Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving Thanks & Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

Thanksgiving is upon us! I love this holiday: the food, the parade, the relaxation, the food...oh, the food...

But as any holiday that involves getting together with extended family or other people you don't see regularly, Thanksgiving has it's challenges. Communication is difficult enough with the people we see everyday, but add even a thin layer of unfamiliarity, or the kind of stress associated with producing a small feast, and the possibility of unintended slights, misunderstandings, and general weirdness increases exponentially. We simply lack the ability to get into another person's head to the extent that we can say for certain what the intent was behind another's words or actions.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Birthday Reflection: It's time to shed "I Can't"

I turned 35 a couple of weeks ago. Gulp. It kind of feels like a big deal. Not 30 or 40 big, but still a milestone. I can remember when my mom turned 35, and that seems significant. On my birthday, I felt like I had aged. Sure, the tiredness was more likely due to the fact that we have an infant in the house or that we were all recovering from the virus from hell (and subsequently nursing the visiting company we passed it on to, sigh.), but still. I did not feel like partying.

And that works for me. Birthdays are more a time of reflection; a time when I can take stock of where I've come from, where I'm going, and - most importantly - what I've outgrown. It's been a hard lesson for me to learn (and I'm still working on it!) but I'm appreciating, more and more, the importance of letting go of those things that bog me down and keep me from growing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Making Self-Care Happen

Two weeks ago, Jason traveled for work, leaving me with both girls for more than 24-hours for the first time since Laurel's birth. My mom came up from Virginia to help out, and Jason was away for only two and a half days, but I feel like I'm just now recovering. Laurel is going through a phase where she wants to be held, specifically by me, pretty much 24-7. It makes it hard for Cadence, who would also like a good bit of attention and who continues to try new and interesting ways to have those needs met. I'm definitely feeling the mommy-drain.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maintain Emotional Boundaries with this Gift

This, right here, is my 50th Honest and Gentle post. I'm feeling pretty excited about that. :) To celebrate, I'd like to offer you a gift, a small token of my appreciation for the time that you take to read these posts; something that I feel is particularly useful for folks who care about feelings and empathy (folks like you!). Here's the back story:

A few years ago, I developed a workshop for an organization who's employees were experiencing low morale. Their jobs involved supporting others through difficult times in life and, to put it mildly, it was emotionally draining. They were sometimes treated disrespectfully by the people they were serving. They were told how useless they were, when many of them felt this work was their calling. Even when they weren't taking on direct criticism, they felt bogged down by the emotional struggles of the folks they were serving and they were frustrated by the limitations of what they could do to help.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Respond to Your Pregnant Partner's Emotions

I've shared this before, but it's worth repeating that my pregnancies have been emotional roller coasters, fraught with emotional outbursts. They were rough experiences for me as well as those around me, and especially those closest to me. So, especially difficult on my partner, Jason. During one outburst last year, when he was trying to be helpful, I actually yelled at him, "You're not being helpful at all!"

When he asked what he could do to be helpful, it just frustrated me further. I was so upset that I couldn't think straight and I certainly couldn't feed him the right lines. I eventually calmed down enough to express that thought and to tell him that he was going to have to be resourceful and figure it out on his own. I encouraged him to talk to his friends or google some resources.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Saved by the Poop

The other day I was talking to my mom on the phone and our conversation became heated. We were arguing over the message of a particular news story and, suffice to say, we had two completely different perspectives. It may be helpful to explain that, while my mom and I have a LOT in common, political views are not one of the commonalities.

I was becoming so frustrated that I was close to saying something that would just be hurtful or to hanging up the phone. Exactly one moment before it came to that, Laurel had a big, loud poop. I was sure that it was a blow-out, and I was saved!

