Your Weekly Meditations: Emotional Sensitivity is a Strength

Emotional sensitivity is a strength.

There are so many levels of emotional sensitivity. Often, the most emotionally sensitive individuals are also introverts, but both introverted and extroverted people can be extraordinarily sensitive to the presence, depth and breadth of their own emotions, as well as to the same in others. While emotional sensitivity may initially feel like a liability, with time and practice, this same sensitivity becomes a strength. If you are emotionally sensitive, you are exactly the empathic, caring individual this hurting world needs and craves.

This week I resolve to: Recognize that my enhanced ability to feel emotion allows me to tune in to the presence of suffering and joy in others, to comfort and celebrate those around me as needed, and be a reminder to everyone I meet that we are all in this thing called “life” together.

 

4 Things to Know About Communicating With the Opposite Gender

If you are a female, communication is likely second nature to you.

As a female, you communicate without even thinking about it. You use every faculty at your disposal to communicate and take great pleasure in doing so. You understand – without giving it your conscious attention – the complex interactions that can take place between body language, facial expression, tonal nuance, word choice, eye contact, and other particulars in your extensive toolkit of human communication skills.

If you are male, however, these skills may come more dearly.

120709-older-couple-walkingAs a male, you may prize directness at the expense of nuance, or confrontation over conciliation. You may find yourself getting frustrated with linguistic flourishes, and have little awareness of or patience for the need to “warm up” your audience or find “just the right words” before launching into a challenging topic.

The good news here is that these differences in communication skills and preferences are only to be expected once the unique genetic coding in the female and male brain is factored in.

Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of “The Female Brain” and its twin bestselling volume, “The Male Brain”, points out that while 99 percent of the genetic code in male and female brains is identical, there is approximately one percent that could not be more different. It is here that problems often arise in learning to communicate effectively and enjoyably with the opposite gender.

Since nearly all of past research into human brain structure, biology and function has been conducted on male brains, researchers’ understanding of female brain structure, usage, and genetic coding is more recent. As more of this information is obtained and shared, the genders can finally begin to mend shattered verbal fences and build satisfying communication bridges, and then turn around to pass along their hard-won knowledge to the next generation of men and women in turn.

In addition to basic communication skills, there are four things to know about communicating with the opposite gender that can be helpful under any conditions – in the workplace, in a friendship, in a romantic relationship, between family members, with peers or acquaintances, and even among total strangers.

Communication Basics But first, it can be helpful to review communication basics. These six essential skills can pave the way for successful communication whether gender differences are involved or not:

1. Remain calm: Speaking when you are angry or feeling any strong emotion risks the message getting lost in the expression of the emotion itself. If you want someone to really hear what you want to communicate, wait until you are feeling calm to speak. 2. Choose your words concisely and carefully: Everyone has had the experience of laughing over a choice bit of movie dialogue, or feeling tears well up from an especially moving literary turn of phrase. But while flowery language may do very well for artistic endeavors, in human-to-human communications, careful and concise language serves you best. If the communication is somewhat difficult or emotional, this rule is even more critical to follow. 3. Take your turn: While speaking your mind may not provide the resolution you are hoping for, it is a sure bet that not saying anything will deliver a less than satisfactory result. Whether someone else is hogging the conversation, or you simply feel too timid to speak up, be sure take your turn. It is yours – you deserve to speak every bit as much as anyone else. 4. Do not interrupt: Have you ever had a conversation with another person that was so one-sided that all you did was listen? And then at the end of the “conversation”, the other person announced that they enjoyed speaking with you so much that they hope to do it again soon? Everyone loves a good listener. Just as it is important for you to take your turn to speak, when your turn it is over, it is equally as important to listen attentively to what the other person has to share. 5. Try to stand in the other person’s shoes: While in most cases, women are more easily able to access and display empathy than men are, everyone has the ability to communicate in a way that conveys “we are in this together”. In sales, in service, between lovers and best friends, or even between two strangers, a genuine expression of mutual empathy is the communication trait that is most likely to pave the way to happy conversational results for both parties. 6. Know when to stay and when to walk away: Sometimes, and especially if the communication is particularly difficult, more than one conversation may be necessary to obtain resolution. Sometimes, no resolution will be possible. When entering into any communication, be aware that there is a time to stay and a time to walk away. If the conversation is becoming unproductive, it is often best to simply “pause” it and resume again when calmer waters have returned.

