Navigating Controlling Relationships

In each of our lives, we run across individuals who want everything to go their way. They have tend to have strong personalities, strong wills, and often strong egos that make them controlling, often narcissistic, and manipulative. Here I will discuss the ramification and what you can do to navigate controlling relationships more effectively. 

They might be a friend, spouse, relative, or even a boss, but people of this description often try to suppress us from voicing our opinions. When we are dealing with family members who have a history of being demanding, it is easy to become manipulated by them, sometimes to keep the peace or because other family members go along with their demands. Unlike with family, we can choose to have relationships with friends or not. But even elective friendships become toxic when one individual disregards the needs and feeling of the other person. These situations are not only frustrating but can also have an affect on our health and our morale. 

The Toll Of Controlling Relationships

These types of relationships take their toll on us physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. They can become the source of continued anxiety and frustration, creating stress that can become physically debilitating if it goes on long enough. These relationship stressors have been shown to cause chronic conditions, such as skin problems, asthma, and stomach or bowel issues.

With emotional relationships like these, we can lose our sense of self and self worth. The only way we can avoid these types of relationships and the negative feelings they engender is to empower ourselves and take control over the quality and tone of our relationships.

To appreciate an actual situation, let's discuss dealing with a friend who is never on time for scheduled meetings and appointments. This makes you feel disrespected and not valued. In addition, his being late also has ramifications for you, causing you to be late for appointments as well.With this scenario in mind, let's review some steps you can take to regain control of your time, your feelings, and your relationship.

Strategies

Start by being honest with yourself about how you feel when your friend or family member acts in a controlling and disrespecting manner. Decide how you would like to change the situation, and make a goals list of how you can achieve that outcome.

 An example would be to admit that your boyfriend's lateness really drives you crazy and is underminding your relationship and causing you resentment. Then, imagine a solution you can apply to change the usual outcome. Try discussing this strategy with others and see how explaining it either confirms or alters your strategy.

1. Be Specific: Be very specific about what is important to you in terms of what you are determined to change about your experience. It is important to be committed to your goals no matter how small or large they may be.

2. Express Your Opinions: If you are determined to transform a relationship, an important action step to take is not to allow yourself to stifle your opinions or preferences. Telling others of your goals and preferences anchors them into a deeper commitment. If your friend or boyfriend cannot be on time, then let them know you are willing to leave without them the next time they are late for an event. 

3. Don't Back Down: Be absolutely firm about your commitment to change your toxic friendship or relationshand. At the same time, don't be afraid to let go of expectations in the relationship. Often when we let go of our expectations, things have a way of working out on their own.

It is important to take control over negative or toxic relationships. Only you can empower yourself and take control over your life and your feelings. It takes effort and time, but it's worth it.

 

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The Heart: More Than Just A Pump

There is little question that the heart is a muscular pump that transports nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. This function is, however, just a physical aspect of what the heart does and what influences its function. As with all of our organs and systems, the heart is affected by five specific components: (1) physical (2) emotional (3) nutritional-biochemical (4) environmental and (5) worldview (spiritual).

Beyond The Pump

The first popular books to explore these aspects of the heart’s function include:  Heart and Soul by Bruno Cortis, M.D. and The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. These two highly recommended books offer varying perspectives and insightful information on the heart beyond its role as a pump.

Pearsall’s book explores in depth the emotional function of the heart and its “L” energy. Pearsall describes and clearly explains the impact loving has on a heart that loves. He also explores the effect this love exerts on the recipient of the heart’s “L” energy.  His presentation on the human heart’s independent electrical system (also known as the atrioventricular bundle) gives us an understanding of how the individual heart muscle has an emotional life of its own.

Cardiovascular Research

The current research on cardiovascular disease contains a surprising body of information. It shows that the single greatest factor affecting your chances of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease is not high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, a diet high in sodium or fat, a type A personality, anger, or rage.

