Archive for the 'Build the Life You Deserve' Category

Jul 06 2011

Rehearsing: Probably The Most Common Way to Say, “I’m Not Listening to You.”

How do you like it when you are upset about something and your partner won’t even let you finish your train of thought.

They already have their denial or rebuttal already organized and “come at you” with their rationale about why you are wrong.

This is called rehearsal, and it means exactly what it sounds like. The person you want to understand you isn’t really listening.

Rehearsing is a very common listening mistake.

It’s pretty easy to spot too. The listener’s eyes tend to trail off and you can almost see their mind sorting through how they can defend themselves from what they feel is your attack.

Of course, you are only expressing your thoughts and feelings, which ultimately is more important to both of you than who is right.

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Jul 06 2011

Blaming: A Common Communication Mistake in Relationships

If you are blaming your partner, it’s time to find a new way of understanding and explaining your thoughts, feelings and wants.

Blaming damages relationships. It’s pretty simple.

I remember hearing a story about a couple who started therapy. After the first session, the therapist met with each partner individually to get a chance to hear each person’s story more fully.

When the therapist met with the husband, all he could do was complain his wife was the cause of all his problems.

She was “this and that and then some more.”

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Jun 23 2010

Balancing Joy and Conflict in Marriage

Making marriage work these days is a complicated balancing act. It takes time to communicate, resolve conflict, raise children and manage the challenges of busy careers.

Marriage and family researcher, John Gottman, PhD and his research colleagues have had a huge influence on the course of marital and family therapy over the last twenty years.

I use many of the marital satisfaction surveys they have created. They are very helpful to couples trying to identify and work on their problems.

His research has compiled huge amounts of data and increased our understanding of what helps and what hurts marriages.

Rather than try to research a specific therapy method or style of marriage or family life, Gottman studied many marriages and families over several decades. He was able to begin to see what really worked for couples and their families.

The results of their research is found in Why marriages succeed or fail…and how you can

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Nov 24 2009

The Role of Mirror Neurons in Empathy, Mind Reading, and Language Learning

Read an absolutely fascinating (if you’re interested in mirror neurons! 🙂 article about the importance of mirror neurons.

Read the article here.

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Nov 23 2009

The Neural Bases of Empathic Accuracy: An Article by Psychology Professors Kevin Oschner and Niall Bolger, graduate student Jamil Zaki, and Research Assistant Jochen Weber at Columbia University Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2009

A Columbia University research project using functional MRI scanning has mapped the two brain systems responsible for empathic accuracy, the parietal and premotor cortex.

These two brain systems help humans understand the intentions of simple gestures, interpret the meaning of those gestures and place them into context.

The researchers used a group of volunteers (objects) to talk about emotional events in their lives while being videotaped. Later, these volunteers watched themselves on video and evaluated whether they felt positively or negatively while talking about these live events.

Then, a second group of volunteers (perceivers) watched the same videotapes and were asked to evaluate the positive or negative experience of the initial volunteers as they described their life events while also hooked up to functional MRI scanning devices to measure which brain systems were activated.
When the perceivers were accurate about the emotional experience, the same brain systems, the parietal and premotor cortex were activated.

Interestingly, when the perceivers were wrong, a third brain system was activated that involves the control and management of one’s own feelings.

This suggested to the researchers that a persons attention to their own feelings may cause them to miss the gestures and other behaviors linked to the feelings of others.

Read the summary of the study here.

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Nov 20 2009

Why You Become So Upset During Arguments: The Role of Adrenaline In The Survival Of The Species

Ok. I am suggesting your intense fighting is related to the evolutionary role of adrenaline or as it is also called, epinephrine, in helping our ancestors survive.

Whenever we feel threatened or excited, the complex workings of our brains trigger the production of adrenaline.

This sets of several reactions, including increased heart rate, dilation of pupils, and a rush of energy to respond to the perceived threat.

This adrenaline enhanced readiness to “fight or flight” was absolutely necessary for our ancestors to kill the saber tooth tiger and escape. However, so much adrenaline is really not necessary for two people living together and trying to settle some differences.
So, you or your partner aren’t crazy, although you may be a little dangerous. Too much adrenaline can lead to a “blind rage” or an “emotional hijacking” which results in more and more damage being done to your relationship.

