Category Archives: Communication

It’s no big deal

Have you ever said this about something that has frustrated you? We say this about our job, our friends, and our partners. Something happens, and though it frustrates us we say; “It’s no big deal”. We say this once or twice, with no worries. How many times can you say this before anger and resentment start to take over?

We all walk the fine line between managing relationships and managing our identity. We all have what we want to have happen. At times what we want and what others want are not the same thing. Many people, in an effort to keep the peace and avoid conflicts, will sacrifice what they want. They will do this thinking “It’s no big deal”. So imagine your best friend asks to borrow five dollars. And then every week following for 4 months asks to borrow five dollars. Without ever asking your friend to re-pay you, you give the money. At first it is willingly. Then after a month or so, as you have given $20, then $40, then $60, how long will it take before you become resentful? How many of you will continue to give week after week, slowing simmering, but never saying anything?

We tell ourselves it isn’t a big deal. Week after week, time after time, we say these words. We convince ourselves that this is true. And underneath we simmer. The resentment builds, until eventually it erupts. The eruption may or may not be at the person or people that have created the resentment. And often when the eruption comes and the person on the receiving end is confused and befuddled when they are covered in emotional lava. They had no idea that you were angry or resentful, because you never set the limit.

“The givers need to set limits because the takers never will”. Even the most well-intentioned of people will take advantage of someone that gives again and again without setting boundaries on it. It is just human nature. We want to believe that human nature will keep people from taking advantage, and often that just isn’t true. Even I, and I would like to believe I am a good person, have taken advantage of situations and people when I needed to. I would have been perfectly understanding had the people set boundaries, and at the same time I also used the resources around me.

You don’t have to be an ass to set a boundary. “Sure, I can give you $5, I need you to pay me back by the end of the week”. And then when they don’t pay you back “Hey, you didn’t pay me back from the last 2 times, I need you to pay me back before I can lend you any more money”. If your friend gives you resistance for this, maybe they aren’t the best of friends, or the best of people. You don’t have to be an ass to say out loud what you want to have happen. “I’m interested in pizza tonight”, even though you know your friend or partner may not have the same interest.

The thought “It isn’t a big deal” is the warning sign that you may be sacrificing yourself more than your identity and integrity can handle. You can be kind and still say out loud what you want or need to have happen. Make sure you know what you want to have happen, and then think how you would want someone to say the same thing to you. Remember, using criticism, contempt, or blaming will make people put up their own walls.  Setting limits and standing up for your identity is just as much a part of maintaining relationships as meeting in the middle, and letting go of the small things.

Setting limits in confusing situations

Life is not always clear.  We want to think that we will be able to quickly and easily see boundary lines, and be able to follow them.  The boss is always the boss.  The child is always the child. The teacher is always the teacher.  But what happens when the wife becomes the teacher?  When the child becomes the boss?  When the parent needs to be taken care of?  When the Boss becomes the friend?  Or better yet when the friend becomes the Boss?

Is your your employee a good friend?  Does this person some times take advantage of the friendship when it comes to work?   Is your parent older, and while they are asking you to take a larger role in caring for them, do they resist your care?  It can be difficult setting boundaries when there are two parts of a relationship that need to be considered.

The first thing to look at as an individual is the roll that you need as a person to be the primary / dominant roll.  For example, once you’re the boss, the primary roll is probably going to be your position as the boss.  It is one thing to lose a friend, it is another to lose a job because you weren’t able to step up and set limits.  When a parent becomes the one needing care, letting your desire to have a mom or a dad can compromise the care of the parent.

Having poor limits can also compromise the relationship.  When you have the friend that is also an underling, and boundaries are not firm, the friend taking advantage of the poor boundaries can create resentment and anger.  The parent that doesn’t have firm boundaries can wear a care-giving child out quickly.  Unfortunately, the one in the power position is the one that needs to be the one setting limits.  The givers need to set limits because the takers never will.

