Silencing The Voice of Anxiety

That alien voice in our heads that drives us to worry, fear, fret, and wring our hands usually exaggerates. And yet that voice has amazing influence over our peace of mind.

Want a quickie rebuttal to this alien’s fear mongering? Try this. Give that voice a name (not your own name b/c it’s not you badgering you). Poke your finger into the phone book at random and pick a name (hopefully you won’t pick a name of anyone you know).

Let’s say you pick the name Jack (as in you never know when the alien Jack in the box is going to pop up and terrorize you).

Next time Jack pounds you with “what if ___ happens?” talk back.

“Jack, what evidence do you have that this terrible thing will happen?”

“Jack, have you considered how slim the odds are that such and such will happen?”

“Jack, if such and such a thing happens, I’ll get through it with the help of family and friends, faith, and my own inner resources.”

“Jack, will you kindly shut up?”

“Jack, if you keep pestering me I’m going to throw you into the Nooksack River, so please shut up.”

I know this sounds corny, but it’s a proven strategy to capture all those random and unbidden thoughts in our head and counter them with truth, faith, information, and if necessary, muscle power. If you want more info, here’s a 3 page freebie called a Crash Course in Anxiety Reduction.

Crash Course in anxiety Reduction



Active Listening Responses

It is far easier to make judgments and sneak in your own viewpoint than to listen. The following comments show that in an emotional moment either person can turn conflict into true communication.

Speaker’s Comment Listener’s Rephrase Listener Label Feelings

Listener Validates

“How can I ever trust you to work out our problems when you left for two days?” “You think if things get tense again, I won’t be able to handle it and I’ll leave?” “The idea of trusting me seems to make you feel more worried and anxious.” “I can see why you would not trust me until I show you that I can be different.”
 “I left because our argument was so bad, I thought it would get physical.” “You thought the wisest thing to do was leave and not chance the possibility of a fight?” “The idea that we might physically fight must have been really scary for you.” “It makes sense that when I pushed you, you were afraid you might strike back.”
 “If you think I’m going to do my homework now, you’re nuts.” “You think that this is a very poor time to do your assignment?” “Are you resentful that I’m asking you to do homework when we have company?” “I can see why you would feel left out when everyone else is having a good time.”
 “You never listen to me-You just try to fix me.” “What do you mean when you say I try to ”  fix” you?” “You get frustrated when I think for you and give you solutions.” “It makes sense that you want me to hear your ideas instead of giving you mine.”
 “I have to do something to help you when you complain so much!” “You think that if you don’t help me, I’ll never feel better?” “You must feel a lot of pressure when I get upset.” “People have always counted on you, so I can see why you take over.”

Although these examples demonstrate the tremendous improvement that can take place in communication with active listening, they may bring up some concerns:

  • Active listening sounds so artificial! This is true. Feeding back, labeling feelings, and validating are learned responses. Reassuring, explaining, and insulting come from animal instinct and do not have to be taught. They are generally the worst thing to do during an emotional moment.
  • Am I supposed to start repeating everything I hear? You do not have to use active listening every time someone talks to you. Disagreeing and advising can make everyday banter fun and challenging. It is only during emotional moments, when you notice tension, that it is essential to switch gears and become an active listener.
  • Will I ever get a chance to speak? When you carefully listen without inserting your views, other people become curious about where you stand. Surprisingly, you will remember your own issues even though you’ve just put them out of your mind. However, your concerns may diminish when you thoroughly understand others.

Trying to get your point across without thoroughly understanding other people is like venturing into enemy territory without first doing reconnaissance work. Your power comes from understanding others-not from being understood!


The Art of Understanding


An example of good, clear communication.

Active listening, or showing others that you understand them, is the most important step in the dance of communication. Generally, during an emotional moment, two people are desperately trying to get their points across to each other and neither is actually listening. Or one person is going on and the other is tuning him or her out. The way out of this dilemma is the listening paradox: When you most want someone to hear you, it helps to listen first!