These six skills lay a firm foundation upon which to become a communications expert. As you practice and master each basic skill in its turn, you can then proceed forward and use this next set of four skills to build on what you are learning.

Gender Communications Because of the one percent of the brain that is different between the male and female brain, gender communications require the development of an additional skill set for optimal results.

Part of this skill set comes from a willingness to learn about the opposite gender’s genetic difference as the basis for a corresponding difference in communication style and preferences. The rest of the skill set comes from learning to communicate to play to the strengths of the other party, which may change depending on whether the conversation taking place is happening between a male and a female (inter-gender), two males or two females (both intra-gender).

These four skills can enhance your gender communications and provide for more enjoyable and satisfying conversations regardless of age or level of prior familiarity.

1. Pay attention to your word count and conversational speed: According to Dr. Brizendine’s research, females on average will use about 20,000 words per day, while males come in at a mere 7,000 words per day.  In addition, females tend to speak faster than males on average. This means that if the communication is happening between a male and a female, some word count sensitivity and speed can smooth inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Females, try to choose your words with care, and slow down when you speak them. When speaking with a male, use less words and a slower pace than you might normally choose in your intra-gender conversations and see if your communications results improve. Males, think about conversation as a three-phase process: “warm up”, “game time”, and “cool down”. Since your communications likely normally consist of “game time” words only, add in some “warm up” and “cool down” communications when talking with the opposite gender to smooth the path. 2. Balance listening with action: Because males have a more direct, “fix it” oriented brain, while women have a more well-developed ability to read subtle nuances into even the most casual statement, the ability to balance listening with action is critical to success in inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Males, if you are unsure whether she is asking you to help her fix or solve a problem or if she simply needs you to listen, then ask her. It is respectful to ask what she needs from you, and this will also help you to feel more satisfied in the exchange as well. Females, if you feel frustrated that he doesn’t “talk to you” or “share” more, understand that for many males, no news means good news. If he isn’t talking, chances are he doesn’t have anything to say or he isn’t ready to say it. When he is ready to speak, he will. 3. Remember your inverse needs: For females, cuddling and intimate conversation can frequently meet their needs for physical connection. For males, however, there is a near-continual drive for physical consummation. Because these needs are hard-wired into the brains of females and males, respectively, being part of a couple means balancing these needs so that each partner feels they are getting their basic physical intimacy needs met. a. Helpful tips: Females, there are some very real physical discomforts for males that are associated with too infrequent consummation. And because males on average are less verbal, physical consummation forms an important communicative bridge that males crave. Also, the common phenomenon of males falling asleep right after consummation is more biological than environmental, according to Dr. Brizendine and other researchers. Males, she needs cuddling just as much as you need consummation. If you do tend to fall asleep immediately after consummation, be aware that you haven’t lost your opportunity to show her attention and to cuddle later on. 4. Respect different tolerances and preferences for conflict: One of the most important gender brain differences recently uncovered by Dr. Brizendine and other scientific researchers points to differences in tolerances and preferences for conflict versus congruence in interpersonal connection. Whereas males are often quite confident and comfortable with conflict, females often do whatever they can to avoid conflict. There are hormonal and biological reasons for these differences in preferences for conflict. The differences in large part relate to the different roles males and females take on when it comes to fostering family and community relationships and raising children and are hardwired into male and female brains, respectively. a. Helpful tips: Males, remember that most females do not enjoy nor seek out conflict or competition in their intimate personal relationships. Since there are often several ways to approach even the most difficult communications, whether in the work place or in the home, remember it can be helpful to “dial it down” when having an inter-gender conversation. Females, remember that males are not conflict-avoidant and are not biologically programmed to seek congruence in relationships and communications. Take a few steps back before overreacting to inter-gender communications that appear strongly worded or overtly conflict-oriented. Train yourself to take a few deep breaths before responding, and remember that as negative as conflict feels for females, it can feel equally and inversely positive for males.

