Step 6: Practicing Effective Communication

In working with the clients in my practice who are either in unfulfilling relationships or alone, I have discovered the steps they need to take and what they need to know and to find that perfect mate for them. This is the fourth in a series of articles on The Secrets to Creating a Loving “I-Thou” Relationship.

The Sixth Step in learning how to create a loving, committed relationship is to understand the importance of communication. What exactly is communication and why is it necessary to become a skilled practitioner at expressing verbally and in writing what we feel, think and do? In the fifth step we learned the importance of boundary setting, but if we don’t know how to let others know what our boundaries are, what good are they?

Before we go on to more about the Sixth Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship, here are the first five steps:

  • The First Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to recognize that we are complete and whole unto ourselves.
  • The Second Step to finding your soul mate and a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand your Family of Origin.
  • The Third Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to become acutely aware of how we feel.
  • The Fourth Step to finding a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand that it is a wounded inner child which has never healed that goes out into the world looking for love, acceptance and companionship.
  • The Fifth Step in learning how to create a loving, committed relationship is to understand the importance of setting boundaries.

I remember thinking in my first year of graduate school “Why is there such an emphasis on good communication? Am I, as the therapist, supposed to teach my clients how to better communicate?

Don’t they already know how?” Nope, most people don’t. And neither did I!!! Those years in graduate school, the 3,000 supervised hours I earned as an intern and my many years of actual practice with hundreds of clients honed my skills as a solid, intuitive communicator.

Many clients have never seen good communication modeled for them in their family system or experienced it out in the world. So many clients have related sad stories of being berated by parents, lovers, employers and people in their daily comings and goings. Rather than saying “No, I am not comfortable being talked to like that,” they retreat into silence and sadness, with the final result being anxiety and depression. Or even worse, having no idea what another person is thinking, feeling or wanting from the interaction.

There is a wonderful alternative to suffering in silence: it is what we teach our children…”Use your words!”

The “I Message”

One of the most effective forms of communication is the “I Message,” a three-part technique for expressing our feelings. Here is an outline: I feel___________ when you do, or say, _________ because __________.

For example, “I feel scared that you will hit me when you yell at me because my parents always hit or spanked me when they yelled at me.” Wow, that is a really powerful, direct statement. There is no blame or accusation in the statement—just a clear communication of one’s feelings regarding their interaction.

How about “I feel you don’t really love me and will not be faithful to me when you flirt with other women/men at a party because my dad was flirtatious and cheated on my mother.” Could that person’s feelings be any clearer? And…there was no guilt inducing message in the communication—just a clear expression of how one feels.

I use the “I Message” technique quite often with couples. The couples that use the “I Message” develop a much healthier, honest and more intimate relationship. Isn’t this what we truly want and need? 

Being a good listener is a necessity for effective, clear communication.

Have you ever had something really bothering you and you just wanted someone to hear you, quietly be present for you, and look at you without saying a word? This is the concept of validation, a technique which every good therapist practices and which everybody can learn in order to improve their relationships personally and professionally. It’s really fun to teach clients the “I heard you say” technique.

OK, imagine you are a therapist working with a couple who started arguing out in the waiting room. I could hear the frustration and anger in the husband’s voice because his wife completely tuned him out as I had seen in our previous sessions. I quickly ran to the door, laughingly told them to control themselves until they got into my soundproof office. He was really mad, because his wife totally refused to listen to his feelings and thoughts regarding an unresolved issue.

I had them sit on opposite sides of the couch and explained that they should face one another and each would take a turn talking, and the other one had to LISTEN AND NOT SAY A WORD. I then explained that the silent partner, at the conclusion of the monologue, would have to say, “I heard you say” and repeat what was said almost verbatim.

Why? Because the talker was paid attention to and the silent partner had to listen and repeat what was said. Sounds easy? Well, it is not at first, but with dedication to learning this particular technique and adding it to your communication roster, relationships will grow in healthy directions which is a gift to all involved. 

How to Create a Loving, “I-Thou” Relationship: Steps 3 & 4.

In working with the clients in my practice who are either in unfulfilling relationships or alone, I have discovered what they need to know and the steps they need to take to find that perfect mate for them. While the third and fourth steps to creating a loving, “I-Thou” relationship are the focus of this article, let’s start by going over the first two steps.

