Feelings…whoa whoa feelings!

Every human has feelings. As I often tell my clients, feelings aren’t right, wrong, good or bad. Feelings exist like they air, they have a purpose. We need air to breathe, to survive, to live. Feelings help us navigate our environment, help us choose behaviors and interact in our relationships. All feelings are necessary and healthy.

Most people have that mindset that we must avoid uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness, rejection, disappointment, grief, etc. We often try to avoid these feelings because we think if we’re happy all of the time that life will be great! Realistically, that’s not true. That’s actually called suppression when we avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings.

We live in a culture that encourages suppression and dysfunction. From religious perspectives of having a weak or broken spirit, messages in media and music, “Don’t worry be happy,” we are encouraged to believe that any feeling other than happiness, joy, excitement, or elation are bad. The truth is, if we don’t allow ourselves to become comfortable with processing and appropriately expressing uncomfortable emotions, we become a person who has poor emotional regulation. When we have poor emotional regulation, we will often be reactive to our strong emotions and lash out at others. Some people may even refer to it as having “anger issues.”

The truth is, we have feelings we have not allowed ourselves to feel and process yet. We have feelings that we have not set free yet. When we feel an intense feeling, we need to acknowledge it. We need to observe it, as it it were sitting beside us. We need to be introspective to explore why we had such an intensity when that feeling surfaced. We need to consider where we feel the feeling inside of our body. We need to sift through the possibilities that it could be a trigger from a painful experience in the past. We need to identify what is the painful experience and allow the feeling to exist.

Working Through Difficult and Uncomfortable Emotions

Negative or dark emotions are probably the most difficult to think about, let alone accept. Our culture has conditioned us to believe that we should deny or repress our negative emotions. The contrary is true though. It is absolutely imperative that we not only acknowledge our uncomfortable and difficult emotions, but that we also accept them. This is one of the most important aspects of coping. 

The desire to avoid what’s uncomfortable and seek what feels good is part of human nature. The downside to avoiding uncomfortable emotions—rather than accepting them—only increases our psychological distress, inflexibility, anxiety, and depression, diminishing our well-being. 

Suppressing our difficult and uncomfortable emotions often leads to using very unhealthy ways to cope with our distress, such as food, sex, drugs alcohol, or other unhealthy coping mechanimism. The use of these unhealthy coping mechanisms then leads to suppressing that we are using these destructive things to cope with our distress, which in turn causes more distress.

Research suggests that when we turn toward our feelings, we are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. When we turn toward our physical pain, we are less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain. When we turn toward our sadness, we are less likely to be stuck in depression. When we turn toward our anxiety, we are less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear. 

Learning to embrace uncomfortable emotions brings a significant reduction in our anxiety, it also lends us the ability to experience the joys of life more fully with a growing trust in our abilities to cope with life’s challenges. A very positive outcome from dealing with difficult emotions is that we can heal.  

If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn towards our pain by not pushing it down or pushing it away. We often wonder, what will help us get there? The tools of mindfulness, acceptance, nonjudgement, self-comfort and self-soothing are paramount to coping and healing.

In starting to develop this practice, try to start with emotions that are not too intense. We might want to first learn this skill with our therapist, especially for more intense emotions. Here’s what this involves.

Developing a willingness to recognize and acknowledge our difficult emotions 

Imagine looking around and we see someone we know. We wave and observe them. We invite the person to sit with us, but we don’t hold their hand, or put our arm around them. We also don’t judge them. We observe. We make small talk with them. When they’re ready to leave, they depart us. We wave goodbye. That’s how we must learn to treat our difficult and uncomfortable emotions.

It may even be helpful to picture our emotions as having a color, shape, or form. We may even envision our emotions as cartoon characters or an emoji, allowing our inner child to observe the emotion, too. Part of the practice is simply to acknowledge and accept the feelings that manifest, just as they are.

This is a new experience for most people. Who wants to feel our uncomfortable and difficult feelings? Who wants to feel sad or angry? When we let our feelings arrive, and observe them from a bit of a distance, we can take a curious look and explore what is there. 