Instead, as reported in the Science News Journal, the statically-documented, single most predictive factor of death by heart malfunction is: hopelessness. And it has been shown that stroke risk in women is also significantly linked to hopelessness.

What About The Broken Heart?

Broken heartedness occurs when the heart’s desire has been thwarted or eliminated and the heart is left without hope of fulfilling its desire. It’s been said: “Where there is life there is hope.” But without hope, our dreams perish and our heart breaks.

Although lifestyle elements like exercise, a healthy diet, weight control and having a purpose in life are all part of being heart healthy, it now appears that the primary, most important factor is keeping hopes alive and not giving up on our dreams. Without them, we lose our purpose and the joy for living.

The Power of Hope

A healthy heart is a hopeful heart. When you smile, you cannot be sad or hopeless. Prove this to yourself. Think a horrible thought, then really smile and see if you can think that same thought while you are smiling. You can’t.

When we smile, we tell the heart and brain that life is good and worth living. As the saying goes: “Be happmy be healthy.” When we have fulfilling and successful relationships, our hearts experience the “L” energy we all desire.

Our relationships provide us the L-energy we require; we need to nurture and cultivate the best relationships we can.

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Learning To Forgive

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves that helps us live more peace-filled, healthier lives.It has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, increase self-confidence, improve relationships, and decrease stress. It may also reduce physical symptoms of illness, decrease heart disease and increase immune function. There are many excellent books on the subject to assist with and facilitate the process of forgiving the unforgiveable.

Healing Power

Dr. Luskin is the author of the book Forgive for Good, and a world renowned researcher on the subject of forgiveness. His scientific studies demonstrate the healing power and health benefits from the process of forgiving others for actual or perceived transgressions against us or those we love. Dr. Luskin was the lead researcher on a study in Ireland that included individuals from both sides of Northern Ireland’s civil war. These individuals had all lost a loved one due to this civil conflict. 

In his groundbreaking book, “Forgive for Good”, he outlines what forgiveness is—and, what it is not:

  • “Forgiveness is for you and not the offender”
  • “Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you”
  • “Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel”
  • “Forgiveness is a trainable skill – just like learning to throw a ball”
  • “Forgiveness is a choice”
     
  • “Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness or poor behavior”
  • “Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful has happened”
  • “Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender”
  • “Forgiveness does not mean giving up your feelings”

Learning to forgive starts with understanding the true nature of forgiveness.So then what does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means being willing to find new ways to experience “justice” and to choose not to be victimized by other’s choices or actions.

A New Perspective

It can also mean experiencing an event from a different perspective, which allows us to reclaim our life from the depths of our suffering, loss or despair. This leads to the recognition that while people can do the unimaginable, much of what we experience in our lives is perceived hurt of rejection that causes us not to forgive another. Perceieved meaning that the hurt we feel might not have been intended. 

 

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Are You Stressed And Gaining Weight?

What Causes Stress?

If you find yourself feeling stressed and gaining weight, you are not alone. Prior to the early 1970’s, the majority of family units were structured as a one wage earner household where the male worked and the female stayed at home taking care of the house and family. Driven largely by social and socio-economic factors, all of that has changed. Now, the overwhelming majority of families include both parents working. We find ourselves on a treadmill of more work, more responsibilities, more demands and non-stop scheduling that has many of us in a state of physical and, at times, emotional exhaustion.

Added to the mix is our competitive culture, which often lends to isolation or “them against us” thinking. Isolation of this nature causes additional “hidden” stress. The perennial truth is that the whole world is one family. It is said that there is only one disease: the disease of separateness. The root cause is separating oneself from the awareness that as a member of the human family, we are one living collective organism. The drama created by a “one up” or “one down” dynamic, which we find in competitive societies, can lend to the exhaustion and the psycho-social behavioral issues that contribute to overeating.

