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What It Really Means To Be In Love

How to get past your own defenses and learn to build a real relationship?

While many of us may have sensed it intuitively, there is now science behind the statement that “Love is all you need.” A 75-year longitudinal study by Harvard researchers suggests that love is indeed a key to a happy and fulfilling life.

While love seems to be a universally valued attribute, defining it in behavioral terms can be a challenge. As the Harvard study’s lead researcher, Dr. George Vaillant, wrote of his team’s findings, two essential ingredients are proven to correlate with a happy existence: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

While many of us believe we would like to be in love, we face many hurdles in taking the actions that allow love to flow freely throughout our lives and relationships. We have many ways of defending ourselves against love and can struggle to give and receive love with ease, openness, and vulnerability.

With love being so closely connected to meaning and fulfillment, it’s valuable for each of us to define love as an action or series of actions we can take to bring us closer to the people we value. In a romantic context, some essential characteristics that fit the description of a loving relationship include:

• Expressions of affection, both physical and emotional.
• A wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another.
• Tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of the other.
• A desire for shared activities and pursuits.
• An appropriate level of sharing of possessions.
• An ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings.
• The process of offering concern, comfort, and outward assistance for the loved one’s aspirations.

Love includes feeling for the other that goes beyond any selfishness or self-interest on the part of the loved one. As such, love nurtures and has a positive effect on each person’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Love never involves deception, because misleading another person fractures his or her sense of reality.

So how well do we meet these standards for being loving? When we think about a relationship that is meaningful to us, we have to ask:

• Do we both behave in ways that nurture each other?
• Do we take actions to make the other person feel good?
• Do we consider what lights that person up, separate from our own interests?

Too often, we think of love as an almost passive state of being, as opposed to a conscious choice we make. When we regard love as something we simply fall into, we can easily slip into routines with the person we value or lose a sense of separateness and respect. Instead, we view that person as a part of us. We then run the risk of creating a fantasy bond, an illusion of fusion in which real feelings of fondness and attraction are replaced by the form of being in a relationship. In other words, we come to see ourselves and our partner as a single unit. We then fall into roles rather than appreciating each other as individuals and experiencing the exciting, loving feelings that result.

A fantasy bond offers a false sense of security—the illusion that we are no longer alone. However, when we connect to someone in this way, we lose our sense of vitality, and we give up significant aspects of our relationship. The behavioral operations of love are replaced with a fantasy of being in love, which does not nurture either partner.

Relationships tend to go south when we stop taking actions that our partner would perceive as loving and instead start looking to our partner solely to meet our own needs. It’s important to distinguish emotional hunger from real love. Have you ever witnessed a parent hugging a child and wondered whether the hug was intended to comfort the child, offering reassurance and care, or to soothe the parent, taking something from the child? When we reach out to our partner, it can be valuable to examine whether our behaviors are for them or for ourselves. Are we looking to them to fulfill us in some way that is unfair to them? Are we hoping they will make up for an emptiness or hurt from our past?

A couple I’ve worked with recently recognized an example of this dynamic. The wife would often compliment her husband, but he rarely felt acknowledged by her words. When she recounted some of the recent comments she made, she noticed that they were less of a reflection of him and more a reflection on her. Statements like: “Aren’t I married to such a handsome, well-put-together man?” Or: “Haven’t I picked a winner?” didn’t capture qualities that were important to him. They were traits she valued in a partner that reconfirmed her own self-esteem and sense of worth.

Love should never be an act of manipulation. It is not a mark of ownership over another person, but the exact opposite—a genuine appreciation of a person as a separate individual. When we see a person this way, we allow ourselves to fully value them for who they are and for the happiness they bring to our lives. We are driven to be generous toward the person, to show compassion and kindness in a way that both they and the outside world would view as loving.

Of course, there are many barriers we put in place that not only keep us from finding this type of relationship but from achieving it with the person we love. One reason we wind up in less-than-loving relationships is the ways we were treated in our past. We may have become familiar with family dynamics in which we were rejected or intruded on, in which case we tend to seek out or recreate these same dynamics in our adult relationships. To become more loving thus means recognizing ways we self-sabotage: How are we recreating past hurts in our current relationships?