Be curious about our feelings 

Mindfully observing what we are feeling may help us cope with feelings that exist. It may be useful to name our feelings (Oh, that’s hurt; that’s jealousy; that’s anger) because, as simple as this sounds, we often don’t pay attention to the nuances of what we are feeling; consequently, important information gets lost along the way. Labeling our distressing emotions gives us a way of validating our inner experience, but it has the added benefit of dialing down their intensity. 

It may also be beneficial to see our emotional “visitors” as temporary guests. Adding the phrase “in this moment” to a statement like “I am feeling stress, anger, or hurt” will help us observe what is present without feeling overwhelmed.

 Other things we might say to ourselves may include: 

  • Where do I feel the feeling in my body?
  • If this feeling could talk, what would it say?
  • What does this feeling need?

Being curious about our feelings rather than fearful or rejecting them provides a better lens for understanding our feelings. 

  • Feel a feeling
  • Identify what is the feeling
  • Acknowledge the feeling
  • Observe the feeling
  • Observe the feeling, do not attach to the feeling, don’t pull it close, don’t push it away
  • Allow it to exist in it’s own space
  • Do not judge ourselves for feeling the feeling
  • Sit with it until it dissipates
  • Let it go

Give yourself the gift of empathy

Besides pushing away uncomfortable feelings, many of us have been conditioned to judge our emotions in negative ways. We’ve learned that if we show sadness, it’s a sign of weakness. We may have been convinced that we are a bad person if we feel anger or jealousy. We’ve been told that we should “move on” when we experience loss. When we come face to face with difficult emotions, we often tell ourselves that there’s something wrong with us. 

When we practice mindfulness in combination with self-compassion, we recognize that we are all human. We will learn to ponder the fact that we all suffer as human beings. Cultivating self-compassion is linked to psychological well-being. 

To practice self-compassion, imagine sitting with a good friend who is suffering and think about how we might extend a gesture of compassion. What would our body language be like? How might we listen? What sensations would we feel in our hearts?

Now picture that person extending compassion towards us. What might that person say to us or do? What words would we find comforting or soothing? 

Chances are, another person would not be telling us to “get over it”, or that “we shouldn’t feel this way”. They might say, “that sounds really difficult. I’m here for you” or perhaps they might simply give us a hug, or pat us.

When we learn to sit mindfully with our own emotions, and bring compassion to whatever we are experiencing, it’s as if we have become that caring friend, sitting with ourselves. Learning to be there for ourselves, through the positive moments as well as the painful ones, can be tremendously healing. 

While embracing our dark emotions takes courage and practice, using this practice allows us to open a gift on the other side. Each time we practice being with our difficult emotions, we grow better coping skills. We learn to trust in our capacity to handle our experiences, develop resilience for moving through life’s challenges, and find ways to pursue what truly matters. Each of us has the power to face the difficult and uncomfortable.

Goals of difficult and uncomfortable emotions:

  1. Acknowledging and identifying my feelings
  2. Observe and accept the reality of my feelings and thoughts.
  3. Allow my feelings to exist and not puush my them away or down
  4. I will not pull my feeling toward me by trying to control them
  5. I am accepting these feelings exist because of a trigger I felt
  6. I will allow my feeling to exist until they dissipate
  7. I am replacing the pain with healing
  8. I will comfort and soothe myself

Radical acceptance is the ability to completely accept our feelings and thoughts about something uncomfortable and difficult. Below are steps that go more in depth to what radical acceptance means.

  1. What is radical acceptance? 
    1. Radical means all the way, complete and total. 
    2. It is accepting what is in your mind, heart, and body. 
    3. It is when you stop fighting reality, stop feeling angry, bitter, resentful, or victimized because the reality is not the way you want it. 
  2. What has to be accepted?
    1. Reality is as it is, meaning the facts are the facts whether we like them or not.
    2. We cannot control reality, we cannot control facts, so we have to accept that they are what they are.
    3. Everything has a cause, even things that are difficult and uncomfortable.
    4. Life is worth living even if it’s not always pleasant or fun.
  3. Accept reality
    1. Repressing or trying to control reality doesn’t change it. 
    2. We cannot change or control reality, so we have to accept it as it is.
    3. Pain cannot be avoided. 
    4. Rejecting reality turns pain into suffering. 
    5. Refusing to accept reality keeps us stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame, resentment, and victimization. 
    6. Acceptance may lead to emotional discomfort and difficulty, but it is followed by a deep calm and peace.
    7. The path out of difficult feelings is being uncomfortable.
    8. By refusing to be uncomfortable, we suppress the difficult emotions that lead to our misery. 

