Articles on this Page
- 09/11/13--17:09: _The Digital Age: Ho...
- 09/13/13--16:20: _The Digital Age: Wh...
- 09/16/13--17:11: _The Digital Age: Tw...
- 09/18/13--16:50: _The Digital Age: Se...
- 09/20/13--17:08: _The Digital Age : H...
- 09/24/13--16:59: _The Digital Age: Yo...
- 09/25/13--16:54: _The Digital Age: Th...
- 09/27/13--16:26: _The Digital Age: Li...
- 09/30/13--15:28: _The Digital Age: Wi...
- 10/02/13--15:42: _The Digital Age: Th...
- 10/05/13--14:45: _The Digital Age: Th...
- 10/07/13--16:49: _Special Announcemen...
- 10/09/13--16:39: _The Digital Age: Th...
- 10/11/13--16:07: _The Digital Age: Em...
- 10/14/13--16:08: _The Digital Age: Em...
- 10/18/13--13:55: _The Digital Age: Em...
- 10/23/13--16:05: _The Digital Age: 3 ...
- 10/25/13--17:57: _The Digital Age: Em...
- 10/28/13--16:07: _The Digital Age: Sl...
- 10/30/13--15:56: _The Digital Age: Br...
- 09/11/13--17:09: The Digital Age: How Has It Changed Your Life?
- 09/13/13--16:20: The Digital Age: Who Am I?
- 09/16/13--17:11: The Digital Age: Two Realities
- 09/18/13--16:50: The Digital Age: Self-Esteem
- Participate fully in social interactions: build and strengthen your relationships!
- Be entirely present and give a friend your full attention: having a real heart-to-heart is hard when you’ve got to check your mobile every few minutes.
- Spend invaluable, uninterrupted bonding time with your kids: when exactly will you have the chance to do this again?
- Enjoy a romantic evening with your partner: we all know that nothing spoils the mood like an overactive cell-phone…
- Take guilt-free time for yourself: take a walk, meditate, daydream, dance, paint, read, play with a puppy, watch your favorite TV show, insert any activity that makes you happy.
- 09/24/13--16:59: The Digital Age: Your Stress Levels
- 09/25/13--16:54: The Digital Age: The Age of Distraction
- 09/27/13--16:26: The Digital Age: Life, Uninterrupted
- Read a book. Think some interesting thoughts. If you’d like, discuss these thoughts with your partner – you can find an area that interests the two of you and explore it together! Getting off the computer can create opportunities to share something wonderful, and reading books is a great way to exercise and develop networks of new neural pathways in your brain. According to Nicholas Carr of The Shallows, this growth can aid in building neural circuits to "crisscross" the cortex, traveling between areas of the brain devoted to memory, visual and conceptual processing, and decision making.
- Go on a date. Take yourself or yourself and a special someone or your whole family out to lunch or dinner or tea and take some time to escape from the unabating demands of your beeping pagers.
- Go on a walk, meditate, or find a way that works for you to take yourself into a quieter head-space (we recommend at least 15 minutes per day). Use this time to clear your mind and you’ll be surprised at how a brief foray into tranquility can carry peace and clarity into all parts in your life. According to a study run by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, "mindfulness improves reading ability, working memory, and task-focus." See the research here.
- Devote time to your hobbies – whether you write, knit, play board games, cook, drink coffee, dance, run, sing, bird-watch, star-gaze, or whittle tiny figurines for pleasure. Many of these activities can enhance your visualization skills, which, according to research by Tracy Alloway, can support visual-spatial and verbal working memory. Whether you seek serenity or release of energy and whether you do this in your me-time or your we-time is up to you – both can make lasting, powerful changes in your relationship with yourself and with your partner.
- Go into nature – alone or together. It’s probably the most direct and effective way to take a break from cyberspace and reconnect deeply and profoundly with the living, breathing world, yourself, and your partner. Nature has been demonstrated to have a regenerative effect on our ability to exercise our working memory and directed attention. See one of the many fascinating studies done on this phenomenon here.
- If you have limits in time or mobility, try a walk in the park, a trip to the beach, a jaunt into the woods! You don’t have to travel far from home to go on an adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re lucky and can get away for the weekend, consider making that happen! Chances are that you (and your partner, if this is a joint venture) will benefit enormously from the trip. Get out of town and explore somewhere beautiful. If you'd like, bring the kids! We highly recommend that you leave your laptop, smart-phone, and all of your other pocket-computers behind. If you take a break from the tiny virtual world that usually lives in your pocket, we promise that you will be able to more fully enjoy the world in all of its glory. Tromp around in a field, look at some old tree stumps, skip some rocks, and celebrate your ability to enjoy this beautiful planet.
- 09/30/13--15:28: The Digital Age: Will We Ever Learn?
- 10/02/13--15:42: The Digital Age: The First Duty of Love is to Listen
- 10/05/13--14:45: The Digital Age: The Workplace
- 10/07/13--16:49: Special Announcement: The Johnson-Gottman Summit
- 10/09/13--16:39: The Digital Age: The Times, They Are A Changin'
- 10/11/13--16:07: The Digital Age: Emotion Coaching
- Effects: Children learn that there is something wrong with them, cannot regulate their emotions, feel that what they are feeling is not appropriate, not right, and abnormal.
- Effects: Similar to the dismissing parenting techniques.
- Effects: Kids can’t concentrate, can’t get along with other others or form friendships, can’t regulate their emotions in a healthy way.
- Be aware of your child’s emotion
- Recognize your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching
- Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
- Help your child learn to label their emotions with words
- Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately
- Show your child respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. Talk through their feelings with them and try to understand their source.
- Be aware of your child’s responses to your method of working through the moment with them.
- In difficult interactions, make your child feels your empathy, by patiently validating their feelings and getting to the root of their expression.
- Instead of focusing on your parental agenda in these situations, show your child that you respect their attempts to solve problems, and guide them with trust and affection. Work through these experiences together.
- 10/14/13--16:08: The Digital Age: Emotion Coaching & Empathy
- 10/18/13--13:55: The Digital Age: Emotion Coaching & Empathy Part II
- 10/23/13--16:05: The Digital Age: 3 Reasons I Am A Terrible Emotion Coach
- 10/25/13--17:57: The Digital Age: Emotion Coaching Step II
- 10/28/13--16:07: The Digital Age: Slowing Down
- 10/30/13--15:56: The Digital Age: Bringing Baby Home
As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?
Whether or not we frequently or regularly use digital media, we’ve all been undeniably and permanently altered by our experiences in virtual communication. Habituated to connecting with others online in today’s high-tech social reality, the culture of our relationships to ourselves and to others has significantly shifted. We invite you to take some time to examine the ways in which you’ve been changed by the digital revolution.
Below are some important questions to ask yourself:
How has your experience affected your life? How has it changed…
… your priorities in life?
… the way you relate to your partner?
… your experience at work?
… your feeling of distance or closeness to your colleagues?
… the way you feel about the future – more or less optimistic?
… your relationship with friends or relatives?
… your feeling of connection to your loved ones?
… your sense of security or stability in the world?
… your experience of time (paying more/less attention to things happening in the moment)?
… your daily mood?
Our participation in the digital world comes with great benefits and great costs. As with all things, we must practice moderation. Plugging in can be great, as long as we can unplug. Control is key.
To spend too much time “plugged-in” is to invite problems into your personal life.
For Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, look forward to an exercise written by Dr. Gottman himself – an opportunity to reconnect with what is most important to you.
All for now,
Gottman, John Mordechai, and Joan DeClaire. The Relationship Cure: A 5-Step Guide for Building Better Connections with Family, Friends, and Lovers.New York: Crown, 2001.
