I WILL DESTROY YOU

anger

One of my therapist colleagues just shared this awesome cartoon with me. It really captures the hilarious (and relatable!) gap between our aspirations of Zen-like chill and our frazzled, real-world execution when it comes to emotion regulation. Most of us strive to be good people, and sometimes our big emotions can just sweep in and thwart our best intentions.

As humbling as that message is, it's also so normalizing of those big feelings and of anger specifically. Anger is a necessary emotion that helps us protect ourselves from the dangers in our world and it also provides important data about our needs and gives us the oomph we need to advocate for those needs.

To make our anger most effective for us, we often work in therapy on owning and expressing our angry feelings while working not to lash out from our anger, i.e., to talk about feeling angry without using an intimidating tone or critical language with others. You know, unless they're walking too slowly in front of you…

I GET MEAN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU

Dr. Sue Johnson shared this fabulous song by Edie Brickell with us when she was in Davis last month. I just love how the song and the great illustrations explain the experience of the angry pursuer in relationships, how behind the anger there is so much sadness, loneliness, and longing for connection. Wanting that closeness but being too afraid to ask vulnerably for your needs to be met is such a painful, hard place to be in...and such a trap for this little mouse.

Edie Brickell, “I Get Mean.”

WHY "COMMUNICATION SKILLS" DON'T WORK

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For so long, behavioral psychologists have told distressed couples that they all they needed was better “communication skills.” The theory was that if people could just use “I” statements and use active listening, that their conflict would stop. According to new research by Ronald Rogge at the University of Rochester, this myth is busted. It’s not that couples don’t have these skills — they do — it’s that they can’t access them when they’re in conflict, when they’re panicking about the security of their attachment to their loved one. Or, as Sue Johnson explained, “distressed partners who constantly break all the rules of good communication in my couple sessions [can] show exquisitely honed listening and empathy skills with my receptionist.” This, of course, can be maddening for partners who wonder, “how come you can be so nice, generous, and emotionally present with this other person, but not me!?”

So, why do skills not work? Sue theorizes that practicing skills requires us to be up in our heads, thinking about the “steps” rather than feeling the beat of the emotional music. A husband may be saying the right things, but the emotional disconnect keeps it from being meaningful, keeps it from really soothing his distressed wife. Without being emotionally present, we might say soft things, but our face, our tone, our body language may still convey distance, anger, or other invulnerability to our partner. As Sue says, “We have to learn, in real interactions, how to send the heart messages that touch our loved one and move them to care.”

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE NAIL...

A couple therapy client of mine just shared this awesome video, sharing a place we so often get stuck as couples — "just listen to me, don't try to fix it!" — with a pretty hilarious twist.


It's Not About the Nail from Jason Headley on Vimeo.