9 Tips to Reduce Family Conflicts During the Holidays

I’m reaching out to all of you who have troubled family relationships during the holidays.

Maybe family members act more like frozen icicles than warm comforting blankets. Perhaps cutting words feel like daggers that pierce your soul. Maybe your mother still treats you like a 12-year-old. That hurts all the time, but especially during the holidays.

Attachment theory tells us that human beings need emotional responsiveness from loved ones to feel safe. We need to feel safe before we can open our hearts. We need to feel safe before we feel like being playful.

We need family members to show us that they care about our feelings. We need to feel safe before we can share what’s really going on inside. Guess what? So do they.

Many of us feel like we need to guard our hearts because our loved ones haven’t learned how to have caring conversations. It’s only natural to want to protect ourselves. Our family members probably feel that way, too.

What can you do to help yourself feel safe and stay more centered during the holidays?  

See if you are willing to try any of these nine things. 

When your family members do things that trigger you, use the tools below to calm your over-aroused nervous system. Return yourself to the zone of resilience. We call this self-regulation.

1. Focus your intentions. Your number one agenda is to stay centered. If you’re not centered, it’s unlikely that you’ll express yourself in a way that will draw others toward you.

2. Monitor your stress levels. Don’t let the stress get too big. Ask yourself: What do I feel in my body? Notice when you are beginning to get overwhelmed. Maybe your chest is tight. Maybe you get a lump in your throat. Maybe you get teary. Maybe you clench your jaws. Maybe your muscles tighten up. Maybe your gut churns. Maybe you get a headache. Maybe your voice gets tense and stern. Maybe you want to distance yourself. All these are common indications that your nervous system is feeling threatened because you don’t feel safe with your tribe. That’s normal and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. What do you feel in your emotions? Hurt, sad, shame or fear? Does your anger cover up any of these other feelings? Be compassionate with yourself. Remember, you are only human.

3. Breathe deeply. Remember a time when you felt peaceful. Maybe you remember walking along the beach hearing the sound of ocean waves and watching the foam recede from the shore. I remember the time when I was meditating under a giant old oak tree on my university campus while my boyfriend held me in his arms. Polyvagal theory tells us that when we exhale longer than we inhale, we calm down. Try this breathing method: inhale to the count of four. Hold to the count of four. Exhale to the count of eight. You can do this any time, anywhere.

4. Take a time-out to self-soothe. What if you can’t calm down in the midst of a family gathering? Go to the bathroom or take a walk outside to do your deep breathing. Get some physical exercise. Listen to soothing music. Meditate.

5. Ground yourself in your environment. Look around you. Name five things you see. Name five things you hear. Name five things you touch. Name three things you smell. Taste something and pay attention to your taste buds. This grounds you in your body and reduces anxiety. Again, you can do this any time, anywhere.

6. Set a time limit. In a high-conflict situation, you can tell your family ahead of time how long you plan to stay. Maybe it’s only an hour or two at a time. Take care of yourself while you show them that you care about them.

7. Express your love and appreciation. When we have intensely uncomfortable feelings, it may be difficult to think of anything positive. That’s because our brain is in a defensive mode trying to protect us from what it perceives as a threat. Not being securely attached with loved ones feels like a threat to us because we are bonding mammals. When you realize that your brain feels threatened, you can be more objective and compassionate with yourself and others. You can ask yourself, “Am I really in danger?” If not, you can do your self-soothing skills and calm down. Then focus on what you appreciate. When you express it in a genuine way with warmth in your eyes, you’ll be doing your part to co-create healthier interactions. Others may feel less threatened if you take this first step.

8. Ask for spiritual guidance. Your spiritual connection is your ultimate way to feel safe and secure even when your family members can’t return love to you. Spend time communing with God. Ask for your heart to be filled with God’s love. Breathe it in and soak in it. As you make the secure attachment with God your primary focus, you’ll be better prepared to share the divine love with your family. You can let it flow through you to them. Remember, you don’t have to handle this situation alone. You have a heavenly partner all the time. Ask and receive. Let in the comforting unconditional love of God.

