by Shana James

Over the past few years I’ve started to admit that I had a terrible habit. It took me years to become aware of. And many more years to break it.shana_beach-253x300

Tears have flowed as I’ve come to know what caused the major struggles and conflicts in my past love relationships.

To understand my struggles I had to return to the basics of what creates thriving relationships. It’s like going to a beginner yoga class, after decades of practice, for the postural adjustments that create actual alignment.

So, what is this habit?

Drumroll please!!!!!!
(Not to give it more attention than it deserves, but wow it has put on quite a show!)

The habit has been to defend myself when I felt misunderstood. This defensiveness created tension and disconnection that chipped away at the foundation of my relationships.

A clear example from my marriage are the times when my husband said it didn’t seem like I cared about him.

Though I’d been practicing the basics of NVC for many years, finally reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book helped illuminate this destructive dynamic.

I felt so much shame about being seen as “someone who didn’t care for others” (especially my partner!), I would blow up.

“Are you serious?” I’d exclaim.

“You don’t see all the ways I am caring for you? You act like I’m not on your side. I show you care but you don’t even notice!”

With the NVC lens I would have noticed his feelings and needs. I could have said something like: “It seems like when I said X, you felt angry that you weren’t getting the care you wanted.”

With an Authentic Relating lens I could have had my attention on “getting his world” and really understand what it was like for him to feel that way.

With either approach I would have allowed the attention to stay on him, rather than making his feelings mean something about me. Eventually we could have come to a shared reality about his feelings and needs.

Working for more than a decade as relationship coach and course leader with The Integral Center, The Authentic Man Program and The Authentic Woman Experience, I’ve had a front row seat on all kinds of relationship dynamics.

I see how common it is for people to tend to defend ourselves when we’re afraid there’s something wrong with us -- when we don’t think we live up to certain standards or when we judge ourselves based on expectations we attempt to follow.

There are also times when we feel tired, pressured, or need our own support. It’s easy to miss that a person’s expression points to his/her own needs and feelings, rather than thinking there is something wrong or bad about us.

Knowing what situations “push you over the edge” is the best way to stop them before they start.

Take a few minutes right now to think of three situations where you blew up, or felt like you were going to.

What happened? What did the other person say or do? What did you say or do?

What did you think you needed to defend about yourself?

An example could be that when someone tells you what to do, you start to feel s/he doesn’t trust you and you need to defend to your trustworthiness.

Or when someone tells you to repeat yourself, you suddenly feel stupid and feel the need to defend your intelligence.

Learning to transform our reactions into consciously chosen responses makes the difference between a crash and burn relationship and one that thrives.

Authentic Relating and Circling have both helped me deepen my sense of self-worth and deserving. The less shame I’ve felt over the years, the more consciously I can respond.

Having learned this lesson often enough, I’m here to help. I love supporting people with deepening relationships through Circling, NVC, and Authentic Relating tools.