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How to Not Be a Dick

How to Not Be a Dick

How to Not Be a Dick

(Even When Other People Are Being Jerks.)

Let’s face it: We all have moments. Moments when we feel (justifiably!) angry or frustrated with other people, and moments when we lose our cool. While everyone is in agreement that there is a time and place for healthy anger, sometimes the lines can get blurred around when you’re setting appropriate limits…. and when you’re probably being unnecessarily aggressive about making your feelings known. In life coaching and therapy sessions (and especially couples counseling sessions) the topic often comes up of how to communicate well, even when you’re upset. 

How do we find that balance? The balance between not being a pushover and having a right to your feelings, but also having compassion for other people? Especially (here’s the hard part) other people who may not be behaving well themselves. It’s challenging for all of us. (#lifegoals!)

The easy thing to do in the face of conflict is to lash out in anger, push people away,  or freeze people out. It’s much harder to stay in the ring and find a path of mutual understanding and repair.

Emotional Intelligence Skills

At Growing Self we talk a lot about emotional intelligence, and how vital it is to having not just great relationships but career success too. We think of “emotional intelligence” as being the ability to understand other people and communicate effectively, but one of the (other) core skills of emotional intelligence is actually self-regulation. Self-regulation, meaning the ability to manage big feelings appropriately, and in such a way as to not damage important relationships.

Easier. Said. Then. Done…. particularly when you’re feeling attacked or disrespected. But when you learn how to regulate yourself and handle tough interpersonal situations well, YOU have the opportunity to find solutions, build bridges and strengthen connections.

How To Not Be a Dick

On the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I had the great pleasure of speaking with NYC-based psychoanalyst Dr. Mark Borg about this subject, and his insights into how to lead a more compassionate life. Dr. Borg is the author of the book, “Don’t Be a Dick: Change Yourself, Change Your World” and he shared thoughtful strategies for how to:

  • Gain the authentic self-awareness necessary to catch yourself when you’re slipping into unnecessary “dickishness”
  • How to handle challenging interpersonal situations with grace and tact
  • The mindset that will help you stay compassionate with people who are not behaving well
  • Strategies to handle extremely triggering situations with your family around the holidays (without getting sucked into conflict)
  • How to use the power of empathy for yourself, and others, in order to make the world a better place

All that, and more, on this episode of the podcast. (Both the video and audio versions are included below!)

I hope this perspective and advice helps you and the people you love.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

 

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How to Not Be a Dick, with Dr. Mark Borg

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Wimps, “Baggage”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Becoming Emotionally Healthy

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Balanced, Healthy Emotions: Learn to Ride the Wave

BECOMING EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY: Feelings. They happen to everyone, all the time. And yet, we don’t always acknowledge them or talk about our feelings, much less take guidance from our emotions.

Particularly in our culture, individuals and couples on a quest of “Happiness” can come to believe that being happy means being relatively free of dark emotions, like anger, sadness or fear. In fact, the opposite is true: Research shows that the happiest, most emotionally healthy people are actually the ones who are most comfortable with the full range of their emotions.

Emotionally healthy people tend to be both self-accepting and self-aware: They know how they feel, and they have a great deal of tolerance and self-compassion when they’re not feeling so great emotionally. They don’t try to avoid bad feelings, and they also know how to (gently, appropriately) support themselves through challenging times. 

Emotional Health: Finding a Balance

Emotionally healthy people tend to be attuned to their emotions (and those of others). They know how to “lean in” to hard feelings with acceptance and without judgment. However, even though they’re fully connected with their feelings they may not always react or take action from their emotions. A core component of authentic emotional health is knowing which feelings to listen to and which feelings to leave alone.

It can be hard to develop emotional health and learn how to stay in balance between taking wisdom from your emotions, but not always “obeying them. Learning how to tell the difference between helpful and unhelpful feelings, helps you develop self-compassion, self-understanding, and self-control. 

Becoming Emotionally Healthy is a Personal Growth Process

A key aspect of holistic personal growth is learning how to have an authentic, self-aware, and sensitive relationship with your own emotions. This kind of powerful personal growth work often addresses: 

  • The life experiences that shaped your emotional reality and core beliefs
  • Acknowledging any unfinished business with the past
  • Identifying and understanding your unique emotional triggers
  • Figuring out which feelings are guiding you helpfully
  • Using your emotions to connect with your hopes, dreams and values
  • Pinpointing the emotions that are getting in your way
  • Developing self-compassion and acceptance of feelings without judgment
  • Learning how to cope with big, dark emotions in a healthy way
  • Learning how to stay in balance emotionally, no matter what’s going on

It’s a lot! While this type of personal growth work often takes months (if not years) of focused attention in therapy or life coaching, it’s so worth it. Becoming emotionally healthy is a foundational life skill for anyone on the path of self-actualization. 

