Monday, October 7, 2013

Love and Challenge # 17: Openness

This is an interesting one because it's something that we don't think of when relating to others, but it's incredibly important and can make the difference between a closed off, distant relationship and a close, accepting one.
The biggest problem is that we humans like things that feel good and bring pleasure and we don't like things that cause us pain. We move toward pleasurable, feel good stuff to get more, and away from things that are painful and feel bad for us to avoid it. Most of the time these aren't even "real" things that are happening in the moment, but stuff that is imagined. We move toward what we believe could bring us pleasure and avoid imaginary painful stuff in the future.
When we are hurt, it's natural for us to want to protect ourselves and we do this by closing down and shutting other people out. It's not that we intentionally want others to keep their distance, but the defenses we use do just this. They make it difficult and sometimes very unpleasant to be around us. We all get defensive at times. The goal is not to never get defensive when we are feeling upset, but instead to open up whenever we become aware that we are being defensive.
The interesting thing is, when we feel the need to protect and defend ourselves is actually when we need love the most. When we shut down and close up is when it would be most useful and most constructive in our relationships to open up and allow ourselves to be loved no matter what. I feel that the simplest way to do this is to extend love, rather than just waiting for someone to extend love to you.
For example, if you are upset, it's very likely that you can actually feel yourself close up. If you can be sensitive and aware, you'll feel the defenses go up like a wall.When I get this way, I call it "putting out the spikes". It actually feels like spikes go up and I push everyone away and writhe in my loneliness. My partner says that's exactly what it feels like for him too.
The moment I feel the spikes come out, I make it my intention to open up completely and to extend love. When I get defensive it's so much easier to stay defensive. I never feel like opening up and I certainly don't feel like extending love at that moment. What I feel like doing is lashing out, letting people know how awful they are and how they made me feel terrible and then running into a cave to cry. But I noticed that that approach has never worked in the past to get me what I really want, which is love in some form. Shocking that when I put out my spikes, blame others and then go hide that they don't come running to be with me and give me love. I noticed this and decided to try the opposite approach, opening up and extending love. The effects were the opposite of the distance that closing down caused. Even if I was feeling very upset only a few minutes before, the moment I decided that I was going to open my heart completely and focus on extending love, the results were amazing. I felt closer to the other person and understood them and their point of view much more. I felt more warm and close and loving than before I became upset. The feeling of defensiveness now has become a trigger that reminds me to open up and extend love.
What do I mean by open up? There might be other definitions for it out there, but what I mean is to let go of what your view point is in the situation and to share yourself authentically, meaning what it is that you truly want. Because it's never to fight and it's never to make the other wrong. You may want validation, affection, more sex, more freedom to be yourself etc. So, the second that you notice that you are feeling defensive, ask yourself: "What is it that I want right now?" or "If I had a magic wand that could make anything happen, what would I make happen right now?" Then, share it with whomever you are feeling defensive around. It's not always easy, but it's so infinitely better than the alternative of either pretending that you're okay or lashing out.

