This was a text dialogue with a private coaching client who was frustrated with and frightened by (and for) her alcoholic sister. One of the one-liners I captured (I take copious notes while listening to clients to grab their thoughts, word-for-words) was, “She does not have the capacity to listen to me.” After doing that work on different aspects of her situation, I followed up with this note. (You might find these exercises helpful in your arguments in marriage, with grown children, aging parents, or maybe your boss!)
Step 1. One assignment I would have for you is you see if you can find examples for the turnaround “She does have the capacity to listen to me.” Since your reactions were in part to the fight you guys had over text messaging, you might go back through your text threads. Find at least 3 examples where she IS listening to you.
Try to read her texts the way I did in our last session, where you take out all the emotional charge and all the underlying meanings you may be projecting onto them (based on your own insecurities and past experiences with her). Try to do “literal listening,” where you just look at the words themselves.
Also notice the ways those texts are evidence of YOU not listening to her (not even being capable in that moment, since your projections onto her have taken over your brain’s ability to hear her) and you not listening to YOURSELF (especially in those moments, when all the focus is on her–but also in other moments… find 3 in your situation and 3 in other parts of your life where you don’t have the ability to listen to yourself, your husband, your kids).
Find those with curiosity and relief that you are gaining clarity–without being hard on yourself – – just see it as data/research. We are just taking a look here so we can spot these patterns and see where the stories you’re telling yourself are “always true” and very much color your reality.
Have fun with this and feel free to report to me what your findings are– even send me actual clips of examples if that’s easier.
Step 2. The other assignment is to continue writing down emotionally charged reactions and one-liners from your situation and try doing the four questions on them. In a situation like this where childhood wounds are triggered the “Is it true?” part isn’t as important to me (in fact sometimes I don’t even ask it–we don’t want to shame the parts of you that are believing it). Most important for you to get the shift is to witnees, 3. “How do you react when you believe that thought?” and 4. “Who would you be without that thought?”
Taking this in is one of the ways of reprogramming your mind – – the hot stove approach. Because the mind often thinks it is saving you with these projections, in order to change, it has to see for itself that: a). with this thought you are suffering, and b). without it you are OK.
Once it sees that, it is less likely to keep going to those same thoughts, since we are wired to go away from pain.
Finally, breathing is really, really important when you’re on a call or a flurry of texts with her where you are super triggered and feel so threatened and small.
Take Care of Yourself and Stay Conscious WHILE It’s Happening
Step 3. Breathing is one of the ways to defuse the scary feelings in your body and for you to be able to live through uncomfortable times without kicking up fights that kick up more cortisol and adrenaline.
The breath keeps you calm and allows you to take more time, engage your conscious mind, and question the thinking that you have to DO something right away.
It’s a really tangible way of supporting yourself and that little girl part of you. Think of the breath as love and affirmation that you are enough even when she can’t see it.
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