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we bring you a very important Weekend Homework Assignment. If you have read Dr. Gottman's New York Times bestselling The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, this exercise may be familiar to you.
Our priorities, goals, likes, and dislikes inevitably change with the passage of time. Beyond the simple in-and-outs of our everyday lives, we experience deeper changes as our life experiences evolve and transform us. More than ever, these life experiences are influenced by technology: how we plan them, how we experience them, and how we remember them.
To truly know your partner, especially in the Digital Age, it is necessary to first know yourself. With the stressors of daily life - from deadlines at work, cleaning around the house, children to take care of, finances to manage, etc - we don’t always have the opportunity to make the time to ponder these important questions of self-actualization.
Dr. John Gottman understands all of this and encourages you and your partner to set aside some time to consider the following questions.
While we encourage you to begin this exercise over the weekend, it is not meant to be completed all at once! Rather, it is meant to be completed over time, in a relaxed and focused manner. We hope that the conversations facilitated by this exercise last for weeks, months, and even years to come. These questions will allow you to embark upon deep and meaningful explorations of yourself while strengthening your bond with your partner, deepening your love for one another through the intimacy created by sharing your deepest hopes and dreams! Without further ado:
1. What are some of the proudest moments of your life? What kinds of trying and stressful experiences have you survived in which you felt more powerful, victorious, capable of meeting challenges?
2. How have these successes shaped your life, changed the way in which you view yourself, your goals, your dreams?
3. Did your parents show you that they were proud of you for your accomplishments? What about other important figures in your life? How did this affect your experience of feelings of pride in yourself?
4. Were you shown love and affection in your family? If not, how has this affected your relationships in your adult life?
My Injuries and Healings:
1. What experiences have you had in which you have felt the deepest senses of disappointment, loss, self-doubt, hopelessness, loneliness?
2. What kinds of deep traumas have you undergone? How have you survived through them? What kinds of changes do you feel in yourself after going through these difficult times in your life?
3. How did you strengthen and heal yourself? How did you protect yourself? Did you find ways to avoid such experiences in the future?
4. How do you think that these experiences have affected your relationships? Your relationship with your current partner? What do you want your partner to understand about you and your past injuries?
My Mission and Legacy:
1. What do you feel is the purpose of your life? Its meaning? What do you want to accomplish? What is your greatest struggle?
2. What kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind when you are gone?
3. What kinds of significant goals do you still yearn to realize to feel that you have lived a full life?
Who I Want to Become?
1. Describe the person that you want to become.
2. What kinds of struggles have you faced in trying to become that person?
3. What internal demons are you fighting? What demons have you conquered?
4. What would you most like to change about yourself?
5. What do you want your life to be in five years?
Have a great weekend,
Last week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we wrote about the necessity of making time for yourself in this increasingly busy-making (and often crazy-making!) age of technology. We discussed the many benefits that self-exploration and the simple act of taking a break can confer on your relationships with yourself and others. We shared ways of disconnecting from technology, to reflect on and reconstruct healthy social dynamics and escape destructive loops in a climate which has changed and complicated the nature of our social lives. In doing so, we hope that we have begun to inspire you to focus on and start to tackle solvable problems that the digital age may be creating in your relationships.
In the coming weeks, we want to address the specific relationship difficulties you may be experiencing in The Digital Age. It is our intention to explore the reasons for their existence, and use this understanding to help you better navigate or avoid them when they come up! We hope that this knowledge will guide you in strengthening or rebuilding bonds that may be compromised by the digital world.
To begin with, we ask you to consider the following:
As a multifaceted corporeal human being trying to learn and grow in the world which has been irreversibly (but flexibly) divided in two, there comes a point at which you have to make a decision: which one of these worlds feels more real to you? Which is more important? Most likely, given the demands of our current reality, you would like to strike a balance or overcome the split between the online and offline parts of your life, but in trying to achieve this balance or close this gap, you must first accept and consider the ways in which both make serious demands on your time and energy.
As prominent social media researcher Sherry Turkle observes in her book Alone Together,“Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net, and the Net teaches us to need it.” But the truth is that many of us are addicted to the Net. And this addiction affects our choices in real time, without our even noticing it – a point of view with which Zach Brittle, our recent guest blogger, would most likely agree.
Turkle explains that, although “we may begin by thinking that e-mails, texts, and Facebook messaging are thin gruel but useful if the alternative is sparse communication with the people we care about, we become accustomed to their simple pleasures – we can have connection when and where we want it, and we can easily make it go away.”
But the more we leave physical organizations and meeting places, the more we avoid physical gatherings, the more difficult it becomes to extricate ourselves from social media. Isolating ourselves from others in an effort to more effectively dive into our gadgets has long-term consequences as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a prophecy of a lack of social fulfillment. We use and increasingly rely upon the Net as this cycle continues. We turn down invitations to spend time with family and friends and then wonder why the frequency of invitations decreases.
Why aren’t we fulfilled? When we don’t take the time to connect in conventionally intimate ways – making time to be completely present in the same physical location and show our full attention to the other person, we may convey a lack of real commitment to the relationship. And when a feeling of commitment erodes and bids for connection, attention, and care are not responded to, rifts in relationships are inevitably created. The unwillingness of one partner to make time for the other can feel like turning away from or against the an invitation to spend time together. And when turning away becomes the norm - when the “I’m sorry, I’m busy” response begins to feel hollow, whether or not it really is - people begin to feel shunted aside, unappreciated, and rejected.
But what if someone is truly busy? Can’t that be understood? Isn’t it totally reasonable to not be able to accept invitations when others try to plan a meeting “in real life?" Of course it’s reasonable. People are busy. But the difference between maintaining a healthy relationship through stressful, busy times and allowing distance to develop is to remember your commitment to the relationship – and to treat your friend or partner with care. If you genuinely can’t make time to meet, try to reschedule. Agree upon a time in the near future that works for both of you. This is the difference between turning away and turning towards – communicating that the other person is important to you, that you do want to give them your time and attention as soon as you are able, and that you are dedicated and appreciative of them and of your relationship.
We don’t pretend that this widespread predicament is an easy one to overcome, or that it’s possible to entirely resolve or escape from it in the digital age. We do believe, however, that there are several significant issues underlying the pickles in which we find ourselves – namely problems of self-esteem, trust, and mental or emotional stress. Finding balance and keeping perspective is a difficult but by no means insurmountable undertaking –the importance of doing so cannot be overstated for the health of our relationships. In our next few entries, we will explore and share some strategies for combating the problems enumerated above. Stay tuned!
Have a great week,
In Monday's entry on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we promised to explore and address the reasons for specific difficulties you may be encountering in your relationships as a result of the Digital Age. Today, we dive in!
Maybe in the Digital Age, you and I don’t feel that we deserve as much attention from ourselves or others because of two simple things:
1) An established connection to the network creates an expectation that you will dedicate a great deal of time and effort to fielding often unremitting contact in the form of virtual communication from others,
In the last couple of weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve been talking about healthy approaches to relationships in the Digital Age. Today we’d like to share an article with you that addresses an issue we haven’t yet explored in depth: how to take a break from pressure (often impossible, stressful, and unreasonable) and respond to constant virtual communication without coming across as “emotionally unavailable.”
With “BRB,” we hope you can take a guilt-free break from your phone to do many things that are complicated by the constant evolution and increasing omnipresence of our high-tech gadgets:
Using this away-message-esque service (oh, the nostalgia...) with discretion and accountability - being honest about needing to take a break from virtual communication when you feel that it’s creating stress in your life or promoting unhealthy/addictive habits, and likewise being honest with your friends and family about getting back to them at the end of this break - you may be able to overcome many of the issues we’ve addressed in recent entries on The Gottman Relationship Blog!
