Won't You Be My Neighbor?

This is the title of the recently released movie about Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers, and the half hour television show he hosted and created, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which aired from 1963 to 2001. 

As an ordained minister, he considered teaching children his ministry and believed that children had deep feelings.  The message of his ministry was kindness, love and empathy as he spoke to the viewer about such issues as divorce, death, competition, war, assassination, racial tolerance and anger.  His focus was to teach peaceful ways of dealing with feelings.

His definition of neighborhood was that it was a place where you could share your worry, fear and feelings of being unsafe and the neighborhood would take care of you.  His famous saying,

“won’t you be my neighbor?” was an invitation to enter a safe harbor, to be connected to others where you’d be cared for, comforted, loved, and find healing and be able to offer the same to others when needed.  There were many more important lessons he shared over the years; here are a few of my favorites.

“One of the greatest gifts you can give anyone is the gift of yourself.” Giving yourself means being present with our loved ones.   Presence is not about problem solving or logically addressing issues our partners bring to us.  Our loved ones only need us to be present with them in their pain, worries and joy and just bear witness to it.  Being present means giving them our undivided attention, being accessible, responding to them, engaging with them and being curious about their experiences/fears as they share from their perspective.

As an example, I recently wanted to support my cousin whose mother was in the final stages of Alzeheimer’s Disease.  There were no more treatments available and she appeared to be transitioning, so Hospice was called.  Living 2000 miles from my cousin and not being able to physically assist in anyway, all I could offer her was my presence by listening attentively to her and to talk with her whenever she needed.  We shared many conversations over the months leading up to her mother’s death.  Often those calls were initiated by me just to check in on her.  She shared with another cousin, that our conversations had been such a support and comfort to her.  The only gift I gave was my time and attention.  In giving myself, she felt my support, care and love and was not alone in losing her mother.

“You always make each day a special day by . . . just being you/yourself.”  We all need to know that we are loved for who we are, not by what we do.  I recently watched an episode of the “Midwives” series which took place in 1959 during a time when homosexuality was a crime.  In this episode, a young, married,  father-to-be frequents a club for gay men and is caught in a police sting operation, is charged and goes to trial.  The episode showed how family, friends and community struggled to deal with the event as well as the  father-to-be who struggled with great difficulty as those he loved demanded he change and struggled to accept who he was.

 “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.”  To love someone, means we are going to hurt them and they are going to hurt us. We experience pain in either case. Yet, through the pain, we learn about ourselves, those we love and more importantly, we grow.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices.  And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”  When we know who we are and what we value, choices become so much easier to make.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”  To be loved when I fail or when I’m scared is what I need.  To be comforted is so calming.  We all long for our loved ones to accept us as we are.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet, how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”  We may never know the impact of our smile,  a kind word or a caring touch will have on others and yet these simple things may change a person’s life forever.

“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”

“The greatest thing we can do is to help someone know they are loved and capable of loving.”

We all long for love and the goal of our actions are directed toward getting the reassurance we need, to know we are loved. 

So let us take in Mr. Roger’s message of kindness, love and empathy and incorporate it into our daily lives today letting others know how special they are and how much we love them.  We often carry these thoughts of love in our hearts and rarely share them.  Saint Exupery, author of The Little Prince, said “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” So, these thoughts of love, admiration, gratitude, and connection, reside invisibly in our hearts and need to be released by our giving them voice and sharing them with our loved ones. It is not honor, prizes, or gifts that nourish our souls; it is knowing we are loved.  Let your loved ones hear the love in your heart.

To assist you in speaking from your heart to those you love, especially your spouse, partner, parent, child or friend, you may find the HEART Cards helpful.  Find HEART Cards at https://www.holdmetightworkshop.com/the-heart-cards/ or The HEART Cards app on iPhone and Android.  Try giving your loved ones one card a day and see the changes that occur as you heart is made known to them.

“Won’t you be my neighbor” and follow me on Facebook to learn more about love and love relationships?  Follow me now, https://www.facebook.com/Hold-Me-Tight-Couples-Workshop-185309118212336/

The Puzzle of Love

“Love is a mystery.”  Love is a many splendored thing.”  Apart from these sayings, poets, philosophers, psychologists, clergy and people in general, have through the centuries struggled to define and understand it.

Couples often say, “I don’t know what is wrong with my relationship and I don’t know how to fix it.”  In the past therapists have tried to help couples by teaching communication skills, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills.  These techniques worked briefly for the couples.  Unfortunately, couples fell back into their old patterned ways of interacting and decided the therapy didn’t work for them and that their relationship was doomed.