“The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain” by Dr. Brizendine offer many more valuable insights into the mechanics of intra- and inter-gender communications. With these basic communication skills in hand, coupled with newfound understandings and knowledge about gender brain differences, scientists and researchers are paving the way for more productive and satisfying communications for both genders.

 

About the Author: Kimberly B. Krueger, MSW, LCSW is the Founder and Program Director for Southlake Counseling and Southlake Center for Self Discovery. She has dedicated her career to helping people of all ages “say yes to life” and overcome their life challenges with compassion, professional guidance, and caring support. Southlake Counseling offers the most comprehensive counseling services in the Southlake area with a focus on eating disorders, mood disorders, nutrition and fitness, wellness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, addictions, equine therapy, and a full range of one-on-one and group therapeutic services. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

 

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: 5 Reasons to Love Your Male Brain

My motto was to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging. –Hank Aaron

Life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals, and charge after them in an unstoppable manner. –Les Brown

In part one of this post, I shared 5 reasons to love your female brain. If you are one of my female readers, you no doubt enjoyed part one immensely! If you are one of my male readers, you might have been left wondering, “hey, what about me?”

Not to worry. This week’s post should have you covered – and in a way that will more than make up for the apparent oversight in part one.

The two quotes above are also ones I picked out for the Southlake Counseling website. Through the difficult daily journey of my own recovery work, these goal-oriented quotes helped me feel the positive energy of taking action and reminded me that it is just when a goal seems most distant that I often receive the most benefit from redoubling my efforts.

I chose Les Brown’s quote for the Southlake website because I knew from the first day I set my sights on achieving full recovery from my eating disorder, anxiety and depression, that I wanted my life to take on meaning – much more meaning than life could ever have or hold when I was spending the bulk of my time and energy managing my moods or the symptoms of an eating disorder.

In the same way, Hank Aaron’s quote really spoke to me because I deeply admired other people, mentors, therapists, public figures, family and friends, who would “keep swinging” no matter what life handed them. These people seemed so strong, radiant really, and I looked up to them. They were my heroes then, and they still are today.

What I didn’t know when I was working so hard on my recovery is that my female brain wasn’t quite as genetically well-equipped to focus single-mindedly on a goal or task as some of my recovering male friends’ brains were. They would get ready, get set, and GO….hauling butt down the field while I was still negotiating my first steps out of the gate.

I blamed myself – thinking it was my fault, or a character flaw. I didn’t know it was a simple case of feminine brain DNA at work. Female brains and male brains may share 99 percent of their genetic coding, but it is the one percent that differs which accounts for these variances in personality, behavior, and focus. While my brain was busy navigating the how-to’s with its emotional circuits, my male friends were dipping in to their analytical brain structures to make quick work of A to Z. We eventually got to the same place with equally fine results. It just took me a bit longer.

Today, I can appreciate these differences in DNA brain coding, which allows me to maximize my enjoyment in working with a diverse group of male and female professionals at Southlake Counseling and to play to the strengths of each. My knowledge of the genetic differences in male and female brains also helps me help my clients to delve down deep and create a sense of themselves that goes far beyond simple environmental experiences.

This is also why I so loved reading Dr. Louann Brizendine’s twin bestsellers, “The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain”. Dr. Brizendine wrote “The Female Brain” first, and she always intended to stop there. She even jokes in the introduction to “The Male Brain” that when she first proposed the idea of a complementary volume on male brains, her colleagues laughed and said, “That will be a short book! Maybe more of a pamphlet.”

