How To Find That Sweet Spot Confronting Issues And Dealing With Conflict In Relationships: The Ergotropic Complaint
Relationships can be difficult at times but we seek them because we are social creatures and thrive when we find intimacy and closeness with other people. Intimate relationships provide us with the richness of life, companionship, and security we seek to make life more meaningful. But as with anything in life that is worthwhile it comes at a price and one of those is dealing with conflict.
It takes skill and experience to deal with conflict successfully. I know as I teach these skills to many of my patients and couples I work with in psychotherapy. However, just as important is using judgment about which issues should be discussed and when. Each of us is different. Thus, the problem of how and when to discuss matters is further complicated by the fact that some of us are conflict-averse, some are comfortable with it, and others seem to thrive on it.
Confronting Relationship Issues
W.R. Hess was a Swiss physiologist who introduced the concept of “ergotropic” to refer to the power of the sympathetic nervous system to exert energy and “trophotropic” to the parasympathetic nervous system’s function to rest. Relationships may be viewed in a similar way. At times we need to work on our relationships, confront issues when they arise, and work through problems together. Other times we need rest and relaxation while enjoying each other’s company and having fun together. Knowing which issues to work on and when can be a challenge sometimes. Added to this problem are the differences between couple’s personalities. Some are more eager to work on problems, process issues and concerns, others tend to avoid or procrastinate in dealing with these matters. Each of us has our own comfort zone so to speak and when they don’t mesh well problems in a relationship can ensue.
How do we decide which issues to discuss, whether we are engaged in ergotropic mode too often or not enough, and when should issues be brought into discussion? Here are some suggestions:
If not sure, think before you say something. Some people have difficulty controlling their reactions and then often regret it later, saying something in an unkind way, losing their temper, getting defensive. If this is you, learn how to relax, recuse yourself, take a walk, call time out and get back to it later.
If something is on your mind and you are not sure whether to bring it up, discuss it with a friend or bring it up in with your therapist. Write down your thoughts and reflect on them. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is full of problems. Our partner is likely to have many faults and so do we. Complaining or bickering much of the time wears down a relationship, so does too much intensity. If you have a tendency to be peevish or intense imagine what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot. How pleasant would that be?
If you think something is important enough to bring up, find a time and place that seems right to raise it, when there aren’t a lot of distractions and your partner seems receptive. If it is difficult to find such a time ask your partner when it would be a good time. If you find yourself feeling like you are walking on eggshells or your partner seems to be doing the same, take some time to reflect on why that may be. Ask your partner whether there is anything bothering them they would like to discuss.
If you find yourself feeling resentful or becoming emotionally distant, consider this a warning that something that needs to be addressed isn’t. Talk with a friend or your therapist about your hesitancy to confront your partner if you are reluctant to do so so that you may find a way to bring it up for discussion.
Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
The Ugly Duckling Syndrome - When It Is Difficult To Accept Ourselves If We Are Different From Others
We have all heard of the term, “black sheep” of the family. It is only natural to want to be accepted and to belong and when we feel different or shunned because of our differences from others it can be very stressful. Witness the bullying that takes place on the internet, peer pressure to conform, the power that fashion and the media leverage on society to live up to certain standards we are beckoned to follow. It can be extremely difficult just to stand up to others for the sake of integrity, to be ourselves. But when one feels that somehow one is fundamentally different from others, certain fears are evoked that might include being ostracized, being teased and made fun of, and feeling inferior or inadequate.
Ugly Duckling Syndrome
The Ugly Duckling is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish poet and author, in the 19th century, about a homely little bird who suffers abuse from others around him until he grows into a beautiful swan. The story won wide acclaim because it resonates with a fairly universal theme in families and society that says we are not necessarily the person or individual we seem to be as judged by others. More than this we carry within us the potential to become more than what any of us might have dreamed possible.
There is another message in the Ugly Duckling Syndrome story beyond the idea that being different carries within itself the potential for transformation. And that is that by virtue of being different we may possess a greater potential to be elevated beyond the ordinary. Just as in natural selection a mutation increases the likelihood that either a failure of adaptation will occur or that a new variant has emerged that is superior to what has come before. Or one might explain the transformative power of being different as deriving from the psychological pain and suffering being different causes from which one may draw inspiration and motivation to rise above the judgment and ostracism differentness evokes from others.
Normality In Psychotherapy
In psychology as in society there has existed a bias to extol the virtues of normality inasmuch as it suggests that one is thereby free from psychological features that are abnormal or defective in some way. Thus we psychologists are also guilty of contributing to the pressure to conform and to suppress differentness to some degree. An early pioneer in the field of psychotherapy, Otto Rank, who was once a close associate of Freud’s in the early 20th century, recognized this bias in psychology as inspiration for creating a classification system of human development in which those who suffer from feeling inferior because they are different, what he called the “neurotic” person, possess greater potential to evolve as persons in a creative fashion than the average person. He devoted his practice in psychotherapy to help those people who suffer from self-doubt and paralysis of will to begin to accept themselves as they are instead of attempting to identify what is wrong with them in order to eliminate whatever it is that makes them different and therefore abnormal in some way. Rank’s ideas paved the way for modern psychotherapy to emerge out of a more medically-based model. Specifically, it emphasized the therapeutic value of being open to and accepting the patient or client in psychotherapy and by virtue of bringing these qualities into the therapeutic relationship instilling these very same qualities in the patient or client.
As a psychotherapist, I try to adhere to these basic principles with the understanding that only within a relationship that fosters trust and openness without judgment or condemnation can one begin the creative process of self-exploration. What brings many patients to my office to seek my services, the pain of loneliness, low self-esteem, harsh self-criticism, feelings of dejection in life and in relationships, resonates with the theme of the ugly duckling in which one feels somehow different, less than others, defective, and/or incurable in fundamental ways. It is my goal in working with patients to help them see how their perceptions are distortions with a negative bias, formed by their experiences in life consistent with this bias, and how they possess the power to create a new narrative of self-empowerment, that transforms ugly into beautiful, limitations into potentials, and self-condemnation into self-endorsement.
Posted by Robert Hamm, Ph.D.
Robert Hamm Ph.D