Your challenge for today is to open up. If you have a habit of closing down, you may have trouble with this at first. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. There is power in fake it until you make it, so if this seems a little forced at first that's okay, it will become natural over time. There's a lot to do below, but don't feel pressured to do all six steps below. Do whatever you can to feel open and extend love. These are simply ideas that I'm presenting. You know yourself and your circumstances better than anyone.
  1. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Don't squish it down, repress it, ignore it or distract yourself from it in any way. Defensiveness comes from feeling insecure and insecurity will only increase if you send messages to yourself that what you are feeling is not okay. Feelings want to be acknowledged and they are excellent teachers and guides. If you are feeling defensive or anything else, allow yourself to feel it fully. This is not advice to act from that feeling, this would be detrimental. Simply feel it. Go to the bathroom for a minute or two and sit on the floor and be angry. Let your body be tense if it wants to. Acknowledge whatever it is that you are feeling and allow yourself to fully experience it. It's counter intuitive but often this is enough and you'll find that it's not even necessary to do anything else because the feeling is gone.  
  2. The most important rule is: absolutely do not blame the other for anything that has happened in the past, anything that is happening now or any imagined thing that could possibly happen in the future. No blame of any kind. People can feel when they're being blamed, even if it's very subtle and then they will naturally become defensive. Defensiveness = distance. So, instead of blaming anyone else, take full responsibility. "I'm feeling..." You won't have to worry about it at all if you follow the next step.
  3. Say it in a positive, feel good way. For example, if you feel that your partner withheld sex, you could curl up and go to sleep angry at him and plot your revenge, or you could remember the ultimate intention of always increasing love and closeness and you could choose to open and extend love. Pretending things are fine when you're hurt won't work, blaming him won't work, revenge won't work. What will work is remembering that you hold the key to creating a more loving, joyful, healthy and close relationship in every moment. Take a minute or two to think about what you're truly feeling and what you truly want, with the intention of stating it in such a way that will make him feel good and bring the two of you closer. I will ask for help, I'll say to myself before I speak, "Please let me tell (this person) how I"m feeling and what I want in a way that feels good for both of us and brings us closer." The intention alone will make a huge difference in what you say and how it comes out so you don't need to get the words perfect.  It could be something like: "I love sex with you. You always feels so good and you are looking really good to me right now. I understand that you're tired though and I want you to feel rested." That is open, because it is what you truly feel and what you truly want. You truly enjoy sex with him, he feels good and you'd like to have sex with him now. That's truth. "I hate that you always fall asleep as soon as we lay down," is not what you want, so therefore it isn't truth. It's also extending love because it feels good for him and brings him more well being. This is the kind of dialogue that can create closeness.   super simple template of what you could say goes something like this: "I love (or I had so much fun, I felt so good etc) when (fill in the blank with whatever it is that you are truly wanting). You (fill in the blank with a sincere compliment, something about him that you appreciate or anything else that will specifically make him feel good). I understand that you're tired (busy, moody, hungry, frustrated etc.), I want you to feel rested (relaxed, happy, satisfied, successful)." I was thinking about it and I really miss it (or I had an amazing time, it made me feel so much better, it really helped etc.) If you use pet names (they are excellent for creating intimate feelings) insert one wherever you feel comfortable. You want to create an environment of unity and affection. The purpose here is to open up, which always requires honesty and sharing, but the truth can be stated in many ways. There is no reason to blame, hurt or distance another with your truth and there is always a way to become closer through authentic sharing.
  4. This is not time to make a request. If you were already feeling defensive, placing an expectation for someone else to meet is probably not a good idea. I'm not big on placing expectations on others, I believe that it is the reason for the high divorce rate in our country, but when you've already got walls up it's even worse. Defensiveness is brought on by insecurity and insecurity is a fearful feeling that you create within yourself about either something that has happened in the past that you don't want to be repeated or something that could happen in the future. To be open when you are feeling defensive is easiest if you are present. Allow the other person to respond however they will. Simply be there to listen. No matter how they respond, it's alright because you can't control it and it means nothing about your inherent value or your choice to be open and extend love. You can choose to feel good no matter what. 
  5. Add touch or something that you know feels good for you and then something that feels good for the other person. Why? Because you need to feel better and you also need to extend love. For me, I love being touched so I use that as an example. I touch him more for me than for him because it helps me to open up and put down the defenses. Then, knowing that his favorite way of being given love is to be included, I will do whatever I can to include him. I might tell him a story about something that my mom said about him so he feels included in my family. It must be sincere and it must feel good. 
  6. After you've felt the feeling fully, you've acknowledged it and that is an important step. However, it's important not to get stuck there. Move on. I believe that "working things out" really means, "talking in circles". Have you ever noticed that the more you focus on a problem the bigger it gets? You start arguing about one thing and end up arguing about fifteen things that had nothing to do with it. It's a very rare occurrence that when people try and "work out problems" that they succeed in a lasting way. These are all choices. You could choose to find something else to focus on that makes you feel good. I repeat it again and again because it's extremely important to remember: two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If you are doing something fun or (even better) doing something that makes you lose track of time, you will not be able to think of how hurt you are, or what a jerk he is etc. This is not saying squish the feeling down, remember you acknowledged it already. This is saying forgive, forget and do something to express love to yourself. If at all possible, express love to your partner and do something with him (no matter how small) to bring you closer and create affectionate feelings of love.   

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