I live in New England where right now in the middle of the winter of 2018 there seems to be a massive Flu epidemic. It’s cited as being the worst in history, with people unwittingly passing it on to others who then do the same. It’s a classic case of physiologic contagion. We’re all advised about washing out hands, not sharing towels or utensils, and staying home if we have symptoms to avoid unnecessary spread of the illness which can be fatal.
But what about other forms of contagion? Who notices them and gives us tools to avoid spreading the unsavory?
Contagion in relationships is much like the Flu – if you get too close and aren’t mindful, you’ll catch, in this case, the emotional state of someone you may feel sympathy towards.
If your spouse is depressed and lolling around, if you aren’t proactive you may end up “mirroring” them with similar body language and affect. We all seek people who will mirror us accurately as a form of bonding and connection, but when a loved one is very down or anxious, you want to be careful to not take on their attitude, but instead to feel compassion, and try to provide support. It’s a fine line of difference.
If a friend is feeling hopeless about a relationship or job, you can listen and acknowledge their pain, maybe even ask if they’d like some suggestions or a reality check around their experience. But that’s different from hanging around with them and getting into long, shared experiences about how partners or jobs are unreliable, and tapping into your own negative beliefs about these things. Then the feeling and attitude has been contagious. You’ve “caught” it.
If when you empathize with a loved one by connecting with similar experiences you’ll need to also connect with any lessons you learned or things you gained from the experience, so you don’t “catch” the “hopeless bug”. You’ll need to remind yourself of anything you may have done to get past the experience to something brighter.
It may be useful to remind your loved one of their resources and resilience they’ve demonstrated in the past around these kinds of issues. You can become a subtle cheerleader for their strengths, without sounding too chirpy.
It will also be helpful to limit time spent with someone in a very dark state. You cannot help them if their narrative becomes your own, so make sure you engage in activities before or afterward which remind you of good possibilities in life. You will be a sunnier presence for them as well if you practice this.
You can then make hope the contagious feeling instead!
I just received this post from my esteemed colleague, Carthage Buckley, a wise and passionate
coach from Ireland I had the pleasure of doing a BlogTalk Radio episode with earlier this year.
I thought this post was so relevant and perfectly worded that I decided to share it with all of you.
For anyone wanting more of Carthage’s down-to-earth, practical advise go to:
relating to maximizing one’s personal best. Read this and check him out!
Listen to yourself and you’ll always be happy
Coaching requires the coach to spend a great deal of time listening the client. When appropriate, the coach will interject with a question. There are a number of reasons why the coach may choose to ask a particular question but quite often the question is saying one thing to the client – listen to yourself. It is important that the client does not just listen to the words they speak, but also to the way in which they say it and the feelings they experience when they say it. This is listening at a much deeper level than most people are used to. When you listen to yourself, you live your values and pursue your dreams. This is one of the most effective strategies for reducing stress and increasing personal happiness.
One day, a heart-warming message was posted on my Facebook page. My Australian friend, Marshall, had posted to tell me that he was enjoying his holiday in North America – the post was made from Vancouver. He wrote to thank me for encouraging him to take the plunge and follow his lifelong dream of visiting North America. It was clear from his message that Marshall was having the time of his life. I had previously spent a year in Australia, working with Marshall. During that time, he had told me many times of his desire to travel. I had offered lots of advice throughout the year but it could all be summed up with one phrase – listen to yourself.
While it is always nice to receive appreciation; I am afraid Marshall’s appreciation is largely unwarranted. For it was not me who inspired him, it was his own dreams. Marshall and I had often talked with our friends about travelling and about our experiences. Marshall was always keen to encourage us to fulfil our dreams. As the year moved on, I noticed a slight change in him. He began to talk more about the places he wanted to see and the things he wanted to do. It became clear to me that he had begun to listen to the advice that he was offering to others.
Marshall’s message reminded me of how I came to be in Australia in the first place. I had been working in Ireland when a colleague asked me for advice. He told me that his girlfriend had bought him a holiday to Egypt for his birthday. It was the one place that he had always wanted to go to. His concern was that he would have to give up his job – it was a summer job. We talked for a short while and he realised that he had to take the opportunity to go to Egypt. He thanked me for the advice and immediately handed in his notice. As he thanked me, my inner voice was screaming
listen to yourself. I had always wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia. I decided there and then that I needed to follow my own advice. 4 months later I had saved €4,000, acquired the necessary visas and was boarding a plane at Dublin airport. I was about to enjoy the best 2 years of my life.
When you listen to yourself it is easier to discover your purpose and live your values.
We all like to offer advice to our friends but sometimes, when we are offering that advice from the depths of our heart, we are not just speaking to our friends, we are also speaking to ourselves. So, take the time to listen to yourself; it may be the wisest advice you ever receive.
Do you have a friend or relative who consistently screws up, forgets things, fails to follow through, or in one way or the other doesn’t take care of their own “life business”? If so, you may be in the presence of “learned helplessness.”
Unless these people are clinically depressed or physiologically compromised, this state often has more to do with someone operating at a “youngest sibling” level, expecting that others know more, are more capable, and can assume responsibility for things. They have usually developed unconscious life “scripts” about being inept, or ignorant or incapable, often not challenging these deeply held beliefs. As a result, they lack a sense of “agency,” the courage to try new solutions, and the ability or willingness to try to act effectively on their own behalf.
Your friend or relative may make lame decisions or procrastinate endlessly, and is likely to create a need on your part to take over and rescue them. If you feel that you’re watching someone who operates like a train wreck in slow motion, and that you can’t seem to help yourself from taking over to fix things, then you may be a target of their “learned helplessness”! People who demonstrate this are usually experts at training the people around them to go into overdrive “rescue” mode. They often don’t directly ask for help, but seem to be so helpless that the people around them feel they have to take over.
And don’t be fooled – their “helplessness” is generally very powerful! They get you to take over, pay for things, organize things, make appointments, ask the right questions, and generally fix whatever problems they are faced with.
So, if you’ve been feeling exhausted in a relationship which plays out with this “parent – child” dynamic, and feel that there’s a lack of reciprocity, or that you’re pouring lots of effort down a bottomless pit, watch out! You may be feeding someone’s “learned helplessness”! Consider backing off into a more supportive or facilitative role, allowing them to struggle more directly with problems, and learn that they can direct their power more appropriately into developing solutions for themselves. You’ll be doing yourself, your friend and the relationship a giant service.
If you feel that you need help to deal with this issue in any of your relationships feel free to contact me for an appointment.