As a couple therapist, the question I sometimes get is, ”Is my problem serious enough to warrant a therapist?”
I like to address this question in this article.
There are 3 key reasons why you’d want to see a couples therapist/relationship coach
When you have issues in the relationship that you’ve tried to solve but you’re unable to.
When you want to do a health check for your relationship
When you’d like to enhance your relationship
Prevention is better than cure and this applies to relationship as well. If you’re in a committed relationship and not married yet, nothing should stop you from finding ways to strengthen your romantic competence.
The majority of couples that I see now in my clinic are those with troubled marriage or also known as ‘relationship recovery’. Increasingly, I have more couples who decided to seek help and they are in under category 2 and 3. It’s highly encouraging for me to see this trend as younger couples are less affected by the stigma of seeking help.
In enhancing your relationship, what you can expect is the identification of possible conflict areas, assessment of your communication and conflict management skills, emotional regulation skills as well as the strength of your relationship. The former framework of therapy is based on looking at the problems and trying to fix them. What was missing is how to focus on what is good in the relationship and magnify and fortify those strength? This is equally important and it’s also more positive.
For ‘relationship recovery process’, the types of cases that I see include infidelity, being stuck in conflicts, poor emotional regulation which leads to avoidance of conflict and rebuilding trust and commitment.
There is a certain transition in life where relationship coaching or therapy is highly recommended. This is as follows:
Pre-marital: Before you make the lifelong commitment, you want to be ensured that your chances at staying married is as high as possible. You want to know what the non-negotiables are and learn skills that make the process of integrating your life smoother.
Transitioning to parenthood: While bringing a baby into a family is a happy occasion, it brings about a lot of stresses to the marriage. 2/3 or 67% of couples who transition to parenthood suffer a decline in their satisfaction of marriage. Help and support is available foryou to learn how you can mediate this and continue to keep the spark in the marriage alive.
Couples who have suffered child lost or have unsuccessful attempts at assisted reproduction.
Couples who are planning to adopt: You will want to know what are the expectations that you have of each other and what sort of rituals of connection you can establish so that you don’t lose sight of your own relationship.
When you have a child with special needs either physical, intellectual or mental: This additional stress could make or break the marriage and often times, couples place so much focus on the child that he/she ends up neglecting the partner. What you want to cultivate is the mindset “we against the world” rather than “I am alone in this marriage”.
Empty nest: There is an increase in marital break-ups at this stage because they have waited for their young children to grow up. The many years of emotional disconnection and busyness of life in caring for the children may have caused neglect to the marriage but it is possible to breathe a new lease of life to the marriage so that you can enjoy your golden years meaningfully.
Ultimately, relationship is hard work. You will need to consistently invest in it just like how you would a plant. You will need to Create an environment that’s conducive for the relationship to thrive; learn the skills that can help you connect better with your significant other and be intentional in what you want in the relationship.
Happily-ever-after is an ideal that many believe and pursue and numerous studies have suggested that the key to happiness lies in a thriving marriage. I am also convinced that when couples come together and decide to get married, they do not have the thought of a divorce on the horizon.
To many, marriage is not a frivolous decision but one where he or she has deliberated and decided to entrust oneself to the other legally. Imagine the horror when shortly after the wedding bells, you discover that your spouse turned out to be someone that you don’t recognise and ends up hurting you so deeply that you wonder how you even got to this point: being romanced to being discarded. This is what it is like to be in a relationship with a narcissist.
Let’s explore the traits of a narcissist.
The following are the 9 official criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):
grandiose sense of self-importance
preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
believes they’re special, unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
need for excessive admiration
sense of entitlement
interpersonally exploitative behaviour
lack of empathy
envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes
In essence, a narcissist has an excessive sense of self-importance over and above the needs of others. There is a sense of grandiosity and arrogance; and a lack of ability to empathise and experience reciprocity within intimate relationships. They are typically charming and charismatic. The early stages of the relationship are almost always exhilarating, romantic, powerful and intense. Love-bombing is a tactic where NPD makes you feel so special and loved that you can’t help but fall deeper in love with him or her. Most narcissists only reveal their true colours when they are in conflict. And when you no longer serve their needs, they discard you from their lives or make it a living hell for you.
