"Now, say you're sorry and hug it out."
Apologies are often overlooked as a vital part of relating. If we do apologize, we often do as we were taught as children; a quick "Sorry" and shrug. Then, we're good, right?
These kind of apologies do not provide the relational depth and empathy required to not only repair what was damaged, but to heal and enhance our trust and understanding of one another. Yes, a good apology can actually build trust!
As I write this, I am painfully aware of my difficulty apologizing. Perhaps it is because I simply do not practice this art form enough and therefore it can seem pretty clumsy. Even more, I understand that a good apology requires me to completely humble myself, and choose to vulnerably put myself in the shoes of the person I hurt. This, in turn, hurts me! And then acknowledging out loud that I have done wrong hurts my ego!
Brene Brown says in her animated short on empathy, that in order to be empathetic, you must connect with something within yourself that knows that same feeling you are trying to understand. Empathy, she says, fuels connection. This is because everyone wants to be known and understood. A truly intimate relationship (friendship, marriage, sibling, parent, partner) is built on the foundation of fully knowing and accepting another while also being fully known and accepted by that same person.
Therefore, when we harm another person, either intentionally or not, we are left with the opportunity to connect with them more deeply by coming to them and apologizing sincerely and empathically.
"Apology - an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret"
So, what makes a good apology?
A great, empathic apology will start with a concession of responsibility or fault. I will acknowledge that this is almost always challenging because most, if not all, situations involve more than one guilty party. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine your part in the problem. But try you must! Take responsibility for harsh words spoken or actions taken, showing your desire to understand by recounting all offenses you have committed. (When key details are overlooked, the offended party may not feel entirely understood.)
Then demonstrate that you have taken the time to consider how your actions have impacted them by using emotion-words. This is hard for many people since most of us don't have a large vocabulary of feelings. The more specific you can be, the more comforted the offended will feel. They will feel most understood and cared for if you are able to connect exactly how the event left them feeling about themselves, you, or the relationship.
Next is the "sorry" part. Here's where you communicate your regret for your actions, letting the person know that you do not wish to repeat said offense. This is a big part of rebuilding trust because it offers a stated desire to learn from the experience and grow from it, rather than committing repeated offenses in the future. This needs to communicate that you are not just sorry for getting caught and feeling guilty, but rather, you are grieved by that person's experience.
Finally, request forgiveness. That's right, an apology does not end at "sorry". A deep, empathic apology that is created in vulnerability also requires the most humble posture: a request to be absolved from the offense. Forgiveness is a monster of a topic in and of its own. I suggest referring back to my post, Clarifying Forgiveness, for more information. For the sake of this post, however, if you are requesting forgiveness, you must understand that the choice to grant it belongs to the offended party ONLY. This is not something that you can beg or plead for and definitely not something to require or guilt someone into. Allow that person time to take in what you have said and determine if and when they are ready to forgive.
Simple, right?! This is not an easy process. Conflicts are normally swept under the rug or put away perhaps mainly because it is takes so much courage to be vulnerable and humble. In contrast to avoiding reconciliation which leads to disconnection and resentment, a good apology will create and grow a deeper, more intimate, and satisfying relationship. I challenge you to give it a try.
The last blog post addressed some sexual myths that mainly concerned women, although everyone should be aware of these cultural prejudices. This week will focus on some of the cultural messages that target men. Though men are generally believed to have a louder voice, sexually, the loudest voice is not within the couple. Society has validated many harmful beliefs that ultimately harm men and injure the relationship.
Perhaps the most pervasive and far from true belief is regarding a man's sexual understanding.
"Men are the experts...or sexperts."
Culture has put unrealistic expectations on men. This may seem obvious, but really consider everything you've seen in popular media. Boys, starting at a young age, will brag about their sexual knowledge, making dirty jokes and throwing out sexual vocabulary in the locker room, usually without actually knowing what they're talking about. Social pressures inform young men that they must know it all.
Additionally, it has become permissible for women to measure the sexual competency of a man by his ability to bring her to climax, without any kind of verbal coaching. Have you noticed anyone talking to one another in the sex scenes of movies? She may also be a more passive participant in the sexual encounter, giving him the physical responsibility to “make it happen.” The pressure here can be overwhelming and may contribute to certain performance-anxiety-induced-sexual-dysfunction.
Gentlemen, you have the privilege and the challenge to LEARN about what makes your lady tick. She will change, depending on the time of the month, her mood, the stresses she is currently undergoing, and her age and stage. This will be a continual learning process that she should readily and willingly engage in. By experimenting and listening to her coaching, the two of you will enjoy a deep satisfying sexual experience.
As for frequency, much like women, it will vary as much as there are men. Assuming a man will want sex at least daily will plant seeds of concern when he in reality doesn’t.
A couple sits in my office, at opposite ends of the couch, describing their sex life as “disappointing” and “frustrating”. After inquiring further, I learn that sexual pain has prevented intercourse and they now choose to avoid sexual interaction all together. That, along with comparisons to previous sexual partners, has left both feeling either broken, undesired, disappointed, and hurt. They both want to connect with one another sexually, but fear entices them to avoid those encounters, as if to avoid further rejection or discouragement.
The interaction between this couple, though heartbreaking, represents a common belief system about sex and intimacy; that is, the definition of [heterosexual] sex is vaginal penetration which leads to orgasm. This extremely limited definition will lead many couples to disappointment about their sex life and their own sexual capabilities. In fact, this narrow expectation of sex may actually drive people away from intimacy.
