Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
—John 3:16, NIV
This has been a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, the inability to meet with each other, give hugs, and share concerns of the day.
We have learned to use more technology to operate our businesses and hold group meetings. We have driven up to our churches and stayed in our cars to listen to our pastors speak or we have listened to sermons on YouTube.
We have had groceries delivered and become familiar with masks. We have prayed and reached out to each other in the safest way possible.
It has been a surreal world – one in which we struggle to create a sense of normalcy. We are even learning how to sing as a choral group, rehearsing without gathering together in a group.
We have watched protests that turn into riots, people bullied and killed, businesses destroyed. The focus seems to constantly be on what we hate and if we destroy enough, we will be given what we want. We have become so polarized in our views; we no longer see the issues that need to be worked on.
But hate destroys.
Staying in that space of hate, we miss the most important healing component we have for our lives: love. True love is the only weapon against the assault of hate.
Without love, we are lost.
Without love there is no hope for us as a people on this earth.
It’s a time for humility and honesty and openness. It’s a time to recognize as never before our need for God, His forgiveness, His grace, His love and His direction.
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
—Philippians 4:8, NLT
Love – Hope – Peace
We speak to these themes each Christmas with our Christmas cards and music. Peace is usually thought of as a hopeful outcome of physical battlefields between countries or the end of bitter conflict between couples. We view hope as something we want but have become jaded about.
And love: well, we have been rejected and hurt too many times to trust or love anyone anymore.
Love, hope, and peace begin in our hearts.
It cannot start anywhere else. But how are we to love that person who has taken advantage of us, hurt us, used us and abused us? We don’t get that ability from our culture or love songs or peace rallies. A love that can bring hope and peace to our hearts starts with God and that little baby in the manager. That is, after all, what agnostics and atheists fear above all else – that there might be truth to the Christmas story.
A love that risks all – embraces all – gives all – endures all. That is what we received when a helpless, vulnerable baby boy was born so many years ago.
What parent wouldn’t willingly sacrifice their own life for that of their child? God, our heavenly Father, demonstrated that when He gave His only Son to die for us so we might live.
As we pray for each other and families whose lives have been turned upside down and inside out through riots, separation and rejection, we also pray for ourselves – for forgiveness, understanding, respect of differences – and peaceful ways to reconcile those differences. All our problems will not be resolved. But we choose how we will respond to each of them.
Love, hope and peace are only hollow words unless they are followed by positive personal action.
If you have a story of hope and endurance and faith that you would like to share with others, please let me know so we can include it in an upcoming blog post.
When we meet someone new, we say, Hi, my name is_____________, and start a conversation.
As that conversation continues, we gradually get to know one another. So, for those who are new followers of my blog and podcast, I would like to formally introduce myself.
Hi, I am Marlene Anderson and I write and speak on how you can take advantage of any challenge, turning it into something positive and meaningful. (You can learn more about me on my website About page and Speaking & Workshops page.)
As a former licensed counselor and college teacher, I share my training and life experiences, offering strategies to help you tackle life’s challenges. These become a toolbox of approaches that can be used to combat fear and anxiety, recognize and solve problems, and take charge of your life.
Each week I post a new article on my blog that speaks to concerns we have. These may include:
Healing from unexpected and heart-breaking losses.
Learning effective ways to communicate with others so we hear their wants and needs and can express ours as well.
Conflict in our relationships can create on-going high levels of stress.
Messages from our past that tell us we are not good enough can be replaced with affirmations of our value and worth. Knowing that forgiveness is for you allows you to let go of resentment, so it doesn’t destroy you.
As we affirm our worth, we can set personal boundaries. We can respect other people’s differences as we maintain our own.
Alternative ways to frame problems
Understanding how and why we respond to life the way we do helps us find alternative ways to frame problems and find satisfactory outcomes. Without adequate life tools, we will become discouraged and overwhelmed, or angry and resentful. We will remain in endless conflicts and stress-filled environments. Joy, happiness, and contentment will seem to be out of our reach.
I want you to know there is a way to work through any challenge or dispute you face.
If you are like me, you want your life to have purpose and meaning. You want to have a sense of wellbeing and experience satisfaction in your efforts. With that wholeness, you can manage and reduce stress, making it work for you instead of against you. (See my book, Make Stress Work for You.)
Building an optimistic bridge from your past to today allows you to bring reassuring and promising qualities forward. Old wounds can no longer influence who you are or what you can accomplish.
While not every situation will be resolved to your satisfaction, a positive attitude along with possibility thinking will reveal options you can work with to go through, over or around roadblocks. Believe in yourself. Believe in God who loves you and offers His strength, wisdom and guidance so you can live with assurance, faith and a “Yes I can” mindset.
Each of us determines how we will react to difficulties.
You are the CEO of your life; the person who governs the choices that are made. Respond with optimism in tough times. Ask for help when you need it; seek assistance and find good mentors.
When we accept that we won’t have all the answers and that we are not perfect, we can reach out and form supportive friendships. Acceptance of both our imperfections and our strengths, enable us to accept ourselves of worth and value.
Only you can decide what actions are needed to make your life meaningful and productive. Only you can choose how you will respond to tough times.
You can roll up your sleeves and go to work or you can raise your fists and yell and scream and protest. The first way allows you to be in control of your life – the second way gives that power to others as you remain a victim.
