Friday, July 10, 2015


There are many trends in the modern lexicon that bug the dickens out of me.  “That NEEDS FIXED” for example.  That needs TO BE FIXED.  Or TO BE washed . . . or TO BE spoken correctly, for that matter.  Sometimes, I just don’t get it and I have to get my kids to explain it to me.  For example, “Kk.”  Or “KK” or whatever it is.  Is that OK?  And why are we now at “Kk?”  Did something happen to the letter “O?”  And does “Kk” mean something different than “KK?” 

I’m pretty hip for an “old” chick.  I can adapt.  I mean, OMG, I’ve got 2 kids teetering on the brink of teenager-hood.  Thus, I am contractually obligated to maintain some sort of connection with the world in which they live.  So far, I have successfully supported the use of being verbs.  I am working on the pronunciation of the double “t” sound . . . . MITTENS instead of mi(some swallowed sound I don’t know how to spell) ens.  I am sure "DUH" grated similarly on my parents' nerves.

Don’t even get me started on the subject of ADDING these atrocities to the dictionary.  Seriously?  We can’t get anyone to speak correctly, so we will change the English language?  Reverting back to caveman is right around the corner and we will grunt and throw poop at each other to communicate.  Makes me "tot's cray cray." 

All of this aside, there is one newcomer to the scene that I’m glad to see.  It bugged me at first, but upon further reflection, I realize its positive contribution.  The phrase in question is “SO . . . THAT HAPPENED. . . “ 

Mindfulness.  In one phrase, Eckhart Tolle and all his thoughts about shrinking awareness down to the current moment without judgment or evaluation.  Maybe he was the first to say “that happened . . .” and somehow it caught on with the younger set.

“That happened” removes the need to assess the intrinsic value of every situation.  It wasn’t good or bad, it just happened.  Now I get it, common use of the phrase implies something shocking or usually distasteful, but for someone who is 25, it seems (sweeping generalization ahead ... if you are not of this ilk, it doesn’t apply to you so don’t get offended) EVERYTHING IS DISTASTEFUL.  These days, I have a job because these Gen Y and millenials think ALL THINGS are bothersome and beneath them.  In my office, I often have to pause for a long moment before I find something professional to say . . . like “you are not doing (insert retail outlet here) a favor by coming to work for them.” 

"That happened.”  Let it become your mantra.  Obviously you’re going to have "feels" one way or another about WHAT happened, but practice not getting carried away with them.  “That happened” is about the lost art of acceptance.  There’s nothing we can do about it after it’s already happened.  So wrap your head around it, and start to move on. 

What I see is an enormous amount of effort going into mentally trying to make things UN-HAPPEN.  We roll it around in our heads 400 different ways.  What if I had said this, what if he hadn’t said that?  What if I hadn’t been late that day?  What if I had just checked that door?  There’s an old adage about closing the barn door after the horse has run away.  All those mental gymnastics are just about as effective. 

YOLO, so take all that energy and point it forward?  What if we were to experiment with thinking about changes to make NEXT TIME we get the chance to try?
Dear Mr. Webster:  If I have to accept NEEDS FIXED and the lost art of the double “t” in order for people to embrace fully the art of “THAT HAPPENED,” I guess I’m down with that! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Flip Side of Forgiveness: How To Apologize

Here we are on the flip side of forgiveness, in the doorway to relationship repair.  Apology is a lost art in our society, from politicians who earnestly swear that they ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY  DID NOT DO . . . . whatever they have to admit to doing the next day, to our kids who wallop each other in the head and are forced to mutter a snotty "SORRY" through clenched teeth.

Really?  It's not that hard.  Just have to get your head and heart in the right place and realize that you're not giving anything up with an apology, you're taking the high road and setting the bar for the other person to respond in kind. 

