In 1965 Martin Seligman “discovered” learned helplessness. He found that when animals are subjected to difficult situations they cannot control, they stop trying to escape. They become passive. Human beings are the same. If you have experienced devastating defeats, a persistent situation that you couldn’t change, or experienced terror and been out of control of escape from that terror, then you may have lost hope for your ability to change your life or to change painful situations.
Creating interesting stories is a time-honored skill and entertainment for many. A good storyteller can keep the attention of small children as well as antsy, busy businessmen. Unfortunately, your mind is also a great storyteller. Sometimes you may not realize what is truth and what is fiction created by your mind.
Your mind is always creating explanations and possibilities about the world you live in. It will interpret and make assumptions in creating its stories, about the past and the future as well as the present. It rattles on and on and is rarely even close to quiet. Your mind may have a favorite genre–suspense, drama or horror. It may also have favorite themes such as victims, persecutors or helplessness. The mind’s stories are about how you see the world.
There are many ways of connecting with people. An emotionally safe, equal, and emotionally intimate relationship is likely the scariest and most challenging relationship to build, yet is also the most likely to decrease your sense of loneliness and help with your well-being. Let’s call it a Soul-Fulfilling relationship. This type of connection may be a romantic but doesn’t have to be. In a Soul-Fullfilling connection, you share your deepest emotions with someone in an honest, accurate way and your experiences are accepted without judgment. You can count on honest, loving feedback and give and take. You support and love in equal ways over time. Soul-Fulfilling relationships take time and nurturing to build.
We often act consistent with how we feel. If you wake up in the morning and you don’t feel like talking with people, maybe you don’t answer the phone. If you don’t feel like going to the grocery store, then you don’t go. If you don’t feel like networking then you cancel the luncheon. If you don’t feel like being kind, you may talk gruffly to your friends and co-workers. Perhaps you even justify your actions, or attempt to, by saying, “I’m just in a bad mood.”
Having friendships and/or family members you feel close to is often a primary part of living the life you want to live and is one of your biggest challenges. Interactions with others are often the most emotional experiences you have, both in rewarding and painful ways. If relationships are part of your life worth living, determining how to make this work for you will be important.
Keep Your Priorities in Mind
Relationships are naturally full of ups and downs. There are so many times you will have urges to break off a relationship and to never speak to a person again. In many cases though, that’s using avoidance and/or abandonment as a way of responding to a problem. You avoid the immediate pain of hurt and vulnerability but in the long run your relationship is damaged.
Emotionally sensitive people experience more intense emotions that are more easily aroused and that last longer than those who are not emotionally sensitive. You react faster with greater emotional intensity that lasts longer. Your emotional reactions can be triggered by television shows, magazine articles, places that trigger memories, anniversaries and other events. Interpersonal issues are one of the most challenging areas for you.
With a strong fear and sensitivity to rejection, even routine events such as a friend canceling lunch plans can bring on a tornado of emotions that are difficult to manage. With this difficulty in relationships, so much of life becomes stressful, such as attending classes, dating, participating in friendships, interacting in group activities, having roommates, and working with others. Some of you withdraw and become isolated as a way of avoiding the pain of relationships. Others experience anguish and suffering on a regular basis with little relief. Working on interpersonal skills and ways to manage emotions in relationships can help you reduce the suffering you experience on a daily basis. Improving your interpersonal resiliency and skills is complicated. Four options for getting started (based on the work of Marsha Linehan, 1993) include the following:
Validation is the acknowledgement of your own or someone else’s inner experience (feelings, thoughts, urges) and behaviors as understandable. Validation helps you improve communication with those you love. When you validate others, you create a safe context for them to express their fears, worries, and issues that make them uncomfortable. When you have open, accurate communication, then you can problem solve.
John comes home from work and his wife Amy meets him at the door holding the credit card bill. She has an angry look on her face. In a loud voice she says, “You know we are trying to cut the credit card bill. We agreed to discuss any charges. It’s not even two weeks later and you’ve already broken that promise. How dare you! How can I ever trust you?”
