The Connection Destroyer

I frequently work with couples in my private practice. I use powerful and useful techniques to give people the opportunity to create healthier ways of relating to one another. The techniques are useless sometimes. I can have the best information but until a person stops getting defensive in their relationships nothing will change. Defensiveness is a connection destroyer.
Here’s how: You’re in an argument with your partner. She says something to you that triggers your defensiveness. Usually we respond to defensiveness by getting bigger through a louder voice, more intensity, using shaming, blaming and contemptuous words or by avoiding, shutting down, withdrawing literally or figuratively. You respond in your typical defensive way and now connection is lost. You are not talking to each other productively, you are not thinking about how you can love and honor your partner. You are likely thinking of all the parts you don’t like about this person and perhaps even reasons you shouldn’t be together. The focus is squarely on what’s wrong with her. On the flip side, some of you may even go to the place of ‘what a loser’ you are, continuing the emotional beating triggered by your partner.
The only way to create lasting change is to accept yourself as is. To accept the parts of you that you or someone else may label ‘not good enough’ in some capacity. The parts that get triggered and manifest the hurt through being defensive. In my studies of the Bible, I found an understanding of God as the deepest lover of my very being. God lets us know that He loves us unconditionally. When we accept that we are loved unconditionally, we can love others more authentically.
Our defensiveness gets in the way of extending grace to those around us. God’s answer: There’s nothing to get defensive about. If God is for us (which He is–He’s for everyone!), and we accept that He is for us (meaning we take His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness into the very depths of our being and let it soak into our tattered heart, healing all the broken bits) then we don’t need to let anyone or anything that is against us have a true effect on us.
It might look like this:
Your partner starts in on you about leaving your dirty dishes on the counter. You notice you are feeling defensive and moving toward shutting down. Perhaps retaliation or defend-and-explain words are forming in your mind. At this point say, “STOP!” to yourself. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not condemned, you are forgiven, you are loved, you are free to make mistakes and acknowledge them, rather than defend yourself against condemnation. You respond, “I was starting to feel defensive about that, and then I remembered I don’t need to defend myself. I’m sorry I left my dirty dishes on the counter. I know it’s important to clean up after myself and I forgot.” Generally when we don’t have anything to prove we are more likely to do the things that demonstrate our love for another person. In this case (which is an example I gave from my own life in Relationship Daggers ), not creating more work for her.

The Doldrums

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The doldrums, as poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described them, create a time of no movement. For sailboats without motor power, the doldrums brought boredom and uncertainty. Sometimes in our lives we stumble upon the doldrums, a time with little movement relationally, spiritually, physically or vocationally. Ever been there? My practice seems to be in the doldrums right now. After returning from a four month journey to North Carolina for my daughter’s lung transplant, things seemed to slowly get going again. I wasn’t as busy as I had been before North Carolina but it was fine to ease back into working. Lately, I’ve hit a slump. I have very few regular clients.
When I hit times like this I usually start asking myself if I’m doing the right thing. Should I be looking at a more stable means of income? Meaning work for someone else, not myself. I tend to question if I am in the right profession. Have I made a mistake? Maybe I’m just not very good at what I do. Maybe this is just part of the natural consequences for my past mistakes (and I’ve done some really horrible things). I don’t deserve good things to come into my life. Then I slip into a quiet surrender to depression…
Not this time! Nope! At least not today 🙂 This time I am using the very skills I teach others. I am talking about what’s happening with others instead of dealing with it inside a vacuum. I am taking stock of the situation and looking at the facts. Am I exhausting every opportunity to market my business? The honest answer is no. Have I done all I can to let people know I am back from North Carolina and my practice is open? Again, no, I really haven’t. Up to this point, have I been getting positive feedback from my clients and peers? For the most part, yes. I recently heard from one client that she got more from one session with me than she had in the past year with another therapist. I know I am not the best therapist in the world, but I believe I am good at what I do. My practice had been steadily growing until I went to North Carolina. It took about three years to build my practice from scratch before it turned profitable; it will likely take some time to reignite it. I have also been out of town a fair amount since I returned from North Carolina which I’m sure isn’t helping.
Armed with some facts I can take an honest, not distorted look at my situation. My conclusion is there are things I can do to grow my business, I have some control over what appears to be doldrums. Unlike the early sailors who were nearly paralyzed in the water, I have motor power. I can drive out of this. I also believe God is allowing this time in my life to learn a few valuable pieces. I am learning to depend on Him because ultimately, no matter what I do, it is God who allows me to have or not have and to deal with all circumstances. I am learning to be productive even when my schedule isn’t busy. That’s a big issue for me. I am more likely to get things done when my schedule is full than when it’s not. I get sucked into this stagnant abyss when things are slow. I am using this time to read and listen to new material on personal and spiritual growth. Lots of reading and listening at the moment! And that’s ok. This is where I am for now.
And the part about the consequences? Here’s what I know to be true. God is the God of forgiveness. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” I am free. I have experienced the natural consequences for my actions but a slump in my practice is not a natural consequence, not now. In fact my story, my mistakes, are what have brought me to the point where I can sit across from someone who is struggling in their life and encourage them toward healing and restoration.
I have to fight the nasty barbed thoughts that want to pull me into the depths. I notice them and send them packing. No, I will not let the negative rob me of hope and energy to keep moving forward (even if it’s in itty bitty, teeny tiny increments).
Armed with truth and reality, I can move forward. So can you!