Active Listening Tools

True listening occurs when you clear your mind of your own thoughts and put your attention entirely on another person. The following steps help build the concentration necessary for active listening:

  • Make eye contact, nods of understanding, and listening noises: “Uh huh. . . . hmm. . . .” When you appear disinterested, people talk on and on, desperately trying to gain your attention. Focusing on the speaker shortens monologues by helping the speaker realize you are listening.
  • Rephrase: “Are you saying . . . ?” It is better to restate in other words what has been said than to simply repeat. This helps clarify the other person’s point. Ask questions if you don’t fully understand what has been said: “What do you mean by . . . ?” Your paraphrases don’t have to be 100% correct as long as you ask, “What percent of that did I understand?” Keep rephrasing until the other person feels completely understood. This is often signified by a nod.
  • Label feelings: “Do you feel . . . ? You seem to feel. . . .” Until emotions are recognized, people tend to hang on to them. Once feelings are identified, people can let them go. Highly accurate responses can draw out tears. Releasing such emotions deepens the connection between two people and takes communication to an intimate level (especially when accompanied by a touch, pat, or hug). When people are mad, identify any hurt their anger may be masking. It is generally better to overstate distress than to minimize it.
  • Validate feelings: “It makes sense that you feel . . . because. . . .” Validating the factors that contribute to a feeling requires curiosity. The more irrational an emotion seems, the more fascinating it is to discover the cause. When you understand the “emotional logic” behind a feeling, it starts to make sense: “I can see why you are disappointed in me, since you don’t approve of women wearing short skirts.” Feelings are not right or wrong, but are the result of helpful or harmful beliefs. Validating shows that you are not making judgments and helps others be less defensive or attacking.

Tomorrow: Active Listening Examples


Would You Take Relationship Advice from an Ancient Sage?

The ancient book of Proverbial wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures includes a surprising number of positive results when couples are securely attached. These include “blessed,” “consistent,” “content,” and 27 others. In this whimsical yet visually engaging poster, marriage therapist and cartoonist Erik Johnson provides an appealing info-graphic hoping to help couples know what to aim for in their relationship.

Here is a link to see the entire poster….

30 Proverbs on Love and Marriage Poster.


There is a time for everything….

As we near the end of 2016 I think of the words of Qoheleth from the Hebrews scriptures. Here’s an info graphic created to bring his ancient wisdom to today’s university students. Feel free to down load this for your personal use. Or if you’d like a 13″x 19″ color poster printed on glossy paper check out Amazon HERE.

Meet the Sages (and Get A Free Poster!)

In recent years there’s been a surge of interest in ancient philosophers. Three of my favorite books in this vein are Expect the Unexpected Or You Won’t Find it: A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus by Roger Van Oech, Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith, and The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m going to add to this growing body of literature by introducing the ancient writers of Hebrew wisdom literature. These sages said many interesting and often astonishing things, especially given how long ago they wrote. For example, two millennia before Freud and modern psychotherapy the sages wrote, “Many are the purposes of a person’s heart; one with wisdom draws them out.” There are things that go on in a person’s psyche about which we are simply unaware. In 2011 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote about this in Thinking Fast and Slow (read my summary here). Over one hundred years before that (1902 to be precise) William James said this about consciousness and perception, Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different, ” (Varieties of Religious Experience). These are all fancy ways of explaining what we mean when we say…
  • “Perception is reality”
  • “Appearances can be deceiving”
  • “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
  • “There are two sides to every story”
  • “Life is not always as it appears to be”
Woe to the person who doesn’t know that their consciousness can be altered an a variety of ways or that our minds can play weird tricks on us. Even neuro-scientists remind us that feelings of being right are not necessarily right. Click here to read an interview with Robert Burton, author of the fascinating book, On Being Certain. Which brings me to a free gift I have for you. The sages were preternaturally aware that things like emotions, health, hunger, sleep, and other factors trick us. I’ve collected (and drew faces for) thirty of their sage warnings that remind us that we can’t always trust our thoughts. You can download a free 8.5″ x 11″ color printout of this poster by clicking here. (Signed 13″x 19″ color posters are available for $30 (+$4.99 shipping in USA) on Amazon; small size posters are free to readers of this blog). The brilliance of these sage warnings is that being skeptical of our cherished beliefs will lead to open mindedness, mental flexibility, and a willingness to contemplate alternative ideas. This is often our focus when doing mediation or therapy–when emotions or other mood altering factors hi-jack our brains we don’t think rationally or clearly. I hope this handout (poster) will inspire careful self-reflection.

How to Trust Again (10 of 10)

risk-e1422636567732Granting trust involves several steps.

1. Want trust so eagerly that you’re willing to grant it. Trust feels cozy, safe, and bulletproof against upset. Trust flourishes when everyone follows the rules that govern the relationship. Trust feels relaxed, content, and confident that the other person is really there for you. It is what babies feel in their mother’s arms, it’s what young lovers feel in each other’s arms. It’s not an exaggeration to say trust equals bliss.

