Words of Affirmation: I need to hear it

Words of Affirmation: I need to hear it

Words of Affirmation: I Need to Hear It

There are  five languages of love that were made popular by author, Gary Chapman in 1992. The other four languages are touch, acts of service, quality time and gifts. I am not convinced these are the only languages of love (which I write about here,) but they are a helpful place to start). words of affirmation

I was reminded of the power love languages during my last session of the day.  I had seen this couple many times before.  They are interesting people with unique and independent personalities; both are quite smart, well educated, and equally very likable.  They are funny too.

He likes to be right. He is usually clear about his frustrations and what he would like to see different in their home and in their relationship. I could always tell from his curiosity about how she feels, his laughter at her jokes, and his soft eyes when he looks at her that he also admires her.  As you’ll see though, I don’t think she could always tell.

She wants to get things right, to make him happy.  It has always been obvious to me that they feel great love and friendship for each other, too, but it was never evident through his words.  His words were used to process what wasn’t working and what needed more attention.

She started with, “I worry that my anxiety is hard on you and the kids.”  With genuine concern, she continued, “I know you don’t like that part of me and I wish I could compartmentalize it so it doesn’t affect you.”  He listened to her with his usual soft eyes and open heart as she struggled to share her feelings.  When she finished, he repeated what she said so he could be sure he understood her.  As he did so, his eyes began to water.

While visibly working to hold back tears, he said, “Yes, anxiety is a part of what you bring to our family, just as you bring love, thoughtfulness, humor, helpfulness and much more.”  Then the first teardrop found its way out of the corner of his right eye, and he continued, “I can not wish for some parts of you and reject the others; you are all of it, it is what makes you you, and I love you.”

He was done talking. He just shared genuine words of affirmation and vulnerability filled the air. 

I could tell he felt like he had said more than he was accustomed to sharing already.  So, I did what any good therapist does, and asked him to share more.  When I invited him to explain what he felt as he told her that, he gave up the battle to hold back his tears (and no, this is NOT the goal of therapy – to make people cry – so stay with me here as the magic unfolds).  He said, “It makes me sad to think that you feel alone with your anxiety.  That you believe I may not love part of you because of that.”  Then he went on to say, “I am here for you.”  “I love you.”  “All of you.”

Who doesn’t want to hear that?

People who rely on words of affirmation to feel loved must hear it. 

Let me say it again because if you love someone, this is exactly what they want to hear (as long as you mean it, of course).

I AM HERE FOR YOU.  I LOVE YOU.  ALL OF YOU.

Turning to her, I anticipated that she might reciprocate with her own endorsement of love for him.  However, her response surprised me.  She seemed skeptical; untrusting of his words.  I asked her to share with him what she was feeling as she listened to him.  “Embarrassed, really,” she said.  “You don’t talk to me like that, and I don’t know what to do with those words.”  She continued, saying, “I feel embarrassed…maybe vulnerable is the word, because this is not how you talk.  It feels unfamiliar, foreign.” 

Then she said to him, “And, it surprises me that you feel that way, I had no idea.”

He was noticeably sad at the thought that his wife did not realize how much he loves her.  He said, “I thought my actions let you know how I feel, I didn’t realize you needed words.”  (Actions are generally the love language of “acts of service“). Then without prompting, he continued with, “I think about how grateful I am for you, how much I love you, and how important you are to me all the time.”  And, “I just don’t think to say it to you.”

She said, “I need to hear it.”

When your love language is hearing words of affirmation, this means that you feel most loved when you hear someone say loving, kind and appreciative words about you. Words are important, and to gain credibility you must use them regularly enough that they are not unfamiliar to your loved one.  Words are not the only way to show your love.  For some people though, it’s just what they need.  Lucky for her, he seems to get that now.

As the session closed, he turned to her and said, “I understand now that you need to hear it, and I want to give you that.”

Imago Therapy Training Online with Michele O’Mara, PhD

Imago Therapy Training Online with Michele O’Mara, PhD

Imago Therapy Training Online: What is it?

Imago Therapy is one of several counseling approaches to couples seeking help for their relationships. This approach is designed to assist partners in identifying how their unconscious mind has been influenced by their unique childhood experiences.

Growing up, we are surrounded by people, places and things that inform us about the world. We learn what types of behaviors to expect from people, based on the people we are most commonly exposed to. Our brain is built for shortcuts, for efficiency. Therefore, each time we negotiate a new behavior our brain is assessing the situation for the best responses – the responses that keep us safe and provide us with what we need.

