Grace Wood

Neediness vs. Valid Relationship Needs: How to Navigate Both

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By Grace Wood, MA

 Few of us want to be labeled the “needy” one in a relationship. We like to seem independent and in control, rather than insecure or clingy. Neediness in our romantic relationships hints at an insatiable desire to be affirmed, validated, sought out, and attended to. We tend to think of a needy partner as someone who strains and emotionally exhausts their partner. Not the most attractive qualities.

Yet, sometimes our desire to not be considered needy interrupts the more healthy, necessary, and appropriate process of sharing our relationship needs with our partners.

How do we know where normal relationship needs end and clingy behavior begins?

Consider the following tips to understand the difference:

1. Recognize that Your Relationship Requires Interdependence

The truth is, giving and receiving time, love, attention, and affection in a fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationship means embracing interdependence. Humans have many needs--food, water, shelter, and human connection, just to name a few. We do need each other, and that can be frightening. When we feel vulnerable and insecure, we often overcompensate. We tend to go hard in the opposite direction to appear independent and strong, thereby missing the joy of relating to each other openly.

Recognizing our interdependence is beneficial. We are hard-wired for this type of connection. It isn’t needy to want to take care of ourselves and be safely taken care of, too.  Neediness is an issue only when we try to make our desire to be taken care of our partner’s primary or sole focus.

2. Willingly Examine Your Relationship Expectations

It is important that you and your partner do some internal soul-searching and thorough communicating as it pertains to your relationship expectations. Be willing to tell yourselves the truth without demanding that either of you force the other to be something you aren’t.

Many times, a good connection devolves into disappointment, neediness, and breakdown due to unrealistic assumptions about how partners should behave to make the relationship work.

It’s important to understand that expecting your partner to consider and respect you is valid. But to expect that making sure you’re always okay is unrealistic and draining.

In addition, be sure you’ve chosen a partner who can meet your needs. You must both be ready and present to love well. A partner you know is emotionally unavailable, has a history of unfaithfulness, or is generally nonchalant regarding intimacy, may create a relationship environment that is incompatible with your needs. Don’t pretend you can talk, beg, or cajole them into being who you need them to be. That’s neediness too. It won’t work and does a number on your self-respect.

3. Master Self-Awareness and Open Communication

To get our needs met in a healthy relationship requires self-awareness and effective communication.

First, knowing and taking responsibility for yourself is a vital part of eradicating neediness. No one person is responsible for your happiness. You have the power to seek it and, ultimately, share it with someone else. Understanding this makes you much more self-assured, emotionally stable, and capable of developing lasting love. If you need assistance determining your own goals or struggle with self-esteem issues, talk to trusted family members and friends, or reach out for the professional help of a counselor.  You can then improve self-awareness and solidify your understanding of what you bring to a relationship. The ensuing confidence may be a game-changer.

Second, knowing how to communicate love and respect, prioritize your relationship despite conflict, and assert your needs without coercion or manipulation, are vital relationship skills. In truth, most of us need help with them. 

To avoid neediness or codependence, it helps to have an objective third party, like a couples counselor, highlight and help us through our unproductive communication habits. Most of all, there is no shame or blame in recognizing a tendency toward neediness in your relationship and addressing it. This can help preserve what’s working in your relationship and provide tools for making healthy changes in areas of your relationship that are challenging.

Are You Ready to Resolve Neediness?

Finally, understand that neediness is not the worst thing that can happen to your relationship. You can turn things around with support. It will take effort to work through how neediness plays a part in your connection or how the fear of neediness may be creating too much distance between you and your partner. 

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace can help you talk about needs with your partner in an effective and productive way, and can work with you to implement healthier communicative habits in all areas of your relationship. To schedule an appointment, call Grace at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

5 Ways Mindfulness Improves Sex

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By Grace Wood, MA

Sex is not just a physical activity, it is a mentally intimate experience, too. At least, it can be when you know how to tap into the best sexual experience possible. How can you do that? The practice of mindfulness improves sex in ways you and your partner can find exciting and wholly satisfying.

