Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

Practicing Intellectual Humility to Improve Your Relationships

“I could be wrong…but…”

Recently, a buzzword in the field of psychology caught my attention: Intellectual Humility (IH). I was intrigued because humility is commonly thought to be a quality associated with emotional intelligence. An endearing quality; humble people tend to be agreeable and easy to be around.

So what does intellectual humility mean, and how might we use it to improve our relationships? Author Shane Snow describes intellectual humility as “being open and able to change your mind about important things, and being able to discern when you should.” 

The emphasis on discerning when we should change our mind is an important nuance. Intellectual humility is not simply being open to new ideas; rather, it is actively considering the validity of opinions and beliefs that differ from our own and—here’s the rub—being willing to change our view.

Perhaps you and your spouse have disagreements about parenting, or your children are challenging the values you are trying to instill in them. Maybe you have a friend or family member who holds different political views than your own. 

Given the current state of the union, being willing to consider views different than our own is essential if we are to engage in meaningful conversations and find win/win solutions to the challenges we face.

Intellectual Humility in Intimate Relationships

Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up. ~ Pawan Mishra

In my work as a marriage and family therapist, one of the main complaints I hear from couples is their inability to communicate effectively. Desperate to be able to connect with each other, they find themselves falling into a repetitive cycle of big blow ups as well as frequent, petty bickering. 

Often, each partner feels misunderstood and resentful, which makes it practically impossible to see eye to eye, never mind resolve their differences. Over time, this pattern of negative communication can erode the relationship to a point where they no longer feel a connection, at times barely recognizing even a friendship.  

One of the most important building blocks for restoring connection is for partners to begin to consider things from each other’s point of view. Often, when embroiled in an argument, each person is so busy defending themselves that they do not actually hear the other. Each thinks they have the “correct” view of the problem and are certain they know the solution, which is usually what their partner needs to do differently. In other words, how they are right; and their partner wrong. 

The distortion that can come from our biases is nicely illustrated in the Buddist parable known as “the rope in the road.” 

The story goes something like this: 

A man walks along a path at night. In the darkness, he sees something long and thin coiled in the road ahead. Believing it to be a poisonous snake he runs in the opposite direction, delaying his travels. 

The next morning, the man summons the courage to start again. In the light of day, he sees that what he thought was a snake was actually a rope. In this moment, he realizes that in the darkness, he could not see clearly, and allowed his fear to cause him to imagine the worst.

When we are locked into our own viewpoint, we are seeing the rope as a snake. We become guarded, defensive, and—in a process known as confirmation bias – seek evidence that supports our view. When immersed in conflict, this bias leads couples to assume the worst about their partner and make negative conclusions about the motives behind their behavior. They continue to build their case against each other, and as a result, the relationship continues to deteriorate. 

Back to the parable for a moment. What if the traveler, upon recognizing that it was a rope and not a snake in the road, remained hesitant to trust his eyes, in spite of his new understanding? He may have abandoned his journey out of fear, and perhaps never reached his destination.

In a similar manner, continued misunderstandings can keep couples traveling down the wrong path—away from, rather than toward each other, and keep them from reaching their desired destination of harmony and connection.

This is where a coach or therapist can help, by offering strategies that allow couples to actually hear each other, perhaps for the first time, and to consider possible alternatives to their perceptions of problems. By learning to clearly communicate what they need from each other, they can repair misunderstandings and reconnect.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Communicating with Intellectual Humility 

It is not what the ego says, it is how much it is believed. ~ Mooji

An exercise I often conduct with my clients is the Imago Dialogue. Partners take turns sharing their thoughts and feelings about any given topic. While one partner is sharing, the other’s job is to listen to what is being said, and simply reflect back on what they are hearing; checking in with their partner to see if they are understanding them correctly and completely. 

Many couples find this exercise difficult, because this process highlights how they are usually not hearing each other, but rather thinking of how to defend themselves. With this exercise, they are asked to actually listen, become curious, and validate not their own, but their partner’s perspective. 

