FAMILY COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES: Visiting with your family? Try a different approach!

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Recently, I’ve been reflecting on family connections – mine and others. Some families really seem to get along well, have a collective sense of humor and mutual understanding, resolve differences eventually, and stay connected across miles and generations. Those are the fortunate folks that others tend to envy.

Those “successful” families aren’t without their problems.
But, somehow, they have the tools which, used carefully, with love, and mutual respect, make it mostly work out in the end. Not perfect, but also not destructive and hurtful to family members.

I’ve also been thinking about the families who struggle.
The families who live with silence, anger, blame, and pain – or maybe just indifference. The families whose members don’t view home as a place to relax, feel safe, be understood in a way that doesn’t happen elsewhere. The adults, all grown up now, who dread holiday reunion times, since the old unhappy scripts seem to revive with each visit.

I’ve watched families split,
cousins who were childhood pals lose track of each other, adult children become isolated from the larger family unit, close connections lost, and adult regrets for situations that arose from childhood challenges that were not of their making.

I’m convinced that what’s missing in those struggling families is the ability to communicate effectively, so that needs are met without aggression and anger.
Communication isn’t just the ability to talk about feelings, to make good speeches! Effective communication can be non-verbal, must include the ability to listen without an agenda.

I’m equally convinced that change is possible.
And it only takes one motivated and determined family member to start that change going. Anger doesn’t have to rule family interactions, but family members do have to be willing to hear unhappiness and pain differently and to respond with care and respect.

If you’ve been hoping things will change, and if you’re tired of the same old distance and conflicts,
you could decide to be that one family member who makes a difference. But, it’s tough – and lonely – to try to make that change on your own.

I’d suggest inviting a trusted family member to support you in your new plan.
If that doesn’t work, you might want to do a little reading, research strategies on line or consult with a family counselor who can help you figure out how to make those family occasions a little less painful.

   
   
   

WHICH PATH WILL YOU TAKE? You can avoid falling into the same old habits – with some motivation and practice.

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Change is supposed to happen quickly, right? Especially if we really, really want that change to happen!

Well – maybe “quickly” does get us to those new habits – sometimes.
However, more often, no matter how much we plan, think, promise – change takes a little more time than we might like.
Habits are hard to break. When certain behaviors, thoughts, reactions have been around for a long time, they sort of get “hard-wired” into us. We instinctively do what we’re used to doing – until we hard-wire that new behavior.

In my experience, most behavioral changes need these essential ingredients, if they are to become new habits that stick around:

  • Recognition that the old habits that aren’t working for you
  • Strong motivation to change
  • Personal responsibility (not placing blame on someone else)
  • Repetition of the new behavior (practice)
  • Perseverance (you don’t give up, even if you miss sometimes)
  • Reward (new habits bring positive results that you can see)

If you haven’t seen this poem before (and even if you have!), I think it’s worth a look: “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk.”

What are the holes in your sidewalk? What’s keeping you on that same path, when you might feel so much better going a different way?

 
   
 

FAMILY COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES AND TIPS: Visiting with your family? Avoid the wars by doing something different!

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Family commuication challenges interest me. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much you’ve grown, how successful you’ve become – going “home” again can make you feel like that kid you once were!

My article on that topic
 has been linked to some professional Facebook pages and seems to have generated some interested, so I thought I’d also  post it here.

Please take look at
“Communication Tips for Adult Families.” I’d love to receive your feedback and hear about your own family experiences.

I welcome your questions and comments and will respond shortly
to all posts on this blog and to your emails or phone calls (310 475-1759).

 

LEARNING FROM YOU: HOW DO YOU MANAGE THOSE ANGRY MOMENTS?

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Sometimes, it’s not about you…. or about me….. Sometimes, that person who ignored us, was rude to us, was dismissive, may just be acting from a place neither you nor I can see at that moment. And, sometimes, it just isn’t worth it to download our anger onto that individual!