You will need to be OK not being liked all the time.  The one in charge will be required to make decisions those under them don’t like.  They will be required to set limits, delegate, and set tasks that will make people uncomfortable, resentful, and frustrated.  That is part of the job.  It ain’t easy being Queen.  Or King.

Work to create a container around the rolls.  When you are the friend / child / partner or friend don’t be the boss.  Set boundaries that when you in certain places and certain times whatever work you have that you are the boss is put aside.  For example, At lunch you are friends and you don’t talk about work, work frustrations, or work needs.  When you are at “work”, literally or metaphorically, personal and friendships are put on hold.  You create a container around the work, and around the relationships.  Work to keep them from bleeding in to each other.  Make it clear to the other party where the lines are, and be clear when the lines are crossed.

Life isn’t about nice clear lines and easily understandable boundaries.  We are sometimes required to set them for ourselves.  That means we have to figure out what boundaries we need for our own sanity. Creating these containers will not be easy, and will be uncomfortable for everyone.  It will also save relationships and sanity.

Saving I’m Sorry

Do you apologize when you are late? Do you say I’m sorry as you walk in to a room for a small mistake, in acknowledgement of some small thing you may have done? Did you know that apologizing in advance has a tendency to make people irritable, and more likely to feel as though they have been wronged, when they wouldn’t have before hand? So what does that mean?

When you walk in to a room saying; “I’m sorry I was late” it is more likely to irritate the person and make them frustrated with your lateness. “Sorry about the mess” will make you more likely to notice the mess and be irritated by it. That means we need to re-learn what to say.

Thank you for your patience today!   When you walk in to a room late saying this, it will immediately make the person feel as though they have done something for you that you appreciate. They will actually feel closer to you, as though they have helped you with something. It is a complete change in how we approach interactions with people. And it is a complete change in how we feel about each other.

People like to help. They like to feel helpful! When we thank instead of apologizing we change the dynamic. “Thank you for your patience!” “Thank you for your understanding!” “I appreciate your understanding” For one week, replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you” for the small things you want excused. See what happens. See how you feel about yourself, and see how others react to you. We need to use “I’m sorry” when we’ve actually done something wrong.

We have turned I’m sorry in to such a common phrase. We say it when we want to express sorrow for someone’s loss. When we want our behavior excused, or when we want understanding for something. It has long lost the meaning that we want it used for, which is “I did something wrong and it wasn’t OK. There isn’t an excuse. I’m sorry”. It also set people on the defensive when that isn’t what our goal is.

Being a Misfit

We all have Misfit Moments.  Some more than others.  Sometimes we feel alone in in our lack of ability to fit in.  Please experience this video about a misfit on  Let yourself feel the moments that you think “OH my god!  I’ve done that!”  “I’ve felt that way!”.  Notice that you aren’t alone in struggling, misfiring, keeping yourself stuck in shame, and not believing you are deserving.  You aren’t alone, and you can overcome!


Even at the moment of your failure, you’re beautiful.  You don’t know it yet, but you have the ability to re-invent yourself endlessly.  That’s your beauty.  No matter you’re failure your story deserves to be heard.  You can be standing dead center in the middle of your failure.  Because you are the only one in the room that can tell the story the way you would.  And I’d be listening.

Lydia Yuknavitch

Asking for what you want

We all hit that point in a relationship where we want something that we aren’t sure our partner wants to give us.  Many of us have one of two difficulties.  The first one is the belief that if our partner loved us enough  they would know what we want and they would give it to us.  The second is not feeling comfortable asking for what we want because we aren’t good at expressing ourselves, or because we are afraid we aren’t going to get it.  Either way is a recipe for either silence or passive aggression.

For those that aren’t quite sure what passive aggression is, it is being subtle about saying insults, requests or wants.  Saying them in a way that can be played off.  If I am making requests in a way that can be ignored or played off, then they probably will.

Firstly, make sure you know what you want, and if it is possible for the other person to help.  If you have no idea what you want, then the person you are asking isn’t going to be able to give it to you.  If the want is something that the other person can’t help with, then they are going to be set up for failure.  If the desire is to feel love or losing the emptiness, asking someone to do it for us is destined for failure.  If someone loves us and we are unable to connect with that love, all of their love won’t help that.  If you feel empty, there is nothing anyone can do to fill you.  A partner can support and sponsor us while we work to let the love in, or to feel filled.

Do you want your partner to go on a walk with you today, or do you want them to spend more time with you overall?  Do you want them to do the dishes tonight?  Or o you want them to take more of an active roll in taking care of the household?  Are you asking for what you really want?

This goes for work and friendships as well.  If you are not articulating what you want, it is unlikely you will get it. No one can read your mind.

Once you know what you want find the words to clearly articulate it without criticism, contempt or blaming.  These three will get the person you are speaking to defensive, and unlikely to want to help you.  Stick to “I want”, “I would like”, or “I need”.  Avoid telling the other person what they need to do, as that also leads to defensiveness.  State what you want or need clearly and assertively.  Make eye contact, head up and shoulders back.  Speak in a clear voice working to avoid “ummmm” and “ahhhhh” as they steal the vision of confidence.
Finally, let the other person know how their help will be beneficial.  We are all more likely to help someone else if we are going to get something positive out of it.  How will their life be able to move more smoothly.

If you noticed, the majority of this blog was about you discovering what you truly want.  What do I want to have happen?  What is my goal, and what do I need?  Once you have these questions answered, you are better able to find the confidence to walk in and ask for what you want in a clear and concise way.  You aren’t always going to get what you want, but if you are able to be clear and calm in your approach, it increases the odds significantly.

Act Confident

Getting our needs and wants met is a skill. It takes a finesse and a confidence that we think we should all know instinctively. Instead it is a learned skill that we start learning as a kid. As a kid we learn from our environment how to ask for wants and needs, and we learn specifically from our parents and family. If our family supportive and kind, then we learn to be confident in asking for our needs and wants. If our family is assertive, we may learn that we need to be overly assertive in asking, and if our family is abusive or domineering we often learn to be more passive or shy in asking for wants and needs.

When we approach people with aggression they feel put off and often resentful. When we are too un-assuming or shy people don’t take us seriously. I had a client walk in the office the other day with a grin, looking at the ground, shoulders slumped. She looked guilty as sin of something. She struggles to believe that she is worth having her needs or wants met, and as such does what a good deal of us do. She is passive, tender and quiet for a good deal of the time. She thinks “It doesn’t matter” and lets other people have their way over and over, and often is stepped on because she doesn’t set limits and boundaries with others. She works to see things from their point of view and only thinks of how they will be angry or mad at her if she stands up for herself or asks for her own needs to be met. Until she hits the tipping point. Then the raging bear comes out and instead of being tender, fierceness and aggression spew forth.

We all struggle with the balance of tender vs fierce. Tenderness is where we are kind and work to nurture others. Fierceness is when we set limits and boundaries. Tenderness without fierceness is victimization. We will be walked on even by the most well-intentioned of people. Fierceness without tenderness is aggression, either physical or verbal. Being fiercely-tender or tenderly-fierce is a skill. Being able to set limits on kindness is difficult, and we often worry that the person or organization we are setting limits on will be angry and punish us. If we don’t give our friend the $5 they asked for, they will be frustrated. If we ask for the last $5 back before giving them more money they will be mad. If we don’t work 60 hours a week for our job (when we only get paid for 40) they will fire us.

I work with so many people that don’t believe that they are worth having their needs or wants met. They either don’t bother to ask for their needs, wants, wishes or would-likes (secretly hoping that their partner / friend / job will just do what they need), or they hint and passive-aggressively try to get needs met. People either don’t understand these ways of communication, or intentionally ignore them. It is uncomfortable to be straight forward and say “I need this”. As a culture this is a taboo, especially for women. The struggle is that eventually when our needs, wants, wishes and would-likes aren’t communicated or met, we get angry and eventually resort to fierceness. And when we go at people like a raging bull, they tend to defend themselves and fight back instead of listening.

The client that came in to the office head down, shoulders slumped and shy grin on her face got a lesson in confidence that day.   As you read this, do the following: Lift your shoulders up to your ears, pull them back along the shoulder-blades and drop them down. Lift your head to where your head is at neutral, not looking up or down. This is what she and I practiced for an hour. We also practiced asking for what she wanted in terms of “I need”, “I would like”, and “I want” in a confident voice, without giggling. We practiced “I would like you to respect our house. I need you to pick up your trash and not leave it for my husband and I. This is important if you are going to live here.” A perfectly reasonable request, right? It was a struggle to find the confidence to say it.

There is a skill called DEAR MAN (Marsha Linehan, DBT).

Describe the situation

Explain how it makes you feel

Assert what you want



Maintain Focus




I’m not going to explain the whole skill in this blog, but one of the key components is acting confident. Not cocky, not shy, confident. If I go in like an angry bear people will be defensive. If I go in shy and quiet, I probably won’t be taken seriously. Finding that place where I know that I am OK asking for what I’m asking for (even if I can’t get it, for whatever reason I’m still OK asking for it) gets me most of the way there.

Ultimately, if I don’t believe I’m worth it, no one else will. For whatever reason we have forgotten the skill of asking for what we want. As women we are seen as needy or demanding if we express our needs, and men are often seen as weak. I have personal found that while people may be surprised when I am comfortably forward with asking for what I want or need, they are rarely unreasonable.

The Theory of Why

As we grow, we learn to develop theories about other’s behavior based on our past knowledge and experiences. Children and people with Autism struggle with this concept, but in general, as we grow we begin to work out what to expect of the world and of others. We begin to work out future actions, reactions and motivations using information we have gained from what we have and what others have done in the past.


Through it is part of how we work to manage our environment, the trying to figure out future actions and the “why” can get us in trouble.   It is the thinking error of mindreading. Whenever you utter the words “they did this because”, or “you were going to do …” there is an assumption. There is an assumption that we can understand what they are planning to do in the future, that we understand their motivations and desires based on past actions.. We take a conglomeration of experiences with others and start to guess the next move or motivations. Where this gets tricky is we take our experiences with our mom and put how she would react on any mom figure in our lives, such as teachers and female bosses. We take how our past partners acted and reacted and begin to guess reactions and motivations of our current partners. As many of you know this will definitely get you in to a good deal of trouble.

On a conceptual level we understand that our experiences are our own, and no one knows what it is like to walk in our shoes. In fact, most people get offended with the words “I know how you feel”. At the same time, when we look at another person’s behavior we frequently process the “why” of what they are doing through our own experiences, forgetting that they don’t know what we know, and vice versa. When we struggle with our partners and our friends, often it is because we have assumed that they understand our mindset and point of view, and are very intentionally doing a behavior to hurt, anger, or undermine us. Very rarely this can be the case, but in general our partners and friends are acting in such a way to take care of themselves without the intent of hurting us. This is when differentiation (knowing where my partner stops and where I begins) becomes of up-most importance.


Part of life is being able to understand life from someone else’s point of view. It ultimately keeps us from being selfish. We learn how to do this about the age of 4. At this time we start a running compilation of how people act in an effort to understand how they will act in the future. This can cause us problems when we assume someone will act in a certain way and they don’t, or we assume that someone is acting in a certain way for a specific reason, and they aren’t. Ultimately we have to remember that each person is individual with their own history of experiences and understandings of the world. When we get frustrated with what someone is doing, before jumping to the why, identify your own feelings and what you want so you can communicate that effectively. Then, without throwing judgment or your own theories out as to the why, let them tell you. It can keep you out of a heap of trouble!



