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.

Tea Bag Promise: Grace Brings Contentment

I was flying back from my monthly Counselor Training Program with Dr. John Townsend and Scott Makin.  In typical, slightly high-maintenance-though-I-like-to-think-of-it-as-self-care fashion, I brought my own Yogi Chai Rooibos tea bag.  My tea tag said “Grace brings contentment”.  I contemplated that thought.  During my process group earlier that day, I worked on pieces of me that I prefer to hide.  Pieces like insecurity, criticism, perfectionism, and resentment.  I don’t like admitting those parts exist.  I prefer the place where I’m aware of my flaws and broken bits but I don’t have to look at those parts, just know they are there.  There are times when that stance is appropriate.  My process group is not one of those places.  A Cloud and Townsend process group is where deep integrative work occurs.  Every member of the group is expected to peel back the layers and observe, admit, confront, accept, and integrate the icky or hurt parts within.  My group is chock full of accomplished therapists and group leaders.  The caliber of these individuals is enough to bring up my insecurities and call into question the sanity of my decision to attend this training.  “I’m not good enough!” This would be paralyzing except the safety of the container is iron clad.  Everyone, no matter the degree, training, or accomplishments is shedding their layers and exposing all their broken and wounded parts.  We share a common bond, “You know the most protected parts of me, parts I may not have been aware existed prior to this training, and you accept me…all of me.” Outside of some pretty good, though temporary, dangerous and illegal drugs, I don’t know of a state of mind that brings more completeness and strength.  At first, after exposing myself to the group, I felt naked and embarrassed.  Once that passed, a calming completeness settled in where shame once lived.  Now I feel the contentment that comes with grace, just like my tea bag promised.

Giving Myself Grace

When I started blogging my goal was to post at least once a week. I achieved my goal, until last week. It has now been two weeks since my last post. In my suffocated-by-perfectionism state I would have berated myself for my failure. I would have gone on a flogging tirade with comments like “What were you thinking starting a blog? You’re not going to stay with this. Besides, hardly anyone reads it, why bother. You aren’t good at writing. You should quit.” I “would have” said those things to myself but I didn’t, still haven’t.
I recognize that I didn’t make my goal but it is simply a realization of the truth, “Yup, I didn’t make the goal.”  I am aware of the reasons why. Two weeks ago I started taking a class, one semester of a master’s level Child Psychology course condensed into 6 weeks. To say that I’m overwhelmed is an understatement. I am under the pressure of textbook and journal reading as well as numerous research paper deadlines. I understand the reality of my situation. I know that I have not blogged because blogging has not been a priority for me lately. I work at my private practice and have a family. I found it difficult to make the time to blog without the class. These are not excuses. They are reality.  Looking at my life and understanding why things are the way they are right now gives me a realistic perspective. When I expect myself to run seamlessly through life, I am looking through a distorted lens. It’s the lens of perfectionism. Perfectionism, at least for me, does not embrace reality it sees “shoulds” with no room for my limited humanity.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal and I understand why. I’m giving myself grace to let go of the goal, at least for now. I have three more classes to take after Child Psychology so it might not be until after December that I get back to my weekly blogging goal. That’s OK with me, for now. I was given the opportunity by my alma mater to take four classes for free. They increased the degree requirements for the Master’s in Counseling program and I get to reap the benefits of more education. The cost is some sleep, free time, and blogging. I’m willing to pay that price, at least for now.