The first step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to recognize that we are complete and whole unto ourselves. Until a person truly understands that he/she is on a solo quest to discover the real Self, that Self which loves, honors accepts and is totally comfortable, he/she will continue as the victim.

The second step to finding your soul mate and a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand your Family of Origin. This is done by working with a seasoned psychotherapist who specializes in guiding you to explore the Life Script which has created the adult you and your unsuccessful, painful relationships. If you’d like to know more about steps one and two, you can read about them here.

The third step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to become acutely aware of how we feel. Since our feelings define who we are, we must become aware of how we feel every moment of every day. This is often a new concept to many clients as communicating feelings was never taught in their family. In fact, the family members had no idea how they felt, so each member suffered in silence.

I once worked with a lovely 25-year-old client who had attempted suicide when she was 16. Both her parents were psychotherapists. She came to see me because she was depressed, had suicidal ideation and did not want to act upon those thoughts. I asked her if any of her former therapists had explained the importance of knowing how she felt and she said no! Well, no wonder she was depressed …her feeling were hidden so deeply inside of her that she had no idea what was really bothering her. We worked hard with her Life Script and digging up those buried feelings. She recovered from her depression, improved her relationship with her fiancé, completed her therapy and married her fiancé.

Another client I worked with told me that nobody in her family ever “heard” her or validated her feelings. She had been born into a wealthy family which provided every material comfort and opportunity, but not a whit of understanding or acknowledgement of any family member’s feelings. Any time my client would express her feelings, her Dad would tell her “no, that is not how you feel”. She “coped” by disassociating, disconnecting, splitting off from her real self. She was unable to create and express her own separate identity and ego strength because it was discouraged and never modeled by parents who themselves were lost. It isn’t as though her dad didn’t love her and want the very best for his daughter. His own co-dependency, fostered by his Family of Origin, prevented him from knowing how he felt!!                                                

The fourth step to finding a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand that it is a wounded inner child which has never healed that goes out into the world looking for love, acceptance and companionship. If we are not connected to our real self which has a solid ego strength, we go out into the world involuntarily, unconsciously creating the same unhealthy relationships with which we are familiar.

Certain behaviors modeled through the years in our Family of Origin are so involuntary and negative that it is impossible to find the true love which we deserve because we do not love, know and accept our precious, wonderful selves. If we are disconnected from our true selves because we have never been encouraged to express our thoughts, feelings and talents, we will be attracted to the same types of people with whom we were raised, suffering the same consequences of never really creating a safe place with an intimate partner where we can “just be”. 

Stay tuned for the next steps in this series of “How to Create a Loving, I-Thou Relationship,”  as these steps to understanding ourselves in the quest for love really do work. There are so many examples of clients who did that inner work and found true love and fulfillment. I look forward to sharing those with you.

Setting Boundaries: The Fifth Step to Creating a loving “I-Thou” Relationship

In working with the clients in my practice who are either in unfulfilling relationships or alone, I have discovered the steps they need to take and what they need to know and to find that perfect mate for them.

The Fifth Step in learning how to create a loving, committed relationship is to understand the importance of setting boundaries. What exactly is a boundary in psychological terms? A boundary tells us and the world where we begin and end. It defines who, what and where we are, just as a country’s boundaries encapsulate the unique qualities of that particular entity.

Before we go on to more about the Fifth Step, here are the first four steps:

  • The First Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to recognize that we are complete and whole unto ourselves.
  • The Second Step to finding your soul mate and a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand your Family of Origin.
  • The Third Step to creating a loving “I-Thou” relationship is to become acutely aware of how we feel.
  • The Fourth Step to finding a happy, fulfilling, committed relationship is to understand that it is a wounded inner child which has never healed that goes out into the world looking for love, acceptance and companionship.

Have you ever really taken the time to question your belief system, your needs as a person whether in or out of a relationship? Are you comfortable being with yourself or do you need another person to define and complete you? Remember “The Runaway Bride,” that lovely movie with Julia Roberts? She could only set her boundaries by literally running away from her groom as she walked down the aisle. At least she knew that her life with that particular groom wasn’t right for her. But did she really know why she fled and what was unidentified and unexpressed in her own self which compelled her to run? Too bad she caused so many broken hearts and confusion, but she saved herself and her groom a marriage based on lies and pretense.