She then goes on to share her own reaction to the joshing as both a wife and the mother of a son. Simply put, she was struck by how unfair it is to both women and men that, while past research into human biology has largely ignored the female brain in favor of the male brain, we as a society can still so casually reduce the state of maleness down to a stereotype that focuses on the “brain below the belt.”

With “The Male Brain,” Dr. Brizendine set out to level the playing field. She did a fantastic job, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the wonderful world of the male brain and how well matched male and female brains really are to complement one another.

So for post two in our series on the brain, I give you 5 reasons to love your male brain.

5 Reasons to Love Your Male Brain:

  1. As Dr. Brizendine says, your brain is a “lean, mean, problem-solving machine.” What’s not to love about that?
  2. You thrive in the presence of competition.
  3. Your “brain below the belt” drive from your teen years onward literally ensures survival of the species – and your fertility remains for the balance of your lifespan.
  4. You have the capacity to love and bond with your mate and children every bit as deeply as any female brain does.
  5. You will fight to the death to protect loved ones from harm.

If you found this list interesting, I also highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Dr. Brizendine’s “The Male Brain.” You will thank me later – I promise!

Be Well,

Kimberly

If you are struggling to make sense of your inner mental and emotional life and often feel like you are on ever-shifting sands, Southlake Counseling can help. There are many genetic as well as environmental factors that can affect mental and physical health and emotional and relational wellbeing. Southlake Counseling’s comprehensive individual and group services and our highly trained, empathetic professional staff can partner with you to help you troubleshoot areas of concern and make the most of your strengths, gifts, and dreams! Visit www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Your Weekly Meditation: Love Begets Love

Love begets love, no advertising required.

Now that the month of February is over for another whole year, we can admit that it is no secret that February is the “month of love” for corporate marketing departments everywhere. But however over-hyped and overtly-marketed the sublime state of love may be each February, it is an excellent reminder that love begets love. The marketing, the slogans, the advertisements, they are like un-subtle broadcast messages reminding us of who we love, how much we love them, and even that we love them. If we buy in to those messages on a purchasing power level, we may be the poorer in our pocketbooks, but we likely have also taken the initiative to give, and have thus received in return, more overt expressions of love during the month of February than possibly at any other month during the year! Maybe, if we take this message to heart, then by next February we won’t need those advertising slogans as a reminder anymore…and we will be amazed by how much our own daily expressions of love towards ourselves and others have enriched our lives.

This week I resolve to: Remember that love begets love, no advertising required. When I am feeling unloved, giving love to myself and others is the surest path towards an experience of receiving the love I need. When I am feeling loved, giving more love to myself and others is the surest path towards an experience of receiving more love in return.

Your Weekly Meditation: Love Happens

Love happens.

Love is happening all around us, every day, in every way. But often it is also simultaneously struggling quite hard to find a way to get into our lives! Our own beliefs about love – how it can happen, when it can happen, whom it can happen with – can become barriers as strong and impenetrable as steel walls covering us from ceiling to floor and on all sides. Since love is as necessary to human life as oxygen, love never ceases to happen, and it is always hovering on the sidelines and waiting in the wings, scoping out even the merest hint of an invitation to take center stage in our lives.

This week I resolve to: Notice where love is unfolding – in a kind word I speak to a stranger, in their smile I receive in return, in the moment when I stop a self-critical thought in its tracks, in the grace of receiving an extra day to complete an important project. The more I notice how, when, and where love is already happening, the more love there will be, and the more love that love will attract.