This exercise fits nicely within the intellectual humility framework, in that couples are asked to suspend their own opinions or deeply held biases, and become willing to put themselves in each other’s shoes—feel what they feel, see what they see—and how things make sense from each other’s perspective. 

IH principles also align well with the work of renowned marriage researchers Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman, who provide evidence-based strategies for inviting compromise and improving relationship satisfaction. In the exercise known as “yield to win,” each partner finds ways to compromise on behalf of the relationship, rather than pursuing their own need to be right.  

The Gottmans caution that if one partner is winning an argument, the relationship is most likely losing. By yielding to win, each partner is victorious, because the relationship is championed. 

Do You Want to Be Right or Do You Want to Be Happy?

Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but… not so open that your brains fall out. ~ Carl Sagan

Intellectual humility does not ask that we roll over and let someone else’s opinion or beliefs supersede our own, or forfeit our ability to think for ourselves. Our ego serves a purpose—it is the self with which we relate to the world, and our beliefs serve as a roadmap to living our lives according to our values. These core values should not be abandoned simply to make peace. 

Rather, it is when we become so attached to our beliefs, opinions, and self-image that we become inflexible and unable to meet life with spontaneity and curiosity. We may become “set in our ways,” which can make it difficult for us to engage with others or find a compromise. 

Intellectual humility encourages us to recognize when to put our opinions and beliefs aside, and open our hearts to new ways of thinking and relating to others. Rather than tightening up in defensiveness, we are asked to open our hearts to each other, and the vulnerability we may feel. But why is this so hard to do?

Our discomfort with being wrong is grounded in our survival instinct and is at the core of our ego-identity. Think of it as our internal GPS—we want to think our radar is accurate. Often, we identify so much with our opinions and beliefs that they seem to represent “who we are.” To consider that we are wrong means to acknowledge that we have a blind spot, which can lead us to feel k and unsure of ourselves. From this perspective, it makes sense that ideas that challenge our beliefs could feel like a challenge to our very sense of self. 

Now, I know what you may be thinking: What if, in fact, I am right? What if we practice intellectual humility, consider others’ thoughts and perspectives, but in the end analysis—we still consider our own views superior?

The good news is that by opening our hearts and minds, by listening and sincerely considering the value of another’s perspective, we will have created a more collaborative and harmonious environment, in which conflicts are more easily overcome, and connection can thrive. Particularly with our loved ones, isn’t this the very definition of winning?

10 Ways to Practice Intellectual Humility in Your Relationships

Here are some practical ideas on how to incorporate intellectual humility into your day-to-day relationships and interactions:

  1. Soft Start Up. One of the most important skills I teach my clients is known as “soft start up”.  Approaching each other with kindness, stating your sincere intentions, using “I” statements, and avoiding accusations or blame will increase the likelihood that the value of your perspective will be received.

     

  2. Do not interrupt when listening to each other’s viewpoints. This is a fundamental way to show respect. Likewise, do not monopolize the conversation. Allow for a give and take of ideas.

     

  3. When sharing a strong viewpoint, acknowledge, “I could be wrong, but…”  By acknowledging the possibility you might be proven wrong, you are always half right!

     

  4. Agree to disagree. Do not put down or otherwise attack the person who has a different viewpoint than you. No one is receptive when they are being talked down to.

     

  5. Avoid black and white thinking, including absolute statements like “always, obviously, clearly.”

     

  6. Try to find something you can agree with. This is nicely reflected in the Chinese symbol of yin/yan – seek to find a bit of truth in opposing viewpoints.

     

  7. Notice if you are emotionally triggered. The purpose of stress hormones racing through our body is to aid in our self-defense, which is by design the opposite of being open. Take a pause and try again when you are in a more receptive state.

     

  8. Seek to understand the values behind the other’s viewpoint, even if you disagree with them—everybody has some reasons for what they’re doing.

