073: David Answers Your Five Secrets Questions

073: David Answers Your Five Secrets Questions

Relationship Problems–We’ve all got ’em!

In today’s podcast, David and Fabrice address five questions submitted by listeners who listened to the recent series of podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication:

  • Elie: I kept disarming my wife who was criticizing me, and it didn’t work. She just got angry! What am I doing wrong?
  • Joli: Dr. Burns, all of your examples of relationship problems in involve errors the women are making. This is chauvinistic! Why are you always blaming women? I think you must have had problems with women in the past!
  • Tamara: The five podcasts on the Five Secrets were at a very introductory level. Can you do some more teaching at a more advanced level?
  • Rajesh: I was in a conflict with a very demanding friend and I said, “I understand how you feel.” My friend just got more annoyed. Why? What am I doing wrong? Also, what should you do if the person who’s criticizing you is just saying a lot of things that are distorted, things that aren’t really true?
  • Jonathan: A friend said, “You’re so damn cheap!” This was my response: “Yeah I mean sometimes I do get a little upset and annoyed when I’m judged by you like that. To be quite honest, I don’t like it when you say stuff like that.” How did I do? Does my response need to be improved?

David and Fabrice love your questions so keep them coming! At the next session, we are going to begin a new episode series on Five Secrets of Happiness.

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

David and Fabrice discuss Stroking, the fifth of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of Stroking is to express some warmth or admiration for the person you’re in conflict with, as well as people you’re NOT in conflict with! Essentially, you say something positive or complimentary about the other person, even in the heat of battle. It can make a huge difference in how the other person feels, and how the situation gets resolved.

In the last four podcasts we went over the  E = Empathy and the A = Assertiveness of the EAR acronym. In this podcast, we will concentrate on R = Respect. Stroking is the technique for the R = Respect. The term is crude, but I’ve never found an alternative that worked better.

Philosophically, Stroking goes back to the work of Martin Buber, the 20th century philosopher / theologian who talked about the difference between an “I – It” relationship and an “I – thou” relationship. In an “I – It” relationship, you think of the other person as an object to be manipulated, and not as a human being. You may compete with the other person, and try to beat or defeat them, or you may try to punish, exploit, or hurt them. For many examples, you only have to turn on the evening news and see how some of our politicians talk about their “enemies.” In contrast, in an “I – thou” relationship, you treat the other person with respect and dignity, even if you’re at odds, even if you’re feeling angry.

In the last podcast, we discussed “I Feel” Statements–sharing your own feelings openly. If you have negative feelings you need to express, you can include Stroking at the same time. Sometimes, that’s the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Here’s an example. Let’s imagine you’re ticked off at a friend named Jim, and you’ve been arguing with each other and getting frustrated. I’ll give you example of how you might use Stroking, and i’ll put the name of the technique I used in parentheses after each sentence so you’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

“Jim, I’m feeling really ticked off at you right now, and I’m having fantasies of strangling you! (“I Feel” Statement) At the same time, it bothers me when we argue like this because I’ve always admired you tremendously and felt you were one of my best friends. (Stroking)  I know there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying. and I’m sure when work this out, we’ll be even closer. (Disarming Technique) With that in mind, you can tell me more about how you’re thinking and feeling? (Inquiry) “

Hopefully, you can see that this type of statement conveys warmth, respect and openness, while at the same time clearly expressing your anger. Of course, this is just an example, and the way you express yourself will be very different.

Expressing your negative feelings with warmth requires discipline, because most of the time we get defensive and want to lash out at the person we’re mad at. And you can do that if you want–I give in to that urge every now and then, too! But if you express yourself with warmth and caring, and if you share your feelings instead of arguing or attacking the other person, or putting him or her down, you’ll usually get a far more positive response.

David describes how he used Stroking (along with the Disarming Technique) to good effect when he was ruthlessly put down by a hostile examiner during his oral medical board examination when he returned home to California with his family in 1995.

David and Fabrice describe errors people make when trying to use Stroking, such as saying something “canned” or formulaic that does not sound genuine or specific. All of the Five Secrets have to come from the heart or they’ll backfire.