We promise we aren’t being paid to advertise “BRB.” We just think it’s really cool.
This phenomenon is exactly what prompted Noah Levy and David Krevitt to develop "BRB," a free mobile app that makes unplugging easy - without alienating loved ones.
"We were having dinner with a bunch of friends at The Meatball Shop in the West Village. We looked around and pretty much we were all on our phones, everyone in the restaurant was on [a] phone," Krevitt explained to The Huffington Post.
This meal-time mindlessness got the duo's gears turning. They started asking the bigger existential questions. "Why are we even here?" Krevitt wondered. "Why don't we just get take-out if we're not going to enjoy the company?"
To remedy, the pair hatched a sort of auto-response for your smartphone. Of course, phones already have voicemail, but until now, Levy says, there has been no "universal way of telling everyone that you're trying to get away." The iPhone complicates connection. "There are so many different ways to communicate [on the iPhone]; it's not just a linear feed."
Maybe simply switching off your phone and leaving it at home would be a quicker fix. Yet, in a society where we expect immediate response on our devices, checking out -- unannounced -- might not suffice.
“The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,” David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan told The New York Times back in 2009. “If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”
In that respect, the app gives you the luxury of falling off the grid (yep, for some it's a luxury now), while maintaining a hard-won reputation as a "good" friend.
"We kind of rely upon our phones to be the conduit for our friendship these days," Krevitt says. "If someone is not getting back to you -- it’s like being emotionally unavailable."
BRB can assuage the distress of any pal who might assume they're being ignored (and vice versa, you won't have to worry about hurting any feelings). Push-notifications and alerts inform your contacts who also have the app that it's not them, it's you -- and your decision to take a little texting hiatus. You don't have to be constantly connected to be a good friend. In fact, you might become a better one when you engage in these short, tech-breaks. Just a little time spent without your cell can help to keep symptoms of stress and anxiety at bay.
And for fun, BRB plays off of the millennial-era "away message" first popularized by AOL's Instant Messenger and that so many 20-somethings have relied on throughout their social lives. BRB users are free to customize their notices of time spent unplugged, and the most fun, creative "away messages" are highlighted on the app.
"The away message was an art form back in the day," 25-year-old Krevitt reminisces. And they make us nostalgic for another time. "[Millennials are] the last group of individuals who saw what life was like before the smartphone era -- the last real generation to remember what it was like to not always be 'on.'" And in that sense, he says, it's a bit of a responsibility to hold a torch to life when our heads were up, not buried in the glow of a screen.
The idea, still, is not to relinquish our reliance on phones. "We're big iPhone addicts over here," Krevitt admits. "We're not trying to say that the phone is a problem here. We're just trying to give people... another way to communicate."
To see Huffington Post’s wonderful list of "19 Ways to Unplug," follow the link to the original article and scroll to the slideshow at the bottom. We really like it, think it sounds pretty fun, and plan to put these ideas into action ourselves this weekend – we hope that you enjoy them too!
Have a wonderful weekend,
This week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we turn our attention from self-esteem to stress. Researchers of cognitive psychology in Quebec, Canada exploring the effect of stress on our brains have found an important link: numerous studies have demonstrated significant connections between stress, anxiety, distractibility, and the functioning of short term memory. It seems that when we are chronically under significant pressure and our brains are asked to cope with high levels of stress, the tension and anxiety we feel detracts from our ability to focus – we become more distractible and the capacity of our short-term memory is reduced. Our modern technology, with its unremitting demands on our attention, may make us more vulnerable than ever to the cognitive effects of anxiety.
The results of this test do not indicate your level of risk for experiencing the cognitive effects of stress, but rather the likelihood of developing a stress-related illness. Naturally, higher scores on this test predict both increased risk for problems in both cognitive and physical functioning. For more on fighting the effects of stress, see our previous blogs on self-care, flooding, how to have a stress-reducing conversation, and building trust in stressful times.
Circle the events you've experienced in the past year. Then, total the number of points assigned to the items you've circled:
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue our discussion of stress and its effects on our relationships in the Digital Age. We begin with a quote from James Olds, a professor of neuroscience, cited by Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains: “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.” The quote is taken from the introduction to Carr’s thought-provoking book, in which he argues that our ability to think is enormously compromised by the distracting nature of the virtual world with which we make contact every day. A summary of his argument follows:
Much of the brain is engaged when its owner is online because of the enormous number of stimuli it is exposed to and the decisions it has to make in real time (Do I click this hyperlink? Do I check my email? Do I read this article? Do I respond to this instant message? What am I supposed to be working on?). Some say that the activation of many regions of the brain is a good thing. In reality, these activities put strain on short-term memory and impair our ability to think deeply. We compare this cognitive function to the experience of the human mind before digital media took off. When people read, for example, the amount of neuronal firing in the brain is much less. On the surface it seems that the brain is less engaged, but in reality, when you focus on a book and read it in a linear fashion (not jumping around), your brain is able to retain much more information at the speed that you are reading. This allows the information to be encoded in short-term memory and to potentially be transferred into long-term memory.
Our ability to reason, it seems, is becoming seriously impaired by our tech-savvy lifestyle. As early as 2009, in the midst of a burgeoning technological revolution, people were starting to suspect that we had a serious problem on our hands.
According to an article in the Science section of Wired Magazine, “In the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nass and Stanford psychologists Anthony Wagner and Eyal Ophir surveyed 262 students on their media consumption habits. The 19 students who multitasked the most and 22 who multitasked least then took two computer-based tests, each completed while concentrating only on the task at hand… In every test, students who spent less time simultaneously reading e-mail, surfing the web, talking on the phone and watching TV performed best. ‘These are all very standard tasks in psychology,’ said Nass. ‘In the first, there’s lots of evidence that if people do poorly, they have trouble ignoring irrelevant information. For the second task, there are many demonstrations that this is a good reflection of people’s ability to organize things in their working memory.”
What does this have to do with relationships?
Our ability to think, to enjoy a functional working memory, and to participate in daily experiences in reasonable control of our attention seems to be deteriorating in a climate of constant distraction. When we end up experiencing great difficulties in making decisions and exercising good judgment as a result of enduring distractibility, our relationships suffer along with the rest of our lives.
If you get used to devoting only a fraction of your attention to the task at hand, you may find yourself forgetting (or unable) to switch gears when you are with your partner. The two of you may begin to lose your connection and your faith in each other's ability to dedicate time and attention to the relationship. You may have trouble remembering what your partner was saying a moment ago in conversation. You may have trouble remembering what you were saying. Cue criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling – welcome the Four Horsemen.
We’ve all experienced the following: If our attention is too scattered to keep track of the conversation, if we don’t remember what we or our partner just said, if we don’t remember that we agreed to pick the kids up from school or to stop by the grocery store on the way home, then we begin to experience problems in our relationship. If you forget promises that you make, your word begins to lose its meaning. Simple, honest mistakes can become the cause for a gradual loss of trust.
If you feel anger, shame, guilt, or defensiveness as a result of the sense that your partner lacks drive or care, consider that what your partner may actually lack is attention. The problem is often not one of intent but one of distractibility – though the distinction usually has little bearing on the continuation of destructive patterns. Dr. Gottman often explains that the reasons for failed connection are often the result of mindlessness, not malice.
How can you break the cycle, then? It’s important to understand the source of stress and the effects that it has on your relationship, and to realize that change can come about only when you change your approach. In our next blog posting on Friday, we will give you some ideas for doing just that.
All for now,
At the end of our potentially alarming post on Wednesday, we promised to give you some ideas for avoiding the clutches of distraction in the Age of Distraction. Here are some thoughts that may help you get started imagining ways to take the breaks you need to enjoy all aspects of your life fully and without interruption.