What Radical Acceptance is NOT! 

● It is not trying to seek approval

● It is not seeking compassion

● It is not seeking love

● It is not remaining passive

● It is not remaining the same, being stuck

● It is not repression or denial

Factors that may interfere with acceptance: 

  • We don’t want to feel the difficult feelings or be uncomfortable, but we need to accept.
  • We believe that if we accept our difficult feelings that we’re approving of the trigger, that nothing will change, but the truth is that we’re healing, growing, and moving forward.
  • Difficult emotions are uncomfortable, such as sadness, anger, range, shame, or guilt.
  • Accepting our emotions about the entire situation will help you heal and move forward. 
  • The weight that is released is incredible when we accept our feelings instead of trying to control or fight them.

How to Practice:

Learning to feel and accept our difficult emotions by being uncomfortable is incredibly releasing.

  • What are you really upset over?
    • Write down why you believe you are feeling down.
    • Comfort and soothe yourself while feeling down.
  • What are the thoughts running through your mind?
    • Write down your thoughts surrounding the issue.
    • You may even talk outloud to yourself about your thoughts in processing them, or journal about them.
    • Do not judge yourself for your thoughts.
  • What emotion(s) is behind those thoughts?
    • Write down what you are trying to identify the emotions that are entangled with the thoughts and the root of feeling down.
    • Acknowledge your feeling(s).
    • Observe your feelings.
    • Allow your feelings to exist in their own space as not good or bad.
    • Do not judge yourself for your feelings.
  • What are you pushing away and/or trying to control?
    • Write down what you think you are pushing away and trying to control.
    • Sit with your thoughts as you process your feelings and desire to control or push them away.
  • Why do you think you are trying to control or push those thoughts and feelings away?
    • Write down why.
    • Sit with your ideas of why you think you are trying to control/push away your feelings and thoughts.
  • Observe that you are trying to control or suppress your thoughts because you don’t want to be uncomfortable by feeling the difficult feelings.
  • Remind yourself that you are choosing to hold on to the feeling by trying to control or suppress your discomfort.
  • Remind yourself that by allowing the feeling to come to the surface, it will eventually leave because you’re no longer trying to hold on to or control it.
  • Allow yourself to feel the emotion rising to the surface in your body, feel your body getting lighter as the emotion rises, and feel your body release and relieved as the emotion leaves your body.

Accepting things we want to control is a choice. The choice to accept it does not mean that we will instantly feel better or different, but it is a step toward healing.

  • I want to observe that I am not accepting by exploring whether I feel anger, bitterness, irritation, or victimizing by thinking, “why me?” “why do things always happen to me?” “this isn’t fair!”
  • I will make a commitment to accept reality as it is. 
  • I am going to continue to practice acceptance until I feel a change within myself toward accepting what makes me uncomfortable.
  • I will develop a plan for catching myself in the future when I resist accepting something. 

Allowing our bodies to cope with being uncomfortable

Our bodies communicate with our brains? Our body and mind are connected, so our body’s actions send signals to our brains. The following is a productive coping skill to help our bodies cope with uncomfortable feelings. 


  • Relax your face from the top of your head to your chin and jaw. 
    • Let go of each facial muscle including your forehead, brows, eyes, cheeks, mouth, and tongue. 
    • If you have difficulty relaxing these muscles, try tensing them first then relaxing them. A tense smile may tell your brain that you’re hiding feelings and wearing a mask. 
  • Let both corners of your lips turn slightly upward.
  • It’s not necessary for others to see this. 
  • A half smile is slightly upturned lips with a relaxed face. 
  • Try to adopt a serene facial expression. 
    • Remember that your facial expressions communicate to your brain and connect to your body. 