David and Fabrice also describe the intense resistance that people often put up when trying to learn the Five Secrets. For example, you may tell yourself that you “shouldn’t have to” say something nice to the other person because you’re so mad, or because you’re labeling the other person as “a loser” or “a jerk” and you see that person in an entirely (and distorted) negative light, thinking (wrongly) that there ISN’T anything good or positive about him or her.

Your homework for this week will be to practice Stroking. Say five positive things to people every day, and you can do this easily in your day-to-day interactions with anyone, even strangers. You can find something you like or admire about the other person, and say that to them. People, for the most part, will like that and respond positively! We understand that this is a simple and superficial assignment. Once you’ve practiced it over and over, it will be far easier to use it effectively in the heat of battle!

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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069: Five Secrets Training — “I Feel” Statements

069: Five Secrets Training — “I Feel” Statements

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss “I Feel” Statements, the fourth of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The essence of this technique is to share your thoughts and feelings openly and with respect, rather than hiding your feelings or acting them out aggressively.

The Five Secrets are organized around the acronym, EAR. E = Empathy, A = Assertiveness, and R = Respect. The last three podcasts were on the E = Empathy techniques. This podcast will be on A = Assertiveness.

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss how the Five Secrets differs from assertiveness training, which has been incredibly popular for the past 50 years, with many best-selling books. Assertiveness is all about expressing your own needs and feelings. Although this is incredibly important, David argues that assertiveness alone can come off as somewhat “self”-centered, since your talking about how YOU feel and what YOU need. In contrast, that the most skillful and effective communication involves a more balanced focus on your own and the other person’s feelings, in a spirit of mutual respect and “oneness.”

David tells a funny story of what happened after he read a book on assertiveness training when he was a psychiatric resident. He dutifully and enthusiastically tried to apply the techniques he was reading about in the assertiveness book during a dispute with a gas station attendant in Philadelphia, and the gas station attendant threatened to break his kneecaps!

Although David does not like formulas, they can sometimes help you when you are learning a technique for the first time. The formula for an “I Feel” Statement would be a statement along these lines: “I feel X, Y, and Z,” where X, Y, and Z are words from the Feeling Words list.

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss the importance of this technique, and how to use it in different settings. Although sharing your feelings can be vitally important in conversations with loved ones, as well as interactions and negotiations with colleagues at work, you would use different kinds of feeling words in different settings. For example, you might say, “I feel kind of hurt and put down right now” during an interaction with your spouse or partner, but you probably wouldn’t say that when talking to your boss, because it would sound goofy!

They also discuss common errors people make when trying to use “I Feel” Statements. A common error I saying “I feel that . . . ” followed by something about the other person, such as “I feel that you’re wrong.” This is not the expression of your feelings, but a criticism of the other person.

They also discuss common sources of resistance to using this technique. For example, you may be afraid that if you share your feelings openly, and allow yourself to be vulnerable, something bad will happen, or that people will take advantage of you or use the information to hurt you.

In addition, many human beings, and perhaps most of us, tend to repress our feelings and hide them from others, thinking we “shouldn’t” feel the way we do. For example, if you feel ashamed, you may feel the urge to hide your feelings from others. David describes how he often feels this way if he makes errors during his teaching–he thinks he has to hide his shame from his students, thinking a Stanford professor should not have such feelings!

David emphasizes that even include famous people who claim to be experts in communication have the urge to hide their feelings. David describes an awkward but funny interaction he had recently with a famous communication expert at the recent Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference.

Your homework for the week is to use five “I Feel” Statements every day. They can be positive as well as negative, and it can something as simple as “I feel great because the sun is shining today,” or “I feel sad and disappointed because my talk wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, and someone in the audience was critical of me.”

David, Helen, and Fabrice emphasize once again that using the Five Secrets one at a time is artificial, like the practice exercises on musical instrument. So the homework exercises are like that. Once you’ve master each of the Five Secrets, and you have a feel for how they work, you can integrate and weave them together masterfully in challenging real life situations that are sensitive and important to you.

And Helen emphasizes the crucial idea that the Five Secrets will only help you if you have a sincere desire to resolve conflicts and to develop more loving and successfully relationships with others.

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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068: Five Secrets Training–Inquiry: Helen Returns!

068: Five Secrets Training–Inquiry: Helen Returns!

Secrets of Successful Job Interviewing, Deeper Intimacy, Overcoming Shyness, and Other Interpersonal Goodies!

