Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tools for Healthy Relationships with Self and Others

Claire and I have decided to dedicate this blog entry to the exploration of healthy and unhealthy communication and relationship strategies. While this issue is not specific to the LS, it is a very important one for people in the LS, because it is impossible to have a good swinger experience, unless your relationship with yourself or your primary partner is in a good place.

One of the core elements of a good relationship is the ability to be honest with the other person.

Certain behaviors preclude honesty in a relationship. This occurs when people draw boundaries around what you can and cannot discuss, tell you that you always have to be “happy" with each other, or punish you by attacking or withdrawing if you cross those boundaries. Other barriers to honesty include "Elephant in the Room" syndrome, sweeping all conflict under the carpet and avoiding facing issues that cause conflict with or unhappiness to the other person or yourself. We are going to discuss some positive and negative communication strategies and tactics people use in relationships.

Art by Alex Grey

Positive Relationship Dynamics

Recognizing somebody’s feelings without feeling threatened by them.

The ability to separate what’s yours from what’s theirs. You have to know WHO you are and WHAT you want. If you don’t know those two things, you are at risk of having THEM convince you of who you are and that you want what THEY want. Loss of personal identity will eventually come back to bite you. People cannot easily repress their true identity and self forever. Guilt is when you say, “I did something bad.” Shame is when you say, “I’m a bad person.”

Recognize that If they are angry at something about you or something that you have done, it is THEIR problem, not your problem. It is their problem to decide what they will do about this. It is YOUR  problem if aspects of another person’s or your own personality or behavior upset you. It is also your responsibility to determine what you are going to do fix YOUR problem. Do not waste any energy trying to fix THEIR problem. Any effort expended on changing another person, if that person does not desire to do so, will only lead to conflict, hostility, failure, and resentment.

You did not cause their unhappiness; you cannot control it, you cannot cure it.

Negative Manipulation Tactics

Playful teasing vs. Negative Criticism or Contemptuous Behavior. Playful teasing says: "I have taken the time to notice something unique about you, that you might be insecure about, but I accept it and I like it and I don’t take it too seriously." Negative or contemptuous criticism says more about the person making the statement, than the subject of the statement. Their goal in criticizing is not to affect positive change; it is to make you feel bad about yourself, and raise themselves up by devaluing you.


Defensiveness and deflection: When a person NEVER takes ownership of, responsibility for or apologizes for their actions. They care more about being right, than the relationship. They claim their behavior is justified by your behavior or somebody else’s. These justifications can take the form of their past (shitty childhood, bad previous relationships), something you did in the past that is completely unrelated, or current stress, that is job, health or financially related; or they may just have a general “Poor me, the world is out to get to me” attitude.

Withholding: If you don’t give me what I want, I won’t give you what you want.

Rewarding: Do what I want and I will give you what you want.

Exploiting the target’s vulnerabilities

Being ruthless enough to harm the target (whether psychologically or physically), if they do not give you what you want.

Intermittent Reinforcement: this is actually far more powerful than consistent reinforcement. With this strategy, the manipulator hooks the target by “love-bombing” with positive reinforcement, then slowly and imperceptibly begins to devalue them, to make them insecure. The target craves the memory of the past positive reinforcement and puts up with the negative reinforcement, in hopes of returning to the positive stage of the relationship. By not being able to predict whether reinforcement will be positive or negative, the manipulator conditions the target to focus on them all the time, so the target can anticipate and satisfy the manipulator’s desires.

Crazymaking ala the Mad Hatter's tea party
   
Gaslighting: making the person think they are crazy by denying actual things they have heard, read or observed.

Triangulation:  using a third party to reinforce the manipulator’s view or objectives, pitting the target against a third party to distract and control them, sometimes used in conjunction with gaslighting.

Using deception to hide one’s true objectives or actual behavior

GroupThink: Failure to recognize the other person or other people as an individual or individuals with their own thoughts and preferences, that they have the ability to communicate. Overuses the pronoun “We,” talks for the other person, “We think….”

Defining another person’s reality for them:  “You are crazy; You are hormonal; You can’t survive without me; You are attracted to losers, they will treat you like shit; You will fail. You are not special; You are immature; You are self-centered. You abused my trust; You used me for sex; you are emotionally needy." This tactic turns a person into an object or fixed thing. Instead of saying: “I didn’t like when you did BLANK,” they say: “You are a BLANK person.”

Diminishes or mocks your dreams and aspirations

Attitude of Entitlement: Enjoys controlling other people and feels entitled to “supply” from those people  -- whether it’s attention and having others cater to their (the manipulator’s) ego or obtaining assets from other people. These assets are not necessarily money, but can be association with those people’s positive attributes, such as attractive physical appearance, empathy, dynamic personality, social connections, professional skills, intelligence, loyalty, creativity, passion, ability to achieve things.

Creates or loves crises because they destabilize the target and make the target more dependent on the manipulator.

Positive Relationship Dynamics

Listening to another person, as opposed to offering unsolicited advice

Not judging.

Offering empathy: ”I know what you are going through” -- as opposed to “one-upping” -- “Whatever happened to you, I’ve experienced worse,” which is invalidating.