Reframe your problems to see a bigger picture with possibilities and not just obstacles. Focus on what you can do and how you will do it instead of what you can’t do. Life can be exciting as we use the tools at our disposal to work towards positive outcomes. You can’t change the destruction caused by a violent storm, but you can choose how you will rebuild.
Every day we will face problems and difficulties, some anticipated as normal life encounters, and others that we are unprepared to meet. When you have the tools to work with, you will find the answers you need.
15 life skills you do not want to be without
Put them in your personal toolbox to pull out and use whenever needed.
Communication – the ability to listen as well as convey wants and needs
Understanding how our interpretations and perceptions create emotional turmoil
Replace negative thinking with possibility thinking
Become responsible for your reactions and behaviors at all times
Reframe circumstances to see both the positives and the negatives
Separate problems from its symptoms in order to find solutions
Maximize your strengths while managing your weaknesses
Identify your stress triggers and diminish their impact
Make the most of your time every day
Give thanks and gratitude for your blessings
Laugh and find humor to lighten even the darkest moments
Savor each moment – what can I learn
Clarify your values and live them
Define your focus – develop a sense of meaning and purpose for your life
Practice relaxation and visualization techniques to lower stress
We will get discouraged. We will feel insecure and have doubts and fears.
I can identify. I have been there. But I also know that we do not need to stay in that space. We can use that discomfort to understand ourselves better, grow and create a new roadmap. Challenges can be reduced from giant mountains to workable mole hills.
As your life coach, I will help you put together a toolbox with the strategies you need and help you implement them. There is so much information available that gives us a better understanding on how to overcome doubts and insecurities and solve problems. I have used these same tools many times in my life to heal after loss, pick up the pieces and construct a new beginning.
As belief in yourself increases, you will develop that confidence to keep trying and not give up. We can not only survive but thrive.
Let go of resentment and anger – Hang on to God, His Word and direction
Let go of worry and anxiety – Hang on to the promises of God
Let go of the unknown – Hang on to the wisdom of God
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
If you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning, anxious about the day awaiting you, you are not alone. We are living in a time of great uncertainty, which causes stress levels to escalate.
Anxiety and fear take center stage, and we struggle to find ways to make life normal again. Often the symptoms are so devastating, it becomes harder and harder to identify the underlying problems.
When our ability to think is compromised, our ability to find resolutions is compromised.
When we try to cope without identifying the underlying core issues, we end up going round and round in circles. Stress levels not only continue to escalate but remain high day after day.
It is the energy source that allows us to get up and function every day. We can’t live without it. But when it takes away our ability to think through problems, find alternatives to roadblocks, or relax, it becomes a serious health issue.
Prolonged stress exhausts the adrenal glands, depletes the nervous system, and lowers the immune system, which protects us from many serious diseases. It contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure. When the body is highly stressed for long periods of time, it gets out of balance and that imbalance is expressed with disease.
Things to remember about stress:
Stress is cumulative. The more circumstances that trigger it, the higher the levels of stress will become.
The inability to relax, let go and lower your stress at the end of the day will keep your stress levels high day after day.
Disabilities, tough circumstances, or demanding jobs do not automatically create high levels of stress. We
Families without reliable routines, schedules and predetermined tasks or responsibilities will struggle with constant tension and the inability to keep up with conflicting demands.
Conflicts with co-workers or bosses will continue to create on-going frustration and anger until we address them with good communication that allows productive conversations.
Time management empowers us. Without a timetable for completion of tasks, we will constantly be in chaos, frustrated and blaming others.
While situations may be difficult and stressful, how we respond determines our levels of dis-stress. Our perceptions, interpretations and established beliefs and habits create the emotional responses we have. Patterns of thinking and behaving can be changed to bring about a more productive outcome. When stressful emotions are balanced with appropriate action, stress levels are lowered.
When we understand what triggers our worries, anxiety, and fears, we can find ways to reduce or offset them and turn our “distress” into productive energy.
12 things you can do to lower high levels of stress
Let go of unrealistic expectations and demands that create unenforceable rules.
Identify all the triggers of your stress. Create a plan of action that can reduce or eliminate them.
Make a list of tasks that need to be completed in order to maintain order in your home. Break them down into manageable chunks to work with. Keep a calendar of when certain ones need to be accomplished.
Identify ongoing, underlying problems that continue to frustrate you. We can get so wrapped up in trying to reduce symptoms that we don’t identify the underlying cause of those symptoms. That is what needs to be addressed.
Learn assertiveness skills. They will develop your self-worth and confidence.
Put personal boundaries in place. This is what you will accept – this is what you won’t accept.
Be constantly aware of negative thinking that keeps you from seeing positive outcomes. Challenge and replace.
Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Read them every day. Add to them.
Find those bits of humor and laugh whenever possible. Comedians turn serious events into humor allowing us to laugh at our troubles.
Refuse to become a victim. If you are constantly blaming everything and everybody for everything that is not working, you remain a victim.
If you find yourself constantly depressed, ask yourself what action you can take to feel good about yourself.
Congratulate your progress, no matter how minimal, in everything you do.