David, Helen and Fabrice discuss Inquiry, the third of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. Inquiry means asking gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Although this technique sounds simple, it can be incredibly powerful and helpful.

David, Helen and Fabrice give many examples of how to use this techniques skillfully, as well as common errors to avoid. They also explain why and how this technique can sometimes be life-transforming, especially for individuals who feel shy and awkward in social situations.

Inquiry is an incredibly powerful technique to use when interviewing for a job, or for admission to a college or graduate school, especially when combined with Stroking, the fifth of the Five Secrets. David tells a hilarious story of how he got into the Stanford Medical School by using Inquiry and Stroking when he was interview by the Chairman of the Anatomy Department in the dark, spooky basement of the Stanford Museum.

David hikes for several hours every weekend with individuals from his weekly training group at Stanford, and does personal work with them along the way. He describes working with a woman who had crippling shyness since childhood, due to her belief that she was a “loser” and that people would find her boring. The use of “Inquiry” along with “I Feel” Statements (self-disclosure) during the hike was life-transforming when she disclosed her shyness to two elderly men walking with their dogs. The story is inspirational!

David also describes how another hiker could use “Inquiry” to help with a marital problem that had been bothering him for several months.

David encourages listeners (that includes you!) to try using Inquiry five times each day, even in superficial interactions with people in any setting, such as the grocery store, and gives examples of how to do this. Although this will not be the deepest application of Inquiry, the simple daily practice will give you a clear understanding of how this technique works. Practice is the key to growth and learning. You can’t get it just be listening or reading.

You can also accelerate your learning by reading Dr. Burns’ book, Feeling Good Together, and doing the written exercises while you read! You can order the book on Amazon.

Next week, our wonderful Helen joins us again for the Podcast on “I Feel” Statements.

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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067: Five Secrets Training — Thought and Feeling Empathy

067: Five Secrets Training — Thought and Feeling Empathy

Before discussing the topic for today (Thought and Feeling Empathy), David addresses a question submitted by a listener after he heard the introductory podcasts on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. He questioned the value of the Disarming Technique, and protested that every time he “turned the other cheek” he simply ended up with two sore cheeks!

A great question, and David and Fabrice share their thinking. Many people, including therapists, are afraid of the Disarming Technique, thinking that something terrible will happen if they agree with someone who is criticizing them.

They emphasize the value of questions submitted by you, the listeners, and also suggest giving specific examples when they are having trouble using the Five Secrets. Specifically, if you write down exactly what the other person said to you, and exactly what you said next, David and Fabrice will gladly analyze the interaction and show you what errors you made that caused a bad outcome, as well as how to correct those errors!

David and Fabrice then discuss Thought and Feeling Empathy, the second of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of Thought Empathy is repeating or paraphrasing what the other person is saying, so he or she will see that you listened and got the message. Feeling Empathy, in contrast, involves acknowledging how the other person is likely to be feeling, given what he or she just said. You can often follow this with Inquiry, asking if you got it right, and inviting the other person to tell you more about what he or she is thinking.

Although David does not like formulas, they can sometimes help you get started. So here’s the formula:

  1. Thought Empathy: Let me see if I got what you just said. You told me that A, B, and C. (A, B, and C would be what the person said to you, using his or her words.)
  2. Feeling Empathy: Given what you just said, I can imagine you might be feeling X, Y, and Z. (X, Y, and Z would be words from the Feeling Words list.)
  3. Inquiry: Did I get that right? Can you tell me more about what you’ve been thinking and feeling?

These techniques are invaluable in therapy, and go back to the pioneering work of Karl Rodgers, who argued that therapist empathy is the necessary and sufficient condition for personality change. Although subsequent research did not confirm this idea, there is still little argument that empathy is absolutely necessary for good therapeutic work.

In addition, skillful empathy is for everyone, and can greatly enhance your relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues, and strangers as well. For example, if you have a family member or friend who is feeling anxious, down, angry, or depressed, the skillful use of Thought and Empathy will almost always be far more effective than trying to help, rescue, or “fix” that person.

