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8 Ways to Stop Negative Thought Patterns

Negative thinking is the easiest way to slow down your progress and goals. But how do you get rid of negative thoughts? Here are 8 ways that can be helpful to shift your thoughts, and as a result, improve your mood.

 

1. BE CURIOUS

Practice curiosity, in trying to be aware of what else is going on when the thought comes up. Are you tired, stressed, or worried about something else?  When we try to ignore or push away negative thoughts, they hide for a small period of time, and then return. To counteract them, acknowledge them. A strategy that might be helpful is written or vocal recognition of the thought (to yourself).

2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE PEOPLE

Your energy, and others’ energy, is contagious. Just as we know someone’s laugh can be infectious, it is most certainly true of positive and negative attitudes and conversations that we have around us or participate in. Notice who is around you – are their views and perspectives they project filled with optimism or pessimism?

3. REMOVE PERFECTION FROM YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Expecting everything to be perfect can be exhausting. Why continually feel as though you are disappointing yourself by failing your unrealistic expectations? It can be liberating to find a way to live on your own terms while not expecting a flawless path or end result.

4. POSITIVE MORNING ROUTINE

Thinking starts early in the morning. Negative thinking can slow you, your tasks, and your day down. What can be helpful and effective here is to start your day by replacing thoughts of fear with thoughts of hope and belief. A way to kick-start these thoughts is by reading something encouraging and positive every morning. If you prefer to listen to something instead, there are many podcasts that serve as quick mindful reminders, such as one from here or here.

5. JUST BREATHE

Building reminders and scheduling time in your calendar  to relax or to just breathe will bring you more self-awareness. In order to stop negative thoughts, it is important to first acknowledge and recognize which thoughts are negative or judgmental. The trick is not to judge yourself or get caught up in your negative thoughts. Here are some helpful relaxation strategies and techniques that may be helpful.

6. BE INTENTIONAL

Assuming a positive attitude is an intentional action that starts as soon as you wake up in the morning. You have the ability to acknowledge and remove negative thoughts, by shifting your attitude. You are able to choose to attract what you focus on, and to let go of that which does not serve your goals. The more you practice positive mind-shifts, the easier it becomes. For example, it may be helpful to create a 2 column chart, write the negative thoughts in the left column, and replace them with a positive thought in the right column. After both are complete, cross out the statements in the left column.

7. THE GOAL > WHAT IF

No matter where you are in your life path, there will always be room to let negative thoughts exist. When you start to feel negative, try to remember why you are there (at that time, doing that task, in that moment). Focus on where you are headed and why that is important to you. Think about the goal you have set, and where you want to be.

8. THE ROOT PROBLEM

Most negative thinking stems from a problem is hard to determine from the surface. These negative thought patterns are sometimes ingrained in us early on and have become part of our way of life. In order to overcome these negative thought patterns, it is helpful to figure out the underlying reason these patterns continue to show up. It is only then that you will be able to address and solve the issue. Therapists can help you with this.

 

You can’t get rid of negative thought patterns unless you can understand what they are. Get to know your negative thinking and how it gets triggered. Only with that self-awareness can you begin to identify when it is happening and make a choice to shift your perspective in time

 

Written by Carly Clifton, Director & Registered Psychotherapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

 

To learn more about how we can support you with developing positive thought patterns, and shift away from those unrealistic expectations, contact us at 647-961-9669 or info@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Drawing the Line in the Sand: Boundary Setting (Part 3)

One of the most difficult parts of setting boundaries for most is to actually say “no” and turn down requests. This is difficult because it can bring up feelings of guilt and perhaps inadequacy or the fear of hurting others’ feelings. It can be difficult to say “no” because you believe you are ‘not allowed to’ or that you do not want to take responsibility for the result of saying no. Usually, in my mind, there is a fear of “what if they get mad or upset?”