Texting: Is it helpful or harmful to your relationships? A therapeutic look at one of America’s most popular forms of communication

Looking back over the past few decades, it is amazing to consider the ways in which technology and communication has dramatically evolved. My experience with the whole phenomenon began in middle school, when I discovered the bountiful gifts of the Internet.I remember it like it was yesterday… Spending a couple hours here and there in chatrooms while my mother periodically wandered in to read conversations over my shoulder (despite my incessant protesting). In high school, I got my first cell phone and began using numerous AIM screen names, spending a few months to a year with each until I outgrew it and registered a new one.  In college, I remember walking to classes and being fascinated by the amount of people talking on their cellphones. You became more of an oddity if you did NOT have a cell-phone in plain view than if you did. And you were equally shunned if you didn’t have an account on facebook, but that’s a blog for another day. Now, texting… texting didn’t blow up so-to-speak until around the past few years or so, I’d say. And while I could take each of these various forms of communication and offer my opinion as to how they have come to shape the ways in which we communicate in relationships involving significant others (and I probably will, in time, explore each in a blog post), today, I’m only going to focus on my experience, and the experiences I’ve gathered from others, with regard to texting.

In DBT (Dialectical-Behavior Therapy), Marsha Linehan offers the notion of Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind. Reasonable mind denotes your rational, thinking, logical mind. This mind state most appropriately handles things such as making plans, solving logical problems, following instructions, and managing things objectively. The second state of mind Linehan identifies is Emotion Mind, known as a state of mind that occurs when one’s emotions are in-control and running the show. Emotion Mind is beneficial for fueling various types of motivation. When driven by intense emotion, people undertake exceptional feats. It is our emotions that separate us from each other and make each of us uniquely different. 

So, what does that have to do with texting? Well, to better facilitate my understanding of texting’s pros and cons, I will metaphorically and literally utilize Linehan’s two mind states. Texting’s most easily identifiable pro is its ability to swap information quickly; yet, as with most things, its biggest pro is often inappropriately used. Texting can efficiently, and fairly successfully, communicate thoughts that occur in reasonable mind, without leaving much room for over-analysis or unnecessary speculation. “What time do you want to meet?” “Where are we meeting?” “Did you bring the book?” “There’s traffic” “It’s raining here.” “The meeting ran over.” “I’ll be late.” The list of appropriate phrase usage goes on and on. It’s hard to misunderstand facts and logistical details. My clients rarely come in to my office obsessing over what he/she meant by, “I have a doctor’s appt. tomorrow at 3pm” (What does he meeeeeeean?!?).

The problem arises when people start using texting to communicate thoughts that are born in Emotion mind. There are just too many opportunities for misunderstanding…and the lack of associated body language, facial expressions, and voice tones creates unnecessary and could-have-been-avoided anxiety. I’ve had clients recount distressing arguments that occurred entirely on texting, (“hold on, this was on text, let me just read you the conversation” [pulls out her phone]). A study by Albert Mehrabian concluded that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% has to do with the words spoken/typed. While these numbers might be challenged with regard to preciseness, the overall point remains that we are missing too many communicative cues when using text messages. This lack of cues produces a potentially damaging over-analysis of emotion mind texting, which seems to affect my female clients/friends more so than my male clients/friends. In my opinion, this excessive rumination has proven to lend itself, at times, to an increase in anxious and obsessive thoughts, and ultimately, a destructive and exhausting waste of time.

Does Emotion Mind texting have any benefits? As much as I don’t want to admit it, I have identified what I think are some benefits. Despite the aforementioned types of communication for which texting cannot account (body language, etc.), texting provides a certain level of security under which certain emotion thoughts can be uttered that might otherwise be fearfully stifled in an in-person or over-the-phone conversation.  While one begrudgingly gets off the phone with a loved one after being unable to voice his/her opinion on something, he/she might find it quite easy to send a follow-up text, expressing the very thought they could not find the courage to voice. However, while texting allows people a space to communicate hard-to-communicate thoughts/emotions, one could argue that this very seeming benefit is turning us into a society of cowards by reinforcing our inability to express ourselves in difficult interactions.