First of all, it’s important to mention that the following strategies for combating chronic distraction are untenable without the determination to step away from the internet entirely for the time that you’ve decided to commit. In short, none of the activities below are possible without completely relinquishing your grip on the cyber world for some time.
But where am I supposed to find the time? I’m really, really busy!
Note: A great way to make time to put these ideas into action (and to reap the maximum benefit from the undertaking) is to make these activities a regular part of your schedule (for example, if you meditate to clear your mind of distraction, setting aside a regular time to do so once a day or once a week – say, an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings). Alternately, if you take a yoga class or an art class, your schedule is already in place! We would like to be clear – the activities below do not have to take up countless hours of your life! You are free to pick and choose and modify the ones that appeal to you in ways that will allow you to benefit from them while working within your schedule. We do not recommend attempting so many stress-relief strategies as to achieve the opposite effect!!
Without further ado, here is a list of strategies for taking time off which, if used wisely and regularly, can be used to systematically improve your life:
Whatever you do, try to find some peace. Finding balance and developing your attunement to the world around you can allow you to bring harmony into many areas in your life. Your mind, your body, and your partner will very likely thank you for it.
A final thought: We do not consider the internet to be some kind of evil. We all use it. It’s useful and can be a wonderful tool for work and for play. You are obviously reading this because the internet exists. You can even use the internet to your advantage in pursuing and researching ways to disconnect from it! This is a part of its strange beauty.
You can also use virtual communication tools to contact friends, family, and coworkers in your network with whom you would like to share some coffee or an invitation to an event (a party, a friend-date, etc.). In our next Weekend Homework Assignment on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will provide you with a short and sweet (yet detailed and comprehensive!) master plan for doing just that!
In our examination of relationship problems that may manifest from this mental state, we also mentioned that The Digital Age can create enormous difficulties in making decisions and exercising good judgment. The Digital Age, according to Nicholas Carr of The Shallows, both empowers and disempowers society. The writer puts this succinctly:
"We program our computers and thereafter they program us."
According to Carr, many studies show that “our ability to learn can be severely compromised when our brains become overloaded with diverse stimuli online.” In today’s posting, we will explore one such study, and explain its connection with (and significance for) our area of interest - human relationships. The following is a brief summary of this study:
So, what does this mean? These results increasingly lead researchers in the field to believe that human beings are significantly hindered by the increasing “helpfulness” and user-friendliness of developing technology. We find it more and more difficult to learn. According to van Nimwegen, participants who did not rely on the help of the program demonstrated “more focus, more direct and economical solutions, better strategies, and better imprinting of knowledge.”
From The Shallows:
“The more that people depended on explicit guidance from software programs, the less engaged they were in the task and the less they ended up learning. The findings indicate, van Nimwegen concluded, that as we ‘externalize’ problem solving and other cognitive chores to our computers, we reduce our brain’s ability ‘to build better knowledge structures’ – schemas, in other words – that can later ‘be applied in new situations.’”
It is becoming painfully clear – the more that we rely on ever-increasingly user-friendly software to solve problems and “think” for us in complex situations, the less we are able to rely on ourselves. Because we no longer need to learn as much to perform the tasks that we need to accomplish – projects assigned at work, planning our days and lives (as demonstrated by another test in which volunteers were asked to schedule meetings involving overlapping groups of people) – we lose our ability to find solutions when problems arise. We are, as Carr says, “automating” the mind. When it comes to brain power and cognitive activity, it seems that old maxim applies: use it or lose it!
In the area of human relationships, we are definitely not helping ourselves. With our smart-phones and various gadgets, we are capable of texting, emailing, plugging into and being flooded with information from social media sites from virtually any corner of the world. Unfortunately, the flood of social data constantly inundating our collective consciousness does little to increase (and much to impede) our social intelligence. Whether you are meeting close friends for an afternoon in a café or trying to manage a relationship conflict with a level head, chances are that, at least at some point, you won’t have the opportunity to edit yourself: to delete a less-than-ideally worded phrase or add a clarifying emoticon to the end of a potentially inflammatory statement.
So we need to think clearly without relying on our shiny-hopeful-looking-technological-gadget-friends. When an individual doesn’t learn and practice the skills of real-time face-to-face conversation, he doesn’t feel confident in his ability to communicate with ease and grace in person, and may naturally respond irrationally when put “on the spot.” From business settings (at the office, meeting with clients, talking to coworkers or your boss) to interactions with your family, friends, and partners, skills in relating to people face-to-face in real time are absolutely necessary. Without them, serious challenges arise that promise to affect every area in a person’s life. From easy, carefree exchanges to difficult conversations in stressful times, social skills are the bedrock of our relationships.
One of the most important and difficult social skills to learn is truly listening. As Dr. Gottman writes in his book, The Relationship Cure:
“You won’t go far without a strong foundation of good, basic listening skills. Your knack for drawing others out and expressing genuine curiosity about their lives can be a real boon to bidding for connection and establishing satisfying relationships. Good listening skills can help you to feel easy in all sorts of social situations, and to build the kind of rapport that leads to solid emotional bonds.”
On Wednesday, look forward to our overview of Dr. Gottman’s active listening skills!
All for now,
Start by asking questions. Not too specific (one-word answers don’t open up a conversation!) and not too open-ended (“How’s it going” often receives a formulaic, insincere, or meaningless response such as “Great,” which clearly doesn’t reflect what the person is thinking). Try: “What stressors are you currently facing at work?” or “How do you think we should celebrate the cat's birthday this year?”
Ask questions about people’s goals and visions of the future. They will probably have something interesting to say. It is likely that they will appreciate you for asking and you will appreciate them for their answer.
Look for commonalities. Here are Dr. Gottman’s words on the subject: “People are attracted to those with whom they have things in common, so make it a point to let others know when you share similar views or backgrounds. At the same time, don’t try to make yourself the focus of conversation. Say enough to establish common ground and empathize, but always remember to share the floor.”
Tune in with all your attention. Really listening can be really hard, especially if you have a tendency to spend the time the other person is talking carefully planning out the next thing you are going to say (If you have this tendency, you are not alone). While it is natural to be distracted by the thoughts flying through your head, to really participate in a conversation means to intentionally abandon the urge to engage in two parallel monologues. What can you do to get out of the habit? Try to follow the other person’s train of thought – travel with them as it moves through the landscape of their mind. As your travels arrive at points that stimulate your natural curiosity, show sincere interest in a way that feels genuine. Ask questions when you reach intriguing junctures!
Respond with an occasional brief nod or sound. A verbal cue such as “mm-hmm” or “yeah” lets the speaker know that you’re paying attention and are interested in what they are saying.
From time to time, paraphrase what the speaker says. This serves two purposes: First, it lets the speaker know that you’re tuned in. Second, it gives you the opportunity to clarify what they’ve said. Paraphrasing when you ask a question is often a good idea, and can look like this: “You said that you were looking into renovating Sarah’s old dollhouse to fit in a rec room for the cat. Why do you think this is a good idea?”
Maintain the right amount of eye contact. Too little eye contact can communicate disinterest, nervousness, or lack of confidence, while too much (staring) can communicate intrusiveness or hostility. Allow the speaker to meet your eye, don’t be afraid to look at each other, and keep in mind that holding eye contact for more than a few seconds with a smile can be construed as flirtation. Many books have been written about this. To learn much more about verbal and nonverbal emotional communication, check out Dr. Gottman’s books!