Here are a few things to consider in delivering a sincere, and boundaried apology:

1.  Have good self esteem.  As I said in my previous post, you're a good person.  Most of the time, a well-meaning person.  You made a mistake.  If you had, in the moment in question, had the tools to do the right thing, you would have.  Keep in mind that what I mean by "tools to do the right thing" includes things like: 
  • Enough inner resources to not have a knee-jerk reaction to be selfish (read:  self-protective), which in today's world many people don't.
  • Skills to know what the right thing is, which can be tricky in relationships.  We're not talking about do or do not rob a bank.  This is do or do not tell someone that you don't want to go to their cousin's reindeer dress-up party and instead saying that you have the flu and getting caught not having the flu. 
  • Also required is wanting, in the moment, to do the right thing.  Go back and read about your amygdala hijack.  When adrenaline hits your system, you're not using your decision-making skills, you're flying by the reactive, fight-or-flight based seat of your pants.  WANTING to do the right thing comes from your thinking brain which, in that moment, is off-line. 
So good, well-meaning people, present company absolutely included, screw up all the time.  We trip and fall and damage a relationship.  You're still a good person.  You can be a good person who has the skills to fix it.  (AHEM . . . THIS IS NOT A GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD.  If you want a relationship, you must learn to act relational-LY even when it's hard.)

2.  Really BE sorry ... not just sorry you got caught, or sorry the other person called you out on being a selfish jerk, or sorry you can't figure out a way to escape responsibility.  If you care about the other person, you naturally feel sorry that your behavior caused them pain.  Or at the very least you feel sorrow that they are hurt.

I'm a literal definition kind of gal, and think it often helps to go back to what a word actually means rather than what it's been watered down to in today's world. Good ol' Merriam Webster says apology is "a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another." It is not an admission of guilt, it has nothing to do with power, and it certainly isn't a one-sided deal. MOST of the time, "FAULT" for any given person is equally divided between the two parties. There is the offender, who gets the finger pointed at him or her, but the offender is often reacting to some equally egregious, but often masked, bad behavior on the part of the other person. Often, people just get into a power struggle over who was wrongEST, and wait the other person out for that apology, all the while building resentment and further damaging the relationship. You can feel sorrow that the other person is hurting AND be aware that you are hurt too. 

Whoever takes a step to try and fix it first, wins.

Frankly, if you're not feeling sorrow that as a result of your behavior someone else is feeling hurt, you shouldn't be in a relationship anyway.  Go to therapy until you have worked on your issues enough to be able to feel empathy and remorse in a healthy way.  There's a word for someone who is INCAPABLE of recognizing the impact their behavior has on others.  Rhymes with "SchmOCIOPATH."  That's another blog.

3.  Be specific.  There's always something in a conflict that you can have sorrow about.  However, oftentimes, people get their feelings hurt when we tell them the truth about something they don't want to hear.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't have said it - sometimes it is important to let someone else be uncomfortable for a while and struggle with an issue.  It takes a LOT of skill in communication to navigate that minefield.  In the meantime, try the following: 
  • I'm sad about where our relationship is.  Would you be open to talking about how to fix it? (Yes, MEN, you can say SAD without your gonads falling off)
  • I know what I said was hard to hear.  I'm sorry that we're struggling.  I care about you.
  • I know it hurt you when I (insert behavior here).  I'm sorry for that.  I hope we can move past it.
  • Ooh .... I really blew it didn't I?  I'm sorry (optional hug)
  • Look - I don't even really know what to say about what happened.  I just know I care about you, and you matter to me, and I want to fix it. 
4.  Get the message out any way you can.  An apology over text or email is better than no apology at all.  We don't have conflict management skills taught to us, and many people aren't good at it.  Delivering an apology face to face requires not only good communication skills but also good self-esteem, boundaries and limit-setting.  Don't avoid doing the right thing because you're not sure you can handle the aftermath.  Do the right thing, and see what happens.  THEN figure out what comes next.  I edit many client emails for boundaries.  Get a second opinion from someone with good skills.

5.  Be ready to hear the other person's feelings . . . with good boundaries.  You're not a punching bag.  Personal attacks on your integrity aren't ok.  "I'm so hurt by what you did" is different from "You're a selfish jerk."  The question "Why did you do that?" really has no good answer.  Obviously you didn't mean to.  (If you did, you don't belong in a relationship)  Obviously you did it because you couldn't come up with the resources NOT to do it in the moment.  "I don't know" is a cop-out.  The answer is "I really don't have a reason that will make it ok."  Because you don't.  If the tirade goes on and on, ask "what is it that you need to hear from me?"  Often you will get "I need to know you're not going to do it again"  the answer is "I will do my very best."  and mean it.  Now read #6.

