Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Impact of Emotional Role Models

As a child, you probably learned patterns from others by watching how they dealt with their emotions, expressing them or denying them, or even being overly reactive themselves. These people were most likely your parents or other care-givers.

Making a list of the major emotional role models from your family, or from your childhood and adolescence can help give insight into your preferred emotional reactions and preferred style now. Begin by listing your parents, guardians, uncles, aunts, siblings, grandparents, carers, teachers, clergy, etc.

My emotional role models were:





Now, comprise your list below of the top 3 people that you think were the most influential in your life. If your list is shorter than this, then work with that. In the space provided below each person’s name, list their dominant emotional style (their general emotional trait), then write a brief summary about how you remember these people. Think through if you remember them as angry, peaceful, balanced, imbalanced, depressed, anxious, etc. Finally, summarise what you think you may have learned from each of these individuals. How did you learn to manage your emotions? How easily do you recognise your emotions? Did you learn emotional balance? Did you learn to take your emotions seriously? Did you learn to be out of control or chronically angry; or how to judge others for displaying their emotions? And so on. Remember that if this person is someone you decided that you did not wish to emulate, have you over-compensated in the opposite direction e.g. if they were argumentative, have you become conflict-avoidant or vice versa?

You may include in this summary your opinion about whether these models and their lessons have been effective or detrimental to you.

Emotional role model #1:

Emotional style:

What I learned from this person:

Emotional role model #2:

Emotional style:

What I learned from this person:

Emotional role model #3:

Emotional style:

What I learned from this person:

After doing this exercise, can you think of any emotional reactions that you would like to modify or even let go? If so, list the pros and cons of this emotional reaction (the pros might be that it has become a familiar friend to you - a habit; or that it gets you the desired attention from others; you might feel good in the short-term but not so good in the longer-term; etc.).

Looking at the list of cons, write down possible alternative ways of responding that will give you more positive and sustainable outcomes. Giving consideration to the effects of your reactions on those you love or work with will help you decide how to modify these reactions. Give equal attention to those which are not visibly reactive such as simply witholding approval or communication; remaining quiet in the face of someone's bullying (avoidant); being overly-compliant (people pleasing). These are passive but will not be as productive for you in ensuring you are treated fairly. Make sure that you list all the emotional reactions that you have which are productive and are helpful in sustaining the healthy relationships that you have.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Making changes in how you relate

I have recently been dipping into my Relate's guide to better relationships. Although no longer in print it is full of useful little exercises to discover what's going on in your close relationships.

Here's one to try.

Recognising Patterns

Divide a piece of A4 paper in two. On the top half draw circles to represent yourself, members of your family and friends who are important to you. Make the circles any size you want. Put the initials or name of each person in the circles and place them as near or as far away from you as you feel they are. Consider their relation to each other. Put up to five pluses and minuses in each circle to show how supportive each person is to you (someone who is physically far away can still be very supportive).

Use the diagram to focus on the way you life is presently and how rewarding your current relationships are. Do you like this pattern? Is there anything you would like to change? Use the bottom half of the page to draw these relationships as you would like them to be.

Looking at your desired pattern, consider the following:

- what needs to happen for these changes to be possible?

- what would be the impact on your life if these changes occurred?

- how would this other person rate you in their pattern, with their own pluses and minuses?

- what is realistically possible from your side in making the change?

To Change Or Not To Change..

Making changes is a matter of choice and unless these are being forced upon you, it can be very hard to do. Breaking out of old, entrenched habits takes time and can be a painful experience if handled badly. There is also often the fear of breaking up anyway, if issues are looked at too closely. In reality, communicating properly and making adjustments keeps you on course, much as it would if driving a car, flying a plane or sailing a boat.

How this is handled is the key and professional counselling is a valuable resource. It need only be short-term and gives the added insight, tools and support to make the changes possible. Unfortunately, most couples wait 6 years (on average) to seek out support and many more fall apart without ever seeking this support. The Gottman Institute is set up to provide research and understanding to couples experiencing problems and making changes and a good reading resource also. Check them out at:

Thursday, 16 July 2009

I Want!!

This week I am talking about how to ask for what you want, at the time when it matters most, and in a way that increases your chances of getting it. If you follow these guidelines, you will feel much happier about how you behaved as well as more resolved if it still does not deliver what you want. Often what holds us back in moving on is feeling unresolved, or downright guilty about how have we behaved. This is as relevant at work as at home and requires a certain amount of trial and error learning to perfect. They are pretty guaranteed methods for increasing your chances of getting what you want, although not necessarily delivering it!

