Too Much Togetherness?

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Here’s How to Keep the People You Are Cooped Up with from Getting on Your Nerves

Sue and Sam are both working from home (and their tiny home is feeling tinier by the minute).  Alisha is bored out of her mind and has never felt so alone even though she rooms with Jordan.  And then there is Luz who is losing her mind trying to entertain kids nonstop day in and day out. 

You might be working from home or have children at home–all day long.  Does it seem like every five minutes someone wants something?  And do you find yourself sometimes snapping at those in your home or even those on the screen?

You probably have discovered that criticizing or trying to control the behavior of other people in your life just doesn’t work.  So, what, then, can you do to not have frayed nerves?

First, set aside a personal space and a time of no interruptions for each person in your home.  It’s the constant demands for attention that get on your nerves.   Even in a small home, find a corner where you can set up a table and a chair, or if you have particularly pesky people around, you might even have to close a door or cordon your space off with a rope and hang and sign on it that says “shhh”.  Some private space and a quiet moment can help everyone decompress. But don’t forget to also set aside a mutually agreed upon time to interact.  After all, you don’t want to look like you are never approachable.

Perhaps you can’t avoid those taxing people (you may even be trying to homeschool them), but if you find yourself starting to snap at others, use this phrase instead of the snippy one to state your concern. Fill in the blanks in this phrase: “When you….I feel….and I want/need to…..” For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel harassed and I need to focus on what I’m doing for the next half hour.”  A statement like this does not criticize nor try to control the other person, because there is no “you” in this statement.  It simply states what you are feeling and what you need.

Another way to respond to triggering behavior is to monitor your rising tension or anger so you can do something to reduce it before giving a curt response. Stand up, stretch, and then take 3 slow, deep breaths.  Periodically do this even if you are not tense or angry because it can head off those feelings.  The deep breaths create a relaxation response as well as giving you a moment to re-group and re-focus.  If all of this fails and you catch yourself starting to yell, take a walk outdoors (but do tell the people in your house when you will be back).

Sometimes writing your complaint down on paper instead of saying it can be helpful.  The irritation is then on the paper instead of on your mind and you can even toss that irritation in the trash.  Or you can stash it away for a time when you can voice the complaint more calmly.

A great way to break the cycle of irritation and keep the peace is to say something positive.  Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that it is not the amount of negative statements that dooms a relationship but the ratio of negative to positive statements. For a harmonious relationship there must be five positive communications for every one negative communication.  If a complaint or criticism does slip out, follow it with telling the other person what you appreciate about them.  It will keep them from feeling attacked and defensive, and may remind you why you choose to live with them in the first place.   

It only takes one of you to follow these suggestions and improve your household vibe.  Your choices can create the model for how to treat one another.  Then the people you interact with will tend to follow your lead. An example of the other person following your lead is seen in empathetic communication.  If you put aside your concerns and listen intently to the other person, you will be able to give that person empathetic feedback.  When someone receives empathy, they are more likely to give you empathy. These minor changes can help to create a happier relationship with those at home with you during these trying times.

4 science-based strategies to tame angry political debate and encourage tolerance

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“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”

No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.

As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.

I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?

Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.

Don’t isolate yourself from people with different points of view.

1. Connect

Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.

What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.

2. Find common ground

It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.

An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.

Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.

For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.

3. Communicate

Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.

Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.

You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.

To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.

Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.

Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.

Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.

Be skeptical and learn to recognize when you are being manipulated by divisive content.

4. Learn to critically evaluate media

Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.

Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.

Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.

As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.

(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)

A (Short) Guide To Better Boundaries

I was honored to contribute to this article which appeared on Page 5 of the Wellness Section in the Sunday New York Times on October 30th. boundriesblog

How Flirting Can Become Harassment

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“Oh, I was just flirting” he said, she said.  It didn’t feel like “just flirting”, though.  It felt like harassment.

Two missteps change the flirting dance into one of harassment.

When two people are working on a project they often send each other signals that they are paying attention and are interested in what the other person is saying.  But when are these signals interpreted as flirting and when do they cross the line into harassment? 

Some Nonverbal Signals Indicate Interest

Several nonverbal signals help two people form a cooperative connection, that is important in any relationship. Mutual eye contact, an open posture, and mirroring each other’s movements indicate an interest in the other person. 

Psychotherapists use these signals to encourage a friendly connection.  Sales people use these signals to assure the other person that they are being listened to.  But these nonverbal signals are also the first steps in the flirting dance, which sometimes causes them to be misinterpreted.

Signals of Interest Might Be Misinterpreted as Flirting

Flirting goes beyond showing interest into demonstrating that you are a sexually attractive and available person.  After the initial interest signals, the flirting dance moves into preening.  Men and women both will stroke their hair.  They will highlight parts of their body that can be seen as sexually attractive.   A woman might slightly stroke her thigh or she might push her shoulders back to accentuate her breasts.  Or she might turn the palm of her hand outward or toss her head back to show more of her neck, which indicates harmlessness and submissiveness. A man might extend his strong chin or show off his pectoral muscles, signaling his ability to protect the woman.

A fleeting touch changes the flirting dance from entertainment to overtly sexual. Until this point, the couple may have been having fun and each may feel a boost in self-esteem at having been seen as attractive and interesting by the opposite sex. 

Your Boundaries Are Violated

Oops, the dance has now gone a little bit further than you intended. You did not want to move into touching and being touched.  

So much of flirting behavior is beneath one’s consciousness and is a reciprocal dance.  You send out one signal that then suggests moving to the next part of the dance.  Your partner picks up on this signal and does, indeed, move to the next part of the dance.

Saying Stop

saying noIf you know the sequence, though, you can say “stop” or just not show the reciprocal signal at any point.  If you aren’t aware of the sequence, you may just continue the dance until an uncomfortable touch occurs.  If a private area of the body is touched or grabbed, that is even more sexual.  Or a sexual comment might be uttered, again crossing the boundary of what is verbally appropriate in a non-sexual relationship. Sexting is also a violation of the usual boundaries. 

Sometimes, even indicating you are not interested in a sexual relationship does not stop the other person.  A 2010 study at Northwestern University found that, if a man or woman is in a power position over the other and interested in pursuing causal sex, that person is more likely to believe that the subordinate is sexually interested in them.  This belief then can lead to violating boundaries and it is especially problematic in the workplace.

Flirting Versus Sexual Harassment

If the person whose boundaries are violated wanted a sexual relationship, then it is not harassment.  In fact, a 2012 survey by CareerBuilder of more than 4,000 workers found that 39% said they had dated someone at work.

Sexual harassment occurs when a person skips over the flirting dance and goes directly to the final step of touch.  It is grabbing a sexual encounter instead of earning it and before making sure the recipient is giving consent.  Contacting a person through email or social media with sexual messages when that person does not want them is harassment. Even using sexual or demeaning talk about a gender or about another person is harassment.  And certainly, pursuing a sexual relationship when the other person has indicated “stop,” is harassment.

A person in a subordinate position may feel their job is in jeopardy if they do not submit to a sexual overture.  Yet, being strong enough to say “stop” is now becoming sanctioned.  Sexual harassment has no place in the workplace.

(The complete flirting script can be found in my book, Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life.)

Note: If you find this post helpful, you are welcome to re-post it in your social media.