Exhaustion and Obesity

The tipping point at which our bodies can no longer compensate for or adapt to the stress is based in large part on the threshold of nutritional competency and the state of integrity of our nervous systems. When our central nervous system, which governs every cell in our body and makes life possible, is not working efficiently, we have a decrease in bodily function and a decrease in the ability to adapt to the world.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS, is rampant in our culture today and growing at an alarming rate because of the over stimulation and increased demands placed on our nervous systems. Add to this inadequate nutrition and a decreased ability of our bodies to digest and absorb properly because of the stress, and we see the building blocks of the epidemic of chronic disease currently being reported.

The Hard Results

What is so shocking for us as American’s is that while we live in one of the most affluent societies ever to exist on earth and have one of the most technologically advanced medical systems, we are ranked at approximately 26th in the “World Health Olympics”.

This is not the failure of our medical system but, in fact, our collective societal failure to live in our bodies mindfully and respectfully, taking time for rest, proper nutrition, reflection, intimacy with self and others and serving the common good of all. It is this imbalance that leads us to chronic stress, which leads to physical and, if you will, spiritual exhaustion that is producing the levels of chronic disease and rampant obesity we see today.

 

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End Of The Year Relationship Tune-Up

As one year ends and another readies to begin, it is the perfect time to assess our relationships and initiate a "Tune-Up". Given the ever growing demands of our daily lives, it becomes very easy to overlook the “care and feeding” of our intimate, family and long-term relationships. Relationships have been shown to have a significant impact on our health, happiness and longevity; taking care of them and keeping up on their maintenance are essential.

Taking the time to have a “tune-up” for your important relationships is worth the effort. Here are some simple but important interpersonal behaviors that will help tune up your relationships and add to the fulfillment and satisfaction you desire from them. 

Conflict resolution

Conflict in relationships is inevitable, but the ways we handle and respond to it are not. Some of us try to avoid dealing with conflict, while others want to immediately resolve things head-on. Instead of trying to avoid conflict, it can be constructive to objectively write down our thoughts and feelings.

We can share them with the other person in a way that expresses how we feel and in a style that makes us comfortable, possibly in a letter, greeting card or email. For those of us who tackle conflict head-on, it can be helpful to take a step back and discern if this issue is something that must be resolved immediately or whether we can give ourselves time to process what has occurred, allowing us to see the conflict from the other person’s perspective.

Respecting The Others Person’s Experience

Respecting your partner’s or friend’s experience of a particular conflict doesn’t mean you “go along to get along” or that you should not express your own experience or feelings about it. It does mean that you respect and consider the other individual’s unique experience of what has occurred. Recognize that he wants to be seen, heard and valued just as much as you do.

By being open to accepting what the other person is feeling and what he has experienced, you send the message that you sincerely care about his feelings. And, while you may not agree with those feelings, you bring integrity to the relationship that allows the other person to be who he is and express feelings in a safe and non-hostile environment.

Learning New Communication Skills

There is no doubt that communication in all types of relationships can make or break them, but changing how we relate to one another is easier said than done. This difficulty stems from inherited or past communication patterns that can quickly lead to hurt feelings or emotional disconnection. What’s more, most people don’t have the knowledge, skills or the time to invest in changing how they behave. Learn new skills to enhance your relationships and watch them flourish!

 Would You Rather Be Right Or Be Loved?

An important question to ask when we dealing with conflict in a significant relationship is: Would you rather be right or be loved? This simple litmus test can help reveal a balance and a win-win situation for both the parties in a conflict. It also allows us to reflect on what is important in both our life and in our relationships.

 

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The Value Of Truly Listening

Listening to another person lets them know that you value what they have to say and what they think or feel. All people want to be listened to, and sometimes it is the only thing they really want from us. The most precious gift we can give to another person is our full attention – looking at them and sincerely listening to what they have to say. 

The Joy Of Being Heard

We have all had the experience of being listened to by others. The more sincerely and attentively they have listened, the more valued we feel. This is an essential human need to be listened to and to know that our contributions are valued by others.