     

  9. Listen to the other person’s story of how the topic at hand is impacting them. Hearing their experience without taking it personally will help you to better see their point of view.

     

  10. Play together! – Find common interests and enjoy them together. Having fun together helps build a bridge between people with opposing views.

If you are interested in learning more about Intellectual Humility, I recommend Shane Snow’s comprehensive report Intellectual Humility: The Ultimate Guide To This Timeless Virtue where you can also find a self-assessment to measure your current intellectual humility and the interactive app Open Mind, which guides the user through steps to engage more constructively across differences. 

Wishing you the best,
Roseann Pascale, M.S., LMFT 

 

Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

Roseann Pascale, M.S., LMFT is an empathetic and intuitive couples counselor, therapist and coach. Through authentic connection and a down to earth demeanor, Roseann can guide you in developing clarity and cultivating well-being. Using the practices of mindfulness and values-driven action, she helps individuals and couples overcome their challenges and create fulfillment in all aspects of life.

Meet a Few of Our Relationship Experts

The marriage counselor, couples therapists and premarital counselors of Growing Self have specialized training and years of experience in helping couples reconnect. We use only evidence based strategies that have been proven by research to help you restore your strong bond, and love your relationship again.

 

 

 

Roseann P.

Roseann P.

M.S., LMFT

Roseann Pascale is a marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach with years of experience in helping couples communicate more effectively, find new solutions to old problems, repair their strong bond, rebuild trust after affairs, successfully blend families, improve their sexual intimacy, and parent joyfully together.

Roseann is a former student of the legendary family therapist Salvador Minuchin, and has a strong foundation in systemic, evidence based approaches to couples and family therapy that emphasize helping you both make positive changes to your life mindfully, and create an intentional relationship that honors your deepest needs.

Roseann is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in New York and Florida, and is available for online marriage counseling and relationship coaching.

Kensington O.

Kensington O.

M.S., LAMFT, MFTC

Kensington is a relationship counselor and coach, she provides relationship counseling, relationship coaching, marriage counseling, and also pre-marital counseling. She provides clients with a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment where they can feel understood, gain insight, and create lasting change in the most meaningful parts of their lives. 

Meagan T.

Meagan T.

M.A., LMFT

Meagan Terry is a relationship specialist. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over nine years of experience in helping couples reconnect, and enjoy each other again. She uses effective, evidence based forms of marriage counseling including Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy and The Gottman Method. In addition to working one-on-one with couples, she teaches our Lifetime of Love premarital and relationship class.

Silas H.

Silas H.

M.S., MFT-C

Silas is an engaging, friendly and relatable couples counselor, therapist and life coach. He utilizes the evidence-based Gottman Method of marriage counseling with is couples, which emphasizes healthy communication skills training, restoring the strong foundation of commitment and friendship at the core of your marriage, and how to show each other love and respect in the ways that are most important to each of you. 

Silas is available to meet with you in person for marriage counseling in Broomfield, Colorado. He also provides online marriage counseling and online relationship coaching to clients across the US and internationally. 

 

Anastacia S.

Anastacia S.

M.A., N.C.C., LMFT-C

Anastacia's authentic, caring approach to marriage counseling and relationship coaching helps couples find each other's "noble intentions," and re-commit to showing each other love and respect. She can help you heal old hurts, improve your communication, restore trust, and work together as a team.

Dori B.

Dori B.

M. S., ASORC

Dori is a kind, empathetic couples counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who specializes in sex therapy, and helping couples create healthy emotional and sexual intimacy. Her friendly style makes it safe to talk about anything, and her solution-focused approach helps you move past the past, and into a bright new future of intimacy and connection.

Georgi C.

Georgi C.

M.S., LAMFT

Georgi is an incredibly kind, compassionate marriage counselor and premarital counselor who has a knack for bringing out the best in both of you. Georgi practices evidence-based Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which helps you restore your empathy for each other, see each other's noble intentions, and helps you create a strong, secure attachment bond of love and appreciation. Her approach focuses on helping you repair your emotional connection first, which then makes it easier solving problems and make behavioral changes.