Willing hands: 


  • Drop your arms from your shoulders and keep them straight or bent slightly at the elbows. 
  • With your hands unclenched, turn your hands outward with thumbs out to your sides, palms up, fingers relaxed. 


  • Place your hands on your lap or thighs. 
  • With hands unclenched, turn hands outward, palms up and fingers relaxed. 

Lying down: 

  • Arms by your sides, hands unclenched, palms up, fingers relaxed. 

Deep breathing: 

Did you know that breathing can change your brain? Counting your breaths taps into the emotional side of the brain. 

1. Inhale for a count of four. 

2. Hold for a count of four. 

3. Exhale for a count of four. 

4. Wait for a count of four. 

5. Repeat until you feel calm and grounded. 

Journal Prompts 

I’ve been feeling down because (Why do you believe you’ve been feeling down?)

I don’t want to accept the reality of (What do you not want to accept?)

I’ve been rejecting the fact that (What facts have you been rejecting?)

Because of this, I will never (What do you fear about this issue?)

This makes me feel (What is the feeling that manifests because of this issues)

I feel (state your identified feeling) and that’s okay.

It’s okay that I am allowing myself to feel (state the identified feeling) and accept that (What is it that you’ve not wanted to accept?)

I feel… 

I feel… 

I feel… 

I feel relieved that I finally allowed myself to accept reality. 

I feel relieved that…

I feel relieved that…

I understand…

I understand…

I understand…

I feel accomplished that…

I feel accomplished…

I feel accomplished that…

I feel accomplished that I finally accepted what I was trying to control.

Fun fact: 

What happens when we repress our negative emotions? 

Repressing our emotions is not allowing ourselves to deal with difficult emotions. Repressing our emotions can lead to anxiety, depression, weight loss, weight gain, insomnia, sleeping too much, dysfunctional behaviors, and a plethora of other physical issues. 


Hixon, S. (2019) Mental health content. 

Kurland, B. (2019). What Happens When You Embrace Dark Emotions. 

Linehand, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. 

Emotional – Relationship Needs

Oftentimes we are dissatisfied in our relationships and we don’t know why exactly. We all have needs emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Do you know what your relational needs are?

Below is an assessment and scoring sheet for relational needs. Whether you are an individual or in a romantic partnership, this assessment will help you realize what are your relational needs and even further break down within the need, what’s important to you.

When our relational cup is filled by our partner, family, friends, and co-workers, and community, we are content and feel loved in all of our relationships. While we need to fill our cut by giving to ourselves first. All relationships are giving to to other and taking some to refill ourselves!

Anxiety, Stress, Difficulty

Some of the most difficult things we try to cope with are anxiety, stress, and difficult emotions. The majority of us never never learn that we are human and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable emotions. We often try to suppress those emotions because we don’t like the way they feel. We also often encourage others to suppress those difficult emotions because we’re uncomfortable with them.

We are told that we “shouldn’t” feel certain ways – mad, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, grevious, or anything else that doesn’t feel good. We’re taught to suppress these emotions, but that doesn’t help. The only thing it does it causes more distress and could potentially lead to more distressing issues. We should not hold in uncomfortable and difficult emotions, we have to let them out and feel them. It’s normal and human to feel emotions, both good and bad.

Here is an attachment to help navigate how to process and work through difficult and uncomfortable emotions.


One of the biggest issues I see within couples and family dynamics is ineffective

5 Keys of Effective Communication in the Workplace - Independence Plus

communication. Effective communication is one of the most essential skills that we need to master for healthy relationships. We often learn dysfunctional communication in our family of origin and we rarely learn to change those unhealthy behaviors. Below is a guideline that I utilize in therapy with my client to help overcome dysfunctional and unhealthy communication styles. Please feel free to download a copy for yourself at the end of the post. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Communication Guide

Try to remember that the goal in any relationship is effective communication. Effective communication consists of all individuals feeling heard, seen, validated and understood with empathy and without judgement. 

