Early on in life our parents, teachers and other family members teach us the importance of “taking turns” – an important lesson because it’s learning the value of patience and courtesy. Knowing how to take turns becomes even more important as we move forward in life as adults, as we build relationships and alliances with others that we need in order to sustain. But adult “reason” can get in the way of this – making some people, events, and things more important or convenient. This can be hurtful.
As adults we are more apt to apply judgment as to why some things are more important than others. We can slight people without knowing because our reasons seem just, so it is easy to assume they should be accepted by others. When we do this, we block other people from having experiences that they need to feel valuable and “part of.” We also block people from truly being known and appreciated outside of the roles that we tend to put them in.
A couple of types of situations come to mind. One is the position of “mother.” I have many clients in my West Chester and Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA based counseling practice who are mothers. Their lives are busy with raising children and taking care of their families. They are the nurturers and always aiming to make things better for the people they love. Through their commitment to their families they often sacrifice of themselves. Over the course of years as children grow older and grow up mothers can continue to be viewed as the “givers” and not receive as much. Mothers may not be asked questions about themselves – How they are doing; what is going on in their lives, opinions, and thoughts, etc.. It is easy to overlook that “mother” is also a woman, friend, sister, professional, essentially a person with needs, wants and dreams of her own.
Imbalances can happen with friends, too. For instance, in a friendship between two young women one can be the talker, entertainer, and center of attention while the other can be quieter and go with the flow, but seems to be the “supporter’ or audience for the other. Over the course of years this imbalance can take its’ toll. Perhaps the “go with the flow” friend, realizes that she is no longer amused with her entertaining – high energy friend who seems to dominate conversations and require constant attention. She decides to move on in search of more equitable companions.
There is a time to turn the table and start giving back – Striking balance. This is important in all types of relationships, including friendships, coworkers, spouses, and siblings.
As much as we might not want to take turns and do what we feel is wanted or suits us, taking turns is necessary to relationships. At times we must let go of what we want for the greater good of relationship and of the other person. People can get stuck in roles within families, couples, friendships, workplaces and communities and not have enough room to be more of who they really are. Often, when people are stuck in roles they may either clamor or become withdrawn. Sometimes people do not know what is going on inside of them, but something seems off and there is dissatisfaction and conflict. Roles prevent people from growing – and, we are designed to grow. One cannot have a relationship with a “role” only with a person.
Stepping back and looking at your most important relationships, what do you see? How are you with taking turns? Is there someone or some people in your life with whom you could have a better relationship?
We invite you to explore your relationship skills. Are they working for you? Is there room for improvement? Do you have a friend or family member who might need a refresher?
Human emotions are complex. They are also unique to each and every person. This means that each person experiences emotions differently. If a group of five people who were sad were asked to describe their experience of sadness, we would more than likely get five different responses. Why? Because emotions are private experiences. Emotions are part of a complex tapestry including human temperament, life experiences, relationships, and perceptions. No two people are completely alike.
In my counseling and therapy practice in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia and West Chester, Pennsylvania my clients tell me about their feelings and emotions and how they were responded to by the people in their lives. Since I work with issue involving, addiction, codependency, depression, chronic pain, etc., learning self- care and self- advocacy is of primary focus. In order to build these important skills one needs to learn how validate themselves. This is harder than one might imagine, especially if the person has been exposed or is living in an invalidating environment.
So, what is validation? Validation is to recognize and accept another person’s thoughts and feelings, regardless of whether or not you feel that they should be experiencing them. Validation helps us to develop a sense of self-worth. People who are validated feel reassured that they will be accepted and loved regardless of their feelings, while those who are not validated are more vulnerable to emotional and behavioral problems and relational difficulties.
We can validate another person by paying attention and reflecting back what we heard them share with us, asking questions, and identifying with them. This helps all of us feel “part of” and less alone. We can easily overlook the fact that ignoring others or neglecting to acknowledge them is indeed invalidation. This is why childhood neglect is considered abuse.