Not a new thought. Not my original concept.
Just something we might all want to keep in mind when we’re tempted to let the offender know just how angry we really, really are!

My first instinct is to tell a personal story of when I remembered to think before reacting – and how well that turned out! And, of course, I’d like to share with you some handy dandy tips – tools you can use the next time you feel that rising anger about to take over.

However, I often wonder how useful these posts are, if you struggle with the twin challenges of managing your anger as well as your communication style. It occurs to me that those magical (to me!) tips I offer may not work for you. Or that you might read and actually plan on using some of these strategies, but it’s just not that simple.

So – the personal experience and more tips are on hold for now. But, I would like to acknowledge that I know how tough it is to change long-standing patterns. It’s especially difficult when you learned as a child that there’s really lots to be angry about!

That doesn’t mean change isn’t possible. But, it does mean that sometimes it takes a while to figure out why you really get so angry and to learn the strategies that will help you communicate more effectively so that you can feel understood and valued.

I’d like to hear from you about what’s worked and what hasn’t, as you struggle to communicate effectively and to manage that intrusive anger.

I invite you to post on this blog or email me to let me know about your experiences. I promise to respond within a week to all posts and emails. And – your contributions will help to guide me as to what to include in future posts.

   
   
   

YOU CAN CHANGE THAT ANGER HABIT!

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It was supposed to be just an ordinary conversation. All you really wanted was to get your point across – quietly and without conflict. But, suddenly, there you are again – in the middle of an argument you’d planned to avoid. And, once again, someone is angry at you – because you just got angry at them! Sound familiar? Is this you or someone you know?

Most likely, what happened is that you acted out of some old habit you may not have even realized was hanging around ready to upset that conversation.
And even if you did know what might happen, you might also not know how to stop or prevent that familiar reaction.

You might even be absolutely sure that if the other person had just done or said the right thing,
there would have been no argument. After all, don’t you have a right to fell angry?

Of course you have a right to feel – and express – your anger.
But, that habit of instant, habitual reaction, triggered by some as-yet un-named feeling within you, has again worked against your best interests. That habit of response is so much a part of you, that your brain, your mouth, your body all go into action with no obvious instruction from you. And, you end up stressed, angry, unhappy – with your needs still not met.

But – the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Habits can be changed. New habits can be learned – with lots of motivation, some effort, and possibly a little extra support. Think of the habits you already have and how hard it was to learn some of them. However, eventually, you did learn lots of important habits that work well for you.

Infants starting to walk are learning a complex set of habits.
They don’t just automatically move from crawling to speed-walking! And as they learn, they fall down a lot, cry often, figure out how to get help, and eventually start walking somewhat unsteadily. But, as they keep practicing, they get better at it until walking becomes automatic.

With this in mind, it might help to remember that it’s possible to learn complicated new habits. You can achieve your goal, even if you fall down, cry, wobble, miss sometimes, and get discouraged.

You might decide you can change your unwelcome habits all by yourself.
And, maybe you can. Or, you might decide that you’re going to reach out to get the help you need, so that you can better understand what goes wrong for you, despite your best intentions.

There are lots of self-help materials around, if you choose the “on your own” route.
But whether you decide to see a counselor, talk with friends or just cope by yourself, your quest will be the same – to find a new way to have those conversations, so that you no longer feel out of control, angry, and stressed.

To make lasting changes,
it will help if you can recognize the triggers for your anger and understand why you get so angry, so that you can eventually learn how to regulate those strong feelings and reactions. You will also want to learn new words, new ways of communicating at work, with friends, and with family. Those are the important relationships that you probably don’t want to lose to that old habit of anger!

Whenever you’re having difficulty learning a new habit, you might want to think of those toddlers learning to walk. If they can do it, so can you!

I invite your comments and questions, as well as your emails or phone calls (310 475-1759) if you have concerns or questions about anything I’ve written.