9. See if you are willing to have a heart-to-heart conversation instead of staying on the surface. Maybe you are ready for this. Maybe you’re not. This is an advanced skill and I’ll be happy to coach you on this if you would like. (Send me an email from my Contact Page
and I’ll schedule a complimentary 10-minute call with you.)

Maybe you’ll hear God whisper in your ear, “This is the time. Now. Go talk to your father.” Maybe you decide to take the risk to reach out and say, “Would you be willing to have a private chat with me? I’d like to repair our relationship because it … and you … are so important to me. Is this a good time, or can we arrange another time?” If your voice expresses warmth and your eyes show sincerity, you may be surprised to hear, “Sure, let me finish cleaning up and I’ll join you in five minutes.”

Remember: We are either expressing love or making a call for love. Try to see yourself and your family the way God sees you.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Joyful Kwanzaa. May you and your family be blessed with the renewal of love this season.

 

Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Click here for crededntials.

If you would like help to increase your ability to stay centered and repair family relationships, please email me via the Contact Page. I’ll respond to you within 24 hours Monday-Thursday except holidays.

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Happy Wife, Happy Life

I’m writing to men here. But if you are a woman who is married, dating or engaged, you’ll probably want to read this, too. Give him a gentle nudge to read it.

Have you been wondering what to get your wife (or special lady) for Christmas that will create lasting happiness and not fizzle out after a week or two?

Have you tried to make your wife happy, but you feel like whatever you do, it’s not quite enough?

Have you wondered, “How can I encourage my wife to be more interested in intimacy?”

You probably know the phrase “Happy wife, happy life.”

Well, I’d like to help you figure out how to help your wife feel happier a lot more of the time. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

First, let’s take a look at what you may have tried that doesn’t work to create lasting happiness.

You decide to buy her a special piece of jewelry. That is so thoughtful. She loves it, but the same old conflicts begin again after the holidays are over.

You get her a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. That tells her that you are thinking of her, right?  Right. But the endorphin high from the feel-good chocolate is only temporary. Plus, she puts on a couple more pounds and she isn’t happy about that.

You give her a beautiful bouquet of flowers. That’s lovely. But after the flowers fade, it’s back to same ole’ same old.

Maybe you decide that it’s finally time to spend money on a cruise. That ought to work, right? Your heart’s in the right place. Now you are really letting her know that you love her.

But a few weeks after the vacation you discover that didn’t create lasting change either. Maybe she went back to distancing from you. Or maybe she’s still unhappy and critical. Or perhaps she prefers to spend time with her friends.

What on earth will it take to make her truly happy? You feel exasperated. You hate fighting because you know that it doesn’t help. Maybe you withdraw. But you haven’t given up.

Remember the movie, What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt? Mel Gibson plays the role of a high-powered advertising executive who doesn’t know how to cultivate healthy relationships with females …with his own daughter, his romantic partner, his co-workers or his female clients. Through a freak accident, he develops the ability to hear women’s thoughts and feelings. Finally, he can understand what women want, and what he is doing to offend them.

What women really want is for men to listen and understand them. They want you to be emotionally present with them.

That may be hard for you to do, especially when they are upset with you.

I get it. That is hard.

If you keep trying to show your love with gifts and being nice, but she doesn’t feel that you are genuinely connecting with her, she’s not likely to warm up to you in bed. Or any other time for that matter.

All the cruises, vacations, chocolates and jewelry can’t take the place of real emotional connection.

Happy wife, happy life. That’s what you want, right?

Don’t keep waiting, hoping time will heal. Time does nothing. Small unresolved conflicts snowball into mountains if they are not repaired.

I’ll help you get what you want. It can be a lot easier than you imagine … when you learn the right things to do to create lasting happiness in your marriage.

Here’s an easy way to get started.

Give your wife a Christmas gift of the Valentine’s Retreat on February 15, 2020.

Early birds receive $100 off when you register by December 31, 2019.

Dedicate 2020 as the year of “Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

*    You’ll learn the five most destructive behaviors that predict divorce with 93% accuracy.

