Also leaning on the depression side, a recent survey showed that those considered frequent social media users experienced 2.7 times higher rates of depression that those of less frequent users.
And here are some of the other the side effects: Insomnia, Inability to Focus / Complete a Task, Stress and Restlessness, Relationship Stress, Eye Strain, Neck Pain, Social Anxiety, Escapist Behavior, Dependence on Digital Validation (Newport Academy)
HEALTHY UNPLUGGING HABITS
How can we protect ourselves from the illusion that the online world is more compelling, beautiful and filled with endless routes for joy and awe than the real and messy world of nature, people, opportunities and those dreaded “pauses in between”?
Observe Yourself. As I mentioned above, self observation is a key step. And please be brave and give yourself permission to be honest with yourself. We have the answers within us and have everything to gain by putting in the effort it takes to nestle into our internal silence and listen. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Before you go for your phone, ask yourself, do I feel empty, bored, anxious, lonely, insecure, vulnerable, restless, unworthy? What might I be trying to escape?
While on your phone, try pausing, taking a deep breath and ask, Is this really where I want to be right now? Is this best for me?
When you get off your phone, check in again. How is my energy? Do I feel happier, more fulfilled and creative, more worthy or peaceful, I am more in love with my life? Or do I feel more empty, frustrated, disappointed in myself, tired, wired, restless?
Create Distance Between You and Your Phone (Physical and Emotional)
We need to create boundaries. Sometimes we need a definitive structure to combat our brains’ firing temptations. Here are some ideas:
Pick a specific bedtime for your phone, put it to bed and then LET GO.
Buy an actual alarm clock and put your phone to bed in another room
Create a weekly Sabbath for yourself - 24 hours with no phone. It’s a life saver.
Feed your soul with whatever helps you connect to something bigger in life.
Write down your offline passions like nature, crafts, people, animals, athletics, dance, music, poetry, writing a letter.
Partner with a friend to keep you accountable.
If you really need more help, you can try programs like Catherine Price’s 7 day challenge.
“We almost break up every year after Christmas,” my client announced. “We go to multiple Christmas’s, and at the end, we’ll declare (if we’re not breaking up) ‘next year we’re leaving town.’” The holidays can be a loving, joyous time for couples, and yet, they can run our stress high and patience thin, trigger old family issues, highlight our different needs and approaches, and quite honestly awaken the “what about me” consciousness. All this can add up to a massive wedge in our most important relationship.
Sometimes our greatest angst comes from the gap between our expectations— the “should be’s”— and our reality right in front of us. Difficulties and unmet expectations are not only normal, but an inherent and valuable part of our “growing upward” in life. We become better, stronger from the challenges we face, especially when we own them! We create deep fulfillment when we dive into the darkness and bring out the Light. And anyone in a deep and lasting relationship should know the hard earned and quite miraculous process that it takes for two separate souls to un-peel their ego layers to become one.
Preparation is key for couples to navigate their relationship during the holidays, and this starts with a commitment to going into the holiday as partners. Many outside forces can invade your togetherness but the more you prepare, the more protected your bond will be. I like to suggest openly identifying the potential sources of strain or conflict that the holidays might pose. COUPLE EXERCISE #1: Take a look at this list below and scope out any hot buttons. Then use THE 4C APPROACH to strengthen your partnership.