Some key concepts to remember when we are communicating:

  • Feelings are not facts
  • Feelings are not good or bad
  • Feelings are not right or wrong, they are different and that’s okay
  • ALL feelings are valid
  • The goal of conflict is resolution
  • In regard to conflict there is no right person or wrong person
  • The goal of conflict is to negotiate and come to a compromise that everyone is okay with
  • Conflict is productive
  • Conflict is not yelling, screaming, or hurtful
  1. Be gentle and kind with our words and tone of voice.
    • No attacks
    • No threats
    • Do not judge 
    • No smirking
    • No eye rolling
    • No sighing
    • No shrugging
  2. Be interested in what others are saying.
    • Maintain eye contact
    • Do not interrupt
  3. Validate the other person and the way they feel.
    • Try to understand other perspectives by putting yourself in another’s shoes
    • Show empathy for the other’s feelings
  4. Body language is also important.
    • Try to stay lighthearted and smile

Communication Rules 

  • Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset. 

Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset  because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more  piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument. 

  • Discuss one issue at a time. 

“You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t  care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an  argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done  wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome. 

  • No degrading language. 

Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is  an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will  just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten. 

  • Use “I” Statements

Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them. “I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are  good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take  responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”). 

  • Take turns talking. 

This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer  allowing 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don’t spend your partner’s  minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen to hear, not to reply.

  • No stonewalling. 

Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to  speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but  the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely  cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later. 

  • No yelling. 

Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse. 

Take a time-out if things get too heated. 

In a perfect world we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn’t work like  that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come  back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down. 

  • Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding. 

There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to  come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can’t come to a  compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.

“I” Statements 

When a person feels that they are being blamed—whether rightly or wrongly—it’s common that  they respond with defensiveness. “I” statements are a simple way of speaking that will help you  avoid this trap by reducing feelings of blame. A good “I” statement takes responsibility for one’s  own feelings, while tactfully describing a problem.  

“I feel (emotion word) when (explanation).” 

“I feel…” must be followed with an emotion word, such as “angry”, “hurt”, or “worried”. ✔ Careful wording won’t help if your voice still sounds blaming. Use a soft and even tone. ✔ In your explanation, gently describe how the other person’s actions affect you.  


Blaming “You can’t keep coming home so late! It’s so inconsiderate.”
“I” Statement “I feel worried when you come home late. I can’t even sleep.”
Blaming “You never call me. I guess we just won’t talk anymore.”
“I” Statement “I feel hurt when you go so long without calling. I’m afraid you don’t care.”


Scenario A friend always cancels plans at the last minute. Recently, you were waiting  for them at a restaurant, when they called to say they couldn’t make it.
“I” Statement
Scenario You are working on a group project, and one member is not completing their  portion. You have repeatedly had to finish their work. 
“I” Statement
Scenario Your boss keeps dumping new work on you, with little instruction, and not  enough time. Despite working overtime, you’re weeks behind.
“I” Statement

Active Listening Communication Skill 

Active Listening: Treating listening as an active process, rather than a passive one. This  means participating in conversation, rather than acting as an audience. Active listeners show  they are listening, encourage sharing, and strive to understand the speaker. 

Show You’re Listening: Put away distractions. Watching TV, using your phone, or doing other things while listening sends the  message that the speaker’s words are not important. Putting away distractions allows you to focus on  the conversation and help the speaker feel heard. 

Use verbal and nonverbal communication: Body language and short verbal cues that match the  speaker’s affect (e.g. responding excitedly if the speaker is excited) show interest and empathy.  

Verbal: “mm-hmm” / “uh-huh” “that’s interesting” “that makes sense” “I understand” Nonverbal: nodding in agreement reacting to emotional content (e.g. smiling) eye contact 

Encourage Sharing: Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that encourage elaboration, rather than “yes” or “no”  responses. Open-ended questions tell the speaker you are listening, and you want to learn more. 

  • “What is it like to ____?” 
  • “How did you feel when ____?” 
  • “Can you tell me more about ____?” 
  • “How do you ____?”
  •  “What do you like about ____?”
  •  “What are your thoughts about ____?” 

Use reflections: In your own words, summarize the speaker’s most important points. Be sure to  include emotional content, even if it was only communicated through tone or body language. 