The Benefits of Cultivating Emotional Health

Learning how to manage your emotions skillfully allows you to have better relationships with others, feel happier, improve your self-esteem, and also create a meaningful, values-based life for yourself. It’s worth talking about, and that’s where we’re going together today on The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

In addition to talking through all of the above, I’m answering some specific listener questions like:

  • “How do I get my emotions under control and stop being so reactive?”
  • “How do I stop allowing my anxiety to get in the way of my relationships?”
  • “How do I feel less numb and ‘blah’ and more engaged with my life?””

All for YOU, on this episode of the podcast. 

See you there!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

PS: Resources I mentioned on today’s show include the “Happy Heart” unit of my online Happiness Class, as well as a self-soothing breathing technique I shared on IGTV.

 

PPS: Once again, I recorded this episode LIVE on Instagram so that I could answer some real-time listener questions. If you’d like to join next time, follow me @drlisamariebobby and you’ll see me LIVE in your stories (almost) every Monday at 12pm MT. Hope to see you there! LMB

 

 

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Becoming Emotionally Healthy

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Enjoy This Episode?

Please Rate, Review and Share The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Enjoy This Episode?

Please Rate, Review and Share The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

How to Not Be a Dick

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast therapist and author Dr. Mark Borg talks about his new book, "Don't Be a Dick," and shares his advice for how to stay calm and compassionate. (Even when other people are being jerks.)

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Becoming Emotionally Healthy

Feelings are a part of life — how do you deal with yours? Do you avoid them? Do you overreact? Or do you stay balanced: Listening to them, but not always taking action? Learn how to find balance, on today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast

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The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is The Game-Changer

 

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT WORK: Emotional intelligence (or, “EI” for short) drives your success at work. On a personal level, your career aspirations can stall or get entirely off track without emotional intelligence. However, emotional intelligence impacts entire organizations too. Without leaders who have high levels of emotional intelligence, organizations are negatively impacted through strained employee and customer relationships, higher turnover rates, and often lower bottom line results.

One Leader’s Journey to Emotional Intelligence

As a career coach and leadership coach, I have a front row seat to observe just how impactful the presence or absence of emotional intelligence can be. I know from my work with individual leaders as well as organizations and management teams, that having even just one leader committed to improving their levels of emotional intelligence will affect your entire group. 

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Here’s a real-world example of how to develop emotional intelligence.

I once had a leadership coaching client I’ll call Jim, who was in a leadership position at a large, successful tech organization. Showing toughness and determination were obvious strengths for this leader and had played a huge part in his advancing to high levels in the tech industry.

But, after a certain level, what Jim knew how to do — being firm and direct, hardheaded and focused on results — wasn’t working out for him anymore. It was easy to see that this 46-year-old leader had stopped moving forward and was stalled out in their current mid-management job, unhappy, and constantly wondering why the VP position wasn’t offered.

Even though Jim was working as hard as ever and driving his team towards even greater goals, there had been no mention of moving into levels of higher responsibility since joining the company 3 years ago. Jim was genuinely mystified: Couldn’t everyone see his advanced tech skills, his grinding work ethic, his name brand school, and impressive resume?

“Company sales were up, my team likes me, I make sure we do a happy hour every week— so why no promotions?” this executive questioned.  “And it was all but stated in my interviews that with hard work, meeting quotas and building a strong sales team, a promotion to VP was an opportunity that would be there.”

As if the frustration and disappointment that was mounting at work weren’t enough, Jim’s relationships at home with his wife and kids were unhappy. His wife suggested they try couples counseling. (Jim felt this was entirely unnecessary…. at first).  

Emotional Intelligence is Often a Blind Spot For Leaders

What was creating so many problems for Jim was that he had zero awareness around how other people were feeling in their interactions with him. This was true for his co-workers, reports, leadership, and his wife and kids too.