High levels of stress will keep you spiraling out of control, conflicted, anxious, depressed and hopeless. I encourage you to purchase my book and workbook, along with its MP3 recordings to help you through this process. It is a book everyone needs, and it is available at the low price of $19.99. Make this a personal gift to yourself. Buy one for your friends who are struggling. It can be an important way to discover the satisfaction and joy you want.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
Before the year ends, I want to summarize the two books I wrote that were the focus of my blog and podcast. This week, I share some of the highlights from my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, which was released in January 2020. My blog posts and podcast episodes through June reflected the ways we can work through grief and begin to rebuild our lives.
When my husband died, the world as I knew it came to an end. I wrote about that ending and early days of grief in my first book, A Love So Great, A Grief So Deep, sharing the pain of losing someone I loved with my whole heart.
As a licensed counselor, I knew that if I stayed in that space of sorrow, I wouldn’t heal and instead would keep mourning without any hope of a meaningful life again.
I began working with others who had lost loved ones. We shared the struggle to let go and move on. There was a reluctance to do so – almost as if we would be devaluing our loved one if we did.
I started applying therapeutic techniques used by counselors to help clients work through difficulties. Those strategies enabled me to take back my life, re-identify myself and construct a plan of action moving forward. My book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, is a culmination of that work and shares methods and strategies to move from pain and deep sorrow to letting go and rebuilding.
Many things can increase the grief we feel.
For example, grief intensifies during the holidays. The uncertainties and isolation caused by the pandemic or other drastic changes intensifies that loss. High levels of stress, uncertainty and anxiety make it difficult to work through problems associated with it.
A variety of things in your life are changed. Your social circles are drastically altered. If you lost a spouse, you are now a single person in couple gatherings.
With the death of a child, you are no longer able to share with other parents the joys and difficulties of raising your children.
You may be required to re-locate or downsize. Your financial status might have been radically altered. I had to sell our newly built home and invest the proceeds to provide financial stability. Unexpected decisions created incredible anxiety as I struggled to make the right choices moving forward. Where should I live? What could I afford?
Why is it so difficult to let go?
We hang on to our loss because we struggle to accept that what was so important to us is now gone. Unconsciously, we want to believe that if we stay in that space of mourning that it will keep alive what we had. We fear the unpredictability of starting over again. We don’t know where to begin or how to begin. We don’t have a roadmap. We are forced to face ourselves, our fears and doubts and insecurities as never before.
Loss takes away the life and identity we had – how we defined ourselves.
It is in that conflict of loss, grief, and uncertainty that we are required to step out in faith and discover who we are today.
What does it mean to rebuild?
In the physical world, rebuilding means restoring something that was broken, damaged or destroyed.
In the internal realm, it is restoring equilibrium, hope, vision, and direction. It is repairing the great emotional rift. You can replace, strengthen, and reinforce your resolve. You can re-shape your future and put in place new goals that represent who you are today. You can re-assemble the broken parts and refashion them into a new you.
This requires making adjustments, sometimes radical, as you let go of what is no longer relevant to reclaim your ability to plan and create.
Throughout this journey, I learned
that we can not only heal and recover, but we can have a meaningful life with purpose again
that in letting go, I still maintained my happy memories – I could have both my memories and a new beginning
that we will experience anxiety, fear and doubts, requiring us to hang on to the promises of God
that when we step out in faith, we are given the strength and courage to move forward
that when I changed my focus from the past to working on a new tomorrow, life began to take a positive turn
that in working on a new future, I was not minimizing what I lost
that when I questioned my abilities, I was able to affirm them
that I could experience satisfaction and happiness again when I told myself, “Yes I can.” It became a new mantra. I could make it. I could recover.
that when I refused to let my loss take me down, I was given the confidence I needed to keep trying and succeed
In Learning to Live Again in a New World, I take you through what I consider four basic phases of recovery and rebuilding.
In Phase I, I share the pain of those early days and months and offer suggestions on how to work through this intense time period.
In Phase II, I address the struggle to accept and let go and close the door to the past.
In Phase III, the chapters reflect how to re-define yourself – finding a new identity and a new path.
In Phase IV, you weave together what you have learned on your journey and develop a plan of action for your future – a new beginning. Each chapter begins with a vignette or personal story and ends with a personal reflection and application worksheet, with information, exercises, and methods to work through the pain and conflicts.
Change takes time. Healing and recovery take time.
You will experience anxiety, worry, concern, and deep sorrow. You may question your ability to succeed. You may experience other losses in quick succession.
But as you step into the face of pain and fear, you discover that you are becoming stronger than ever before. In the process, you develop confidence and trust in your ability to take charge of all aspects of your life. You learn that while recovery is never easy, you can make it.
As you let go of what had been, your heart and spirit begin to heal.
If you or someone you know has encountered a recent loss or are struggling to regain a new life after a lot of time has gone past, this book can help you find a path through and beyond. It is a book I recommend to anyone who may be struggling with the losses in their lives.
We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.
It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.
Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.
And the scene is set for more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
It is a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in developing an even more “harmonious and long-lasting relationship” with their spouse. The exercises as well as the information presented are easy to follow and exceptional.
The danger zone
When you become negative and sarcastic, you are venturing on the threshold of a danger zone. It is not just anger, but it is a simmering, ongoing dislike and rage. It is not just arguing or fighting – it is developing contempt for your partner.
Gottman describes four areas of negative interaction that precipitates the early demise of a marriage. He refers to these areas as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.
Do you recognize any of these four horsemen in your relationship?