Let go of your own agenda. Instead of trying to direct the flow of conversation, giving advice, trying to solve the speaker’s problems (or feeling overwhelmed and unintentionally minimizing or denying negative feelings they communicate), just be there. If the conversation turns to intense emotional issues and we want to help, many of us jump into the role of rescuer – but the truth is that individuals are best helped by being given the room to speak their feelings and discover the answers to their questions and solutions to their problems themselves. The greatest gift you can give to a friend or lover or family member struggling with difficult life problems is not your opinion but your warm presence and a listening ear. The best thing you can do is to convey the following message: “I understand how you’re feeling right now.” In Dr. Gottman’s words, “Although we can’t eliminate all the pain life presents our friends and loved ones, we can offer one another immeasurable support in difficult times simply by listening in authentic, empathetic ways.”
Turn off the TV. This one should be self-explanatory.
Think about these tips this week! And next week! Think about them often.
All for now,
*Please note: Today’s post on active listening is meant to share the importance of communicating curiosity and attention in conversations with your partner, friends, and family, and to serve as a basic guide to expressing this interest with verbal and nonverbal cues. As we previously discussed in "Myth vs. Reality: Debunking Relationship Dos and Dont's," communicating using active listening skills in attempting to reach conflict resolution will not save your relationship! As Dr. Gottman explained in an interview with Psychotherapy.net, when you are experiencing conflict, “real empathy comes from going: 'You know, I understand how upset you are. It really hurts me that I'm messing up this way, and I've got take some action.' Real empathy comes from feeling your partner's pain in a real way, and then doing something about it.”
The prevalence of this problem alarming. We’d like to end this week on The Gottman Reationship Blog with a short list of Dr. Gottman’s tips for creating and maintaining healthy connections with co-workers that demonstrate interest and dedication – without compelling you to perpetually attend to the whims of your mobile devices. In fact, we will go further still – and show you how, in the implementation of some of the specifics, you can make the internet work for you!
Note: The following list provides some ideas for creating a healthy work environment, strengthening bonds and respect among co-workers, and creating the opportunity for employees to set personal boundaries in availability outside of regular work hours. We understand that some of these suggestions may not be applicable or feasible to implement in your work situation. The list below is simply intended as a starting point – a set of tips we hope will guide you in thinking about ways you can make some of these ideas work in your own life:
Team meetings: Call your co-workers to team meetings warmly and don’t leave anyone out! If someone on the team is contributing to the project but you feel that their opinion isn’t strictly necessary in decision making, remember that their exclusion may leave them feeling disrespected and unappreciated. If you’re on the fence, invite them as a gesture of appreciation for the work that they are doing – thereby improving everyone’s experience in the work environment. In this case, you can use the internet to your advantage by including everyone on your team in the invitation email (“CC:-ing” all members of your work group).
Introductions: The first day at a new job is rarely a relaxing experience. The stress of coming into a new workplace can be greatly alleviated by warm introductions to one’s coworkers-to-be. So stop and say hi! We’re all the new guy at some point – so when we’re not the new guy/girl, we might as well make the them feel welcome.
Bulletin boards, staff newsletters, and intranet newsgroups: Though these communication tools require time and effort to maintain, they can make enormously positive changes in office life. In these kinds of open forums, staff can come together and connect over shared interests, enabling individuals to build stronger relationships that may even extend into personal life. These forums can bring people together emotionally as well. In The Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman says that creating traditions – such as sharing baby pictures, high school prom photos, travel shots, etc., on a staff bulletin board – can be fun and bring novelty to the office. It can give staff a chance to see each other from radically different points of view. He explains it like this: “Imagine seeing your political nemesis as a frightened two-year-old on a pony, or the office tyrant as an awkward teenager in braces and a powder-blue tuxedo. It [sends] the message that we were all innocent once, we were all vulnerable, and we still carry those parts of ourselves around every day… we don’t have to unravel our whole life stories to our coworkers, but it may help to reveal glimpses of our past from time to time.” Whether you create meeting spaces online or offline, take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer!
Birthday celebrations: Birthdays are great. Everyone has a birthday, so it’s a very egalitarian way to ensure that everyone is recognized and appreciated. Birthdays are an ideal opportunity to gather as a group and spend some social time with your coworkers – just remember to keep the focus on the person and not on their age (which can be touchy subject) and try to keep the festivities fairly short while still ensuring that there is time for casual conversation.
Candy jars, open doors, and other invitations to “face time:” It’s well worth making an effort to be inviting in the office. Instead of isolating yourselves in cubicles amidst a flurry of official communications, keep a candy jar, an open door, or something else to signal your availability for real human interaction. You can even use the internet to deliver a message to this effect. (See? The internet is great!)
Holiday celebrations: The holidays can be a stressful time. But they also provide ample opportunity to forge bonds and learn more about your coworkers. There are all kinds of traditions that can allow work groups to take a break from the routine – whether you choose to have a party (maybe inviting partners or families of staff to mingle?), host a white elephant gift exchange (often a huge hit!), or do something entirely different (be creative!). A holiday ritual can be a wonderful chance to relax and connect.
Recognition for special accomplishments: Companies often have a system providing recognition for good performance (like Employee of the Month). Such a system can be augmented and improved by a more egalitarian process – one in which staff nominate their coworkers for honors or send kudos to those who they feel are doing good work, rather than having a manager cherry-pick employees. Whether this recognition comes by electronic message or in physical form, making a public announcement can reduce the likelihood of recognition feeling like a necessary formality. Recognition can be accomplished via office email.Thanking individuals or teams for their contributions in a message sent out to the office can make people feel highly valued and respected – in other words, great.
If you want to provide motivation to a team tackling a challenging project (an incentive to help people stay unified, organized, and goal-oriented) it can be rewarding and enjoyable to make light-hearted wagers. What does this mean? Dr. Gottman gives the example of a tradition at Microsoft, where managers have been known to promise to shave their heads if a development deadline is reached!
A culture of positive reinforcement will not only increase productivity but make people feel that their work is valued, fostering a warmer and more respectful office environment.
We hope that these suggestions have given you some ideas for connecting with your co-workers. Remember that giving them the appreciation and respect they deserve in the workplace –making yourself available, while drawing a clear boundary between work and home life – you can make great strides towards reaching a balance between the two, staying sane, and having time to nurture and strengthen connections between yourself and the ones you love.
Have a great weekend,
My colleagues in the audience were an array of clinicians at all different levels of training from all over the world. It seems to me that we all traveled the distance with one central question in mind: What do we need to know to give our couples the most state-of-the art care that we can provide?
It was a two-day conference dense with interventions, theory, and application. We saw videotapes of both successes and mistakes (thank you for that Julie, what a gift!). Our presenters sat on two couches around a coffee table and entered into conversation as if we were all in one huge living room. The three of them explored the differences and similarities in their theories, at times reverent and complimentary, and at times one could feel the tension of horns locking in the passion of their perspectives.
At the risk of gross oversimplification, much of the weekend pointed back to two main points: (1) it has been scientifically proven numerous times in numerous ways that human beings need one another, and (2) the couples in our offices are the experts on their own relationships. We need to stay out of their way and learn from them.
It is almost cliché to talk about needing love. We all know we need food, shelter, water, and love, but accepting this is not as easy as it may sound. In his lecture on building loyalty, John Gottman said, “We need someone in our lives whose world stops when we are in pain.” That requires one to be vulnerable and share the pain, and the other to say no to every other person who is knocking on the door at that moment. We can help by reminding people that allowing yourself to need and be needed is as important as allowing yourself permission to breathe oxygen.
And when it comes to love, people who are happily enjoying their partners are the experts. From Dr. John Gottman we have the benefit of 40 years of observation of such couples, and from Dr. Sue Johnson we understand the application of Attachment Theory to relationships as a way to create connection. Although we are informed by this research, the last words at the conference that were said were, “Go out and keep learning from your couples.”
We’ve read the books, understand the theories, and are skilled at the interventions, yet I think as therapists we must remember that we are not the most important teachers in the room. After we provide the climate, our couples will teach us what works and what doesn’t. They will teach one another how they like to be loved and comforted. They are the masters, and will be able to see that when they understand it is not only perfectly fine to need love - it is to be human.
With much gratitude for all my amazing teachers,
Laura Silverstein, LCSW
But take heart: Though the formation of unhealthy habits was almost-certainly-in-large-part unavoidable, now that we can see clearly, we can take charge! We can use our perspective to take a good hard look at our behavior and adjust it to our liking. Conscious of our complicity, we can modify our approach to overcoming these challenges. We owe it to each other and to ourselves!
Technology has enabled us to bridge enormous distances in a fraction of a second – to talk on the phone, send an email, text, and video chat with people on the other side of the planet. Our computers and phones bring us comfort and joy in many ways, creating countless opportunities for connection that are appreciated not only by those in long-distance relationships but by couples, friends, and families all over the world. Communication technology – this marvelous thing – comes with a price. In the moments when our appreciation for it wanes – when we experience its limitations – we become conscious of the price we are paying. Unfortunately, in the whirlwind of demands bestowed upon us by our busy days, focusing on this problem is hard to afford. In reading this, you are choosing to invest time and energy into examining this problem, so we will get to the point:
It’s easy to forget a simple truth: When we use virtual messaging regularly, whether in the office or in our personal lives, the time and energy we spend sending and receiving bits of text is directly deducted from the time and energy we have left for connecting with our loved ones and colleagues in the real world. The changes the tech revolution brought with it have become so imperceptible and so deeply woven into the fabric of our daily lives as to escape our conscious awareness.
Kids are growing up uncomfortable with things like telephones. When pressed, they say that talking on the phone is too weird, that it might be awkward, and ultimately requires too much attention. They are growing up expecting less attention and closeness in their relationships, and their expectations are often self-fulfilling.
An article by Maggie Smith of Brittanica.com (back in 2009!) observed that:
Breadth, not depth, becomes the norm in a world of hyper-connectivity. In other words, your email inbox does more than just eat up your time each day. It plugs you into an ever-widening circle of contacts, navigated via thinner, faceless means of communication. You have less and less time to go deeply with others… and at the same time, this world of gadget-driven hyper-connectivity changes what it means to be present. Across our lifetimes, mutual focus is the launch point and bedrock of any social situation. When we give others half our attention or allow interruptions to pepper our time together, we undermine the chance for a true “meeting of minds.” Respect for the integrity of a moment is crucial for nurturing in-depth interactions.
Skimming, multitasking and speed all have a place in 21st-century life. But we can’t let go of deep focus, problem-solving and connection – the building blocks to wisdom and intimacy. The task before us – to spark a renaissance of attention – is monumental, and yet it’s as crucial as greening the planet or rebuilding our financial system. For we can only meet the challenges of our day by strengthening, not undermining, our powers of attention.
Distractibility (recently discussed here and here) and multitasking (addressed here) can do much to generate and amplify relationship problems (loss of trust, emergence of negative sentiment override, growth of distance between partners, and deterioration of emotional support) and create internal problems (insecurity, loss of self esteem, fear of isolation, and loss of emotional communication skills). In a relationship often conducted through virtual communication, you may find yourselves suddenly surrounded by the 4 Horsemen – who have crept unnoticed into the darkness that communication technology can’t help but keep us in.
For these reasons, we will be concluding our series on the Digital Age with the following chapter. In the next few weeks, we will discuss changes in the development of children (both EQ and IQ) in this digital world, their difficulties in learning social skills, and the problem of instilling values (empathy, trust, responsibility, and loyalty) in our kids.
We will explore the development of a young person in cyberspace: the effects of experimental play afforded by anonymity, the construction and editing of self in a socially pressurized online landscape, and the dangers of developing anxieties, narcissism, and a fear of intimacy. In this, we will address the ways in which parents may unwittingly reinforce a culture that teaches our kids not to question the consequences of the tech revolution they are raised in: to accept them as inescapable, and consequently endure interpersonal insecurity, internal problems of self-confidence, and isolation. We often don’t realize how the Digital Age may be depriving our kids of learning the social skills required to problem solve offline. Face-to-face. We will leave you with some strategies for supporting your children as they grow up, and empowering them to meet challenges in the real world!
To continue our last chapterof our series on relationships in the Digital Age, we’d like to introduce you (or reintroduce you!) to the basics of Emotion Coaching, Dr. Gottman’s five step program for raising emotionally intelligent kids.
When Dr. Gottman began his research with children, exploring and identifying the best methods for raising an emotionally intelligent child, most of the psychological literature available on parenting was restricted to the managing of a child’s misbehavior. The common notion that “children are our future” puts a lot of pressure on parents to do their best with their kids, but unfortunately buying a veritable library of parenting books is often not the best idea. Many books on parenting seem to take a great deal of “evidence” from popular myths, common misconceptions, and personal anecdotes. Recognizing the limitations of this narrow perspective, Dr. Gottman undertook a variety of scientific studies, which led him to the conclusion that the key to good parenting lies in understanding the emotional source of problematic behavior. He performed a detailed laboratory examination of children whose parents interacted with their emotions in various styles. The conclusions he reached were striking.
1. The Dismissing Parent disengages, ridicules or curbs all negative emotions, feels uncertainty and fears feeling out of control, uses distraction techniques, feels that emotions are toxic or unhealthy, uses the passage of time as a cure-all replacement for problem solving.
2. The Disapproving Parent is similar to the dismissing parent but more negative, judgmental and critical, controlling, manipulative, authoritative, overly concerned with discipline and strangely unconcerned with the meaning of a child’s emotional expression.
3. The Laissez- Faire Parent is endlessly permissive, offers little to no guidance about problem solving or understanding emotions, does not set any limits on behavior, encourages “riding out” of emotions until they are out of the way and out of sight.
The fourth and last "type" of parent identified by Dr. Gottman is not a common stereotype, perhaps because it isn’t negative, or because when we were kids, playing with Tommy and Phoebe on the playground, they didn’t really understand what made their parents so “good.” This “good” parent is what Dr. Gottman calls The Emotion Coach. When you look back on memories of your own childhood, you may recognize that some of the strategies below were used by your parents when you felt the closest to them – when you felt that they could really relate to you, when you were truly understood.
Have a great weekend,
In last Friday’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we promised to dive into a deeper explanation of Emotion Coaching, reviewing strategies that you can use to build bonds of trust, respect, and mutual understanding with your kids. In doing so, you will be able to provide your children with the social skills necessary to build and strengthen their own bonds in the Digital Age.
In the next couple of weeks, we hope that you will see an easy way to transform potentially intimidating and murky waters of conversation with your child into a clear, beautiful bonding experience for both of you. Today, we will show you how to begin navigating these waters with the first step of Dr. John Gottman’s Emotion Coaching process: Empathy.
Imagine, for a moment, Mark and his seven-year-old son, Creighton. After hours of standing in line for a ride at Disneyland, sweating profusely in his khakis on what feels like the hottest of all possible hot days, they have finally reached the front of the line. Creighton looks up at Mark, tugging with panic at his sleeve, and with eyes big as saucers says the last words Mark wants to hear: “Daddy, I’m scared.”
Imagine another example: Ruth and her five-year-old daughter, Gabby. Coming home from work late one night, Ruth is tackled by Gabby, who demands a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Exhausted, but unable to resist her adorable youngster, Ruth relents. Five minutes later, forgetting to lose the game to her daughter, she is startled by a sudden sob. Gabby is crushed.
Lastly, consider the case of Linda and her ten-year-old son, Tommy. Coming home from a fifth grade class outing to the zoo, he is unusually quiet. Assuaged by his mother’s questions, “How did it go? Did you have fun with your friends? Tell me all about it!” Tommy squirms and awkwardly complains that he was avoiding the Reptile Room when one of the bullies in his class called him a baby.