Yes, Jim had a lot of impressive tech knowledge, skills, and fun personality (in a back-slapping kind of way) but these positives were overshadowed by his inability to be aware of and manage strong emotions or show empathy to those on the team. He had always viewed his fist pounding, demands, and tendency to talk over peers and customers instead of listening as “his style.”  He did not understand that his way of relating to other people was getting in the way of forming collaborative relationships, goodwill, and cooperation — both at work, and at home. 

Emotional Intelligence Coaching: The Lightbulb Goes Off

The organization had also reached its limits with this leader and suggested that emotional intelligence (EI) coaching and leadership coaching would be beneficial.  Not particularly a happy camper during our first meeting, this changed over time and good things started happening!

Before getting involved in Emotional Intelligence coaching, Jim, like many, genuinely believed that his outgoing personality, and drive for success,  paired with a strong set of software development skills and experience should be enough to advance his career. However, Jim was also a smart guy, and he was open to trying something different when he could see for himself that his usual way of doing things wasn’t working out. [For more on this, check out “How to Get Ahead at Work“]

The first step of our emotional intelligence coaching work consisted of  360 emotional intelligence survey assessment called the ESCI, which would help us to understand the impact Jim was having on those around him. As part of my assessment process, I interviewed Jim’s current manager and had his sales team, peers, and several customers all complete an online survey providing invaluable (anonymous) feedback.

In the first meeting to review survey results, a lightbulb went on for this leader.  Though it was tough to hear that the ambition, drive, and force that were self-described strengths could also be viewed as limitations, it was obvious that this leader’s behaviors were getting in the way of a high-level promotion and success at work. It wasn’t the ambition and drive that was negative; it was the expression of those (impatience, yelling, over-focus on output at the expense of people) that was a problem. However, with Jim’s newfound self-awareness he could now understand them as the career-limiting behaviors that they were and change could begin.

Emotional Intelligence Can Be Learned

Through coaching and determined practice, this manager improved key leadership skills. One skill area that was notably low on the assessment (and a total “blind spot”) was mentoring and coaching employees. What a great change on the sales team when they began to see their leader had more interest in how they could each grow at work and made sure they got what they needed to be successful. Jim’s sincere interest in how people were doing (and the ability to listen and understand) went much further towards building moral and positive relationships than his happy hour.

Most importantly, Jim learned that leaders need to manage conflict effectively.  This manager’s emotional intelligence survey results were clear: a better way to handle inevitable work conflicts needed to happen, especially with the sales team and customers. (Interestingly, survey outcomes showed this leader managed conflicts more effectively with peers and with his own manager.) Being more self-aware meant better self-management, which meant no more fist-pounding or loud-voiced demands, which meant far better workplace relationships. Instead, Jim learned to recognize and manage his own feelings, and show (and feel) empathy and consideration for the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others.

It took a lot of practice to change old habits and stitch together change, but Jim was able to put his core strengths of intelligence, determination, and hard work to great use. He was successful.

The Benefit of Emotional Intelligence Coaching

As is my process in emotional intelligence coaching and leadership coaching, I checked back in with Jim and his company. According to the organization some months later, company-wide positive changes had been experienced because of Jim’s turnaround. Customers were more satisfied (at least in part) as a result of this one leader’s understanding of their impact in the workplace. Key employees were more productive. They’d reduced turnover. Leadership was happy.

Jim was happy too. Because of his long-standing ability to be resilient and manage change, he was able to drive his career to the next level. He got that promotion. But perhaps even more importantly, he’d also strengthened relationships with his wife and family. Jim’s new understanding of the importance of emotions, how to be more sensitive to the feelings of others, ability to listen, and to communicate more respectfully touched every area of his life in a very positive way. 

Jim can do it, and you can too! I hope this story inspires you to develop emotional intelligence in yourself. It’s worth it.

Sincerely,

Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT, Certified EI Coach

 

HEALTHY PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS | Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT is a relationship expert and certified emotional intelligence coachwith years of experience as a marriage counselor, executive coach, and leadership coach. She’s here to help you cultivate positive relationships in every area of your life. Learn more about Linda…

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Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Feeling Invalidated By Your Partner?

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

How to Stop Invalidating Your Partner in Three Easy Steps

Hi there. Are you reading this article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of saying they have been feeling invalidated by you and would like that to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I’m the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely, and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: We all invalidate our partners accidentally. I’ll bet you a cookie that you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.