These are words that denigrate or belittle the character or personality of your spouse. It goes beyond complaints which target behaviors. It belittles and scorns and vilifies.
An attitude of disgust, sarcasm and cynicism is built. You now consider your spouse either worthless or inferior and not worthy of respect. Whatever your spouse says or does, your response is to mock or sneer at them. This is an extremely toxic brew that you have allowed to ferment and develop.
Because you have allowed negative thoughts about your spouse to simmer and stew without resolution, no matter what your spouse says, it is immediately construed as an attack. You are constantly on the defensive and ready to counter-attack and blame your spouse for anything and everything that happens, putting a negative spin on even the slightest indiscretion, lack of judgment or tact. There is no problem-solving or negotiation – just attack and defend.
As this destructive cycle continues, individuals caught in its sequence begin to stonewall, refusing to cooperate, avoiding questions and deliberately creating delays. Their persona indicates they could care less what the other person says or does. They are no longer interested in discussion, negotiation or resolving disagreements.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Is there any hope?
While these may be predictive signs of a potential breakup, when two people really want to change and work together, they can do so. Sometimes we think if we just leave and start over again our lives will be different and we will be happy. We forget, however, that we take with us the remnants of previous broken relationships and unless we work through them, we repeat previous behaviors.
Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist, and creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, has found three key factors relationships need in order to be truly healthy. As they argue and battle, she believes in the back of all these battles, what they are asking is the following: “Are you there for me?”
She postulates the following three things that are needed to be present in order to receive a “Yes” to this question.
Known as A.R.E., these are Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Emotional Engagement.
When people feel their partner is accessible in some way to them, they feel more secure, less anxious and validated. To become accessible, pay attention to what your partner is sensitive to. Instead of immediately continuing a fight, stop and extend an olive branch instead. Listen – really listen. Validate how your partner is feeling.
When your partner comes to you, respond – be there – let them know you are there for them. This is especially important when you are in the middle of something. Let them know you sincerely want to talk and set a time when you can come together and have a discussion.
“Love is really an emotional bond more than anything else,” says Dr. Johnson.
Communication is a skill that is learned and developed over time. When we recognize what isn’t working, we can replace it with something that will work.
We communicate all the time. We cannot not communicate. With our facial gestures, postures, words, or attempts to change the other person, we need to know how to become the type of communicator who respects ourselves and others.
Knowing yourself is vital in becoming a good communicator.
You need to know what triggers your stress buttons or emotional upsets, your fears of being hurt or looking stupid. Finding ways of dealing with adversity are often hidden from you until you are willing to accept yourself unconditionally, with both the good and the bad. When you feel okay to face your vulnerabilities you are taking charge of your interactions and your life, and that is reflected in your conversations.
Here are 12 things you can do that will promote good communication:
1. Check your internal states.
Lower anxiety levels and remain calm and open. Be attentive to other people and display this through your non-verbal behavior.
2. Be aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication.
Communication can be expressive. Be aware of your body communication as well as your words.
3. Think before you speak.
What message are you sending with the tone of your voice, your facial expression or stance? Remember that good communication is a skill. Like any skill, it demands attention to detail until habits are formed.
4. Check your perceptual filters.
How might your perceptions of problems or events become a distortion to your intent? Are you being honest? Are you speaking with a hidden agenda?
5. Know how to ask for wants and needs.
If you want something, ask for it – don’t assume the other person should or ought to know.
6. Respect the rights of others.
Respect their space, feelings, integrity, and intelligence. Even if you adamantly disagree, you can respect the opinions of others.
7. Ask for feedback.
Don’t assume the other person automatically understands what you are trying to say.
8. Use reflective language – validate feelings.
When people are upset or angry their emotions are heightened or mixed and they may feel guilty for feeling that way. Validating your listener’s feelings tells them you care, and that they are okay.
9. Let people know you are listening to them.
Use of mmm, uh-huh, and other verbal and physical responses can let the other person know you are listening.
10. Use “I” statements.
“I” statements tells others where you are at. It tells them how you feel, what you are thinking, and makes your wishes and wants known. Examples: “I think… I feel…when… I wish you would… I want…”
11. Eliminate “you” statements.
You statements blame, accuse, label, create defensiveness, judge and evaluate the other. You statements are saying the other person is responsible for how you feel and how you choose to respond.
12. Eliminate powerless talk.
Powerless talk is tentative. It hedges or qualifies (I think, or I guess). It hesitates or reverts to you knows. It involves a tag question, such as “sure is cold in here, isn’t it”? It involves disclaimers such as, “Don’t get me wrong, but…”and uses phrases that you feel you need to prove by showing or pointing out.
Good Listening Skills
Listening is as important as the message sent. Listening requires that you are there: physically, emotionally and intellectually. You are active in the listening process. It requires attention, effort, time, and focus.
It takes work to concentrate. It requires an open mind. When someone comes to you to talk, put down whatever you are doing and look at the other person as they speak. Give some eye contact. If you don’t have time to listen, let the other person know when you will have time to listen and set a time of agreement for that.
Before responding to someone’s question, comment, or suggestion, rephrase it in your own words to show that you have fully grasped what was said. Then ask for verification and let the other person take the lead again in the conversation.
If the other person’s statement sounds like a criticism, resist answering defensively. Clarification is needed instead.
“If I understand what you are asking, you need. . . so that. . . Is that correct?”