HABITS I’VE DISCOVERED I REALLY DON’T NEED! AND – THOSE I WISH I HAD! How new habits can work to reduce your stress and anger.

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HABIT: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit)

 

When I started this blog, my plan was to write at least two posts each week! Well – a quick glance at my posts will quickly show that I’m not even close to achieving that habit. I’m definitely a work in progress when it comes to establishing certain new habits.

 

My life is ruled by my habits! So is yours – and the lives of everyone else you know! Just imagine a life without any habits. All those things we now do automatically would take so much longer if we had to pause to think about and recall each step. Simple acts like tooth-brushing, dressing, pouring coffee, even walking would all require extra planning and lots more thinking – if we even remembered to do them!

Luckily, you and I have most likely, over time, successfully collected enough habits to allow us to get the routine tasks of life out of the way pretty easily and usually without much thought.
And – most of us have become quite skilled at acquiring those habits we enjoy. Anticipated pleasure is often enough of a trigger to remind us to repeat pleasurable activity. So – we eat that muffin mid-morning without much thought, we take that afternoon nap, and we sit next to a friendly co-worker at lunch – all without doing much planning or decision-making. And the more we repeat these activities, the more habitual they become.

 

If given the choice, some habits we’d choose to keep, some we’d prefer to just trash, and others we’d very much like to figure out how to get. Let’s take a look here at how you can acquire a new habit, in order to reduce your stress. But, be patient! It seems likely that it can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months of repetition before we no longer need to think much about a new behavior.

 

Since I really like to write, doing so for this blog shouldn’t be so tough – right? Wrong! It’s not the writing that’s the challenge, it’s finding that space of time when I can concentrate on actually getting it done. So, if I were advising myself, here’s what I’d suggest:

 

1) Identify a very specific behavior you’d like to make into a habit. (For me – posting to this blog at least once a week.)
 
2) Break up that behavior into smaller parts.
(I’d like my writing to include a commentary and at least 5 tips, but I’ll settle for a brief paragraph and know that the next post can contain the tips.)

 
3) Don’t give up, if you are like everyone else and forget to use that new behavior! (Tempting for all of us to just decide that this isn’t really working, motivation isn’t there, and wait until the mood strikes again!)

4) Practice the behavior even if you really aren’t in the mood. (If I write one sentence, that’s more than writing nothing.)

5) Remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect. (Blogs can be corrected later, if I hate what I’ve written or have made an error.)

6) Figure out how to trigger the new habit. Most effective is attaching it to a habit you already have. (I check email as soon as I sit down at the computer, so I could also write a bit of my next post when I do my first – or last – email check of the day.)

Do you recognize, in yourself or others, that cycle of stress? Too much on your shoulders, ineffective communication about that stress, and anger when you feel that people just don’t understand. And the angrier you behave with those folks who matter the most, the less likely you are to be heard or to get help. If only you could identify the new habits that would help reduce the stress and, in turn, lessen your anger!

So – how does this connect to communication and anger concerns? From my personal experience and from all my clients have taught me, it’s clear to me that there is a very direct connection. The more you have on your to-do list that doesn’t get done, the more you are likely to feel stressed. As that stress builds, if you have difficulty communicating your concerns to your friends, family, work colleagues, you may also find yourself feeling – and acting – angrier than you’d like.
 
More about stress, anger, effective communication, and changing habits in future posts.
I invite your comments, questions, and feedback. Post your comments below, email me or give me a call at 310 475-1759, if you’d like more information about my counseling or consultation services.

 

Tips For Handling Those Moments When Passion is About to Overcome Reason – and your words are about to change everything!

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If only those folks who are so irritating knew how you really feel! How angry, frustrated, upset you get when they just haven’t gotten the point! If only they knew and would change their attitudes so that you could get your needs met and so that they could help you stay away from saying those words that start the steam rising……… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no one in your world did and said those things that make you feel as though you’ll burst if you don’t let them know just how annoyed or angry you really are?