Monday, March 24, 2014

He Said, She Said, and Google Glass Recorded

When Jason and I argue, we tend to get caught up in disagreement over the "facts" of our conflict. We remember the order of events differently or we don't remember something we supposedly promised. I feel infuriated when Jason denies saying or doing something that I can remember with perfect clarity and I am equally infuriated when I'm accused of something I can't remember doing or saying. And I don't even notice how hilariously hypocritical that is when I'm in the moment!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cry It Out

I learned a lot about coping with emotional stress during my last pregnancy. I can't say that it was the most stressful period of life I had experienced, but it was up there with the rest of them. And it was certainly the most stressful period when I also had to mother a toddler. I think I was more concerned, during this period than in the past, with working on coping so that I could remain present and protect my sweet daughter from my inner crazies. In any case, I often found myself working through all of my coping tools and eagerly seeking the counsel of anyone who would add to my tool box.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Forgive and Let Go through Empathy

I experienced a good deal of stress the Fall I completed my Master's degree.Thesis deadlines loomed and I often felt panicked, wondering if I could actually complete all the work to be done while also passing as a half-way decent wife and mother. I wasn't sleeping well and when I did sleep, I was having a lot of anxiety dreams. They weren't the kind where you suddenly realize you're naked in a public place or where you show up to an exam and realize you have never been to the class. Instead, I would dream about people from my past. More specifically, they were people with whom I had been very close, but our relationship had ended with some degree of conflict. Dreaming about them was not pleasant and I woke feeling pretty lousy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Do Toddlers and Pregnant Women Have Anything in Common?

Our most recent snowfall, although it did not live up to the hype, was reminding me of Snowmageddon. I was newly pregnant with Cadence during that event and had started to notice some odd effects. For example, while out shoveling snow, I yelled at a guy who didn't clean up after his dog after the dog did its business in front of our house. At first I was friendly and offered to run inside for a plastic bag, but when the guy ignored me and kept walking, I quickly became filled with rage and called the guy an asshole. Loudly - as if I had suddenly lost my internal filter. Then I cried.

I came to think of these outbursts as my "pregnancy rage," which I've written about briefly.

When I was pregnant with Laurel, something occurred to me. I was doing a lot of reading about toddlers, seeking to understand how best to support Cadence as she dealt with her own powerful emotions. I came to understand how toddlers are largely ruled by their limbic systems while higher, executive functions of the brain, like impulse control, develop more slowly. I saw how my own, sweet toddler would be smiling one minute and completely melting into a ball of raw emotion the next and I would think, "Man, that's how I feel." I wondered if our brains looked anything alike at those moments.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to Apologize with Empathy

Have you ever had one of those moments where you just wanted to scream? (Of course, you have.) I had one of those moments last week. Laurel was having a rough day (I'm pretty sure a tooth is on its way) and Cadence was also demanding a lot of attention. I felt myself reaching a breaking point in the afternoon, so I tried to escape to the bathroom for a few moments of deep breathing. Unfortunately, Cadence was not on board with my plan and insisted on following me. I tried begging her for a few minutes of alone time as I raced up the stairs, but she was right on my heels. I felt frustrated and suddenly, in an odd, out-of-body kind of moment, a primal yell was coming out of my throat.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Good In, Good Out

I didn't have the smoothest transition into motherhood. My plans to continue consulting and training for the crisis hotline where I had worked dissolved when the board voted to dissolve the organization. The hotline took it's last call two and a half weeks after Cadence was born; I spent the beginning of that new chapter in life grieving the loss of my place in the workplace as well as all the social connections that went along with it. I had also not anticipated how difficult it was going to be to connect with most of my friends who worked full time; our lives had such different rhythms. I certainly had not anticipated losing friends to motherhood.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sympathy, Empathy, and the Key to Being Helpful

In a recent conversation, my husband asked me what was wrong with 'sympathy.' I began my spiel on sympathy versus empathy from my hotline training days, but it all began to seem a bit pointless. It became clear that he was less interested in a lesson on semantics and much more interested in how to be kind and helpful. Of course, my answer to, "Which is more kind and helpful: sympathy or empathy?" was, "It depends."