 

David brings Thought and Feeling Empathy to life with an example of a patient who criticizes his therapist, and then asks listeners, including you, to pause the podcast briefly so you can write down, from memory, what the patient just said. Most therapists who try this end up “forgetting” or editing out important portions of what the patient said. This irritates the other person, because you clearly did not “get it,” and his or her attack or complaining will usually escalate.

David and Fabrice discuss common errors therapists and general public make when trying to use Thought and Feeling Empathy. The most common error involves using the techniques in a robot-like manner, parroting back the other person’s statements repeatedly, without using “I Feel” Statements. They illustrate this error with a humorous example.

Other common errors when using Thought and Feeling Empathy include:

  • Helping
  • Rescuing
  • Giving advice
  • Correcting distortions
  • Making interpretations
  • Failing to acknowledge the other person’s anger

 

David encourages listeners (that includes you!) to try using Thought and Feeling Empathy three times each day, even in superficial interactions with people in any setting, such as the grocery store, and give examples of how to do this. Although this will not be the deepest application of these techniques, the practice will give you a clear understanding of how these techniques actually work.

David and Fabrice end this podcast with a powerful example of Thought and Feeling Empathy during an actual therapy session in David’s weekly psychotherapy training group. The “patient” in the therapy is a TEAM-CBT therapist named Rhonda who became depressed and anxious after receiving some critical therapy from a participant in a therapy group she was teaching.

Even if you are not a therapist, you can perhaps identify with the “ouch” we all feel when we are criticized by someone, and it hits a vulnerable spot. This is an almost universal human concern. It is so easy to feel hurt, depressed, ashamed, anxious, inadequate, and perhaps even a bit angry!

David invited one of the therapists in the group to empathize with Rhonda, as a part of his training, but he ended up with a less than stellar grade. David, Fabrice and Rhonda explain the errors he made–which actually made her feel worse.

Making errors is totally okay in a training and learning situation, as well as in real therapy sessions–as long as you get feedback and try to correct your errors with humility. This can actually deepen the therapeutic relationship.

David then asked Dr. Jill Levitt to try to model empathy again, and to address Rhonda’s concerns. Jill hits the ball out of the park and gets an A+ on empathy. David and Fabrice explain why her intervention was so effective, and why the Five Secrets have to come from the heart if they are to be maximally effective.

Jill is a master therapist and co-teaches the weekly TEAM-CBT training group, along with David and Dr. Helen Yeni-Komshian. If you would like to hear more of Jill’s fabulous empathy work, make sure you listen to the live therapy podcasts with Mark, the physician who felt like a failure as a father!

Next week, Helen returns for the remaining Podcasts on the Five Secrets!

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

With Guest Expert, Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD

In this podcast, David, Helen and Fabrice focus on the Disarming Technique, which is the first of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of the Disarming Technique is finding truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems blatantly wrong, or illogical, or exaggerated. And it’s based on David’s Law of Opposites.

David brings the Law of Opposites to life with an example of what was perhaps the most devastating criticism he ever received from a patient. He was angry and defensive, and didn’t want to agree with his patient because he was absolutely convinced she was “wrong.” But on the weekend, while he was jogging, he suddenly saw the truth in her cutting remarks, and when he shared his insight with her the following session, the impact was immediate and dramatic.

The use of the Disarming Technique required the death of David’s ego–and that wasn’t easy, because he felt angry and ashamed. David points out that sometimes our patients (as well as family members or people in general) are trying to lash out at us, and want to hurt us, because they feel so frustrated, alone, and abandoned–and asks if we have the courage to let our egos die for them. Are we willing to listen and to see the world through their eyes? This can be exceedingly challenging, and you may not be able to use this, or the other Five Secrets, effectively unless you have a powerful desire to produce some healing and to get close to the people you’re at odds with.

Helen gives a striking example of the power of the Disarming Technique in a case of family member who was complaining about bad drivers. This annoyed her because she was telling herself, “He shouldn’t complain.  He should keep a pleasant atmosphere in the car and ignore bad drivers!” But acting on this impulse only made the problem worse. She explains how hard it can be to use the Disarming Technique when you’re feeling annoyed, but illustrates the transformative power of a skillful disarming statement.

David says that the Disarming Technique is by far the most important and difficult of the Five Communication techniques, and explains how he worked for thirty minutes a day, for two months, to learn how to do it after he created this technique!