Before you resign yourself to living separate lives or divorcing know that you do not have to settle for the status quo or for failure.  Research has taught us how to help couples understand and strengthen their love.  This research has shown us that behavioral patterns learned in childhood form a template for our adult relationships.  There are evolutionary and biological imperatives for love and affections.  Connections have measurable effects on our body, psyche and health.  Studies have shown us how to assist and guide couples toward healthy and happier relationships. 

Knowing how to help love relationship is important as a 2012 Pew survey showed 84% of people view marriage as an important life goal.  An earlier Pew survey revealed most people see love as the basis of marriage.  People agree with the finding of Robert Waldinger, a Harvard happiness researcher and leader of the 80-year-old Harvard Study of Adult Development, who has found the single ingredient in a good life with health and joy is a loving relationship.

In the 1950’s the emerging science of attachment helped us understand the importance of the infant caregiver bond.  As this science has matured, it has given a definitive map of love and how to optimize it – a guide to stronger and more supportive relationships.

In the 1980’s Canadian psychologist Sue Johnson became aware of the powerful fears, needs and dilemmas couples faced and she sought ways to understand these struggles.  Grounded in the new understandings of adult attachment, Sue and her colleagues worked to develop a method to help couples that was grounded in science.  The result was the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)which now has over 30 years of scientific research supporting its effectiveness.

EFT recognizes the major tenant of attachment research that show “the love we feel from another person has an enormous effect on us, both physically and emotionally” (Sue Johnson).  Studies over the years have confirmed this fact.

We Are Better Together

In 2006, James A. Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, conducted an experiment on 16 married women whom he placed into a magnetic resonance imaging machine and subjected them to the threat of electrical shock during 3 different situations:  holding their husband’s hand, holding the hand of a male stranger and lying alone in the machine.  The women were told that when they saw a large X on the screen they might receive a shock.  Coan’s study revealed that holding the husband’s hand significantly reduced the activation of neural systems in the brain associated with emotional and behavioral threat responses.  The hand holding also reduced the amount of pain the subjects reported from the shock.  More interestingly, people who reported more supportive marriages based on a questionnaire, appeared to experience the most relief.

Coan’s study is among several which have found that the presence of a loved one can moderate neurophysiological responses including heart rate and the release of stress hormones.  One study even showed that by just imagining an attachment figure can have significant effect.  We gain tremendous emotional strength from just thinking about our loved ones

Physical health and strong relationships are connected.  Attachment research suggests healthy relationships support healthy lives.  Coan’s study shows we are at ease with certain people.  Therefore, cultivating those special relationships may help us better manage life’s uncertainties.

Our relationships are part of our survival code. Secure attachment relationships provide a sense of safety, a sense that we are not alone and a way to maintain balance in the face of danger.

These connections with trusted loved one who are our resources shift our perception of danger, disaster and pain.

Creating Connected Couples

Emotional distance is the most common problem, faced by couples.  For example, one partner tends to withdraw from the other resulting in creating emotional distance from the partner.  In response, the action of withdrawing signals the threat of separation in the other, thus triggering protest and clinging behavior in the one who experienced a sense of abandonment.  This reaction may trigger anger and desperation in the withdrawing partner driving the couple further and further apart.  Each is only trying to cope with perceived threats.

While couples’ disagreements often look simple to solve with logic on the surface, attachment theory tells us the fights are about disconnection.  The threat of emotional isolation – abandonment – sparks reactive anger to get attention or a shutdown response to the feeling of never getting it right and a desire to block the pain.  These meltdowns are about the pain of emotional disconnection, and couples’ well intended though misguided and misunderstood attempts to reconnect have little to do with the conflict.  Attachment science has shown that love is within our control when we understand how it operates.

In EFT, the first step is to help the couple see they are both caught in a repetitive cycle/dance about emotional distance and that their actions are triggering each other.  It is these cycles that are to blame and that leave them feeling alone and lonely.

Next, EFT shows couples how to move in positive ways when they need their partner’s support.  Moving in positive ways builds positive experiences of secure connection.  Couples learn to have bonding conversations where partners identify their attachment fears/needs and share them in soft ways that draw their partner closer.  Partners often share fears of rejection; however, when these fears are openly shared in a positive manner, the partner receive the reassurance they’ve longed to have.

EFT research has shown that partners who take time to dive deeply into their emotional experience, disclose how they make sense of their partner’s words and actions, and who soften their tendency to blame, show increased relationship satisfaction.  Intimacy, vulnerability and having a forgiving viewpoint are the necessary ingredients.