So why do some people really glow with self-confidence and sureness about where they stand in the world? Why do they draw others toward them with that special light that inspires others? Why are their personal relationships so positive, life affirming, safe and inspiring?  Why do their partners fit them like the fingers of two hands coming together to form a perfect connection? If they weren’t blessed with the perfect parents who modeled self-esteem, a solid sense of their ego identity, serenity, a faith in the positive aspects of this life, how did they learn to shine their light?

They did a personal inventory of their lives, realizing that something big was amiss and needed attention. They found a skilled therapist and committed themselves to healing that hurting wounded child who too often controlled their thoughts, feelings and actions. If that wounded inner child had been so traumatized by the “crazy” antics of their family of origin, they had no idea how they existed as a free-thinking calm, wise person in the world. Do you know where you begin and end? If someone does not respect your person, do you know how to stop it and draw a line in the sand? Do you know how to say “no”? Do you swallow your feelings, afraid to voice your opinions and just acquiesce to whomever?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have been traumatized by your family of origin or other experiences and need to learn to let yourself and the world know where you begin and end…in other words, set your boundaries.

10 Reasons Why Therapy with a Trained Professional is a Great Thing for Anyone Seeking Answers and New Pathways

While talking with a few psychotherapist colleagues the other day I said, “If people would come in for therapy and totally commit to exploring their lives in great depth, their lives would get so much better in every area”. I know that from my many years of experience in my own personal therapy as well as my 30 years of private practice psychotherapy. Why in my 30 years of practicing psychotherapy did some clients stay, putting tremendous effort into addressing their issues through self-awareness, courage and hard work while others left after only a few sessions? Why indeed? They were all in pain and confused in their personal and /or professional lives.  They were suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, grief, loneliness, drug and alcohol addiction, unhappy marriages, unfulfilling sex lives.

Perhaps the ones that left did not really know and understand how and why therapy could change their lives for the better. I certainly know how and why therapy is a fantastic journey into personal growth and positive change, but if the positive aspects of therapy are not pointed out and defined to clients and the world at large, people will be hesitant to enter and commit to really knowing themselves.  So, here goes. These are the 10 reasons I believe therapy with a licensed professional is a great thing for anyone seeking answers and new pathways.

1. Finding and committing to working with a therapist can be the one place where it is all about our own self.

This is totally your time to be used exactly as you choose. You are actually able to talk about your life, feelings and thoughts while an objective professional therapist listens to you and validates you.  The therapist is in the room committed to hearing your story, interpreting the meanings behind the words and helping you to understand your Life Script.

2. Therapy is a safe place because the sessions are confidential.

The therapist cannot reveal the contents of the session unless the client’s life is in danger due to a suicide plan and/or attempt, threats to commit a homicide, child abuse and elder abuse. The therapist explains the limits of confidentiality in the first session and usually in writing.

 3. If we are working with the right therapist for us, a bond is formed which is like no other.

I once worked with a client who came to me in a severe depression. She actually thought she was going crazy because she questioned every thought she had and had lost most of her confidence in herself. She had always had a great sense of humor but hadn’t laughed or cracked a smile in 6 months. When I interpreted one of her comments in an unconventional manner, she actually laughed and said “OMG, I am not crazy. I can still laugh”. 

We had made a great connection, because laughter is often the best medicine and my sense of humor has been one of my best friends. This client never took any medication but committed to exploring her Family of Origin System to uncover the causes of her depression and later anxiety. She went on to become a licensed therapist who is quite successful!

4. Therapy will teach you that life is a gift to be lived fully and happily.

If you are depressed, anxious, addicted to alcohol or drugs, have an eating disorder, are in an unhappy relationship or marriage or isolated and alone, you are not embracing the gift of life and allowing yourself to work, play and connect with others from your True Self. Life is a schoolroom which offers so many wonderful experiences and lessons to encourage and propel you forward in all your activities. You are here to learn, share your wisdom, joy, laughter and even your tears with fellow travelers on this wondrous Life path.   

5. Therapy will help you see that the answers are within you.

You live with yourself 24 hours a day and if you believe we are immortal, we go on forever. Don’t you think you deserve to really know yourself? A good therapist builds a relationship based on trust and safety. There is no judgment, just the space and time to connect to that inner wisdom which truly knows who and what we are.