There are many ways of being assertive but this week I am looking at 2 key areas of assertiveness:

1. Making a simple request assertive

2. Expressing your "I want"!

Making a simple request assertive

There are 4 components to making a simple, brief request:

1. A brief explanation (optional). Explain what your problem is in one sentence. "I'm very hot in here ... I am very thirsty ... I have had a tiring day". Not every situation needs an explanation, but when you think it will help, give one, but keep it brief!

2. Make a softening statement. This is important as it establishes you as a reasonable person who's mature and balanced. Some softening statements sound like:

- "would you mind if..?"

- "It would be helpful if .."

- "I'd appreciate it if .."

- "Could I have .." (said with a smile)

- "Hi, I was wondering if .."

These openers are disarming and so less likely to activate resistance and resentment than a hard-nosed request. They are as important with loved ones (big and small!) as they are with strangers or colleauges.

3. Ask direct, specific questions. Say what you would like to happen clearly and be exact. Leave out emotion or heat from your request. Ask for what you want in as flat and matter-of-fact a tone as possible and present it as normal and reasonable. This makes the assumption that of course anyone who is reasonable themself would be happy to accomodate it. Keep your question to one sentence. The more you elaborate and explain, the more opportunity for resistance you provide.

4. Make an appreciation statement. This reinforces the other party saying "yes" or going along with your request:

- "This would be really helpful"

- "Thank you for making the effort"

- "This will make a big difference"

- "I'd like to know if you have a problem with this"

Recently at my home here in France, I saw a gang of children, of 10 years and less, shooting air rifles at anything that moved next to my house (guns are a national past-time in France). I explained to them that as I have domestic pets I would prefer them to shoot somewhere farther away from the houses, deeper into the vineyard. I was assertive, and the children ran off giggling, only to return within minutes and begin shooting at some birds in my tree. Fuming, I marched in to the vineyard to talk to them face-to-face whereupon they scarpered once more. Weighed down by their commando gear and rifles (about the same height as they were), they could barely outwalk me. I kept following (hoping I would not receive a pellet or two in the process) but determined to discuss this with either them or some responsible adult. Eventually, I discovered that they lived not very far away from my house in an area assigned to "social housing" - the French equivalent to our council houses, but far nicer I must say. Seeing a couple of cheeky faces streaked with green-brown warpaint poking out of the gardens, I knocked on the front door to chat to the parents about my concerns (I am fairly ignorant of the laws relating to children bearing arms). If the kids have guns might the parents too? I was greeted by 2 women and 1 man and many children inside, with lots of shouting and lots of aggression. The children paraded in the background with their guns and I suddenly realised what a stupid thing I'd done. In the face of such aggression, I kept all emotion out of my face apart from the occasional friendly smile as I spoke, making as much eye contact with the woman who seemed most sympathetic, who was standing apart from the other 2. I made my request about the children, brief and specific i.e. being farther away from the house and not shooting at domestic pets. I also provided consequences that if I saw them near houses again with guns I would report it to to the authorities. At this stage a barage of yelling from one of the women ensued. I waited until she had run out of steam and then asked her if she thought I was being unreasonable. She then paused, asked me if I had children or pets that I was concerned about and I replied that I did. She calmed down a little more and then pointed out that she has little ones too that she is not concerned about at all. I pointed out that although an airgun is not likely to cause a fatality, eyes can be lost and damage can be done. I asked her what was making her the most angry (a direct, specific question) and she said it was my threat of going to the police (I later learned that these people are likely what the French refer to as "les gitanes" - gypsies - and they hate the police with a passion). I explained that I did not want to do that but that I was very concerned about having children with guns next to my house. I remained friendly, appreciative and interested about their position but very specific about what I wanted. My question "why can they not shoot farther from the houses, into the vineyard?" was both very specific but also appreciative about their reasons for not wanting this. We did not part as the best of friends, however this happened a long time ago and I have only seen this gang once since, and minus the rifles. I certainly feel happier knowing that I have at least talked to the parents, that the children know I have talked to their parents and also that I know where they live!

"I Want"!