What do all of these examples have in common? They are universal, extremely familiar, everyday expressions of a child’s desire for their parent’s support. They are cries for sympathy and understanding. When children show their parents vulnerabilities, they want their parents to be their allies. As the above examples show, it can be difficult for parents to respond in these emotionally charged moments. Common societal misconceptions are at play here, as well as basic human psychology: parents often fear losing control of themselves or allowing their children to lose control of their negative emotions, and it is easy to fall into the trap of using distraction techniques to pacify a child who is upset. “Here, honey, stop crying, we’ll get ice cream on our way home!” Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, these techniques are only temporary “solutions” to the “problem.” Research shows that emotional awareness does not have to be accompanied by the feeling of wearing your heart on your sleeve. It does not have to involve ripping your soul out and exposing all of your vulnerabilities to someone else. Evidence shows that children who cannot look to their parents for true understanding and support feel more vulnerable and out of control in these moments. Dr. John Gottman describes children who have non-emotion coaching parents as growing up in a “make believe home.”
Let’s return to our scenarios. In Mark and Creighton’s case, Daddy is stressed out and hot and irritable and all kinds of frustrated with his son for revealing his second thoughts about the Disneyland ride. If you haven’t spent a lot of time around children, think back to that old adage - a kid’s mother gets him dressed up in layer upon layer of warm clothing, and the moment before he’s all ready to go play in the snow outside, he miraculously discovers the sudden and overwhelming desire to use the bathroom. Though the child in the well-known anecdote has physical need, Creighton’s emotional need is just as significant. If his father calls him a baby, or ridicules his fear out of annoyance, the lessons that Creighton will learn are that his emotions are unreasonable, shouldn’t be shown to anyone, and are fundamentally undesirable and problematic. Now imagine his father leaning down and saying, “Yeah, kid, I used to be afraid of some rides too! This one is really big and scary, huh? Do you still want to go on it with me or do you want to try a smaller one?” Creighton’s trust in his dad will be affirmed. He will feel safe in expressing his fear, and he will gain a greater understanding of his feelings and the awareness that he can deal with them.
Now take the case of Ruth and Gabby: Ruth is exhausted from work and caves in to her daughter’s desire for a game, which ends in tears when Gabby loses. As an Emotion Coach, what would Ruth do? She wouldn’t attempt to pacify Gabby with a cookie or a promise of a trip to the park the next day. She would sit down next to her daughter and ask her about how she is feeling. She would try to understand why Gabby is so upset, patiently listening to her daughter’s responses and helping her work through her emotional state. She might ask, “What’s wrong, babe? Are you upset because you lost the game? Losing sucks, I know. I hate losing. Maybe we could practice tomorrow and you could beat me! That always helps!” Like Creighton, Gabby would feel that her mother is aware of her emotions, that they are real and important and deserving of compassion and empathy, that all humans have them. She will be a little further in gaining an invaluable skill-set - understanding herself and others.
Now that we have gone through these two examples, the method that Linda should use in approaching her son Tommy’s experience with a bully at the zoo should be seem relatively clear. Already shamed and embarrassed by his classmate, Tommy worries that his mother will also misunderstand him and cause him further discomfort. If she uses Emotion Coaching, she can turn the whole experience around. She needs only to think of the first step, empathy. When she puts herself in Tommy’s shoes, she may remember what it was like for her to be bullied as a child, thinking back to a time when she felt attacked or put down by someone. What she most likely wanted in that moment was understanding and support – in short, the comfort of being told that she was not an alien life form, that she was “OK.” By imagining how Tommy must feel, she will see the dangers of calling him out for not defending himself, and instead realize that the best she can offer him is her compassion and sympathy.
We know that parenting is hard work. The stress it brings into your life can either drive you crazy or pay off in remarkable ways. Throughout this week, we will expand on the examples above by exploring the ways in which the Digital Age has affected our ability to model and express empathy for our children. Use Emotion Coaching and empathy in your conversations with your child, and see the differences it makes in difficult moments – experience the growth of your relationship and the deepening of both your and your child’s understanding of your emotions.
All for now,
When it really comes down to it, empathy is about understanding someone else’s emotions. The capacity for changing perspective and sharing another’s experience vicariously, as if you were in their place. Seeing the situation from their eyes. Putting yourself in their shoes. With the Digital Age, we have seen the coming of a great deal of trouble in this department. We discussed this trouble and what it means for our kids in Monday's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog - today we dig deeper.
Between tweets, texts, dinging notifications, blogs, shares, and tags – somewhere amidst the mindless sightseeing and exploration of endless jungles of web content, from the boughs to the branches to the limbs to the twigs and back again – our brain maps are rapidly changing. As our brains evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective), compulsion and distraction are made mainstream, and our thoughts are scattered. Thank you, neural plasticity.
All of this is ultimately understandable. Functioning at work and in our social lives is often simplified and streamlined by our reliance on the Net. Much of our modern-day experience is brought to us by a great number of individuals exemplifying efficiency in cyberspace a great deal of the time.
We know that the Net’s stimulations, while often a source of quick ideas and inspiration, can also leave us fatigued – worn out by noisy disorder. When we emerge from the tilt-a-whirl, many of us are surprised by the amount of time we’ve spent engulfed in a state of complete absorption. The benefits we reap from the high-speed associative thinking our high-speed web connections afford us come at a cost. Our online habits – our ability to abruptly change trains of thought as we dart quickly between ideas – may feel freeing. In truth, though these habits enable us to make swift associations online, they foster the kind of confused, distracted thinking that chronically hinders our ability to perceive the subtleties of deeper relationships offline.
In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr writes, “It’s not only deep thinking that requires a calm, attentive mind. It’s also empathy and compassion.” Here, he cautions against complacency: “One of the greatest dangers we face as we automate the work of our minds, as we cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system… [is] a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity.”
It is imperative that we remember our power to overcome these challenges in our own lives. Human beings are wired for sociability and companionship, affection and attachment. As parents, we must work to show our children the value of these qualities.
When we are born, we are not self-aware. We are very small and we aren’t able to imagine what’s happening in someone else’s head. We don’t realize that, although they are in the very same situation, they may be having a wildly different experience. As we grow, we begin to figure this out. We learn what science calls theory of mind! This happens around the ages of 3 or 4, when we develop an understanding of the following: what someone has learned about the world may cause them to have opinions and belief systems that diverge from ours, determining their perception of experiences and influencing their reactions, both in external behavior and internal state. When we learn this, we begin to notice and distinguish between the emotional states of others, recognizing and identifying with those we are familiar with. It is then that we begin to appreciate the value of empathy.
So we don’t have to allow a “powerful electronic system” to “automate the work of our minds” or “cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories.” To avoid having our values perforated by the cutting edge, we must affirm our humanity. As parents, we can do a great deal by creating a safe and loving environment for our children. There, we can model and emphasize the meaning of healthy attachment, demonstrating the importance of treating others with empathy, selflessness, affection, and respect. Try it this weekend.
Until next time,
Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are thrilled to invite back Zach Brittle, LMHC, who we featured as a guest blogger back in September. You can read his posting on relationships in the Digital Age here. He challenged you to "choose for better" in your relationships, regardless of the pros or cons of technology. In today's posting, Zach tackles parenting in the Digital Age, speaking not only from the perspective of a therapist specializing in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, but also as a father of two daughters.
I think these things are toxic, especially for kids...they don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it's 'cause they're trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, "you're fat," and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, "oh, that doesn't feel good to make a person do that." But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write "you're fat," then they just go, "mmm, that was fun, I like that."