So, where do we go from here? It is my recommendation that one stick to using texting to fulfill the expression of reasonable mind thoughts. While you may feel more comfortable using texting to communicate difficult emotion mind thoughts, you strip yourself of the ability to grow and build mastery with regard to effectively handling and interacting in difficult situations with others. Furthermore, when you communicate emotion mind thoughts in text form, you open the door for potentially destructive misunderstandings and the possibility of turning an anxiety-provoking situation into an unavoidable anxiety-producing occurrence. Be kind to yourself, validate your fear, and choose to grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

DBT: Finding the Purpose…

Do things happen for a reason? Or is everything left to chance? Are there random occurrences? Does karma exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen that just don’t seem fair? How am I supposed to see the silver lining when I suffer? How do I withstand what seems to be pointless pain?

I lost someone close to me last Fall. Not to death – he’s still here on earth. We just wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I lost him from my everyday life. One morning after it occurred, I found myself overcome with grief as endless questions circled around my mind: “why should I have to endure this pain? Yes, there were so many good memories and I genuinely enjoyed all our time spent together. But were those memories – those good times – were they worth this pain? What was the point?”

Throughout my life, I’ve only allowed myself to become interested in partners with whom I could see a future. While I did see the possibility of some sort of prolonged exchange with him, what was the point of our interactions if we would end up very simply and sadly saying goodbye?

I continued to watch the thoughts swirl: “I should have never gotten involved. I should’ve turned back when I had doubts. I should’ve known.” The thoughts triggered embarrassment, which triggered more thoughts: “you were naïve again. You didn’t listen to your gut. You do this every time – when will you learn?!” The sadness and guilt deepened. I became awash in a sea of discontent, embarrassment, and frustration. All for what?! Why was I allowing these negative thoughts to consume and berate me? It was if they entered my psyche with baseball bats and crowbars and immediately went to work defacing my self-esteem.

Then, I remembered something helpful to me. It was almost as if a voice from beyond whispered into my ear, “find the purpose…” Ever since I began having intimate relationships it’s been difficult for me to let go of partners when the relationships end. It’s possibly one of the only areas in my life in which I experience a genuine repulsion to change. While I’m with someone, we develop a bond, a beautiful friendship. When the time comes for the relationship to end, I often hear myself protesting, “you mean I’m not only going to lose a partner but I’m going to lose one of my best friends too?!” So, a trick I learned along the way [of life], was to believe that everyone with whom I was in a relationship had come into my life to teach me something, to assist me in my personal growth, which would ultimately lead to a more wholesome life experience – a life experience I could then more efficiently share with a loved one down the road.

I ran through my list of past partners, noticing each of their unique purposes: to know the purest type of love, to trust more deeply, to be more adventurous, to appreciate the importance of maturity, to live a life free from substances, to be silly and laugh often, to take care of one’s mind and body. So what was his? I asked myself freely what was his purpose and the answer came almost immediately: to allow me the time and space to develop a comfort in being myself.

Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has developed several helpful skills for cultivating the ability to tolerate distressing situations, one of which includes finding/creating a purpose. She notes that research has shown that creating a purpose for a difficult situation, even if the situation seems to be so blatantly wrong, can assist anyone in better managing the emotions associated with the event and in effectively navigating through it. Some situations we’ll encounter in life will seem outlandishly unfair, unjust, or wrong; however, we still have the power to find a purpose in it, whether it be something so concise as: developing patience, making one stronger, or giving one to the ability to connect with another in a similar situation down the road.

After realizing what I perceived to be the purpose in losing my friend, that crisp Fall morning, I felt a calm come over me. When at first I felt deep sadness in losing him, upon finding the purpose I felt as if perhaps I was still on the right path. So, next time you find yourself in a situation that sparks painful thoughts and emotions, see if you can find a purpose, a tiny light softly shimmering in a black hole of grief. Breathe deeply, be kind to yourself, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

Your Weekly Meditation: Connection is Critical

Connection is critical.

When we think of connection, what often comes to mind is a busy career or social schedule, engaging in hobbies or volunteer work with others, finding a romantic partner, starting a family, and other types of social-focused activities or experiences. But the connection we are truly seeking in life can happen anytime, whether we are in the crowd or all alone. When we remember that we are all in this life together, when we remind ourselves that we all experience joy, sorrow, pain, loneliness, and hope, we connect to the shared experience of being human, and we can no longer justify hiding in isolation, or believing that nobody around us could understand what we are going through.