As we reflect on these behaviors, we learn a lot, not only about how we interfere with our naturally loving feelings for others but about the negative ways we feel about ourselves. It’s difficult to express love outwardly when we don’t feel our own sense of self-worth. One of the biggest reasons we shut out love is because we feel unworthy or self-denying. Therefore, to have a loving relationship, we must challenge our negative self-concept or critical inner voice. When we do this and take the loving actions that contradict our critical self-image, we enhance our own sense of worth and are able to get closer to the people we love.

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Choosing Your Friends Wisely

Take a moment and think of those people.

Who are they? How close are you to them? What do they do with their lives personally and professionally? Are they ambitious, successful, happy, optimistic, and enthusiastic? What are their core beliefs about work, money, life, family, health, spirituality, and their body?

Most of us have had the same friends, or group of friends for a long time. Perhaps, we’ve known them since birth or were childhood friends. Or perhaps you have made new friends as adults, but they have become your community or new family.

The reality is that we are a direct representation of those who surround us. It’s inevitable that whoever we surround ourselves with, we eventually become like. For some, this is fantastic because you have surrounded yourself with authentic people who push and encourage you. For others, its detrimental to their growth.

Most of us surround ourselves with toxic people. Now I’m not talking about people who are malicious, rude, mean or hateful (although perhaps). I am defining toxic as people who are unmotivated, uninspired, zap your energy or discourage you, encourage you to stay stagnant, hold limiting, fear-based beliefs, or simply don’t ever push themselves to become their best self.

If you are on a path of growth, change and ultimate healing of your body, mind or soul – you ‘have’ to look at your friendships. This is one of the hardest things you will ever be faced with doing. I know that none of us like to rock the boat, and no one wants to appear better than someone else. But this is a MUST!

If you don’t rid yourself of unhealthy friendship, you cannot live as your best self. You will be stunted in your growth, and ultimately participate in self-sabotage.

People have a hard time with this lesson, and be in relationships all their life that does not serve their highest good. They serve them, and have some heart breaking, and devastating experience with this that results in a period of deep loneliness and grief, which is never healthier in life! Change is rapid and growth is abundant.

Choosing Your Friends Wisely:

  • Make a list of people that you need to reduce time with in your list of 5 people. Have the conversation if you need to, or slowly create some healthy distance. This takes time and emotional processing.
  • Make a new list of people that you want to be friends with. Don’t know anyone yet? List out what the attributes of the person would be. Are there people you know, but have never met? Write down the names of those people.
  • Find Your People. Seek out groups, clubs, activities where those people would hang out. Attend conferences those people would attend. Read the blogs your friends would read. Project and it will come.
  • Date New Friends. When you’ve lost a support network, you may feel desperate for friends. Date new potential friends. Find out from the beginning if they are takers, drainers or destroyers. Ask the right questions from the beginning and see what motivates them.
  • Cultivate Authenticity from the Beginning. In order for you to not slip back into your old patterns, you have to be authentic from the get go. Share your real self from the beginning. Share your path of growth and change; share your excitement and passion. Don’t edit, be YOU.
  • Be Open. Your new friends may not look, dress or talk like your old friends. Be open to finding your soul sisters and brothers in new places and faces.

Change is necessary for growth. Don’t shy away from this. You are not a mean, selfish person if you need to lose or ‘dump’ some friends. Remember that those people have been great for the time you have spent with them, but they are no longer resonating with the truth in your heart and certainly not helping you shine bright.

It’s time for you to shine bright! Surround yourself with people that inspire you! Your environment impacts every decision you make. Choose those friends who leave you feeling alive, grateful and inspired.

You deserve to be with people and in environments that support your BEST self!

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Tips To Confront Friends Who Are Ignoring You

1. Don’t think about it too much, it can cause stress to you.

2. If they keep ignoring you, do your best to stay away from them and don’t spend weeks mourning over them. If they’re not your friend, it’s their loss.

3. Don’t get stressed over it; if your friends have walked away from you they’re probably not true friends, and so aren’t worth being upset about.

4. Be grateful for everything and everyone you do have, instead of mourning the people you don’t have. You will have a new beginning.

5. Come to terms with the fact that most friends are expendable. This happens to people who have been lifelong friends all the time; when someone no longer needs you they will show their true colors. If they choose to stop being friends with you when they no longer need your company, then they were never true friends to begin with.

6. Try talking them in real life, not over social websites like Facebook and MSN or using texts. You can then judge the sincerity of their words and their body language.