Speaker: I’ve been having a hard time at work. There’s way too much to do and I can’t keep up. My boss is  frustrated that everything isn’t done, but I can’t help it. 

Listener: It sounds like you’re doing your best to keep up, but there’s too much work. That sounds stressful! 

Strive to Understand: Be present. Listening means paying attention to body language, tone, and verbal content. Focus your  attention on listening, instead of other mental distractions, such as what you want to say next. When  possible, save sensitive conversations for a quiet time with few distractions. 

Listen with an open mind. Your job is to understand the speaker’s point of view, even if you don’t  agree. Avoid forming opinions and making judgments until you fully understand their perspective.

Using a technique called reflection can quickly help you become a better listener. When  reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has just said to you, but in your own words. This  shows that you didn’t just hear the other person, but you are trying to understand them. 

Reflecting what another person says can feel funny at first. You might think the other person will  be annoyed at you for repeating them. However, when used correctly, reflections receive a  positive reaction and drive a conversation forward. Here’s an example: 

  • Speaker: “I get so angry when you spend so much money without telling me.  We’re trying to save for a house!” 
  • Listener: “We’re working hard to save for a house, so it’s really frustrating when it  seems like I don’t care.” 

Quick Tips 

The tone of voice you use for reflections is important. Use a tone that comes across as a  statement, with a bit of uncertainty. Your goal is to express: “I think this is what you’re telling  me, but correct me if I’m wrong.” Your reflections don’t have to be perfect. If the other person corrects you, that’s good! Now you have a better understanding of what they’re trying to say. 

Try to reflect emotions, even if the person you’re listening to didn’t clearly describe them. You  may be able to pick up on how they feel by their tone of voice or body language. 

Switch up your phrasing, or your reflections will start to sound forced. Try some of these: • “I hear you saying that…” 

  • “It sounds like you feel…” 
  • “You’re telling me that…” 

Focus on reflecting the main point. Don’t worry too much about all the little details, especially  if the speaker had a lot to say.

Practice: “I was in a bad mood yesterday because work has been so stressful. I just can’t  keep up with everything I have to do.” 

Reflection:  “I feel like I’m doing all of the work around the house. I need you to help me clean  and do the dishes more often.” 

“I’ve been worried when you don’t answer your phone. I always think something  might’ve happened to you.” 

“I don’t understand what she wants from me. First she says she wants one thing,  then another.” 

Conflict Resolution 

Focus on the problem, not the person: When a disagreement turns to personal insults, raised voices, or mocking tones, the  conversation is no longer productive. Be careful to focus on the problem without  placing blame on your partner. If a disagreement becomes personal, you should  pause the conversation. 

Use reflective listening: Oftentimes during arguments we focus on getting our own point across rather than  listening to our partner. Before responding to your partner, restate what they have  said to you in your own words. Continue this process until your partner agrees that  you understand. Next, share your side. Your partner should reflect back your ideas in  their own words until they too understand. Using this technique will help both  individuals feel listened to and understood, even if you disagree. 

Use “I” statements: When sharing a concern, begin your sentence with “I”. For example: “I feel hurt when  you don’t tell me you’ll be late”. With this sentence format we show that we are  taking responsibility for our own emotion rather than blaming our partner. The  alternative sentence—“You never tell me when you’re going to be late”—will often  cause a partner to become defensive. 

Know when to take a time-out: When you and your partner are becoming argumentative, insulting, or aggressive, it’s  a good idea to take a time-out. Have a plan in place so you or your partner can call  for a break when needed. Spend some time doing something alone that you find  relaxing. When you’ve both calmed down, you and your partner can return to solving  the problem. Be sure that you do return—it isn’t a good idea to leave these issues  unaddressed.  

Work toward a resolution: Disagreement is a normal part of a relationship. If it becomes clear that you and your  partner will not agree, focus on a resolution instead. Try to find a compromise that  benefits both individuals. Ask yourself if this disagreement really matters to your  relationship, and let yourself move on if not.