But then….. real life intrudes!You get triggered and the important people in your life are now angry right along with you. So – you may get what you want, but at what cost? In your wake is a trail of unhappy, angry, fearful, annoyed, people who feel the need to walk on eggshells around you. They may even love and like you – most of the time. But they all know that they also need to be careful. When you use the words that bite, they’d probably rather be anywhere else than with you. Is that how you want the world to see you?

Want to try out a different way of handling things before your words take over? I know that when you’re in the habit of doing it one way, it’s hard to make the changes you really want (more about habits in my next post). But, you’re reading this, so I’m going to assume you are motivated to handle your life challenges a little differently.

Below is one approach to word-management that might produce the results you want without the conflict you’d probably prefer to avoid. Try using this strategy for just two days. Then stop to evaluate. If you’ve gotten some positive responses, keep tweaking your technique and practicing it until it feels right. If not, then you might need a different approach or you might need a little extra help figuring out why you’re having so much trouble with those words! I’ve deliberately picked an example that is just about everyday business – not your family or friends. It’s easier to practice when you have no emotional connection.

Before you enter a potentially conflicted situation, stop! Remind yourself that this time you will say what you need to say – without that steam that burns everyone.

Listen well, without responding, until you’ve heard what the other person has to say. When you do respond, remember to keep your body language and voice tone as neutral as possible. Non-verbal angry displays are just as powerful as words!

Make a statement about how you understand the situation. To the computer repair person: “You told me I’d be able to pick up my computer today. But what I’m hearing is that you’re short-handed and it’s not yet fixed. Did I get that right?” (Let’s assume the answer is “yes.”)

Relate the impact on you (with steady voice). “Joe, I counted on you to have that computer ready. I need it for an important meeting this afternoon. Not having it may cost me an important contract.”

Express your understanding (empathy) “I know it’s tough when you’re understaffed. I’m sure I’m not the only upset customer you’ve seen today.” (You are likely to get a positive response to your concern.)

Tell him what you want him to do: “I really appreciate how you’ve helped me in the past, and I need the same from you now. I need that computer by 4:00 today. If you can’t do that, I need your help to figure out what other options I have. Perhaps you could give me a loaner and transfer my data onto that, but however you do it, I want you to honor your original commitment to me.”

What will happen if you don’t get what you want?  You have choices, depending on the situation. No matter how incompetent someone else is, no matter how rudely he behaves, your own angry response is unlikely to be a motivator for change. You could move on up – speak with a manager, owner. You might chose to write a letter detailing your poor treatment and ask for compensation. And, you could decide to give your business to someone else! (Some things you just can’t change!)

This approach has a good chance of working – maybe 70% – 80% of the time. If it doesn’t, you have the satisfaction of having kept your cool. This could be the time you didn’t explode! This could be the time the other person is left admiring your calmness and wishing he could do the same.

Does this sound too simplistic? Sure it is! But you do need to start somewhere, so trying out a few tips to see if they work for you can’t hurt and just might help. I’ve tried to provide, throughout this blog, some strategies for managing anger, coping with difficult situations, using your words a little more effectively. If just one works well for you, congratulations! After all – that one small change could just possible start the ball rolling, as you search for the help you need.

 

ANGRY? Maybe your passion triumphs over your reasoning: Anger Management Challenges in ordinary communication (Part 2)

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Ordinary communication – with the shoe repair person, the waiter, the salesperson at the mall – this should be simple. Shouldn’t it? But, have you ever done a little eavesdropping on some of those conversations that pass through your routine daily life? Ever notice the way some conflicts start?

Lately, I’ve been paying lots of attention to the chatter that goes on around me.
I’ve watched as simple conversations escalate into white hot anger. And, I’ve also watched the skills of those people who are able to defuse the conflict and get their needs met without the words and body language of anger.