List of Potential Stressors
Increased work load, feeling overwhelmed and not clear about how to divide and share the added tasks
Socializing differences (I don’t want the party to end vs I can’t wait to go home)
Loyalty to your family and pulled about dividing time among each side, and step families
Differences in culture, religion, or spirituality
Emotional pain and lack often stirred up from childhood making us more vulnerable and reactive
Certain people we are anxious to be around, like In laws or parents or siblings
Financial strain and different values on how much do we spend on gifts/food
Alcohol and the need to talk about consumption
Additional compounding life challenges like illness, loss, financial bills or work uncertainty
The 4C Approach to Closeness During the Holidays
1. CONSCIOUSNESS: Take Control of Your Holiday, Don’t Let the Holiday Control You
I learned from the great Kabbalist, Rav Berg, that “consciousness is everything.” Meaning, the seeds we plant with our thoughts and intentions directly influence what will grow and manifest. The first limiting thought to challenge is, “I don’t have control over my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Catch this one quickly and replace with, “I create my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Let’s take the client I spoke about earlier, who has made great strides in claiming her power. She now approaches the holidays as a spiritual growth game. Her intention has moved from how can I change my family or get them to love me to how can I see the good, be more compassionate and learn to listen. Further, how can I wake up and first thing, appreciate my partner. I love this story of taking control of your holiday, your relationship…your life.
2. COMPASSION: Accept Yourself, Your Partner, Your Reality With Love
Acceptance and compassion go hand in hand, and paradoxically, they provide the best platform for making personal changes and inspiring others to change. To embrace and be with your self, your beloved, and your unique reality together— with acceptance and trust that for good reason, you need to be here in this moment—this opens your heart, and you can just feel the lightness pour in. If you’re feeling heavy or emotionally reactive, a pause is a must. Sometimes that means stepping away from your partner, taking a shower, going for a walk, looking at the sky, sharing in some way—these can all shut down the limiting force of the ego and make room for the bigger picture. Set your intention to awaken compassion within, beg if you have to, and do for yourself that which brightens your soul. I’m a huge fan of self compassion. As Louise Haye says so well, “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”
3. COLLABORATION: Go Into the Holiday as Partners
When we choose to invest in a committed relationship, our lives become interdependent. Our togetherness becomes an entity. If one partner’s gain puts a hole in the galley, then the whole relation”SHIP” goes down. This puts us in a vulnerable position, because we must create a oneness when we often have divergent needs or desires. But this is the beauty in the dance of love and intimacy—navigating our own individuality alongside our growing capacity to care more for the other’s happiness than for our own. Taking it one step at a time, we can use the holidays to begin negotiating and taking turns when our own dreams and desires don’t line up. This collaboration can center around conversations (be careful they’re not “controler-sations”) on the following kinds of topics:
Effectively sharing and negotiating the additional workload common during the holidays
Respectfully considering the traditions and values from each partner when creating your own
Balancing the religious and spiritual meaning and practices associated with the holiday
Showing care and support when our partner’s are stressed or emotionally vulnerable. “This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable,” (Dr. John Gottman)
Being sensitive to personality differences when it comes to attending parties and gatherings
4. COMMUNICATION: Calmly Make Sure Both Are Heard
One of my favorite communication exercises to do with couples in my practice is the Dream Catcher by Dr. John Gottman. It’s a turn taking, structured exercise that with great practice and self control can become more integrated into how we relate to our partners. Rather than pushing our point, calling the other out in some way, the focus is on creating a safe haven of authenticity where each partner feels seen and heard. The listener spends around 10-15 minutes asking questions like:
What do you feel about this issue?
Is there a story behind this for you?
Does this relate to your childhood or background in some way?
What do you need with this issue?
Tell me why this is so important to you?
What do you wish for?
What would be your ideal dream here?
Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored? having this dream honored?
Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?
COUPLE EXERCISE #2: Pick one of the hot buttons that stood out from the list of stressors above and take turns being the speaker and the listener. The problem might not be solved, and that’s okay. The purpose is to care enough to catch one another’s real dream and desire. Many need a counselor to help prepare them for this level of listening. You’ll know you are ready for this exercise as a couple if after your heart is filled with love and you feel closer.
When humans bond with animals, wonderful things can happen, particularly for those whose pets who become true “companion animals.” Two camps of humans seem to exist: those who get it and those who don’t. Why do animal bonds make such a strong impact, what can we learn from them, and how can we best take care of ourselves at their passing.