How to change the Always/Never cycle in communication.

2HatsTestersRelationships

Two women arguing. One has her hand over her face the other raised hands in front of her.

Many of us (myself included) have used the accusation you always__ or you never __  in arguments with loved ones.  This is an all too common response that we refer to as the always/never cycle and if used consistently will erode trust and connection in an intimate relationship. 

You have likely been given well-meaning advice about not using these words and how they damage communication.  However, how many of you are successful in doing that? 

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Unveiling the Dance of Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Projection

Alisa Chirpicinic RCCTrauma, Relationships

In the course of our lives, we all use defenses—strategies safeguarding us from the pain of challenging emotions or memories. One common defense, known as “projection” or “projective identification,” involves attributing threatening feelings to others and identifying with those emotions. However, this defense can lead to frustration as we lack control over others’ feelings. This dynamic is exemplified in the story of Lara, whose relentless pursuit of perfection stemmed from her upbringing and led to a cycle of anxiety.

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Relational Trust

Aron Buky-Tompa RCCRelationships

If I don’t trust you, can you trust me? If you don’t trust me, how could I trust you?

If we want to trust each other, who is going to trust first? I’ll lower my guard if you start by lowering yours!

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The Importance of Trust in Therapy

Rhonda Alton-TracyTherapy process

picture of two peoples hands holding clasped

Trust In Therapy

Ideally, trust begins to develop at birth when the people who care for us are loving and attentive and our basic needs are met. We can live at ease, knowing that our world is safe, and feel free to grow and explore.

As children, when we are dependent on people who are not consistently loving and attentive, it can set up a state of confusion within us. We are forced to trust people who are not entirely trustworthy. This can undermine our ability to trust our perceptions as well as the world around us.

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Do You Trust Too Easily?

Delyse Ledgard, RCCTrauma, Relationships

An image of a person working through mistrust

Can I Trust Too Easily?

Many of my clients talk about trusting too easily, especially when something happens where they feel betrayed or let down. Often what follows is an examination about how they trusted this person too much. If they had been less trusting this wouldn’t have happened. 

I believe that blind trust and unhealthy mistrust are sides of the same coin. Both lead to a re-enactment of people not being trustworthy and I can’t rely on myself.  

Let’s explore how mistrust develops.

Firstly as with most things, they start in childhood. When trust is continually broken or the environment is unpredictable we can’t trust adults to be there for our emotional or physical needs. We learn that no one can be trusted and we protect ourselves from the pain of being let down and uncared for by learning to take care of ourselves.

Alongside this, as I experienced, parents consumed by paranoia and mistrust pass this on. The only person to trust is them. We learn that our parents can do no wrong and everyone else is at fault. In this scenario, our positive feelings for someone are humiliated and criticized. Trusting our feelings and experiences becomes a struggle.

Associated with trust/mistrust is a lot of pain and fear

At its core trust/mistrust relates to the terror of being alone in the world. If I can’t trust anyone then I am alone in the word.  I have to take care of myself – no one is there. Children are not equipped to take care of themselves. Taking this on as a child will inevitably lead to a lack of confidence in themselves. If I can’t trust myself this leads to being alone because I can’t trust my feelings about anyone. 

So simply we can say that developing healthy trust leads to connection and mistrust and a lack of safety leads to disconnection and the terror of being alone.

As human beings, we have a basic need to feel connected but because of these early experiences, we are in conflict with ourselves in forming connections. We tend towards an all-or-nothing relationship to trusting someone and ourselves.

All-or-nothing perspective develops. 

So what can happen in our adult life when we meet new people who show an interest in us or some care and haven’t yet caused us to feel disappointed or let down, we relate to this person as someone we can finally rely on. We must guard ourselves against allowing even a small amount of healthy skepticism because it is associated with the pain of being alone in the world. Our blind trust in this person is fuelled by wishful thinking. Our hope is that we can trust our feelings and that there are people in the world that we can trust. The alternative is to be alone not knowing what to do.

