Q & A
"People tell me that I take things personally - I know I can be overly sensitive, but I'm wondering what else they might mean."
At one time or other, most of us have overreacted to perceived slights. Sometimes it's look, a tone of voice, a raised eyebrow, or an attitude. But taking things personally might also mean feeling ignored, invalidated, or disbelieved. It might mean feeling criticized or left out. It might include having unrealistic expectations, then crashing into disappointment. It might even be when we find ourselves thinking, "why does it have to rain on the day of my picnic."
Often, when we take things personally, it means we are feeling disrespected - discounted, disdained, disregarded, discarded, or even disgraced. There are dozens of "diss" words and most of them boil down to feeling rejected in some way.
It takes only a second to send us spiraling back to a past experience where we felt the same way. And we feel hurt or misunderstood all over again. It doesn't feel good and we overreact.
"I take things personally way too often and it gets me into trouble at work. I'm never quite sure how I'm going to react when I feel offended-sometimes I blow up, and other times I withdraw and shut down. What can I do to stop this behavior before it costs me another bad evaluation or even my job?"
The goal here is to gain enough space to allow you to see there are other options besides blowing up or stonewalling.
Here are a few tools to help gain distance from the situation:
Ask yourself, am I'm taking this personally? Might I be feeling rejected in some way? Is this because I'm feeling disrespected? Is this an old feeling? Where did it come from? This helps you gain some perspective by separating the "then" from the "now" and.
It helps to remember another person's words or actions are often about that person and that person's history, not necessarily about you. Try thinking, Them: 90%
"We hear a lot these days about gender differences. How does this affect our needs for personal space?"
First of all, I want to point out that gender style differences are only one aspect of cultural differences. Other influences include ethnicity, nationality, geography, and even what part of a city we grew up in. All of these aspects influence how we think about time and space and how we balance closeness and distance.
Is it any wonder we think differently? After all, we grew up in different families! It goes back to the importance of respecting another person's way of doing things even if it is different from yours.
One way to try to understand your partner's or boss's or friend's style differences would be to put yourself in their shoes. How might they be thinking or feeling? This helps avoid hurt feelings, misunderstandings, resentment, and alienation.
"How can I honor my own needs without my partner thinking I care less about her?"
In successful relationships, each person is able to switch from an individual way of thinking to a couples' framework," from solo to duet." But it's a tough balancing act-it's important to make room to be a couple, but it's equally important to be yourself as well. This includes maintaining a sense of yourself and a clear idea of your needs.
It helps to highlight what you want rather than what you don't want, and to frame it as something that is important to you, rather than your partner's failing. An example might be: "This is not about you, this is about some needs that I have. When I was a child I used to spend many hours alone in my room. Sometimes I miss having this kind of time alone. I'd like to work something out with you so we can enjoy our time together, but also have some time for ourselves as well."
All to often we don't recognize that we have a need for more time to ourselves. As a result, we may push our partner away in order to give ourselves much- needed breathing room.
"I require more alone time than my partner, and she takes my need for solitude so personally. What can we do so the resentments don't take over?"
Each of us has different needs for space and time, and it's important to respect these needs. Often it helps a lot to remind yourself, "This is not about me, this is about my partner's needs." Putting this request into the context of a need for "time to yourself" rather than needing "space" is often easier for your partner to understand and not take so personally.
"Why did you write Breathing Room just for couples? It seems to me that the problem of "space" affects other kinds of relationships as well-work, parenting, friendships. And what if you are not a couple but want to be one?"
Space issues are indeed relevant to all kinds of relationships, and the scope of this book is not just for couples. And by the way, Breathing Room is also for anyone who hopes to be part of a couple but keeps bumping into those tricky space problems.
As a matter of fact, I use much of the information in Breathing Room to train business personnel. By reading between the lines, you'll find lots of ways to create your own ways of applying the major points of the book to all sorts of relationship problems.