Ask open-ended questions.
There is a difference between a yes-no question and an open-ended question:
Yes-No: I expect you to have these chores done before dinner. Do you understand?
Open-ended: These are the chores that need to be completed. Can we talk about who will be responsible for which ones?
Or “Is there a problem we need to discuss?”
Or “What can I do to help you?”
Or “What information do you need from me?”
Or “So what do you think?”
During times of stress and conflict, use statements instead of asking questions in a snotty way. When you are tempted to classify something the other person has said as wrong, incorrect, or inaccurate, ask for clarification.
“This is what I heard (observed, etc.) Is this correct?”
How we respond matters as much as the information asked for. We can encourage people, or we can shut them down by issuing questions that sound like orders and are perceived as attacks.
Questions asked during times of tension, no matter what they look like on the surface, can easily be turned into one question: Okay, whose fault is this?
Don’t fire question torpedoes.
Instead of, “Who told you that you could play with that?” use a statement. “I see you believed it was okay to play with that. Am I correct?”
Here are 15 important listening skills to develop:
Prepare to listen
Control or eliminate distractions
Find common areas of interest
Listen for main ideas
Keep an open mind
Judge content, not delivery
Stay focused on what is being said rather than thinking about your reply
Body language, one of voice and content should agree
Don’t speak for the other person
Don’t give advice
Give feedback – paraphrase
Ask for more information when needed
Next week we will conclude this series on communication.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
And so, it goes – round and round and round and we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.
Anger builds as each continues to dig in their heels and insist they are right, and the other is wrong. You probably have had such conversations or have witnessed them. Discussions at this point soon move into the blame game:
“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again.”
The conversation has gone beyond misunderstanding and name calling.
When we find ourselves in constant conflict, we believe that if only the other person would listen and see our point of view, we wouldn’t be having such discussions. If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?
The problem is that the other person is thinking the same thing. And since neither person is listening to the other, the conflict intensifies. We have left the realm of compromise, negotiation and understanding, and love and grace are kicked in the corner.
Communication travels back and forth from speaker to listener.
Messages sent and messages heard are often contrary or conflicting and at times, misleading. What sounded obvious to me in the words I spoke may not have been what you heard. Because the intent of our conversation is often unclear, communication becomes vague and ambiguous.
As mentioned in last week’s post, Relationships Under Stress, our communication, verbally and nonverbally, goes through a filtering system. A filter reflects life in the moment. The message sent and received is going through two filters. When we become aware of our filters, it can help us better transmit messages and listen effectively.
Here is an example of filters that make communication difficult:
You get up in the morning grumpy and tired from lack of sleep. Your mood influences how you communicate to others in the family. Add to that a bad day at work where everything went wrong that could go wrong, and you return home disgruntled, angry and even more tired.
Let’s say the kids are having a great day and are especially exuberant – but you see their running and rough housing as not caring about you or others in the home. When you speak to them, the words and tone of voice reflect that. If you have had underlying issues with your spouse, those unresolved issues will be reflected in the tone of your voice as well.
Perhaps your child, co-worker, spouse, boss, or anyone else you are conversing with is also having a bad day with unresolved problems and concerns. Your words ignite a desire to react with the same anger.
Or, they may be having a good day while you are having a bad one and are wondering why you sound so angry with them. What did I do?
Messages sent and received take on a whole new dimension and psychological impact when laced with frustration, anger, or irritation. Others aren’t aware of what is creating this harshness in your voice and comments. How you feel in the moment, your psychological state of mind, aches and pains, unidentified aggravations or annoyances will affect how you formulate your conversation and how it is heard.
Here are 6 quick tips and examples to remember about communication.
1. A good speaker states exactly what he or she is thinking, wanting or feeling.
“Based on what I know right now, this is how I view the problem.”
“I am really tired, and I need a few minutes to unwind from my day at work. I would appreciate about ten minutes of down time before we start dinner.”
2. Messages contain both content and emotional meaning.
“You made a commitment to go on a family outing this Saturday. I am upset that you have made different plans.”
3. Let people know you are listening.
Stop what you are doing and give your attention to the speaker. Use uh huh, I see, and other verbal and physical ways to let the other know you are paying attention.
4. Listen and validate.
A good listener makes sure the intent of the speaker’s message is understood. We do that by asking questions or giving feedback instead of just filling in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.
5. Give appropriate feedback through paraphrasing, clarification, and perception checks.
With feedback, you tell the speaker how you have interpreted the message sent.
Paraphrasing is repeating exactly what was said.
This is especially useful when instructions are given. It prevents resentment, irritation, and incorrect inference about motives if instructions are not carried out usually because the person either did not remember or heard incorrectly. The person is not being disrespectful or insulting.
Clarification is stating what was said in your own words. It explores the meaning of what you heard:
“I heard you say _____________ . Is that correct?
“Did you say __________ ?
“Do you mean _____________?
Perception Check is describing how you observe the other person’s feelings. A perception check is not used to express disapproval or approval but simply conveys the desire to better understand how the other person is feeling.
“I get the impression you are angry with me when you become quiet. Are you?
“Am I right that you feel frustrated when your mother always criticizes us?
“I am not sure what I have said that is consuming or if you are just angry with me?”
6. Time Out
If the conversation turns into an argument, ask for stop action or a time out. A stop action is a request to check on feelings, intents, and impacts.