What works for us may not work for others, including our siblings. Though we are raised in the same family, with the same adults, we all have unique relationships with different nuances. Suppose you grew up with one sibling in a family of four. Your mother was moody, unpredictable, and would occasionally get so mad she would stop talking to you for days, maybe even weeks. This is a strong emotional withdrawal that can register as very scary for a child. Your instinct will be to find ways to preserve your connection. It is likely that one sibling may try to pursue a connection even if she is not getting much of a response. This can involve efforts to please her, such as cooking, cleaning the house and otherwise making life easier for her mom. The other sibling might decide it is best to lay low until this passes. That getting involved will simply make matters worse.

We don’t identify the “right” way to respond to people in our childhood, we only discover the best way that works for us. And, like most things, when we learn what works, we tend to automatically repeat this behavior over and over and over again without even thinking about it.

In Imago Therapy training online, we explore your automatic responses to different life experiences, and in particular, different emotional experiences in your marriage/romantic relationship. By doing so, we can begin to grow more aware of what works and what does not.

Can you imagine consulting a five year old for advice about how to respond to a spouse who stops talking to you when her feelings are hurt or she’s upset? Unfortunately, that’s essentially what most of us do until we stop and consider that our automatic response is not really working.

Relationships are always harmed by our efforts to protect ourselves. Therefore, in order to reverse the damage in a relationship, and return to a more connected, safe, and loving experience, we must identify and reverse the coping responses that are not working.

This is a simple overview of the Imago Theory, and provides you with some insight about what the goal is when you pursue Imago Therapy.

For more information about imago therapy training online, you can read this article. To take a brief quiz to identify your imago, go here. If you are outside of Indiana, you can receive Imago coaching services which are essentially the same as imago therapy, given that most couples seeking help for their relationships are not experiencing mental health concerns. Though I am a licensed mental health therapist in Indiana, I am not licensed outside of the state, and all of my services outside of Indiana are limited to coaching, which does not involve a mental health diagnosis, nor does it qualify for use of insurance.

If you would like to schedule an appointment for Imago Therapy training online with Michele O’Mara, visit omaratime.com.

Access to Her Inner World with Open Communication | Couples Quickies #2

Access to Her Inner World with Open Communication | Couples Quickies #2

Do you have access to her inner world?

Open Communication vs. Closed Communication 

Couple’s Quickie #2

There are two types of communication: open-door and closed-door.

Open-door communication is a direct and vulnerable sharing of your feelings, which gives the listener access to your inner world.

Closed-door communication is a self-protective way to share feelings by using protective behaviors such as criticisms, making up stories, accusations, explanations, and defensiveness.

If your partner shares a feeling with you, she is giving you a glimpse inside a world to which only she holds the key. When she unlocks this door for you, it is a gift. The views into her inner world may not always reflect back to you what you wish to see.

The gift is not about what you find inside her inner world.

The gift is that you are trusted with access to her inner world.

Imagine your workload is doubled and you have to work twice as much for a temporary period of time. Likely, both you and your wife will have feelings about this situation. If you are committed to open-door communication, you will come to each other from a vulnerable place and express your feelings in a direct and genuine way.

Open-door communication might sound like: “I miss you. Lately, I have been feeling lonely since you’ve had to work more.”

Closed-door communication might sound like this: “You work too much. I feel like you don’t care that I am alone all of the time.”

While the closed-door message is coming from the same vulnerable source of pain, the delivery is harder to hear. She is letting you know there is something going on in her inner world, but she’s keeping the door shut by using criticisms, in an effort to protect herself.

If she says she feels something, then she feels something. Unfortunately, it is a common communication mistake to hear feelings as complaints, disappointments, and criticisms. For example, the first statement, “I miss you,” might be heard as a complaint or a criticism.  You may hear it as if you are doing something wrong. That you should be home more than you are. This interpretation of “I miss you,” will likely provoke defensiveness.

When you interpret her feelings as a complaint, you are more likely to respond with a closed-door, such as: “I have no choice. I have to work.” This response misses the feeling she is expressing. This is a closed-door response to open-door communication.

If you heard “I miss you,” as a validation of your importance to her, you might respond with more softness. An open-door response may be as simple as, “I miss you, too. I can’t wait for work to slow down. Thank you for sharing that you feel the same way I do.”

It is not sufficient to add the word “feel” to your statements. When you say, “I feel THAT you…” or, “I feel LIKE you….” these are not feelings. These are opinions, stories, accusations, or potential criticisms. To truly share your feelings, you must be the subject of what you are sharing, not your wife or partner. A feeling statement will include a feeling word… I feel __________ (feeling word).

Feelings are never wrong, though they do change. They are also not accusations or criticisms. Sometimes we don’t fully understand our own feelings and all of the factors that contribute to them. The very best way to respond to your partner’s feelings is with open-door communication.

If she opens the door, appreciate and take good care of the access she is giving you to her inner world.

Got Questions?