6.  Don't do it again.  Apology wears thin after the 16th time.  It starts being less believable.  Relationship involves responsibility; responsibility to be thoughtful and considerate, to not do things that you know will damage the other person either physically or emotionally.  Repeated hurt leaves scars, and often those scars last long after you have parted ways.  If you can't commit to changing your behavior, be honest.  Acknowledge that you aren't willing to make those changes and give the other person the respect to allow them to make an informed decision about the future with or without you.  If you care about the relationship, but can't commit to changing the behavior, get help.  FAST. 

7.  NO BUTS.  YOUR behavior is YOUR responsibility.  Barring physical violence, there is NO behavior on the part of the other person that CAUSES you to act out.  DO NOT use an apology to call for change in the other person (as in "I'm sorry BUT IF YOU DIDN'T . . . THEN I WOULDN'T . . . ).  Apologize for your part of the problem and leave it hanging there in the silence.  Doing so creates healthy pressure on the other person to take responsibility for THEIR part of the problem.  They may.  They may not.  This isn't the time to demand an apology in return.  Most of the time, if you genuinely change the problematic behavior, it upsets the (unhealthy) pattern in the relationship in a way that makes it impossible for the other person to continue their own hurtful ways without feeling like a jerk.  This is where you can just let them marinate in the knowledge that it is their turn to make some changes.  Enjoy it.  You lose all the impact if you give them the answers.  It's healthy manipulation.  I like to say I have a job tricking people into doing healthy things despite their best efforts.  It's fun. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Apology: The flip side of forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a crowbar, a battering ram or a bargaining chip.  If you’ve screwed up, forgiveness is not a right or a demand. 

Let me give you a helpful piece of advice.  If you care about a relationship, the MOMENT you realize you blew it, RUN, don't walk - race as fast as you can to the relationship repair department and start taking steps to fix it. 

I always talk about maintaining good self esteem in relationship, so I don’t want you to lie prostrate on the floor while moaning "mea culpa, mea culpa."  Let’s have some dignity here.  You’re a good person.  You made a mistake.  If you could have figured out how to do the right thing in the moment you would have.  Lots of factors come into play there, including being more or less interested in doing the right thing in the moment. 

One of the most disabling disservices we do our children in this society is to not teach them how to screw up and recover.  We teach them to screw up and hide it, to screw up and give 100 reasons why it wasn’t REALLY their fault, to screw up and accept being berated and shamed in a manner out of proportion to the seriousness of the screw up, but we don’t teach kids how to deal with the unavoidable situation in which either knowingly or unknowingly we have hurt another person. 

The funny thing is, we have an easier time apologizing to strangers.  I did it this morning on my way to my plane (yep.  That’s why I’m writing.  I am stuck in a plane!)  I heard a chuckle behind me, and the guy said “I’m trying to pass you and you’re just all over the place!”  First words out of my mouth?  “I'm sorry!”  It’s habit.  And it’s not a lie.  I was totally in my own little world, daydreaming about my upcoming VACATION and not paying attention to anyone else on the planet.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but I impeded someone else’s progress with my (albeit unknowing) self-centered lack of awareness of my relationship to other travelers.  Apology was easy, as was having a short conversation with this total stranger who was apparently rushing back to Ohio.  We had a nice relationship.  It was short, but pleasant.  We even worked through conflict in a positive way.  A lot happened in that 5 minutes.  Our relationship ended abruptly, but I’m OK. 

We grow up being made to apologize for things we aren't sorry for, that really weren't WRONG in the first place.  I VIVIDLY remember being forced to go to the door of my next door neighbor (I was probably 6 or 7 at the time) and apologize for picking peaches up off the ground, and subsequently from the tree that was technically the neighbor's but halfway in our yard, and from which the neighbors NEVER picked peaches.  In fact I remember hearing MANY complaints about the peaches rotting on the ground.  Yet myself and my two neighbor-friends were trotted to the front door and made to spit out an apology.  It made no sense to me.