Why is Mindfulness Important for Better Sex?

The practice of being present makes it possible to experience sex with fresh eyes. You can enjoy it intensely, in the moment, fully attuned to what’s happening. You are alive and responsive.

Mindful sex is focused, conscious sex that benefits you in the following ways:

  • You improve your connections internally with your thoughts and emotions.

  • Your connection with your own body and physical sensations is improved.

  • You connect more fully and deeply with your partner.

In essence, when you implement mindfulness, you learn to focus on your emotions and sensations as they happen. And the more you can do that, the better it feels. With those things in mind, let’s explore how mindfulness improves five specific areas of your sex life.

How is Mindfulness Important for Better Sex?

1. Mindfulness Can Reduce the Robotic Routine

Sex can be something that connects us deeply with our partner, with both people tuning into each other’s needs--it can also be repetitive, automatic, and boring. Mindful attention to yourself and your partner means developing the ability to tune into your body and stay present.

The goal? To get away from worry, self-consciousness, or hang-ups from your pasts. You’ll enjoy each other much more by bringing complete attention to the here and now.

These mindfulness tips can help you:

  • Focus on the sensations. Tune into sensuality. Use your senses.

  • Consider and control your breath, muscles, and body position.

  • Minimize diversions and intrusions. Turn off your screens. Make sure you can’t be interrupted by pets or kids.

  • Silence intrusive thoughts and mental chatter (the grocery list can wait.)

  • Be curious. Allow yourself to be curious about your body and your partner’s body. Maybe one or both of you wants to try something new, or you notice that you have a sudden urge to do something different. 

2. Mindfulness Improves Sex by Forming New Sexual Sensibilities

Aside from interrupting routine sex, mindfulness helps create a habit of bringing your mind back to what feels best and most connected. The more you do this, the more you create new neurological pathways. You literally change your mind as it pertains to sex.

Over time, you don’t have to try hard to be mindful or break sexual routine. This increases your chances of wanting to remain physically and mentally linked in the here and now. This easily and naturally shifts the way you approach each other and increases the odds of great sex on a regular basis.

3. Mindfulness can Lower Stress & Elevate Libido

When you are mindful, you practice being aware. You notice your thoughts and responses. This is perfect in a sexual sense. By noticing what thoughts stress you,  you gain the power to calm yourself and reduce stress hormones that reduce libido. As your hormones normalize, you’ll likely begin to want sex more often.

4. Mindfulness can Promote the Practice of Acceptance

The beauty of mindfulness is that it is rooted in acknowledgment and acceptance of yourself and your partner. 

The benefits of such acceptance are that you’ll:

  • feel that it’s okay to be authentic and free with each other.

  • distance yourself from shame and destructive self-talk.

  • connect more deeply with your bodies and be less prone to criticize them.

  • be more accepting of your unique and loving process. 

  • release yourself from the pressure to be perfect or perform. 

5. Mindfulness can Amplify Connection and Deepen Intimacy

Mindfulness can make it possible to slow down and rediscover true lovemaking. Paying attention to the aspects of each other that may get lost in the daily grind is important. Sex becomes decidedly more intimate as mindfulness allows you to tune into the sense of belonging, appreciation, and cooperation flowing between you. Thus, you can relax and trust each other emotionally and sexually.

Finally, Make Pleasure and Connection Your Primary Goals

Learning to be mindful with your partner has no downside. Your relationship, sexually and otherwise, deserves your attention. Embrace the chance to notice and respond to each other in more deeply connected ways. You both deserve to receive and give pleasure in ways that make sex and intimacy natural and gratifying.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, can help you and your partner practice mindfulness to deepen your sexual experiences with one another and attain an even closer connection. To schedule an appointment with Grace at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin, call (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

 

How Negative Self-Talk Affects Intimacy with Your Partner

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By Grace Wood, MA

Closeness and intimacy are the joys of your relationship with your partner. That is what we see in romance movies and crave--a sense of closeness. However, we can easily dismantle that joy if we fail to curb the critical, snarky, insulting voice so many of us have in our heads.