We cannot hear and use that inner, intuitive wisdom if we  are numbed out by addictions, depression, disassociation, fear or an abusive Family of Origin. Therapy gives us wonderful tools to help us climb out of the abyss of unhappiness into the sunshine of peace of mind, serenity, self-esteem and a solid love and respect for ourselves.

6. Therapy helps you to discover your gifts, talents and creativity.

How do you want to express yourself in this thing called Life? Have you been blessed with gifts as an artist, actor, attorney, salesperson, pilot, soldier, filmmaker, teacher, writer, circus performer, plumber, nurse, parent or therapist? Don’t you need to know so you may develop those talents and share them with the world? Suppose Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, just to name a few, had never known their gifts and shared them with the world? We would be back in the Dark Ages.

A good therapeutic relationship encourages you to investigate that inner self and become aware of how you want and need to express in this world. The discovery of who you truly are lifts the veil of sadness and confusion so your wonderful light may shine.

7. Change is the only constant in life and therapy will help you through the changes. 

 It is that human part of us which craves safety, familiarity, routine in our relationships, our professional lives and our homes.  But suppose the familiar and safe are stopping us from growing into what we really need.  I love these lyrics in a Rolling Stones song: “You don’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you might just find you’ll get what you need”. I was just a teenager when I first heard these lyrics, didn’t quite get the full impact, but as my life has progressed through the years, I understand completely.  The status quo is comfortable, but can also be deadening to our process of growth and self –empowerment which are the reasons we are here on this plane. Life is filled with countless opportunities for us to stretch our mental, emotional and creative muscles, but we have to be willing to take risks and invite in change.   And change is hard and scary.  Every client with whom I have worked for over 30 years has entered therapy because the status quo had become so painful that change was necessary for them to find the tools needed to understand themselves and ultimately move forward. 

8.Therapy helps you understand the Family of Origin System…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

A gifted and experienced psychotherapist introduces the client to the Family of Origin System. Each of us has accepted the Life Script we learned from birth. Some messages from our childhood are wonderful and life affirming, while others have stymied our ability to succeed in a few or many areas.  There is a cause for every effect. If we were raised in a family which encouraged, loved, validated, guided and inspired each child, that child would evolve into a successful and well adjusted adult. If the opposite was true, the adult is in pain, confused, lost on the personal and/or professional level. It is time for an intervention…. a journey through our childhood Family System to understand and change any negative causes.

9.Therapy shows you how to be a shining light for the world.

Each individual who commits to and works hard at developing the self awareness necessary to become that confident, centered, high functioning person who shines a light of positive, open energy stops the Multi-Generational Transmission Cycle.  In other words, our thoughts, actions and behavior are no longer involuntary. We are no longer marionettes on a string manipulated by someone else. We have learned to truly BE the selves we were born to express. And, we take that positive energy, that light, into every transaction, every experience, every relationship and let our light and wisdom inspire all with whom we come in contact.

10.Therapy teaches honest communication and boundary setting.

Knowing who we are and how we feel defines us as individuals. It is imperative that each person communicates his/her feelings and thoughts in an open honest manner. If not, we present a false self to the world and deny ourselves the pleasure of connecting to others in a genuine manner. Honest communication sets boundaries for who and what we are while allowing all with whom we come into contact to experience a genuine human being

I realized while writing this article the importance of really knowing and understanding the process and content of psychotherapy. When I started my psychotherapy practice over 30 years ago, there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook and no therapy websites. Referrals came from former clients who told their friends and colleagues how much better they felt from psychotherapy with me. Today, there is so much information available on the Internet that it can be confusing to anyone searching for help and guidance. Therefore, in order to make the right choice of whom to see, it is really imperative that the positive aspects of therapy be clearly explained. As I said in my 10 reasons, it can be one of the most inspiring and profound adventures into self- awareness a person will ever take. Writing this reminded me, and I hope for all who read this, the phenomenal path to freedom, self-awareness and personal/professional growth which therapy provides for all not content with the status quo.

Bowen Theory

As I pointed out in my last column, there are several steps one must take to learn how to create a loving, committed and intimate relationship with another so that one has a partner with whom to share life’s incredible journey .  But, there is a catch, a paradox : until a person truly understands that he/she is on a solo quest to discover the real Self which loves, honors, accepts and is totally comfortable with that Self . he/she will NOT attract the perfect mate !!  Until your light shines from within and for yourself, you are destined to attract and choose partners who are also unaware of their inner light. As Ernest Holmes wrote : “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it”.