So – how does passion come into this?
Passion, in this context, I’ve defined as an intense, singular focus on a particular point of interest or need. The man who has carved out exactly two hours in the day to get a minor repair done on his car – his passion is invested in getting the task done and moving on to the next one. But what is he to do when the mechanic is slow, when the part he needs isn’t in stock, when an additional fix is needed that will take more time?

One choice might be to let his passion get the best of him, demand (with all the related and angry body language) that the job be done now! This might even work. But, most likely, everyone leaves feeling angry and stressed.

Perhaps the better choice might be to take a breath or two and decide that there could just be some other ways to get the message across!
That’s where reason comes in. Reason is the ability to do effective self-talk. The ability to step back and give yourself the message to stay cool. And the ability to yield to the common sense message you surely would be telling yourself if you weren’t feeling quite so angry and impatient!

See my next post
for some tips on how you might be able to get your point across without that rise in blood pressure and without leaving that trail of steam behind you!

 

GOOD INTENTIONS GONE BAD: Observations on how and why friendly communication turns into hurt and anger….. and….. what you can do about it.

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Recent experiences have left me pondering on just how easily good intentions can end up with one or more people feeling hurt, angry, and surprised that others didn’t “get” them. In the process of observing myself and others as we all just try to be understood, I’ve gathered some random thoughts on the stuff that goes wrong when communication isn’t clear….. and, what you can do about it.

1) A friend or colleague just isn’t getting that point you’re trying so hard to make. You’ve explained in several different ways, and you still feel misunderstood.It’s easy to get stuck in that “why can’t you just understand me?” mode. But, if all involved in a conversation are stuck in that same unhappy place, the result is likely to be anger, not effective communication.

What you can do about it:
Some self-talk might help. Remind yourself that taking the time to hear others’ thoughts could be useful. The harder we insist that people understand us, the less likely it is that they’ll actually want to know what we think.Allowing and soliciting feedback (by being curious, asking questions), rather than pushing your own agenda, is more likely to get you support and buy-in from those whose support you need. Or, at the very least, you might get some small acknowledgement that you do have a point of view. One of the hardest things for many of us to do is to put ourselves aside long enough to actually hear what others have to say about our brilliant ideas!

2) When a group comes together to organize a project, it’s rare when everyone agrees.
That’s normal and ok. However, when some group members don’t express concerns or disagreements as they occur, others assume that all are on the same page. Conflict and anger are often the result of muddy, indirect communication along the path.

What you can do about it: When possible, suggest to the group that a protocol for considering concerns be developed. Take personal responsibility for making sure your own ideas and concerns get a hearing. Avoid surprises about your beliefs by distributing them in writing, when possible.

3) You’re on the job or participating on some collaborative project and one participant dominates the agenda, making collaborative progress difficult or impossible.

Worthwhile projects can be stopped in their tracks by just one person – at least in the short term. For a long-term or permanent stop to happen, it takes group collusion to prevent progress. That collusion happens when all members agree (sometimes silently) to appease and not concretely challenge that one disrupter.

What you can do about it: Use clear, short firm statements that reflect your wish to not have the process hi-jacked. For instance, faced with the declaration (made in a tone that suggests disagreement is futile) that, “we always do it this way and I don’t want to change it now,” you could respond with a three part statement that includes: acknowledgement of that point of view, your alternative viewpoint, and a request to stay on track/involve others in the group in making a clear decision. All said, of course, with an even, non-challenging tone of voice.

I’m always interested in hearing about others’ experiences. How have you handled similar challenges?

If you’ve tried lots of self-help, but the strategies you’re using aren’t working for you, this might be the right time for you to reach out for a little more help. I offer a free phone consultation and would also be happy to hear your comments and concerns about anything I’ve said in any of my posts or on my website:  http://www.karenwulfson.com/.

 
 

ANGRY? Maybe your passion triumphs over your reason: Anger Management challenges in ordinary communication

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Starting and maintaining a blog, I’ve been discovering, is somewhat like beginning a new friendship. It won’t last, won’t thrive, if you don’t continue to nurture and grow it.