“Let’s stop a minute. I think we are getting away from the problem.”
“Wait, stop. I’m getting upset. How are you feeling right now?”
The next time you are in a conversation and you find yourself getting irritated, check your feeling state and what is going on in your life right now.
Check the things that might be making your conversation tense for potential misunderstanding.
If you are a listener, do the same and then use the skills of paraphrasing, feedback and confirming to nip problems in the bud.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
So many things that contribute to high levels of stress in today’s world. Not having a job, home schooling while maintaining a job, unexpected financial concerns, trimming our budgets to bare bones, travel restrictions, and the inability to enjoy social functions, are but a few.
When the cares of the day max our ability to cope, we find that those high levels of stress can make it harder to maintain positive relationships.
We know that anxiety levels can dramatically rise as optimism flies out the window and worry about our future takes over. Anger, guilt, and shame are quickly activated. Learning to calm ourselves through slow, even breathing whenever stress levels rise is imperative.
We need interaction with people.
When positive and supportive, those interactions can have a quieting and reassuring effect as we discuss options and encourage one another. But when relationships are strained with conflict and the inability to communicate, it adds another layer to our already overloaded stress levels.
What does communication involve?
We cannot not communicate. It is an ongoing process – a two-way street that involves both speaking and listening.
A good communicator uses words that say exactly what they are thinking, wanting, or feeling.
A good communicator avoids, if possible, words or phrases that color, cast blame or distort the message.
All communication goes through a filtering system.
The speaker’s message goes through his filters and the listener hears the message through their own filters.
Filters are anything that alters or distorts the message being sent or heard.
Our messages are influenced by how we feel physically and psychologically in the moment, both as a speaker and a listener. Our perceptions of the world, experiences, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions all color our communication.
Typical communication filters that may distort our speaking and listening ability:
Perceptual factors – how you make sense of the world
Attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts
Your past experiences
Your needs and wants
Cultural and ethnic differences
Temporal and environmental factors
Different cultures will use similar words that have a different meaning. For example, we call the trunk of a car a “trunk.” In England, they call it a “boot.”
These things can distort the message so what was intended may not be what is said or heard.
Communication is sending and receiving messages we hope are understood. It involves both verbal and nonverbal language. It involves our body stance and facial expressions.
Communication becomes a problem when people don’t say what they mean, or aren’t really listening to what is being said or aren’t checking to see if what they heard was correct.
As speakers, we assume the other person understands exactly what we are trying to say. A listener receiving your words needs to be sure they understand the intent of the speaker and don’t fill in the gaps with assumptions or guesses.
They ask for clarification by paraphrasing or doing a perception check:
“To be sure I understand you correctly, this is what I understand you are saying to me.”
You repeat back what you heard and what you believe the intent to be.
Communication breaks down because:
We don’t know how to articulate and use the words that adequately define what we want to say
We attack/defend/blame or use heavily laced emotional words
We assume a listener will understand what we are trying to say
We are unaware of things that interfere with our communication: our biases, how we are feeling at that moment, our overall emotional well-being, our beliefs and attitudes, feelings we may have about the listener, etc.
We are unaware of our listener’s state of being
Communication is circular and involves thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and ideas, as well as facts conveyed between individuals.
We are affected by the message we hear, and the other is affected by our responses. As conversation goes back and forth, we make connections, both in our thinking, modeled behavior, and our verbal and nonverbal exchange.
Words alone don’t give us adequate information.
Non-verbally, we communicate with our body posture and stance, facial expressions, tone and hand gestures, etc. While words can be manipulated, most of our non-verbal communication is automatic.
We can use words to conceal, distort, confuse, and deceive, but it is much more difficult to deceive through body language.
And even if we rehearse our body language, it is difficult to maintain that polished version for any length of time.
Whenever there’s a conflict between verbal and non-verbal, we will attend to the non-verbal first. Nonverbal cues are closely tied to our emotions. Studies show that only 7% of emotional meaning comes from the words themselves.
Non-verbal communication isn’t always accurate, either.
People who fold their arms may be interpreted as shutting you out or putting up barriers. There are other reasons why people may fold their arms that have nothing to do with what is being spoken. We get into trouble with both verbal and non-verbal communication when the cues that are triggered are inaccurate or we guess or make assumptions.
Breakdown in communication usually occurs when:
We believe we already know how to communicate
We are too busy to take time to listen
We avoid what is difficult – we get bored and lazy
We don’t know what it is we really want and/or don’t know how to ask for it
We don’t know how to organize and plan our conversations
We don’t feel confident with our communication skills and fear reprisals
We are afraid we might be misunderstood
We rely on assumptions and expectations
We don’t want to be responsible
We want to avoid conflict
We form opinions and resist change
During the upcoming week, take time and mentally observe your speaking style.
Are you someone who uses a lot of facial expressions?
Do you speak with animated gestures of your hands?
Are you aware of your stance – how you sit or stand?
As a listener, do you stop what you are doing and look at the other person?
Do you verify your understanding of the intent?
How do you check to be sure what you heard was the actual intent?
We aren’t used to thinking about these things when we talk to one another. Becoming aware can reduce a lot of misunderstanding and conflict.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
We gather together with others because we find some commonality with them. We have a human need to socialize and bond. The support we receive is more than just having fun or a sense of belonging. The people we hang out with over time become a statement, a reflection of who we are, our views, values, and beliefs.