In this stage, couples build the crucial relationship skills of accessibility, responsiveness and engagement.  Accessibility is being open and willing to turn to and attend, care for our partner.  Responsiveness is being able to tune into and respond to your partner’s emotional signals.  Engagement is when you can stay close and attuned to your partner’s emotions and remain close.  These skills are captured in the unasked and yet present question in distressed couples, “Are you there for me?”  This the question about which distressed couples are seeking reassurance

With its strong evidence base and lasting positive effects, EFT has become the gold standard of couple’s therapy and the only one to integrate attachment science.

In 2008, Sue Johnson developed Hold Me Tight® a two-day education program for couples.  Research is beginning to come in on the effectiveness of the Hold Me Tight programs in increasing couples’ relationship satisfaction with additional positive impact on the couple’s family. 

Are You A Good Listener?

Are You A Good Listener?

Did anyone ever instruct you on how to be a good listener?  Chances are good that no one did, so you are left to figure it out on your own.  Most of us are poor listeners at least some of the time.

Being a bad listener can cause us to miss important information being shared or keep us from knowing and understanding friends and family at a deeper level (the level of true connection); at times, our bad listening annoys others.

If you’d like to be a better listener, it’s like anything else you want to do better on, you have to first become aware and then focus on taking specific steps that will lead to better listening or other behaviors.

Leaping Ahead

Many of us have the habit of leaping ahead where we think the other person is going while they are still talking to us.  Sometimes we get it right; however, none of us is a mind reader and more often we draw the wrong conclusion and, in the process, miss important, helpful details.

For example, after agreeing earlier to a dinner date and place with your partner, he/she starts talking negatively about the restaurant or the food.  You jump ahead and assume that your partner does not want to spend the evening with you and you have not heard that your partner prefers a different kind of food that evening and wants to change the restaurant venue.  You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not all about you”?  The saying often fits when we take other’s comments personally.

Tuning Out

Another negative listening habit is to tune out to what the speaker is saying thinking it’s the same old conversation again.  When we tune out, again, we miss potential new information that could be helpful.

As an example, your partner begins talking about the logistics of the carpool schedule and that you are needed to pick up your son from soccer practice on Friday.  Friday evening comes and you arrive home without your son.  Oops!

Sometimes we tune out because we’ve heard something offensive or that stings us on an emotional level.  When we’re upset, parts of our brain shut down and we block out what’s being said because on some level we perceive danger.

For example, you and your partner have had an argument and you’re still talking to him when he suddenly gets up and says, “I cannot do this anymore and I need some space", storms off and goes to his computer.  You never really heard the boundary he set, all you saw was him leaving which stung you on an emotional level.

Planning Your Reply

One of the biggest negative habits is planning what you are going to say while someone is still talking.  Again, if you do this you are likely to miss important information and your reply might be off the mark because you missed nuances of the conversation.

Not Listening Deeply

Sometimes we are listening, but not deeply enough.  We hear the spoken word and miss the body language, often the most important part of the message.  When we listen deeply, we listen to the whole message – what the mouth, body and tone are all saying.  Paying attention to body language and to tone fills out the message being sent.  Deep listening requires presence and your full, undivided attention to the other without being distracted by your thoughts.  It is listening with compassion, empathy and patience.

So, You Want to Become A Good Listener

Some readers might say why bother.  There are some awesome benefits to being a better listener.  For starters, you’ll feel more connected to loved ones, friends and co-workers and they will have greater respect for you. 

You cannot simply show up for a conversation; you have to be fully present which means that your mind is fully engaged in what the other person is discussing.  Being fully engaged means that you might ask questions of the speaker to learn more, and that you are paying attention to the speaker’s tone and body language.  You are fully focused on the other person.

As you listen, you may find your mind beginning to wander.  It happens to us all.  When you are focused on creating change, your awareness is heightened, and you begin to catch your mind wondering.  It probably wandered before; however, you didn’t pay any attention.  This time your wandering mind comes into your awareness and you are mindful.  The next step is to prioritize the person who is speaking and refocus on them (words, tone and body language).  Just notice the wandering and let it go returning your focus to engaged listening.

Your partner will notice it when you are physically and mentally present during your conversations and will really appreciate you for it.  The relationship will be stronger and you will understand each other better because you are listening to the whole conversation, not just the words.  Listening in this way communicates to your partner that you really care about him/her and that he/she matters to you.  Engaged listening builds trust in you.  Conversations generally become deeper, more honest and fuller.

So, the next time your partner starts talking to you, stop what you are doing and fully engage in listening to him or her.  If you are unable to stop at that moment, let your partner know you are really interested in what they have to say and that you need 5 minutes to finish what you are doing so that you can give him/her your undivided attention.

Try it and enjoy the rewards!