Blind trust relates to wanting to end the pain being alone

So in a way, we could say that what we are doing here is searching for someone to rescue us from the pain of being alone. This all works as long as we can keep this connection in the realm of perfect fantasy because we have split off our mistrust so completely.  However, we are real humans who will inevitably be unreliable in some way, 

As our partner’s humanity becomes more complex and the perfect fantasy begins to crumble our deepest fears arise in another all-or-nothing perspective. What we knew all along, that we can not rely on anyone to be there for us or trust our judgment, is once again proven. Our perfect fantasy and hope is betrayed. So as we connect with the part that carries our mistrust we disconnect and give up on relationships, all be it temporary. 

So in this way not trusting leads to blind trust that leads to reinforcing our mistrust. 

The reality of relationships is, of course, not all or nothing. To remain open to connection we need to learn that we can trust our connection even in the face of unreliability.

Why we feel unsafe when there is no immediate danger

Delyse Ledgard, RCCTrauma

Mistrust

You might ask yourself why am I feeling unsafe and anxious when I everything around me tells me I am ok?  Why do some people breeze through life with confidence and calm, and others are consumed by thoughts of danger and betrayal?  We know our health, and the quality of our lives, are affected by the degree to which we feel safe and can develop trust.  In this post, I will explore what is important about feeling safe and how we create that in our lives

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Rehashing the past does not serve your relationship

Delyse Ledgard, RCCRelationships

rehashing the past

The Impact of Rehashing The Past.

Do you have that urge to bring up past situations, again and again with your partner?  Something happens that you thought you had discussed already or come to an agreement about, and here it is again!  Perhaps you have the belief that if you keep going over it, then your partner will somehow ‘get it’ and stop doing whatever it is you want your partner to change.  However, rehashing the past is very unproductive and does nothing to help make the changes you want.  Furthermore, the act of bringing up a list of times that such and such happened is guaranteed to keep you and your partner stuck.

Let’s look at some of the reasons you might do this

To avoid conflict

When something happens, and you respond by pointing out that the same thing is happening again and again, it prevents you from dealing with the present conflict.  Think about this a moment; when you do this, are you listening to your partner’s concerns or expressing your experience?  You are likely to be focused on your feelings about how this hasn’t changed yet.  Then your partner feels overwhelmed, blamed, and paralyzed.  You end up not being able to repair that moment because it has become something bigger.  Implicit is the message that ‘this’ should not happen, and underneath is a desire not to have anything uncomfortable in the relationship. In other words, there is a desire for the relationship to be perfect, for our partner to be perfect, and no conflict.

To have your pain acknowledged

When you develop a style to deal with conflict by avoidance or blame, it is tough to resolve breaches in your relationship.  You store unresolved hurt, betrayal, and disappointment.  When something new occurs that reflects these wounds the unacknowledged pain is activated.  By going over and over past transgressions, you are seeking to have that pain acknowledged.

To assign responsibility or blame

When you feel that your pain has gone unacknowledged, you are likely to feel that your partner hasn’t taken responsibility for it.  By going over the past, you are targeting your partner’s behaviour, and communicating that they are responsible for the relationship failure.  There can also be a defensive attack implicit in this.  When something comes up that your partner is unhappy with you can go over all their ‘transgressions’ as a way of deflecting and shifting blame.

Maintain a lack of trust and self-protection

I don’t know how many times I have been working with a couple and something new and positive is experienced and then on its heels, one or both partners express a fear that ‘this will not last’ and ‘what happens if’.  These expressions prevent the immediate experience from being fully experienced and developing trust in the relationship.  By focusing on a fear that you are going to repeat the past, you protect yourself from the vulnerability of opening up to your partner.

Going through the same situations, again and again, does not avoid conflict nor repair any hurt, rather, partners end up feeling overwhelmed, blamed, and increasingly distant. 

