Incongruent Emotions Harm Relationships

I recently saw a male client who was upset about his wife’s possible affair. She had been staying out drinking on weeknights until 1 am, leaving him with the kids. For years she had also been under-functioning in the home, so that he had to do most of the childcare and chores. He complained that she would leave her clothes on the floor all the time despite his requests not to, was constantly late for events, and was undependable in many ways.

I listened to his mouth and words make this list of complaints. He was tearful but tried not to cry  throughout the session. He seemed to be struggling to keep his emotions in check. Each time I ask him how he was feeling, he dismissed his emotions or changed the subject or said his wife is “not that bad” or “I don’t want to make it seem like she does this all the time.” 

It left me wondering: What are his real emotions, beliefs and thoughts? I’m sure if he observed himself neutrally, he would have had the same question. 

Looking at his tears, you might have suspected he was sad. Hearing his words, you might have guessed he was mildly angry. He said the situation was not that concerning to him, but then he would bring the same complaints up over and over again, so you might conclude he really was concerned about her behaviors. Add in his denials, changing opinions, and vague language and, overall, you would be very confused as to his real feelings and opinions. 

When a person has incongruent emotions — crying when he is angry — it is confusing. Both to a therapist and to his partner. As with a stoplight with both red and green lights lit, the partner does not know how to react. 

The human brain has a well-developed system for assessing emotions in other people. Our non-verbal skills evolved millions of years before our verbal skills did, so we are much faster and more competent at figuring out what is unsaid. 

But when the emotions and body language do not match the words, it leads to confusion at best, arguments and distancing at worse. 

People I call “Self-Blamers” in Self-Acceptance Psychology are the most likely to use an incongruent style of expressing themselves. They want to avoid conflict because they are eager for the other person to like them. Perhaps it is a style of communication they learned in childhood.  

They also dislike experiencing shame, so, in an empathic move, they also try to protect their partner from shaming experiences. So they placate and please in an attempt to decrease conflict. 

Or their partner may be an “Other-Blamer” who tends to lash out in anger at any form of criticism, no matter how accurate it is. So the Self-Blamer has learned to be tentative about his criticism, or has learned to moderate his critical words with placating, submissive crying and dissembling. 

Unfortunately, this pattern of communicating merely tells the Other-Blamer wife that she has succeeded in dominating her husband, succeeded in keeping him from shaming her, succeeded in keeping him from holding her accountable for her wrongful actions. His submissive style of communicating has alerted her that in some measure he is shouldering the blame for her behaviors. 

Ultimately, this pattern of communicating leads to distancing in the marriage. The husband learns it is futile to express his legitimate criticisms so he gives up caring and pulls away emotionally. 

The solution is prompt, direct, assertive communication with congruent emotions. If you are angry, be angry and use words, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and emotions that express that. If you are sad, cry and express your hurt. But don’t use tears to placate a partner and avoid conflict when you are really just angry. 

My goal in therapy with this man, and others like him, is to encourage honest assessment of his own feelings and help him gain the assertiveness to express himself promptly and directly. I work to help him understand the roots of his fear of conflict in childhood and in his innate need for approval.  

Possibly, if he had better self-acceptance, his need to placate and please his wife would be reduced to a healthy level. His self-image would not depend on her approval. 

Signaling Calmness with the Voice

 

My speaking coach, Eleni Kelakos, has posted a good blog on the importance of vocal tone, pitch and timbre in communicating authority, presence and confidence.

In addition, I’d suggest that the voice can send signals about our emotional status, such as anxiety or depression — even when we’re not speaking in public.

Just as fidgeting or hyperactivity can mark an anxious person, a tense voice can signal emotional fear states to others. I know many people who speak with voices that are high-pitched or lacking in prosody, the “melodic” or “sing-song” quality that a relaxed voice possesses. This is a sign that their throats are tense and that they are anxious. 

Others talk too rapidly or too haltingly, perhaps signs of anxiety or of “having  the self-criticism filter turned up too high.” Others may speak with a lack of positive energy or enthusiasm, that clearly messages others about their low mood and lack of confidence.

Eleni’s blog as an excellent suggestion as to how to improve the voice. I didn’t realize I used this technique, but I do, so that may explain why my voice is considered self-assured and calming. (An essential skill for someone who teaches meditation!) 

I also believe that being aware of your speaking voice and working to change it can be a very helpful exercise in mindfulness. Because you have to “be in the moment” to notice and change your voice as you speak.

be kind to yourself…

 

 

 

Living Proof of the Power of Self-Acceptance

Self-Acceptance Psychology™ Book Cover

As I sat down to write this first blog, I realized I am living proof of the power of self-acceptance. Ten years ago, I certainly never would have considered taking huge risks like writing a book, putting up a website, blogging or video blogging. I could never have imagined being self-revealing about my own personal struggles and flaws. And I certainly would not have been brave enough to take on the entire psychiatry profession, challenging how it diagnoses and treats those it arbitrarily and falsely identifies as having “mental disorders.”

But when I consider how completely Self-Acceptance Psychology transformed my personality and relationships, it fuels my passion to bring these ideas to others. I feel so strongly about these concepts that I am even going out on a limb financially and career-wise purely in an effort to help others. It would be much easier to enjoy my life without the tremendous challenges of promoting this idea in every minute of my spare time.

My Journey to Self-Acceptance

My journey to self-acceptance began during my second divorce about 10 years ago. My main goal was to avoid repeating the unhealthy relationship patterns that I had experienced in my two failed marriages. Little did I know that so many wonderful, healthy changes would occur to my personality as well!

So I started with therapy, where I took a fresh look at my self-perception, childhood experiences and family relationships. For the first time, self-reflection and journaling became a major part of my life. I read self-help books by the dozens. I was lucky to have been practicing yoga for many years and I revived a meditation practice I had learned in college in the 1970s. A daily running habit was also a tremendously helpful mindfulness practice.

This combination of mind and body work helped provide a calm field for my self-reflection and insights.

If you had asked me at that time, I probably would have said that I loved and accepted myself. I always believed I was a calm person. I have always been a very positive, forward-thinking person who doesn’t dwell in the past. I am not a worrier, and don’t have any phobias, obsessions, or other anxiety-based behaviors. I’ve never been depressed.

I am not an attention-seeker, stirring up dramas or having emotional meltdowns. I’m also very decisive in personal and business matters. I have no problem making major decisions and don’t wallow in regret. Physically, I’ve always tried to carry myself with confidence.

Despite all those positive characteristics, I now recognize that in the past I wasn’t calm at my core.

It is only in hindsight and with improved self-awareness that I am able to recognize that I spent far too much time and energy anxiously focused on the opinions and needs of others. I was too busy worrying what everyone else thought about me.

Simply: Because I had such low self-worth, I depended on others for feelings of acceptance.

As I look back, I can clearly see how low self-worth and the desperate need for approval had driven my behaviors, both large and small. Hindsight has allowed me to become fully aware of how this played out in many powerful and intriguing ways.

In my next blogs I’ll give details of the many changes in my personality that occurred when I gained self-acceptance. 

Check out my first video blog on You Tube. And follow my blog or social media for updated information on Self-Acceptance Psychology™, and news of related topics.