9 + 6 =

Access to Her Inner World with Open Communication | Couples Quickies #2

Ten Types of Relationship Betrayals | Couples Quickies #3

Infidelity is Not the Only Betrayal in Relationships

I have never understood the mindset that there is a game-winning or game-losing shot. This, to me, renders the entire rest of the game useless, and unimportant. If the star player has made a record breaking, 62 points in the game leading up to the final 3 seconds, the team is down by 2 and her final toss toward the basket misses, is she really responsible for the game-losing shot? I think not.

Nor do I think that one betrayal can make or break a relationship. Sure, it can complicate, undermine or greatly influence a relationship, but one isolated betrayal is not typically what leads to the demise of a relationship. Furthermore, just as a bad pass might lead to a missed catch in a basketball game, one betrayal might lead to another betrayal in relationships. 

We are all responsible for our part. Always. No matter what the game. Especially in relationships. 

Betrayals come in many forms. Though many people might disagree with me, I do not believe in a hierarchy of betrayals. A betrayal is a betrayal is a betrayal. 

  • Not showing up on time
  • Not making their partner a priority
  • Not being there when their partner is hurting or sick
  • Not contributing to the well-being of the family (me rather than we)
  • Not keeping promises
  • Keeping secrets
  • Lying
  • Humiliating or putting down partner in public or private
  • Committing an act of emotional or physical infidelity
  • Being physically violent

Relationships are fluid. They are strengthened one choice at a time, and they are weakened one choice at a time. There are no make or break moments in a relationship, there is always a gradual movement toward better or toward worse. Take notice of the entire dance, not just the last few steps. T

Got Questions?

10 + 4 =

Lesbian Couples Quickies: Validation, Not Education

Lesbian Couples Quickies: Validation, Not Education

LESBIAN COUPLES QUICKIES:  VALIDATION, NOT EDUCATION

Couples Quickies #1

When your girl expresses a concern, need or frustration in her life (not about you), do not mistake this as her request for you to fix the situation, or fix her. If you are someone who often responds by telling her what you think, and what she should do, this quickie is especially for you.

In general, when we are hurting and we go to our spouse / partner with a painful situation, we are not asking for solutions, we are asking for support. We want to feel less alone with our pain. Often, we just want reassurance that we are okay.

lesbian couples, validation, validate, listen

Here’s a roadmap for those of you who are unsure how this might sound:

Let her talk. Don’t interrupt. Keep your questions to a minimum.

 

1. Let her know you’ve heard her.

“It sounds like … <repeat the highlights that you heard her share so she knows you were listening – don’t add your opinions or thoughts, just reflect back to her what you heard>”
 

2. Validate her feelings.

Let her know that when you look at the situation the way she’s looking at it (not the way you are), her feelings make sense (even if you disagree).

“Based on how you’ve described things, it makes sense that you feel <insert how she says she is feeling>, because <insert meaningful points she has shared that let her know that you were listening and validate why she’s feeling the way she is>…
 

3. Reassure her. 

Remind her that you are here for her. Reinforce that you are a safe person for her to talk with when she is struggling, and that even if you see things differently, your ultimate goal is to be a safe and supportive person for her to talk to.
 

“I see this situation a little differently than you do, but what matters to me the most is how I can be here for you, and make you feel supported.”

4. Inquire if she wants your perspective.

 

“Would you like to know my thoughts about this, or is it best for me to just listen?”

5. Share with her consent.

IF she says she wants your perspective, THEN, and only THEN, share your perspective.

 

“How I see this situation is … “

Focus more on understanding, less on being “right.” Remember, she has come to you to feel better, not worse.

Got Questions?

1 + 15 =

Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Do you ever find yourself saying what you don’t mean?

 

Have you ever noticed that when we are most afraid of getting emotionally hurt, our natural instinct is to behave in ways that actually make things worse, not better? 

When we feel we are being blamed, our instinct is to blame the other and often this involves saying what you don’t mean.

  • When our feelings are hurt, our instinct is to hurt the other’s feelings
  • When we feel rejected, our instinct is to reject the other
  • When we are feeling ignored, our instinct is to ignore the other
  • When anything makes us uncomfortably vulnerable, our instinct is to protect ourselves


So much for “two wrongs don’t make a right.” 

Saying what you don't mean
Saying what you don’t mean happens for a reason, and there is actually an explanation for how we can KNOW one thing (I know I don’t want to leave her.) and say or do another (tell her I’m over this, we are done.)? We actually have two different kinds of “knowing” that we experience. 

  • LOGICAL/CONSCIOUS KNOWING – One part of knowing occurs in our conscious mind, also called our cerebral cortex. This part of our brain is logical, conscious, and the problem-solving part of our brain. We hold conversations with ourselves here (it’s our inside voice).