Ways you can overcome the past and leave it behind

You want your relationship to be a place where you can feel safe and secure and overcome the negative interactions you have developed.  The following will help you work on this and let go of the past.

You can only solve this moment

Even if this moment seems familiar, it is a different moment.  When you focus on just this tiny moment and repair it,  you bring an experience of success into your relationship.  Your brain begins to rewire around an experience of change.  Celebrate these moments.  Appreciate each other for both working towards this achievement.

Keep in mind the big picture

Change is difficult and takes time.  In the process of changing dynamics, you can expect your partner and yourself to keep falling into the same unhelpful and reactive responses as you learn to overcome them.  By bearing in mind the big picture; that you are both working on your part, you become allies.  When you have a difficult moment, it doesn’t mean that nothing is changing

It is not personal

Your partner is probably not trying to hurt you.  They are struggling, and when you can see this, there is the possibility of opening up to what is going on for them and being curious.  Sure, you didn’t deserve them taking whatever out on you, but focusing on that doesn’t sort out what is going on.  When you can see it this way, you are more likely to stay calm and open to what is going on with your partner.  As you develop these skills together, there is room to foster understanding making it easier to apologize genuinely and repair the situation

Deal with the history that is difficult to let go

It is sometimes necessary and valuable to talk about past events in a once-only, let’s clear-it out-of-the-way, process.  When you feel understood and responded to, it is possible to move on.  It can help to set this up with a therapist as part of couples counselling. Especially when events and experiences hold deep hurts and resentment.  It may take several conversations to feel that you have adequately addressed the hurt or betrayal you may be carrying.  When this is done in a structured and mindful way – let it go.  Take time to discuss resentments and betrayals to work together to let them go.

The past then becomes something you can refer to as a recognition of how things have changed and celebrate the journey you have made together.

Why Moving On From an Abusive Relationship is Hard

Delyse Ledgard, RCCRelationships

Letting Go of an Abusive Relationship.

Have you struggled to leave an abusive relationship, or have difficulty letting go?  You are not alone.  It is the very things that make a relationship abusive, that make it so hard to leave or move on from.

Your grief is normal no matter how unhealthy the relationship was.

Feelings of loss and grief are common, at the end of any relationship. With abusive relationships, you are also dealing with the dynamics of the relationship that have affected your self-esteem and feelings of betrayal, which occur regularly.

Feelings of grief and sadness can be confusing when it is clear that the relationship is hurtful. Your sadness does not mean your decision to leave is wrong.

Common dynamics in an abusive relationship that make it hard to move on.

1 – Control

These methods of control can go back and forth between partners and are unhealthy and damaging. You can recover from the occasional occurrence if both of you repair the hurt, and work together to have better communication. What makes your relationship abusive, is when these methods of communicating become commonplace, or employed by one person over another in a dominant/submissive dynamic that escalates. There may be times that the ‘submissive’ person tries to fight back but will often end up giving up.

There are many methods someone may use to control you.  These include
criticism
debate
persuasion
emotional manipulation
threats
raging
contempt/humiliation
ignoring and dismissing
physical violence

Other important signs that your relationship is abusive when one partner in particular is;

feeling intimidated and afraid
feeling hopeless
being silenced
trying to manage your partner’s feelings
isolated from friends and family 

Threats become commonplace, where a partner uses your fear of something to control you. The kinds of threats that are used include; leaving the relationship, withholding affection, physical harm or anger, betraying you in some way, invading your privacy, or making a scene in public.  Of course, following through on any of these threats reinforces that fear.

When the relationship ends there is often an overwhelming feeling of being lost and confused. Your connection was fused, that is, your partner’s experience and perspective were the only ones that mattered. So as the person in the subordinate position, you lose the ability to think for yourself or feel that your experience is valid. Also, a strong sense of right and wrong permeates your interactions, and if you are often in the position of being wrong, it is hard to maintain confidence in yourself.