I heard a story once of a kid who was being picked at by his older brother and when he had finally had enough, picked up a pencil and stabbed the offending kid in the hand (No one died of lead poisoning . . . not even sure there was a band-aid required).  The mother, horrified, asked "DOES IT MAKE YOUR HEART FEEL GOOD TO HURT YOUR BROTHER???"  And at that moment, the youngster replied absolutely honestly "YES."  Gotta love that kid.

I don't make my kids apologize.  I thought long and hard about this one.  I don't make them say "I'm sorry," especially when I know darn good and well they aren't.  I think that teaches kids to be disingenuous and frankly, to lie.  Instead, I force my children to say "It was wrong for me to (whatever they did)."  I used to make them add "and I won't do it again."  But I stopped because everyone in the room knew they would.  I also make my kids write lines and/or paragraphs about their offenses, but that's another blog.
"I'm sorry" should mean "I am experiencing sorrow that I didn't pull my self-centered head out of my clueless ass quickly enough to avoid damaging our relationship."  Instead what it usually means is "don't hold me accountable," or "I'm sorry you aren't tough enough to take it."  I generally don't say "I'm sorry."  But I will speak volumes about recognizing that a relationship is damaged and expressing my desire to repair that damage. 

We all trip and fall and act like jerks once in a while.  Know who I apologize to and own up to my behavior with most?  My kids.  First of all because I screw up with them most frequently.  They get the dregs of me and have to deal with it when my head falls off and I fall back into old patterns of drill-sergeant parenting.  But secondly, and I think most important, because I want them to know how to make mistakes and still feel good about themselves while having an expectation that the other person will recognize a g

enuine effort and accept the apology. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forgiveness: Door Mat to Door Master (Part 2)

I LOVE this guy!! 
photo by Imagerymajestic
And returning to the idea of Forgiveness ...
You may be reading these posts and thinking I'm Pollyanna-crazy. 

"That works just fine in fantasyland," you might say, "but in MY world, there is no way I could go to this person and talk to them about our conflict!"  Yep.  That happens.  What if you have absolutely no expectation that the person can deal with you in anything resembling a healthy way?  What if you've tried to talk to that person and they absolutely refuse to come to the table to work on a compromise?

Forgive anyway.  Write it off.  Let it go (With or without singing the "Frozen" song).   

Do not let that person control you with their refusal to acknowledge fault or even that they might have hurt you inadvertently.  Do not give them power over you by letting them make you nervous that you might run into them at a family function or at the grocery store.  Stand right up and be relaxed about it.  After all, THEY are the one that should be uncomfortable.

Own your boundaries. 

What if they come to Christmas Dinner?  So what.  Be pleasant.  Be polite.  Be generous, and wish them the same happy holiday you would wish the bell-ringer at Wal-Mart who is a total stranger.  Genuinely wish that Bob has a pleasant time.  Because that will make him a healthier person for you to deal with in the long run.  Don't let fear that being nice to them somehow makes you vulnerable turn you into a crunchy, cranky, uncomfortable version of yourself.  BE YOU.  Smile.  Say "Hi Bob."  Let Bob squirm.  Because let me tell you, unless Bob is truly clueless, he is ready for the fight.  He's ready for you to let him have it and give you his pre-prepared defenses.  When you don't give it to him (and this applies equally to Barbara), he is off-guard.  He is wondering what happened.  He is uncomfortable.  Because now, he has to let go if whatever grudge or anticipated conflict he made up too, or at least wonder when you will lower the boom.  Who has the power now?  That's right.  You do.  Because at the end of the day, no one will have anything to say about it because you didn't act like a jerk and give Bob the opportunity to play the victim.

What if Bob thinks he's off the hook?  What if he thinks you've forgotten his evil deeds, or given him a get-out-of-jail-free card?  WHO CARES.  We're talking about YOUR emotional well-being here.  If Bob labors under the misperception that he's off the hook, you can set him straight if and when he tries to engage you on a deeper level.  Then?  Step up with the limits to clarify your boundaries.  (See previous post)  Until that moment?  Think of yourself as gloriously, blissfully IMMUNE to Bob and his narcissistic short-sightedness.  Karma, as they say, is a bitch.  Bob will get his.