So how do  we do that ? What is one of the first steps to take ?  I always advise my clients to pause, sit back , take a deep breath , become comfortable and tell me exactly how they feel sitting in my office . Are they nervous, sad, excited, hesitant, shy, hopeless ? Why have they come in ? What do they need ?  In other words listen to that still small voice within which is our intuition and the voice of whom we really are . Since our feelings define who we are , we must become aware of how we feel every moment of everyday. I just had a client tell me this morning that she had never been heard nor her feelings validated by her family until she began therapy with me. She had been born into a wealthy family which provided every material comfort and opportunity, but not a whit of understanding of any family member’s feelings. Any time my client would express a feeling, her Dad would tell her “no, that is not how you feel “. She  “coped” by disassociating. And…it isn’t as though her dad didn’t love her ; his co-dependency prevented him from knowing how he felt !!

My client and her father were the victims of  the “multi generational transmission process “ about which Dr. Murray Bowen wrote in his books on Family Systems Therapy. Certain behaviors modeled through the years  actually become involuntary without a conscious thought or feeling as to whether or not they contribute to a healthy, well-functioning Family system . .So, we end up as wounded children who are never really encouraged to know and express how we honestly feel.  And….that is the ego state which goes out into the world looking for love. If we are disconnected from our true selves because we have never been encouraged to express our feelings and thoughts , we are attracted to the same types of people with whom we were raised , suffering the same consequences of never really creating a safe place with an intimate partner where we can “just be”.  Our choice of partners will reflect who we are like a mirror.

Do you Love Too Much?

The First Steps to Creating a Loving, “I-Thou” Relationship.

What does it mean to love too much? Aren’t we taught since early childhood that loving another and finding our perfect mate is our most important task? The theme of finding true love and the pain endured when it doesn’t appear or last permeates poetry, literature, movies, television, music. We want to be completed by that partner who will fill our hearts bodies and lives with that joy which surpasses in every way living alone with ourselves.

“I’m so lonely. I want someone to share my life with. Why do all my relationships which start out so well end so sadly?” Hmmm, why do they? In my thirty years of practicing psychotherapy with individuals and couples who are either in unfulfilling relationships or alone, I have discovered what my clients need to know and the steps they need to take to find that perfect mate for them.

The first step is to recognize that we are complete and whole unto ourselves. What does that mean? Sounds kind of biblical?!? Well, it isn’t so much biblical as a spiritual definition of what each person actually is. In this schoolroom we call life, each of us is here to learn and express his or her unique, perfect, wonderful self.  But suppose we have grown up in a family with physical, verbal and emotional abuse? Suppose our family system was so dysfunctional, hurtful and unsupportive that we never felt lovable or safe or confident enough to really step out on the promise that the world is waiting for us to share our wonderful talents, gifts and creativity?

The second step to finding your soul mate and a happy, fulfilling committed relationship is to understand your Family of Origin by  working with a seasoned psychotherapist who will guide you to explore that Life Script which has created the adult you and your unsuccessful relationships.

John Bradshaw in his book “Homecoming ” defined the importance of “an interpersonal bridge between the mother or other nurturing survival figure and the infant/child which is built on mutual respect and valuing.” This interpersonal bridge “forms the blueprint out of which new relationships can be created “. If our mother and or other nurturing survival figure was unable or unwilling to love us unconditionally, to mirror through the eyes, voice and behavior our perfect I AMness, we will be searching for a lifetime to find that other person who will love us, care for us, support us emotionally …in other words, a mommy or daddy who will finally give us the love, attention and security we did not receive as children. But…we search for that special love from our wounded inner child who is split off from the adult, reasoning self.

If we were raised by parents who themselves were emotionally damaged by their family system and therefore did not know their own worth, were not loved, accepted and guided by their parents, how could they possibly love us? So, our adult selves go out into the world “looking for love in all the wrong places “. Remember that song from “Urban Cowboy? But…our search is doomed from the beginning because our unloved, unaccepted, hurting, insecure wounded child is making the choices from a self which has no right to depend on anyone.

I will continue with the next steps to a successful love life in my future columns.