Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult

by Joyce Geddie, M.A., RN, LAPC

As we approach the holidays, many of us will face a difficult conversation with relatives, in-laws, or even our spouse. So what is it that makes a conversation difficult? How do we navigate in the midst of a difficult conversation so the relationship can stay afloat and not crash on impact?  I’m glad you asked. Members of the Harvard Negotiation Project put their findings together and wrote a book called, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. While a newsletter only allows me to give you some highlights of their findings, I encourage you to read the book if you find the information I’m sharing informative.

The authors describe three types of difficult conversations:

The “What happened?” conversations. These are conversations where someone makes assumptions about what happened and are based on what we believe to be true, what intentions they believe the other person has, and tends to use blame. The hallmark of these conversations is people disagree, and while arguing feels natural, it’s not helpful. When people disagree, we often assume they are being selfish, controlling, na├»ve, or irrational so we try to break through by persistence, by educating them, or pretending it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately none of these tactics work because people typically do not change unless they feel heard.

The Feelings Conversations: Naturally strong feelings arise when we engage in a difficult conversation, so it isn’t about pretending we don’t have feelings, it’s what we do with them. Strong feelings make it hard to be rational and they can cloud judgment. It’s challenging to talk about feelings because it makes us feel more vulnerable, but not talking about them can make them fester, so finding ways to talk about them involves some skill. Here are a couple pointers about how to bring up feelings in a conversation: 1) Start by sorting out what you are feeling.  2) Negotiate with your feelings. What are you telling yourself that makes you feel like you do? Questions you may want to ask yourself: What might the other person’s story be? How does my view of their intentions affect how I feel? How might my actions have impacted them? Can I describe the other person’s contribution without blaming? and 3) Share your actual feelings, not judgments or attributions about the other person. 

Identity Conversations: These conversations are about who we are and how we see ourselves. For example: If you ask for a raise, and your boss says no, even though you have the self-image you are a competent, respected employee, it can feel like your self-image is on the line. You could lose confidence, forget what you want to say, or feel paralyzed. There are three common identity themes: Am I competent?...Am I a good person?...Am I worthy of love? Grappling with these identity issues is what life and growth are all about. The truth about us is that we all make mistakes and admitting a mistake doesn’t make you weak or incompetent. Be honest with yourself that you won’t always have purely positive motives, because motivations are complex and multifaceted. Take responsibility for what you may have contributed to the problem.   Do not define your identity on the basis of a difficult conversation.

 Four things to do to help you maintain your balance before or during a difficult conversation:                     
1) Let go of trying to control their reaction. It’s understandable you don’t want to hurt them, but you have no power over their reaction, and it can be destructive to try.                                                                 
2) Project yourself into your future, and reassure yourself you will eventually feel better. Imagine that you will learn from the experience.                                                                                                                           
3) Sometimes you may find you feel too overwhelmed or too close to the problem and you need time to untangle your thoughts. Ask to take a break to think about it, check for any distortions or gaps in your perception, and give yourself time to regain your balance rather than say things that may make it worse.                   
4) While you may be aware during the difficult conversation that you are struggling with an identity issue, sharing it explicitly in the conversation probably won’t move it forward. Recognize identity is something you need to work out on your own. Find the courage to ask for help.

Here are some liberating assumptions related to identity: It’s not all my responsibility to make things better…   It is my responsibility to do my best…   They have limitations too…  They can’t change overnight...  This conflict is not who I am… Letting go doesn’t mean I no longer care.

Speaking of getting help, remember Fountain Gate for all your counseling needs. You may even want to recommend it for someone with who you have difficult conversations with, but remember that too may be a difficult conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stone, D., Patton, B, & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.   New York, NY: Penquin Group (USA) Inc.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Grace in Transitions

by Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT
Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT

     George looked out the front window of his home, noticing with alarm the funnel cloud moving in slow motion toward his neighborhood.  He heard the tornado sirens go off and quickly ushered his wife, his three small children, and the family dog into the basement just as the winds hit.  In less than 60 seconds the neighborhood that he had lived in for much of his life was decimated.  George and his family and their neighbors were alive, but their formerly stable, secure, kind of “ho-hum” existence was instantly transformed into a nightmare of homelessness and uncertainty.  They would need a great deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Mary could not wait for the big wedding day coming up in a few short weeks.  She and Rick had met in college, courted for a year and a half, saved their money, and excitedly planned for this day to come.  Everything would be perfect; her dress, the music, the food, the presence of her friends and family, and then the honeymoon!  She and Rick were as prepared as they felt they could be.  But transitions always bring some surprises. What would they be?  Going from singleness to a twosome is a transition.  Whether easy or hard, they would need grace in the days ahead.

            Helen went in to work as usual this Friday morning.  She had been working as an administrative assistant in this company for 18 years.  She was hoping to be able to work until she reached the age of 68; this would enhance her retirement portfolio and give her a better feeling of security after the death of her husband two years ago.  On her desk was an envelope.  She opened it to find a pink slip.  What a way to announce the downsizing!  Her world suddenly caved in and she unexpectedly was in the midst of a transition.  She would need a good deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Stability, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the quality or state of being firmly established.  It is predictable, constant, and unchanging; helping us to feel secure and safe.  We all desire stability in our lives and work hard to keep it when we have it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Balancing the Give and Take in Your Relationship

by Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC

Tiffany Kingsfield
Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC
     Romantic relationships:  What else in life provide so much joy, but can also cause such profound pain?

