Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

I’m delighted to have my friend Tina Tessina as a guest blogger. She’s a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has written lots of great books and articles. I asked if I could put a sample of her new book in my newsletter. She kindly sent me a sample. With the breakup of relationships rampant, Tina identifies three main factors that can ruin a good one. These tips work for people who aren’t married too and can also help with non-romantic relationships with friends and colleagues. She has a new book, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media, 2008).

Learning Self-Control
Adapted from Money, Sex and Kids
By Tina Tessina, Ph.D

One of the most powerful ways I found to stop being a doormat in relationships was to learn emotional self-control. When you’re too reactive to your partner, he or she can easily draw you into a fight that stops you both from focusing on fixing the problem.

When you’re faced with an emotional situation, self-control is not easy. In the face of your partner’s actions, it’s difficult not to react. Learning to stop and think, to respond thoughtfully and carefully rather than quickly and automatically, is hard. However, mastering self-control, no matter how difficult, is always worthwhile, because it makes every moment of your life easier.

Using Self Talk
If learning self-control is difficult for you, one of the most powerful tools you can use to change is self-talk. We all have a running dialog in our heads, which often is negative or self-defeating. The good news is that you can choose to replace this negative monologue with something more positive. The brain tends to repeat familiar things over and over, going again and again over established neuronal pathways. Repeating a mantra, an affirmation or a choice over and over creates new pathways, which eventually become automatic.

The new thoughts will run through your head like the old thoughts did, or like a popular song you’ve heard over and over.

If your self talk feels “naturally negative,” you may be creating a self-fulfilling identity, which saps your ability to choose your responses. One thing you can do is to monitor your self-talk: what do you say to yourself about the upcoming day, about mistakes, about your luck? If these messages are negative, changing them can indeed lift your spirits and your optimism. Know yourself: if you love silence, tend to be quiet, like quiet conversations and not big parties, this may be a genetic trait — your hearing, and nervous system may be more sensitive than others, and this trait will not go away.

You can, however, make the most of it, and learn that creating plenty of quiet in your life will make you a happier, calmer person. If, on the other hand, you’re a party animal – social, enjoying noise and excitement, you can also use that as an asset. Positive, happy people do have an easier time in life, and bounce back from problems faster. There are things you can do in every case to increase your level of optimism, even if you can’t change who you are.

Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits.

Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a “what’s the use” attitude, which leads to depression and a cranky attitude, which doesn’t work well in your marriage. Continuous free-floating thoughts of impending doom lead to anxiety attacks. Negative self-talk creates stress.

What I do to help clients become aware of self-inflicted stress is first, to ask them to become aware of what they’re saying to themselves—if there is a constant stream of negativity, it will create stress—just as being followed around by someone who’s constantly carping on you would be stressful. Also, if they’re fighting within themselves—not able to come to a solid idea of what they want—that will make it difficult to make decisions, and increase the stress.

Dysfunctional relationship patterns also are stress-building. For example, if you are constantly guilt-tripped by someone else, or you and your spouse fight, or you are too worried about others’ opinions of who you are and what you’re doing, you’ll be a lot more stressed than if you know how to get along with others, when to listen and when to trust yourself. Most of my clients don’t realize that they are responsible for their own feelings, and no one else is responsible for making them feel better.

To move from powerless about yourself to being in charge, try the following suggestions:

*Make a note: Write positive comments on your daily calendar to yourself for jobs well done or any achievements you want to celebrate. Or you can paste stickers on your daily calendar as you accomplish goals daily frequent positive commentary is a very effective way to reward yourself and remind yourself of your success.

*Look to your childhood: To celebrate success in self-control, use activities that felt like a celebration in your childhood: did your family toast a celebration with champagne or sparkling cider, a gathering of friends, or a thankful prayer? Create a celebration environment: use balloons, music, flowers, candles, or post-its to say hooray!

*Visible reminders: Surround yourself with visible evidence of your successes. Plant a commemorative rosebush or get a new houseplant to mark a job well done, or display photos of fun events, and sports or hobby trophies. It’s a constant reminder that you appreciate yourself and each other; and when you see them daily, you’ll be reminded how powerful you can be.

*Reward yourself: When you succeed at self-control, celebrate with an impromptu lunchtime picnic and a balloon, celebratory sex, tickets to a movie or a ball game, or bragging to understanding friends over coffee. Look in the mirror and tell yourself how proud you are of the new you.

Tina Tessina, Ph.D. is been a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in California. She is the author of eleven books, including the best selling, The 10 Smartest Decisions A Woman Can Make Before 40 , and her newest, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media, 2008) Tina also writes the “Dr. Romance” column on Yahoo! Personals and MUCH more! You can subscribe to her free newsletter: “Happiness Tips from Tina” on her site.

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