When Problems Arise

Not being listened to and not being valued in this essential way is the cause of many problems in relationships of all kinds. From couples, to work, to family and children, we see that when people do not take the time to nurture their relationships with mindful, present listening – the relationship declines.

A prime example of this is when we first begin a romantic relationship and we listen to every word our beloved is saying. You can see the same couple out at dinner 5-10 years later, sitting across the table from each other with nothing left to say. This is because the essential communication between the two of them has been damaged.

An Easy Solution: Listen Closely

We damage these relationship communications when we stop listening to the other person but rather think about what we want to say next or what matters to us rather than providing quality attention to them. As a relationship professional, I can share with you that if you want to make just one change in your relationships to truly improve and enhance them, start by listening to the other person. Look them in the eyes and let them know you are there, being present to what they have to say.

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Why Do We Need Emotions?

Most of us perceive the brain as serving “thinking” or intellectual functions. A person often thinks of his or her personality as what is going on “from the neck up.” In fact, several parts of the brain — not just the thinking cortex — contribute to who a person is and how their personality is formed. 

The Cortex Of Survival

The cortex is what we refer to as the smart brain. Most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually, yet they are emotionally dysfunctional almost in the extreme. We often presume erroneously that the thinking brain should be “smart” enough to exercise dominion over emotions.

However, the missing piece of information here is that emotions actually are a survival-adaptation mechanism that each of us develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning. Some of us learn to be assertive or aggressive in our environments. Others may learn to become passive or try to become invisible to stay safe and secure.

Nothing is more powerful in a human being than the drive to survive. Hence, emotions win the day in the battle between thinking and feeling. It is helpful to understand that emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first five years of development.

More Input

Our familial input taught us, as Ivan Pavlov taught his dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers. This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by the thought process; the thought process for humans is the newest component to the primordial brain. The survival adaptive portion of the brain is where the personality forms and where people become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

Relationships And Conditioning

Frustrating interpersonal issues may come from the drive to survive and the interpretation of the stimulation and environment that conditioned us, rather than from being difficult or having bad intent. Understanding that can allow a person to begin to be “kinder and gentler” toward himself and others.

In summary, emotions enable us to live and survive in our world. We cannot think them into changing. However, we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives. We can also explore techniques that allow us to have greater control over our emotions.

For a free chapter download of the award-winning bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills, visit: http://www.changingbehavior.org

12 Steps For Handling Difficult Relationships During The Holidays

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Thanksgiving is just over a week away, and the December holidays are on the horizon. Some say: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Or is it? For many of us, the holiday visits back home to family members are something to be dreaded. While we look forward to the pleasure of celebrating these festive times, there is also the memory of past conflicts and the very real possibility of new confrontations that we find ourselves anxious to avoid. We can tell ourselves that this is the year we will not get stressed out or upset with visits to or from our families. This is what we strive for yet, most often, not how things turn out.

Difficult Family Dynamics

According to Dr. Jeffrey Fine, Ph.D., director of the American Foundation for Conscious Parenting, our families can be “a breeding ground for repressed resentments and hostilities left over from childhood.” We might anticipate that once we have grown up and moved away to create our own lives and families these feelings would diminish, but, as many of us experience, unfortunately they do not.

One potential solution to transforming the holidays from stressful to joyful is the application of identified communication skills that have been researched and shown to facilitate changing difficult relationships. Behavioral Engagement is a 12-step set of communication skills that has been the subject of hospital pilot studies over a 2-year period.

The outcomes of these pilots showed the participants experienced a significant improvement in their relational outlook and attitude after interacting with the communication skills model. Originally developed to enhance relationships between doctors, nurses and patients, the model was also applied and studied with business and family relationships.

James Prochaska, Ph.D., renowned researcher on behavior change and author of Change for Good — the Six Stages of Transtheoretical Change says of Behavioral Engagement: “The process of Behavioral Engagement has the potential to transform relationships that are suffering or struggling to ones that are thriving!”