Besides the relationships we form with others, the relationship we have with ourselves and God are essential. All three are important to living a life with purpose, integrity and meaning.
Develop Relationships with Others
The relationships we formulate have a deep impact on our lives. Because of that we need to ask ourselves whether we want to commit to or remain in certain relationships.
Do I spend a lot of time with people who do things that go against my values?
Have I taken time to formulate and define my values? Why do I believe what I do?
Am I constantly making excuses for myself and others with whom I spend time?
The life we choose to live reflects who we are, our principles and values.
Values are things we believe have merit and worth and importance.
Principles are ways of conduct we believe are appropriate.
When our actions are in conflict with those core beliefs and values, we find ourselves uncomfortable, conflicted and stressed. If the friends we choose to hang out with do not share the same values, we are faced with choosing between those values or compromising them.
We can be in social settings with people who have different opinions or points of view and we can agree to disagree. But within our personal friendships, it is important to ask, who am I hanging around with and why? What do we have in common?
Develop a Relationship with Self
When asked who is in control of your life, most people automatically say, “Well, I am, of course.” Yet these same people complain about all the things that go wrong and how they are simply a victim to whatever is happening. “I can’t do this because. . . or If life had treated me differently. . . or I was born poor so there was no opportunity.”
Believing in yourself and in your ability to make goals and find ways to accomplish them requires a willingness and resolve to learn and try.
It requires personal honesty and a “Yes, I can” mindset. It doesn’t mean you won’t get discouraged or depressed. It does mean that you refuse to remain in that space.
A positive relationship with yourself accepts both your shortcomings and strengths, and takes responsibility for what you do.
You refuse to be a victim even when life throws you hard curve balls.
You don’t play the “blame game” where everything that goes wrong is somebody or something else’s fault.
You focus on the facts involved and then on an appropriate response.
You challenge your motives and rely on your ability to make tough choices.
Recognize when you make excuses. Recognize when you need to ask for assistance but fail to do so because of pride. Recognize when your lifestyle isn’t reflecting your values, beliefs and principles. Clarify them and make the choices and changes that mirror them.
Having a positive and productive relationship with yourself is reflected in your self-talk. There is an internal dialogue that goes on 24/7. When that is consistently and constantly negative, without reflection of the things you can do, the improvements you can make, the attitudes and mindsets that you can establish, you will not have a very positive relationship with yourself or others.
The association we establish with ourselves will be reflected in our relationships with others.
We can set boundaries.
We can apologize when we have hurt someone.
We can forgive the transgressions of others and offer them grace and offer grace to ourselves when we have done something offensive or wrong. Grace doesn’t dismiss our mistakes. It simply says, Ok, I screwed up. But I have learned something valuable that I will apply going forward.
Building a positive relationship with yourself means you are willing to examine your lifestyle, habits and ways of thinking and acting in order to grow and become responsible.
It stops and considers the values and principles you have chosen that identify who you are.
When beliefs and values are compromised, you compromise yourself and your worth.
Sometimes the choices you are confronted with are not easy. But if you want to live your life authentically and honestly, your choices will be based on the commitment you make to live those values.
We are a combination of many things, not just either/or. Our strengths can trip us up with pride just as weaknesses can trip us up with discouragement.
Cultivate Mentoring Relationships
Find mentors who will encourage but will also be honest with you. Good counsel will take you out of the ordinary and give you the opportunity to become extraordinary in your everyday life.
Seek out and cultivate relationships with people of good character and strength of conviction who are not just successful or accomplished, but who you respect for their integrity and measured wisdom. They have learned humility along with confidence. They are God-fearing and apply ethical principles in their business, work, and home life.
Develop a Relationship with God
Why do I need God in my life? Why do I need to establish a personal relationship with Him? As we recognize our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, we better understand our need for God, who loves us, embraces us, and gives us wisdom, strength, hope, and peace.
In the darkness of the night we struggle to believe and understand all the things that are happening to us. We do our best, but it never seems to be good enough. The losses in our life continue to mount up until we are left exhausted, curled in a fetal position, unable to move, without hope or motivation.
As we face truths about ourselves, our lifestyle, insecurities, and inabilities we may want to withdraw and isolate ourselves because we do not want others to see our vulnerabilities or our brokenness.
We build walls around our spirits and psyches to protect them from further hurt and disappointments. Yet when we do, we are walling in the acid of pain that gradually erodes our mental, physical, and emotional self.
It is there, in the darkness of our night, that we wrestle with ourselves and God. All the unwanted changes produce a darkness in our soul. And we question not only the decisions we have made, but our values and core beliefs about God and life in general. As the struggle intensifies, we try to put some perspective on what we are experiencing. It is not a comfortable place to be.
Yet it is there, in the darkness of our night — in the brokenness of our spirit — where God reaches out to us with a word, a symbol, a person, a long forgotten biblical truth, a remembrance of the many times He has shown us His face.
Surrender Brings About a New Perspective
And we find in that surrender to Him, not only peace, but a new energy, a new strength, a new perspective. We have wrestled and came through to the morning of new understanding, faith, and hope. In that surrender and acceptance, we are not only given peace and a new insurgence of energy, but joy.
