The end of the first quarter is approaching fast. How is your process of change? Have you fallen into the large percentage of people who have fallen off their resolution wagon and back to their old ways? If so, try not beating yourself up over it. The fact is that change is HARD! It’s so easy to fall back into old behaviors. What about your relationships with others? Have you made a conscious decision to be a better spouse, partner, parent, friend, client, etc? We live in a relational world, meaning, we do not exist alone we exist in relationships with others. Having healthy relationships with primary people in our lives is often a key goal; disturbance in the relationships with those primary relationships can result in disturbances in other areas of our lives. Let’s look at how this works.
At the end of the day (and the beginning) we choose our own behavior. If we are not getting what we want in our relationships with others we may need to look at how we may be contributing to the negative interaction. When viewing issues, systemic minded therapists focus on interaction patterns between people (Gehart, 2014). Through interactional patterns, we learn to expect particular behaviors from those we are in constant interaction. These cycles that we continually find ourselves in can be corrected, but that takes our own willingness to change. Think of the old adage you teach people how to treat you.
Think of a specific relationship. How do you picture that relationship being in your head? Now, ask yourself what would it take for that relationship to get a little closer to how you imagine it to be. Here’s the big question, what message is your behavior sending? Is your behavior consistent with the message you are trying to send? If the relationship you pictured in your head reflects compassion and forgiveness, does yelling and name calling communicate compassion? All behavior communicates!
YIKES! Let that soak in a minute.
Corey (2013) states, “Behavior is purposeful because it is designed to close the gap between what we want and what we perceive we are getting”. During interactions when we feel that our need is not going to be met we begin to feel anger, frustration, or anxiety. Out of these feelings, our behavior may be less likely to effectively communicate in a way which gets us closer to what we want. It’s literally like dealing with a two-year-old; they don’t get what they want, even if it’s irrational, they spazz out, throw themselves on the floor and cry uncontrollably because their need or want is not being met. The difference is that we, as adults, have managed to have more “sophisticated tantrums.” We use hurtful words, close ourselves off, ignore the person, slam doors, yell, and sometimes we still manage to cry uncontrollably.
Take a step back to look at how you respond to others when you feel that your needs or wants are not being met. Instead of displaying behaviors from the list above, try communicating your need to this person. How would this make a difference? Take a step towards the relationship that you desire to have with others. One thing I reinforce, especially for couples and families is if we do not express our needs and wants to others, we aren’t even giving them the opportunity to meet our need. Is what you are choosing to do or not do getting you what you want and need.
If this is not a pattern that has been established within the relationship there may be some initial resistance because people are expecting “the pattern.” By introducing a new behavior, not only have you stopped the cycle, but you have shown the other person a new way of responding. By being open with our needs, it also gives our primary person permission to begin to express their own needs within the relationship.
We do not have to be stuck in negative patterns with those close to us. We do not have to accept ignorant behaviors with the front, “That’s just who I am.” We can learn AND implement alternative behaviors that move us closer together.
Not having control over your life or your own responses to others will leave you and your emotions at the mercy of others and will keep you stuck in negative interaction patterns. Being captive to emotions, which come, go and change like the wind, can be exhausting. Acknowledge your feelings, identify your need, and recognize whether or not your behavior is getting you closer to what you need or want.
P.S. Hope to see you guys for the Facebook LIVE! Photo by Bruce Mars.
Works Cited (I googled the citation because I forgot how to do it in real life)
Gehart, D. R. (2014). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation. Belmont, Calif: Brooks/Cole Pub.
Corey, G., & California State University. (2013). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth.