Get Out of Jail Free: Stop Being DefensiveWritten by Sharon Ellison
When Marcus and Sally first met they immediately felt like kindred spirits. Marcus was generally warm and open. But as their relationship continued, Sally noticed that sometimes when he was upset he had trouble talking. When she asked Marcus what was bothering him, he would reply that nothing was wrong. Only when she coaxed him would he eventually tell her. As time went on, his resistance increased. The more she probed, more reluctant he was . . . neither of them felt an ounce of kinship; they didn’t even like each other. (Taking War Out of Our Words, pp. 8-9) Sadly, this is how many of us expect a relationship to unfold. After “honeymoon period” and “real life” sets in, people get into ongoing conflicts that erode bond of love between them, imprisoning them in long-term power struggles. It happens with our children and our own parents, as well as with our intimate partner or spouse. Is this just way things have to be? I don’t think so. I believe that most of us, whatever our race or culture, have learned a way of talking to each other that is based on “rules of war.” So, for centuries, we’ve been using rules for talking to each other that actually create and intensify conflict! How does it work? Well, in a war, whenever you feel threatened by someone, you get defensive. And that’s just what we do in our relationships, even with people we love most. How long does it take you to get defensive? When I ask audience members how long it takes to get defensive when someone pushes their buttons or puts them down, answers range from “a nano-second” to “instantly!” What about you? In Sally’s case, she got more aggressive as time went on. When Marcus would say, ‘I told you, nothing is wrong!”’ Sally would move quickly into her own anger . . . ‘Look, I am not a stupid woman. I can tell when something is wrong!’ (TWOW, p. 9) Marcus is sending a double message, glowering in his chair while saying he’s not upset, and Sally is trying to force him to talk. Both are behaving in ways that are manipulative and controlling. What can we do differently? Well, this is a big task, but one I believe is well worth effort. The skills we need to communicate non-defensively are actually rather simple. When I teach them to third graders they learn them quickly. As adults, we have more to unlearn and we often resist change. Here are some key steps. Number One: The non-defensive mind and heart set—Stop trying to control other person: For example, we can give up idea of “getting through” to other person, making her or him listen to us or admit something. Whenever we do that, are trying to force other person to change. Such force creates war. Number Two: Disarming questions— Focus on curiosity: When Marcus, slumped and scowling, says he is “fine,” Sally does have an important piece of information. For some reason he can’t or won’t talk about what is going on. Sally had begun to work on her own defensiveness, and one day when Marcus seemed upset, she asked him gently, without conveying any coaxing, demand or accusation: Are you going to refuse to talk to me if I ask you what is wrong?” Sally reported that Marcus sat stone-silent for a while and then “it was as if stone melted, and tears streamed down his face. (Taking War Out of Our Words, p. 98)
Learning From All Our RelationshipsWritten by Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
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Title: Learning From All Our Relationships Author: Margaret Paul, Ph.D. E-mail: mailto:email@example.com Copyright: © 2003 by Margaret Paul Web Address: http://www.innerbonding.com Word Count: 698 Category: Relationships
LEARNING FROM ALL OUR RELATIONSHIPS By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
All of our issues come up in our relationships - our fears of domination, rejection, abandonment, of being wrong, embarrassed, or humiliated. Relationships bring up our deepest fears of loss of self and loss of other, which triggers our deep learned protections - anger, judgment, withdrawal, resistance, and compliance.
While our dysfunctional patterns emerge most clearly in primary relationships with a partner, these patterns are certainly activated in friendships, work relationships, and relationships with our parents and children. Therefore, if you are not in a primary relationship with a partner, do not despair! You can still be learning from and evolving through all your relationships.
Craig, one of my clients, has not been in a committed relationship for about seven years. Yet most of work we do together revolves around problems he has in his work relationships and friendships. Craig is a person who hates to be controlled by others. As soon as he feels someone wanting something from him such as time, attention, or approval, he feels smothered and withdraws. He is highly sensitive to people coming to him from an inner emptiness and "pulling" on him to fill them up. However, his withdrawal doesn’t work well for him. When a "puller" comes up against Craig’s resistance, other person tends to pull even more. Craig, who doesn’t want to appear rude, ends up giving himself up and caretaking - giving person what he or she wants. He then feels angry and finds himself not even wanting to be around that person any more. This same dynamic occurred in both of his marriages.
Craig is in process of developing a powerful adult self who can speak his truth when feeling pulled on rather than withdrawing or complying. He is learning that it may be loving to himself to be open to learning with other person and say something like, "I feel there is something you are wanting from me. What is it?" He is learning that it may be loving to himself to say, "When you pull on me for approval (or time or attention), it doesn’t feel good. I would like to have a caring relationship with you, but I don’t want to be responsible for your good feelings."