Imagine the adverse and trauma that one experiences when you wake up one day and realises that the love you’ve received is not real and permanent.
The following are the lasting psychological and emotional impact of being in a relationship with a person with NPD:
“I don’t know what is real anymore.” Survivors of persons with NPD have the inability to trust their own judgment. Because gaslighting is a key feature in this toxic relationship, they lose touch with what is the reality. Gaslighting is defined as a form of manipulation, emotional and psychological abuse that results in a slow dismantling of a victim’s self-trust and judgment.
“It is all my fault. Everything I do is wrong. I trigger him/her. I deserve his/her anger.” Because a person with NPD will never assume responsibility for anything (they believe they do no wrong), they turn it around and project their emotions on the survivor. The survivor is the one who is over-sensitive and would ask irritating questions that trigger them to react. The consequence of this is that the survivors feel powerless and start to blame themselves for not being good enough for their partner.
“I am worthless and deserve nothing From the constant criticizing and undermining from a person with NPD, the survivors begin to accept the narrative that they are the problem and suffer from low self-esteem. They may start to withdraw from their family and friends who are concerned and question the relationship. They also hide their partner’s behaviour and lie about it.
“I am going crazy” This is related to point #1. Because a person with NPD constantly lie and intentionally say things that make the survivors question their reality, they start to think that they are crazy for having those questions. They feel confused and lost all the time.
“I don’t know. I can’t decide. It will be wrong anyway.” They have great difficulty in making decisions because they start to believe that they can’t do anything right. This is the message that is drummed into them persistently and this could extend into other aspects of life, such as in their work.
One of the common frustrations that my clients, who have survived persons with NPD, have often expressed: ‘how is it possible that they missed the warning signs’. Because of the suffering that they have been through, they have asked for the warning signs to be shared so that more can be aware and watch out for them in their relationships.
Self-centeredness They believe that the world revolves around them. They are not able to empathise and therefore can only see from their point of view. When things do not go their way, they get very upset and may threaten to end the relationship. Everything is on their terms. For example, my client shared that when they were dating, the partner dictated when to meet according to his schedule. Not knowing better, she accommodated. That is a red flag. Also, when they no longer have use of the partner, they have no qualms to simply discard them by being emotionally unavailable, refusing to communicate and abandoning the partner.
Frequent threats and emotional blackmail If you feel like you are perpetually walking on eggshells not knowing when your partner will explode on you, chances are he/she has NPD. Threats and emotional blackmail are their tools to control and get you to submit to their wants. E.g., Go ahead and leave, I never needed you anyway. I’ll tell everyone what a mean person you are.”
They act entitled and rules don’t apply to them. They believe that their needs are more important than their partner’s. There will be no reciprocal gestures unless there is an ulterior motive to get what he or she wants. Because of the self-importance and arrogance, they believe that they can do as they please as long as they don’t get caught. They deserve special treatments.
Obsessive focus on the external This applies to how they dress and carry themselves. Typically they are attractive, have material possessions and are of certain social status. They appear to be an excellent “catch”. They will go all out to inflate their status and standing. Another client told me that her husband, a covert narcissist, was charming and social. His real self only surfaced when they were on their own and when he felt threatened by her. This creates problems as people may not believe her when she tells her challenges.
They are master manipulators and schemers. The key emotions that you feel when you’re with a narcissist are guilt, shame and confusion. The hallmark of a person with NPD is the inability and unwillingness to take responsibility for any action and word. Consequently, they project their emotions onto the survivors and make them feel guilty and responsible. They can also be verbally abusive and are good liars. They scheme and twist the words of the survivors to their advantage. They have no issue in making their partners the bad guy and spread rumours that paint themselves as the victim. The bottom line is this: they need to make themselves feel good at the expense of everything and everyone. When they don’t get what they want, they will withdraw either physically and /or emotionally from the partner. They may give the silent treatment, be passive-aggressive, stonewall and/or ignore the partner. At the end of it, the partner will accept the blame and promise to not upset them next time.