Georgi's services are exclusively available to residents of Arkansas. She can meet with you in person for marriage counseling in Bentonville, AR or she can meet with you for couples therapy online if you live in Arkansas. 

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Radical Acceptance: How to Cope in Uncertain Times

Radical Acceptance: How to Cope in Uncertain Times

Radical Acceptance: How to Cope in Uncertain Times

Radical Acceptance

[social_warfare]

Unprecedented: Crisis.

This word captures the magnitude of the impact of the COVID19 health crisis has had on every area of our lives. The impact is both intensely personal and at the same time being experienced by our entire global human community. 

For many of us, worries about the immediate and long-term future have reached a tipping point, with fear of the unknown threatening to overwhelm our ability to manage it. For those who have previously struggled with anxiety and depression, the sense of overwhelm is compounded.

Unprecedented: Fear, Anxiety, and Uncertainty. 

Having unlimited amounts of time socially isolated, without our usual routines has been unsettling. Economic uncertainty is a threat to our livelihood. Our instinctive response to a threat is to become hyper-vigilant; a stress-based state of readiness. Many of us have taken heed of the safety precautions necessary to stay safe while out in the world, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and washing our hands. 

However, this constant physiological state of stress is counterproductive to maintaining a strong immune system. Studies have shown that stress impacts our immune system negatively, due to the release of stress hormones which take a toll on our bodies.

In order to truly maintain our health, we are encouraged to look within; to learn more about how to create wellness in our inner world—our true selves.

Unprecedented: Opportunity. 

As uncomfortable and disrupting as it is, this crisis has presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to slow down, and to connect with our selves in a way that may not have been possible while we were engaged in our busy daily lives. We have an opportunity to become mindful – to consider where we are, how we got here—and if desired— make adjustments or start over.

Research over the past several decades validates both the short and long term benefits of mindfulness in shoring up our immune system. As you learn to regulate your emotions and develop mindfulness, you will also be providing a boost to your immune system. 

Radical Acceptance and Mindfulness are two practices that can be cultivated to reduce stress to our immune systems and ground our selves in a more beneficial psychological mindset—offering an unparalleled opportunity for development of personal stability. 

Simply understood, radical acceptance means we acknowledge that things are “as they are.” This is a first step, not the end game. It is simply an acknowledgment of the reality of what has happened or what is currently happening, both outside and inside of us. 

Radical Acceptance

Let me emphasize: Radical acceptance is not the same as “agreeing with” or passively allowing unacceptable situations or behaviors from others. It simply means you fully face reality “as it is” so you can see clearly without distortions and take appropriate action as necessary.

Once we accept reality as it is, we can then consider if and how we’d like to change it.  Rather than judging what is happening, and spending energy on objecting and telling stories about it; we acknowledge  “OK, this is happening.” Then we ask, “Now, how do I want to handle it?”

How does this help us? Objecting to reality actually intensifies our emotional reaction and clouds our ability to think clearly and make the best decisions. Caveat: Developing Radical Acceptance is not necessarily easy. Change rarely is. Adapting our patterns of behavior requires focused attention and effort, but it is within our control and the benefits are immediately realized.

Consider the following scenario, which demonstrates two approaches to a circumstance

Let’s imagine a typical situation befalls two women; I’ll call them Maggie and Sarah. They get into a traffic accident while driving on the highway. 

After the initial shock, Maggie becomes angry because she believes the accident was caused by Sarah’s error. This causes her to get out of her car and confront Sarah, putting herself in danger. She then calls her husband and spends time and energy retelling what happened and defending herself – forgetting that she needs to call the insurance company to report the accident. 

Maggie is stuck in a mental loop. Maggie is adding suffering to what is an unfortunate circumstance. She also misses the opportunity to feel gratitude for the fact that she was not harmed. She is making a bad situation worse by objecting to the reality of the situation. 