It is in the scriptures where we discover more about our God. He is Holy, Almighty and all powerful. But He is approachable and never abandons us, even when we abandon Him. He loves and cares about us and meets us where we are – in the messiness of life.
He has a goal and plan for each of us as well as for the world. He gives us free will and forgives us many times. But He demands obedience and insists we put Him first.
In his intro to the Book of Joshua, Eugene Peterson writes in The Message:
“God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in the messes, storms and sins, blue skies, daily work and dreams of our common lives, working with us as we are and not as we should be.”
And it is in the messiness of my life that I come to Him and ask for grace, forgiveness, strength, wisdom, and hope and receive so much more.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
We enter relationships because we need people. We need what a relationship can bring, such as social activity and interactions, but we aren’t always ready to work on making that relationship valuable and meaningful.
We want to be loved and accepted for who we are in spite of our shortcomings. We want to be heard and understood.
Moving in and out of relationships is not very satisfying over the long term. So, understanding what we bring to our relationships and how we communicate with one another is important.
Perhaps you have experienced misplaced loyalty, broken commitments, and trampled expectations from those you considered friends, colleagues or spouses. If you have been hurt in relationships, you may ask: Relationships – who needs them? Wouldn’t I be happier staying out of any serious relationships?
We are social animals and require social interaction to survive.
Research is showing evidence that we are hardwired to connect with each other and “that healthy relationships actually soothe our brains.”
Technology is allowing us to see what is happening within our brains as they work and respond to life. We were not meant to face “the trauma and difficulties of life” by ourselves. Creating secure bonds is important for our health.
Consider the following statistics:
Socially isolated people are two-to-three times more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social ties. The type of relationship doesn’t matter. Marriages, friendship, religious and community ties all seem to increase longevity.
Divorced men (before age 70) die from heart disease, cancer, and strokes at double the rate of married men. Three times as many die from hypertension; five times as many commit suicide; seven times as many die from cirrhosis of the liver; and ten times as many die from tuberculosis.
The rate of all types of cancer is as much as five times higher for divorced men and women, compared to their single counterparts.
Poor communication can contribute to coronary disease. One Swedish study examined 32 pairs of identical twins. One sibling in each pair had heart disease, whereas the other was healthy. Researchers found that the obesity, smoking habits, and cholesterol levels of the healthy and sick twins did not differ significantly. Among the significant differences, however, were “poor childhood and adult interpersonal relationships,” the ability to resolve conflicts and the degree of emotional support given by others.
The likelihood of death increases when a close relative dies. In one Welsh village, citizens who had lost a close relative died within one year at a rate more than five times greater than those who had not suffered from a relative’s death.
Do we need each other? Yes, I think we do.
Relationships begin in our childhood
What is the earliest memory you have as a child and the relationships you had? Were they pleasant or sad? Did you feel rejected or accepted? We are shaped and molded by the people in our lives as we grow up. The experiences we had as a child affect our relationships as an adult.
In Traveling Light for Mothers, Max Lucado wrote about a “wedding reenactment” they did at his church. In this staged drama the thoughts of the bride and groom were revealed to those watching as they stood before the pastor and the altar. Each had armloads full of “excess baggage” of “guilt, anger, arrogance, and insecurities” they were bringing with them to this new relationship.
Each believed they were marrying the person who would help them carry or relieve them of their load and would take care of them. As they stood before the congregation, their “baggage,” typically unseen, was piled high around them.
What did you bring with you to your significant relationships?
What did you learn as a child? Did you learn to trust, have faith, how to give and take and get along with others?
Did you feel loved and accepted even when your behavior didn’t warrant it?
Or did you learn that nobody cared, you were helpless to make any changes, and were told over and over again how worthless, stupid and insignificant you were?
Did you learn to shrink in the background so you wouldn’t be noticed?
Did you learn that no matter how hard you tried you were never quite good enough and would never amount to anything?
Did you learn that relationships were just constant arguments and fights and power struggles?
In his book, Moving Beyond Depression, Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, wrote about the importance of reviewing the family dynamics we grew up with.
When we can identify relationships that were unhealthy and destructive, we can also begin to identify those that were supportive and significant and work on strengthening those. That includes the relationship we have with ourselves.
If you have been in some troubling relationships, here are some questions you might like to ask:
What was your best relationship and what made it successful?
What was your worst relationship and what made it so bad?
What do you want in a relationship? What do you give and what do you expect in return?
What relationships are destructive in the long term and you are now ready to let go of and which ones do you want to strengthen?
What kind of relationship do you have with yourself? With God?
Relationships are important.
There is so much we can do to both establish and strengthen good relationships as we let go of those that might feel good in the moment but are destructive over time. Even when experiencing difficult relationships in our youth it doesn’t mean we can’t develop positive and sustaining relationships as adults.
As we build on our relationships today, we recognize that relationships are never easy.
Troubled relationships have been with us for centuries.
From the beginning of time we have written testimony of contentious relationships. Consider the brothers, Cain and Abel, in Genesis. Or Job and his not-so-helpful friends.
But within the Bible we also find examples of helpful and positive relationships. David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18:20) or the instructive relationship of the Apostle Paul and Timothy in I & II Timothy. Or the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. And the most important of all was Jesus and his relationship to all of us – we were loved so much he died for us.
Next week we will review our communication skills, how to say what we mean without attacking, and conveying to the other person what we want.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?