*    You’ll learn how to cultivate a vibrant relationship that lasts forever. No more temporary quick-fixes that end up wasting your time and money.

*    You’ll walk away with a clear step-by-step process that you can use at home immediately.

This retreat is based on Dr. John Gottman’s 40 years of psychological research on what makes masters and disasters of marriage.

–> Click here to read all about the Valentine’s Retreat.

About the Facilitator

Benita A. Esposito is a Licensed Professional Counselor28_Benita 163KB with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.

I have practiced psychotherapy for 4 decades, helping individuals and couples in private sessions, groups and intensive retreats. I love the retreats best because so much transformation occurs in such a short time. I like results!

Click here to complete the Contact Form to schedule a complimentary 10-minute phone interview to see if this event is a good fit for you.

Private sessions are also available for individuals and couples.

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Valentine’s Couples Retreat 2020

This small group Valentine’s Retreat is perfect for couples who want to strengthen their marriage. It is also for engaged, co-habitating and dating couples who want to prevent unnecessary problems from arising in the first place.

One day: February 15, 2020. 9:30am – 5:30pm

Young Harris, Georgia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

As couples move beyond the “honeymoon” phase, they inevitably encounter conflicts. If not handled skillfully by both people, emotional wounds mount up, adding one more brick to an invisible wall. Don’t wait until the wall is too high to climb. Invest in the training you need to create the flourishing relationship you know is possible. Read more

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23 Tips for Turning Conflict into Peace

I hope your holidays are filled with love and laughter. I bless you with inner peace that glows from your heart.

Unfortunately, holidays are not merry and bright for everyone. I’ve written this article to help people who struggle at this time of the year. However, you can apply these skills 365 days a year.

• Have loved ones passed on? Has there been a divorce or a relationship break-up? Are you still grieving?

• Are there conflicts in your family? Do you try to put on a happy face, but inside you brace against the next insensitive comment?

• Do family members refuse to come together because there is too much pain?

• Is there sickness?

Many people experience one or more of these situations. I want to extend my compassion to those of you who suffer during the holidays. When everything is supposed to happy, we may experience even deeper pain because we are hurting.

Here are 23 suggestions to help you develop inner peace and manage conflict.

1. First, choose to develop inner peace. You don’t have to know how to do it or even be good at it. Just choose it. Ask God to help you. Make a commitment to develop personal mastery even if your partner criticizes you. As a metaphor, if you want to become a black belt karate master, you begin with a white belt. Over time and with lots of practice, you develop high-level skills and finally reach the black belt level.

2. Notice when you first begin to get upset. Don’t wait for the pressure to build up. It will be more difficult to manage. Observe yourself. Does your voice get edgy? Do you want to fight back? Do you emotionally withdraw? Do you get heady instead of being heart-centered? Do you breathe shallowly? Do your muscles tighten up? What happens when we feel threatened?

3. Take a time-out to center yourself.  First of all, you want to soothe your nervous system. It needs help because it went into hyper-arousal when you felt threatened. Our natural reactions are fight, flight or freeze. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom for some privacy. Or, go for a walk. Take a few deep breaths. Inhale to the count of four. Hold your breath to the count of four, and exhale to the count of eight.

If you go for a walk, count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. with every step you take. Breathe into your heart center and imagine your favorite beautiful place in nature.

4. Focus your attention on the people who love you and support you. Breathe that love into your heart. Place an imaginary protective bubble around yourself that envelops you and all the people who support you.

5. Ask for spiritual guidance from God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or however you conceptualize your spiritual support. Don’t just complain. Open your mind and listen to what God wants to communicate to you. Write it down if you can. It will sink in better. God will have a hard time getting through to you if you don’t ask for help. God gives you free will and waits to be invited into your heart and mind.

6. Have compassion for the part of you who struggles. If you try to be tough and stuff your emotions, you’re in effect telling a hurt part of yourself that it is unloved. I often think of this as my inner child. None of us like feeling unloved and neither do our inner family members.