Don't let someone else's unhealthiness drag you down.  If a person is unwilling to mend a relationship, the relationship isn't worth mending.  You're not missing THAT relationship.  You're missing the fantasyland picture of the relationship you have in your head that doesn't exist anymore.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again, all the while feeling GREAT about the fact that you rose above the petty BS that gives me job security. 

Bask in it.  Wallow just a little, if you will, in the knowledge that you didn't participate in the passion play that erodes human relationship.  Shoot me an email and tell me about it.  I will be proud of you.   

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful ... MORE OR LESS.

Well, here we are, all stuffed with Turkey and nursing the aftermath of over indulgences of one kind or another (#pie).  I wrote this blog in my head yesterday, but never had a chance to put it in a format that was accessible to anyone else. 

Thanksgiving.  We are long past the idyllic days of old where tables were set in the school hallways, covered with brown butcher paper, and adorned with turkeys made from tracings of our hands while we wore pilgrim hats or Indian bonnets made from construction paper.  Now we must face reality.  The Pilgrims were horrible, malicious marauders who forced the hapless Indians ... wait - Native Americans, no FIRST Americans ... anyway, those nasty Pilgrims (can we still call them pilgrims??) ... oh who cares.  Let's just forget history altogether because someone will get their feelings hurt and goodness knows we can't have THAT.  Besides.  The stuff we would eat at those feasts wasn't gluten free, bought from a store or had a label.  I'm not sure how we survived.  Anyway, Sorry kids, no more cool fringed Indian outfits made out of paper grocery bags.  Let's do some MATH.   

Yet we persevere ... each year at this time, we briefly take a time-out from bashing each other on facebook, waving our arms about the injustice of forcing those poor people to work on Black Friday ... or waving our arms about the people who wave their arms about the injustice ... I can't keep track ... and get around a table with people we may or may not like.  It's all well and good for those who have some sort of Normal Rockwell experience, but what about people in the thick of it?

It's hard to hear about being thankful when all you can see is what is going wrong. 

Human brains are hard-wired to pay attention to problems.  In 20 years as a therapist, not one person has ever reported to me that they are obsessed with thoughts of how GREAT things are, and how WELL things are going.  "I keep thinking about how AWESOME my life is.  I can't get anything else done!  I can't work, I can't sleep, all I do all day is think about all the things I'm GRATEFUL for!!  Can you help me with this?"  Said no one, ever.  And if they did, I would immediately start screening for mania.  That's just not the way things work.

Life is HARD these days.  That is just fact.  If you're not struggling, congratulations.  If the little bubble you live in is intact, good for you.  If you manage to be untouched by the horrors and tragedies in the everyday lives of so many people, I mean beyond the sympathetic "oh golly, isn't that AWFUL???  Those poor people!  BLESS THEIR HEARTS . . . " then it's easy to find things to be thankful for and let that gratitude just ooze from your pores.  There's your thankful right there.  In my humble opinion, you now have a responsibility to get out of your bubble and go help someone. 

We DO have things to be grateful for.  We may not have as much money as we want, but we did get to take that vacation 2 years ago . . . .and maybe there's no money for vacation, but we have a home and enough food .... or maybe there's not home and food, but we have our health ... or maybe we don't have health, a home, any family, or like a family in a small Texas town where my high school BFF lives, maybe they lost 5 of 6 kids in one terrible night.  Harder to find gratitude in times like that.

We have the platitudes.  "God is in control," "Everything happens for a reason"  "Yes, you lost both your legs, but aren't you super excited you still have arms???"  Reality??  Those things bring little comfort when you're grieving a loss, or wondering how you will pay your medical bills, or how you're going to afford the new"affordable" healthcare plans with double the premiums and half the benefits.  In those times, brains believe that the way to solve a problem is to think about it.  A lot.  And brains fight us when we try to take a break from balancing the checkbook ONE MORE TIME to see if we missed something somewhere and indeed things are going to be all right.  Replay the tragedy ONE MORE TIME to try to find a way to make it un-happen.  Brains don't know that solutions aren't easy these days.  Brains keep trying.   

In those times, gratitude helps us find balance, yes, but it is unreasonable to think that some goofy gratitude journal will somehow take the sting out of losing 5 kids.  So if you're one of the millions out there who are finding it hard to maintain an "attitude of gratitude," take heart.  You can still get through the holidays.