2. Dislike mistrust so eagerly you’re willing to renounce it. Not trusting feels safe but it’s lonely. The person who erects walls will never be vulnerable. The person who never lowers the drawbridge is protected from all possible betrayal. Refusing to let others into your world means you’ll never be hurt again. But it’s also impossible to connect with another person when there’s a giant emotional wall between you.

3. Like overcoming any fear, go slow. Stick your toe into the trust stream and see what happens. Go for twenty minutes without checking your betrayer’s phone, credit card expenditures, or internet history. Let your partner go places without having to report back to you. If while they’re gone you feel like climbing the walls, call a friend and do something fun yourself. Get your mind off the worry and insecurity. Extend the time longer and longer until you no longer play “probation officer.”

4. Tell yourself, “People are generally trustworthy and I’m not going to let one betrayer spoil my life.”

5. Ask yourself, “How would I want my partner to treat me if I’d betrayed them? Would I want another chance?”

6. Consider forgiving. It’s a process. Do not forgive too fast. But do consider the possibility of clearing their record and starting over. If the offense is too egregious and forgiveness isn’t an option, and you still want to stay with this person let’s hope they don’t mind living with an unforgiving mate.

7. Do not use your partner as your anti-anxiety drug. This is unhealthy on so many levels. Learn how to self soothe and differentiate. It’s not their job to reassure you; it’s yours.

8. Overcome ambivalence. Alice jumped into the rabbit hole—she didn’t cling to the edges. She jumped and experienced the wonderful, terrifying, interesting Wonderland. Quit waffling, take the plunge, and experience the wonderful, terrifying, and interesting world of emotional intimacy!

Betrayal and Victimhood (9 of 10)


When terrorists blew up the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo the world, like me, was understandably outraged. This was a wanton act of insanity and brutality. Cartoonists from around the world got revenge by wielding their pens to mock, expose, and ridicule terrorism.

But nobody (to my knowledge) called attention to the fact that these satirists lobed the first grenade. They mocked others’ religion and sacred values. They poked the bear and they got mauled. The terrorists’ reaction was of course extreme, violent, and totally uncalled for. But are not satirical artists responsible for their risky provocations?

This is a tough topic; I do not want to blame victims. At the same time, victims are often responsible for contributing to (not causing) other’s reactions.

This can be the case in betrayal. While betrayers’ acts are insane, brutal, extreme, violent, and totally uncalled for, they may in fact be reactions to their partner’s provocations. I do not blame the betrayed for the betrayer’s actions, but I do hope the betrayed has a clear conscious and did not poke the bear.

“How might I have contributed to (not caused) my partner’s betrayal?”


The list of possible provocations is endless: anger, neglect, selfishness, fear, anxiety, blame, pushing a partner away, moodiness, reactivity, withholding affection, being emotionally unavailable, putting up walls, being aloof, controlling, nagging, lying, criticism, making false accusations, on and on. 

The person who reserves the right to act like this and expect their partner to like it has a dilemma: they can’t have it both ways!

To win back the betrayer (if that’s your goal):

  1. Ask forgiveness for your role in provocation.
  2. Do your best to meet your partner’s needs.
  3. Be generous, transparent, and vulnerable.
  4. Be the kind of person you were when they first fell in love with you.
  5. Deal with your own fear of abandonment, insecurity, and mistrust which feeds your actions that contributed to (not caused) your beloved’s reactions.

One connects with their partner better with kindness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, fun, humor, gentleness, tact, and love than chronic accusations, scolding, interrogations, third degree, or unhappiness. Try a little tenderness and see what happens.

Do not “wound” from a hurt position. Being betrayed doesn’t give you a license to abuse anyone.

Remember, just as their betrayal had a negative effect on you, you might be having a negative effect on them. Look carefully for negative feedback loops, vicious cycles, and “co-created chaos.”

Next: How to Trust Again

Trust and Risk (8 of 10)


If a restaurant gives you food poisoning, you won’t eat there anymore. They broke your trust; you move on.

If a stranger does shoddy work painting your house, you fire them. You’re not obligated to do business with them again.

If a guy sells you a lemon your trust will be shattered but who cares? You don’t live with the guy.

But if someone you love, someone you’ve spent years with, and someone you want to grow old with betrays you the issue of trust becomes super important. They broke promises, broke vows, they threw you under the bus. Things you hoped a loved one would never do happened. And the things you thought a loved one would do did not happen.

Dumping them like a bad restaurant, lousy house painter, or unscrupulous salesman sometimes isn’t an option.