Find the inner family member who feels hurt or angry or scared. Invite them to share their innermost feelings with you. You have a nurturing parent inside of you and the Holy Spirit who is compassionate. Listen to the pain of the inner child. Be empathetic. Ask your inner wise self and God for comfort. This process develops emotional and spiritual intimacy within your internal family. This will help you feel centered again.

With practice, you can experience inner peace no matter how others respond to you.

7. Remember, anger often covers up hurt, fear or a sense of rejection. If you lead with your anger or emotional distance, you’ll pull for defensiveness from others. If you lead with your softer vulnerable feelings, you’ll pull for empathy. I know that’s challenging. The journey towards personal mastery begins with one small step.

8. Take responsibility for your own emotional reactions. Don’t blame others. What arises from within you is the material from your own psyche. Sometimes we don’t want to take responsibility for our own material.

I know it’s tempting to blame others and get angry with them when they don’t behave the way you want them to. You feel more powerful when you’re angry or stoic. But this is not the way to genuine empowerment, nor is it the way to inner peace. It perpetuates the cycle of suffering within yourself and your family.

9. You don’t have control over changing other’s behavior. Accept that. Take responsibility for returning yourself to inner peace.

10. When there’s a conflict, don’t get quiet or blow up. After you center yourself, apologize for anything you can take responsibility for. Share what you want to do differently in the future when you get triggered.

11. Reach out to repair the relationship breach. Begin with a soft sincere voice and look directly into your partner’s eyes.

12. Tell your partner something positive … how much they mean to you … or give them a sincere compliment. Affirm them. That helps build an emotional attachment.

13. Tell them what is hurtful to you. Speak about your own emotions. Share the interpretations you made and check them out for accuracy. Don’t assume you are right. Get feedback and keep an open mind. Don’t analyze your partner and make him wrong. People tend to get defensive when you do that.

14. Invite your partner to share his feelings. Listen to understand.

15. Unless he has lots of training in communication skills, he may not take personal responsibility or listen well. Have compassion. He is doing the best he can. Listen for the heart of his pain.

16. Empathize and validate his feelings whenever you can. You don’t have to agree with his interpretations. Don’t argue about the facts or stay in your head. Express that you genuinely care about his pain.

17. After several interchanges of listening to each other, hopefully, your hearts will be more connected. Ask: “What can I do to support you right now?” Listen to understand.

18. Make a promise to help lessen his pain. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Do what you can.

19. Ask this question: “Would you like to know what you can do to support me right now?” Develop warmth and caring first by listening to each other.

20. Offer concrete specific suggestions. Focus on creating solutions rather than continuing to complain. Make specific requests of your partner to change his behavior. Remember, speak in a respectful, caring tone of voice.

21. You may not do any of this perfectly. Do what you can. Start with one small step. Which suggestion do you want to start with? Practice that one thing.

22. Remind yourself of your goals to do your part to build a healthy relationship. Put a post-it note on your bathroom mirror, your desk or your car dashboard. Set alarms on your smartphone. Choose a picture that symbolizes your goal and set it as wallpaper on your phone or computer. Make a sign and hang it on the door as you exit your house.

23. Be compassionate with yourself when you fail. Be compassionate with your partner. We all carry pain, and we don’t always know how to express it wisely. Practice, practice, practice. That’s what it takes to move from a white belt to a black belt karate master.

Well, there you have it. I’ve given you two blueprints. One to manage your emotional reactivity and one to repair relationship breaches. I know it’s easier said than done. It takes practice just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Blessings to you for inner peace, wisdom and love.

Warmly,
Benita A Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor 

Would you like to improve your conflict management skills and experience more inner peace? I offer video conferences world-wide.

I also offer in-person visits and intensive retreats in Georgia, USA.

Ask for a complimentary 10-minute phone interview to see if we are a good fit. Complete the contact form.

If you feel like you are a highly sensitive person, visit my other website: www.SensitiveIntrovert.com

Watch these videos:
Click here to watch the video about my bestselling book: The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert, Wisdom for Emotional Healing and Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self.  Available on Amazon.

Click here to watch a TV interview I did about research by Dr. John Gottman on what makes masters and disasters of marriage. “Four Horsemen: Don’t Let Them Ruin Your Marriage.”