Generally, one of the most recommended approaches to staving off holiday conflicts is to “try and accept family members or friends as they are.” Unfortunately, this good intention can be easily sidelined without specific communications skills that can help keep us on track.

Easy 12-Step Model

The 12-Step Model of Behavioral Engagement offers specific, easy-to-learn communication skills that have been proven effective in changing conflicted relationships into compatible relationships based on the understanding that we all want to be valued, respected and listened to. The steps are based on physical, psychological, hormonal and neurological aspects of human relationships and communication. They start with the understanding that while we cannot change others’ behavior we can change our own behavior in how we relate to others, which can result in a transformative outcome for all participants.

We can do so by using specific, simple communication skills and following the steps that have been shown to be effective in creating greater receptivity and generating more positive emotions in relationships that have previously been conflicted or stressful.

If you have experienced or are anticipating challenging relationships during the holidays, you may wish to apply these easy steps and see if they can assist you in having happier and even healthier holidays.

Step One: Be physically comfortable when communicating. This removes discomfort that can distract from the conversation. Distractions reduce your attention, focus on the person you are speaking with, and decrease the conversational rapport and receptivity.

Step Two: Understand what you want. Our intentions are powerful behavior motivators. Understanding what we want from an exchange or a relationship can assist us in communicating more clearly our thoughts and feelings, inviting greater understanding and intimacy. Example: “I really want to understand what you are upset about.”

Step Three: Centered body posture. Uncross arms and legs and present open, receptive body language. To send the message that you are respecting the conversation and giving the other person your fully attention, do not play with your watch, glasses, hair or continually look away from the person you are speaking with. Committing to being focused is an important element in communication and sends the message that you care. We can all feel when someone values being with or speaking to us.

Step Four : Sustained, soft eye contact has been shown to stimulate oxytocin, which opens emotional centers of the brain and enhances trust and feelings of love and intimacy.

Step Five : Respectful inquiry. Asking rather than telling or directing and using “I” statements rather than “you” statements creates a safe, non-judgmental environment for the other person to communicate openly.

Step Six: Responsiveness. Using appropriate responses, such as facial expressions, smiling, head nodding and so forth, indicates you are listening and understanding what the other is saying without interrupting or interjecting. This acknowledges the value you have for their communication.

Step Seven: Pauses between responses. Instead of immediately speaking as soon as the other person is finished, allowing for appropriate pauses when someone has shared a thought or feeling with you creates for them the experience that they are being respectfully listened to, and that you are truly present to them.

Step Eight: Non-judgment. By not allowing yourself to focus on your unspoken mental and emotional judgments you eliminate the unconscious communication that is sent through subtle and gross body language. Unconscious, non-verbal body language is something most of us pick up on and they can make or break the communication.

Step Nine: Leave the ego at the door. Eliminate the push-pull or power struggle of previous relationship interactions by letting go of taking control of the communication and allow for equity between you and the other individual.

Step Ten: Re-centering when you start to lose focus. Mentally repeating simple words you identify as prompts to get you back to the focus of the conversation is a quick and effective way to get yourself re-centered in the exchange. Example: “Back to focus” or “Get centered.”

Step Eleven: Collaborative mindset. Working toward having a win-win outcome eliminates conflict and improves the quality of the relationship in both the short term and the long term.

Step Twelve: Sacredness of relationship. Sacredness means “worthy of respect.” When we are aware of appropriate verbal and behavioral boundaries within our communications, we hold the other person in high esteem and create fulfilling, lasting relationships.

When dealing with family holiday conflicts it can be helpful for us to try simple, proven communications skills but also to reflect on the wisdom of the question: “Would you rather be loved than be right?” Often times when we elect love over being in control or being right relationships shift for the better.

What Is Success for America?

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Most Americans want to be successful in our lives. But when you look closely at what determines personal fulfillment and success, you’ll be intrigued and surprised.

