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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Communicating Difficult Things with Grace and Love

Every day life brings situations where people have to deliver messages that the recipient might not want to hear. It starts at home with simple clashes in needs like cleanliness, time together, peace and quiet. Maybe it is with a neighbor or co-worker. Rarely are we taught how to do it gracefully and without alienating the other. For that reason we often don´t communicate our needs at all, which harms the relationship nonetheless. While we can´t change the other person, whether they are willing to listen or want to hear about our needs, we can make sure that we do what is in our own power:

1. Be clear on what you want to communicate
It is easy to just blurt it out and expect the recipient to be in fact receiving. We forget that the story is in our head and not all essential parts might come out that explain how we got here. Take a moment by yourself first and go over the message. What is it you want to have the other know and what would you like them to do or not do anymore. Use I-statements to minimize defensiveness.

2. Choose a moment outside of the aggravation
Make an effort to have a relaxed and pleasant conversation and not just meet to vent and dump. Chances are better that way that the other can take it in and think about it.

3. Remind yourself of your own love and sympathy for the other
Stay strong in your message as well as your knowledge that just because you have a difficult subject does not mean you don´t love/like or care for the other person. Things have to be discussed in life. It does not mean that bridges need to be burnt.

4. Be aware of your own history of communicating your needs and be willing to practice
Think about former situations (as far back as you can remember) when you voiced your own needs. What was the typical outcome? Where you heard or shut down? Maybe even punished? The worse your experiences to date the harder it will be to not be nervous and expect a negative outcome. Acknowledge yourself for trying and make use of opportunities to practice as they present themselves, despite of wanting to just let it go.

5. Remember that even if the other gets defensive, it does not mean you are overly demanding or were not heard
While an encounter might end unpleasantly, remind yourself that you tried your best and that your best is not always the same. Renew your commitment to continue to practice and to communicate your needs with grace and love. You learn something from every situation. Sometimes others are just not interested in your needs, which can give you information for further contact and you might decide to change the nature of that relationship.

6. Remember that it is difficult for all of us and nobody likes to get defensive
Being defensive is an awful feeling and is just as unpleasant on the "defender" as it is on the "recipient". After the encounter, continue to think well of the defensive person and try to also see their side. We rarely know all the things another person is going through. It can be a lot or too much. It does not mean you can´t voice your needs, but even if you encounter defensiveness, don´t give up on the relationship and stay open for further communication. Be inviting, loving and caring. A good guiding image is to treat the other like you want to be treated.

It is often a process and is not done with with one talk only (no matter how hard we wish for that to be true). Stand behind your own needs, be considerate of the other side and stay positive.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Speed of the Body

It always amazes me to watch a little scratch or cut on the skin heal. The body just does it, reliably. Yet, it takes a few days. That is a few days too long for the speed of the mind or also our daily life culture. NOW is the instrumental word for any deadline. We love that word and we are hooked on it. It makes things happen while we are watching and while our mind is still focused on it. We also want it from our body. But at what cost?

Flu season is in full blast. Every time I call my mother in Austria, she gives me a list of people who had the flu. It is part of life. We would get the flu, stay home in bed, drink medicinal teas and sweat it out. To this day it is not much more than having a cold. They still have time to be sick.

At my new home, San Diego, most people take a flu shot, no matter their age or risk factors. Here, we don´t have time to get sick and don´t want to have to stoop to the slow, slow pace of the body putting its pieces together. Even though it reliably does it, but it does not do it fast enough. It is concerning that the body gets so little say in its own processing and in the way it functions. Medicine has become its legal guardian, it does not need a voice of its own anymore.

Pills are fast, surgeries are intense, forming the body in a way it is supposed to be. I wonder how it must be for the body, not being heard and not entitled to its own speed. It must be like having a partner who is a very fast thinker and is always on the go, while you yourself are more the book reading and staying in and cuddle kind of person. Being exposed to excessive speed will sooner or later make you feel wrong,  broken, not good enough. You can try for a while and be faster and more outgoing, but eventually you will feel so down on yourself and low in energy that giving up seems like the only option.

I grew up taking ownership of my health and observing my body`s state on a regular basis. If something was off, we would subscribe ourselves to a medicinal tea cure, which meant preparing and drinking a certain type of tea several times a day for 3 or more weeks at a time, pausing, and repeating it if needed. The body slowly restored itself, aided by the teas healing properties. Sometimes it took temporary dietary changes to go along with it, or making sure to get extra sleep, keeping warm or getting more sunshine, depending on the ailment. We also consulted a Doctor when needed, but not as the only option always.

These experiences are a blessing to me still today. They help me be more patient with my body and more in tune with it. I think it is not about having a good and not good constitution that determines our health. It is about tuning in to our bodies` needs or not. It takes constant vigilance and work to give the body what it needs to function well. But it is very much worth it - and can be fun! I have not had a cold or flu or illness in decades, but I did feel under the weather at times and made sure I slowed down and got extra rest and improved the nutritional value of my food choices. So far, this works well for my body and my mind. And if one day it does not, change will need to happen. No time, I can almost hear to be the argument. Maybe, can´t afford it, as another reason against it. Well, one thing I know for sure: It takes a lot of time to have a severe chronic decease, and it is very, very expensive. Nip it in the bud! And carry on having a good time. It is not about how old we get in life, it is with what quality of life and health we get there.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Loving Yourself - Necessary for Happiness or Decadent?

In time for Valentine´s day I raise the subject of self-love. Maybe this is where love starts, or maybe this is where it ends. It depends on the dosage and on the definition, in part:

Self-love is a term I don´t hear so much in the psychological field as more in the self-help arena. To me it comes mostly down to definition, which is often a good place to start. Translated into psychology I would say that self-love contains self respect, having good self care in place, exercising healthy boundaries, as well as feeling worthy of and going after the raise, starting a family, making room for a hobby (whatever is meaningful to the individual), being the center of attention and such things. These are all components of a balanced life.

The term self-love is interchangeable with all these behaviors, which are building blocks of leading a self designed, conscious life, living with a purpose, being an integrated member of society and dealing with whatever challenges show up in the course of a life time. Self-love is visible as charisma, a sense of calm about oneself, a glow in the eyes, a curious presence when interacting with others.

Then there is another kind of self-love - the one that is excluding and stifling anything else in life: the narcissistic love, of which the definition is "love of itself". It means the complete admiration of one self and blindness to any other aspects of life, like empathy, kindness, graciousness, or even self-reflection. It is often what is talked about and studied in psychology. It does not serve the afflicted or his/her environment. It is not allowing development as a person or living up to a higher moral goal in life. I think this is the kind, for example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger talks about, when she states in her outspoken ways that she never gets up in the morning and says to her reflection in the mirror "I love myself!", that this is counterproductive to being a caring and contributing member of society. It is more self-respect that she strives for and suggests to her callers on her radio program to do as well. To me, self-respect can be interchangeable with self-love.

For many people, who grew up being taught to perform, to not boast, to not take themselves too seriously, to not stick out in the crowd, to be giving selflessly, self-love is an important process of self-discovery. Being gentle with oneself and getting to know ones likes and dislikes, strengths and hopes can lead to a life that is very strong and fulfilling, and contributes much more to a society than self-loathing.

To sum it up, I want everyone to make sure they are conscious of their own definition when talking about terms like self-love, and also make sure to understand the definition of others. Also, please find the kindness of self-love inside and cherish it, making it grow into a healthy self and sharing the goodness of what comes from it.

Happy Valentine´s Day!!