Some things to consider in saying “no” include:

– Waiting for the question or request from another person
– Not answering until you have decided your position on the request. You might want to say “let me think about that and I’ll get back to you”
– Using clear language. Instead of saying “maybe, it’s possible ..” say “No, I can’t do that”
– Limiting apologies unless if it’s necessary, because “sorry” holds less value if you use it too often
– Don’t make excuses or defend yourself as it may result in others offering solutions to the barriers you’re proposing and then you can find yourself in a spiral of lies
– Saying “no” without asking for permission or acceptance since it’s your right to say “no” to requests
– Accepting the consequences since the person on the receiving end may not like it and show it. They’re allowed to feel what they feel just as much as you are allowed to say “no” to their request

Now that have identified items to consider, here are a few examples ways you can say “no”:

– “No, thank you”

– “I have a policy of not making impulsive decisions. I need time to think about this before”

– “I appreciate that you’re asking me this. However, I am not able to help you with that”

– “This seems really important for you. At the moment, I don’t have the ability to put the attention into this as you will need, so I have to say no”

– “I can’t say yes at this time”

– “I don’t want to commit and then disappoint you”

– “I’d love to help; however, I’m feeling overextended and cannot provide what you need”

It can be helpful to practice this on people who you feel safe and close to before trying this in situations and with people you might find saying “no” to be more challenging with.

 

Written by Vivian Zhang, Clinical Therapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

To learn more about how we can support you with developing healthy boundaries and communication tools, contact us at info@balancedmindandwellness.com or 647-961-9669.

How to Communicate Without Anger

When you feel frustrated with someone, communicating without anger takes a level of self-awareness most of us do not have. Even if we do have it, it is hard to put it into practice in the moment. It is more common to explode and say hurtful words you might later regret. Even if someone did do or say something that was inappropriate and/ or hurtful, if you commit to communicating without anger, you will have a better chance of understanding others and reducing feelings of resentment. Matching the other person’s anger or irritability is not effective or helpful.

Making sure you and others around you get your needs met requires open, honest, non-blaming communication. Choose not to engage or match communication that harbours anger.

 

Here are some tips to help manage your reactions to anger:

Listen without countering. It is easy to start thinking about your counter argument before letting the other person finish what they have to say. Try to focus on the words the other person is saying, rather than what is next for you to say.

Stick to the subject. What is the objective? What are the important facts to communicate in this situation?

Look inward. What is the motive behind the words you choose to say? To defend, provoke or communicate?

Ask for behavioural change. What would you like the other person to do differently? What would be helpful for them to do or say?

Remember the other person’s trigger points. Make a list of different triggers that you know irritate the other person. Then resist the temptation to use them.

Remember your own trigger points. Make a list of your triggers that you know create an instant feeling of anxiousness or angst. When triggered, resist the temptation to react to them with a distraction technique (such as counting to 5 before speaking).

 

 

To learn more about helpful communication styles, contact us for relationship counselling at info@balancedmindandwellness.com, or call 647-961-9669.

 

Source: Bellows, A. (2018). Couples Can Communicate Without Anger. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/couples-can-communicate-without-anger/

How to Believe You Are Enough

What is enough? How do you measure what you do and if it is enough for you?

Acceptance does not mean not to strive to be greater. If you strive for more without accepting yourself in the absence of what you think you lack, then you will see yourself as enough no matter how much you gain. By accepting yourself right now, as you are, you can and will still strive to grow.

When you do not feel good about yourself, often it is because you feel that you are being watched and judged. Obviously, this decreases your sense of self-worth. This negative cycle tends to repeat itself, filled with a sense of being under-valued and shamed by both yourself and others.

Each daily requirement of ‘enough’ may be different, and yet, should be celebrated.

 

Here are some ways to refocus your thinking and love yourself:

1. Erase the Need to Compare.

When you compare yourself, you feel undervalued and less than.

In order to connect with others, it is imperative that you first know your strengths and positive qualities. Make a list of your positive qualities and accomplishments. Start a conversation with others and ask for their input if you are stuck.

Do not agree to things just so that you can avoid conflict. Find a way to understand and validate one another. Everyone has a right to their own perspective and opinion.

2. Have a Conversation with Your Inner Critic.

Your inner critic is made up of the negative self-talk that you actually heard from childhood and have internalized, such as “you need to work harder” or “people won’t like you if you do that”.

Retrain your inner critic so it shifts into a coach that can challenge you, without putting you down. Remember, if you do not think you are enough, you will deprive yourself of opportunities because you do not think you are worthy of them.