How do I know this is happening to you, too? First of all, I’ve been a marriage counselor for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has been a diagnosable sociopath. But I will save that tale for another day).

Secondly, I’ve also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I’m a marriage counselor!  I should know better! And To. This. day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad.

But I’m working on it, and it’s better than it used to be. You can do the same. Here’s how:

Step One: Understanding “Invalidation”

First of all, let’s talk a little about what “invalidation”  means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you a) don’t understand them or their feelings or b) if you do understand, you don’t care.

In order to improve invalidation you need to be self-aware of when it’s happening, and what you’re doing to cause it. Invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways. Let’s review.

Types of Invalidating Behaviors

Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don’t pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C’est moi!)

Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”

You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices]

_________________________________

Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective.

Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:

Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”

You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”

_________________________________

Controlling invalidators:  These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more. (If I’m not careful, I actually have a tendency towards this one too).

Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:

Them: “No, Timmy, you can’t go out to play because you have to take shower and clean your room.”

You: “Be back before dinner.”

_________________________________

Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.

Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:

Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer’s market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”

You: “Pfft. NO. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”

_________________________________

Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people’s feelings, or argue that other’s feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.

Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:

Them: “Crying”

You: “You shouldn’t be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”

You some more: “….That’s not what I meant. We can try again next month. You’re overreacting.”

_________________________________

Fixit Invalidators: Lastly, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions.

Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:

Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”

You: “She’s just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I’ll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”

_________________________________

There are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you.

Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation

While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it’s so important.

So: What is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. Like you really get how they see things, and that you support them in their perspective.

This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts and feelings and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a healthy, happy relationship.

Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what’s going on, when you hear that it feels like you’re accepted by the person you’re with and that it’s okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).

Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. As I’m sure you know.

So if you work towards being more validating you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks, your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.

Step Three: Intentionally Practice Validating Behaviors

The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to. In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was trying to be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner’s perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead. 

Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.

The good news is that it’s not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it’s important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.

Here’s what that looks like at my house:

My husband is telling me something but I’m not really connecting with what he is saying. He’s talking about his day at work, and how he’s not feeling great. And now he’s going on and on about this guy he works with who’s super annoying, and incompetent, and how he’s thinking about taking the day off tomorrow, and…

….I’ve zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind.  Day off… Netflix…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He’s still talking but I’m now having an entirely internal experience. I know he’s still there, but it’s the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

Sometimes he can tell when I’m not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I’m saying?” He’s annoyed. He should be.

Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn’t important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.

But like you, I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn’t making him a priority in that moment, but indulging my own self-absorption.

In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it’s a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged.

I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps.

Every flavor of invalidation has a validating antidote that’s a little different. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly:

  • Inattentive invalidators need to stay present and use mindfulness skills to focus.
  • Belligerent invalidators need to find compromises that honor their partner’s feelings, too.
  • We controlling invalidators need to manage our anxiety, and trust in the competence of others.
  • Judgmental invalidators need to work on acceptance and generosity.
  • Emotional invalidators need to work on empathy and emotional intelligence skills.
  • Fixit Invalidators must make peace with the fact that feelings are valuable, even dark ones.

I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner’s feelings and perspective as important to you as your own .

Now, please send this post back to your partner.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Let’s Talk!

Coparenting Together

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Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Empathy: The Key to Connection and Communication

Do You Understand How Others Feel?

As a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I often meet with couples who “struggle with communication.” But you know what? Most of the time people are actually able to express themselves quite well. The problem is that when they try to communicate with their partner, they do not feel heard, understood, or cared for.

What’s the disconnect? Empathy.

Allow me to tell you a little story to illustrate what I mean by empathy. One unfortunate day a number of years ago, I found myself standing at the check-in desk in the emergency room, waiting for the triage nurse to return. I was holding my four-year-old son, who, thirty minutes before, had tripped and landed head first on the thin edge of a glass coffee table. The sickeningly large goose-egg on his forehead was quickly turning purple. I was imagining skull fractures, blood clots, and news stories of people lost to silent brain hemorrhages were replaying in my mind.

I pressed the side of my face against his sweet golden hair and looked up to see an older woman sitting in the waiting area, watching me. She looked at me with deep compassion. I knew that she knew exactly what it felt like to hold a beloved, injured child, and to be in the terrifying time-before-knowing. Her just looking at me so compassionately broke through my adrenalin-fueled shock, and I came back into my body.