 

  • INSTINCTIVE/UNCONSCIOUS KNOWING – The second kind of knowledge comes from our reptilian brain. This part of our brain is unconscious. There is no inside voice here. The unconscious mind is responsible for our instinctive reactions. This is like a massive network of shortcuts that our brain has been programmed with to ensure our ability to respond quickly in a crisis.


The unconscious reptilian brain is reactive and acts quickly without consulting our logical mind. This part of our brain is famous for it’s limited, but the speedy-fast selection of coping responses that include: fight, flight, freeze, play dead or submit.

For example, some unconscious programming may look like this:

  • touch hot stove > move hand away quickly
  • car driving toward you > leap out of the way
  • baseball flying toward your face > put your hand up to protect face or dodge the ball
  • someone is yelling at you > *depends on early programming
  • you fear rejection > * depends on early programming
  • your feelings are hurt > *depends on early programming

* When it comes to perceived threats such as someone using a raised voice with you, how you respond is based on how you learned to respond to this behavior as a child. Everyone’s experiences shape their responses according to what you learned was most effective with the people around you. The opposite of this is an open and curious mind. (Do you have an open and curious mind? Read more here.)

Your early life experiences taught you through trial and error how to negotiate different moods, behaviors, personalities, etc. to get what you wanted or needed to feel emotionally or physically safe. Once our brain identifies the best response (the one that results in what we want or need to survive), we will use this response repeatedly and without thinking about it, when we are in a similar future situation. We will continue using this response until we realize with BOTH parts of our brain (logical and instinctive) that this response is no longer working. 

Our logical mind and our automatic brain each have their own version of “knowing.” The cerebral cortex knows what it is taught, and this knowledge is cognitive, intellectual, and conceptual. Our reptilian brain, which is unconscious, knows what has worked in the past to keep us alive. This knowing is intuitive, felt, sensed, also learned, and automatic. Sometimes what we learn logically does not match what our unconscious brain learned instinctively a long, long time ago. 

For example, imagine that growing up you frequently heard your parents have loud conflicts. You felt your heart rate pounding in your chest, and you felt sick to your stomach with fear about what might happen. Eventually, one of them would then leave the house for an unexpected length of time after these fights. As a child, upon your parent’s return, you expressed your disapproval, hurt and feelings of abandonment by not engaging with the parent who left; by shutting them out. 

Eventually, either your parent would respond in a way that helped calm your system (come to you, apologize and reassure you that everything is okay) or the silence was useful in creating enough distance from the source of your pain that you could calm your system and you could eventually reenter a connection with that parent. The successful resolution of your pain by being silent sent your brain the message that this was a good strategy. Now your brain is wired with the shortcut: raised voices > silence.

Fast forward to adulthood. Imagine that your partner raises their voice. Your system is alerted to danger. When this happens, your body quickly releases a chemical cocktail designed to protect you. Your body is suddenly sweating, your heart is racing, and you feel sick to your stomach (look for a future message about this chemical process, and how affects you). Your logical brain may be telling you that your partner isn’t mad at you, she’s just trying to share her feelings with you. But soon your instinct is to shut down, to be silent. So you do, and you stay quiet until your system feels safe again.  

It doesn’t matter to you if you are saying what you don’t mean, even if you know that you are making things worse for your relationship. At this moment, your system is more concerned about surviving this PERCEIVED EMOTIONAL THREAT than it is concerned with responding to the issues being communicated with a raised voice.  

What’s important about this information is:

• We are all operating with two parts of our brain at the same time: one conscious, one unconscious, and both are designed to help keep us alive and feeling emotionally safe.

• When we become activated or feel unsafe, we are at risk of responding with the same skills we learned at age 6 or 12 or 15, etc. when our automatic responses were first programmed

• Our failed efforts to protect ourselves from hurt are a clue that we are allowing our unconscious brain to lead the show. What we learned as a child to keep us safe now needs to be updated because it’s no longer useful.

• Being sensitive to, and patient with ourselves and our partner will improve our ability to grow into new and improved responses to our pain. Believe them when they say they didn’t mean what they said… it’s likely true.

• Though you can not communicate directly with your reptilian/ unconscious brain, you can observe your body’s reactions/sensation and notice when you are responding with behaviors that don’t seem to work. For example, my heart rate increased when her voice got louder, and I had an overwhelming urge to disengage and be silent.

• With these observations, you can ask yourself this simple question, “When have I felt this way before?” The answers will give you insight into what kind of programming is filed in your unconscious brain.

• Once you get clarity about the trigger (raised voice), and you notice how you respond (silence), you can be more CONSCIOUS (that’s the key) of this dance you engage in and begin practicing new responses to see what will work better now that you are an adult and have access to more coping response options.

Do you know what your imago is and how it can help your relationship?

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