NOTE: Interestingly, when we do this regularly, we also often find that our self-esteem and satisfaction with our life just as it is improves as well!

This week I resolve to: Spend a few moments each morning connecting within myself to the shared experience of being human that is going on within and all around me, and reminding myself of that unbreakable connection.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: V is for Validation, Part Two

This week we continue our series on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

BPD is a brain-based emotion regulation disorder that affects an estimated 18 million Americans. Usually appearing first in early adulthood, by the time BPD is accurately diagnosed, many close relationships may already be irreparably damaged or destroyed.

In our last post, I introduced you to one of the most powerful techniques loved ones can use to facilitate improved relationships with a BPD sufferer. The technique is called Validation, and in this post I will introduce the basics of how Validation works and how to use it.

Validation works by making approval of, appreciation for, and understanding of the BPD sufferer a priority over any other message that may be conveyed. Basically, validation is a technique that softens the delivery of a message without changing its content overly much.

Using Validation challenges the loved one of a BPD sufferer to find a way to stand in their shoes, understand what their world is like, and communicate from that place of empathy and understanding. In a sense, imagining that you have the same symptoms and imagining how communications might affect you in that case paves the way for Validation to have its positive effect.

Its usefulness in managing BPD aside, Validation is a powerful technique in its own right. Whether an individual suffers from BPD or not, Validation is still an important part of any trusted connection, and loved ones can draw from their own positive experiences of receiving Validation to use the technique with a BPD loved one. The difference between a non-BPD and a BPD individual’s experience of receiving Validation is one of magnitude of the need for it, rather than the necessity of receiving it.

One Validation exercise that can be extremely helpful is what Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and creator of DBT tools such as Validation, calls the “Validation Sandwich”.

Understanding how the Validation Sandwich works can streamline communications between a BPD sufferer and his or her loved ones.

When employing the Validation Sandwich to express preferences or feedback that have the potential to provoke an extreme reaction in someone with BPD, DBT experts guide loved ones to place validating statements before and after the potentially distressing communication.

In this way, the individual with BPD hears and takes in that they are seen, heard, known, and supported right from the start, and as a result they become more willing and able to hear out difficult communications with less fear of abandonment or rejection.

DBT-trained experts guide loved ones to become more acutely aware of areas where the BPD individual is behaving in responsible, emotionally sound, and healthy ways, and to make validating those behaviors a priority in any communication, whether light or more serious. Validation is not meant to sugar-coat the acting out of the symptoms of BPD, but rather to reinforce the visible signs of recovery progress.

Validation lets the BPD sufferer know that their efforts are noticed and applauded, and that there is genuine care and affection for the person, even if there is less tolerance for the behaviors as they occur. In this way, slowly but surely, the balance shifts to create a more trusting, stable foundation for future communications to occur.

Another popular Validation technique is known by its acronym – GIVE. GIVE stands for Gentle, Interested, Validating, and Easy in manner. Practicing GIVE reigns in a loved one’s propensity towards fighting fire with fire (by reacting in kind to a BPD-based outburst) and instead teaches a more effective way of fighting fire – with cooling, calming water. With GIVE, attacks or outbursts are met with gentleness and an even demeanor, with empathy and understanding, with the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff in behavioral expression, and with an easefulness that comes from sincerely believing that BPD is a treatable disorder and that the BPD sufferer has what it takes to recover.

