The message of transformation is unavoidable at the turn of a new year. Magazines, social media and tv blare the newest weight loss challenges. Many people see this time as a time for change—often for external results. (Listen to Laura’s episode 19 “Why I Don’t Like Before & Photos for some encouragement!)
Working On The New Self
In the spirit of New Years resolutions, Relationship Helpers made the decision to go deeper than the surface and to look at how we can make INTERNAL changes. Rather than focusing on fleeting things such as how we look and our weight, we will look at transformations from the inside-out. These changes can impact our lives for the rest of our lives.
We are not discouraging healthy habits, but we are looking at health from a different perspective. The changes we are suggesting today CAN improve our physical health via working on our psychological and emotional health.
Resolutions such as weight loss are quantifiable. The resolutions we will be suggesting are not. In Corinthians we are told to put off our old self and take on our new self as Christians.
You may have heard people excuse poor behavior with, “That’s just the way I am…that’s my personality.” When someone makes this statement, it is an excuse not to make efforts for change. Some people believe that their personality is innate and unchangeable. This is a misguided idea.
Dr. Rolo May said, “Your personality means the aspect of yourself which makes you effective in life. It is evident that there are two aspects of effectiveness in individuality. First, how do you affect or stimulate others? This is your stimulation value. Second, how do others affect you? How do you respond to others? That is your response aspect of value. Put these together and that is virtually your personality.” Personality is a relational thing.
New Series: “A Better New Year’s Resolution”
Our series “A Better New Years Resolution” is all about moving towards better relationship. We have established eight areas in which someone can improve their personality, with the byproduct of improved relationships. You can change your personality, it is just a matter or willingness and effort. For the next eight weeks we will highlight a favorable character trait and talk about how to acquire it.
This series was borne out of our last series, “Eight Warning Signs You Might Need to Break Up.” As we discussed personality traits and red flags during that series, it led us to want to do a series on how people should interact with other people—not just in romantic relationships.
Our first character trait that we will discuss is gentleness.
1. How You Talk to People
Using “I” statements instead of YOU statements is a much gentler way of talking to others. As therapists we often see break downs in communication. Using “you” statements many times is to blame. They elicit a defensive response.
Saying “I felt hurt when you didn’t call me…I was sad when you decided to do…” You’re taking responsibility for your feelings. You’re not saying “You did this to me.” It’s much more gentle to use “I statements” with others than to use “You statements.”
Compare these statements to “You never listen to me.” “You’re always on your phone, instead of listening to me.” These are harmful statements.
The “I Statement” Formula
Using “I statements” means saying “I feel (insert feeling word) when you…,” NOT “I feel you don’t care about me” this is a judgment. Be careful not to say, “I feel you don’t care about me.”
Examples of positive I statements: “I was hurt, sad, happy, upset, scared, etc. when you…” or “I feel unloved when…”
2. Does Not Mean That You Are a Doormat
Being gentle does not mean that you are passive. You can be direct and assertive with others and be gentle. Using the “I statements mentioned above is actually gentle BECAUSE you are communicating clearly. You are not avoiding confrontation.
We can look to historical figures, particularly some of our founding fathers, as models of tactful assertiveness. Laura mentions how George Washington was able to admonish officers who betrayed him via letters. He was able to maintain civil relationships with these people, even though their behaviors were abhorrent.
Laura and Vincent recommend reading biographies of such successful historical figures, as we can learn so much about how to interact with others through their experiences.
Your body language and how you show another person that you are trying to understand is helpful. You are showing them, not telling them, that you understand. Cloud and Townsend, authors of “Boundaries” said, “Listening has occurred only when the other person understands you understand.”
Laura mentions that as therapists, she and Vincent are kind of like “the understanding police.” It is not unusual for a spouse in couples therapy to not recognize that their partner does not understand. It’s the therapist job to point that out and help them work to better understand one another.
That often means teaching clients to “summarize” what the other person is saying. This does not mean repeating their words back to them verbatim, but using feeling words to show that they are trying to understand how their spouse feels.
4. Don’t Have Such Unrealistic Expectations For Others and Self
Allow others and yourself to fail. People often have unrealistic expectations in their minds, but they have not expressed them until it is too late. When people don’t meet this unmet expectation, the person holding onto that unspoken expectation ends up angry or upset over it.
When you are learning something or a new skill, you have to fail or make mistakes to learn it well. When you try and “fail”, you actually learn a lot more about how to do the skill correctly. You learn the limits the limits of what you can do. You learn what not to do which is extremely important.
Good teachers are comfortable allowing their students or trainees to fail. They realize that failing is a great way to learn.
5. Work On Your Face
Vincent mentions that men often need to work more on gentleness. It’s been his experience that many men don’t recognize the need for gentleness and/or how harsh they really are. Laura finds that many men don’t realize the benefits of being gentle.
They may actually be able to get what they want from relationships IF they used gentleness. Some men don’t recognize that it may not be helpful to speak to women and children the same way as they speak to other men.
Stay mindful of what your face says. Keep your muscles relaxed. Be aware of your body language. Watch your forehead. Don’t bunch it up severely.
Pay attention to your eyes. Bulging and/or glaring eyes are intimidating and are not helpful when you are trying to be a gentle communicator.
6. Speak Softly
Presidents have a very serious job. They have to be diplomatic and create treaties. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick, and you will go far.” He was borrowing from a West African proverb. One example of Roosevelt’s diplomacy was when he aided in bringing an end to the Russio-Japanese war.
Vincent feels that gentleness is actually the definition of meek. Drawing upon the Bible, we learn that a person who is meek is a person who is strong but has been placed in a position of weakness where they have persevered and have not given up. It doesn’t mean they are weak. They choose not to hurt others by exerting the power they could use.
Vincent uses the example of a tamed tiger. The tiger is powerful, but it is not using its power – it is disciplined. Meek does not mean weak.
Look how Jesus handled the wedding feast. At that point he had not displayed his power to anyone. He was asked by his mother to produce more wine, as the wedding party had run out of it. He was not a “magician” who performed tricks. Look to how Jesus handles situations as a model for meekness.
A few verses to consider: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4.
Don’t Lose Your Empathy During Confrontation
Also important to consider is that just because you are walking into a situation where you need to confront someone, does not mean that the other person is aware of it. Sometimes we lose our nerve due to fear of confrontation, and when we let our fears take hold, it inhibits our ability to communicate well. This often results in behaving defensive and lacking in empathy.
If you walk in with a gentle, direct way about you, you may walk a person through a confrontation without the other person even realizing that were being confronted.
We hope you feel encouraged to be more gentle with yourself and others after listening to today’s show!