The homework assignment for this week will be to use the Disarming Technique on at least one occasion every day in your interactions with others. You can start out by saying something like “You’re right . . . ” or “I agree with you that . . . .”

He gives an example of how he once did this when riding home from work to on the commuter train when he lived in Philadelphia. He sat next to an exceedingly hostile man who bristling and angry, and complaining bitterly about just about everything.

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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065: Five Secrets Training–Enjoy Greater Intimacy!

065: Five Secrets Training–Enjoy Greater Intimacy!

With Guest Expert, Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD

Is there someone in your life who just

  • won’t listen or open up?
  • always has to be right?
  • always has to get his or her way?
  • doesn’t seem to understand how you feel?
  • doesn’t seem to care?
  • is relentlessly critical?
  • whines and complains endlessly, but always ignores your attempts to help?

Would you like greater intimacy and respect, and more rewarding relationships with the people you care about?

If so, this podcast series on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication will be right up your alley. These podcasts will be for mental health professionals and for the general public, and will include vignettes illustrating challenging therapeutic logjams that were resolved with the skillful use of the Five Secrets, as well as examples of how you can use the Five Secretes with loved ones, friends, colleagues, customers, and even aggressive or irritating strangers. The goal is to help you develop greater love, satisfaction, and joy in your interactions with the people you care about.

Although the Five Secrets have been introduced in previous podcasts, David and Fabrice will bring them to life with clear explanations and examples, and will give you homework assignments so you can practice them, one at a time, between podcasts. The effort here will be to provide some actual training for you, rather than just understanding.

In the first two Five Secrets podcasts, David and Fabrice will be joined by Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD. Helen was David’s student during her psychiatric residency training at Stanford roughly 15 years ago. Now she teaches with David at the weekly TEAM-CBT training group at Stanford, where she is on the adjunct faculty. Helen also has a clinical practice in Palo Alto, California.

David, Helen, and Fabrice begin with an overview of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, They are organized around the acronym EAR: E = Empathy, A = Assertiveness, and R = Respect. Helen emphasizes that these techniques must be applied in a genuine fashion if they are to be effective. If they are used simply as techniques to manipulate another person, they will not be effective.

David strongly agrees and expands of that theme. Although the Five Secrets are sophisticated and powerful communication techniques that can quickly and radically transform your relationships with others, they are, at the same time, profoundly spiritual techniques that require the death of the ego. And most of us will have to relearn our usual knee-jerk habits of arguing, blaming, and defending ourselves when we’re at odds with another person. For many people, this may not be possible, since those defensive responses probably have a powerful biological basis, and many people simply do not want to give up the feelings of moral superiority and mental excitement when we get angry and blame others.

Fabrice, David and Helen emphasize the importance of intense desire if you really want to master these techniques. Although the Five Secrets sound simple when you first learn about them, it is not easy to use them skillfully. You can think of  the Five Secrets like the notes on a musical instrument. Lots of dedication and practice will be necessary if you hope to use them skillfully and effectively in your relationships with the people you care about. If you just sit down at a piano and pound on the keys, without practice and hard work, and training, the sound will be pretty jarring.

In addition, when you practice you will initially find them difficult to learn, and you will definitely experience some failures along the way. David, Helen, and Fabrice emphasize the spirit of “joyful failure” or “learning through failure,” and urge you to check your ego at the door, since the rewards of the learning can be immense–even life-changing!

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!

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055: Interpersonal Model (Part 2) — “And It’s All Your Fault!” Three Basic Assumptions

055: Interpersonal Model (Part 2) — “And It’s All Your Fault!” Three Basic Assumptions

In this podcast, David describes the three assumptions of the Interpersonal TEAM Therapy he has developed”

