Wednesday, 17 July 2013

How to Have Good Relationships

How to Have Good Relationships | Psychology Today (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = "//"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk')); Psychology Today: Here to Help Michael Castleman, M.A. What's interesting about our sexual vulgarities is that their 'dirtiness' has nothing to do with sex. Michael Castleman, M.A. John R. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the feet are the gateway to friendship. Jack Schafer, Ph.D. Rosemary Joyce Even a cursory review of primate studies shows that male dominance isn't a given. Rosemary Joyce, Ph.D. Matthew Rossano, Ph.D. Ritual, and more broadly religion, is about endurance. Matthew J. Rossano, Ph.D. Robert Fuller, Ph.D. A lack of recognition from others cripples an identity. That’s why solitary confinement is torture. Robert W. Fuller, Ph.D. HomeFind a TherapistFindFind a Therapist
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SiblingsRecently Diagnosed?Diagnosis DictionaryMagazineCurrent IssueCustomer ServiceSubscribeRenewGive a GiftArchiveTestsPsych BasicsExpertsIndex of BlogsOur ExpertsPublic SpeakersMedia Interviews How to Stay Sane A blog about self help and psychotherapy. by Philippa Perry How to Have Good Relationships It's probably a mistake to have too many rules about how to relate. Published on May 8, 2013 by Philippa Perry in How to Stay Sane

Some thoughts about how to Have Good Relationships:

As soon as we start to legislate for how to have relationships, we are already in danger of getting it wrong. This is because if we attempt to manipulate a relationship, there is a danger of treating the other as an ‘it’ rather than as an equal; of seeing him or her as an object to be steered rather than another subject to meet. Nor can we have a simple rule: ‘be empathetic’ – since empathy is part of a process, not a rigid set of behaviours.

My friend Astrid had a rule she applied to relationships. When she was working out how she felt about someone she would say, for instance, ‘… And he asked me no questions about myself at all’ – as if she was seeking to prove something. I guessed that she meant that she experienced that person as self-absorbed but I wanted to challenge that view and I asked her to explain more of what she meant. She explained that it is polite to ask questions when you meet a new person. If the other person does not return the compliment by showing curiosity in return then the suspicion is that they are self-absorbed and sel?sh. I thought that, as well as sounding like a post-rationalisation for Astrid’s not taking to a particular person, this way of looking at the world did not take into account the ‘negative politeness’ rule which is an unspoken part of the rituals of my culture.

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Gross generalisation coming up. Basically there are two sorts of cultures. In crowded countries such as Japan and Britain we tend to have ‘negative-politeness’. This means that people are aware of others’ need for privacy, and their desire not to be intruded upon. In countries where there is more space, like the USA, people are more inclined to practise ‘positive politeness’, where the emphasis is on inclusion and openness. The anthropologist, Kate Fox says in her excellent book, Watching The English, that what looks like stand-of?shness in a negative-politeness culture is really a sort of consideration for people’s privacy. So you see, for every overarching rule about how to have relationships, there will always be another that contradicts it. You may act in a caring way towards somebody, but if you have not absorbed the rules of that person’s family of origin or culture you can still get it wrong. Our codes about manners differ from family to family and culture to culture. Manners are a societal attempt to regulate the way we treat one another. If we follow manners strictly, we may turn into a ‘super-charmer’, and other people may doubt our sincerity. If we become extra sincere, we may appear over-earnest in a way that might be acceptable in, say, America but not in Britain. It is difficult to formulate guidelines about other peoples’ feelings because they vary so much, from culture to culture, from family to family, from person to person, and from moment to moment. We are either good at picking up on peoples’ feelings and attuning to them, or we are not. The way to learn how to be with someone is by being with them; if we cannot get that far we are a bit stuck. In trying to please one group of people we can end up offending another.