Unhelpful things we do when communicating

The Four Horsemen

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. Luckily, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

  1. Criticism – Verbally attacking, name calling, putting the other person or their character down
    • Gentle startup – Use “I” statements, reflective listening, and talk about your feelings.
  2. Contempt – Attacking the other person’s sense of self with the intention of insult or verbal abuse.
    • Build a culture of appreciation – Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.
  3. Defensiveness – Victimizing yourself of a perceived attack and reversing the blame.
    • Take responsibility for yourself – Hold yourself for your behavior, accept your partner’s perspective, and apologize for your wrongdoing.
  4. Stonewalling – Withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval, distance, and separation.
    • Physiological self-soothing – Take a break and spend some time doing something soothing and distracting.

The Antidotes by Ellie Lisitsa

  1. The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?


  • Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”
  • Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.


  • Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)
  • Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.


  • Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”
  • Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

  • “Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”
  • “Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

Inner Child Healing


The majority of us did not grow up in functional homes with parents who knew how to give us the love and nurturing that we needed. When we don’t get what we need as children, especially during the first five years, we often grow up with struggling how to feel loved, valued, worthy, and a many other things. I’m not blaming our parents, many of them grew up with their own issues and just didn’t know that they needed healing themselves. (The accompanying documents are at the end of the post.)

Our Inner Child

Healing our inner child is imperative to healthy adult functioning as the majority of us have a wounded little child inside that is longing to be accepted, loved, and respected. There is another component to inner child healing and that is the societal issues that exist. We often don’t know how to comfort and soothe ourselves as adults or that we even should be comforting and soothing ourselves. We often try to fill the deficiency of those needs by external fulfillment, such as drinking, unhealthy relationships, drugs, meaningless sex, shopping, or other unhealthy behaviors. We will never find externally what we need to heal internally.

Cultural Influences

Think about our culture, we give babies things to quiet them, such as pacifiers, blankets, stuffed animals, but at a certain age we take them away and don’t give our children anything to replace those things that brought them comfort and soothing. Then, we get upset when our children no longer have a means to self-soothe or comfort when their feelings are intense.

Self Comforting and Self Soothing

There’s so much more that goes into this, but I’d have to write a novel to cover everything, so I’ll cover this today. When our children get upset and have very big feelings, we punish them! What?! Yes, think about it. When you were a child and you were upset about something, were you ever told to “stop crying or you’d get a spanking,” etc? Sadly, too many of us can answer yes to this question. It is our parents’ fault because they didn’t know better ways to parent, but at the same time, a lot of people don’t know how to find the resources to learn better ways. So, here we are having to heal that inner child inside of us.

The Geongram

I am attaching a short workbook that I often use with my clients to facilitate the inner child healing process. When working with client to address inner child wounds, I start with the Genogram. I often describe it as a relational family tree. It is a family tree that highlights relationship patters, such as marriage, divorce, mental health issues, relational issues, etc. This gives us a literal visual of our family of origin and the relationship patterns that often repeat themselves throughout generations if we don’t heal ourselves.

When working through the genogram, I also write down any generational family trauma, such as race because many races experienced atrocities. This is relevant because of generational trauma, which I will cover in another post. I also write down individual traumatic events that each individual experienced. That is relevant as it affects the way the person functions in their life and relationships.

The Trauma Timeline

After the client and I create their genogram, we then work on a timeline of the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. We often need to heal and nurture the inner child in regard to each traumatic event they have experienced. This give us almost a step by step guide of where we need to start.

Healing Our Inner Child

Finally, we start working through the Inner Child Healing Workbook, which allows us to heal that wounded child inside of us. We get to give them the love and acceptance they did not receive as a child. We get to soothe them, comfort them, and let them know they are safe and they will never be in danger again. That hurting child inside us will always be protected.


Is this an easy process? Absolutely not! The process of healing our inner child can dredge up some painful experiences we may not remember are in our subconscious. The process may get worse before it gets better, but the outcome will be worth every moment of the difficult process. We come out of the experience as more mentally healthy and functional individuals. It is so worth it!

If you have any questions, please email me at stacy@stacyhixonlpc.com or leave a comment. 😃

Book Recommendations

I am often asked to recommend books for clients. Here is a list of books that I use in my practice and find very helpful to use with clients.

Best Books of 2019 for Entrepreneurs

To be continued!

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