Relationship Daggers

Want to destroy your relationships? Dr. John Gottman identified four daggers (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) that, when frequently used, are sure-fire ways to disintegrate connection in a relationship. Defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling are all you need to do. For me, each one comes easily. I don’t actually even need to think about them, they just pop right out of my mouth when I am angry, hurt or tired.
How do you avoid using the four daggers? The answer is simple but not easy. Awareness is your first action. Notice what you are thinking and feeling. Next, say the word STOP to keep from sending out a dagger. Now process what you are feeling and thinking by identifying your emotion and the corresponding thoughts. The last piece, choose a productive response which usually involves being vulnerable about how you are feeling.
Example: My husband often leaves dishes on the counter next to the sink. I wonder how they are going to get into the dishwasher all by themselves. It irritates me. I could yell at him and tell him he’s a bleeping idiot (adeptly using two of the four daggers: criticism and contempt). Or,
1) I could notice that I’m thinking he’s stupid and feeling angry.
2) Say STOP before I let daggers fly out of my mouth.
3) Ask myself what’s going on that I’m so angry. I’m angry because it seems at times I’m the only one who puts dishes into the dishwasher. I have asked others to do the same but they don’t. That frustrates me. It seems that I am not appreciated and I’m being used to do others’ work. Does it make sense to me that I would be frustrated, even angry about that? Yes, it does.
4) Is there anything productive and positive I can do about it? Yes, I could tell my husband that I feel unappreciated when he leaves his dishes next to the sink then kindly tell him what I would like is for him to put his dishes in the dishwasher.
There you have it, four actions that will help you avoid using the four daggers and increase the chance of experiencing healthy connection.
Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s post today on “The Daily Dr. Cloud” for my inspiration.

Living Blame-Free…It's Not Easy

I recently read a post by Dr. Henry Cloud in which he explained the difference between those who take responsibility for their lives and those who blame. In the very week I read that post, I experienced my own opportunity to exercise this. My daughter, the one who got the double-lung transplant in October, ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. Not realizing she was going to be hospitalized, I took her to our local hospital for some lab work. I haven’t done that since she was three. Every time she has been sick I have taken her to Children’s Hospital. That is where she has received medical care for her disease, Cystic Fibrosis. They are the medical staff who know everything about her. Unfortunately, they do not perform transplants so we had to go to a different hospital for that.
I guess I was hoping for simple and easy. The local hospital is 15 minutes from our house; Children’s is 45 minutes in good traffic. After day two in the local hospital, concern started growing in my mind. It was becoming clear the Dr who was treating Anna was in over his head. He wouldn’t admit it and I was not sure what I should do. Each day I would think, “Anna will get out today, so let’s just stay where we are.” By day five, I hit my limit. When the Dr indicated Anna would need to remain hospitalized for several more days, I immediately requested a transfer to Children’s Hospital. I felt so powerful in that moment. Like I had finally stepped up and done what I should have done on day one.
Part of me wants to blame the Dr. Yes, I do believe he has responsibility, but I cannot change him. All I have control over, really, is me. So I stepped back and looked at the events. It was clear my first mistake was assuming Anna would get the kind of specialized care she needed at a basic hospital. It hurts inside when I think about that. I feel the pangs of regret. If I don’t let myself feel that, I will squelch my learning and quickly put a salve on it called ‘blame’. So, even as I write this, I feel the regret. It hurts. I feel hot tears in my eyes. I’m letting them spill out and with the tears comes relief from the hurt. I can sort of feel it work its way up from my chest, into my throat and out into the world. I don’t need to hold onto it. I can let it go. Awareness and acceptance of reality coming hand in hand offering me the beautiful gifts of forgiving myself and growth.
Next, I’m celebrating that I finally took charge and did what had to be done to get Anna the quality of care she needed. That feels really good. A lightness and strength accompany that thought. I didn’t wait too long to get into action. No irreparable damage had been done. The Dr.’s at Children’s stopped the negative treatment the previous Dr. had been doing as soon as she set foot in the hospital. Confirmation that what we thought wasn’t right, truly wasn’t right. Not for Anna. Not for someone with a lung transplant and Cystic Fibrosis.
Anna is home now, and doing very well! I am celebrating that, too.
It isn’t easy staying away from blame but it feels gratifying taking responsibility for my actions and letting the responsibility of others sit in their court.

