Sometimes when I am with a client, they are experiencing an emotional crisis in a relationship.
Whether or not the crisis is acute or chronic, it is helpful to have what I like to call, “psychological flashcards,” to turn to in moments of emotional distress.
When one is in an emotional crisis with an attachment figure, it is not easy to respond rationally.
Imagine the last time you were in an argument with your partner, spouse, or loved one about a heated topic.
Usually, your rational brain gets hijacked.
The psychological flashcards are a great tool to “grab,” when our brains are flooded with emotion. Relationships can trigger some of our deepest, unconscious wounds. Flashcards are practical and can be soothing for those moments of fear in crisis.
Here are some of the most common flashcards you can utilize when you feel the panic coming on during an argument with a loved one:
Don’t take things personally
Don Miguel Ruiz includes this as one of his Four Agreements.
When clients take things personally, they are often giving certain individuals more power over them than they deserve. They trust someone else to tell them who they are, instead of relying on that which they know to be true about themselves.
It’s not about me
You take your partner on a meticulously planned excursion that cost you a lot of money, and you spent days looking forward to and planning.
You get home that evening and your partner says, “well, that was exhausting.” This is normal. It’s not about you as a partner.
Your partner has a right to his or her opinion and feelings about the day. There is a primitive voice inside of us screaming, “it is about me!!” You have to do your best to ignore that voice, and remind yourself that it is not always your fault.
*Footnote: If you had improper “mirroring” from your parents as an infant, accepting the flashcards, “it’s not about me,” or “don’t take things personally,” might be more challenging for you.
Emotional mirroring is a phenomenon whereby a caregiver mimicked nonverbal cues when you were a baby, such as facial expressions or words. This process is often unconscious but shows empathy and attunement.
It helps an individual develop a sense of his or her internal world, and sense of self. We are rarely aware of it, but as an infant, having mommy or daddy “in sync” with us is crucial to our emotional development.
If there are constant mirroring failures, we become emotionally stunted, and our sense of self may develop in a distorted way.
Watch the show
We think that control eliminates anxiety.
In actuality, needing “to control” causes us more anxiety, and anxiety to those around us. Stand back and watch the show.
Stop trying to direct and control your partner. When there is a chaotic emotional moment, see how it feels to watch it unfold, rather than participating directly in the chaos.
No one is an expert on my feelings except for me
You are the expert on your feelings. No one else can tell you how you feel. Let me repeat – you are the expert on your feelings!
One member of a couple will often tell the other member of a couple how that person is feeling, in an attempt to control chaotic emotional responses. However, when one of the members of the couple does this, it demonstrates a lack of psychological boundaries on the part of the attacking partner, usually leading the attacked partner to desire physical distance.
Take opposite action
When you are feeling depressed after a fight with a partner, watch a funny movie, or laugh. Call a friend or take a walk. Our brains are wired to unconsciously continue the negative ruminations. When we consciously take opposite action, we stop this cycle in its tracks.
Think before you react
This one sounds easy, but in practice, is quite difficult.
Again, when we are in a heated argument with a significant other, it can be easy to spew words out.
Take a minute to breathe, and collect yourself emotionally. Step back and think through what is coming out of your mouth. Are you hurling “you” statements at your partner? Are you reacting from a place in the past, or related to a former relationship? Slow things down.
Sometimes every action of another is meant to induce you to react. Notice the induction. Do not be induced!
The “rejecting other” can simultaneously be the “loving other”
Many individuals have a hard time fathoming that someone can love them, while simultaneously experiencing pain or rejection at the hands of that same person. When some individuals feel rejected or abandoned, it is as if love has never existed.
It is helpful to remember that “the rejecting other” in that present moment, can also be the person who loves you. Both love and rejection can co-exist at the same time!
There is always another emotion underlying anger
Usually, when people are mean or angry, it is because they are scared or hurt. Anger is a secondary emotion.
This does not mean it is acceptable for someone to hurl insults or to say very hurtful things to you. Stand up for yourself when necessary.
This is an important flashcard.
Listening is the key to effective communication with our partner.
We tend to forget this when our emotions are flared. If someone brings an issue to the table, let them complete their thought, and feel seen and heard, before you bring your own feelings, thoughts and emotions to the discussion.
Ask them questions about how they feel. Summarize their feelings and attune to what they are actually saying, without jumping in. Once they are done, you can then ask if you may discuss your response to the issue and how you feel about it.
Everything is impermanent
This is one of the four noble truths of Buddhism. Nothing lasts forever. Feelings ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean. No matter how insurmountable it may feel in the moment, this too shall pass.
I can’t always “fix it.”
You do not have control. Let go.
Type A personalities have a hard time with this flashcard. In times of emotional chaos, we immediately want to problem-solve or fix. Sometimes we just need to listen and make room for the grief, loss, or pain. Make space for it.
Find your voice
Do not let your voice, your desires, or your wishes get drowned out by your partner.
Make sure to locate your voice in times of uncertainty. Your voice is a key to creativity, expression and self-esteem, and will ultimately make you a better partner if you honor it.
Be alone in the presence of another
This is another key to healthy intimacy and relationships.
You cannot depend on your partner for your happiness or for your emotional, financial, or physical wellbeing. You must learn to be alone in the presence of another.
Take responsibility for my feelings only
You must take responsibility for your own feelings.
They are yours, and yours alone. You unconsciously will project your emotions and feelings onto others. Taking responsibility for your own feelings and emotions helps you to recognize what is yours, and what is not yours.
We need to have psychological boundaries with others to be close to others and to develop true intimacy.
If we do not develop psychological boundaries, we end up carrying split off parts of others’ personalities – such as shame, opposition, fear, etc.
We become the receptacle for which the emotions are projected on to.
When an individual is psychologically intrusive, others tend to put up physical boundaries, such as leaving the room or leaving, period. This is usually the opposite outcome of what is desired by the other. Having our psychological boundaries invaded can also create resentment.
What are my values?
Clarify your values.
Create a list and write down the top ten things that are most important to you.
What values do you want to live by? Do you value family time over money? Do you value power over knowledge? What types of people do you respect and admire? Who do you surround yourself with?
Let go of ego
The first half of life is dedicated to forming a healthy ego.
A two-year-old is slowly forming its sense of self, and it is imperative the child has a big ego.
Emotionally, in adulthood, you should be at the stage of letting go of your ego, not grasping on to it.
So, the next time you are in crisis in a relationship, remember that you always can have your psychological flashcards in your back pocket.
Over time, the flashcards will become an ingrained part of your emotional response, coping tools, and psyche.