Here are a few everyday ways of validating one another. These can be built into how we communicate over the course of time and help improve relationships.
We can validate one another quite readily if we pay attention and seek out opportunities to do so. Validation strengthens relationships, communities and reduces conflict.
What is your experience with validation?
Not long ago, I was privy to a conversation between two women who met up with one another at a professional event. It was apparent that they had not seen one another for a long time as they hugged and expressed excitement about running into each other. One woman commented to the other on how healthy and happy she looked, saying “You look really great! And that dress is lovely.” The other woman replied, “Actually, I gained so much weight…and, this dress? It was a bargain at TJ Maxx…$10.00. Can you believe that?” The woman who gave the compliment stepped back and was quiet. There was an awkward pause between them. Where does one go after that?
Most of us were taught to say “Thank you” when receiving a compliment. However, debunking a compliment or acknowledgement can come about quite naturally – Out of habit. One might feel uncomfortable with the attention, not want to appear selfish or feel self-conscious when noticed and in turn think it is okay to not take the compliment. It can, however, present a problem for the “giver” of the compliment. Rejecting the compliment actually discounts the observations and intentions of the giver. It says, “You are wrong. I don’t want your compliment. I am not open to you. I don’t like myself.” It is a block to connection and relating. Rejecting an acknowledgement such as a compliment or act of kindness can be experienced as very invalidating by the other person.
So many acts of kindness are rejected in this manner – Whether it is an invitation to lunch, holding the door for someone, not allowing a birthday gift to be given…There are so many examples both large and small of heart centered generosity gone awry.
Deep down inside, each one of us wants to receive. That is just human nature. “Give and take” is built into our primal template of survival skills. We give in order to belong and to build cooperative relationships with others as well as to plant the seeds for being able to take later when we need to. Without the dynamic of give-and-take, civilizations would crumble and cease to exist. Give and take is a necessity. Giving and receiving has a deeper meaning and is more intentional rather than transactional. Receiving is about connecting.
Receiving is different than “taking” in that it involves being aware of the giver, what is being given, as well as the intentions of the giver. It requires being able to receive and truly say “Thank you” and take in the emotions that come along with generosity, such as gratitude, happiness and, at times, awkwardness. Receiving with accountability builds true relationships – allowing for vulnerability and intimacy.
Many of the worlds religions emphasize “One must receive for the sake of giving.” If no one chooses to receive or cannot receive graciously, then no one can give nor can be acknowledged or known. It diminishes the possibility of the wholehearted connection which we claim to want the most.
How are your receiving skills?
Have you ever been talking with someone and, before you can even finish your sentence, they interrupt to share their own thought or finish yours? Or perhaps you are in the middle of making an important point and their attention is pulled away as they check their ringing cell phone, send an email, or reply to a text message. We’ve all watched someone we are talking to nod and even mutter “uh huh” – knowing they didn’t really hear a word we just said.
People notice and can feel when others are not paying attention. These are conversations that leave people feeling unheard and unimportant, and they happen to all of us. In fact, most of us are guilty on a regular basis of listening to others in this same way. Listening with all of our attention is a discipline that needs to be practiced. It is also a skill that pays big dividends in both personal relationships and business endeavors. After all, every part of life is about relating.
In short, how does one develop or hone the skill of listening? Here are a few points to bare in mind in becoming a more skilled listener:
When we become skilled listeners, we provide people around us with a gift that they have rarely been given in their lifetime. For when we truly listen we take others in, learn about them, and acknowledge that they exist. When we listen we also learn more and allow ourselves to truly know others and to challenge our assumptions. Listening facilitates change.
Do you tend to hear people or really listen?
Quote: “Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” ~Rumi
Paula Tropiano is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Co Occurring Disorders Professional Diplomate (Certified at the state level to treat mental health and addiction issues occurring together).
Integrated Treatment Solutions is holistically oriented and applies a self-empowering, solutions focused, skills based approach in treating addictions to alcohol, drugs and other problem behaviors and issues related to mental and physical health. Learn more...