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I met Brenda and took the MBTI… I had a fairly good understanding of these types before the meeting but was impressed by the depth of knowledge that Brenda shared with me. She clearly has a passion for this work and a gift in imparting the information. There have been doors opened for me because of our talks… — Alan Hintermeister
Alan Hintermeister
Brenda has truly opened up a space for introverted types on the ‘net, and her self-revelations are always inspiring. Her voice is one I always look forward to. She is one of the writers that actually played a part in my return to writing.  — S.E. of Sunflower Solace Farms
S.E. of Sunflower Solace Farms
You’re so honest in your writing. It’s bold. It’s frank. It’s wonderful. I could definitely see the work you are doing here as a useful book. It could save/make a lot of relationships! — Jimmi Langemo
Jimmi Langemo
For the first time in my life I could truly explain, through your words the way in which I experience life and myself. Brenda… It all fell into place. I had found myself and had such a moment of clarity. It felt like such a big weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Finally I felt like it was ok to be me. I was not the only one. I had found people and a little space where I fit in. … I was at work and crying on the inside. Emotions ran wild inside me. I was ecstatic, sad, confused, motivated, i…
Niko
BRENDA: thank you SO much! Your advice is exactly what I need to do. I am amazed how much you “get” me after only exchanging a few messages!… Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me more than a year of therapy sessions! – Megan on space2live
Megan
I have been dating an introverted man who I am very in love with for almost 2 years.  Reading your posts have helped me to be more supportive and understanding to him especially during the times when he needs space.  I just wanted to thank you for your weekly posts and let you know how helpful they are for someone who is in a relationship with an introvert. C.M. on space2live
C.M.
During one of the harder times in my life I found Brenda’s website
and reached out to her. To say the least it has been one of the best
decisions I have made. Being an extrovert I never quite understood
what it meant to romantically involved with an introvert. Brenda does
an incredible job listening, giving in the moment feedback, and helped
me understand the how an introvert functions. She helped explain to me
that I am introspective extrovert, and this gave something to identify
with and allowed me t…
Evan H.

“I was struggling with my daughter (16 at the time) and our constant fighting. You said something to me that changed my life! You were speaking about your own situation and you said to me “my child could not handle my emotions”. This was a HUGE “lightbulb moment” for me and it forever changed the way I dealt with my emotions when I was around my daughter!

I am happy to say that things have never been better between my soon to be 18 year old daughter and myself! I honestly never thought we would…

Mom M
your depth of understanding, and talent at sharing it amaze me. Speechless… and for your sharing of it.. Thank you… deeply. *sigh, its like coming back into my body through acceptance….. Sherrie on space2live
Sherrie
Because of your blog, I know that it is possible for me to have the love that I want one day and that I don’t have to be alone.  — Indepthwoman  on space2live
Indepthwoman

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How to Respond to Negativity and Build Connection

teen girl mad

Photo by Igor Rand on Unsplash

The other night my daughter face-timed me from her dad’s house. The first thing she asked was if she had any appointments after school this week. I said, “Yes, you have a doctor’s appointment after school on Monday”. She immediately got mad and told me how much homework she was going to have Monday night and how she didn’t have time for any appointments this week. “Why do you always sign me up for things after school on Monday?!?”

My first inner response was to defend the necessity for her appointment. My second inner reaction was to take her overwhelm and frustration personally. I am  the one who sets up her appointments, therefore maybe I am the bad guy. It felt like she was blaming me for making her life so complicated.  A feeling it does not take much effort to make me believe.

Pause, don’t explode

But I’ve been working on responding only to what is said and not going off on my own tangent or story.

I also know to listen with empathy and try to connect first, and not correct. Both of these practices are not my first inclinations. It takes a heap of self-governance to not de-rail and spew negativity or defensiveness in return.

I took a deep breath and verbalized empathy regarding her overloaded feeling. “I know it’s one more thing to fit in after school along with homework. I know you’d like to have some free time.”

Like magic

Then the miracle… She started to tell me about a couple of other situations that had come up that day that made her upset. Both of these situations involved important relationships in her life. She also mentioned she had a headache and almost got sick earlier.

Whoa! So mostly her strong reaction to her appointment was due to these other issues. I had nothing to do with them.

The building blocks of connection

According to Dr. Laura Markham (AhaParenting.com) and Dr. John Gottman (marital therapist and researcher), the building blocks of connection are the small overtures or bids for attention we make to each other every day, and the way our loved ones respond.

And, of course, our children often test us by saying something negative to see if we’ll empathize. If we respond to their ‘bid’ with understanding, even though they’re expressing negativity, they’ll trust that we can handle their authentic feelings, and they’ll open up more. If we ignore, deny their feelings, correct them or judge, they’ll shut down. If this interaction is repeated often, kids get in the habit of holding their feelings inside. Not only don’t they reach out to us, but they more frequently reject our ‘bids’ to connect with them. — Dr. Laura Markham, 5 Secrets to Nurture Intimacy with Your Child

Complaints and negativity are requests for connection

I cannot tell you how many times my kids have come home and immediately started griping. “We don’t have any good snacks!”, “Why isn’t dinner ready?”, “I hate school!”

My usual response was to start defending myself or minimizing their problems.  I did not see these gripes as bids for attention. I saw them as attacks on me or the school or the house or whatever. Therefore I did not respond with understanding and my kids eventually did not trust me with their feelings or thoughts. They reached out to me less or they just kept sharing complaints. 🙁

I did not show I could handle their big emotions or true selves and they stopped trying to connect. I found this even more pronounced with my sons versus with my daughter, but that might just be my kids.

Building trust

Slowly, by learning to respond to all bids and not get lost in the negativity, a warmth is returning to my relationships with my children. I get to hear more of what is going on inside of them.

The outcome of the call from my daughter, gives me even more faith in the power of tuning in and responding with care and understanding instead of defensiveness or irritation. It really isn’t about me all the time.;)

All relationships benefit from paying attention and seeing beyond the negativity

Photo by Marc Asporys via Unsplash

This practice of responsiveness works with all relationships. My boyfriend is the most responsive partner I’ve ever had and that encourages me to do the same for him. The more responsive we are with each other, the more trust builds, the deeper the relationship grows.

Dr. Markham’s article,  5 Secrets to Nurture Intimacy with Your Childis so good! I want everyone to read it. Its message fits perfectly with adult intimate relationships as well, not just parenting.

If you struggle with connection with your teen children or your partner, contact me. I’ll help you strengthen your connection. 

For those of you in the Minneapolis area, please save the date: March 10 from 4-6 PM. I’ll be at the local Barnes & Noble for a meet and greet. I’d love to meet you or catch up with you if we’re already old friends. 🙂

 

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3 Comments

  1. TestingtheWaters March 7, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your message Brenda! I will put your suggestions into practice, and see how it goes with my significant other. Yes, I am sensitive, and yes, the other person expresses themselves in a harsh manner. However, if I am honest with myself, I must admit that I have a little unresolved insecurity which plays a role in my defensiveness. Instead of remaining calm, and present to what the other person is trying to express, I tend to allow my own emotions to sweep me away, and feel hurt, feel that I’ve let them down, or I’m “not enough,” hence the defensiveness – but these are inner wounds that I have to heal myself. And of course, the other person does not feel as though they’ve been listened to. Thank you so much for taking the time out to make these dynamics clearer, so that others can benefit!!

  2. TestingtheWaters March 6, 2018 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Hi Brenda! Just wondering about your opinion on this. Excellent article by the way – and it is amazing that you were able to master your emotions, and truly listen to the person, rather than reacting in a defensive way. That is very hard to do! Your story about your daughter was really insightful, since she then opened up to you once she felt safe to do so, and you then understood that she actually felt stressed and overwhelmed, and wasn’t criticizing you.
    I often tend to react defensively when my partner’s tone of voice is harsh. I tend to be sensitive and very aware of how I express myself to others, so that I don’t hurt their feelings. I have thought many times that maybe I should be more “present” to my emotions, and not react angrily, since he doesn’t feel his tone of voice is harsh and has admitted having trouble communicating. Also, i think it could be my problem of interpreting his way of communication as he’s angry with me. However, I think I’m afraid that if I don’t react defensively, he will think its okay to always be harsh. In a nutshell, when the other person initiates a discussion in a brash, or angry manner, as your daughter did, I tend to get upset about the fact that they think it’s okay to express themselves in that manner to me…and I shut down. You think that remaining calm and open, yet firm, maybe still be the best way to engender more trust even if I have this concern? Thanks!

    • Brenda Knowles March 6, 2018 at 4:03 pm - Reply

      Hello Testing the Waters, I am very familiar with your situation. I’ve experienced the same feeling when being on the receiving end of what I consider a harsh tone. I have reacted defensively many more times than calmly. It is not easy when our partner or whoever does not feel they are using a brash or sharp tone. As a sensitive person and someone who is easily reactive to a curt tone, I do try to consider that it might be me who is overreactive. I also understand your point of not wanting the other person to always have a pass for speaking harshly. They should consider how their speech is received as well. My first suggestion would be to deeply listen to your partner’s message and respond with empathy and if that doesn’t work over time to get them to soften their approach, then I would effectively communicate how his language/tone affects you and your wish to be closer to him but this tone keeps you on the defensive and distant. Underneath most complaints/issues is a desire for connection. Figure out how you both can work toward more closeness and less defensiveness. Best of luck!

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