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Why We Think We Shouldn’t Be Needy

by Benita A. Esposito, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor

“In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.” ―Sue Johnson, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships

 

Do you judge yourself for being needy? Well, I did for the longest time. Read more

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Attachment Styles: What predicts healthy romance?

We unconsciously act the way we do in romantic relationships for a good reason. Human beings have an innate drive to form emotional bonds with people who are precious to us. We suffer when we aren’t able to create secure bonds. The need for secure attachment is part of our inherited survival strategy. Historically, we survive better in packs than alone. Solitary confinement is one of the most devastating forms of punishment. Even though children in orphanages in war-torn countries have food, clothing and shelter, they frequently get sick and sometimes die without adequate loving attention. That’s how important emotional attachment is to us.

Healthy relationships are the number one predictor of our ability to heal from serious disease and maintain emotional and physical health. We live four years longer when we have healthy bonded relationships. (reference 7)

Psychological research shows that when we’re children, we develop one of four attachment styles based on the parenting style of our caregivers. According to Dr. Edward Tronick’s research, the attachment style of a one-year-old predicts the attachment style of a 25-year-old. (reference 3)

We develop our attachment style as babies. We instinctively figure out the best way to survive. Now as adults, our attachment style influences all of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors at an unconscious level.

Attachment styles have two categories: secure and insecure.
The insecure styles are divided into two sub-categories: (1) anxious and (2) avoidant. Some people have a third insecure style called anxious-avoidant.

1. Secure attachment style
Fifty percent of us enjoy a secure attachment style. Our parents were emotionally healthy, responsive and physically present. As children, we felt understood and cherished. We felt safe and secure. Our physical needs were met. There was no harsh discipline or emotional neglect or icy distance. Appropriate discipline was coupled with warmth and reassurance that we were loved and liked.  We were given the appropriate amount of freedom to explore the world in a safe way, and encouraged to develop our unique personality. As adults, we anticipate that people will like us and we will like them. We develop healthy relationships and set appropriate boundaries for self-care.

Insecure Attachment Styles

2. Anxious Attachment Style
Twenty percent of our population has an anxious attachment style. Our parents were inconsistent in meeting our emotional or physical needs. We became watchful, trying to figure out how to please our parents so they wouldn’t abandon us. As adults, we worry that our partner will leave us if there is conflict. We might feel jealous.

When we don’t get our needs met, we get angry because anger is easier to feel than the loneliness of separation.

When we feel misunderstood and unloved, we become stressed. We act in a manner that is critical, defensive or contemptuous. We’re trying to get our partner to connect with us, but inadvertently we push our partner away. We’re called “pursuers” in the language of Adult Attachment Theory.

An anxious attachment style isn’t right or wrong. The description helps us understand each other and ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up if you have this style. Anxious attachment style people often mate with avoidant styles who withdraw in the heat of conflict, leaving us feeling more anxious because we feel the pain of being left alone.

3. Avoidant Attachment Style
Twenty-three percent of us have an avoidant attachment style. Our parents were emotionally or physically unavailable, neglectful or downright abusive. Scared and tense in our bodies, we became hyper-vigilant trying to intuit our parents’ unpredictable behavior. We had a big dilemma. How could we protect ourselves from parents who emotionally or physically hurt us, while being dependent on them to meet our basic needs for food, shelter and clothing?  Without the much-needed emotional nurturance, our bodies didn’t feel safe, and we braced ourselves for potential threats. We emotionally distanced and tried to become as self-sufficient as possible. We tend to be loners as adults but that doesn’t mean we feel fulfilled. We experience physical pain, chronic fatigue, addictions and other diseases predictable from a lifetime of physiological hyper-arousal. We may fall into depression, or swing between anxiety and depression. Even when we want to form healthy relationships, we anticipate, “People won’t like me if they really know me, or I won’t like them.” We guard against getting too close. We may assume people will hurt us, or judge us, or try to control us. We’re called “withdrawers.”