However, Sarah is more mindful. Rather than objecting to reality, Sarah moves more quickly from shock to accepting what is — which is that she has been in an accident. She doesn’t focus on whose fault it was; she knows insurance will handle that. Instead, she focuses on the here and now, and is grateful that both she and the other driver appear to be unharmed. Because she is less emotional, Sarah can see things from a wider perspective. She was shaken from the accident but remains in control of her emotions, she is not rejecting or judging reality. When Maggie approaches her, she remains in her car and keeps her cool. She avoids a potentially heated exchange. She has the where-with-all to call her insurance company and the police from the safety of her car. 

This example illustrates in a simple way how radical acceptance allows us to face reality as it is, and make the best decisions we can. Neither woman was able to change the reality of the situation. They were both in a car accident. However, the event was much more draining for Maggie, and impacted her well being more negatively.  This is an example of how radical acceptance can help us to reduce our suffering. 

Radical acceptance is well expressed in this well-known excerpt from The Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Applying Radical Acceptance to the Moment

If there is one thing this global pandemic has made abundantly clear, it is that no matter how well we plan (and yes we should plan) there are many things out of our immediate control. In light of this fact, we can use radical acceptance to discern what it is we do have control over within our circumstances, and how to make best use of our energy toward the well being of others and our selves.  

Here are some practical tips for how to apply radical acceptance to the moment:

Ground yourself in the present moment. – Often, much of our anxiety is based on fear of the future. When anxiety threatens to overwhelm you, try focusing your attention on what is coming through your 5 senses: What do you see, what do you hear, what are you feeling in your body, do you have a taste in your mouth, can you smell anything. Breathe into these sensations. Doing this for one or two minutes will significantly reduce your anxiety and allow you to solve problems with more clarity.

Move your body – Check in with how your body feels; do you feel tightness in your chest? Is your breathing rapid, or shallow? Do you feel tension in your neck? Once you have determined that these bodily sensations are not related to sickness, try stretching, going for a walk nearby, or put on some music and dance around the living room, joy in movement is a great stress reliever!

Limit media exposure of the news – While it is important to stay aware of the most recent updates, try to limit your intake to that which is actionable, and will actually make a difference to your day-to-day functioning. Once you have the information you need, turn off the news, and seek other forms of relaxation and entertainment. Perhaps finally binge-watching that TV show you have never had time for, or maybe find a good comedy special. Laughter is the best medicine!

Develop mindfulness – Mindfulness means paying attention to what is happening inside of you and outside of you, in the present moment, without judgment.  Mindfulness is not necessarily quieting your mind, although that may happen as you cultivate this practice. Rather, mindfulness lets us widen our view of any given moment, so that we see ourselves within what is happening. This small shift in perception can help us avoid getting absorbed in thought and anxiety. It’s like putting a wedge between you and your thoughts and emotions, which allows you to realize that you are NOT your thoughts or emotions. With practice, you come to see that your awareness is constant, it is the thoughts and emotions that come and go. This space is where the magic happens and where freedom from the grip of anxiety may be possible.

The ground we gain by tending to our internal experience will serve us both now and all the days of our lives. In a life full of uncertainty and the inevitability of change, the ability to ground and regulate ourselves in our Self is an opportunity to become familiar with a truly constant and stable place. 

Developing these mindfulness practices requires practice. Working with a life coach or individual therapist can help facilitate the development of these skills. The best part is, when we are better able to cope our selves, we help others we are in contact with to become more grounded as well.

Warm Wishes, 
Roseann Pascale, M.S., LMFT

[social_warfare]
Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

Roseann Pascale, M.A., LMFT is an empathetic and intuitive couples counselor, therapist and coach. Through authentic connection and a down to earth demeanor, Roseann can guide you in developing clarity and cultivating well-being. Using the practices of mindfulness and values-driven action, she helps individuals and couples overcome their challenges and create fulfillment in all aspects of life.

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