1.  It's OK to say no.  Evaluate whether social gatherings are helpful.  Sometimes it's like getting over a speed bump.  Once you get there, you actually do feel better for a while.  If that is the case, persevere through the speed bump.  Sometimes a good enough reason to do something that will be difficult is that you know that later when you're feeling better you'll wish you had.  You can go to a gathering, and then beg out after an hour too.  If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to call me.  I will explain it to them.  Conversely, don't be a hermit if feeling alone is the problem, and BEING alone makes it worse.  Spend time with people who feed your soul, even if those are total strangers in a coffee shop and you never say one word to them.  Shared experience is healing. 

2.  Self Care.  Do things that make you feel better.  Get the responsibilities taken care of, yes, but otherwise get enough sleep, don't OVERindulge in vices (my favorites include peppermint ice cream and red wine).  Go to the dollar store and get one of those massager roller thingies and use it on those shoulders that are tired from carrying the weight of the world.  Go sit in the massage chairs at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Those things are AWESOME.  Paint your toenails.  Here's Someone else's cool list.  

3.  Don't be a Grinch. If you can't go out and have fun, stay home and have fun.  Go to a movie and escape reality for a while.  Yes, even by yourself.  No one is looking at you.  They are way too wrapped up in themselves.  Don't expect the whole world to slow down because you're struggling.  Many people are having fun this time of year.  It isn't a personal insult when others are happy. 

4.  Don't Mope.  Taking time to rest and regroup is one thing, out and out wallowing in self-pity is another.  Now don't get me wrong, having a good wallow has its time and place, but healthy wallowing is time-limited, and while you're wallowing you know you will stop in a while and resume problem solving.  Trying not to acknowledge things that are going wrong is like trying not to breathe.  We are humans.  But we are at the top of the food chain because we can think about the future and plan for things.  Do it. 

5.  Give back.  This does really help.  Find a charity and go volunteer, if you have the time.  If anxiety, or a crazy schedule keeps you from going to a soup kitchen, donate a coat.  Or mittens.  Or something.  Bake cookies for a military unit overseas.  Go read to someone at a nursing home.  Give back with the click of your mouse.  Shovel your neighbor's walkway and let them wonder who did it.  Or heck, just send a nice card to someone you know. 

 6.  Look to the future with at least one squinty, jaded eye.  It won't suck forever.  If you're going to think about how bad things are, spend some time making plans or taking action that will make it better.  Get a better job.  Ask for help.  Join a support group.  Read a book on whatever you're struggling with.  Pick ONE THING that might make a difference and do it.  Feng Shui says if you simply MOVE 20 items in your home, it will release stuck energy.  So re-arrange that living room!!

Most of all, hang in there.  34 days till January 2.  You can make it till then.  After that, the lights come down and we get busy forgetting our New Year's resolutions and hunkering down to get ready for taxes, and everyone is grumpy again.  :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Forgiveness: 4 steps from Door Mat to Door Master

Once you’ve wrapped your heart around forgiveness, you come face to face with the very human instinct to avoid that which causes us pain. It makes sense to stay away from toxic relationships. No one can fault you from keeping distance with someone who is a repeated source of relational chaos.

The easy thing is to just summarily cut the person off. To slam and deadbolt that door and to stop giving them the chance to hurt us by making sure they aren’t within striking distance. How much we need to involve the other person in the process of forgiveness and relational repair depends on how important the connection is to you.

Close personal relationships are a little more challenging than the guy who flips you off in traffic. These aren’t throw away people with zero impact on your life, this is the meat and potatoes of our relational selves. I think the biggest thing that gets in the way of relationship is our inability to manage and tolerate conflict. We either go over the top into grandiosity and self-riteousness or shrink away like WE did something wrong. Somewhere along the way we learned as a society that we should never make anyone uncomfortable. We’ve taken it too far. Feeling uncomfortable is important in maintaining relationship because ideally, it keeps us from acting like jerks.

So. Step 1, gather up your best assertiveness and conflict management skills. (Note to self, write about conflict management skills) Have an awareness of your ability to protect your boundaries by setting and holding limits. Say to yourself “however this turns out, I can handle it.”

