Are you feeling unheard or frustrated that your message isn't quite being understood? Perhaps your communication style needs a tweak.

What are the fundamental building blocks of any human interaction?

Think of puppies: How do puppies communicate with humans?

Puppies communicate using yelps, whines, growls, and silent body language with the flick of an ear, tail position, body angle and even smells. Once you know how to translate puppy communication, you can "talk" to your puppy in a way he/she understands. The same goes for us mere human beings - once we know how to understand (translate) anothers language, then you can 'talk' in a way that they understand, resulting in you being heard and finding that common respectful thread between you that enables good communication to foster.


So how do we ensure that we communicate with more awareness, omitting our own 'issues' amidst the manner in how we decide to speak, think and respond? Let's consider Gottman's Four Horseman:

The Four Horsemen:

Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, & Stonewalling

Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions, (whether in personal relationships, friendships or even the workplace) is a necessary first step to eliminating them and replacing them with healthy, productive communication patterns.

The Four Horseman

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. We use this metaphor to describe communication styles that, according to research, can potentially predict the end of a relationship.

1. Criticism

The first horseman is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on your partner at the core of their character. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticize.

The important thing is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing:

If you find that you and your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen to follow. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity, which eventually leads to contempt.

2. Contempt

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean—we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names, and mimic or use body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Contempt goes far beyond criticism. While criticism attacks your partner’s character, contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them:

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid. Could you be any more pathetic?” 

Research even shows that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others due to weakened immune systems! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner—which come to a head when the perpetrator attacks the accused from a position of relative superiority.

Most importantly, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. It must be eliminated.

3. Defensiveness

The third horseman is defensiveness, and it is typically a response to criticism. We’ve all been defensive, and this horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel unjustly accused, we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off.

Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we won’t take responsibility for our mistakes:

This partner not only responds defensively, but they reverse blame in an attempt to make it the other partner’s fault. Instead, a non-defensive response can express acceptance of responsibility, admission of fault, and understanding of your partner’s perspective:

Although it is perfectly understandable to defend yourself if you’re stressed out and feeling attacked, this approach will not have the desired effect. Defensiveness will only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, and it won’t allow for healthy conflict management.

4. Stonewalling

The fourth horseman is stonewalling, which is usually a response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to their partner. Rather than confronting the issues with their partner, people who stonewall can make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive or distracting behaviors.

It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a bad habit. And unfortunately, stonewalling isn’t easy to stop. It is a result of feeling physiologically flooded, and when we stonewall, we may not even be in a physiological state where we can discuss things rationally.

If you feel like you’re stonewalling during a conflict, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break:

“Alright, I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this. Can we please take a break and come back to it in a bit? It’ll be easier to work through this after I’ve calmed down.”

Then take 20 minutes to do something alone that soothes you—read a book or magazine, take a walk, go for a run, really, just do anything that helps to stop feeling flooded—and then return to the conversation once you feel ready.

The Antidotes to the Four Horsemen

Being able to identify the Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication and conflict patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones.

To listen with the intent to understand is the first platform to move out of conflict and find a mutually respectful outcome.

Fortunately, each horseman has a proven positive behavior that will counteract negativity. Want to find out how? Let's chat.

How to pick the signs and tread that fragile line of 'caring and supporting' when someone is going through troubled times

What is the difference between caring and supporting and how do these two words impact on what, how and when we help those in need?

The definition of caring: displaying kindness and concern for others - 'a caring and invaluable friend'

Supporting is' where an individual gives help or assistance, or to hold something or someone up'

So when to care and when to support is the question...let's have a look at a couple of scenarios:

How to care:

When to support:

We also have to remember, that if someone does not want to talk, then you can't make them...all you can do is care, offer support and check in.

Sometimes the smallest gesture showing concern, offering support and caring, is all that is needed to make another person feel validated and worthy because you are showing care for them...a simple human experience that we all connect with.

Be kind to yourself and others...a great moto to live by!

Boost your mood with food. Integrative strategies to improve your state of mind. It is more than your thoughts.

We have all heard of 'integrative' health and wellbeing, 'holistic' approaches to your wellness.

So, what does this really mean?

More of my patients are presenting with generalized anxiety, depression and severe stress recently and curiously, I have asked one question, and in most of these cases the answer has been unanimous.

The question: 'So what is your diet like?'

Answer: 'Terrible...not good, could be better....'

How many of you realize that what you consume, from food to liquids, has a direct link and can affect your capacity to think more positively, help you build more emotional resilience and effectively, support you in a better life overall?

We know diet and exercise is important, but did you know that these two elements are only part of the picture when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing as well as your mental health?

Let's look at the below scenarios:

  1. You are a health nut - you spend hours each day doing exercise and punch out those weights, run kilometers and look fabulous in your underwear, but you still suffer from stress and anxiety and generally don't like yourself or feel unwell
  2. You see a counsellor or therapist and found that you are not getting anywhere. You still have anxiety, depression or still feel stressed. You are unhappy and struggle to sleep well and are tired a lot of the time

Do any of the above resonate? With the two scenarios above, there was one common denominator in both cases - neither patient had a healthy diet:

Unless we support our bodies with healthy food and liquids, supporting our good gut bacteria in order to allow maximum absorption of nutrients into our system - no matter how many times we see our therapist or how much we exercise, if your diet is not on parr, your overall wellness is just not going to get you there.

A balance of your body health, your mind heath and a sense of contentment and peace are all possible if you observe the integrative and holistic approach to wellbeing.

Need some strategies to get back on track and more importantly, are you invested in you, the whole you, from top to bottom and from the inside and out, then you have come to the right place. Let's get that system of yours running at its optimum.