When you hear yourself making these negative judgments, catch yourself and change it up to a supportive, positive voice instead. You deserve it.

3. Choose Self-Empowering Language.

When you tell yourself that you ‘should’ do/ be/ feel something, you are placing a requirement upon yourself.

Instead, choose to do what you want to do. Rather than feeling obligated to do something, this choice provides empowerment and freedom.

4. Be Authentic.

If you are honest with yourself, what are you feeling?

What is hard about being honest with others about your feelings?

What could change if you were able to communicate your feelings?

If you want to have an intimate connection with someone, being open and honest about your thoughts and feelings is necessary. Being yourself allows the other person to know and appreciate who you truly are.

So, challenge yourself to be open to saying, “I really need to talk about something.”

5. Identify Your Wants and Needs.

Needs are usually something that is important to us, whereas wants are preferences and not quite as important as needs.

Conflict arises when two people want different things. If you don’t feel good enough, you may not value yourself enough to see your wants as important. You may be confused and think that one of your needs is just an unimportant want.

Then, you may dismiss your need as not important enough. So you won’t ask for what you need and you will feel threatened to speak up for yourself because you fear the other will leave you.

6. Love and Accept Yourself.

Unconditional love means you love yourself no matter what. It means you do not allow yourself to judge yourself.

You are enough, and you do not have to prove yourself. You are not loved for what you do. You are loved for who you are.

Having good personal boundaries is an effective way of loving and taking care of yourself. Validation and approval must come from yourself, not others.

Take some of these statements, and practice them in the mirror, or in your journal/ diary… until they start to feel more true to you.

7. Practice Self-Care.

When you feel good about who you are and you feel worthy, you naturally take better care of yourself.

Take a close look at how you are living. Are you taking time for the things that bring you joy? Are you eating and moving, and as a result, feeling healthy and energized? Are you sleeping enough?

The simple and most basic needs help us to feel recharged and happy. Gift them to you!

Life can be overwhelming, and number one to take care of is you.

We can help you develop tools to build self-love and acceptance. To learn more about self-esteem counselling at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc., contact us at info@balancedmindandwellness.com, or 647-961-9669.

Drawing the Line in the Sand: Boundary Setting (Part 1)

“Boundaries. What are those?” That was the first question I had for my therapist when she asked about how I set boundaries with those in my life.

My interpretation of boundaries is that they are ways we communicate to others what we are comfortable with or not and what we need. Boundaries can be put into 4 groups:

  1. Soft: this can also be known as permissible boundaries where we allow others to determine the lines of the boundaries for us
  2. Spongy: this is a mix between soft and rigid boundaries where an individual can become unsure of what to let in or keep out
  3. Rigid: this can be thought of like having a wall that doesn’t allow anyone in
  4. Flexible: this type of boundary setting involves an individual who takes control over what they allow in or keep out

 

Different boundaries can be set for different relationships. Setting boundaries can be thought of as “how do we ask for what we need or say ‘no’ when we need to?” Here are some things to consider when it comes to setting boundaries:

 

  • When to assert and keep asking for what you need (if your answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, then ask more firmly):

    • Is the person able to give you what you want?
    • Is what you want appropriate to the current relationship?
    • Will not asking for what you want keep the peace now but create problems in the long run?
    • What have you done for the person? Are you giving at least as much as you ask for? Are you willing to give if the person says yes?
    • Do you know all the facts you need to know to support your request? Are you clear about what you want?
    • Is this a good time to ask? Is the person “in the mood” for listening and paying attention to you? Are you catching the person when he or she is likely to say yes to your request?

 

  • When to say ‘no’ (if your answers are ‘no’ to these questions, assert your ‘no’):

    • Will saying no make you feel bad about yourself, even when you are thinking about it wisely?
    • Are you required to give the person what he or she is asking for? Would saying no violate the other person’s rights?
    • Does the person have authority over you (e.g., your boss, your teacher)? And is what the person is asking within his or her authority?
    • Is what the person is asking for appropriate to your current relationship?
    • Is giving in to keep the peace right now more important than the long-term welfare of the relationship? Will you eventually regret or resent saying no?
    • Do you owe this person a favour? Does he or she do a lot for you?
    • Is the other person’s request clear? Do you know what you are agreeing to?
    • Is this a bad time to say no? Should you hold off answering for a while?