It can be difficult to take care of yourself and making decisions can bring up a lot of fear and doubt.  Although consciously you may recognize that being out of the relationship is a good thing, the fear of making your own decisions can cause you to hold on to the relationship, or look for others to tell you what to do.

2 – Responsibility

During the relationship, you have been made to feel responsible for the way your partner has treated you. Criticism, judgment, blame, intimidation, and expressions of contempt instill a sense of shame and that you are doing something to cause their reactions, and therefore, are responsible for the abuse. 

Being blamed can lead to trying to fix the relationship and manage your partner’s reactions and behaviour.  You get caught in a vicious cycle where you feel to blame for the relationship not working, and try to make your partner feel better so they will be more loving. When that doesn’t happen, you feel worse because the relationship continues to be abusive, and you keep trying harder. 

When the relationship ends you can feel that you have failed.  Your self-worth has been dependent on the relationship working and we can get caught in needing to fix it even though we are no longer in it.

On the other hand, the hurt and resentment that you feel can cause you to want your ex to take responsibility for their actions.  It is reasonable to want someone to take accountability for their actions. However, holding on to an unrealistic expectation and fantasy that your ex will suddenly come to there senses and take desire and fanta It is easy to get into the blame game back and forth making it hard to move on.

3 – Betrayal

We enter relationships because we want to feel connected and important to someone. To be in a relationship that is loving and where you take care of each other is a natural desire when entering into an intimate relationship. You carry these desires, and so when the person you love hurts you, you feel betrayed.  The important thing is not that we are never going to hurt one another but that we can repair these breaches. In abusive relationships, that repair does not happen. Instead, you are met with blame and denial. The feelings of betrayal deepen, one injury on top of another erodes any trust that was in the relationship.

When the relationship ends the betrayal leaves a deep loss. It shatters your belief in relationships and your sense of safety with others.  Trust in others can take a long time to recover.  Beliefs about yourself can also become entangled with making sense of the betrayal, such as taking on the belief that you deserve bad treatment. You might be drawn to others who treat you this way, or expectations that people will let you down and hurt you.

In an abusive relationship, the control and betrayal that you experience leave you unable to express the pain and anger it causes.  This can also lead to emotional reactivity exploding once you end the relationship.

Steps in Healing from An Abusive Relationship.

1 – Gaining a sense of self

Start by identifying the things that are unique to you.
What do you enjoy doing?
Identify your opinions and write them down even if you don’t want to tell anyone.
What are your favourite clothes, food, TV shows?
What do you admire about people? These are the things you are strengthening within yourself.

2 – Make mistakes

We all do. In abusive relationships, the fear of doing something that is going to bring your partner’s wrath down on you is constant.  This fear and tension can follow you after leaving the relationship, causing you to struggle to make decisions and take action.  Taking time to notice the difference between being punished and blamed for your actions, and people just having a response of their own, will be crucial to healing this fear.  Particularly noticing the times that people are accepting, encouraging, and supportive of you, even when you make mistakes, is healing. 

3 – Realize you can’t change anyone

It is reasonable that you wanted things to be different and have a right to be respected. In an abusive relationship where you are the focus of blame, failure, and not good enough, it can leave you obsessing over what you could have done differently. This often translates into taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour. Learning to distinguish between what we can change and what we can’t is part of the recovery.

4 – Learning to trust again

Takes time. Trust and safety develop when we understand and accept what happened in this relationship and notice experiences with others who feel safe. We can begin to feel more confident in discerning who we can trust.

5 – Learning to express emotions

In an abusive relationship being vulnerable is dangerous and emotional expression can feel very vulnerable. Emotions can feel like all or nothing.  Finding a safe place such as with a therapist can be important in learning to regulate and feel your emotions. Emotional expression is important in integrating your experience and healing trauma. Through a safe and supportive relationship, you can release the shame you carry from your experience