They are hot, then cold. When they want something, they will go all out to get it. As such, in the early stages of the relationship or when they are on a mission to keep you under their control. They will pull out all the stops to make you feel wanted, admired and loved. One moment, you could be the most important person in their lives and in the next, when you don’t agree with them on something, it could be a trivial matter, you would become a worthless person that is undeserving of his/her respect and love. The switch from hot to cold is unnerving and they will make the survivors think that the problem lies with them.
In spite of the detrimental impacts of being in a relationship with a narcissist, the good news is that it is possible to heal from it. I have supported and seen my clients live a meaningful and flourishing life following the breakup with a narcissist. Though the journey may not be easy, if one is willing to work with a professional to go deeper and understand the pattern of relationships in their lives, they can find healing and freedom.
What are the steps to heal?
Educate yourself on NPD and accept that it is a disorder. Know that you are not alone and you are not the problem. Raise awareness for it. The World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day is on 1 June. Get involved and when you are ready, share your story. You can empower and help others by sharing your experience courageously.
Get professional help as dealing with trauma can be complicated. Learn to connect the past to the present; typically, the dynamics between the person with NPD and the survivor is one that the latter is familiar with. It is not uncommon that upon the realization that the partner has NPD, the survivor can see that a family member could be one as well. Those who persist in such toxic relationships are usually accustomed to such dynamics from childhood.
Practice boundaries – physical and emotional. Have zero contact or keep it to a minimum should you share the care of the children. The survivors are usually empathic and attuned to the feelings of others. Be mindful not to take on feelings that are not yours. Have clarity on what is your responsibility and discard those that are not yours.
Build a strong foundation – focus on one’s strengths and resilience, in ending the relationship and working through the issues. Find meaning in it by rewriting the narrative.
Forgive and work on self-love. Self-compassion is a critical component in recovering. Learn to take good care of yourself – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social.
Pay attention to your body as trauma is stored in your body. Practice mindfulness to bring yourself to the present moment when you’re triggered by difficult memories. The triggers will still be there, and the healing process will be imperfect and a work-in-progress.
Focus on the good – that is in you; the work that you have put in to heal and maintain your well-being by learning new skills and maintaining good habits. Celebrate quick wins when you are able to enforce boundaries or not take on responsibility for how others are feeling.
Embrace a healthy relationship. After being in a toxic relationship for a long time, being in a healthy relationship can feel weird and scary. You aren’t sure what to make of it. The lure to get back to what is familiar albeit negative for you is high. Be aware of it and put measures in place so that you can recalibrate when you feel threatened.
Let’s remember that significant relationships in our lives will impact our mental well-being. Even as we focus on the benefits of positive relationships and promote it, we also need to provide support for those who have been through traumatic and toxic relationships. The key is to remember that relationships should enhance your lives and motivate you to be a better version of yourself. When there are disempowerment and manipulation in the relationship, it is not healthy, and you can make the decision to get out of it.
As a child, how did adults around you react whenever you expressed your feelings? Did you grow up receiving that subtle message to wall up your emotions so they don’t get the better of you, or become anyone else’s burden? Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is a topic often overlooked, and many fail to realise that it can eventually manifest into mood disorders or anxiety disorders if not dealt with appropriately.
Childhood Emotional Neglect occurs when our caretakers or parental figures fail to respond to our affectional needs suitably during critical stages in our development. An individual who grows up experiencing emotional neglect may experience a pattern of having his or her emotions being disregarded, invalidated or downplayed by others. While many of us may wonder, “What kind of parent doesn’t pay attention to a child’s emotional needs?” In reality, some parents may not actually realise that they have been shutting their child(ren) out emotionally. In Asian societies in particular, some parents are commonly labelled as “authoritarian” or “tiger parents”. These people may in fact perceive themselves to be giving the absolute best to their child, enforcing strict discipline and ensuring that their offsprings are well-equipped with the best skills to succeed in life. However, young children and teenagers may instead be overwhelmed by such demands, and feel as if their feelings were never considered or understood. Whilst we mentioned its prevalence in Asian societies, it is key to note that it is not merely limited to these children – many worldwide experience it too, making it an exceptionally important subject. With emotional neglect being a common feature in the childhood of many, it can become an undesirable shadow that follows us throughout our lives – eventually leading to undermined happiness and the lack of an authentic sense of self.