 

In part 2 and 3 of this blog, we’ll be talking about how to ask for what you need and how to say ‘no’. It can be helpful to have a therapist to support with these skills as they can help you practice and give you feedback to improve in asking for what you need and saying ‘no’ when you need to.

Written by Vivian Zhang, Clinical Therapist at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

To learn more about how we can support you with parenting concerns, contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Content from this blog post is adapted from DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets (Linehan, 2015).

Stories We Tell Ourselves: Trauma Experiences

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Part 2 – Trauma Experiences

Especially for those of us who have experienced trauma(s), stories have a strong hold on us (if you haven’t had a chance to read “The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Part 1 – Self-Talk”, click here to read that first before continuing with this article).

Trauma is a word that is often misused and misunderstood. A trauma can be defined as a defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience” or “physical injury”. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that damage your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.

One shared experience can impact two different people in very different ways. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

Having a traumatic experience can make it feel like our world is flipped upside down and turned inside out. When we experience trauma, our mind flips to survival mode, looking to how it knows best to protect us and to make sense of everything that has happened. Our survival method comes from our first experience of a perceived threat or danger. Often, this may include a sense of isolation and putting a wall up from anyone or anything that we perceive could cause harm. At times, it can be quite common to dissociate – a coping mechanism we use to detach from a very distressing emotional experience, and from any interactions or situations that elicit reminders of this experience. Forms of this may include depersonalization, psychological numbing, disengagement, or amnesia.

 

Here are some common things you might experience and the stories you may tell yourself after a traumatic experience:

  • Everything is fine. Nothing happened. I’m okay. I don’t recall any of that anyways.
  • There is nowhere safe and no one safe to be around. I’m all alone in this. I can’t trust anything or anyone.
  • That was my fault. I put myself in that situation. I should have done something else.
  • What was that? That was so confusing. What happens now?

 

There are many ways our mind may try to make sense of trauma. It can try to erase it from our memories, make us believe things about ourselves or others, and/or make us feel confused and shocked. All of these responses make sense, because our mind is really trying to protect us after a trauma. It’s okay to let our minds tell us these stories.

 

For some, we might have had these trauma experiences and stories replaying in our head for a long time. For others, we might want to be rid of these stories and move on because these stories are distressing, impacting our life negatively, or no longer helpful. For others, anger is the first sign that we want to move on from these stories.

 

Here are some helpful ways temporarily cope with these negative or uncertain thought patterns:

 

  • Be kind to yourself. These stories have existed to protect you and to see them from another perspective can bring a lot of pain and anger. It’s okay to feel them and give yourself time to heal.
    • Although you may have been hurt, you deserve self-love and self-compassion. These are two key components of your healing process. Remember, you are lovable and deserving of positive experiences.

 

  • Share your story with people you feel safe with and can trust. It will be important that you tell the person you’re sharing this story with that this is something vulnerable to you and if you can, give them a brief summary (e.g. “I want to tell you something and it is very hard for me to talk about because it’s a traumatic experience for me”).
    • It is normal to feel uncomfortable when discussing trauma. With a therapist, or supportive family/friend, remember that you will never be in danger. If it feels too bad, you can always stop sharing.

 

Unlike trying to move away from our negative and critical self-talk in Part 1 of this series “The Stories We Tell Ourselves”, it is best to seek professional support in understanding trauma stories. There are many complex layers and very difficult emotions associated with unraveling a traumatic experience. A therapist can help in trauma counselling to develop skills to manage the distressing feelings that come with telling these stories. Do not push yourself to share or “move on” – that can be equated to going to the gym and exercising a sore muscle, which usually ends up in further injury and pain. When you are ready to process the past, please reach out.

 

These trauma narratives, or stories we tell ourselves, are used to help survivors of trauma make sense of their experiences, while also acting as a form of exposure to painful memories.

Without treatment, the memories of a trauma can feel like sorting through a pile of dirty laundry—an unbearable wash of images, sounds, and emotions. In therapy, sharing and expanding upon a trauma narrative allows you to organize your memories, making them more manageable, and diminishing the painful emotions you carry.