GIVE, like other Validation techniques, is very affirming and reassuring to the individual with BPD, and has an equal effect on loved ones when they see that Validation truly does open up new lines of communication in previously strained relationships.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from symptoms that appear to be related to Borderline Personality Disorder, don’t wait! Seek help right away as BPD can be life threatening. At Southlake Counseling, our staff has received extensive training from DBT Founder Dr. Linehan’s Behavioral Tech Institute. We have more than two decades of experience successfully treating BPD through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. We also offer supportive DBT-based skills-building groups for family, loved ones, and friends of BPD sufferers. These groups instruct loved ones in DBT techniques such as Validation and much, much more. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

 

DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness: Building Mastery and Self-Respect

“Do you think it’s important to nurture genuine respect for oneself?” I would be shocked/stunned/mind-boggled if the majority of people to whom I asked this question replied with some variation of, “no, thanks, it’s been quite pleasant disrespecting myself and my beliefs and sincerely thinking that I am incompetent.” In fact, while it might be almost impossible to believe, most of the people who walk into my office voice some type of desire to feel good about who they are and at peace about the decisions they’ve made with regard to their interactions with others.

So, just how important is self-respect? Let’s look at a recent situation in my personal life that pertinently and efficiently reminded me of the vast importance of self-respect. Recently, I found myself in a situation with a friend that, over a two-week period, proved to be particularly distressing. Two weeks prior to this realization, I identified my need to express my feelings about his actions, or in this case, lack of action. However, I wanted the discussion to take place in person, not via some sort of electronic medium, and I wanted to find the appropriate time, a combination of desires that proved to be especially difficult to attain as day after day blew by.

Upon his most recent departure from an in-person interaction between us, during which I, again, could not seem to recognize this seemingly elusive perfect time, I found myself bombarded by uncomfortable thoughts/feelings. The most common thought: “You failed. Once again, he left and you did not say anything,” followed closely by the feeling of shame. Then, I watched, mindfully, as the thoughts/feelings cycled through my mind. Shame triggered the thought, “you’re weak, you’ll never find the right time. You’re using this right time notion to avoid talking to him,” followed closely by more shame, who brought with it its two acquaintances, guilt and sadness (nice to see you, again!).

And that’s when it hit me. Why wasn’t I eagerly having this seemingly necessary conversation? Well, that was a fairly easy one for me…fear. Fear that he wouldn’t like me. Fear it would ruin our relationship. Fear that he’d leave. And I didn’t want to discount, invalidate, or avoid this fear, as the fear of losing or damaging significant relationships in one’s life can be daunting, vastly uncomfortable, and even paralyzing. However, what was the cost? By avoiding the first situation of having a discussion due to potential negative consequences, I was causing other, very real, negative consequences to occur in the place of ones that had not even occurred yet, and might not even occur. Based on consequences that had a 50% chance of materializing (It might ruin our relationship, it might not. He might leave, he might not.), I was creating a second situation with a 100% chance of damaging my self-respect…and I still didn’t even know what might or might not happen in the first situation!

The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, describes mastery as doing something that increases one’s feelings of competence, and sometimes, if you fail, doing it over and over and over again until you succeed. With regard to self-respect, Linehan notes that one builds self-respect when he/she acts in ways that support his/her personal beliefs, morals, and opinions. Mastery builds competence. Competence builds self-respect. Take the example of a newborn learning to walk. When little Joey takes his first steps and falls, what would happen if he never got back up? Would he ever learn how to walk if he never tried again? How would he feel about his walking abilities? Furthermore, would he be more or less likely to get up and try again if he were to succumb to his inundating thoughts of, “I’m a failure. I’ll never learn how to walk. All the other babies will learn how to walk and I’ll be stuck here, crawling on the floor, forever (insert sad-face emoticon here).” I’m concerned about Little Joey’s self-respect already.

It’s not easy to do things we perceive as potentially threatening, and it’s also not easy to deal with the inevitable thoughts/feelings that show-up when we don’t take action when we want to (or act when we don’t want to). And while the blow to our self-respect can be equally devastating, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn how to skillfully manage difficult situations.  So, the next time you find yourself in a particularly tough situation with another person, just remember this is probably not the last complicated situation/interaction you’ll be faced with in your lifetime… AND every difficult situation you encounter is another opportunity to build your mastery at effectively handling tough situations and to enhance and deepen your self-respect! Be kind to yourself, validate your fears, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie