Domestic violence and fair negotiation

Blog Post No.150 (159)

By Dr Jim Byrne

Posted on 25th December 2017. (Previously posted on 27th December 2016 and 6th December 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Christmas conflict in families and couples

The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2017

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Introduction

Domestic-violenceEvery Christmas, the incidence of domestic violence increases significantly, because of the stresses and strains of the Christmas and Winter Holiday madness, whipped up by marketing gurus, to promote sales of unnecessary ‘stuff’. But also because of the lack of commitment to equality in relationships (which most often involves male domination, except when it involves female domination!)

But the underlying weaknesses, which allows domestic violence to emerge, is cultural conditioning, or the lack thereof.  A fully functioning democratic and humanistic culture would outlaw any form of the use of violence to settle our differences, at home, at work or in international relations.

In this blog post, I set out to review two principles that are important to happy and healthy couple relationships.

Those two principles come from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[1].

However, because of pressure of time and space, I had to settle for reviewing just one principle this time. (I’ll review the second one next week!)

Duluth-equality-wheel002The principle that I am reviewing is one of eight from the Equality ‘wheel’, and this is it: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners.

I review this principle in the context of the fact that Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague from the world of Rational therapy (REBT) refuses to discuss fairness issues with his couples therapy clients because (he says) he cannot identify any objective criteria for judging what is fair and what is unfair. 

However, in the process of reviewing the principle of negotiation and fairness, below, I will outline some very obvious criteria for assessing the presence or absence of fairness in couple disputes.

Elaboration

Duluth-model-coursesJust over a year ago, I introduced the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and I said I would return to that subject, and explore the two wheels which they use to teach the distinction between unhelpful and unjustifiable ‘Power and control’ approaches to couple relationships, on the one hand, and civilized and indispensable ‘Equality’ approaches, on the other hand.

Each wheel contains eight principles, and the Duluth project advocates the use of the eight ‘equality principles’, and rejects the use of any of the eight principles of ‘power and control’.  In brief, this means that the appropriate way for a couple to relate to each other is from a basis of equal status, and an immoral and illegal way to relate is through the abuse of power to control the other person.

It seemed to make most sense for me to tackle this distinction by reviewing pairs of principles, one from each wheel.  However, in practice I have found that, because of space constraints, I cannot review two principles in one blog post – so I will review one ‘equality’ principle this week, and one ‘power and control’ principle next week.

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Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

Michael-EdelsteinThis week I want to begin by reviewing the ‘equality principle’ of ‘negotiation and fairness’.

My way of going about this, to begin with, is to refer back to the debate I had, in 2010, with Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague of mine in the world of Rational therapy (REBT).  Michael is a clinical psychologist who lives in San Francisco, practices REBT, was born in Brooklyn, NY, completed his academic psychology training in New York City, attended the REBT Institute from its physical inception in 1965, associated with Albert Ellis beginning in 1963, authored three books on REBT, trains therapists in REBT, and so can be assumed to know his REBT very well.  (Michael is also known as ‘The 3 Minute Therapist’, whose website can be found at: http://www.threeminutetherapy.com/).

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On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

At the time when I was preparing to post my paper on ‘Fairness, Justice and Morality’[2] (back in 2010), Michael wrote to me to say that:

“Everyone has their own subjective view about what is fair. My preferences and hedonic calculi differ from that of others. Since there’s no cosmic or absolute criterion for evaluating fairness, I have not come up with a useful way to view it. Consequently, I advise my clients to jettison the entire concept”.

I was pretty sure Michael was overlooking something here about fairness.  So I argued the point with him, but I could not persuade him to take the concept of fairness seriously.

Today I would argue my case differently.  This is what I would say:

There is a huge objective criterion of fairness which has been around since ancient Chinese civilization: the Golden Rule.  The Golden rule can be expressed like this: You morally must not treat another person less well than you would like them to treat you, if your roles were reversed.

And you must treat your marriage partner at least as well as you would like them to treat you in identical circumstances!

Contrary to Michael’s viewpoint, this principle is very easy to apply in situations of conflict with couples in therapy.  Each member of a couple either is, or is not, willing to treat their partner at least as well as they expect to be treated.

This couldn’t be clearer, and (in my opinion) the most likely potential explanations for Michael Edelstein’s inability to see this point, back in 2010, were: (1) that he was influenced by the amoral philosophy of Albert Ellis[3]; and/or (2) the nonsensical philosophy of Logical Positivism; and/or (3) the useless system of Act Utilitarianism (which is much less usable than Rule Utilitarianism); and/or (4) the ubiquitous philosophies of neo-liberalism and post-modern moral relativity! (Because of lack of space, I will have to defer further clarification of the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism until next week).

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

“I’m pretty sure most people would agree on this principle of fairness, no matter how subjective the concept of fairness might seem to be in some other cases.  In other words, although we humans sometimes have problems defining what we mean by fairness, from case to case, we (reasonable people) nevertheless find the concept of fairness indispensable, and we more often than not do find ways to define it which are ‘socially agreed’ (by some group or community, some society or country, some continent, or some strata of some culture, etc.).  In negotiations between individuals, we often find that the idea of what is fair is ‘inter-subjective’ (meaning, shared between several individuals; or common to a whole group of people), and not just ‘merely subjective’ (meaning – when used pejoratively – locked in the mind of one isolated, unrepresentative individual).

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At one point, Dr Edelstein got back to me to clarify that his problem with the principle of fairness was a practical one:  How can it be used in couples therapy with squabbling couples?  Surely this is not possible since there do not seem to be any objective criteria by which to define fairness.

Today, I want to test Michael’s perspective against one of the two wheels of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[4].

Objective criteria in couple conflict

The equality wheel: The equality wheel is segmented into eight subdivisions, each containing one principle.  All eight principles are subsumed under two headings: either ‘Equality’ or ‘Power and control’.

In the remainder of this blog post, I will take a look at just one of the equality/non-violence principles: Negotiation and fairness.

Under this principle (which emphasizes the importance of negotiating outcomes, and doing so fairly), there are three ‘guidelines’, or ‘key points’, as follows:

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

My response to Michael would be that, in my relationship with my partner, I can demonstrate fairness by (1) negotiating satisfying resolutions to conflicts; (2) accepting that changes are inevitable, and showing that I am willing to change when (reasonably) necessary; and (3) being willing to compromise when we have conflicting goals or desires.

To apply the ‘principle of generosity’ to Michael Edelstein’s argument, let us focus on his alternative to using the concept of fairness.

“As far as I can tell in working with squabbling couples, both justifying their own position with what’s ‘fair’, I have not arrived at any objective criteria to settle the fairness argument. I tell them, ‘Discussing what is fair is a dead end and often toxic to relationships. Discuss what works for both of you, instead’.”

What could this mean to a couple: (‘What works for both of you’)?

Here are my attempted answers:

  1. If they have a ‘mutual problem’, as defined by Helen Hall Clinard[5], then nothing works for both of them; because what Partner 1 wants is the very opposite of what Partner 2 wants and vice versa; or, at the very least, the two goals are mutually exclusive! (So Michael could study Chapter 4 of Helen’s book, and introduce his couple clients to the process of ‘turning conflict into cooperation’. That would provide him with some practical approaches to building fairness in practice, based on objective criteria.

But there is an immediate, and, I suspect, an insurmountable problem here for Michael, because of his rigid conformity to Albert Ellis’s belief system.  Let me explain:

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, Helen Clinard writes this: “Sometimes it is not easy for a person who is causing you a problem to change in the way that you want.  People who work or live together often have conflicting needs”. (Page 109).

But according to (Extreme) REBT theory, people do not have any needs at all (in the interpersonal area)![6]  Apart from air, water and basic food, everything else is treated as a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ in Extreme REBT.[7] In other words, for Albert Ellis and his extreme stoical followers, ‘need’ is a synonym for the dreaded words – ‘should’ and/or ‘must’ – which “have to be” totally outlawed (and replaced with mere preferences)!

  1. If any of Michael’s couples lack clarity about how to compromise, Michael could teach them how to do that. For example, he could teach them the example used in Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury[8] – about sharing an orange – not by arbitrarily cutting it down the middle, but by finding out ‘the reason’ each partner wants the orange, and (perhaps) discovering that one mainly wants the peel (to put in a cake mix) and the other mainly wants the fruit (to squeeze as juice). But, to go down this route, Michael would have to believe that people have rights and needs, and that does not seem to be part of his belief system.
  2. If Michael studied Fisher and Ury, he could then teach his couple clients their basis system, which is:

(a) Separate the people from the problem. (Michael is officially good at this, since REBT theory teaches clients to distinguish between their partner, on the one hand, and their partner’s behaviours on the other).

(b) Talk in terms of interests rather than positions. (This is harder for Michael, because he has been trained to fit the whole phenomenal world into just two boxes – [1] Reality [which Must exist exactly as it is], and [2] Your Preferences [which do not have to exist at all!] Can he make the challenging shift towards considering that clients have real-life interests, {arising out of felt needs} which harden into positions?])

(c) Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. (This approach fits better into the Egan Model[9] than it would into Michael’s simple ABC model).

(d) Insist that the results be based on some objective standard. (Like the Golden Rule; or mutual influence.  But, would Michael be willing to use the Golden Rule?)

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  1. Michael could also teach his couple clients the three ‘key points’ I extracted from the Equality wheel of the Duluth project, as follows:

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

He could cover #1 above with either the Golden Rule, or Helen Clinard’s Mutual Problem Solving process.  Point #3 is covered by Fisher and Ury’s negotiation process; and, again, by the Golden Rule. And point #2 is an expression of the Buddhist principle that “change is the law of life” (and the [moderate] Stoic principle of ‘accepting the things you cannot change’).  Point 2 is also subject to the principle (from Professor John Gottman) that we should “let our partner influence us” – and my refinement, which is this: “Let your partner influence you, up to, but not beyond, the degree to which they are willing to allow you to influence them”!

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Moving on…

If a couple comes to see me, and Partner 1 says that Partner 2 is acting unfairly, I will explore that complaint in terms of how it fits within my understanding of how the Golden Rule – (of treating other people the way we would ideally like to be treated in our turn) – would apply to their situation. I would encourage the partners to compromise, and to seek mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict.

I will try to teach Partner 2 the costs (in the medium to longer term) of acting unfairly; of not compromising; and of not seeking mutually acceptable outcomes (on average). (The cost to the oppressive partner is the ultimate loss of the relationship. The second cost is gaining a reputation for oppressive behaviour and immoral and often illegal action against their partner).

I will teach each partner the absolute necessity to allow their partner to influence them (up to, but not exceeding approximately 50% of the time, on average), and to expect to be able to influence their partner (up to, but not exceeding, about 50% of the time, on average).

If the partners insist on bickering about the precise percentages that each of them gives, or takes, I will conclude one of two things:

  1. Either, one (or both) of them is stuck in exploitation mode; and they are not trusted by their partner; or:
  2. This is a ‘presenting problem’, and the ‘real problem’ is hidden; perhaps a deep, emerging incompatibility, or a serious lack of satisfaction with the love or sex or romance in the relationship. (When a couple is deeply satisfied with the level of love and passion and romance and comfort in their relationship, they both seem to be able to ‘cut their partner some slack’ in their partner’s areas of deficiency!)

My experience

DrJimCounselling002But eight or nine times out of ten, when I work with unfairness issues in couples’ therapy, I can help the couple to resolve their problems, by teaching them to operate from The Golden Rule. And by allowing their partner to influence them, on a completely egalitarian basis – give and take.  (“If I do this for you [today], what will you do for me [tomorrow]?”)

I teach them that playing ‘Top-Dog/Under-Dog’ will lead to the dissolution of their marriage or relationship, normally after a protracted period of completely avoidable misery! Or, sometimes, all of a sudden, and without any possibility of fixing it after the fact! (“You had your chance, mate!”)

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Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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[1] Source: http://www.theduluthmodel.org/about/

[2] Byrne, J. (2010b) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and E-CENT. E-CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Studies. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id203.html

[3] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace/I-CENT Publications.  For more information on this book, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id432.html.

[4] See pages 244-245 of Manhood: An action plan for changing men’s lives, by Steve Biddulph: the 1994/98 edition.

[5] Clinard, H.H. (1985) Winning Ways to Succeed With people.  Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

[6] Miller, T. (1993) Self-Discipline and Emotional Control: How to stay calm and productive under pressure.  A CareerTrack audio program.

[7] Miller, T. (1983) So, You Secretly Suspect You’re Worthless, Well You’re Not A Shit and I Can Prove It.  New York: Lakeside Printing.

[8] Fisher and Ury (1990) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. London, Hutchinson Business.

[9] The Egan Model, developed by Gerard Egan, asks three core questions: (1) Where are you now?  (2) Where do you want to get to? And (3) What actions could you take to build a bridge from (1) to (2)?  For more information on this model, go here: http://www.gp-training.net/training/communication_skills/mentoring/egan.htm

The ABC model asks only (or mainly) this: “What are you telling yourself to make yourself so upset at point C (Consequence) about point A (the noxious stimulus, or Activating Event)?” For more on the ABC model, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id126.html (In other words, for a classic REBT therapist, the client is NOT upset (by definition) by their partner’s unfairness (or any other feature of their partner’s way of being), but rather by their (the client’s) own beliefs about their partner’s behaviour! This is an expression of the extremist stoicism of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also developed more moderate positions, such as the principle that its best to accept the things you cannot change, and only try to change the things you can.  But this would not apply to accepting domestic violence because you cannot change your partner.  It is better to get out, and stay out!).

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Sleep, meditation and relaxation strategies for greater quality of life

Blog Post No. 54

13th November 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017


Renata’s Coaching Blog: Developing resilience when you’re working on the front line in your job:

Coping with stress, anger, anxiety and depression…

Sleep, diet and exercise are critical…

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Introduction

Front cover, 8Dealing with people is very enjoyable, and very demanding at the same time, isn’t it? Especially when you are dealing with people who are suffering from all the trials and tribulations that life has thrown at them.

How do you stay strong? You need all your energy to communicate with them and not become drained. And three of the most challenging conditions to deal with are the problems of anxiety, anger and depression, whether it’s experienced by yourself or other people.

My work is about helping others to grow in strength, creativity and happiness.  I do that in several ways: face to face coaching; and writing blogs; and (more recently) writing books.

What I have done most recently is to co-author a book with my husband, Dr Jim Byrne, which shows how our emotions of anxiety, anger and depression are very strongly affected by the food we eat, and the physical exercise we take, or fail to take!

We’ve put in some significant and surprising research findings which are therapeutic, because they show how we can better manage our energies and emotions so that we are stronger in ourselves. But also these findings can be used to help others.

I’m just about to begin the final proof-reading of that book, and then it will be available to you, via Amazon.

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Moving on to sleep, relaxation and mediation

Sleep-book-coverBut as I mentioned in my last blog, I have now been reading Matthew Walker’s book called “Why we sleep”, which was published in September of this year. And I have been so shocked and stunned – by the many research findings that he quotes about why sleep is so important – that I have decided to write about his key findings, and to summarise them for everyone. I have also identified several other books which must be taken into account, and I have begun to do that research work and note taking.

I also intend to include research findings about the power of meditation and relaxation techniques in the book, because those three strategies are closely related; and support each other.

The benefits

Sleep, meditation and relaxation techniques can transform our experience of anger, anxiety and depression. This book will describe the ways that our resilience can be greatly enhanced by adequate sleep, daily meditation, and sound approaches to relaxation.

I’ll let you know when both books become available.

The Sleep/Meditation/Relaxation book will not be finished until I have found several ways to help you to put some new strategies into your life, to strengthen you, and to enhance the quality of your life.

Here is part of Walker’s message:

“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day”. (Walker 2017).

In the meantime, I strongly recommend Walker’s book, because, as he states, the importance of our sleep hasn’t been properly communicated to us by scientists. And when you look at the bare facts of the negative impact of the lack of sleep on us, it can be a real shock!

Conclusion

So if you want to live your life on a full tank of gas, then improving the quality of your sleep will make a big difference. If you have teenagers, the section of his book where he explains the needs of teenagers for more sleep than adults, is excellent and very helpful.

Sleeping -baby

See what you think of his book (and I swear I haven’t got any shares in his publishing company!)

So now, I must get back to proofreading our Diet and Exercise book; and then back to the sleep research!

renata-taylor-byrne-lifestyle-coachIf you need any help or support, you know where I am!

Happy snoozing,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Health, happiness and self-disciplined goals

Blog Post No. 157

23rd October 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Blog: Health and happiness are the most important goals in (a moral) life

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Introduction

It’s been quite a while since I posted a blog, because I’ve been extremely busy.  I am still very busy, finishing off the writing of a new book, but I thought it was about time I shared some ideas with the world.  The main theme of this blog is health and self-healing, using food and physical exercise.

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Writing about diet and exercise for mood control

Front cover, 8For the past few weeks, Renata and I have been writing our book which is titled, How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  We have finished writing the five sections, and I am working on constructing a comprehensive index for the back of the book, to make it optimally user-friendly, as a resource.

Several days ago I constructed the index section on diet and nutrition, and type of diets.  And, by finishing time last Friday, 20th, I had just completed a section on Essential fatty acids (EFAs). And today, Monday 23rd, I will begin to work on the index entries for the section on physical exercise.

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Self-healing

Last Thursday, I turned my body, suddenly, while leaving my feet relatively stationary, and pulled a muscle in my back.  Did I run to the doctor?  No!  Did I get some ‘painkillers’ from the chemist?  No!

Why did I not go to the doctor?  Because the doctor would have simply recommended “painkillers”!

Why did I not buy my own painkillers from the chemist?  Because most of the painkillers used today are what are called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). And the problem with NSAIDs is that they cause ‘leaky gut syndrome’, which not only allows whole molecules of food to enter the bloodstream, and trigger various forms of inflammation in the body (paradox of paradoxes!), but they also compromise the blood/brain barrier, which can precipitate mood disturbances!

So, what did I do with my terrible back pain?  I got out my copy of ‘Body in Action’, by Sarah Key, and did five of her exercises for improving the functioning of the muscles and joints in the lower back.  (I’ve done this several times in the past, and I know it always works).

I did the exercises on Thursday and Friday, and by Saturday the back pain had gone – completely!

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Sharpening the saw

Rest and recuperation are very important parts of my self-management of health program.  So, on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon, I had a siesta (of three hours each time).  I had been feeling tired because of overworking on the index of our new book on how to control anger, anxiety and depression, using diet and exercise systems.

CreasespaceCover8, diet-nutrition.jpg

I also had a restful evening with Renata, and I was in bed by 9.45pm.

By 5.45am today (Monday 23rd Oct) I was fully rested, and so I got up and made my breakfast.  A solid bowl of chunky salad.

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Food for health and mood control

Book-cover-frontI chopped up the following ingredients into small chunks, of perhaps 3 or 4 mm at the widest point:

3 oz of red cabbage; 6 oz of cucumber; 1 spring onion; 1 organic carrot; half an organic apple; and put them into a soup bowl.

(See the Appendix on Diet and Nutrition, in our book: Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)

Then, I added a teaspoon of Maca powder; a dessertspoon of ground flaxseed; two dessertspoon’s of mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, ???), ten almonds, three walnuts, four hazelnuts; ten blueberries; 2 ozs of cooked beetroot (diced); two small tomatoes (halved); and half a kiwi fruit (diced).

I then added some brown rice miso, and some sauerkraut.

After consuming that breakfast, I meditated for 30 minutes.

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Physical exercise for health and strength and mood control

Standing pose 2Let me now describe the exercises that I went on to do, after meditating:

Twenty minutes of Chi Kung exercises.

Followed by a couple of minutes of ‘The plank’ exercise, which is like ‘stationary press-ups’: https://youtu.be/kiA9j-dR0oM

Then I did my own press-ups and sit backs, for about 5 or 6 minutes.

I then moved on to do fifteen minutes of my old Judo Club calisthenics (or whole body warm up exercise), which combine strength training, stretching of muscles, and aerobic exercise, all in one.

Then ten minutes of Zhan Zhuang (pronounced Jam Jong, and meaning ‘Standing like a tree’).  These are body poses which work on our postural muscles, affecting strength and speed and balance. They create a calm and happy mental state.  And they also relax the body and establish whole-body connection.

powerspinFinally I did some strength training using the Powerspin rotator, to build arm, shoulder and upper body strength.

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Reflections

This is clearly a time-consuming start to the day, compared with a bowl of cornflakes, a cup of coffee, and a brisk scratching of the head!

So why do I do it?

Because, I value my health above all things.  Without my physical health, I am unlikely to be happy.  And I am unlikely to be emotionally stable.

The people who do the least exercise, and who eat the worst diets, have the worst physical and mental health outcomes. (I have not seen a general medical practitioner for more than twenty-five years! And I am not about to start now!)

Most people leave their health (physical and mental) to chance, and to the vague belief that there are people who can “fix them up” when they fall apart.  Sadly this myth is totally misleading.  Once you’ve ruined your health – from sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, and inadequate diet (such as one based on junk food, or an unbalanced diet, or too much alcohol [over the government limit], caffeine, sugary foods, gluten, and other toxic substances) – it is then ruined!  And a ruined body-brain is a burden to haul through life!

It takes self-discipline to get on a good diet, and to begin to do regular physical exercise, and to go to bed and have eight hours sleep, without mobile phones or laptops or tablets, and so on.  But the alternative to developing that self-discipline is a life ruined through serious illness, emotional distress, and early death.

Some people will argue with me, and insist that there are some things called “medicines” (and “surgeries”) which can be used to resuscitate their body-brain-mind once they have allowed it to fall into ill-health. The editors of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, strongly disagree with that fantasy!  See the article titled ‘Don’t trust me (I’m Big Pharma).***

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POSTSCRIPT: Of course, it takes time to build up expertise in ‘extreme self-care’; and it’s a good idea to do that one step at a time.  Gradually, over a period of time, this will build up into significant changes, and huge improvements in health and happiness.  And you don’t ever have to adopt the kind of ‘monkish’ approach that suits me.  Some simple changes in what you eat, and how you exercise your body (brisk walking for 30 minutes per day is enough!), will make a huge difference over time.  You can find out more about how to begin these small, easy steps in our book: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.

honetpieIf you want me to help you to figure out how to live a happier, healthier, more emotionally buoyant life, then please contact me:

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

Telephone: 01422 843 629 (inside the UK)

or 44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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I hope you have a very happy and healthy life!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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A self-coaching exercise: Happiness audit

Blog Post No. 52

25th August 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

A Self-coaching exercise which can improve the quality of your life:

The “Haversack and Balloons” exercise

Introduction

In this blog I am going to introduce you to an exercise that you can do, which is like a visual ‘balance sheet’ of your life at the moment.  It will help you to see if you need to bring more happiness into your daily life!  And it will help to balance self-support against the pressures of life.

I came across this exercise many years ago and found it to be really helpful for lots of people – in particular with students on my stress management courses and counselling courses. It’s a very simple and effective way of checking out whether you have a good balance of pleasurable and nourishing things in your life at the moment.  It’s important to watch that balance, as you need adequate resources to keep you going as you do all those daily tasks at work and/or at home.

Method

Print off a copy of this four-step exercise – shown in green – and follow the simple instructions:

STEP 1: Burdens and responsibilities (tasks, etc)

Write in the white spaces on the haversack those things that weigh you down at the moment:

Haversack image

(If you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 2: List the things that lift you up or raise your spirits

In each of the balloons, write in one thing which makes you feel good, and enriches your life, and keeps you happy on a daily basis.

Ballons image

(Again, if you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 3: Review

Weigh up your stressors and the supports (or balloons and burdens)

As you look at the two different aspects of your life at the moment, (your haversack and your balloons), see what proportion of problems and challenges you have weighing you down, and what proportion of daily pleasures and uplifting experiences you have filled in.

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STEP 4: Your action plan

For a happy and contented life, you need to make sure that you have a roughly equal balance of pressures and supports – or challenges and pleasures.

Your balloons will keep you going (and sane) as you handle all the aggravations life throws at you!

So decide what action you might need to take to increase your ‘daily balloons’ or reduce some of your mental burdens or pressures.

Make a list and commit to take action.

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Review

Reviewing this exercise carefully will show you immediately if you have lots of problems weighing you down, like an invisible knapsack that you are carrying round with you all the time.

It will also show the number of daily pleasures or supports which you have – (your balloons) – to balance those problems out. This balance does affect the quality of your life.

Of course, too little pressure and strain can be almost as bad as too much. You could (theoretically) be having lots of self-nourishing experiences and pleasures, but  too little in the way of challenges to keep you mentally engaged in life, and stimulated. Boredom can be stressful.  We feel happiest when we experience ‘flow’, which means that the challenges in our lives are balanced by our coping capacity.

A valuable way to do this exercise is to share what you have put on your diagrams with a trusted friend or colleague, and if you take turns to talk about your lists, you will both benefit from expressing your current problems, and finding out if you are both taking care of yourselves by having daily pleasures and supports to balance the work you are doing.

Your balloons

As explained above, your ‘balloons’ are the daily experiences which keep you happy and motivated, and supported, either outside of work, or within the work situation.  A helpful list of balloons might include: Solid breakfast; slow and relaxing journey to work; planned daily activities so work load is balanced; tea break or dinner break with friends or work colleagues whose company you enjoy; sipping water at fifteen minute intervals during the day; avoiding sedentary lifestyle, which means get up and move around ever fifty minutes or so; daily physical exercise; listen to relaxing music; dance; write out your problems every day; and so on; and so forth.

Let’s take one example:

Music as a daily ‘Balloon’

Book-cover

Caroline Webb, in her book ‘How to have a good day’ (2016) describes how one doctor (Rakesh) uses music as an essential strategy (one of his daily ‘balloons’) to keep him going when he is on duty in the Emergency Room of the hospital where he works. Describing his job, Rakesh told her:

“You’re constantly handling problems. You don’t have much time, and you never stop moving. In one hour you’re probably making perhaps one hundred or two hundred decisions: which tests to order, where to send a patient, and what interventions are needed. You’re on different shifts – sometimes morning, sometimes nights. A 12 hour shift can turn into a 14 hour shift if something bad happens with one of your patients.”

Rakesh confirms that the job is emotionally draining as well as mentally and physically challenging… And so what he does to keep going throughout a long shift, is that he uses music to shape and alter his mental state.  He says:

“You know that you are going to walk into a full waiting room, and as soon as you walk in you’re going to need to spring into action. So I pump up my energy levels on the drive to work, with music that will do that for me, like some Linkin Park.

”Once I arrive I switch to Reggae music and we have it playing in the background for everyone. It’s sort of happy but also relaxed, which is how I need to feel to perform at my best under pressure.”

His use of music to keep him happy whilst doing a very demanding job, impressed Caroline Webb, who stated:

“One thing I’ve noticed about people who are able to sustain their energy in gruelling jobs is that they know themselves really well. They understand what causes their peaks and troughs, and they know the quickest way to lift their spirits when needed.”

The power of music to uplift you

What is the evidence that music be effective in improving your day? And what does it improve? A review of 23 studies covering almost 1,500 patients found that listening to music reduced heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety in heart disease patients (Bradt & Dileo, 2009: Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014029/.

If you doubt that music can change your state for the better, then let me suggest that you have a listen to the following extract from Mozart’s piano concerto No. 23 (second movement) played by Helene Grimaud:

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How did you feel after listening to that short extract? The value of listening to Mozart’s music has been very carefully researched.

Listening to Mozart’s music can help reduce high blood pressure

Mozaet-pictureAccording to a new research report, listening to Mozart and Johann Strauss’s music can help lower hypertension, which means really high blood pressure. Listening to Mozart can not only soothe your mood, but also help lower blood pressure as well as stabilise the heart rate.

The findings showed that listening to classical composers,  Wolfgang Mozart and Johann Strauss (the younger), for 25 minutes, could lower blood lipid concentrations and heart rate.

The study analysed 60 participants who were exposed to 25 minutes of music by Mozart, Strauss or ABBA — a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972. Another group of 60 participants were allocated to a control group that spent their time in silence.

The participants who listened to Mozart lowered their blood pressure.  (Specifically, Mozart lowered their systolic [upper reading] BP — the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats – by 4.7 mm Hg, In the case of Strauss, by 3.7 mm Hg; whereas no substantial effect was seen for the songs of ABBA.  Diastolic [lower reading] blood pressure — when the heart rests between beats — also fell by 2.1 mm Hg for Mozart and 2.9 mm Hg for Strauss.)

Here’s what the researchers said:

“It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss,” said Hans-Joachim Trappe and Gabriele Volt of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

But Mozart’s music had the strongest effect,” they added.

In addition, after exposure to the music of Mozart and Strauss, cortisol levels (which are stress hormones) were found to have dropped more in men than in women.

Quiet music of a slow tempo, and long legato (meaning that the notes are played or sung smoothly and connected together), are regarded as beneficial for the cardio-circulatory system, according to the paper published in the Journal ‘Deutsches Arzteblatt International’.

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I love to do Chi Kung exercises to Mozart music in the mornings; but I also find other forms of music to be uplifting balloons.  Here’a good example:

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson

Kids-cover-of-Uptown-FunkA fortnight ago I heard an amazing sound on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 music programme, and I enjoyed listening to it so much that this is one of my daily balloons, as it is full of energy and movement.

Here’s Mark Ronson’s official music video for ‘Uptown Funk’ performed by Bruno Mars. By the number of views of the video you can see that it’s pretty popular: (2,623,758,877 views on You Tube).

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Conclusion

If you try the ‘Haversack and Balloons’ exercise, you might find it to be a useful, quick self-coaching tool that can help you search for ways to enhance your daily life-balance. It can help you to produce an Action List for ways to reduce the pressures under which you labour, and to increase those experiences that uplift you and keep you going under pressure.

And if you need some help with this process, please contact me.

Best of luck.

That’s all for now.

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: Renata Taylor-Byrne

01422 843 629

(Or 44 1422 843 629 from outside the UK)

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Creative writing and the therapeutic journey

Blog Post No. 155

18th July 2017 – Updated on 22nd January 2019

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2018-2019

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Recent books

If you have come to this page looking for recent books by Dr Jim Byrne (with Renata Taylor-Byrne), then here is the list of the latest books: on Lifestyle Counselling; Writing Therapy; and Diet and Exercise linked to emotional functioning; plus building successful couple relationships.

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Book Descriptions:

Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: 

Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy

Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available at Amazon outlets.***

The contents

In this book, you will find a very clear, brief, easy to read introduction to a novel approach to ‘counselling the whole person’. This emotive-cognitive approach does not restrict itself to mental processes.  We go beyond what the client is ‘telling themselves’, or ‘signalling themselves’; or what went wrong in their family of origin. We also include how well they manage their body-brain-mind in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, and emotional self-management (including self-talk, or inner dialogue). And we propose that it is better for counsellors and therapists to operate in a primarily right-brain modality, and to use the left-brain, cognitive processes, secondarily.

The most important, and novel, chapters in this book are as follows:

Chapter 4, which summarizes our research on the impact of diet/nutrition and physical exercise on mental health and emotional well-being.

Chapter 5, which reviews the science of sleep hygiene, plus common sense insights, and presents a range of lifestyle changes to promote healthy sleep, and thus to improve mental and emotional well-being.

Chapter 9, which explains how to incorporate the learning from chapters 4 and 5 into any system of talk therapy or counselling.

There is also a chapter (8) on counselling individuals using our Emotive-Cognitive approach, in which there is a section (8.3(b)) on using the Holistic SOR model to explore many aspects of the lifestyle of the client.

For more information, please click the following link: Lifestyle Counselling book.***

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How to Write A New Life for Yourself:

Narrative therapy and the writing solution

Writing Theapy book cover

By Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications

Available as a paperback at Amazon outlets.***

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In this book, we set out to show you how you can quickly and easily process your current psychological problems, and improve your emotional intelligence, by writing about your current and historic difficulties.  (Chapter 8 contains a detailed introduction to the subject of how to understand and manage your emotions).

This approach to writing about your emotional difficulties in order to resolve them has a long and noble tradition.  Many nineteenth century poets were seeking to heal broken hearts or resolve personal dissatisfactions by the use of their poetry writing activities; and many novels are clearly forms of catharsis (or release of pent up emotions) by the author.

But not all writing is equally helpful, therapeutically speaking.  If the writing is too negative; or too pessimistic; or simply makes the reader feel raw and vulnerable, then it is not going to have a positive effect.  Later we will show you how to tackle therapeutic writing, (within the two main disciplines of writing therapy – [the scientific and the humanistic]), in order to make it maximally effective.

For more information, please click the following link: Write a New Life for Yourself.***

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How to control your anger, anxiety and depression,

Using nutrition and physical exercise

Front cover design 4

By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications.

Available at Amazon outlets.***

1. Introduction

What we eat has a very powerful effect on our bodies and minds. And knowing and understanding how our body-mind reacts to the substances we feed ourselves is a crucial part of self-care.

For instance: depression can be caused by psychological reactions to losses and failures.  But it can also be caused by certain kinds of body-brain chemistry problems, some of which can begin in the guts, and be related to bad diet, and lack of physical exercise.  For example:

“If you are depressed while you suffer from regular yeast infections (like Candida Albicans), or athlete’s foot, or have taken antibiotics recently, there is a connection. Our brains are inextricably tied to our gastrointestinal tract and our mental well-being is dependent on healthy intestines. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and a host of other mental illnesses from autism to ADHD can be caused by an imbalance of gut microbes like fungi, and ‘bad’ bacteria”.  (Source: Michael Edwards (2014))[i].

And when we take antibiotics, we kill off all of our friendly bacteria, and often what grows back first is the unfriendly stuff, like Candida Albicans, which can then cause depression, anxiety and other symptoms, as listed above.

Also, we can really benefit from knowing some of the latest ideas about where – (in our diets) – our depression, anxiety and anger can originate from; as provided by specialists who have devoted their lives to years of investigation into the workings of the human body and mind (or body-mind).

[i] Edwards, M. (2014) ‘The candida depression connection – How yeast leads to depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental disorders’. Available online at:                https://www.naturalnews.com/047184_ candida_ depression_gut_microbes.html#

For more information, please click the following link: Diet, exercise and mental health.***

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Top secrets for

Building a Successful Relationship: 

Volume 1 – A blueprint and toolbox for couples and counsellors: C101

By Dr Jim Byrne

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol 1543762369 (1905x1383)

The full paperback cover, by Charles Saul

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On this web site, you will find enough information about our new book on couple relationships to inform your decision about buying it.  We have posted the full Preface; plus the full set of (revised) Contents pages; plus a brief extract from each of the main chapters (1-13).

Pre-publication review

“I have recently finished reading Dr Jim Byrne’s immensely useful book (about love and relationship skills).  This book is full of cutting edge thinking and priceless wisdom about couple relationships; which inspires us to believe that we can undoubtedly shape and improve our most important relationships.  The approach is comprehensive (despite being Volume 1 of 3), covering as it does: the nature of love and relationships; common myths about love and relationships (which tend to lead young people astray); some illuminating case studies of couple relationships that have gone wrong; and very helpful chapters on communication skills, conflict styles, and assertive approaches to relationship; plus a very interesting introduction to the theory that our marriage partnership is shaped, for better or worse, in our family of origin. I particularly liked the chapters on how to manage boundaries in relationships; and how to change your relationship habits. I can highly recommend this ‘must read’ book to couples and counsellors alike”.

Dr Nazir Hussain

Positive Psychology and Integrative Counselling Services, Whitby, Ontario, Canada.

September 2018

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Here’s a quick preview of part of the contents of Chapter 1:

This book has been designed to be helpful to two main audiences:

1. Anybody who is curious about how to build and maintain a happy, successful couple relationship, like a marriage or civil partnership (civil agreement), or simple cohabitation; and:

2. Any professional who works with individuals and couples who show up with problems of marital or couple conflict, breakdowns of communication, or unhappiness with the couple bond.

For more information about this book, please go to Top Secrets for Building a Successful Relationship.***

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Recent publications

Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

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Holistic Counselling in Practice:

An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy

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Daniel O’Beeve’s Amazing Journey: From traumatic origins to transcendent love

The memoir of Daniel O’Beeve: a strong-willed seeker after personal liberation: 1945-1985

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Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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Introduction to first draft of this blog post

Cover444It is now more than three months since my previous blog post was published.  The delay was down to how busy I’ve been, largely because of writing my latest book, which is now available at Amazon: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: The case against Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.***

My main role in life, as a doctor of counselling, is to see individual clients who have ‘problems of daily living’ which they cannot resolve on their own.  I help people with problems of anxiety, depression, anger, couple conflict, attachment problems, and other relationship problems.  Dr Jim’s Counselling Division.***

drjim-counsellor1However, I also write books, blogs and web pages; and articles or papers on counselling-related topics.  And I help individuals, from time to time, who are struggling with their creative or technical writing projects.  Sometimes I help individual writers to stay motivated, or to process their repeated rejection by an unreceptive and uncaring world.

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The frustrations of writing

It is far from easy being a creative writer.  Frustrations abound, from conception of a new and useful writing project; doing the research; writing early drafts; then polishing, editing and publishing; and then trying to sell the end product in a world which is awash with information-overload.

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In my book on REBT, I wrote about that period like this:

“As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem.  That idea contradicts the ABC theory, which asserts that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: which include anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s).  Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:

“I have developed a stress management programme consisting of fifteen strategies which help you to work on your body, your emotions, your thinking, and your stress management skills. This programme allows you to develop a stress-free life.

8-physical-symptoms-of-stress

“You may also be affected by many life-change stressors, e.g. Moving house; death of your spouse or other loved one; divorce; marriage; redundancy; bullying at work; promotion; demotion; change of lifestyle; etc.

“Your stress level also depends upon such factors as your diet, exercise, what you tell yourself about your life pressures, and so on. (What you tell yourself about your pressures is called your “self-talk”).

“And a lot depends upon your sense of control. Can you control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you confident and assertive enough to at least try to control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you wise enough to learn how to stoically accept those things which you clearly cannot control? The more control you have, the less stress you feel, according to the Whitehall Studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, beginning in 1984.” (Original source in footnotes)[1].

However, the frustration was this: Although I had expertise about managing stress; and although I had packaged 15 different strategies for getting your stress under control, very few people bought my book!

And today, I believe, most people do not understand stress: How it destroys their happiness, damages their physical health, and causes all kinds of emotional problems.

Tough stuff! This is the lot of the creative writer.  The world most often seems to not be ready for our insights!

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People love simplicity and side-tracks

While my stress book was not selling to any reasonable degree, the simple books about the ABC model of REBT, produced by Dr Albert Ellis, were selling much better.  Those books presented an exaggerated claim that they could help the reader to quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of any problem, simply by changing their beliefs about the problems they encountered.

My REBT book demonstrates that there was never any solid evidence that this claim is true.  It also demonstrates that, in the process, the REBT/CBT model blames the client for their own upsets, thus excusing the harshness of current government policy in the US and the UK, where the rich are enriched and the poor are squashed!  That squashing process hurts, and causes emotional distress and physical health problems.

Here is the evidence that it is not the individual’s beliefs, but the social environment that has the most impact on mental health and emotional well-being:

While psychotherapists like Albert Ellis tended to emphasize the role of the counselling client’s beliefs in the causation of anger, anxiety, depression, and so on, Oliver James, and his concept of ‘affluenza’, tends to emphasize living in a materialistic environment. As Dr James writes: “Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii. (63).

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Conclusion

If you are a creative writer, and you want to write your own autobiography, or autobiographical novel, or you need support with any aspect of your creative writing process, then I can help you.

Coaching, counselling and therapy for writers.***

Or you could take a look at my current books in print.***

Or take a look at my page about my top eight books, here: Books about E-CENT Counselling and related topics.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Happiness and relationships research

Blog Post No. 50

10th July 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching and Counselling blog: What really makes people happy?

A ‘rave review’ of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk

Introduction

It’s very easy for us in the west at the moment, to imagine that having more money, or a better house, more foreign holidays, a great new sports car or higher status at work (like getting to the top of an organisation), will make us really happy.

Bugatti-car

And if we have the right physical appearance, as defined by our culture, this can give people a feeling of confidence and self-assurance. So we obviously put a lot of investment and energy into trying to look our best!

KardashiansBut we did not make up these materialistic beliefs ourselves.  All the relentless advertising messages, and propaganda from the media, create this illusion: Having new possessions will really make life better for us, and guarantee our happiness.

But the truth is that they won’t!

Obviously, if we are desperately short of money, have nowhere to live, or no food to eat, then food, money, shelter and clothing are crucially important for our survival.

But if we do have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and a way of providing an income for ourselves, then some small improvements may make us slightly happier, but more material stuff is not going to make us a lot happier!

So what really does make us happy, after we have the basic means of survival?

Robert-Waldinger

In this blog, I will give a short account of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk in which he describes a major research study which provides powerful evidence for the conclusion that material things won’t make us happy. This conclusion is based on research that started in 1938, and is still ongoing.

The Harvard Study of Adult development

Picture-of-HarvardSeventy-five years ago, ‘The Harvard Study of Adult development’ was established.  A group of researchers started studying 724 teenagers through to their old age. The participants were from two very different types of backgrounds:

# One group was from the poorest part of Boston: from the most economically deprived and distressed families; and:

# The other group was more prosperous, from Harvard College, and was made up of second year students.

These two groups are asked to respond to questionnaires every two years; are interviewed in their homes; have brain scans; have medical records examined; and have blood taken for testing; and they have been videotaped (as adults) talking to their partners about what is really concerning them. And (in time) the researchers talk to their children as well.

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The research project is still ongoing.  Three directors of research have come, served decades in that role; and the project is now being conducted by a fourth director: Robert Waldinger.  And Dr Waldinger has presented a TED talk which explains the research findings.

So, what does the evidence from this study tell us about what really makes people happy?

Elderly-peopleHere’s what Robert Waldinger states:

“Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Good relationships!  Not cars, or cash, or status, or houses, or holidays, or any of that ‘popular’ materialistic stuff.

Waldinger goes on to say that the researchers learned three big lessons about relationships:

Firstly, the more socially connected we are to people, e.g. family, friends, and the community, the happier and healthier and more long-lived we will be. And the opposite applies: Loneliness is toxic. People who are less connected to people than they would like to be, suffer from declining health as they reach middle age, their brain functioning becomes less efficient and they are less happy.

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Secondly, it doesn’t matter what type of relationships you’re involved in; or whether you are partnered or not; or whether you have a large or small number of friends. The research results show that the crucial aspect of our close relationships is the quality. If we are living in the middle of conflict, then it’s really harmful to our health. Waldinger gives the example of high conflict marriages: If there’s no affection present in high conflict marriages, then they are really bad for our health, and are possibly worse than getting divorced.

Happy-coupleHe then states: And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

That is to say, protective of our health, of our life expectancy, our happiness.

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Thirdly: The final important lesson that the researchers learned was that not only do good relationships make us happier and healthier, but they also protect our brains. He gives an example of someone in their eighties: If they are in a securely attached relationship, and can count on their significant other person being there to help them in times of need, then their memories stay intact for longer.

And conversely, when people who were in relationships where they felt they couldn’t really rely on the other person to help them, they fared badly, in that their memories deteriorated sooner.

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Happiness reduces physical pain

Couple-kissingIt might seem that physical pain is physical pain, and that is that.  But we have always known that physical pain and emotional pain are mediated through the same nerve networks.  Here Waldinger explains how pain can be experienced in different ways:

“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days that they had most physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days that they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain”.

That is to say, physical and emotional pain are either additive or subtractive.  So, if you work at achieving a happy relationship, that happiness will be subtracted from any physical pain you subsequently feel.

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Predicting happiness in senior years

Another insight from the research findings was that (on the basis of the information they had accumulated about the men, up to their entering their eighties), when the men had reached the age of 50, the researchers were able to predict who would grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wouldn’t.

They discovered that the people who were most satisfied with their relationships at the age of fifty, were the healthiest at age 80!

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Conclusion

The bottom line of this research is this: If you want to have a life that is happy, now and towards the end, make sure you invest in building happy relationships – or at least one good, happy relationship – now!

Waldinger’s message at the end of his TED talk, is this:

“…Good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being…this is wisdom that is as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that will make our lives good and keep them that way.”

In our western societies, developing relationship skills comes way down our list of priorities: after academic skills, money-making skills, technological skills, medical skills, selling skills, entertainment skills, sports skills, construction skills, accountancy skills, legal skills, creative skills etc. As Barbara Sher said (referring, critically, to American values, which are not dissimilar to those which dominate at the moment in the UK),

If it don’t make money, it don’t count!”

That is to say, all the propaganda of the neoliberal age emphasizes money, money and more money.  And organizational power, or dominance.  And none of these things will actually make you happy!

We now know, unmistakably, from 75 years of powerful research, that what will make us happy, and healthy, is good quality relationships – at least one!

So how do we develop quality relationships?

Traits of a healthy realtionshipAlthough maintaining the quality of our relationships is the key to health and happiness, there ain’t no quick fixes.  You have to work at building relationships!  You cannot buy them ready made!

Werner Erhard used to emphasize that “Successful relationships are based on agreed on goals!”  Yes, that’s right.  Agree on!  That means negotiated between equal individuals.

And Professor John Gottman stresses that you have to work at maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments in your relationships.  So you have to learn how to do that.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Robert Bolton identified twelve specific roadblocks to communication, which, when used, are likely to negatively impact on our relationships with people.

And John Gottman was able to pinpoint four distinctive ways of interacting that can destroy a relationship and he called them the “Four horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Again, you have to learn those insights, and I teach them to my relationship coaching clients.

There are many valuable techniques that we can learn to keep our relationships of a good quality, perhaps the simplest and most apt being the one that Werner Erhard mentioned in one of his seminars on relationships:

“If you want to have a really powerful relationship with anybody, you have got to stop making the other person wrong!”

(Immediately after he said that, someone in the audience piped up: “But Werner, I don’t make them wrong. They are wrong! I just point it out to them.”  You will never achieve a really powerful relationship with anybody unless you learn to stop being critical, sarcastic, condemning, judging, and so on.  And I teach those lessons to my coaching clients).

Creating good relationships can be difficult at times, because it is an art form, and one you have to learn.  And Waldinger states:

“Relationships are messy and complicated, and the hard work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong.”

But he finishes his presentation with this message:

“The good life is built with good relationships”.

If we were very lucky, we learned great relationship skills from our parents and other family members. If we didn’t, it’s important to not beat ourselves up because of that. But we then may have to learn the hard way, through trial and error and repeated experimentation, until we develop the people skills we need. And it is often impossible to learn what we need to know in this way.  It makes more sense to seek out teaching or training or coaching in these skills, and learn from people who know what works and what does not work.

That’s what my partner and I did, beginning in 1984, attending couples therapy; studying assertive communication; and Werner Erhard’s relationship and communication skills; and then on to studying Dr John Gottman’s approach to relationships, including marriage relationships.

Based on our experience, of learning how to have a really powerful, happy relationship, I can tell you: the effort is well worth it.

We now know, based on the rock-solid findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that investing time and money and energy in developing relationship skills is the most valuable investment that we can make, and will give us the benefits of health, happiness and brain longevity for the rest of our lives.

This is a really great TED talk and I strongly recommend that you watch it in full.

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If you want to learn some of the techniques and skills that various specialists have developed, so that you can enrich the quality of your relationships, and you can have a happier life, then I would be very happy to help you.  Please contact me to discuss possibilities.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

Here is a link to the Adult Development Study website, and there is an interview on it with Robert Waldinger, at CBS ‘This morning’, the television news programme.

http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/

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