Delving into the matter at hand, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can come in two forms – active and passive CEN. Active CEN is when parents or caregivers actively act in a way that dismisses or denies the child’s emotions. For instance, a boy is sent to his room for crying over the death of his pet fish, and his parents complain of having an overly-dramatic son. When the child is being denied of his sadness and is receiving the message that his behaviour is unreasonable, this forces the child to grow up hiding his feelings, and at times struggling with fear and shame of his own emotions. On the other hand, passive CEN occurs when parents show a lack of care or validation regarding the child’s emotional needs. When parents fail to notice when the child is angry, upset, hurt or anxious, this gives off a subliminal message to the child that his feelings are irrelevant or not worthy of note. In any case, both forms of CEN are clearly detrimental towards one’s mental health.
Albeit not having a test or questionnaire that can help with a diagnosis for CEN, there are certain “symptoms” of CEN that may surface, be it in the later parts of one’s teenage years or adulthood.\
For one, individuals who have experienced CEN may find it difficult to prioritise their wants and needs, even if it’s something that would bring them great joy. It is innate for us to have desires and to just be aware of what we want and need. However, for someone who grows up having his feelings invalidated and cast aside, it could become a natural thing for him to keep his desires to himself. As such, even if opportunities do come along, these people would often fall through the cracks, most probably due to their inability to request for it upfront, or by allowing others to seize it instead.
CEN also causes one to start projecting any feelings inward, regardless of whether they are negative or positive ones. People who have experienced CEN are particularly predisposed to turning feelings of anger inwards, as they never learnt how to be comfortable with their emotions, nor how to handle them in a healthy manner. It is often said that nothing good comes from bottled-up feelings, and that is absolutely true.
Having pent-up feelings also mean that these individuals are not likely to seek help or lean into their support systems whenever things get tough, making them feel all the more isolated and vulnerable. Even at times when they are feeling deeply challenged by certain life events, they find themselves trying to cope all on their own, leading to unhealthy stress levels and anxiety. Unsurprisingly, the constant feelings of shame and inability to get in touch with one’s emotions will eventually lead to one losing sight of his or her strengths as well. As a result, poor self-esteem is sometimes a consequence of CEN.
While many individuals, including adults, fail to recognise the impacts of childhood emotional neglect on their lives due to its subtle nature, it is important that they get themselves back on track – to regain true happiness and greater self-esteem. You might have grown up devoid of your own emotions, but you need to recognise that facing them head-on will ultimately help you to cope with life events and for you to regain your sense of self.
For many individuals, therapy is a rather intense and personal topic, and it could have taken them a lot of courage to finally seek the help that they need. Keeping this in mind, it is exceptionally crucial that one finds the right therapist, for there’s a pre-existing implicit clinical belief that the level of treatment effectiveness is greatly dependent on the therapist-client fit. Of course, every client would love to be able to – ideally – find that one therapist whom they can fully open up to from the very beginning, but in reality, that may not be the case. At times, it is necessary to assess your relationship with your therapist and evaluate if there’s the good rapport you need for your sessions to be a success. Ultimately, it boils down to whether you feel a steady, reliable and safe connection with the therapist, and whether you are making the progress you hope for.
To give you some background, studies over the years have shown that the more similar the therapist and the client, the higher the rate of recovery. As an example, an assessment instrument entitled the “Structural Profile Inventory(SPI)”, which measures seven “independent yet interactive” variables (behaviours, affects, sensory imagery, cognition, interpersonal, drugs/biological factors or BASIC-ID), showed that client-therapist similarity on the SPI predicted a better psychotherapy outcome for the client as measured by differences pre- and post-treatment on the Brief Symptom Inventory. Moreover, the demographic similarity between therapist and client facilitates positive perceptions of the relationship in the beginning stages of treatment, enhances commitment to remaining in treatment, and at times can accelerate the amount of improvement experienced by clients. More precisely, it can be said that age, ethnicity, and gender similarity have been associated with positive client perceptions of the treatment relationship. With gender and cultural similarities appearing the most strongly preferred among clients, these domains generally enhance clients’ perceptions of their therapists’ level of understanding and empathy, and as a result, sessions are judged to be more advantageous and worthwhile. However, besides these, there are also other means to assess your “fit” with your therapist, and we’re here to discuss just that.