  1. We cause the very relationship problems we are complaining about, but don’t realize this, so we blame the other person and feel like victims of his or her“badness.” David describes a man who endlessly complained about his wife during therapy sessions–she didn’t like having sex with him, she spend money behind his back, and never bragged about him when they were out to dinner with friends. He had even taken notes for years on all the “bad” things his wife had been doing every day throughout their marriage, but overlooked the many hurtful and self-centered things he was doing to break her heart every single day.
  2. We do not want to have to look at our own role in any relationship conflict because it is too painful to have to confront our “shadow,” to use a Jungian concept, and because we want to do our dirty work in the dark. So we will deny our role and angrily punish anyone who tries to shed light on our role in the problem. David describes a severely depressed woman who complained that she was the victim of “loneliness in marriage,” a concept she’d just read about in a popular women’s magazine. She explained that her husband would not and could not express his feelings, and felt that he was to blame for their marital problems as well as the severe depression and loneliness she’d been struggling with for 25 years. And yet, in a therapy session when he tried to express his feelings, she exploded angrily and told him to shut the F__ up! When Doctor Burns asked her to reflect on what had happened in the session with her husband, she angrily threatened to fire him if he ever brought up the topic again!
  3. The first two principles paint a dark picture of human nature. The third principle is more optimistic—namely, that we have far more power to heal a troubled relationship than we realize, and this can often happen quickly, but there’s a stiff price to be paid.  First, we have to be willing to stop blaming the other person so we can examine and pinpoint our own role in the conflict. Second, we have to focus all of our energy on changing ourselves, rather than trying to change the other person. This can be extremely liberating and joyful, but it involves the exceedingly painful death of the ego. The Buddhists have called this type of enlightenment “the Great Death.’

In the next podcast, David and Fabrice will show you how to transform your own troubled relationships into loving ones–if that’s what you want to do!

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and tons of resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please forward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David

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054: Interpersonal Model (Part 1) — “And It’s All Your Fault!” Healing Troubled Relationships

054: Interpersonal Model (Part 1) — “And It’s All Your Fault!” Healing Troubled Relationships

 

In this podcast, David and Fabrice begin the first in a series of podcasts on how to transform troubled relationships into loving ones–if that’s what you want to do!

David begins with the story of how he got into working with troubled couples as well as individuals with troubled relationships shortly after his first book, Feeling Good, was published. Because cognitive therapy was beginning to generate excitement worldwide as the first drug-free treatment for depression, everyone thought it might also be effective for other kinds of problems, including troubled relationships.

And there were fairly good reasons to suspect that cognitive therapy might be helpful. When you’re in conflict with a loved one, friend, colleague or stranger who you can’t get along with, you’ve probably noticed that you will usually have negative thoughts like these running through your brain:

  1. It’s all his fault. (Blame, All-or-Nothing Thinking)
  2. She’s a jerk. (Labeling, Should Statement, Mental Filter, Hidden Should Statement)
  3. He’ll never change! (Fortune Telling, All-or-Nothing thinking, Discounting the Positive, Emotional Reasoning)
  4. All she cares about his herself. (Mind-Reading, Discounting the Positive, Mental Filter, Over generalization)
  5. I’m right and he’s wrong about this! (Blame, All-or-Nothing Thinking)
  6. She shouldn’t be like that. (Should Statement, Blame)

Sound familiar?

And as you can see, these thoughts contain all the same kinds of cognitive distortions that depressed individuals have, as I’ve indicated in parentheses. If you’re familiar with the cognitive distortions, you may be able to pinpoint even more than the ones I’ve listed. The only difference is that when you’re in conflict with someone, the distortions will usually be directed at the person you’re not getting along with, rather than yourself.

Although these thoughts will usually be distorted, you may not realize this (or even care) when you’re upset. You’ll probably be convinced that the person you’re mad at really is a jerk, or really is to blame, or really is wrong. In addition, these thoughts will tend to function as self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, if you think someone is a self-centered jerk, you will usually treat him or her in a hostile or unfriendly way, and then he or she will get defensive and hostile, and will look like a jerk. Then you’ll tell yourself, “See, I was right about him (or her)!”

David got excited about these insights and wrote a draft of a book called Couple in Conflicts, Couples in Love, and sent it to his editor in New York to see what she thought. The new book was about how to modify the distorted thoughts and self-defeating beliefs that trigger and magnify relationship problems. David’s editor called the next day with an offer of a large advance, exclaiming excitedly that the book was sure to be a #1 best seller.

David was ecstatic, and set out to edit the book for publication. In the meantime, he was using the new approach with troubled couples as well as individuals with relationship conflicts. But after six months of repeated treatment failures, he concluded that cognitive therapy was not at all effective in the treatment of relationship problems. The approach sounded great on paper, but it didn’t work in the real world.