American Express conducted a study called “The Life Twist Study,” published in early 2013. It examined what American’s believe are the most important and valuable aspects of their lives. The study, based on a survey of more than 2,000 Americans, shows that only one in four Americans still believe that wealth determines success.

An impressive 73 percent, close to three of four people questioned, did not identify wealth as the most important success criteria. This is a revealing statistic if one considers the May 2013 Economist magazine article citing that “Money can indeed buy happiness.” It appears now that more of us are identifying happiness and success in ways that do not target wealth or income as a focus or goal.

The Importance Behind This Data

The outcomes of the study are a bit of a surprise, given our uniquely American obsession with material wealth and accumulation. The top five items identified as most important for an individual’s success include:

  • 85 percent of respondents said health was most essential.
  • 83 percent stated that having a good relationship or marriage is critical.
  • 81 percent said that having good financial management (which is not wealth per se) is extremely important.
  • 81 percent believed in the importance of a good life-work balance.
  • 79 percent (more than three of four subjects) specified that having a job or career you love is essential.

Where Americans Agree

The most agreed-upon element for success, in which 94 percent of the participants agreed, was that being open to change (flexibility and adaptability) is a key component for personal success.

Another interesting finding stated by the author of “The Life Twist Study”:

“Dozens of the survey’s findings reflect a new American notion of success, but perhaps none more starkly than the sentiment that Americans ranked ‘having a lot of money’ 20th on a list of 22 possible contributors to having a successful life. This sentiment mirrors the steadily rising trend… that Americans are increasingly placing greater priority on living a fulfilling life —  in which being wealthy is not the most significant factor.”

Shifting Attitudes

The study offers the most likely cause for the significant change from previous studies on this subject: Our downward economy and high levels of unemployment are having more than just financial impacts. They are contributing to changes in attitudes regarding wealth and success.

The study also reports that 43 percent of Americans say they have experienced a financial setback. However, more than 50 percent of the surveyed stated that their experiences have helped them identify what is really important in their life. In addition, 42 percent of the participants say that going through adversity has opened them up to new experiences.

Transforming Our Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills

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All of us, from time to time, identify things about how we behave that we would like to change. Changing our behavior is very difficult because it is the result of the many learned responses we develop as soon as we come into the world. There is research today suggesting that conditioning that can begin even in the womb.

How we learn to adapt to our environment, what outside events or stimulation feels safe or threatening, how we view the world we live in, what our beliefs and values are, and so forth all play a role in how we learn to behave towards ourselves and others. These factors also influence how we learn to communicate.

The variations of how each of us learns to adapt in the world around are most noticeable when we are in relationships with others. What behaviors each of us bring to a relationship determines how well, or not, we are able to work together, live together or love together.

An example of how our conditioning impacts our relationships is seen in how couples relate to each other and get along before and after having children together. It is often, after the children come along, that the couple begins to have conflicts which stem from how each of the individuals was raised, what values they have, or what they believe is best for raising a healthy or successful child.

While it is inevitable that we do have conflicts with others because we are uniquely different and uniquely conditioned individuals, there are easy to learn, proven communication skills that we can all apply to any of our relationships to make them more fulfilling and positive for both ourselves and others.

A basic and simple skill that we can all apply to our very next encounter to improve our communications with others is putting aside the ongoing conversation in our mind, our concerns of the moment, or what we want to say next, and focusing completely on the individual in front of us and what they are  sharing with us. Being fully present to another person shows them that you value and respect them and that you are sincerely interested in what they are feeling, thinking and communicating with you.

We all want to be valued and in our fast paced, electronic-communication world having another person look at us directly while we speak, respond to us with smiles, head nodding or other gestures that let us know they are listening, without their speaking or interrupting us is a wonderfully validating experience that uplifts both ourselves and the person who is generous enough to give such affirming attention.

If you would like more information on how to make your relationships more rewarding and successful through easy-to-learn, proven communication skills, you can download a free chapter from my book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with East to Learn, Proven Communication Skills by going to www.changingbehavior.org