First and foremost, consider if you are seeking help in the right place. Does the therapist you are looking at specialise in the area you are seeking help for? Before we can even touch on the topic of interpersonal therapist-client fit, it is important for you to take the time to do some research on various therapists’ profiles – in other words, to sift through and read up on their respective areas of expertise. Typically, therapists would have their area(s) of specialisation up on their online profile directories. It would be clearly indicated if they specialise in areas such as substance abuse, family therapy, or even anger management. It goes without saying that, for example, it would be inappropriate to consult a psychologist who specialises in child psychology when you’re clearly looking for someone who can help you with your substance-use addiction. With that said, it is to no one’s benefit for you to rush into therapy blindly.
Once you have chosen the potential therapist that you are most likely to want to have see you through your road to recovery, another essential question you should ask yourself is whether you are comfortable with their suggested mode of therapy. During consultations, you will have the opportunity to enquire about their recommended techniques or treatment methods that will be explored during your subsequent sessions. If you are uncomfortable with any particular process, giving honest feedback and exploring other methods is always an option. However, at any point, you also have the right to seek other therapists who may be able to help you in other ways that don’t put you in a tight spot. After all, therapy is all about having a safe and comfortable space for you to sort out your difficulties.
When assessing your interpersonal connection with your therapist, make sure to trust your gut. This way, you’ll also be able to track your progress better and to seek alternative help if required. Some questions you can ask yourself are:
Am I satisfied with the current balance of talking and listening with my therapist?
Is my overall therapy experience safe, warm, and validating?
Am I fully assured that I’m in a non-judgemental space where I can be fully honest?
How much has the therapist helped me to gain greater insight into my own behaviour and thoughts so far?
Am I becoming more capable of coping (independently) with stressful or triggering situations over time?
Am I noticing more positive changes in myself, as compared to when I first started therapy?
As mentioned, a major deciding factor should also be on whether you find yourself noticing positive changes in your thought cycles and behaviour after a couple of sessions. At the end of the day, therapy should be about working towards achieving your desired outcome, and should definitely not be limited to weekly venting sessions. Although venting and letting out hard feelings can provide temporary relief, it fosters a client’s dependence on the therapist over time and further reinforces the client’s problems. Therapy should instead help you to feel more confident that you’ve developed the relevant skill sets in order to cope with whatever emotional challenges that brought you to seek therapy in the first place.
Naturally, there’s no guarantee that we will find chemistry with the first therapist we meet. The chemistry between people varies, and sometimes it’s just not possible for us to force it. Thus, it is important to remember that a lack of fit between therapist and client is no one’s fault. However, remember that the ball is in our court, and it is within our control to start looking in the right place for the sake of our own well-being.
1 Herman, S.M. (1998). The relationship between therapist-client modality similarity and psychotherapy outcome. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 1998 Winter; 7(1): 56-64.
2 Luborksky, L., Crits-Christoph, P., Alexander, L., Margolis, M., & Cohen, M. (1983). Two Helping alliance methods for predicting outcomes of psychotherapy: A counting signs vs. a global rating method. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 171, 480-491.
3 Jones, E. E., (1978). Effects of race on psychotherapy process and outcome: An exploratory investigation. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 15, 226-236.
4 Blase, J. J. (1979). A study of the effects of sec of the client and sex of the therapist on clients’ satisfaction with psychotherapy. Dissertation Abstracts International, 39, 6107B-6108B.
Beutler, L.E., Clarkin, J., Crago, M. and Bergan, J., 1991. Client-therapist matching. Pergamon general psychology series, 162, pp.699-716. (Accessed 30/08/2020)
Scientists believe we are essentially wired to connect with other people, to socialise and build relationships with others. Indeed, we are all a profoundly social species as our drive to connect with others is embedded in our biology and evolutionary history. But what makes a healthy and meaningful relationship? A healthy, functional relationship usually involves a few characteristics, and trust is undeniably a key one. A relationship can’t last without trust for a number of reasons. We won’t dispute the cliché, “Breaking someone’s trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it over but it’s never going to be the same again”.
