by Shawn Haywood
In my “old life” I was a real stinker. I was the kind of person who would fight long and hard for the sole purpose of being right. I had to make my point or win an argument at any cost, and would unleash any emotional weapon I could in order to get my way: guilt, shame, yelling, door slamming, crying, passive aggression, or anger. You name it, I would use it.
Of course, at the time, all of this was unconscious; I didn’t realise what I was doing. I had no idea of the real consequences of my actions or the toll my behaviour was taking on myself and those I loved. I was simply acting out in the ways I learned growing up, without a deeper thought as to why.
And isn’t that the kicker? So often, we never stop to evaluate if what we are doing is actually effective and loving, or destructive and unloving—so often, we never stop to ask, “Why?”
I used to have incredibly low levels of self-love and self-confidence. That was my “why.” And because of this lack, “winning” became a false marker of my perceived value. I engaged in so many destructive habits in an effort to feel worthy—a mistake that very few of us have not made, actually. I didn’t always understand that I’m worthy simply because I am.
Unfortunately, these destructive habits and emotional weapons break down the ability to cultivate emotional safety, a cornerstone of strong, joyful, connected couples and families.
Emotional safety is critical to the health of any relationship, but is most important in those where we share a home and impact one another’s daily lives. So, what exactly is emotional safety?
An emotionally safe environment essentially means that all members have:
• Freedom to voice any opinion or idea—even if no one else likes it—without consequences (i.e. each person is free to be authentic and who they choose to be)
• Freedom to feel any emotion, even anger, without being punished
• Freedom to ask for what they want (even though they might not always get it)
• Learned the ability to be unconditionally supportive
• Begun to let go of emotional weapons and are learning to replace them with unconditional kindness, care, and support
3 WAYS TO CULTIVATET EMOTIONAL SAFETY IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS
So often, it seems easier to criticise, blame, punish, overreact, lash out, or be passive aggressive. Instead, we can learn to simply take a breath and encourage.
The truth is, we humans can learn to transcend our old baggage—all the crappy heaps of negative past experiences that stand between us and the divine interpersonal connections we have the opportunity to experience.
But first, we have to want to be happy. There’s a question we have to ask ourselves and one that requires a big dose of personal honesty: “Do I really want to be happy?”
If the answer is, “Yes!” then a great practice to begin is inserting encouragement in place of sarcasm, snide remarks, huffing and puffing, or blaming. We can start with statements like these:
• “Great job.”
• “That’s an interesting idea—tell me more.”
• “How did you come up with that interesting notion?”
• “I love that.”
• “Thank you for sharing.”
By swallowing our pride and stepping into encouragement, we can start to see our relationships grow to a whole new level of emotional safety, love, and connection.
Soften your Tone
Does your tone say, “Eff you,” when your words say, “I’m listening, dear. What do you need?”
As a coach, I spend hours on the telephone working with clients. As such, I have become astute in the art of deciphering tone of voice. But it’s simple enough that we don’t need to be experts to decipher this code.
When a tone of voice suggests: “I don’t have time,” “I don’t care,” or “You’re annoying me,” the person receiving this message is certainly not going to feel encouraged to open up and be vulnerable. This is true even when the words we use may have asked for just that!
I invite you to listen honestly to your tone of voice. What is it conveying? Are you using a nasty tone? If so, why, and how can you begin sharing that truth instead of hiding behind a grouchy tone?
PractiSe softening your tone for 30 days and see what happens. You can still set boundaries and enforce them, and you can still say no—you can say anything you like! But try doing it with a soft, disarming, and inviting tone of voice.
Ask and Speak
Too often, emotional weapons are used in place of lovingly and simply asking for what we want or saying what we need to say. Emotional weapons emerge because there is an underlying lack of self-love or belief in our own worthiness.
One simple but effective way to turn these challenges around is to begin to speak up: ask for what you want and say what you need to say—lovingly and confidently. At first, it may take time to realise what that is. Remember, it’s okay to walk away from conversations, take the time to figure out what we have going on internally, and come back to the conversation later, with clarity.
This practice reinforces the message, “I am worthy and deserving.” As this truth is reinforced, mounting emotional safety emerges between you and those you want to connect with. It is a gorgeous cycle.
What we can begin to discover is that it really is possible to have the kind of life and relationships that we desire. By employing small, seemingly insignificant changes in behaviour, such as seeking opportunities to offer encouragement, paying attention to how we say what we say, or learning to speak from the heart, we can begin to turn the tide on long-ingrained, negative behaviour patterns within our relationships.
This discovery may open up a whole new world of possibilities as we begin to understand that we do have the power to change our love and family lives for the better.
*This is an edited version of the full article which you can read on the below website.