Asking people what we are doing wrong will either upset us (when we get the answer), or will only tell us what we are doing wrong in their eyes – and it might not be us who is ‘wrong’ anyway. Adhering to strict guidelines about how to behave around others is a form of rigidity. Not being mindful of your impact upon others is a form of chaos. What we are seeking is a middle way, which can be de?ned as ‘?exibility’; this allows us to reach out and respond to others with attunement. This ?exibility is something we can aim for but we should not expect to achieve it in every encounter. However, if we ?nd forming any relationship at all difficult, we may need to invest in consulting a relationship expert, a psychotherapist or another kind of mental-health worker, or you might find my book useful, How to Stay Sane, published by Picador, available in all good bookshops and here:


Tweet Have a comment? Start the discussion here! Philippa Perry

Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist, columnist, and author of How To Stay Sane.

more... Subscribe to How to Stay Sane Subscribe via RSS How to Stay SaneRecent Posts It's probably a mistake to have too many rules about how to relate. Different Types of Love: passive love and active love; love at first sight The three areas of commitment: who we are with, what we do and where we do it. We can change how we decide. More of How to Stay Sane blog Most Popular Most ReadMost Emailed 1 Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD
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Making a Commitment

Studies in humans have made clear that people with stronger social networks have greater longevity. In order to build a strong social network you need to be capable of making commitments. You can look at how you commit by examining three main areas of your life:

Relationships (who you spend time with)

Place (where you spend your time)

Activity (what you do with your time)

We all know that some people find it easier to commit than others, drifting without much awareness into a committed, full and happy life; whilst others find commitment to anyone or anything a struggle. Most of us manage one or two areas of commitment well and some people have a problem with all three. People commit in different ways too, and I wouldn’t go as far to say there is a right or wrong way to entrust in our relationships to others’, the way we spend our time, nor the place we choose to spend it. But what is it that makes it easier for some and harder for others? And it you’re having problems committing in one, or all of these areas how can you make changes in your approach to commitment and find a new way to move forward?.

The usual explanation of the uncommitted is that something ‘better’ might be just around the corner or that no clear winner presents it amongst the choices available to you. This can only ever be part of the equation because it is not only WHAT you commit to, its HOW you commit to that decision that will make your choice successful or otherwise. Only the smallest part of committing is a passive process that either works or does not work depending on the thing or person you have committed to; the main factor that will make the choice successful or not, is what work you put into it. 

The key determiner of how you do or do not commit is the ‘script’ that dictates how you live your life. This is founded in your early relationships with primary care-givers, the environment you grew up in and the experiences you had. From these factors you will have formed your personal belief system – your internal script – and it is from that system you will be operating from today. Acting out in life on the basis of this script is mostly an automatic way of being, rather than something you constantly think about or are consciously aware of, so if you do seem stuck and cannot move forward in one of the three main commitment areas then it can be worthwhile having a closer look at your belief system

There is a difference between what you think you believe and what you do believe and this can be most prevalent in the area that gets the most attention regarding commitment, relationships. You might THINK, “One day my Prince will come” but you might BELIEVE, “All men are not to be trusted” and if you do hold such a belief it could prevent you from recognising the Prince even when he is begging for your number. 

Or is your weakest commitment area one of place? Can you put down roots and build up relationships with people and places to form a supportive community? We all probably know someone, is it you? Who is always moving house, towns, or even countries? The ideal situation is always the next one and then there is something wrong with it and off you go again. This is called ‘Doing a Geographical’. It is easier if you feel dissatisfied or stuck in some way to blame things outside of yourself and geographical location often comes in for a lot of blame. The trouble is when you move, you bring your problems with you and that is because they were internal, rather than external problems.

My particular area of ‘stuckness’ was in activity. I could never commit to a job. It was unusual for me to stick at something longer than a year. I told myself that I had not found my vocation and kept starting at the bottom in a new line of work. Through working with my therapist I discovered that my buried belief was that I believed I was stupid. We discovered that my being dyslexic and this not being picked up on as a child meant I did not have any of the help, support or understanding that might go with a dyslexcia diagnosis. I had to try so much harder than my peers and I formed the belief that undermined my life script that ‘work’ was not for me. Even if I was doing well in a job I could not believe that I was and felt increasingly awkward and left. Psychotherapy has given me many things besides discovering this belief and how it affected me, but this discovery was one of the most significant. I realised I could build a career and underwent a training in psychotherapy. Now I have been working in the world of mental health for more than fifteen years - for someone who could not commit to a career, this is something of a record for me. I have come late to the joys of laying down a foundation of learning and overlaying it with layers of experience, practice and deepening skills. But I also believe it is not necessarily the profession you choose, it is the level of commitment and investment you choose to invest that makes it satisfyingly worthwhile. Therapy gave the confidence to make that commitment. 

So if you think about the three main areas of commitment: relationships; place; activity, how well do you think your life script is working for you? Does your best friend agree with your conclusions?

A version of this article first appeared in Healthy Living Magazine in 2010. 