Just being understood by her unleashed hot tears of anguish and fear which overwhelmed me, because it allowed me to connect with my own emotions. Her look said, “I feel your pain, Mom,” and I just lost it for a moment, before messily attempting to pull it together so as not to further scare my kid. At that moment, though I still felt so scared and in pain for my child, I also felt known… and not alone. I felt one with terrified mothers everywhere, and that in itself was a comfort. (I can still get a little teary even now, writing about it).

Her understanding how I felt — and caring about it — was empathy in action.

Empathy is The First Step in Creating Connection

To intuit how another person is feeling is the foundation of being able to relate. To have a sense of another’s anxiety, hurt, or joy is a pre-requisite of being able to understand them. Without the context of feelings, people are often mystifying. Understanding feelings is like being at the theater and seeing the stage, props and costumes of a play—it provides the setting for the words and actions of others to make sense. Empathy is a fundamental skill of Emotional Intelligence, as well as the foundation of evidence-based marriage counseling approaches like Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Empathy is also at the core of compassion. To have a sense of another’s vulnerability, and how it’s similar to yours, generates kindness. Empathy helps us understand the great truth of relationships: We are the same. Yes, we have different personalities, life experiences, values and core beliefs. And yet we are still more similar than different. We all want to love and be loved, to be safe, to have healthy children, and to be happy.

Others are just as “real” as you are. The emotional experience of others is as true for them as yours is to you.  Feelings are a fact that cannot be argued. Having empathy means accepting the emotional truth of another, and attempting to understand it. If you can do that, you can connect with people on a deep level and help them feel genuinely loved and cared for by you.

Cultivate Empathy For Others By Tuning Into Yourself

How to cultivate this ability, and be able to connect emotionally with another person?  Start with yourself. Do you know how you feel? Without that awareness it is almost impossible to understand someone else. I bet the woman in the waiting room knew her own feelings—that was how she could understand mine. Like a bell that vibrates when held close to a singing voice, your emotional awareness resonates with the felt experience of others.

Practice noticing and naming the layers of emotion within you. Notice what hurts or scares or pleases you. Use your self-awareness to become more sensitive to how others may be feeling in similar situations. Then allow that knowledge to influence your words and deeds. When you develop more empathy for others, you are able to treat them with the dignity, respect, and understanding that you yourself desire. When you can put yourself in someone else’s emotional shoes, you will become softer and kinder, you will be able to relate to others more easily, and your relationships will improve.

If Communication in Your Relationship Has Been Feeling Hard Lately, Try This:

Do you feel like there’s a new fight always simmering under the surface with your partner lately? Or like they’re so quick to take offense, or shut down? Do you find yourself feeling that lately, whatever you say or do (or don’t do) is misunderstood and taken the wrong way? I get it. (Yes, I have empathy for you because I have felt that way in my own marriage before, too).

Reach for empathy to turn things around in your relationship.

The next time your partner responds badly to whatever they’ve interpreted you as having said or done, instead of reflexively getting upset back at them, try to use your power of empathy to understand how they feel. Take a guess, and say it out loud: “I’ve hurt your feelings, haven’t I?” Or, “What I said just now made you feel criticized by me, didn’t it?” Or, “I’m guessing that you just stopped talking right now and turned away because you’re worried that this is going to turn into another argument, or that I’m going to get upset.” Whatever you are guessing is true for your partner, just say it. (In a kind, genuinely curious, and non-judgemental or accusatory way).

If you just take your best guess and then stop talking, something interesting might happen. Your partner might say….”Yeah. That is how I feel.” And even more amazingly, your tiny little bit of empathy just might make them feel safe enough with you in that moment to tell you more about how they feel, giving YOU the opportunity to do more non-reactive reflecting about how they feel. Then, before you know it, you might be having a really honest, important, connecting conversation — instead of another fight. [Listen: How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage].

This is what happens when you’re in the room with a good marriage counselor or couples therapist: They hone into each of your feelings, to help you understand each other more compassionately and in an emotionally safe way. But you don’t necessarily need to have a marriage counselor in the room with you do foster empathy and understanding in your relationship.

Try it, and see what happens. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes, if you’d like to share anything with me and your fellow readers in the comments below.

Yours always,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. To deepen your understanding of empathy, how powerful it is, and how it works in real life, check out this super-cute video about Empathy by Brene Brown

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
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