4. Anxious/Avoidant Attachment Style
One percent of us have this combined style. We may jump into relationships quickly, feeling the endorphin high of romance, or we may hang back for a long time trying to determine if we’re safe with a potential partner. We’re often attracted to a person who also has an insecure attachment style. When conflicts arise, we try to work it out for a while. But if our partner doesn’t respond positively, we withdraw to protect ourselves. Then it’s difficult to open our hearts again, even when our partner begs us to connect, unless there’s a strong friendship already established.

The healthiest relationships contain at least one person with a secure attachment style. When conflicts arise, the secure attachment style partner provides a stable emotional base so the other partner still feels loved. To use an analogy, when the couple is dancing, and the insecure partner stumbles, the secure partner is grounded and warm-hearted enough to help the other regain their balance. (reference 6)

The good new is: People with insecure attachment styles can learn how to repair attachment injuries and connect in emotionally healthy ways. Couples can develop “earned secure attachment” so they both feel safe, understood and loved. Psychotherapy can help you make the changes you desire in your self and in your relationships.

The science of Adult Attachment Theory is relatively new. With the development of fMRI machines, neuroscience has been able to understand the interplay between our emotions, our physiological reactions and our behaviors, and what happens to make us feel safe or scared in our relationships. (reference 5)

Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and Attachment Styles

Research by Dr. Elaine Aron indicates that HSPs raised by parents who meet their emotional and physical needs develop secure attachment styles just like non-HSPs who have healthy parents. As these HSPs mature, they function well in relationships and they reach their life goals even better than many non-HSPs. They are creative, smart, compassionate, intuitive and innovative.

However, when the emotional and physical needs of HSP children are not met, they react stronger to the deprivation or abuse than non-HSPs. Their nervous systems respond with hyper-arousal (like pressing your foot on the car accelerator, driving at high speeds) or hypo-arousal (like having your foot at the brake), or vacillating between the two. HSPs are more prone to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to Dr. Elaine Aron’s research.

Conclusion

It’s challenging to form healthy bonded intimate relationships as an adult if we have an insecure attachment style. However, if we’re fortunate enough to mate with a secure attachment-style person, or we learn how to change our patterns in a course of successful psychotherapy, we can enjoy a flourishing life.  We can change our insecure attachment style to “earned secure attachment.”

If you’d like help to change your attachment style, contact the author: Benita A. Esposito, LPC. Complete the contact page to schedule a 10-minute complimentary phone interview to see if her services are a good fit for you. Click here to read Benita’s credentials.

Resources

1) Article: The Science Of Adult Attachment: Are You Anxious, Avoidant Or Secure? posted on Elite Daily
3) Video: “The Still Face Experiment.” Learn what happens to the nervous system of a baby when her mother no longer attunes to her. Edward Tronick youtube video
4) Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A. 2010
5. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Sue Johnson. 2014
6. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Sue Johnson. 2014
7. Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health. Dean Ornish, MD

Copyright. All rights reserved. The Esposito Institute, Inc.

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Tired of Conflict?

Whether it’s with your spouse or your mother, if you don’t already experience an emotionally secure connection, even little conflicts can damage the relationship. Read more

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Can My Marriage Be Saved?

 

That’s one of the first questions people ask me when they call about marriage counseling.

The answer is: It depends. Can you both answer ‘yes’ to these questions? Read more

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How to Choose a Marriage Counselor

Most people don’t realize that Couples Counseling is one of the most challenging specialties in our counseling industry. That’s why many therapists don’t offer it.

Let’s consider this analogy. If you developed a heart condition, you would begin with a visit to your primary care physician who is a generalist. But you would not receive all the help you need there. You would need to see a cardiologist who has years of advanced training in heart conditions. Read more

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Banana Nut Bread. Healing the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Banana-Walnut-BreadWho would think that banana nut bread could be a catalyst for healing a mother-daughter relationship?

For the past six years my mother has kept a tradition of baking banana nut bread which she includes in a gift bag for each of her children’s families for Christmas. We rant and rave over it, and fight over who gets to cut the first slice and eat it on Christmas day when we all gather at Mom’s. Read more

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