One of the biggest issues with this narrow perspective is it limits our sexual experiences and minimizes any other sexual expression. A couple that is not able to have vaginal penetration, due to medical complications, sexual dysfunctions, etc, are left to believe that what they have left to express their love physically is missing the mark or not as intimate as intercourse, when in fact, the array of other sexual activities may prove to be more physically enjoyable and intimate than intercourse.
More importantly, however, this belief emphasizes that the apex of the sexual experience is the orgasm rather than the intimate connection. If sex is all about achieving orgasm, then it becomes a performance with a physical end-goal in mind. When that is not achieved, for whatever reason, a couple will experience disappointment and withdrawal. Whereas, if the intent of becoming sexual with a spouse is to express love in a physical form, then whatever is done within that interaction, which edifies both people, will achieve its end. With or without the orgasm, with or without the vaginal penetration, the couple has the opportunity to make love and connect with each other in a very deep, profound, and intimate way.
A healthy sex life for a couple is deeply profound and has the power to draw them closer together or put a rift between them. Sex and intimacy can be challenging during certain seasons of our lives. Therefore, I urge couples to be proactive about that aspect of their lives. Nurture your sex lives with time, energy, love, and compassion. And if it is hurting or unhealthy, seek some help to get you back on track. It will be worth it.
When Sex Hurts, by Andrew Goldstein, MD, Caroline Pukall, PhD, and Irwin Goldstein, MD, is a fantastic resource to women who are experiencing sexual pelvic pain. Perhaps most admiring about this work is how affirming the authors are about this extremely personal topic. Where many women who are experiencing challenging pelvic pain are met with criticism and disbelief, Drs. Goldstein, Pukall, and Goldstein offer unending understanding and validation. They quite consisely describe the various types of sexual pain disorders and offer encouragement for correlating treatment.
Anyone who has experienced unrelenting sexual pain knows frustration and hopelessness. This book will offer hope in the midst of confusion and empower readers to seek the treatment they require. Though it is written with a largely medical perspective and lacks a sufficient overview of psychological aspects of sexual pain disorders, I highly recommend this book to anyone navigating these extremely difficult waters.
Today, in Portland, is the first real day of Spring. There is not a cloud in the sky and you can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. All the local people, starving for Vitamin D, are walking, biking, jogging, or relaxing outdoors. No need to wear reflectors, our pale skin seems to do the job just fine.
The first day of Spring is always so exciting. For those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it is exuberant to bask in the sunshine. We are filled with an energy where previously was fatigue. The weather, and certainly the added physical activity, is so good for us, both bodily and emotionally.
Today, the sun filled me not only with energy, but also hope. This season reminds me of new beginnings and a renewed sense of purpose. Just as I can begin to anticipate hiking and camping trips now that the weather looks more appropriate, a person stepping out of the dreariness of there own personal winter can begin to look ahead to greater, more rewarding adventures. Spring reminds us that we are not forever stuck in our depressive hibernation, but that renewal and the changing of seasons does, indeed come. I will not take this reawakening for granted, but rather I will let it wash over me, a refreshing new perspective and hope for what is ahead.
I have struggled to know what to do with this blog. Should it be an outpouring of my ultimate wisdom?...let's hope not. Or perhaps an opinion column?...No one wants that. Instead, I thought it best to keep it relevant. As I aspire to be the best counselor I can be, I spend significant time reading or conversing with others and drawing principles from them that I feel would benefit everyone. There are definitely topics that most people wrestle with, and as I learn more about these I hope to write about what inspires me and what makes me excited to share with others.
One topic, in particular, is Shame versus Guilt. I feel it might be foolish of me to attempt to clarify this in one blog post, but regardless, I'm giving it a go. To put it simply, guilt is a reaction we feel in response to poor decisions or actions that we have committed. This is a fantastic natural tool because it alerts us that whatever we did was either harmful to ourself or others. It is meant to motivate a correction of that behavior or an attempt to make amends. That's it. End of story.
Obviously, there are complicating scenarios that make resolving wrongful behavior difficult, but dealing with it directly is the solution to resolving guilt. Instead of a person assuming that guilt is the problem, they can instead see it as a saving indicator that correcting behavior is needed. Once a person has found resolution, however that may look, they can forgive themselves of whatever went wrong and move on. Easy, right? Well, perhaps not.
Many of us have a difficult time feeling released from this guilt. We carry it as a burden that then defines who we are and, often, dictates future behaviors. I might suggest that what we are defining as guilt is actually shame. Shame, from how I understand it, is a label or an identity that is not necessarily based on wrongful behavior or poor decision making but rather how one identifies themselves. To simplify the difference a bit more, guilt is "I did something bad" while shame is "I am bad".
To complicate this a bit further, shame is often rooted in the harmful actions of others, not the person experiencing this deep pain. Survivors of abuse, whether that be sexual, physical, verbal, neglect, or otherwise, often identify themselves as unworthy, dirty, unloveable, or just plain bad. It's horribly sad to think that a terrible experience, like abuse, would somehow change a person's value. Yet this is so incredibly prevalent. Shame is the most powerful and, simultaneously, false emotion that an individual can have.
Regardless of fault, when we struggle to see ourselves as valuable and worthwhile or are finding ourselves stuck in a spiral of maladaptive habits and behaviors, it may be time to sort out shame. Like mold, it grows in dark, damp, lonely, and secretive corners. Shine light and truth on shame and it will dry up.
Portland based Counselor sharing latest book reviews and emotional health tips.