 

To learn more about how we can support you in understanding and developing your story with counselling, contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Understanding and Reducing Anger and Resentment

Many people seem to be carrying their anger and resentment wherever they go. Carrying these heavy, negative emotions weigh you down and demand considerable attention and energy. At times, this negative feeling can impact more than just ‘you’ – it can also impact your actions toward your career, your family, your friends, and/ or your romantic relationship.

Is it Wrong to Feel Angry?

The answer is no. Anger is a normal, natural emotion. In many situations, it’s a healthy and appropriate emotional reaction. Anger is an emotional response to a real or imagined “wrong” or injustice, but sometimes people get angry simply because things took a different course than they feel they should have. Anger can be destructive, as we can experience it as a push against present-moment reality. In a sense, we experience thoughts representing a refusal to accept what is.

Most often, anger is a secondary emotion. It can take shape instantly, and sometimes unconsciously, in response to feelings of being hurt, fear, and/or feelings of inadequacy. When most people experience these primary emotions, they feel vulnerable, and might withdraw, experiencing their feelings internally. This way, it is easy for most to avoid expressing these more difficult emotions, as they can make us feel ‘out of control’. For many people, this revealing of vulnerability creates so much distress that the underlying emotions are automatically transformed into anger, a feeling people are more comfortable with expressing externally/ outwardly. Expressing anger outwardly is often associated with a feeling of being ‘in control’, by projecting focusing on projecting feelings onto others, rather than processing the primary emotion.

Resentment

Resentment is closely related to anger. Resentments are negative feelings, basically ill will, toward someone or something as a result of a past experience. Resentment is the re-experiencing of past injustices. Some people hold resentments for many years, and choose to not let go of them. The trigger for resentment has usually left, while we still may hold onto the emotion connected to it. It is important to note that the stronger the resentment is, the more time you spend thinking about it, caught up in the anger connected to it.

Ultimately, the person holding the resentment is the one who suffers most. If you allow yourself to become angry or resentful whenever situations do not end up how you want or expect them to, then you are effectively giving control of your feelings to others.

Here are some tips on how to address feelings of anger and resentment in more healthy and helpful ways:

1. Practice identifying and allowing yourself to feel the primary emotions underneath the anger. 

2. Be conscious and present with your anger and resentment. Notice the thoughts, push and pull of different feelings and urges, and/or physical sensations.

3. Identify how you may have contributed to the situation(s) that you are angry or resentful about. Look inward and identify an alternative perspective of the situation which makes you feel anger.

4. Try an alternative method of expressing anger and resentment. Share these feelings with supportive individuals whom you trust. Journal or write about them. Choose a physical outlet, such as going to the gym, walking/ running, going to yoga, etc.

5. Learn and practice relaxation and self-calming techniques. Examples include deep breaths, mindfulness, meditation, and/or detaching from social media.

6. Although challenging, it can be helpful to create an opposite shift in urge and action. Try treating those you feel anger and resentment toward with kindness and compassion. This shift can create a circular effect in that it can also influence their actions in a positive way toward you.

7. Do not give into acting as an avenue for others’ anger and resentment. Try not to get stuck in the toxicity of interactions filled with negative emotions. Disengage from negative, unhelpful thoughts and actions.

8. Remind yourself that you cannot change the past. Acting in anger and resentment will not change or undo what has upset you. Accepting this will enable you to be more present and less stuck in the past.

If you find that you have difficulty letting go of angry feelings, consider consulting a mental health provider to move forward with anger management counselling. Angry thoughts and feelings can be isolated, or they can be part of a mental health disorder that professionals can treat effectively with psychotherapy. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), among other therapies, can help to work toward enhancing skills for regulating emotions.

If you have any questions or would like help with working to increase your mental wellness, call our Director, Carly, at 647-961-9669, or email us at info@balancedmindandwellness.com

Stories We Tell Ourselves: Self-Talk

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Part 1 – Self-Talk

In therapy, we usually come into sessions with stories of things that have happened in the past, are happening in the present, or what we think will happen in the future. Usually, we find ourselves feeling stuck in certain situations or feeling a particular way because we find ourselves going over the details of the stories we tell.