7. If they start to be mean, as in talking behind your back or just straight up bullying, ask them about it. If you feel that would end badly, then simply keep your head up and realize they are not worth your time.

8. If it doesn’t work out, just move on, even though it’s hard to let go sometimes.

9. Give them some time. Maybe something is changing in their life or they’re undergoing self-reflection. If they reach out to you later, consider accepting their olive branch to restart your friendship.

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How To Confront Friends Who Are Ignoring You?

There may well be occasions in your life when your so-called “friends” abruptly cease to talk to you and pretend that you are no longer there. Finding out the reasons for this can be difficult but if you really want to face them, here are some suggestions for doing so.

1. Evaluate your interactions with your friend(s) and make sure that they are actually ignoring you. You might just be over-analyzing the situation and thinking that they are ignoring you, when really they are going through something else in their life that has affected all of their friendships.

  • Compare how much you and your friend used to interact with how much you’ve been interacting lately. Is it a drastic change?
  • Compare how much you and your friend interact with how much they interact with their other friends and your mutual friends. Are they hanging out with others but still ignoring you?
  • Consider whether your friend has recently gone through a life-changing event (e.g., a family death, depression, etc.) that might negatively affect their ability to maintain friendships. If this is the case, you should give them time and space. If you feel it’s appropriate, you can point out that you understand your friend has just gone through something tragic, but you really miss them in your life and wish that you two could rekindle your friendship. Be kind, and don’t add additional stress to your friend, but do reach out to let them know that you’d like to spend more time with them.
  • Think about your recent previous interactions, and see if any situations come to mind in which you could have offended or hurt your friend. Did you say something behind their back that you knew you shouldn’t? Did you make an insensitive joke or comment? If you have a history of offending this friend, you might be right that they are trying to avoid you, and you should seek amends by initiating an apologetic conversation.

2. Choose a strategy. Is it just a single friend who has started to ignore you, or is it a group of friends? Approach each situation slightly differently:

  • For a single friend: you may like to approach your friend during a quiet time when your friend is not around other people. If this is not possible at school, then try to see them after school. If your friend has started spending time with a new friend, don’t try to interfere while this person is around or they will likely close ranks together. Try to get your friend alone for a talk.
  • For a group of friends: select the weakest. This means to choose the friend you know is most likely to be feeling unhappy about snubbing you and get him or her to spill the beans away from the group. Corner them in the bathroom, in the library or after school. Anywhere, as long as you can be one hundred percent sure that no-one else from the group will see and prevent this friend from talking.

3. Ask them what’s wrong. Don’t cry, wring your hands and beg. Just be straightforward and tell them that you simply want to understand why they appear to no longer want your friendship. Be straightforward and use words such as “I feel”, “I am upset by” and “I am confused about” etc., so as to avoid starting a blame game. Try to give the friend space to talk instead of becoming defensive.

4. Accept that they might or might not tell you. Sometimes a friend outgrows a friend. This can be a horrible lesson to face in life and sadly, some people are not well-socialized enough to be open and honest about changes in their feelings about a friendship. For these people, ignoring you is a way of coping with their own feelings of pain, confusion and inability to be forthright. At this point in time, if they continue to ignore you, it may be time to call it quits and move on.

5. Remember that sometimes they may be ignoring you because you have upset them. This is more likely to happen with a single friend, although if you upset a key member of a group the rest of the group can react to it. If this is the case, you need to go straight for the source. Don’t mess about with the fringes of the group, go to the person you’ve annoyed and sort it out, just the two of you.

6. Try to make new friends and leave your old friends alone for a while. When you aren’t around anymore, they might realize that you are upset at them. If they try to talk to you, don’t be difficult with them. They might have been ignoring you for a good reason.

7. Never get angry with them while talking. If they get extremely aggressive or violent, then walk away and leave them be. Read their body language and their tone to try and find out how they really feel. If they seem stressed do everything you can to convince them to talk through it with you. But be honest with them. Tell them how you feel, and make sure you are clear about how they feel as well. Honesty is always the best policy, at least in the long run.

8. Listen carefully to what they are saying and write down what you think they are feeling.

9. Even if you may be feeling angry, don’t look like you are angry. This shows your friend that you are not trying with them and you don’t care just take deep breaths.

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