Hmm...I think I'll amend that to, "Usually empathy, but it depends."

Sympathy is a reaction to what someone else is going through or feeling based on our own experience with or how we think we'd feel in a similar situation. We typically think of sympathy as a reaction to a negative experience, for example, feeling sad because a friend was fired from her job. Experiencing that kind of pain and sadness is uncomfortable, so the natural reaction is to help your friend feel better. Perhaps you'd take her out for a drink, send flowers, or remind her of all the reasons that she's better off not being at that job, all in the name of easing her pain.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Recover When You Haven't Been Listening

Does this ever happen to you?

You're chatting with a good friend when something she says reminds you that you have to tell her about running into an old co-worker, which reminds you of your last trip to the grocery store, which reminds you that you have to remember to get butter this week, which reminds you that you need to make a plan for eating more healthfully, which reminds you that you wanted to look up some recipes for tofu, which reminds you that you still need to finish reading that article about....oops! You've totally missed what your friend has been saying and you're lost.

Yeah, it happens to me, too. More than I'd like to admit. So... do you ever try faking it?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mirror, Mirror On My Daughter's Face

One day, a friend of mine was visiting with her baby. Cadence was tired of playing on her own and told me that she wanted to watch a TV show. I reminded her that we don't turn on the TV when guests are visiting and she responded by saying, "I want to watch a show, RIGHT NOW." I assured Cadence that she would get her TV time and acknowledged that it was hard to wait, but Cadence just repeated her demand. This time, she stamped her feet to emphasize the 'RIGHT NOW.' I tried distraction, but my girl was persistent and continued to demand and stomp.

Cadence had been doing the 'RIGHT NOW' thing a lot in the past few days and it was getting pretty annoying. It occurred to me in that moment that she often imitates some of the more obnoxious characters she sees on TV and that could be the source of the current annoyance. I decided to switch tactics and test my theory (my money was on Quack the duck). So, I smiled and acted like we were in on the same joke:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Radical Love: Inspiration From John Lewis

Before this past year I had a terribly incomplete understanding of the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. The word "nonviolence" always brought images of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi to mind along with thoughts of civil disobedience, peaceful demonstrations, and pacifism. My eyes were opened to the other side of nonviolence when I heard an interview with John Lewis, a civil rights activist, politician, and nonviolence advocate, on the On Being podcast (1). What I had been missing was the kind of active, radical love practiced by the adherents of nonviolence.

Nonviolence requires its practitioners to actively love and empathize with the people on the other side of their cause, even when the people on the other side are, "attacking you, beating you, spitting on you..." For many receiving that kind of treatment, it would be hard to not respond in kind. John Lewis explained the basis for not responding to violence with violence:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Laurel's Lessons in Patience

Soon after Laurel's birth, I described her to one of my friends as a little enlightened being, so serene and present. Like most infants, she's fairly immediate when it comes to basic needs. However, once she's fed and comfortable, see seems to have an abundance of patience and calm. When Laurel first discovered her hands, she spent several days in a row trying to move them to her mouth. She would watch with such intensity as she slowly moved her hand closer, closer, and then into her eye or cheek. It was kind of hilarious to observe, but she never got agitated or upset. She would just deliberately extend her arm and try again. And again.

This patient perseverance has continued. She'll spend fifteen minutes just studying her feet or doggedly grab at the monkey on her floor gym until she is able to snatch him out of his loop. I have much to learn from my little Laurel!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Prompting Others to Actively Listen

We have come to the final chapter of my Active Listening Primer! If you've been following along and practicing your new skills in day to day life with the people you care about, you may have started running in to a frustration that my hotline volunteers and the folks I coached through challenging conversations also encountered. Sometimes, what you really need is a demonstration that what you are saying is understood. When you work so hard to convey empathy through reflective communication and careful listening, it's especially hard to not be treated in kind.

So, how do you get someone else to actively listen to you?!?