Stories are so valuable. Our entire history as a human race is a collection of stories (I mean, the word “history” itself has the word story in it).

Stories are very powerful. We use stories to understand ourselves (our feelings and experiences), to share and to connect with others, to learn from others and their experiences, and to remember details of experiences.

Sometimes, we might find ourselves caught up in a story or narrative. Self- talk is one way we might get stuck in a narrative. Self-talk is the way we internally or externally talk to or about ourselves. For example, one of the things that I have difficulty with when it comes to my anxiety is when I use critical and negative self-talk with myself. I might say to myself “you know you should have spent more time on that project and started earlier. You’re really horrible at time management. You always do this to yourself and you screw everything up.” Usually when this happens, I feel defeated, diminished, hopeless, and even worse than I had before. Imagine what it could be like if this continues constantly on a daily basis. Some of you might not even have to rely on your imagination for that one and that probably makes your day-to-day quite difficult. Critical and negative self-talk can lead to severe anxiety and depression.

This narrative or self-talk is something we might have learned a long time ago, likely in our childhood. It can also be something we have learned through social, cultural, or familial norms. If we hear something enough, either from ourselves or from others, we might use that narrative as a part of our self-identity. Here’s how you can try to challenge some of this critical and negative self-talk:

  • Notice your critical and negative self-talk. Pay attention to the ways you talk to yourself and see if you would talk to someone you cared about and love in that way.
  • Ask if it’s true and collect the evidence or facts. Going back to my example of my critical and negative self-talk, when I think about it, I believe that I could have started my project earlier so I looked for proof by checking my schedule. In my schedule I can see that there were no time slots available to complete this work outside of the time I was able to allot for it and had started to work on it.
  • Try to state your critical and negative self-talk in a way that only includes the facts. Other than collecting evidence or facts, stating the critical and negative self-talk with only facts can help you see the reality of the situation. It’s also important to get in touch with how you’re feeling. A way I might use facts going back to my example of my own critical self-talk is: “The project is due tomorrow and I have about 3 hours of work to do in a 2 hour timeframe. I received the final details on this project yesterday, so I was on a time crunch. I feel anxious about getting this all done. I’m going to need support for this.”
  • How would you talk to a friend if they told you this? If my friend came to me and talked about themselves the way I talk about myself I would probably be horrified, note the reality of things and how challenging it can be, as well as say something kind and encouraging.
  • Have your friend give you an opinion on the narrative or situation. It can be hard for ourselves to see what the reality of a situation is, so use other people are soundboards so you can get their opinion on things. (It’s important to choose the right person/people, because if we talk to someone else who is just as critical or negative, we retell ourselves a story in a way that isn’t really true).
  • Use self-compassion. Usually, when I talk about this with myself, I hear myself saying “that’s an excuse for weak people”. When this happens, I am able to notice how I’m using negative self-talk and I try to use facts at that point. In my opinion, self-compassion is not an easy practice (try being kind to yourself for 1 hour and you’ll see how challenging that is). One way to start this practice is to say something kind when you wake up or go to bed. My favourite phrases are: “today is a new day” and “I made it through the day”.

 

Sometimes, if we’re experiencing anxiety and depression our self- talk could be more negative and critical than usual. It can be helpful to seek professional support during those times such as with a therapist.

To learn more about how we can support you with counselling, contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Arguing Effectively: The Power of Hearing, Understanding, and Validating

Partners often find themselves engaging in arguments to solve a problem, yet end up feeling more tense, depleted, and polarized than when the conversation originally started. This can happen when partners don’t feel like they’re truly being heard, understood, and validated.  This blog post outlines common processes that invite us to stop hearing our partners during arguments, and discusses ways to begin attuning and understanding your partner more effectively.

 

Hints That You’ve Stopped Trying to Hear, Understand, and Validate

 

You Care More About Being Understood than Trying to Understand

 

For most people, the unspoken goal of an argument is to convince the other person of your point or to prove yourself right, and, naturally, to prove them wrong. Yet, ironically, there’s hope that the argument will end with both of you on the same page. The more you focus on convincing and being understood, the less you work on listening and trying to understand your partner.