Sculpture from "Burning Man"

Being present: Don’t feel like you have to offer a solution. Most times that is not what the other person is looking for. What they would prefer is your presence as a sounding board for them to come up with their own solution. Letting a person come to their own conclusion recognizes that they are the expert on their life. When you tell them what to do, you infantilize them. If you follow your own advice and fail, you learn. If you follow somebody else’s advice and fail or become unhappy, you are likely to blame them.

Establishing boundaries instead of relying on shame and manipulation: There is a difference between erecting healthy boundaries and making demands to manipulate others. Demands are about controlling and punishing. Boundaries are about asking that your needs be recognized and respected. If a person cannot or chooses not to respect your boundaries, then you may set a further boundary by ending the relationship.

Boundaries need consequences: A consequence should not be “Do this and I will punish and hurt you.” A good consequence is: “If you talk to me in this abusive manner, I will leave our house and come back, when you have calmed down.”

Believe in your self-worth: Before you can establish boundaries, you need to develop a sense of your self-worth. Without this, you may get sucked into a cycle of people-pleasing, in which you continuously sacrifice your needs for theirs. In general, when establishing boundaries, it’s important to learn how to say, “No,” unconditionally.

Types of Boundaries

Material boundaries: such as sharing, giving or lending money or objects
Physical boundaries: such as personal space and privacy
Mental boundaries: such as your thoughts, values, and opinions, and your vision of reality
Emotional boundaries: knowing your emotions from theirs. You are NOT responsible for their feelings or actions.
Sexual boundaries: who, what, where, when, as regards to sexual touch-- getting adequate consent in both directions. Do all parties really want to be there or have one or more been manipulated into this situation?
Spiritual boundaries: relates to beliefs regarding God, a higher power, or lack thereof. Have respect for other people’s spiritual boundaries and require that others respect yours.

Self Care

A healthy relationship starts first and foremost with a healthy you. Do not neglect taking care of yourself. If you have an incredibly complex spreadsheet of all the responsibilities and people you have to take care of in your day, do not neglect to put time for yourself in that spreadsheet. It is impossible to nurture and take care of other people, when you are physically and emotionally drained.


Mindfulness: observe your thoughts throughout the day, without judgment, and be especially mindful of where these thoughts come from. Have you internalized what others have said? Where do they stop and you begin? Become the silent watcher of your own thoughts. Buddhist Jack Kornfield suggests using this phrases like: “There’s the doubting mind” or “There’s the critical mind” to create a space where you can avoid attaching to every thought.

Journal work: this kind of writing allows you to reflect on your experiences and work at constructing a narrative that makes sense to you, that also furthers your growth. It is also an opportunity to vent about the other person and make yourself feel better, in a space where you are not tempted to hit the “send” button.  If you are going to write the other person, ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Do you want to make them feel bad by pointing out past wrongs? Are you trying to get an apology or for them to recognize the validity of your experience? Is this realistic? Is what you are writing likely to accomplish that, or will this just fan the flames of the other person’s anger? “Sit with it, before you send it.”

Transforming our experiences: Franciscan friar Richard Rohr said: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” Ask how what you’ve experienced might provide you with wisdom in the future. Sometimes our deepest wounds are guideposts for a life of service to others in similar circumstances. For many, there is healing in advocacy, creating art, or sharing your story.

Yoga/Meditation/Exercise: Taking time to breathe and slow down. This helps us get in touch with our bodies and be more present in the moment, the Now.

Negative/Stressful Thoughts Log: record them and think of positive thoughts to counter them. This helps break up our habitual thought patterns and get out of the rigidity of believing they are the only reality. Every time you get caught in an OCD loop of negative or angry thoughts, try to replace with affirmative thoughts and experiences you are grateful for.

Spend time with people who validate you: A true friend is somebody who makes you feel like a better and happier person when you are around them. You trust them and can be honest and vulnerable with them, and they with you. There is give and take in this relationship. These are also people who share important qualities that you value, and with whom you resonate. Unless you are very extroverted, most people do not have more than five good friends. This does not mean that the other people aren’t friends, there is just a diminishing level of intimacy. Most of us only have so much energy to give.

Engage in activities that validate you: listen to music, take a hot bath, go for a walk, read, go to the movies, eat or cook your favorite meal, etc.

Therapy/Support Groups/Online Support Forums: being able to share your experience in a safe place with other people who understand is extremely important.

Realize that you don’t have to solve all your problems at once. Take one step at a time. Realize that with decision making, not taking a decision or changing your mind are valid options, as is simply saying “Not Now.”

We recommend for further reading:

For Survivors of Abusive Relationships:
“Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself” by Shahida Arabi
“Malignant Self-Love” by Sam Vaknin
“Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft

Communication:
“Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg
“The Seven Principles for Making for Marriage Work” by John Gottman and Nan Silver

Self-Healing:
“The Gifts of Imperfection” by BrenĂ© Brown
“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Validating Non-Monogamy
“The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
“More Than Two” by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
“Stories from the Polycule” by Elisabeth Sheff
“Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan

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