Connection with others through authenticity of feeling and compassion is often a goal of therapy. In life outside therapy, creating moments to shift your lens to the connection setting can be challenging, particularly when social media and the 24-hour news cycle say otherwise. Practicing the shift involves reflecting on your perspective and taking accountability of your experience, which can seem daunting. Here’s a few ways to begin this intentional shift.
Practice Reflection When you feel, stop. Tap into a genuine curiosity about your feeling state. Sometimes clients imagine they are inquiring about a loved one’s experience. What exactly am I feeling? Have I felt this way before? What does this situation remind me of? Challenge yourself to let go of judgment and just take a look.
I share with clients all the time that nothing makes me feel more righteous than anger. When I’m angry, I am never surer of who’s involved, what they did, and how I’m going to let them know. The rigidity, the justification, and everything else that puts me on a fast track to blame and disconnect. Shifting focus to non-judgment takes practice; so much so, that I often refer to managing my reactions as my life’s work.
I was taught to react with the best of them and was schooled in a paradigm of winning and losing arguments. Letting go of this training is a slow, steady process of realizing that while anger is a part of life, my reaction is under my control. Nothing helps me feel more disconnected from others than reacting without reflection. Whether it is in person or online, taking a moment to breath, acknowledge the anger, and reflect on the source leads me more often to accountability, vulnerability, and getting comfortable with who I am and what I bring to table in my connections.
If the goal is to strengthen connections, coming to others with insightful reflection is key.
Authenticity Takes Ownership Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just be ourselves? If people could see us in all our faults and still love us? Another work in progress is owning our emotions in a way that requires little external acceptance. By starting within, from that place of nonjudgmental reflection, we begin the work of owning who we are- good, better, and getting better.
Loneliness, disappointment, regret, failure, rejection, anger, fill in your worst feeling here…. These are human experiences; not limited experiences during the tough times. Universal, human experiences that arise throughout our lives. Reflection can help to slow the rejection of our emotional experience in tangible ways. Once we stop fighting our emotions, they lose some of the power they hold to “ruin” things and we can acknowledge and move with them.
When I’m in my righteous anger, I see it now. It’s hard and it’s ugly AND I see it. “Yep, there I go. There was a time when I worried so much about being wrong that I lost opportunities to connect. I didn’t know any better. Now, I know better.” I am a person with feelings that sometimes feels angry. No one emotional experience defines anyone. What might happen for you in owning your feelings?
Embracing Vulnerability Now that you’ve reflected and gotten comfortable in your feelings, it’s time to share. Vulnerability is the key to creating meaningful connection, the kind that everyone needs. Vulnerability exists in all types of connection from a morning kiss goodbye to admitting your day isn’t going as planned, all the way to sharing how hurt or lonely you felt when a partner broke a promise.
Vulnerability starts with sharing our authentic feelings. When this is done from a place of accountability, as opposed to blame, the likelihood that others will share in return is increased tenfold.
A few weeks ago, just as I was ending work for the day, I got a call from my partner and he shared the day’s events. I won’t bore you with the details (broken cell phone, fourth one in 2 years, you know the drill). I was incensed. I hadn’t had an I-told-you-so moment this good in so long I could barely hold it in. I thought to myself, “I’m not going to waste this on a text, I’m telling him to his face. I can’t wait to be right!!”
I packed up quickly, left the office, and found myself driving home on neighborhood streets with a 25-mph speed limit. Driving slow ended up allowing me the time to check my righteousness, table it for just a second, and reflect. Turns out I was headed for an opportunity to shame my partner, create distance, and be right, all by myself. By the time I reached home, I was able to own my anger, laugh about my plan to blame, and connect with him about the frustration he had been vulnerable enough to share with me about 20 minutes prior.
Shifting our lenses takes practice and a greater understanding of why we do what we do. This is a journey of patience, compassion, and connection.
If you’re interested in putting this practice to use in your life, contact me for details on a 4-week workshop series starting October 23. Using curriculum designed by Brene Brown, I’ll be leading a weekly workshop focused on better understanding our internal emotional experience, building coping resilience, and creating more avenues for connection.
Please see InsightAlliancePsychotherapy.com/groups to read more and register.