How will John respond? Of course he will say something like, “You are always on my case. I can’t do anything right. You’re the reason we’re in this credit card mess anyway, so don’t go blaming me.” Communication then becomes an argument. John responded to his wife’s anger with his own anger. While that is understandable and natural, it doesn’t help either of them have a helpful discussion.
John’s first emotional reaction to his wife’s upset was likely one of shame or guilt, because he had broken their agreement not to use the credit card. Instead of expressing his guilt, he defends himself with anger. That makes him less vulnerable, and it also makes effective communication more difficult. If he had accurately expressed his feelings, John might have said, “Oh, honey, you are right. I can understand how you would be so hurt. I did use the credit card and then I felt guilty about it. I meant to tell you and I kept putting it off.” That would be a more accurate expression of his thoughts and emotions. In turn, Amy would likely …
Valentine’s Day may be one of your favorite holidays. You see it as an occasion to celebrate your relationship. Or maybe you think Valentine’s Day is just a tool for businesses to sell cards, flowers and chocolates. Whatever your view of the day, there are some strong reasons to celebrate love.
1. If you are good at connecting people, then you are likely to be a happier person. Whether it’s a business, friendship or romantic connection, introducing people who form a relationship is good for you. Your happiness is increased when the introduction is successful, so it’s also a bit risky.
2. A 75-year long study done at Harvard was dedicated to finding the secrets to a happy life. George Vaillant, the head of the study, said the most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. Happiness, according to his study, is about the love in your life and finding a way to cope with life so you don’t push love away.
3. Having relationships in your life will make you happier. These relationships provide you with validation of your value and competence. The relationships don’t have to be family or friends in any particular balance–just close relationships.
4. Love and passion inspire people to great accomplishments. Think about people who have made a positive difference in the world. Many of them were driven by their love for humanity.
5. There’s evidence that relationships decrease your stress and improve your physical health.
6. Loving connections with others can help erase the emptiness some people feel.
7. Having close relationships enhances the positives that you experience and helps minimize the pain of the negatives.
8. Relationships with pets make us happier too. Loving a pet counts.
You can probably add other benefits to this list. Knowing that you have support and “belong” is a key step toward your well being. For emotionally sensitive people, the vulnerability required to create close relationships can be daunting. Staying isolated may seem …
As you know from the last post, trustworthiness is not constant. People are not consistently trustworthy or consistently untrustworthy but vary according to situations they are in. Whether you behave in a more trusting way or not may vary in ways that you are not aware.
First, if you are feeling grateful you are more likely to behave in trusting ways to others. In fact, your level of trust is likely to vary exactly according to the level of gratitude you are experiencing at the moment. Notice this has nothing to do with the other person or the specific situation but is only based on the feelings you are experiencing. So maybe feeling good makes you trust others or be less judgmental and cautious? Yes, but it’s not only feeling grateful that increase your trust in others. If you are socially stressed, then you are also more likely to trust others. In fact, researchers found that social anxiety increased the rate of cooperation (trust) by about 50 per cent. Again, those feelings have nothing to do with trust.It’s not only feelings that increase trust. It could be the power of suggestion. If you believe you are wearing knock-off designer sunglasses, then you will act in less trustworthy ways than if you believe the sunglasses you are wearing are authentic.
For emotionally sensitive people, trusting someone is often a huge challenge. Everyday, in one way or another, you probably ask yourself if you can trust different people. Trust plays a central role in your relationships, your business decisions, choices you make about your health, how you love, and how you invest your money. The need to trust is uncomfortable and scary. It points out that you are vulnerable. You may fear being rejected or judged. Yet you can’t get the outcomes you want in life and meet your needs without trust. You need the cooperation of others. Your pattern of trusting or not trusting others may make relationships and cooperation more difficult.