That voice can be a constant soundtrack of negative self-talk that runs down your self-perception, self-esteem, and partnership. This can happen so thoroughly that you end up sabotaging yourself, your love, and your libido. Intimacy just doesn’t have a chance in that environment.

To be close to your partner, it’s crucial that you recognize the thoughts that put up walls, turn you away, and skew deep understanding in your relationship.

How many times have you let negative self-talk about your ability to be loved or to be a good partner keep you from reaching out? Do you remember the last time you allowed yourself to be emotionally vulnerable? How long has it been since you were physically uninhibited without a mental wisecrack about your body?

Those kinds of thoughts and inner dialogue soon wear on your ability to shake off insecurity and relax into emotional and physical intimacy.

It’s Important to Remember that You are in Control

Deep down you know you want to be intimate with your partner. You surely want that much more than you want to waste time engaging your inner critic.
Fortunately, you have the power to establish a deep, mutually trusting connection. You simply need to recognize the influence of the negativity and choose your thoughts with more inner love.

What’s the first step? Learn to be present and notice negativity when it is happening.

Pay Attention to How Negative Self-Talk Impacts Intimacy with Your Partner

To get started, consider these common ways your intimate time together may be affected:

#1: Negative Self-Talk is an Attack on Your Desire to be Known, Loved, and Accepted

When you are at your most vulnerable, wanting closeness and tenderness, negative self-talk can take advantage of your emotional tender spots.
It picks at anything and everything that makes you insecure and self-conscious. Soon your lover’s gaze feels uncomfortable. You may not want the light on. Or, your defenses go up about what you’ve shared together.

As a result, you withdraw or pull away, insecure about pursuing anything closer.
Negative self-talk can keep us in our heads, too absorbed in bullying ourselves to notice that we’re attacking intimacy, as well.

#2: Negative Self-Talk Weakens Your Feelings for Your Partner

Negative self-talk isn’t satisfied to stay on its own side of the street. It will attack your choices and eventually your choice of partner. Your own negative thoughts become a dark lens, destroying the positive, loving view you once had of your partner. Over time, you may even notice that you’ve become comfortable saying critical and cynical things to yourself about your partner or their attempts to get close to you.

What negative self-talk do you notice affecting your treatment of your partner? Do you wrestle with persistent thoughts that you need to back away from someone who (1) couldn’t really love you, (2) isn’t serious about your relationship, or (3) probably isn’t who they seem?

Perhaps you withdraw from your partner as your self-talk exaggerates little annoyances and personality differences. Do their flaws become an excuse to resist vulnerability and deeper interaction?

# 3: Negative Self-Talk Attacks Your Love Story

Negativity can get even sneakier and more subversive as it becomes a regular narrative, wedging itself between you and your partner.
You may sabotage your relationship and your desire to be intimate with thoughts that your relationship can’t survive or that it never was as strong a connection as you thought.

A constant stream of this type of thinking robs your union of fun and pleasant togetherness. Without correction, your partner may indeed succumb to the hopeless distance and give up on trying to draw closer.

Changing Your Negative Inner Narrative

It’s time to put your inner bully in its place. Quiet down the mean-spirited drain on your attempts to be intimate, and address the thoughts that drive it.

You have a choice. Choose to change your mind.

Find solid support and guidance from trusted friends and family or seek assistance from a counselor to help you switch the inner negative narrative to a positive one. Then commit to the proactive practice of challenging negativity. With practice, you can ward off negativity and discover the joys of love and intimacy freely again.

You may even find that loving yourself is a wonderful aphrodisiac!

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If your inner negative narrative is creating barriers between you and your partner, we can help restore intimacy. Schedule an appointment with Grace by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online at the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Overcome Your Fear of Therapy: Try These Tips

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By Grace Wood, MA

Many people google therapists, read articles like this one, and even drive around the parking lots of potential therapist’s offices…but they don’t schedule an appointment and follow through.

Often, people struggle far too long with concerns they would like to talk about with a counseling professional because they are worried about the risks, the process, and how they’ll be perceived by loved ones or even the therapist they see.  Fear, stress, and anxiety can get in the way of treating our fear, stress, and anxiety!

Here are some ways to overcome your fear of therapy and find relief in the safety of the therapy room:

1. Stand up to Stigma

As much as we educate ourselves about mental health, the stigma of being unable to manage challenges on our own still looms, even though we long for support. Is that what worries you? Or, are you afraid your loved ones, boss, or even your partner will wonder what’s wrong with you instead of what’s right about getting the help you need?

You’re not alone. Mental health stigma can be scary; it’s scarier to suffer without knowing how to stop your pain.

Try to think about this differently. How would you respond to a family member or friend who felt terrible physically and suffered daily? What if they told you how much they wanted to feel better, but that they were afraid you’d look down on them for going to the doctor? Would you say they were weak, or that they were faking their illness?

Of course, you wouldn’t! Don’t wait to get relief. The stigma around seeking help for your mental health is an obstacle you have every right to bulldoze on the way to feeling better!

2. Rethink Your Problem with Labels 

Diagnoses can feel scary, as though we are being physically branded with a label for the rest of our lives. It can feel as though we are no longer ourselves.

Yet, to go on suffering for fear of finding out what’s wrong cannot be the answer either! Your relief is too precious to sacrifice to the fear of having a label. Again, let’s turn this on its head: knowing what is going on for you is the freedom to know yourself better. It’s the freedom to find the right counselor and treatment for your needs.

If your therapist diagnoses you with a mental illness (which, often they do not), you can use your diagnosis as an opportunity to find friends and supporters who get you. Even better, you can be a support for a community of people who need you and know you understand them.

3. Assert Yourself and Talk Back to Your Inner Critic

Negativity can sink motivation and perseverance if we let it take hold for too long. When you start to think thoughts like, “I’m too far gone for therapy,” or “I’m not hurting enough for professional help,” recognize them as fear-based self-talk. Don’t let that voice steal your chance at peace and progress. The inner critic doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

You have every right to pursue happiness and well-being. Assert your right to speak up for yourself, first in your own head, and then in the safe, supportive environment of your counseling sessions. You deserve it.

4. Be Mindful, Compassionate, and Patient

We can get worked up and upset when we need help. Therapy may seem like a slap in the face to our self-sufficiency and independence, as though we have failed at being healthy, strong, and self-sustaining.

But that isn’t the case at all. We are wired for interdependence and belonging. We’re made for cooperation.

It’s okay to be different, to struggle, to feel whatever you feel; and it’s okay to deal with that in therapy, a support group, or through your own self-reflection and exploration.

Notice and allow yourself to feel the fear of therapy. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Patiently start to work on yourself. Set a goal to call a therapist. When you’ve made the appointment, set another goal to attend the first appointment or have a friend drive you and keep you accountable. Take it one step at a time.

Remember, you’re not in this alone. Therapy is a first step you can make to take care of yourself. It’s okay to reach out for help in navigating the challenges you face in your personal life and in your relationships.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, is currently accepting new clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you are still unsure about beginning therapy, start by reaching out and giving Grace a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We’ll take care of the rest.

Dating Mistakes: 10 Missteps People Often Make

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By Grace Wood, MA

When you meet someone who you would like to know more about, whether that is through an online dating site or app, at an event, or through friends or family, the first date is more than just a time for you and the other person to learn a bit more about each other; it’s a time to make a wonderful first impression.

If you’ve been in the dating scene long, you’re painfully aware of the different types of first dates.  There’s the coffee meet-up with someone you have nothing in common with; the dinner with the person who keeps bringing up their ex; and then, sometimes, there are drinks that you just don’t want to be over.

Depending on how things go with that first date, one or both of you may decide the initial interest in each other is no longer present, or you may want to get to know each other even more and move on to a second date (and beyond!) 

Dating someone new is an exciting time. You’re getting to know each other and having fun together. However, dating can also be stressful and exhausting, even disappointing when your hopes for the dating relationship don’t materialize. The process must start again, this time with a little less optimism.

If you’re tired of this merry-go-round, consider these dating mistakes people make and learn to avoid them.

1. Misreading the Signs

When the “sparks” fly on your first date, enjoy the feeling--and be cautious. 

The limerence you feel for the other person may be strong, but it does not mean you’re in love. Love builds over time and is not something you can be sure about after the first few dates. When you feel the spark, and the chemicals in your brain are making you feel incredible, be aware that even though it feels wonderful, it can also cloud your judgment and it may not last. It’s easy to take those feelings and interpret them as love before you really know the other person.  Notice the feeling, appreciate the feeling, and focus your attention on truly getting to know the person you’re having the feeling toward.

2. Having Alcohol Present on Every Date

Do many or all your dates start, or end, at a bar?

Getting together for drinks after work is a good excuse to get together, and wine with dinner is great. However, try to mix it up so that you have different experiences together. The same goes if both of you use substances recreationally.

Alcohol, and other substances, cause a release in your brain that makes you happy.  You want to be able to find a deeper connection with each other than simply using substances and riding on that high.

3. Spending Too Much Time Together Too Quickly

Have you ever seen a relationship go from “nonexistent” to “always together” very quickly? Spending a lot of time with this new person in your life may be fun, but it can cause things to burn out just as quickly.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have boundaries and slow things down in order to learn more about one another before diving in too deep.  Drawing that line can be difficult, but it is worth it in the end.

4. Staying Constantly Connected

Are you constantly texting and messaging with one another? Are you bouncing between Snapchatting, following each other on Instagram, and sending Facebook messages of cute puppies? When you’re in a new relationship, every message you get may be electric and intoxicating.

The excitement these messages bring can lead to the biggest dating pitfall. It’s perfectly healthy to create space and have your own lives while you are dating.  Allow for space, and appreciate the moments you do spend together. 

5. Not Being on the Same Page in Life

Are you established in your career and the person you are dating is still trying to figure out what they want to pursue in life? Are you looking for a committed relationship, but the other person just wants to date? Do you want children in the future, and you meet someone who does not, or perhaps they have children already and are not interested in having more?

These are examples of not being on the same page in your lives. It doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but it does mean you may not want the same things.

Slow things down and take the time to get to know each other over time.  Remember that there are many wonderful people out there, and that connection doesn’t always imply compatibility. 

6. Talking about Your Previous Relationships

Talking at length and in detail about your previous relationships is a common mistake some people make when first getting to know someone new. Focus on the present and getting to know your partner. There is time to learn more about each other and your previous relationships, but sharing too much too soon can send both people into over-thinking spirals. 

If you are still hurting from your last breakup, maybe you’re not ready for a new relationship, which could be unfair to the other person. If you talk a lot about your ex, your first date or two may not turn into more.  Allow yourself the space to grieve the past before diving into the future.

7. Expecting Perfection

You’re on your third or fourth date and discover that the other person isn’t as perfect as you expected. It’s going to happen! 

If you hold everyone to an impossible standard, they will eventually fail. Be understanding and know that everyone is not going to live up to their online profile or the glowing reports from friends who introduce you.

8. Thinking “This Is The One”

Don’t go into a first date wondering if “this is the one.”  It’s not fair to you, or the person going out with you, to put that much pressure on the date.  Just wondering “do I or do I not like this person” is pressure enough!

Why not go into a date thinking, “I hope to meet someone nice,” instead of thinking that they could be “The One.” It takes a lot of pressure off you and them. You might also find that the other person may not be a future romantic interest, but he or she could turn out to be a good friend.

Friendships are nice too!

9. Using Self-Deprecating Humor

Don’t devalue yourself! Even if you feel you have plenty of flaws, it’s a mistake to put yourself down or beat on yourself when dating someone new.

Dating someone new is an opportunity for you to shine. Be proud of your accomplishments and what your goals are in life. You don’t need to boast or talk about yourself constantly, but don’t put yourself down either, even if it’s humorous.

Being confident in yourself will draw people toward you, being down on yourself could push them away.

10. Not Listening

Have you ever had a date that you thought went really well, and were surprised when you never heard back from them?  This might be your pitfall.  After spending a date talking, the talker often perceives the date as having gone well--the listener, not so much.  If you can’t listen effectively on the first few dates, how do you expect to have a relationship? After all, communication is a cornerstone of a good relationship.

You don’t need to have perfect listening skills, but you should be open to learning more about the person in front of you.   Listening, being attuned to what the other person is saying, and being curious and asking questions about what they’re telling you is an excellent way to get to know someone better.

Dating is hard, and everyone encounters pitfalls as they go along.   Acknowledge your own, and do your best to be gracious toward others’.  Hopefully these tips minimize dating mistakes and allow you to make the best of your dating experience.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, is a therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace works with individuals in their 20s and 30s who are exploring identity, values, and driving forces in their lives. If you have found yourself stuck on the merry-go-round of bad dates and are looking to improve communication, listening skills, or self esteem, we can help. Call Grace at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Why Including Meditation in Your Relationship Makes It Better

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By Grace Wood, MA

Most of us think of meditation as a solitary exercise, a quiet way to create inner calm and awareness. Of course, that is very true. Still, you may not have considered how the same soothing practice could help you foster a nurturing and accepting environment for your relationship as well. Over time, you may even find that meditation aids your relationship in surprising ways, expanding insight and intimacy between you your partner.

So, how does including meditation in your relationship improve the way you and your partner interact? Let’s consider four key areas:

1. Meditation Improves Personal Insight 

Every relationship is comprised of two people. The more that each individual knows and understands themselves, the more they will be willing to let their defenses down with their partner. There is less fear of being engulfed in the relationship, being rejected, or being taken advantage of.

Routine meditation gives you a healthy space to check in with yourself and gain internal clarity. Your core beliefs and values are allowed to be noticed but not controlled.

Getting to know yourself at this level of intimacy leads to better self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-compassion. Practicing meditation in your relationship allows you to practice being more authentically you. As you become more secure in yourself, you can interact and set boundaries confidently.

2. Meditation Supports Flexibility Between You and Your Partner

When we feel “stuck” in a relationship, we can often lose the ability to respond to each other well. We may be rigid and inflexible. We forget how to relax, shift gears, or give each other leeway when things get hard.

Negative emotion gets stuck in our bodies and interrupts the flow of positivity and problem-solving energy that we need to work through difficult times.

To expand our abilities to respond to each other in productive ways, we can learn to open ourselves  to a variety of unfamiliar responses. Essentially, meditation can slow down automatic reactions and help you recognize them.

When you make a habit of it, meditation can quickly become a means of injecting conscious, healthy response into your daily interactions.

3. Meditation Makes You Better at” Getting” Each Other 

Research regarding brain health, strong attachments, and effective communication tout the benefits of meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention in the here and now. Exactly where your partner needs you to be when they are sharing with you. Meditation teaches you to be still, listen, tune in. Then you can act with purpose and intention. These skills will make you a dream communicator for the one you love.

 4.  Meditation Promotes Higher Levels of Compassion and Forgiveness

Relationship partners aren’t perfect. Sometimes we say hurtful things. Sometimes we do things we shouldn’t. Meditation helps sift through our behavior without judgment or shame.

The goal is to observe and perceive with less emotion and more intention. This allows you and your mate to look at tough situations with more clarity. In addition, you are more able to allow a feeling to come and go and focus more on the values that drive your relationship. Your shared humanity becomes the focus and giving each other more grace becomes routine.

Keep in mind that meditation is a practice, not a project. Be gentle with yourselves and each other as you learn to do it well. Remember to focus your attention internally first and allow the peace you feel to radiate out and create deeper connection with your partner and others.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with individuals and couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace’s focus lies in helping clients better understand themselves and their relationship through mindfulness practices. To gain more clarity, schedule an appointment with Grace by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

Emotional Awareness: How to Check In With Yourself During Conflict or High Stress

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By Grace Wood, MA

When you have conflict with someone, do you tend to lash out and stomp off? Do you withdraw? Perhaps you hurry to lean in and clear the air?

Conflict and stress are a normal part of life. However, some people struggle more than others with managing their emotions during times of high conflict and stress. 

How good are you at staying clear on what’s going on with you in those moments? Is emotional awareness a skill you know how to use?

It’s okay if you aren’t sure. Many of us have little idea of why stress incites certain feelings in us. We’re often surprised at how hurt, reactionary, or offended we become when communication gets tough.

Fortunately, the better we are at checking in with ourselves and becoming emotionally self-aware, the more at peace we’ll be and the happier our relationships will be.

How do you go about emotionally checking in with yourself?

These tips will get you started:

Ask yourself “How do I feel about this situation?”

Seems too simple, right? Maybe, but don’t skip this step. Slow down and let yourself sit with the question. Stew a bit on your response.

You may find that you’re not as sure as you thought about what emotion you’re feeling.

You could say you were “bothered,” “sad,” or “hurt,” and then move on. But, linger for a minute and clearly name how you feel.

Reflect on which emotions rise the most and feel strongest. Try to be specific, while defining and differentiating the emotions as clearly as you can. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Do I feel combative or aggressive?

  • Do I want to avoid or resist the emotions rising me?

  • Are the emotions I have curious and collaborative?

Emotional vocabulary matters. Clearly identifying your feelings helps you recognize and communicate your emotional needs more effectively.

Check in with, but don’t dive into, your emotions

What does that mean? Stress-based emotions can be intense. To deal with them appropriately usually requires a bit of perspective. As you’re looking at yourself and assessing how you feel, back up a little. Consciously ‘look at’ your feelings and responses as if you were viewing them from the outside. Try to be as objective as possible.

The goal is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow them to inform you, not overwhelm you.

Be an observer, not a fixer

When emotions run high, we can suppress or bury them, ignore them, get upset with ourselves or others, and even indulge in a lot of self-blaming and shame if we aren’t careful.

Checking in on your emotions through mindful observation helps interrupt all of that. It keeps emotions available without subjecting them to judgment.

Essentially, you remain present and attentive to what’s happening inside you. You can then allow the emotions to exist and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Experience your feelings and accept them. It is a key part of knowing how emotions support you or get in your way.

Notice what’s happening in your body for more emotional insight

Your body will tell you a lot about how you are feeling…if you will stop to notice it.  Aside from just observing and naming the emotion, notice your arms and legs, areas of tension in your neck and shoulders, discomfort in your stomach, your facial expression, and clenched or tightened muscle groups. What’s going on with your pulse? Your breathing? Do you feel grounded or physically disconnected?

These factors matter and inform your emotions. Simply stopping to tune into your body can help you recognize unhelpful reactions and change course for the sake of connection and cooperation in your relationships.

Seek cognitive clarity: Triggers, habits, and self-talk

When you are emotionally invested in a partner or other high-stress situation, it’s easy to get stuck emotionally and react irrationally. Thus, you are well-served if you can clearly determine how your emotions build and spill over during tough interactions.

Train yourself to recognize emotional build up. In other words, reflect on what was said, seen, thought, or done prior to stressful circumstances. Ask yourself what was going on before you felt anger, disgust, dismissal, offense, etc.

What triggers you? Which patterns of interaction lead up to fights or play out as you disagree? What are you saying in your head about how you feel about yourself or how you perceive the other person thinks about you?

Finally…

Improving emotional awareness for yourself is vital to healthy relationships. Don’t skip this journey. Seek guidance and support, if needed.

Journaling and working with a therapist are particularly helpful as you practice checking in with yourself. Both can greatly enhance your self-confidence, contextualize your experiences, and help shape more meaningful relationships. As you become more aware and emotionally intelligent you will likely discover that are living a happier and more deeply connected life.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, helps couples and individuals learn how to navigate high conflict situations with different strategies. If you are struggling with identifying your emotions and communicating your feelings effectively to others, Grace can help guide you through this process. Give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.