Just like with many new friendships, one of the challenges of keeping a blog going is that lots of attention is needed to keep it from fading away into nothingness.
It’s not the writing itself that presents that unexpected challenge. That’s the easiest part, at least for me. But, since I really enjoy writing, I hadn’t anticipated how difficult this nurturing would turn out to be.

I’ve been amazed by how many situations pop up as potential blog material, as I just go about my day to day life.
But – which ones should I chose? How do I sort out the many pieces of potential topics? What do I do with all the suggestions I get? How do I decide which of all these “gems” are most important (at least to me!)? And that’s where I start floundering. After all, this should be easy, people should be “getting” my point of view when they make suggestions, and, of course, there’s that blog, my new “friend” that keeps reminding me to pay attention! And, that’s when I start to get pretty irritable! And, that irritability has a tendency to manifest itself as anger in some communications.

Writing about what I do has become a passion for me.
So, why don’t I just make it happen?Considering my own struggle has helped me to identify one major cause of others’ difficulty with anger management in ordinary situations.

When we’re feeling passionate about our ideas, our way of doing something, it’s easy to think that everyone else will understand and agree with us.
Feelings get hurt when others just don’t seem to get it! Lately, I’ve been noticing that this combination of strong feelings, passion for a particular point of view, and the intense need to just be understood are the seeds of many intense arguments and feelings that overcome one’s common sense and learned skills.

When I mention that I counsel people who need some help with effective communication and anger management, I frequently hear about friends or relatives who really “should” make an appointment with me!
We all know (or are!) those folks whose passions are so intense that they have difficulty recognizing others’ opinions and whose ideas are not open to discussion. These are usually the people who we’d rather not disagree with, because they get way too angry and defensive. For these people, it often seems that anger rules most communication.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve probably noticed that I’m very interested in how we talk to each other, how we use language, and how anger can often interfere with effective communication.
I firmly believe that most people don’t start out a conversation intending to turn it into an angry debate. And, I’m equally sure that most people would prefer to manage their anger and passions so that they can communicate more effectively.

However, usually reasonable people may act unreasonable when passion triumphs over common sense.
When the stakes are high, when stress is more intense, it can be so much more difficult to maintain control over feelings that constantly threaten to burst out.

So, what can we do to more effectively manage all that passion?
While there are usually no easy fixes, no magic wands, there are some things you can learn and do.

1) The first thing you should know is that angry responses that you might feel you can’t control may often be habits you just don’t know how to break.
But, behavior can be changed with some knowledge and effort.

2) It might help for you to find out why your anger is so easily triggered.
Life may have recently thrown you some curves, and your stress is high and more difficult to manage right now. Or, you learned long ago, as a child, that anger eventually works for you – even if you don’t like your behavior now that you are an adult. Another possibility is that you may carry so much old pain and anger that you have difficulty separating out and managing your feelings about even the small things that go wrong in your life today. Keeping a “feelings journal” can help you figure out what triggers your anger and how you learned to react the way you do.

3) While there are many effective strategies that can help you to manage your anger, techniques alone may not always give you the long term help you need.
If the stresses that are triggering your current anger seem to be temporary, just understanding what’s happening and trying out some anger management techniques may be of great help to you. However, if your struggles are based on an accumulation of events in your history, things that happened to you as a child, other traumatic events in your life, those strategies may not be enough. If that’s the case with you, You might want to consider getting some counseling to help you sort out those unmanageable feelings.

4) Please browse this blog. I offer lots of tips for managing anger and for communicating more effectively.
I encourage you to take a look at these tips and see if any of them work for you.

While I have lots of potential blog topics for future use, I’d be very interested in your feedback.
What are the issues you struggle with? How do you manage your own or others’ anger? Is there a particular issue you’d like me to comment on?