Words, Words, Words!

We don’t often think of the words we use or what they mean.  Our daily lives are filled with metaphors
that we don’t even think about.  We
often don’t see the ones used around us in daily life. Metaphors are used to
make us feel and see things in a certain way, by our friends, by the media, and
by ourselves.   Some that come to mind:  Fired up, closing in, pushed through
and one that I saw in the news today: Gave the restrictions sharper teeth.  These give us images that help the
message sink in with even greater clarity (an unfortunately are at times used
with great skill by the media to manipulate us). 


Have you ever thought about the metaphors we use with ourselves?  I hear “I can’t let go” a great
deal.  The concept that we are
clinging to a hurtful event and don’t want to put it down.  Another one is “I’m not ready to move
on” or “I can’t get past this”.  This
is the concept that I want to stay with what was, and not be with what is or
walk toward what can be. 


Then there are the things we say about ourselves that are judgment
based, and not quite metaphors. We say things like; I’m and idiot, I’m so
childish or I’m so stupid.   I
will be talking with someone about something very painful and I hear “I’m sorry
I’m crying, I’m so stupid!”.


These metaphors and this language is more damaging than we know.  Often they are combined:  I’m so stupid, I can’t seem to get past
this!  Remember, the subconscious
can’t take a joke and takes everything literally.  So when you say the words “I’m so stupid” the subconscious
hears this and says “yep, stupid…that’s it.  That’s who I am”, files it away and keeps going. 


Today, pay attention to the metaphors you say to and about yourself, and
the language you use to describe yourself.  The subconscious takes this personally, and it really does
keep you from being able to be your best. 
Also keep an eye on the language and metaphors you use about other
people.  If we are thinking angry
thoughts about other people the body still responds to this anger. 


It is amazing what a little shift in language can do.  “I don’t want to let go of my
memories”, or “I’m struggling to move past this” change the meaning a great
deal.  The word “can’t” is very


We teach kids the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but
words can never hurt me” when someone is trying to hurt them with words.  And then as we grow up we continue to
believe that as true, but some of the strongest hurts I’ve ever received have
come from words.  They have great
power and as such we need to watch how we use them.  Both with ourselves and with others.

Where you stop, and I begin

For the most part you know where you stop, and where the person next to you begins.  There is the physical boundary of skin that is a clear definition.  We also tend to like a little space between our skin and the skin of others, about an arm’s length.  We allow people we know and care about in to our personal space, and that invisible boundary is starting to get blurred as we place ourselves in crowded places: buses, subways and lines.  A line that has started to become even more blurred is the line between your emotions and those close to you. 

How often have you found yourself doing something you aren’t interested in, because you know it will please your friend or your partner.  How often have you found yourself doing something you didn’t want to because you didn’t want to hurt your partner?  Sometimes these actions are little.  Going to a movie that you aren’t interested in, eating dinner at a restaurant that you don’t necessarily like or just not criticizing the other’s driving when they forget to use a turn signal.  Sometimes instead of something little, we find ourselves biting our tongue instead of talking about something that truly bothers us because we know the other person would be hurt. 

When I work with kids I like to use a hula-hoop to demonstrate boundaries.  Kids that have touching or hitting problems can now understand the space that is mine, and the space that is yours.  With adults I use the same concept to explain being able to define mine and yours.  My emotions are anything within my imagined hula-hoop.  My fears, my hopes, my desires, and even my anger.  Everything I feel fits within the confines of my imaginary hula-hoop, and as much as I would like to ask others to hold some of those feelings, they are all mine.  My frustrations that my partner will not capitulate to my desires, or understand my hurts, is still mine.  I have to take care of myself and all of the feelings within the little world of my imaginary hula-hoop.  On the other hand, I get to say the same thing about you and your feelings.  Within the limits of not being an intentional jerk, I am not required to take responsibilities for your feelings, and I need be careful to not take your feelings from you, allowing you to keep them.  Or even more, I am allowed to keep from letting you force them on me.  I know I have found myself avoiding talking about subjects that were important me, just to keep from hurting my partner. I have also been in relationships where I am expected to keep from hurting or to soothe the hurts I do cause.   Where is the limit between maliciously hurting my partner, and causing pain through truth and necessity?  At times I will need to say things that will be painful for my partner to hear, and vice versa.  If I am keeping my feelings and not requiring my partner to take them for me, I enter a different world that involves self soothing and personal strength.  And when I make sure to be clear that I am not required to hold and soothe my partner’s anger, it allows me to be free to communicate clearly. 