Give yourself a break. With parenting, slow and steady wins the race.
That said, moments count, so put down your phone, turn off the TV, and check your email after bedtime. Pay attention to your kids, but take care of yourself.
Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water. Exercise...maybe even with your kids. If that’s too daunting, invest in a good board game or some Legos.
Most importantly, remember: You are not your parents. You are their parents. Take a minute, or several, to see the world through their eyes. You might be surprised by what you see. Especially when you look at yourself. You might discover you’re not as terrible as you think you are.
As Zach Brittle mentioned on Wednesday, the second step of Emotion Coaching, according to Dr. John Gottman, is to see your child’s expressions of emotion as opportunities for teaching and intimacy. Rather than seeing negative expressions of emotion as a problem that needs to be “dealt with” or “fixed,” or even as the result of some kind of parental incompetence, the realization that such moments can be used to teach your child may come as a huge relief. Our research has shown that these are the times in which your youngster needs your support the most. Working through your child's emotions with them, teaching them how to process their emotions, and showing your care for them will allow them to grow in a multitude of ways. For example, it will help them to become better at self-soothing and they will learn to work through problems themselves. Improving your child’s ability to navigate low-intensity situations, such as the loss of an ice cream cone, a poor grade on a test, or a trivial argument with a friend, will encourage them to come to you during more difficult times in their life. Their trust in you will also allow the intimacy in your relationship to grow.
Now we’d like to show you how to put Dr. Gottman's second step of Emotion Coaching to the test! In the following example - which may feel all too familiar to you parents out there - we’ll walk you through our method for handling potentially stressful and emotion-fraught situations in a way which teaches your child that you are there for them, so that they may learn to navigate such difficulties on their own in the future.
Kendra’s six-year-old son, Ben, has always wanted a dog. Really, really wanted one. A dog person herself, she would love to make his dream a reality, but living in a small apartment in the city makes their mutual desire impossible. Taking a walk in the park one day, she and Ben spot a few youngsters gallivanting joyfully through the playground with several adorable puppies. He predictably bursts out crying. At the end of her own emotional leash, feeling helpless and exhausted, Kendra cannot believe that she has to deal with "the conversation" all over again. But this time, with the help of Emotion Coaching, she has the tools to lead it in a different, more positive direction!
Bending down to eye level with her son, Kendra asks him what’s wrong. “All the other kids have dogs,” he mumbles through tears, “If you really loved me you’d let me have one too!” “I do love you, more than anything in world,” Kendra says, stroking Ben’s hair. “I want a dog too, and I really wish we could have one right now. Maybe when we move out of this apartment, we can think about getting ourselves a puppy of our own! Wouldn’t that be great?” The boy nods. “Those kids out there probably live in a place where their puppies can roam free. You don’t want the puppy we get to be stuck inside, miserable, with no place to go, do you?” Her son shakes his head.
Ben is still upset, but he is no longer sobbing hysterically. His mother’s words have soothed him temporarily, but their long-term effect will be much greater. As he watches the children play with their dog, and imagines having one of his own someday, he sees that his Mom understands him and feels that his feelings are being taken seriously. This six-year-old has learned a little bit about the values of patience and compromise. In the future, when the sight of another kid and his dog trigger his envy and sadness, he will remember his mother’s words, and their effect will last – he will feel more confident in his ability to soothe himself with the gain of some perspective on his short-term desires.
Seeing your child's expressions of emotion as opportunities for teaching and intimacy will allow the two of you to build mutual trust while also relieving your relationship of anxiety and frustration in difficult times. When you observe your child struggling with a problem and expressing fear, sadness, or anger, take the moment as an opportunity for their emotional growth, and for the growth of your relationship.
Next week on The Gottman Relationship Blog, look forward to learning how the first two steps of Emotion Coaching can equip you and your children to handle stressful situations in the Digital Age. Until then, check out The Heart of Parenting, our new video program for parents.
Have a great weekend!
Unfortunately, social skills learned on the web are often impossible to apply successfully in the offline world. As kids grow up, they become less and less able to create what we consider to be healthy social relationships. And this difficulty becomes evident quickly and painfully in a kid’s development. Digital Age culture does little to promote gathering in the real, physical world, so instead of learning to build strong, deep, intimate bonds with their peers, kids end up learning a kind of shorthand code for interfacing from a safe distance. Protected from any potential discomfort, they detach enough from the messy reality of social entanglement to be able to engage in it without the help of a manual.
Of course, the more heavily one relies on plugging into a network via cyber-presence, the more difficult and uncomfortable it may be to unplug and behave with natural ease around others in offline social life. When, with the help of messages from peers and the media, this reliance reaches a pathological level, it creates a situation in which a young person can hypothetically skip learning critical social skills almost entirely. Kids who do so may be left spinning their wheels in the chaotic confusion of space between online and offline life. It is at this juncture that parents may come in handy.
And what do the parents that come in handy have in common? They themselves are able to slow down. They are, in fact, able to stop. Despite being securely strapped into their own seats on the universal tilt-a-whirl that is the Digital Age, they have found a way to dismount when it really matters. We all know how difficult it is to follow this advice in real life – but it’s important to remember it. When kids are deeply upset, their world does stop. If we don’t stop with them, we take a serious risk. We may worry about what will happen if we don’t check our email – but we seldom look at things from a different angle. It may do our families a great deal of good to worry less about momentary absence from an email exchange and more about absence from our kids’ lives.
Parents who make their kids feel loved, valued, cherished, and worthy of attention and respect raise their kids with the self-confidence necessary for making healthy choices – for exercising critical and independent thinking in complicated situations both online and offline. When these kids struggle, they know that their parents are there for them. They know that when they are overwhelmed by a problem or are unsure about how to handle a conflict, they can come to their parents not only for problem-solving but also for comfort and support. Secure in the knowledge that they can rely on their parents for these things, kids are able to develop something precious: faith in themselves. Parents who see their children’s expressions of emotion as opportunities for intimacy and teaching empower their children to apply the lessons they learn in these moments to similar situations in the future.
It is a sunny morning when my family and I stop at the local café for morning tea. The café, which houses a gift shop, is full and bustling with patrons and staff. I glance over to the table next to me and notice a young mother and her baby who looks to be about five months old. It is a small square table and mum is seated on one side, her baby is in the pram to her left. The little girl is hungrily devouring the bottle that her mother holds in her mouth. So, I hear you say, what is so compelling about this? As I watch, the little girl with wide, bright eyes drinks and gazes lovingly at her mother. Mum meanwhile is busily texting on her mobile phone, looking down at the table, holding the bottle with her left hand and texting with her right. There is no eye contact, no visible sign of connection, and no communication with the infant.
This scenario is not restricted to mothers and babies; it can be witnessed multiple times a day in shops, parks, homes, and cinemas between couples, friends, and work colleagues and even between a customer and retailer.
Isn’t it ironic that the modern technology which allows us to instantly connect with people in other cities and/or countries provides a barrier to connecting with the person sitting at the same table?
Wise parents understand that babies do not react like computers or telephones - they do not provide the instant responses we have become accustomed to. A wise parent will slow down and patiently wait for their baby to process the information before they respond and this can take several minutes. They make sure baby is wide awake and relaxed with alert eyes before trying to connect. The wise parent communicates through mutual eye contact, using big facial expressions and the higher pitched speech known as mother-ease to connect with baby.
Research tells us that in moments of mutual gaze and communication between an infant and their caregiver neuronal pathways are developed adding to the all important architecture of the infant’s brain. Babies learn to communicate from their caregivers. They learn how to be social, how to take turns, and how to act and react with others in a meaningful way. Our faces are a live canvas with expressions constantly changing. We are the most interesting toy for our babies.