Who is in Your Cage?

I’m stealing a post from another therapist, Dr Henry Cloud.  I’ve posted before about the importance of sharing our lives with other people.  Well, here’s some scientific evidence of the positive effects of this from our friends, the monkeys.  As I have walked the path of my daughter’s lung transplant, this need has become so apparent.  I am more calm, in part because of the support system I have.  This past week I was concerned about how she was doing.  We have learned that one of her medication levels was too high which was a contributor to her nausea.  No big problems, just little ones.  It was a friend who helped me put my concerns in perspective which brought a calming effect.  Left to myself, in isolation, I can percolate on problems and turn them into seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Ah, the gift of companions!

Dr. Cloud says, “One of my favorite studies was done years ago with monkeys, measuring the effects of relationships on cortisol levels in the brain. (Cortisol is a hormone associated with high levels of stress.) In this particular experiment, a monkey was put in a cage and exposed to a high level of psychological stress, including loud noises and flashing lights. They pretty much scared him to death. 

When the monkey was totally terrified, the scientists took a baseline measure of stress hormone levels in the monkey’s brain as it was exposed to these stressors.

Next, the researchers introduced one change into the experiment: they opened the door and put a buddy, another monkey, into the cage. That was it. They exposed the monkeys to the same loud noises and flashing lights, and then took another measure of stress hormones. The Result? The level of stress hormones in the brain had dropped in half. The lone monkey was only half as good at handling stress as the pair was together.

So my question for you guys… who’s your monkey?!”

I got a kick out of one person’s comment to this.  She said there are certain monkeys she has to remove from her cage.  They don’t help her at all.  She is choosy about the monkeys she lets in.  Good advice for all of us!

Get Through This Breath

Taking life a moment at a time has never been more profound than in this season of my life.  I’m away from my husband, my other children, my family and my friends while I have taken on the role of primary caregiver for my daughter who needs a double lung transplant. We are in Durham, NC awaiting her transplant at Duke University.  Some days I just move along fluidly in this current. It is effortless to be here but it is intensely strenuous to stay here. I’ll explain because that seems a bit incongruous. When I’m in the current it requires very little work on my part. I’m going the direction of the path I’m on. Moments arise when I’m looking at the river bank or an alternative current and I want to go there. As I struggle to fight my way into the other current or seek safety at the river bank, I get exhausted.
I want to go home. I want to be with my husband hanging out and enjoying his company. I want to be in the kitchen when my son comes home from school. While he’s busy getting himself something to eat, he talks to me.  I treasure that time before he disappears into his room to do homework, surf the net and play games. He’ll be graduating in two years. My youngest child will be going to college and our kitchen talks will be gone. I want to meet with my friend, Karen. We get together every other week at Starbucks to connect and challenge one another to grow. I miss hopping in the car and within a few hours being with most of my family. I miss the camaraderie of my Tuesday night Solutions group. We laugh and cry with each other as we learn to live healthier lives while watching and discussing Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s Solutions DVDs. I miss the comfort of my own home and I miss my dog!
I feel a bit like an Israelite wandering in the desert. God is providing for every step of our journey. I’m thankful for that but I also miss a lot! I wasn’t in slavery in Egypt like the Israelites. Colorado really is my home and the place I ultimately belong. It is not where I find myself today. When I think about all the things I don’t have and the place I am not, I begin to sink. When I think about how long I will have to be here, waves of panic crash within me. I can’t breathe. I freak out. Before I lose consciousness and succumb to the drag of the water, I remember one very important detail. I do not have to survive this for a really long time. I don’t have to think about being here for three months, six months, a year. All I have to do is focus on this moment. I just need to get through this breath. That’s it. Ah, relief! I can do this. 🙂  I know I can’t survive being here very long. But I know I can survive being here for this breath.  As time goes by all those breaths add up to an hour, a day, a week and so on. That is so much more manageable.
Live your life one breath at a time.  It really is the only way we can survive or enjoy the current we find ourselves traveling.