David sadly returned the advance to his publisher and cancelled the contract. He promised that if he could figure out why cognitive therapy didn’t work for troubled relationships, and if he could find a better treatment method, he’d write another book. Figuring it out took 25 years or research and clinical experience, and the name of the book he eventually did publish is called Feeling Good Together, now available on Amazon.com.

David and Fabrice then discuss some of the most popular theories about the causes of relationship problems:

  1. The skill deficit theory: We want loving relationships, but don’t have the communication and negotiation skills to get close to the people we’re not getting along with.
  2. The barrier theory: We want loving relationships, but something gets in the way, such as unrealistic expectations or distorted thoughts about the person we’re not getting along with. Other barrier theories include the idea that women are from Venus and men are from Mars popularized by John Gray, Deborah Tannen, and others. According to this theory, women use language to express feelings, and men use language to solve problems, so they both end up frustrated and not understanding one another. Another popular theory is the idea that we project childhood conflicts with our parents onto others, and thus recreate the same dysfunctional patterns repeatedly in every new relationship.
  3. The self-esteem theory: You can’t develop loving relationships with others if you don’t know how to love yourself.
  4. The motivational theory: We have troubled relationships because we WANT them!

David emphasizes that the first three theories are all very optimistic–they all are based on the idea that human beings are basically good and want loving, peaceful, joyous relationships. But something gets in the way, such as a barrier of some type, or the lack of communication skills, or the lack of self-esteem. And they are all very hopeful, since we can teach people better skills, or remove the barriers to intimacy, or help people develop better self-esteem.

David also emphasizes that these theories have only two problems. First, the theories that they’re based on are false. Second, the treatments that have evolved from these theories are not effective. David and Fabrice describe research on the validity (or total lack of validity) for these theories as well as the effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) of the treatment techniques and schools of therapy that have evolved from these theories.

David then discusses the motivational theory which is much less optimistic about human nature, and emphasizes that humans have competing positive and negative motives.

In the next podcast, they will discuss the basics assumptions of the new treatment approach David has created for relationship problems, based on the motivational theory.

References

Baucom, D. H., & Hoffman, J. A. (1986). The effectiveness of marital therapy: Current status and application to the clinical setting. In N. S. Jacobson and A. Gurman (Eds.), Clinical handbook of marital therapy (pp. 597-620). New York: Guilford Press.

Baucom, D. H., & Epstein, N. (1990). Cognitive behavioral marital therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Burns, D. D., Sayers, S. S., & Moras, K. (1994). Intimate Relationships and Depression: Is There a Causal Connection? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(5): 1033 – 1042.

Burns, D. D. (1993; revised 1999). Ten Days to Self – Esteem. New York: Quill. 1993 – present. (Also published worldwide).

Burns, D. D. (2009). Feeling Good Together. The Secret of Making Troubled Relationships Work.  New York: Broadway Books.

Iverson, A., & Baucom, D. H. (1990).  Behavioral marital therapy outcomes: Alternative interpretations of the data. Behavior Therapy, 21, 129-138.

Spangler, D., & Burns, D. D. (1999). Is it true that women are from Venus and men are from Mars? A test of gender differences in dependency and perfectionism. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 13(4): 339-357.

 

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and tons of resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please forward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David

 

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Why Are Relationship Problems So Tough?

Why Are Relationship Problems So Tough?

Hi David,

Thank you so much for your help and encouragement on the Sunday hike this week. I thought it was interesting how despite my initial sense that I didn’t need help so much with my feelings, once we got into the “Five Secrets” practice it was clear I had more work to do on my anxiety. I guess I couldn’t see that until I owned my role in the dynamic with my son and saw how much I was struggling with the Five Secrets in my interactions with him. Having the layers separated by the discipline of the TEAM-CBT method helped me start to untangle something that has been very confusing.

More musings. During the hike you were talking about how many people can now recover from depression and anxiety really quickly using TEAM-CBT, but that relationship and habit work generally take much more time.  I’d be very interested in hearing you say more about this, because relationship problems feel more complicated (in my case with son, at least). At least consciously, I’ve always felt like I wanted to be closer to my son. Today it’s clearer to me that I’m having a number of Self-Defeating Beliefs (SDBs) that cause me to act in ways that prevent closeness. For example, I’m telling myself that both he and I should be perfect achievers, that he and I should never be angry at each other, and so forth.