Building trust in relationships doesn’t occur overnight, it happens over time. Trust can be defined as having confidence, faith or hope in someone or something. But in another sense, trust can also mean believing that the other party will act in our best interest. With that said, let’s take a closer look at how we can learn to build mutual trust between ourselves and others in our personal and even work life.
“Say What You Mean And Mean What You Say”
Trust is fundamentally built on integrity, transparency and truthfulness. We trust those that stay true to their words and follow through with their actions. Perhaps it is also our instincts for self-protection, honed evolutionarily over centuries, kicking in. We pick up easily on red-flags and are particularly attentive to the proverbial boy crying wolf. Afterwhich, we learn to adjust our expectations and behaviour, doubting others and trusting them less in order to avoid getting hurt or being let down. Even the smallest of lies, when told frequently over time, will erode the level of trust between individuals. Actions speak louder than words – don’t allow yourself to give empty promises. Learn to keep to your promises and refrain from making commitments you are unable to honour. Be clear of what you have on your plate. In fact, if you are unable to commit to a request or a favour, have the courage to turn others down and explain your situation. Everyone would be worse off if you had promised something but was unable to follow through with it. In addition, avoid saying things that don’t actually represent your feelings. Hiding behind a facade may give others the feeling that you are being manipulative, and that you have an ulterior motive. This will make you appear unreliable and untrustworthy.
Demonstrating consistent behaviour is key to maintaining a trust-based relationship with anyone, whether friends or colleagues. This means constant communications, being clear with your expectations, and being there for others during both good and bad times. How would you feel if a friend of yours is always there when things are going smoothly, but is the first to go off the radar whenever things get rough? Or if she bad-mouths you or reneges on her promises? It goes without saying that we will start trusting these people less over time, having known that they are not likely to support us when we need them most. Regularly showing your loved ones that you are there for them whenever they need support and care will go a long way in building and maintaining a healthier and stronger relationship.
Respect is key in any relationship, and it builds trust by illustrating to others that you value them. If it helps, think of respect as the common denominator in any relationship. People come from different backgrounds and are brought up to believe in different viewpoints. Disagreement or arguments often happen not because we have different opinions, but often because of the way we put our views forward. Often, our trust in and relationship with others are broken because we are being treated with condescension or contempt instead of the respect we all deserve. Likewise, we should always extend basic courtesy to the people around us and respect their right to an opinion.
Watch Your Body language
Did you know that over 50% of communication is non-verbal? Our body language is a form of non-verbal communication. Simple nonverbals that project openness and warmth can include a genuine smile, eye contact, an open body posture and coming down to their level. Moreover, this also ties in with the previous topic of respect. When talking to others, be present in the moment. Sometimes, we focus only on the words we use but neglect what our nonverbals are projecting. All too often, we try to multitask – and sometimes this means that we use our phones while sitting in front of someone else who’s talking. While we are used to multitasking in such a fast-paced era, simple gestures such as taking some time away from our phones and providing our full attention to others when necessary can help us to build mutual trust and respect.
Work on Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence can play a huge part in building trust, since it can give you greater insight into how others may be feeling about certain situations. This allows you to be better able to show authentic empathy and give them the support they need. Honing your emotional intelligence will take time, but it can be as easy as making an effort to examine how your words and actions will affect others before executing them. When people feel that you genuinely care for and recognise their feelings and needs, they will find themselves trusting you more. Of course, it is best that you follow through on ways to support them apart from active listening in order to strengthen the trust.
As mentioned, trusting relationships aren’t formed overnight. However, trust is integral to any healthy relationship. Without it, the relationship will end up being shaky and deprive you of emotional security. If you ever feel that a relationship between you and a loved one isn’t working out, and that it is barely kept afloat, it might be a good idea to seek the appropriate help and counselling.
Strong social connections are vital to our mental and physical wellbeing – they help us navigate stressors and give us the courage to overcome the challenges that we face. Positive relationshipsare pivotal for an individual’s happiness, productivity, and form the foundation of a person’s support system. As such, we must not take these relationships for granted. Instead, we need to learn how to continue building and maintaining such positive relationships with others.