     In “Love Busters: Protecting your Relationship from Habits that Destroy Romantic Love,” Willard F. Harley, Jr. explains the six primary “Love Busters” that damage relationships. Couples are introduced to the concepts of the internal “Giver” and “Taker,” which affect each partner’s “Love Bank.”
      According to Harley, the Love Bank is where we accrue “love units” when someone makes us feel good. When our partner shows us love, appreciation and affection, our Love Bank balance goes up. When our partner criticizes, betrays or ignores us, our Love Bank balance goes down. Harley states that we each have within us a “Giver” and a “Taker.”

     Our Giver is caring, compassionate and concerned for the welfare of others. The Giver says,    “Do whatever you can to make others happy and avoid anything that makes others unhappy, even if it makes you unhappy.” This half of us is more likely to make deposits into our partner’s Love Bank. The other half is our Taker. The Taker says, “Do whatever you can to make yourself happy and avoid anything that makes you unhappy, even if it makes others unhappy.” This half is more likely to deplete our partner’s Love Bank.  

     The first Love Buster is making "Selfish Demands" or commanding your partner to do things that would benefit you at your partner’s expense. We all have needs and at times need to make requests of our partner that will benefit us.  However, when the Taker shows little compassion for how the request will affect their partner the Love Bank balance is in jeopardy. In order to combat Selfish Demands Harley recommends what he calls the Policy of Joint Agreement in which you never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your partner.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Social Media - Self Love or Self Loathe

By Elisa Torell, M.A., LAPC 
Elisa Torell

     I recently read an article by writer Jessica Winter, Selfie-Loathing, on which claimed that social media applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, have been found to correlate with feelings of loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem.

     “Loitering through photos and posts of others can often provoke feelings of jealousy and overall dissatisfaction with our own lives; we infer that others are happier, wealthier, and more successful than we are,” said Winter.

     There is no question that the social media has completely changed our society. The way we relate and connect with each other has changed dramatically in less than 20 years.

      People have shorter attention spans. The way information travels through social media seems to be quicker than wildfire. Unfortunately not all of these changes have been positive when it comes to human relationships.

     I frequently have conversations with clients who have experienced some form of rejection, hurt, or jealousy as a result of social media. So is social media the evil?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Meet Our New Intern...Jessica Bello

By Jinna Marbry, B.S.
Fountain Gate CC Program Manager

Jessica Bello, Clinical Intern
Jessica Bello, Clinical Intern
     On May 21, 2013 Fountain Gate launched the second year of its internship program with the addition of two new interns to the family. Jessica Bello and Bruce Knight are graduate level interns from Richmont Graduate University in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) Program. As we welcome our counselors into the fold we would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the second of our interns in this newsletter.

    Please welcome our new intern…Jessica Bello.

     Jessica Bello, was born the normal Orange County California girl; she grew up loving the sunshine and fast paced American lifestyle, quite the opposite of her traditional Colombian parents.
    Even as a child Jessica had a desire for helping others and enjoyed observing how people communicated with one another. It was this desire that eventually led to Jessica become a school teacher working with elementary and middle-school children in both Colombia and Georgia. Yet it was Jessica’s Christian faith that would lead to her most important steps of becoming a pastor’s wife and seeking a career in counseling.
    In 2008, Jessica thought her life was all planned out; she had just married her husband of two weeks, David (Youth Pastor at Iglesia Nuevo Horizonte Church) and was looking forward to settling into a bright future. However, Jessica’s life was turned upside down upon hearing that her mother, Bertha, who now lived in Colombia, was diagnosed with cancer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encouraging Those Who Follow

By Jinna Marbry, B.S.
Fountain Gate CC Program Manager

     On May 21, 2013 Fountain Gate launched the second year of its internship program with the addition of two new interns to the family. Jessica Bello and Bruce Knight are graduate level interns from Richmont Graduate University in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) Program. As we welcome our counselors into the fold we would like to take this opportunity to introduce them to you in coming newsletters.

Please welcome our new intern…Bruce Knight.

Bruce Knight, Clinical Intern
Bruce Knight, Clinical Intern
     Bruce Knight, a Virginia native, grew up fast. After losing his father at the age of 12 Bruce struggled for a number of his teen years with rebellious behavior until at age 19 he found his Christian path. While on his journey Bruce acquired a Masters of Divinity degree from Liberty University and met the love of his life and wife of 31 years, Kitty.

     After graduating from Liberty, Bruce and Kitty moved to New York City where they founded the New York Baptist Bible Church with Bruce serving as pastor and began raising their two daughters, Erin (28) and Laura (23). Unfortunately for Bruce and Kitty the pressure of juggling marriage, ministry, and raising young children began to take its toll as Bruce shares.
     “Following the six years in New York my wife and I spent almost two decades in what I would call a roller coaster and ping pong recovery mode. At one point in time we were separated for almost a year. Through all the ups and downs, pain and suffering, and a few really good churches we have come to the place where our relationship is the best it has ever been.”

     Yet while the road was rocky it was this journey to healing that brought Bruce to his true aspiration of working with couples and families in crisis.
     “All that I have experienced has led me to the place of pursuing a marriage and family therapy program with Richmont. Both my wife and I have a passion for coming alongside couples, families, and individuals in their time of pain. The grace and healing that we have experienced, we now desire to pass on to those who are in the midst of it.”