To trust again means risking again. One of the sad realities of living in an unpredictable universe is that the universe is unpredictable. This includes unpredictable spouses. There are no guarantees your spouse will not betray again. There are also no guarantees that they will betray again. (If they promise to betray again, um, why are you in this relationship?)

There are no guarantees so it’s up to you to decide how to live in an unpredictable marriage (not to mention unpredictable economy, body, family, business, church, school, club, team, or neighborhood).

To quit worrying about the future trust yourself to handle whatever comes. Betrayal likely shattered your beliefs but it didn’t shatter you. Here are some new beliefs to embrace.

  • It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
  • My ability to trust is a virtue not a liability.
  • I refuse to pay the price of mistrust.
  • If I don’t have the ability to give trust it’s unlikely my partner will trust me.
  • I’ll quit asking, “When is it safe to trust?” and start asking, “When is it unsafe not to trust?”
  • I’ll quit waiting for a sign from heaven that it’s okay to trust again. God doesn’t deliver “Time to Trust” permission slips.
  • I will set limits on how much betrayal I can endure and have an exit plan in case of an emergency.
  • Uncertainty is the human condition. Trust means, “learning to live at peace with uncertainty.”
  • I’ll quit waiting for trust to return. Trust is a decision.
  • By keeping my partner on a short leash I’m not learning how to trust; I’m avoiding risk and trying to control the universe.
  • The spiritually minded tell themselves, “I abandon myself to divine providence,” or, “Jesus was betrayed and he identifies with me,” or, “God is in control.”

Next: Betrayal and Victimhood

Betrayal and Rumination (7 of 10)


What does rumination look like?

  • Like a cow chewing its cud; you chew the memory of betrayal over and over.
  • Like a song that gets stuck in your head you replay the pain of betrayal over and over.
  • Your brain won’t shut off and you ask your betrayer “Why?” a million times.
  • You want to put the past behind you but fear of getting hurt again prevents you.
  • Your brain gets stuck suspecting another betrayal, “What if, what if, what if?”
  • You become hyper-vigilant least you get hurt again.
  • Every day you check web history, phone records, and credit card expenditures.
  • Your suspicious brain won’t shut off.
  • When the evidence you find of betrayal turns out to be a false alarm you’re still suspicious.

How do you turn off a suspicious brain? How do you stop ruminating?


1.  Focus on the areas where you do trust your partner. Do you trust them to:

  • Cook
  • Drive
  • Pay bills
  • Go to work like they say they are
  • Be there for you
  • Be faithful sexually
  • Be faithful emotionally
  • Tell the truth
  • Raise your kids
  • Own a credit card
  • Get within 10 feet of a computer
  • Go to a casino with self-control
  • Own a smart phone

Lack of trust usually centers on one or two specific betrayals–cheating, gambling, drugging, drinking, etc. Be cautious in the areas where you don’t trust your betrayer; celebrate the areas where you do trust your betrayer. If you do not trust your spouse in any area, um….why are you with them?

2.  What strengths does your relationship already possess?

  • Have you successfully weathered other storms–financial, economic, employment, extended family, health, parenting, etc.?
  • What would you miss if you and your partner split up–kids with two parents under the same roof, having someone to talk to, being connected to your web of extended family members, shared interests?
  • Look for evidence of trustworthiness. A suspicious mind often overlooks legitimate “trust building” behaviors.
  • Be wary of evidence of betrayal. Stick to the facts. Don’t judge a person based on feelings, suspicions, exaggerations, imaginations, insecurities, or jealousies.

3.  Get tough with your wandering imagination. Every time you begin to ruminate:

  • Snap a rubber band on your wrist.
  • Make a donation to a political candidate you hate. There may be one or two out there who fit this description during this contentious political season!
  • Distract yourself with more rewarding projects: work, mission, service, volunteering, hobbies.
  • Write the Golden Rule on note cards and post them all over the place–car visor, bathroom mirror, wallet/purse: “I will treat my betrayer the way I’d want to be treated.” Or, “I will recall all the times I was shown grace by people I let down.” Or, “I will stop treating my betrayer in ways that I wouldn’t want to be treated.”
  • Consider forgiveness. Bitterness binds you to your betrayer; forgiveness disconnects you from your betrayer. The great religious traditions of the world, especially the one I am most familiar with–Christianity–extol the virtues of forgiveness. They promote the virtue of mental self discipline. They foster mindful serenity even in the midst of dififcult circumstances. None of them, to my knowledge, require trusting the one who betrayed you. Trust and forgiveness are two different things.

Tomorrow: Trust and Risk