As an overall guideline, a good way to start is for us to adopt the “Above and Below the Line” thinking. Has someone ever told you in the heat of an argument that you have “crossed the line”? In every domain of life, there’s a line, and we all intuitively know where “the line” exists. In any given moment, we are either living Above the Line or Below the Line.
When we are “below the line”, we are constantly angry, closed, and looking for blame and excuses. When we are operating out of fear, we withdraw from our connections, which causes us to become estranged from others, and pull ourselves back emotionally. In such cases, try gathering the courage to connect with what you’re afraid of. Although this could turn out in both good and bad ways, it will be worth a shot. At least you will then be able to confront the grip of toxic fear and bring forth behaviours and beliefs that are above the line. Anger, on the other hand, causes us to blame others or the situation we’re in, while at the same time creating excuses for ourselves. At times, we can even move into a state of denial. In order for us to start living “above the line”, we need to be more mindful of our emotional state. This could mean being more sensitive to the context and perspective of others or the situation. When we are “above the line”, we are operating out of love, understanding, and appreciation in order to tackle anger and take ownership of what’s happening. Acknowledge that pushing the blame on others continually will wear you out, and will eventually take a toll on your relationship. Moreover, remind yourself to be less prideful and try giving others credit instead. Focus on gratitude for those around you, and start showing appreciation for their contributions and positive impact on your life.
When we choose to live “below the line”, we fall victim to the biases that influence our perception, thereby impacting our relationships in a negative way. Such biases may include:
Egocentric behaviour often stems from inadequate awareness of the self. This becomes limiting in the sense that we become embedded in our own point of view rather than attempting to understand the perspective of the other person. Egocentrism can often lead to feelings of anger and frustration, and severely impacts our capacity to deal with others in an appropriate manner.
Fundamental Attribution Error
Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to explain others’ behaviour and actions based on internal factors. This means having a cognitive bias to assume that someone’s behaviour is dependent on the personality of that person. When we overemphasise personal characteristics and qualities and choose to ignore situational factors when judging someone else’s behaviour, we become increasingly narrow-minded, making it difficult for us to resolve situations in an efficacious manner. For example, if a road user cuts into our path while driving, our initial thought might be that the driver is a “jerk”, or someone who is highly impatient. However, we fail to consider the possibility that the driver could have been rushing a passenger to the hospital.
Naive realism is the tendency to believe that we view everything around us objectively and those other individuals who disagree with our viewpoint must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. This also causes us to be self-righteous and narrow-minded.
Confirmation bias describes the tendency of individuals to seek evidence that confirms and reiterates a previously held view. A classic example of this is the belief that women are poor drivers compared to men. We pay particular attention to the gender of such poor drivers and cherry-pick evidence that reinforces the idea of the poor motor skills of women.
As much as possible, we should try staying away from living “under the line”. When we fall victim to such biases, our perceptions become clouded, causing us to be incapable of handling our social connections well and in a healthy manner. Try staying away from negative emotions, and be more open-minded and understanding of the other party and the situation at hand.
So, how can we make the shift and start living “above the line”? Instead of living in fear, anger and pride, try living in courage, faith and love. Gather the courage to improve yourself, and take tiny steps every day. Reflect on the personal qualities and weaknesses that you think you need to work on and make the effort to change. If someone gives you constructive feedback, take it! Focus on self-improvement and don’t let pride and arrogance overcome you. Have faith in yourself and in the relationships you share with others. Believe that relationships can be worked on and salvaged, even if they are on the rocks. Lastly, give and spread love. Love will bring out the greatness in yourself, and the best in others. Show the people around you that you genuinely care for them, and that you appreciate their presence. Positivity will certainly go a long way and bring individuals closer together.
Above all else, perhaps you could ask yourself a simple question when tackling any situation in a relationship: Is your intention to help or to hurt? If you are willing to take the step to be more mindful of your intentions, then you’re already on the road to building and maintaining positive relationships. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. On the other hand, should you require any further guidance, don’t be afraid to reach out to us.