The key learning goal here is that the intense physical reaction during arguments is caused by a complex neurological process involving the eventual production of adrenaline.

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Nov 17 2009

Empathy: Will a Monkey In A Research Project Pull A Chain To Get Food Or Starve Himself Because Pulling The Chain Also Causes Another Monkey To Experience Electric Shocks?

Monkeys like to eat and drink like the rest of us, but the research results about the power of empathy are fascinating.

The monkeys starve themselves rather than subject other monkeys to experience the pain of electric shock.

Pretty remarkable and says a lot about why children go to great lengths to “please” their parents and families so early in life, especially if the parent is in some type of pain.

In their article, pubished online here, “Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases,” Stephanie Preston and Frans De Wall describe the research detailing the biological basis for empathy.

Humans, like other mammals, are hardwired to respond to other conspecific’s (same species) pain.

The authors offer a biological explanation of empathy, called the Perception-Action Model (p4), which states that “the attended perception of the object’s (person/entity) being observed) state automatically primes or generates the autonomic or somatic responses, unless unhibited.”

So, the monkey or human infant (subject) after about one years of age, has a biologically driven response to viewing the pain or emotional experiences of others (object).

Think about what this means to children growing up in very vulnerable families with mentally ill,  substance abusing or just plain unhappy parents…

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Nov 09 2009

Limbic Resonance: Why Our Eyes Really Are the Windows to Our Souls

Just for a moment, remember the last time you gazed into your lovers eyes and felt the hot passion of love. Maybe your heart seemed to tingle, your face was flush, and you could tell that they really loved you and you loved them back.

This is called the physiology of love, or limbic resonance.  And yes, all mammals (humans are mammals:) experience this incredible process.

When we look into each other’s eyes, a complex neurological process begins which enables us to really experience the non-verbal, unconscious sensations and feelings within the other person and project our own feelings back to them.

Call it the love gaze. I hope you have it with more than your loving cat or dog who are thrilled to see you when you get home!
Read more about it here and here.

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Oct 13 2009

Here Are the Most Common Goals I Suggest During the Beginning of Couples Therapy

Goals for Couples

1.    Learn and use a structured communication model with strict rules about speaking and listening.

2.    Learn and correct mistakes related to speaking, including judgment focus, generalizing, blaming, criticizing, mind reading and ambushing.

3.    Learn and correct the mistakes related to listening, including defensiveness, personalizing, maintaining a negative filter, ambushing, criticism, contempt and reactivity.

4.    Learn and understand the impact of facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and other non-verbal cues in effective communication.

5.    Learn the importance of accepting responsibility for self-care and self-soothing. (We are all responsible for ourselves.)

6.    Learn to use the Cognitive Restructuring written tool and other Cognitive Therapy methods found in the Smart Recovery Tools and Homework website ( to correct distortions and errors in thinking and communication, both in and out of session.

I will discuss and explain these concepts in further posts.

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Oct 12 2009


Practice makes perfect and helps train the brain…it all gets easier the more you do it.Turning down the volume of conversations will help too. We can hear each other pretty well, if we feel like raising our voices, it is likely a time for a time-out. Have a cup of tea, do some breathing, then come back later to the conversation.

When I do listening exercises in session with couples, it helpfsto reduce the levels of conflict and create a warmer space for them to be with each other. There is a little hope that things can get better at home.

At the end of the communication exercise, I ask couples to give each other feedback about what they liked about this new way of talking with each other.

Here are some of the things that couples say to each other:

“I liked the way you expressed your feelings so directly.”

“you listened carefully to what I was saying”

“I liked hearing you reflect back what I was saying to you”

“hearing my words reflected back gave me a chance to hear what I was saying…I could evaluate and clarify my words, so I could say what I really mean”

“when I was listening, I realized how much I would argue and try to win the debate, rather than really listen to what you were saying”

“I realized how much what I usually say is blaming…I am not really talking about what I think, feel and want…rather how much I try to make to blame for my unhappiness”

Using words connected to honest feelings is the only way to create an intimate relationship.

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