Healthy Relationships from the Inside Out

15 June 2016, BKK Kids

Why is it important to have a good relationship with yourself?

Cultivating a positive relationship with yourself is the building block for your own world. When you can nurture yourself and value what you can bring, you have high self-esteem and feel good about what you have to offer.  When children are young, their self-esteem is formed early by their parents. They need their parents to mirror their feelings, to give them empathy, and be a stable person so that they can idealize them. (Kohut, The Analytical Cure)

If you had something severe in your childhood where you did not get your needs met from your parents, it can be challenging and you can have deficits that can get manifested in your relationships. For example, if a child experiences that a parent was not strong and present, he/she can learn that it is not safe to trust and finds it hard to need others.

Healthy relationships allow both partners to feel supported and connected but still feel independent. Healthy relationships with others involve good communication and maintaining boundaries.

What does it take to have healthy communication?

1. Speaking up for your needs – Saying what is vulnerable.  It is hard work to communicate and speak up for yourself.  When you can communicate what is on your mind, you relax and feel at ease because you are not holding in your feelings.

2. Respect – When you respect someone, you think of him/her in high regard.  When you show respect, it is saying that you are interested in what someone has to say and that you want to know about how he/she thinks.

3. Compromise – In a good relationship, when there is a disagreement, you have to discuss and find another way so that both individuals can get their needs met. When you can figure out another solution, then it becomes a win-win situation.

4. Encouragement-Thinking about what is best for someone else and conveying it to them by your body language and what you say.

5. Empathy- Putting yourself in someone else’s shoe’s and demonstrating that you understand his/her perspective. By being empathic, someone feels like you care and that you truly understand what he/she must be going through.

What are healthy boundaries?

Each person should express to their partner what they are and are not comfortable with, when it comes to sex life, finances, family and friends, personal space, and time.

In a healthy relationship with boundaries, both partners (National Domestic Violence Helpline):

·      Allow each other to spend time with family and friends and do not impose “control” over the other.

·      Do not abuse technology to check on a partner.

·      Trust each other and not require their partner to “check-in”.

·      Do not pressure others to do things that they don’t want to do.

·      Do not constantly accuse the other of cheating or being unfaithful.

Managing Difficult Relationships

Many of us struggle with having difficulties with our spouse, family members, colleagues, or an acquaintance.

“Maria” and “Sara” (fictitious names used to disguise identity) were best friends for a long time.  Maria and Sara met when they were in college.  Maria felt the highs and lows of the relationship.  She felt like Sara made her feel so special and happy by saying that she was the only “good” friend she had. Other times, she was so moody and it was tough to be around her.  When Sara was mad, Maria had no idea how to make her feel better. Sara stopped talking to Maria for months at a time. At this time, Maria would try harder to be friends because she experienced the sadness of losing her friend that she loved.  They would resume being friends again and had enjoyable communication for some time. Soon enough, Sara was in a bad mood, where she would start cursing at Maria and then hang up the phone. Maria was exhausted and was tired of being a punching bag.

In the end, Maria had to be strong and cut off the relationship because it took everything out of her and the friendship did not bring out the best in her. If you notice that you are doing more work to maintain a relationship than he/she is, it may be time to speak up, put boundaries, and perhaps cut off the relationship if it is not mutually beneficial.

Interpersonal Communication Skills

What we say:  This is an important way of getting our message across, but what we say is only one part of what is happening in the conversation. We communicate more information using non-verbal signals, gestures, facial expression, and body language.

Listening: When you can become an engaged listener, it makes people feel that you are present.   Most people take listening for granted because they are listening to be able to respond and are interested in getting their point across.  Active Listening means that you are reflecting back what you heard and are engaged in the dialogue to understand his/her perspective.

Strategies

o   Focus on the person speaking (put away the phone when you are talking to someone)

o   Avoid interrupting someone while he/she is speaking.

o   Set aside judgment and try to understand what someone is telling you.

o   Ask questions and provide feedback.

Stress Management

When you are experiencing stress, you need to manage your stress so that you are not in “flight or fight” mode.  Many conflicts occur because of high stress levels so it is important to be aware and if possible, speak at a later time when you are more calm.  If you are already agitated, then it is going to be difficult to communicate and you are not going to be as responsive to what someone is saying. You are also more prone to being angry and defensive under stress.  What stands out in people who can communicate well is that they are able to manage stressful situations and have effective ways of coping with their stress.  It could be exercise, calling friends, yoga, writing, dance, or whatever you discover that works for you!

Can Communication Skills Be Learned?

As a trained psychotherapist, I have seen many clients learn to be able to communicate through therapy, introspection, and practice.

Learning to communicate better is a process and it takes time to understand your role in how conflicts can occur. In my family, I grew up feeling like you should not rock the boat so I avoided conflict at all costs.  Coming from an Asian background, I learned that you had to respect your parents and not say anything that would seem “critical”.  Though my own work with a therapist, I learned to address conflict directly and that it served you when you were able to voice your feelings.

How do individuals improve their communication skills in therapy?

“Michael” (fictitious name used to disguise his identity) had difficulty communicating his feelings at work, with friends/family, and in his romantic relationships. He rarely discussed his feelings because his parents had gone through a painful divorce in which they did not communicate with another. The only way they communicated was through the children so he learned through his experiences to shut down his feelings because it was too painful.

When Michael first came to therapy, when he spoke to me, he would come in with a list of things that he wanted to address. At first, I had a hard time connecting with him and was at a loss about how to help him. I decided to work in the relationship and talk to him about how I feel distanced and wondered about how that resonated with him.  He was able to recognize that he was often bored with himself as well.  As more time progressed, he began to talk about different family relationships and his anger towards his mother for using him to speak to his dad.  He became much more lively and passionate as he shared his experiences in a safe environment.

In therapy, he was able to talk about all the different parts of him and was able to feel “whole” again. This enabled him to be more open with women and honest in his relationships. He was also able to put boundaries with his mother and take risks by talking to his father. As a result, he took more risks in his career and began to discover hobbies that he was passionate about.

Conclusion

Having a healthy relationship with others is important, but if you are not happy with yourself, then it will be impossible to find happiness with others.  When you can find your passion and what brings you joy, this will enable you to be content and not keep looking outside for what you need. Healthy relationships bring out the best in us. They should not make you feel scared and controlled.  If you notice that you have friendships, family members, or a spouse that is difficult and that you are not thriving because of what they say to you and how it makes you feel, it is important to re-think the relationship and talk about what is not working.

With social media, individuals are listening less than ever before and it is hard to find time to focus. We are either on our smart phones, social media, or email.  Practice skills in a conversation by slowing down, reflecting back, asking questions, focusing, and you will see how it changes how you listen and how someone responds back to you.  The more you can listen to yourself and be aware, you will figure out what brings joy to your life.  It is important to find time to be less busy and more engaged with yourself and the ones you love.

By Anita Barot, a licensed marriage and family therapist currently based in Bangkok, with a psychotherapy practice, Lotus Therapy, in EmQuartier/Phrom Phong. Originally from California, USA, Anita has over 10 years of experience counseling children, adults, couples, and families. She has experience working with teenagers who are dealing with anxiety, grief, and difficulties in their interpersonal relationships.

To learn more about Anita and her practice, please visit lotustherapy.com or e-mail info@lotustherapy.com. The first consultation is free of charge, so you can see how she works and to determine if it would be a good fit for your counselling needs.

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