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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Which Is Better, Self-Help or Therapy?

I have tended to be rather down on self-help. I thought therapy was far more beneficial than reading could ever be. A book cannot possibly hear you, it will never be a conversation. And if a self-help book doesn’t work, won’t that leave you feeling more of a failure than when you started? And if such books did work, wouldn’t we all be following their advice and living in a peaceful world? And how can a self-help book give you feedback? No, I used to conclude, they must be a con, taking advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. 

What we tend to do, is see the world and then interpret the world. I had seen self-help books and then decided the meaning of their existence for myself along the lines of my previous paragraph. It takes a while for most of us, or maybe its just me, to realise that the interpretation of the world is separate from how the world really is. How we interpret the world depends upon what filter, metaphorically speaking, we look through. I could change my filter and find a different set of meanings for self-help books. I can argue that they can help people see that their particular issues are common to humanity and that they give a vocabulary for thinking them through. Print has the weight of authority, when spoken words can be ephemeral. A self-help book can be part of a person’s personal development, helping them with a step along the way, a book need not claim to be all of someone’s needs. And self-help books are obviously much cheaper and don’t require appointments.

Human beings are significantly formed in relationship with their earliest caregivers. We continue to be formed and reformed throughout life by our subsequent relationships, so another person - a therapist will probably have more of an impact upon us than a book. This makes therapy a more powerful tool than a self-help book. But power is not always necessarily benign so just as a therapist can be a great influence for good, a bad therapist has more possibility of being harmful than a bad self-help book. My way of looking at self-help vs. therapy at the moment is therefore: 

A good therapist is the best option.

A good self-help book is the 2nd best option.

A bad self-help book does the least harm.

And a bad therapist is the most harmful.

And of course, we don’t have to make such a choice. If we have the resources, we may have both. A good self-help book in my opinion won’t tell you what to think but can offer you an alternative way of how to think. This is because one size cannot fit all. We all come from different backgrounds and different gene pools which means what one person needs to do more of, another will need to do less. For example a self-help book could tell you to risk being more open and trusting. This will be good advice for some, but for someone already gullible it would be unhelpful.

Here is an example of an exercise that suggests a way of how to think rather than what to think. 

The 1234 Breathing Exercise

Become aware of your breath. As you breathe, give each stage of your breathing a number:

Inhale ONE

Top of in-breath TWO

Exhale THREE

Bottom of out-breath FOUR

Get used to counting with the breath. If you spend too little time at the top or at the bottom of the breath to apply numbers 2 and 4, slow yourself down until you are counting and breathing easily.

Now, as you count and breathe, bring in the observing part of your mind. Notice the subtle differences of emotion you experience with each stage of the breath. First of all, compare 1 and 3, then compare 2 and 4. Notice which is the most comfortable stage of the breath cycle for you and which is the least comfortable. Spend as much time as you need to do this.

When we have become aware of the nuances of our emotion on each number, we are going to exchange the numbers for a mantra. So you get the whole phrase in, you might need to lengthen the breath. Replace the numbers with the following phrases:

1, I take from the world . . .

2, I make it my own . . .

3, I give back to the world . . .

4, I come back to myself . . .

You can think about whether the phrases correlate with the moments of the breath cycle when you felt most and least comfortable, and whether there is any new information for you there. You can take the exercise further if you like and use these mantra to meditate upon any interaction about which you feel self-righteous or otherwise emotionally charged. For example:

1, (I take from the world) I see that self-help books exist. . .

2, (I make it my own) I imagined that they are a con. . .

3, (I give back to the world) I told other people they are not good. . .

4, (I come back to myself) . . .I felt a little bit *superior.

*Always be suspicious of yourself if you feel a bit superior!

Then you could use the mantra to think about what you will do differently afterwards. For example:

1, I see that there are self-help books (I take from the world) . . .

2, I study them and find that some may be helpful (I make it my own) . . .

3, I confess I initially came to a conclusion without considering enough of the evidence (I give back to the world) . . .

4, I am ready to learn more (I come back to myself) . . .

What I like about this exercise is that it helps me to separate to some extent what I see happening and my interpretation of what I see happening. Thus giving me the chance to be flexible in my interpretations. It is a structure for self-reflection. The more I practise it the more adept I become at separating what is happening and what is my take on what is happening.

This and other exercises can be found in my School of Life self-help book, How to Stay Sane, published in the US by Picador. 

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