This is the whole point of assertiveness but it needs to be thought through very carefully. The following are some guidelines to follow (paraphrased from The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook, McKay, Wood & Brantley):

Ask for behavioural, not attitudinal change. Telling someone they have a "bad attitude" is not helpful nor likely to change very much. It is also unreasonable to expect someone to change what they believe or feel simply because you don't like it. You can ask for them to change what they are doing / how they are acting however.

Ask for one change at a time. Do not give a shopping list of things to be changed. This is overwhelming and pressuring. Pick the thing that needs to improve the most, that will make the biggest change and stick to that.

Ask for the thing that can be changed now. "in a year and a half we can make a commitment to each other .." is a very poor response to "I would like us to have a more committed relationship" because nothing changes here-and-now, and by the time this rolls around, it will likely have been pushed under the carpet and be difficult to instigate. Address here-and-now making the change, making the commitment, starting the family, etc. If it cannot begin to be prioritised now, it is very unlikely that it will magically happen later on. What's stopping it now? Is not doing it now truly a valid reason? What might other reasons be? How well are your needs and wants being considered / incorporated now? Do not be fobbed off by the promise to address this at some point in the future.

Be specific and firm. Vague requests such as "be more loving" is not particularly useful as we all have a different impression of how this looks and feels. If you feel more loved when your partner holds your hand in public, watching t.v., at the movies, etc. then say that. You need to know first of all what it is you want / need too! Asking your partner to prioritise having a family, for example, is a huge want / need and also one of the hardest to articulate specifically, firmly as well as appreciatively. I emphasise this need the most as it is one of the riskiest between couples. When agreeing to wait, there is a risk that this time reduces the overall chances of it happening in the future. This can be devastating, not just to the couple, but to the party who is then left feeling bitterly unresolved about not having more clearly asserted their need earlier.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Be Happy!

Your Basic Human Rights

I recently ran a Maximising Happiness evening in the South of France for some expat friends (it began as workshops about having happier relationships but that quickly changed to all things happiness). We began with some exploration of the impact of assertiveness on happiness, and in particular knowing what our basic rights are. I ran through a list of basic human rights and we identified the ones that we have most difficulty in accepting, either in ourselves or in others. It proved to be an interesting exercise and led to quite a few of us talking further about the difficulties for some in saying no, for some in accepting unfounded opinions and for others to permit their loved ones to say no too!

Here's the list. See if there are any that you have difficulty with:

1. ___ to be treated as an equal, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation or disability

2. ___ to be treated with respect as a capable human being

3. ___ to decide how to spend my time

4. ___ to ask for what I want

5. ___ to ask for feedback on things such as my performance, behaviour and image

6. ___ to be listened to and taken seriously

7. ___ to hold political beliefs

8. ___ to cry

9. ___ to make mistakes

10. ___ to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty

11. ___ to state my needs

12. ___ to set my own priorities

13. ___ to express my feelings

14. ___ to say ‘Yes’ for myself without feeling selfish

15. ___ to change my mind

16. ___ to fail occasionally

17. ___ to have an opinion

18. ___ to say “I don’t understand”

19. ___ to make statements with no logical basis and which I do not have to justify

20. ___ to ask for information

21. ___ to be successful

22. ___ to adhere to my own set of values

23. ___ to take time to make decisions

24. ___ to express my beliefs

25. ___ to take responsibility for my own decisions

26. ___ to have privacy

27. ___ to admit “I don’t know”

28. ___ to change / develop as a human being

29. ___ to choose whether or not to get involved in other people’s problems

30. ___ to decline to be responsible for someone else’s problems

31. ___ to look after my own needs

32. ___ to have space and time to be alone

33. ___ to be an individual

34. ___ to ask for information from professionals

35. ___ not to be dependent on others’ approval

36. ___ to be the judge of my own worth

37. ___ to choose how to behave / respond in a given situation

38. ___ to be independent

39. ___ to be me; not the person others want me to be

40. ___ not to assert myself

(adapted from the list provided in Assertiveness Training – A Sourcebook of Activities, by Sue Bishop (1995) Kogan Page)

Try to identify areas where you are not asserting your rights; or where you are being held back; or maybe even manipulated by others. This will be more difficult than you think and maybe you assert your rights with some but not with others. Equally if you find yourself pushing others to give up some of their basic rights then it might be time to take a step back and figure out other ways of coming to agreement. It is an important aide memoire for establishing where you need to concentrate on developing new and improved happiness skills!