 

You’re Too Focused on the Content of the Argument

 

The “content” of an argument is what you’re arguing about. When you become hyper-focused on the content of the argument, you fail to notice the feelings attached to what your partner is sharing with you. For example, couples may fight about the reason why one of them was late coming home from work. While the impunctual partner starts to defend and focus on all the reasons why they were late, they fail to notice that their partner has been feeling increasingly neglected and unloved every night that they don’t get to have dinner together. The content of an argument is important, and allows us to discuss the problem at hand. But, reflecting on the feelings your partner is experiencing allows you to move out of surface-level arguments to more meaningful opportunities to understand them. While behaviours and thoughts can be considered right or wrong, you can’t “prove” your partner out of their feelings.

 

You Argue Using the “Tennis Match” Pattern

 

The “Tennis Match” Pattern is how I describe arguments where one partner shares something, and the other partner reacts immediately to state their own point, without acknowledging and/or validating what they heard their partner say. The tennis ball is the content of the argument, and the process of the argument involves whacking the ball back at your partner in order to win. These types of interactions are usually cycles of defending oneself and blaming your partner. As long as you’re critcizing and attacking, your partner will likely immediately respond with defensiveness and blame in return. In contrast, I encourage partners to think of arguments as a game of catch – you have to catch and hold the ball that your partner sends your way before you send it back. That is, you acknowledge what you heard them say, and respond thoughtfully rather than reacting immediately.

 

You’ve Stopped Being Curious About Your Partner’s Inner World

 

When we start to think we know all there is to know about our partner’s point of view, we stop being curious and stop listening for ways to truly grasp our partner’s perspective. Losing curiosity means that you’re longer open to the possibility of learning something new about someone else’s felt experience.

 

You’re Interrupting Your Partner in Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Ways

 

When we begin to interrupt our partners in implicit or explicit ways, it can indicate that we are valuing our own ideas and perspectives over our partner’s. Explicit interruptions are those that clearly involve cutting your partner off, and are typically verbal. Implicit interruptions are those that are a little more subtle and are typically non-verbal. These can include actions like fast head-nodding while your partner is talking, which implies: “Yup, got it. Wrap it up and listen to what I have to say now.”

 

Practicing the Art of Hearing and Attunement

 

In order for arguments to become more effective, I encourage partners to move away from turning againsttheir partners and begin to turn towardsthem and begin to hear, understand, and validate.

 

Being heard is to feel that we’ve been listened to. Being understood is to feel that someone has tried to step into our emotional experiences and has grasped our perspectives. Being validated is to feel that someone has acknowledged our experiences and feelings as real, normal, and legitimate.

 

4 Tips to Start Hearing, Understanding, and Validating Your Partner

 

  1. Slow the conversation down. Give yourself permission to pause and not immediately react to your partner. This gives you time to be thoughtful in your responses to your partner, and less reactive.
  2. Take a break from trying to convince your partner, and get curious about their perspectives and feelings. Ask yourself: Is there part of their experience that I’m not fully understanding? Instead of talking and telling, start asking questions that allow you to understand their experience. Questions can include: How does it make you feel when _____ ? Can you help me understand why this issue is so important for you? What are your ideas about what we can change about this issue moving forward? What do you need from me right now and in the future?
  3. Reflect back what you’ve heard them say. This allows your partner to feel that you’re really listening and taking in what they’re sharing with you.
  4. Validate and empathize. Acknowledge that what they’re experiencing is legitimate and makes sense to you. Statements of validation and empathy can include: It makes sense why you feel _____ when I _____. It must be frustrating when I _____ ; I’m sorry.

 

When we’re feeling like we’re not being heard, understood, or validated, arguments often escalate to an unhelpful place that involves blame, defence, contempt, and polarization. When one partner chooses to shift these dynamics and change their role in the conversation, the other partner naturally follows suit

 

You and your partner may find it difficult to turn towards each other in these ways during arguments. It might be helpful to seek out a couple’s therapist to support you as you work on increasing your communication skills.

To learn more about how we can support you with relationship concerns, contact Nikki Sedaghat at nikki@balancedmindandwellness.com.

 

7 Ways to Stop Racing Thoughts

Are you experiencing ‘racing thoughts’? If you identify with fast, repetitive thought patterns about a particular topic, you might be experiencing this symptom, which sometimes associates with a level of anxiety and/or other mental health disorders.