Step 2: GO TO THE PERSON YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH. NOT TO SOMEONE (or several someones) ELSE. Even the bible backs me up here. I’m out on the whole get your pastor involved approach if the one on one goes south, but I’m all over the idea of dealing with things directly. Use assertive language, I statements, and good boundaries. Stay in your own energetic space. Address what HAPPENED, rather than your armchair psychologist assumptions about the motivations behind what happened. This sounds like “I care about our relationship and I’m struggling with getting past how hurt I am about some of the things you said to me yesterday,” or “I’m having a hard time wanting to make plans with you because the last 4 times we were supposed to meet you either didn’t show up or cancelled at the last minute, and I’m feeling disrespected,” not “you can’t treat me like that, you’re an idiot and you need to stop being a jerk.”

Offer concrete solutions for how you would like to resolve the situation, up to and including specific words you would like to hear the person say, if that’s the way it is in your head. “You know Bob, what I need to hear you say is that you understand how your words/actions impacted me, and that it matters to you how I feel.”

There’s a great deal of debate about how to deliver this message. In a nutshell, here’s my 2 cents. ANY WAY YOU CAN. If you have the relationship skills to have a sit-down with the person, keep your wits about you and look them right in the eye, that’s awesome. Most of us don’t. Most of us get overwhelmed and emotionally flooded in the face of conflict and will pull out our less-than-helpful communication habits (see amygdala hijack and how the part of your brain where you store all those awesome relationship and communication skills is more or less locked out when you’ve got adrenalilne running through your system). Secondly, face to face conversations can feel like a blitz attack to the other person and set up some defensiveness right from the get go. For my money? Pick up a piece of paper and a pen. Write words. I think email is a completely acceptable option. Text. Send the message by carrier pigeon if you have to, but GET IT OUT THERE. Keeping it inside your head fosters resentment and impedes forgiveness.

Step 3: Wait to see what happens. Don’t play the big fight over and over in your head. Don’t rehearse all the nasty biting sarcastic comments you could possibly make. If you’re going to practice for the other person going on the offensive and waging an attack, prepare for level 2 de-escalation which sounds like “hey – hold on – I’m not attacking you. I care about our relationship enough to come to you and try to work this out between us. You’re a good person. I know that. I want you in my life. Can we talk about it?” Yep. I know. This flies in the face of everything we have learned from TV and movies. Please refer to my future best-selling self-help book entitled“Being healthy is really boring.” No one makes movies about GOOD communication. There’s no crisis. No opportunity for denoument and the swell of violin music. There used to be this series of greeting cards with a couple little ants having a conversation. One ant said “forget your troubles” and the other one said “ok.” Now that’s brief therapy!

Step 4: LET GO. Communication about conflict has one of two possible outcomes. Either the relationship continues or it doesn’t. If the relationship continues, stop beating a dead horse. Don’t beat the other person with it either. Don’t lay in wait for them to offend again. It’s human nature when we’ve been hurt to feel a little guarded. Own it. This might sound like “I know I’m a little guarded. I’m working on it. Thanks for your patience with me.” (note to self: write article about how to respond to this statement) It does NOT sound like accusing the person of offending in the FUTURE. “Oh yeah the moment I let my guard down you’ll just do it again.” If you’re in that corner and won’t get out of it, leave the relationship. You’re done.

If you’ve gone through level 1 and 2 of respectful resolution and the other person just isn’t getting it – they blame you, they don’t even admit what happened, or they justify their behavior and maintain their defensive and angry position, you might need to limit your interactions with this person. But with forgiveness. Not “I can’t deal with him” or “she’s just a toxic person.” With an understanding that whatever is going on for that person right then, they weren’t able to come to the table and work it out. It’s not a commentary on your worth as a person. It’s not an attack or an insult. It’s sad. It’s a shame. Shake the dust off your feet and move on, energetically wishing the person well and keeping the door cracked open just in case they read my next blog on the flip side of forgiveness. Don’t expect Francis Ford Coppola to come knocking at your door for the screen rights. It won’t be dramatic enough. Grieve. Accept. Move on.

“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but a whimper.” - TS Eliot