Physically, you know where you stop and others begin.  Sometimes, that line between your emotions and those of the people around you gets a little blurred.  It is important to find a way to make a more defined boundary, knowing what emotions are yours, and what emotions are others allows you to begin to draw a boundary.   It is incredibly important to create a strong boundary with definition.  That boundary is allowed to be permeable, but you have the choice what you give to others and what you take.  I thank Dr. David Schnarch for giving me this saying: You have every right to your emotions.  You also have the right to keep them. 

I choose to be happy

I came across a quote the other day: ” I no longer choose to be right, I choose to be happy.”  I have to think of all the times I have stepped in to a power play with someone, fighting to prove how right I was.  Working all the time to make them see how wrong they were.  And every time just ending up frustrated, generally because the other had the same idea.  We both had stopped listening to anything the other had to say, outside of what we needed to hear to formulate our next barrage of proof as to why we were right.

I still find myself getting caught up in the need to prove people wrong.  With the political climate today we are polarized and people jump on any bandwagon they can.  When someone says something that (to me) is blatantly ignorant or wrong, I can feel the desire to correct them building in me.  And what that often turns in to is a argument over who, of course, is right.  

The first thing I have learned is the need to be flexible within myself.  Am I able to hear opposing sides, even if I don’t like or agree with the view point, and hear the valid points that the other person may have?  Am I able to listen objectively and change my mind when need be?  Or do I need to stick to my guns on principle alone, and damn the truth?  I keep hearing “know what you stand for or you will fall for anything”.  Know what your ideals and principles are, true.  But don’t be so inflexible in your ideals and beliefs that when something comes along that gives a valid alternative view point you aren’t able to listen, and if necessary shift based on available information. 

The next is just that I don’t always have to prove my point.  There are times that I will believe I am right and even after listening to all of the available data I will still be convinced that I am right, and be unwilling to shift my stance.  If  the other side is in the same place and we cannot find a middle ground, is it worth my effort, time and energy to stand my ground and try to whip my point in to someone who isn’t going to change their mind?  Am I able to walk away without trying to force someone to see something they may not? 

The truth is that I see the world through my experiences and beliefs.  My truths are not necessarily other’s.  There are some things I can look at and say “This is a truth” and know it is so.  The concept of 2+2=4.  And it is a truth, except when it isn’t.  Objective statements of fact.  Then there are statements of belief, possibility, and desire.  Is there a possibility that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen?  I don’t believe so, the president is required to go through enough background checking that it makes my yearly federal fingerprinting for my contracts seem petty.  The number of people required to keep a secret of a conspiracy to make a non citizen President of the U.S. makes it unlikely for that to be kept successfully a secret (people love to tell secrets).  But because it is a belief in a possibility, I am unable to disprove it from others and ultimately need to let people who believe such things be, even if I think it is ridiculous.

All I honestly want in this life is happiness.  I want to be able to smell the roses, see the beauty of the world, and be able to cope with my losses and my pains.  That is so  much more important than being right all the time.  I need to remember that the next time someone tells me that the sky isn’t blue, or that 2+2=5,  it isn’t my responsibility to make them understand the truth as I see it.  I don’t need to be right, I need to work on being happy.