Racing thoughts may be replays of past events which generated anxiety or sadness for you. They may also be worries about things that could happen in the future. A part of you may be able to see that these strings of thoughts are irrational and stemming from a place of fear.

When thoughts like these flood your mind, they drain your energy, stop you from living in the present moment, and can create a very overwhelming feeling. They can also make it harder to concentrate and focus on daily tasks, as well as decrease your ability to sleep well.

It is understandable that, if you experience racing thoughts, you would relate to a feeling of being out of control. This feeling is quite common, and yet it is overwhelming, it is important to not let it define you. What it means is that you are anxious and that your stress level is higher than usual.

 

Here are some ways you can work to calm your mind and stop these intrusive, racing thoughts:

 

1. Try alternative thinking.

Our mind usually worries about things it is convinced are true but, most of the time, are actually not true. Instead of trying to predict the worst outcome, try focusing on the possibility of a positive/ alternative outcome. For instance, if your partner seems distant and is texting a lot, you may jump to conclusions and assume they are mad at you. An alternative scenario could be that they are stressed about work, worried about a loved one, and so on. Take a step back, and analyze what’s most likely to happen. More often than not, the worst case scenario is not as likely as you think.

 

2. Exercise

Regular physical activity improves mental well-being and may be helpful during an episode of racing thoughts. Just 15 minutes of walking, jogging, or similar activities may help to settle the mind.

 

3. Mood-boosting Foods

Eating the right foods could improve overall mental well-being and help reduce racing thoughts and mood disorders.

Low-glycemic foods (low in sugar, high in protein) have been proven to help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve mental health. Good examples include lean meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.

High-glycemic foods, on the other hand, cause a rapid rise (and subsequent crash) in blood sugar. This can negatively impact your mood, such as creating a spike in racing thoughts. High-glycemic foods include high-sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods.

Foods that are high in antioxidants can help fight oxidative stress (cell damage) in the body. Health professionals recommend including these in your diet as a way to help control symptoms of these mental health conditions. High-antioxidant foods include berries, beans, nuts, citrus fruits, apples, and generally most fruits and vegetables.

 

4. Use a mantra.

A mantra sounds like a fancy yogi term; however, it is simply a phrase or word that you repeat to calm your mind. Repeating a mantra can take your mind off racing and/ or negative thoughts. You can use any word, sound, or saying you want. You could try something like, “Life is good,” or “Everything is OK.” Repeat your phrase over and over, and if your mind wanders, return to your mantra. You can practice this as a healthy distraction almost anytime, anywhere.

 

5. Focus on the present.

Returning your focus to the present will help you accept and let go of what you cannot control. It will also help you realize that you can’t change the past, and that the future hasn’t happened yet, so it’s a waste of time to keep thinking about them. (This doesn’t mean that you are unaware of what happened in the past or what is about to happen in the future.) Try taking a deep breath and asking yourself how you are feeling right now.

 

6. Write things down.

Putting your concerns on paper allows you to remove them from your mind and to return to them later. Taking pressure off a stress or worry in the present moment can alleviate a lot of anxiety. Also, the act of writing engages your mind and reduces the power of racing thoughts. If you take a moment to organize these thoughts on paper, your mind will likely be calmer.

 

7. Breathe.

When you experience racing thoughts, your body’s physical response is to activate the sympathetic nervous system. In order to shift to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system, it is helpful to try breathing exercises. Try counting to 3 as you breathe in and to 5 as you breathe out. Pay attention only to your breathing as you try to slow it down. Your mind will wander, and that is okay… just bring it back to your breathing each time.

One or more of the above tips will be helpful to incorporate into your daily regimen over a long period of time to see results. It is common to expect the effects to be immediate and abandon the practice too soon. Try to be consistent and patient.

 

If you find that you are not able to get racing thoughts under control, consider consulting a mental health provider to move forward with counselling for anxiety. Anxious thoughts can be part of a mental health disorder that professionals can treat effectively with psychotherapy.

If you have any questions or would like help with working to increase your mental wellness, call our Director, Carly at 647-961-9669, or email info@balancedmindandwellness.com