Moving from Disconnected to Vulnerable

I grew up in a system that, whether intentional or not, praised only perfection and joyful emotions. When I was very young I was aware of this system. Somehow I knew I had to put away the parts of me that made mistakes, were hurt, angry or scared. I don’t remember consciously doing this but it became a way of life for me. I thought I was normal. I thought people who expressed anger, sadness or fear were out of balance. I thought it was normal to be disconnected. I would not have used that word, but that’s what it was. I went along merrily this way until I was about 36. Then, I had an affair. The disconnected part of me could do this. At times I would come into the feeling place and realize what I was doing was horrible on many levels. But I didn’t stay in that place and would bob back down into the disconnected place. After my “perfectly disconnected” life fell completely apart, I went to counseling. I worked with a variety of counselors and coaches over the next few years. Each one was part of healing and weaving together all the parts of me: the scared parts, the angry parts, the sad parts and the joyful parts.
I am not as tidy anymore. That seems strange. I was tidy before and I thought that was better. Now, when I am not tidy, I feel a bit uncomfortable. In the earlier stages of my healing I would feel really uncomfortable as I let out the real me. In the earlier stages I needed to get used to really feeling, even if it was super messy. It helped to experience messiness and learn to be ok with it. When we shut down parts of ourselves, when we are unwilling to be vulnerable, we are only partly present. Our relationships are only partial relationships, our connection with and enjoyment of this world is only partly connected and enjoyed.
It’s scary to connect with all of who we are because there can be some really painful stuff inside. I recommend if you haven’t felt all your parts…if you identify with being disconnected, find a good therapist or coach who can help you navigate the waters of feeling.  A few recommendations are Shadow Work (, EMDR (, Henry Cloud and John Townsend books: “Hiding from Love,” “Changes that Heal” and “Boundaries” are just a few (  I learned and processed a ton in the Cloud and Townsend Ultimate Leadership Intensive (their definition of a leader is very loose).  I attended a recovery group for co-dependency.  Mine was at my church ( but you can also attend a CODA group or any recovery group similar to AA ( and I read Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More” and continue to read “The Language of Letting Go”. I’m sure many other helpful ideas are out there. This is just a short list of options.  These were the tools I used in my recovery journey.  Yours will be unique to you.
In my messiness, I now have fabulous connections with other messy people.  They welcome all the parts of me.  We are vulnerable with one another, we encourage one another to continue on our journey, and most of all, we accept one another.  That was my biggest fear as a child, that all of who I am wasn’t acceptable and loved.  That’s why I hid away my parts, the ones I thought weren’t acceptable and lovable.  Surround yourself with people who accept and love all of who you are and are willing to journey with you as you knit back together.
A note on this acceptance piece.  Parts of me need refinement.  I can be harsh in my delivery sometimes.  While that is a real part of me that I choose not to put in hiding, the people who love and accept me speak truth into my life (with a heavy dose of grace!).  They encourage me to delve into why I am harsh at times, to work on softening my edges.  That’s just one part of me that needs refinement.  I can be highly critical, shaming, jealous, greedy…  I want and need those parts to be accepted and loved but not condoned.  This is tricky.  We often assume if someone points out a part in us that needs refinement they are not accepting us.  This isn’t necessarily true.  Listen to the words of others; allow them to speak into your life, process through the words.  Are you being given a gift of finding out “what it’s like to be on the other side of you”? That’s a John Townsend quote that I love! If the person is just being mean, don’t take that on.  Put a lot of weight on who the messenger is.  Is this someone you trust, someone who has your best interest in mind? If so, listen to and process what you have heard.  Use the information for your good and continue on your journey of staying connected.
PS There is so much more I want to say on this subject.  Especially how our disconnected selves affect the productive parts of ourselves, like our creativity and interests.  I try to keep my posts short and to the point.  This one is already longer than I would like so, I will write my next post on the connection between disconnect and productivity.