And by he way, Breathing Room is also for anyone who hopes to be part of a couple but keeps bumping into those tricky space problems.
"My boyfriend goes into the kitchen and fixes a snack and never thinks to ask me if I'd like something. Maybe I'm being silly but it hurts my feelings."
First of all, you have already identified the problem here he doesn't think to offer. However, not thinking doesn't mean not caring. It does, however, mean he has a different style of doing things than you do. Try telling him directly that it would mean a lot to you if he could call out a friendly, "Do you want anything while I'm in the kitchen?" once in a while.
"When my partner asks for more 'space,' it makes me feel threatened. How can I move beyond thinking that she wants to end the relationship? "
Yes, it does seems that all too often one partner waits until he or she feels desperate before they get up the courage to address space needs in their relationship. When the realization hits that they need more space, it does sometimes seem like a precursor to the end of the relationship. This is because so much resentment and anger have built up, leaving little room for intimacy.
I wrote Breathing Room to show that it's OK to have needs for comfortable space; it doesn't have to be seen as a threat to the relationship. In fact, intimacy benefits from the creation of this breathing room.
Each of us has different needs for space and different styles of taking it, and it's essential to respect these differences. But your partner cannot read your mind about your needs, especially if you can't put words to them. So first know what your needs are, then to ask your partner directly for what you need or want. There's a heading in Breathing Room titled, "If You Love Me, You'll Read My Mind." But this unrealistic expectation leads to disappointment, which leads to anger and resentment. And with these things taking up so much space, how can there be room for intimacy?
"I hear people talk about "good personal boundaries" but I'm not quite sure what that means."
Having good personal boundaries means being able to separate your feelings, thoughts, needs, and ideas from those of other people. It means recognizing and appreciating how your personal space is unique and separate from the personal space of others. In other words, having good personal boundaries means knowing where you stop and the other person begins.
Personal boundaries include physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, sexual boundaries, and social boundaries. It most especially includes respecting privacy-yours and that of other people.
"I find myself feeling ashamed too easily. What can I do?"
Shame and humiliation are overwhelming feelings for many of us. They can take over in a flash. Panic may wash over you and you "can't think straight."
But if you can gain some perspective, you may realize that the situation only warrants feeling embarrassed, not ashamed. It doesn't call for any more than that. Remind yourself that shame and embarrassment are not the same feeling. Learn to recognize the difference and try to keep them separate. Try repeating to yourself, "I'm only feeling embarrassment here, not shame. Just because I'm embarrassed doesn't meant I'm ashamed."
"My partner's family is always intruding on our privacy, and demanding lots of time and attention. What can we do about it without offending them?"
First of all, it helps to realize that this problem is related to two of the issues discussed above: personal boundaries and style differences.
Personal boundaries include respect for privacy and personal space and individuality. It means "staying connected but not infected" by over-closeness. If family members "drop in" without calling, being direct about your request that they contact you first (no voice mails) before they come over unannounced. And be consistent-hopefully, you can re-train them!
Style differences are often cultural in some way (see the previous question) Even if you happen to be from the same cultural or ethnic background, you didn't grow up in the same family, so you probably do things differently.
However, different cultural backgrounds often have different (usually unspoken) "rules" regarding obligations and loyalty. In some families grown children are expected to move away, even across the country. In others, it is considered a betrayal of sorts if they even move across town.
"I spend a lot of time in front of the computer. My partner gets angry and says it is hurting our relationship."
There are dozens of distractions to intimacy in relationships -filling up space, leaving little room for closeness and connection. For example, resentments, jealousy, anxiety and stress, working long hours, overeating, overdrinking, overspending, gambling. Many of these are addiction to adrenaline, and this includes cyberspace.
Indeed, many of us have a personal relationship with the computer, giving over so much time, space, and energy to it. This is especially true when time spent in cyberspace includes cybersex and cyberaffairs-surely distractions from real-life relationships.