The Five Core Skills for Life

Most of my clients within the first 6 months of therapy attend my Family of Origin Intensive which is like a three day high speed course in therapy. Many of them after the workshop ask “what are my treatment goals now?” How I conceptually hold what the treatment objectives for all my clients are by using Pia Mellody’s “Five Core Skills”. Even though they are called skills I believe they are “practices” we use day by day to grow a more functional self that can create real connection and intimacy within the self and others. These practices in turn create a more grounded, fulfilling and connected life.

The First Core Skill is Self Esteem or loving the self. It is the ability to have compassion and unconditional warm regard for the self despite our imperfections as humans. It is not defining ourselves by thinking we are better than others because of our gifts and that we are not less than others because of our short comings. It is living in the “same as position” with others. This is a spiritual practice of living in assessment rather than judgment.

The Second Core Skill is the minute by minute practice of Boundaries or protecting and connecting the self. There are three different kinds of boundaries: physical, sexual AND most importantly internal boundaries that protect the psyche. The Internal boundary has two parts: the protective and the containing. The Protective Internal boundary filters information by finding out whether it is “true or not true” to the self and the Containing Internal boundary contains your thinking and emotions from others. These are essential skills to create connection and intimacy with others. By using internal boundaries it is a process of creating a sense of self. As the practice of boundaries deepens, it becomes an act of loving the self each time boundaries are used in relationship to others.

The Third Core Skill is Reality or knowing the self. As I mentioned before each time you use the Protective Internal boundary and decide whether it is “true or not true” you are creating a sense of self. This is a process of getting to know the self, understanding how you give meaning to what you see, what you think about it, and what emotions you have about it. Eventually as you begin to create and know the self the task is to exchange your reality in a relational way to others. This is what intimacy is all about.

The Fourth Core Skill is Self Care and Interdependence or taking care of the self. This is about figuring out what you need and want and putting it out there in relationship. Of course it is about you taking care of what you can and then asking for help from others for what you can’t take care of. This avoids from being too dependent or anti-dependent. Interdependence has to do with how you are in relationship to others around your needs and wants. So, don’t say “yes” when you mean “no” as it sets you up for victim anger or resentment. Also don’t do for others what they can do for themselves as this is enabling to them and keeps them dependent on you. These are the golden rules for engagement and help with taking care of the self.

Lastly the Fifth Core Skill is Moderation or containing and balancing the self. This is about not living in the extremes. It is a practice of being in balance with proper containment in all areas of life. As we age living in the extremes can burn us out and have a huge impact on our lives physically and emotionally as well as those people who are around us.

So remember these are the core practices of life…nothing that is finished in a month or a year. It is a way of life…a spiritual path.

Love Addiction

The other day when I was ending a session with a couple the woman looked at me and said “You know I am the love addict in this relationship. It is because I care more about him that he does me.”

I looked at her and nodded my head. I realized how simplistic her view was of love addiction. I agreed and proceeded to educate her on what love addiction means and how she shows up in her in the relationship.

Love addiction is other based self esteem. It means that you do hold your partner in higher regard and in turn find your self-worth through that relationship. The only problem in that is when your partner is angry or withdrawing from you, you end up in a self esteem crash similar to withdrawal from an addiction. It can feel a little like a morphine drip in the hospital, and when the hose gets crimped, the pain returns and you go through withdrawal symptoms.

Here is the more difficult part, that during the withdrawal you become obsessing and trying to figure out a way to get them back and when that does happen, you find yourself doing whatever you need to do to get that object of love affection back. This is where you shoot yourself in the foot. You abandon yourself, accommodate, put up with anything all in the effort to having someone back. Very dangerous…..

So, this is why the practice of healthy self esteem and learning to hold yourself with compassion and warm regard despite your imperfections is essential. This is a daily practice and at first it will sound only like words….eventually over time (may be months) you will start having the experience of loving the self. Healthy boundaries are important in the self esteem process because they help create and protect the self. These are the foundational practices to help pull anyone out of love addiction.

To learn more about these practices make sure you read Pia Mellody’s, Facing Love Addiction. This book gives an in depth view of both the love addiction side as well as the love avoidant side.

Power comes from living in action versus reaction to others

What this means is that many of us are walking around without knowing that we are not really being relational with our partners or friends….we are just in reaction. Being relational requires that we use a boundary practice. I am not just talking about a physical boundary, I am talking about using a healthy internal boundary that protects and contains the self.

So when we have no protective boundary we can be porous and reactive to the information coming in. We are letting too much in. When we have a wall for a protective boundary we let nothing in and people experience as not caring. On the other end, when we are too open and reactive in the containing boundary we are unbridled and letting too much out which is offensive. And if we are using a wall for a containing boundary we are not letting anyone know us.

All of the above boundary states are ineffective in being relational. So, we are constantly in a state of reactivity to each other. What this ultimately means is our relationships are not about choosing to live in action; they are about being in reaction.

So, make a commitment today to start practicing healthy internal boundaries to improve you relationships!

For more information read “The Intimacy Factor” by Pia Mellody to learn about healthy boundaries.

You Can’t Say “Yes” to Someone and then make up you are a victim

Today I worked with a couple who has struggled with pervasive resentment in their relationship. After talking with the husband further, I figured out that he was very conflict avoidant and when he got into a disagreement with his wife, he would say “yes” to her about what she was upset. He was thinking this would be a good way to resolve the issue.

Believe it or not, this is absolutely the wrong thing to do as this strategy to resolve or as he put it “get her off my back” continued, he dug his way deeper into a hole. So as it turns out he said “yes” thinking she would be happy and then when he didn’t do this behavior in the future that he agreed to, he got yelled at more and looked like the unaccountable one.

So, in his frustration he says that he can’t win….that now he is resentful that he can’t ever be counted on. He has dug the hole deeper. Resentment is victim anger according to Pia Mellody. You can’t say “yes” to someone and then later on make up that you are being victimized.

After further investigation I asked him if he really meant to say “yes” to her. He said not really because he was afraid to say “no” and that she would punish him if he refused. I then explained that he was shooting himself in the foot and that he needed to be able to say “no” or he will show up in the relationship as the irresponsible one later.

So a simple rule is:

Make your “no” mean a “no” and your “yes” mean a “yes”.

Sounds simple and almost stupid however, it will save your relationship from toxic resentment build up and issues of unaccountablility.