Maybe relationships are a place where “the rubber hits the road” so to speak, where our SDB’s display themselves with real world consequences. . . Hmm. I guess the point is that relationship work can be a rich but challenging entry into personal growth!

Gratefully,

–H

IMG_1737Hi H,

Thanks, we could brainstorm on this theme in emails or on a future hike, but to be honest I don’t entirely know why it can be so much harder, even for highly skilled therapists, to deal with our own relationship problems, with family and the people we care about.

However, there is one idea I have had for a long time that may represent a part of the answer. If I’m treating you for depression, you will discover that your painful negative thoughts about yourself (eg. “It’s all my fault,” or “I’m a loser,” or “my problems are hopeless” and so forth) are distorted and wrong. That discovery makes you happy, so it is a pretty easy sell. You discover you are way better than you thought. Not a bad deal! Although treatment resistance always has to be addressed early in the therapy, it is pretty appealing to learn how to let go of self-blame and feelings of depression, anxiety, inferiority, worthlessness, shame, hopelessness, and inferiority.

Relationship problems are quite different. That’s because most of the time, you will be blaming the other person, and thinking about him or her in a distorted manner. For example, you may tell yourself that it’s all his (or her) fault, that he (or she) is a loser, or wrong, and so forth. Then, in the course of treatment with TEAM-CBT, you will discover, when you’re working with the Relationship Journal,  that actually have a huge role in the problem and that you are probably triggering and reinforcing the very problem you have been complaining about. This insight can be incredibly empowering, but it can also feel pretty humiliating, shocking, and painful at the same time. In essence, you will discover that you are far worse than you thought, and that if you want the relationship to improve, you will have to stop blaming the other person and focus all of your energies on changing yourself.

For most of us, it is not particularly appealing to have to let go of other-blame and the feelings of moral superiority that go along with feeling certain that we are “right” and the other person is “wrong.” Pinpointing your own role in the problem when you were so happy blaming the other person is usually very painful. That’s just one reason why intimacy is not an easy sell. I address this in the chapter entitled, “Do We Secretly Love to Hate?” in my book, Feeling Good Together.

That’s a big part of why it’s so hard to deal with personal relationship problems, but I think there are other reasons, too. When I’m helping someone with a relationship conflict, there is usually an “inner problem” and an “outer problem” that need to be solved. The inner problem is all the intense negative feelings you have about your interaction with the other person. These feelings may involve anger, shame, anxiety, loneliness, depression, hopelessness, inadequacy and so forth, and they are usually triggered by your own negative thoughts about yourself as well as the other person, and those thoughts are nearly always distorted. For example, you may be telling yourself that the other person is a self-centered “jerk” who “shouldn’t” be that way, and you may be telling yourself that you “should” be a better partner, or mother, and so forth.

The outer problem involves the dysfunctional way you are probably communicating with the other person. For example, you may be trying to “help” when you need to listen, or you may be arguing defensively instead of finding truth in what the other person is saying, or you may be lashing out aggressively, trying to put the other person down, instead of sharing your anger in a respectful and loving way.

The tools for solving the “inner problem,” such as the Daily Mood Log, Cognitive Distortions, and “50 Ways to Untwist Your Thinking,” are tremendous, but they are radically different from the tools for solving the “outer problem,” which include the Relationship Journal, the Blame Cost Benefit Analysis, and Five Secrets of Effective Communication. So the task is twice as hard, with twice as much to teach the patient. Of course, there is tremendous potential for personal growth, as well, and for developing more satisfying and loving relationships with the people you care about.

Perhaps some who read my blog will have theories about why it can be so much harder to resolve personal relationship problems than to overcome anxiety and depression! Let me know what you think with a Comment if you are so-inclined!

Readers interested in learning more about the methods for combatting depression and anxiety may want to read my Feeling Good Handbook, or When Panic Attacks. Readers interested in learning about how to develop more rewarding personal relationships may want to read Feeling Good Together. But I have to warn you—doing the written exercises while you read will make all the difference in the world! Just reading simply won’t “cut it,” so to speak, especially if you are reading Feeling Good Together and want to get close to someone you are at odds with right now!

David

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David