#49: Dealing with Fears of Abandonment

In this episode, Marielle and Ed answer a listener’s question about fears of abandonment when conflict arises in relationships. These fears go straight to the heart of old wounds for many people. 

Often, worry that conflict will destroy a relationship is rooted in our earliest relationships with our caregivers. If that early care was inconsistent, absent, or punishing in some way, it will be hard to feel secure when conflict inevitably arises in adult relationships. With skill use and a lot of compassion, you can learn to walk yourself through this common fear.  

Show Highlights

  • Start by assessing whether you are in Emotion Mind or Wise Mind
  • Distress Tolerance skills can help bring down anxiety 
  • Use the STOP skill to pause and respond mindfully
  • Paced Breathing can calm the nervous system
  • Comfort and care for yourself with Self-Soothing  
  • Radically Accept that you are struggling with this fear
  • Name your emotions and worries to help ground you
  • Don’t let relationships problems fester and go unaddressed
  • Think about approaching what scares you, rather than avoiding
  • All relationships will have conflict at some point, because we are all different 
  • Remembering dialectics – we can love someone and be very angry at them at the same time
  • Conflict handled well often results in more intimacy and understanding

DBT Skills Discussed

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Please note that questions, and this podcast in general, are not a substitute for individual mental health treatment.


 #49: Dealing with Fears of Abandonment Transcript

Marielle Berg 

Hello and welcome to The Skillful Podcast where we explore DBT and RO-DBT skills to help you reduce emotional suffering, improve your relationships, and become more present in your life. I’m your host, Marielle Berg, a psychotherapist at the Bay Area DBT and Couples Counseling Center.

Marielle Berg 

My faithful listeners, we’re back after a long break. And Ed and I just wanted to check in with each other and with you all and say hi, acknowledging that we haven’t had an episode out in a while.

Ed Fowler 

Yes, we have been focusing on other things, and talking about oh, we need to do an episode, we need to do an episode. And so we’re really excited to be getting back into the swing of things.

Marielle Berg 

Yes, life just got lifey as they say, with a lot going on. But we really appreciate the emails that we’ve gotten, they’re just inspiring, and it’s motivating, very much to keep going. We can’t guarantee we’ll do this forever. But we’re gonna try to keep chugging along, because we’re hearing that it’s helpful for so many people,

Ed Fowler 

And definitely enjoyable for us.

Marielle Berg 

Yes. The episode that you’re hearing today is one that we actually recorded a while ago, I can’t remember quite when, but sometime in 2021. And we have a few episodes like that, that we recorded, but didn’t get a chance to release. So we’ll be releasing those over the next few months, and coming your way with new episodes.

Ed Fowler 

So we’re excited for you to hear these episodes. And then we’re going to be recording new ones to help you continue to deepen your skill practice and to think about DBT skills in new ways.

Marielle Berg 

Hey, Ed, how are you doing today?

Ed Fowler 

I’m doing good. It’s good to be back in the virtual booth.

Marielle Berg 

Yes. For today’s episode, Ed and I are going to answer a listener question about fear of abandonment in relationships. This is a common struggle and a very painful struggle that we see in the folks we work with and we’ve known in our own lives in different ways. So Ed and I are gonna tackle this today.

Marielle Berg 

I’ll start by reading the question. Okay, so this listener wrote in:

Marielle Berg 

My question relates to feeling unsafe in your relationships and fear of abandonment. I’m lucky enough to have many strong, close relationships, but I still struggle to feel safe in them. For example, any conflict, no matter how tiny, can cause me significant anxiety and distress. I might become really preoccupied with the conflict, and become convinced that the relationship will end. In this stage, I might also delay resolving the conflict, as I’m convinced bringing it up might induce further conflict, and cause the relationship to end. How do I control this anxiety and feel safer in my relationships, so that conflict doesn’t trigger fear of abandonment, and or significant emotional distress?

Marielle Berg 

So there’s a lot in there for us to unpack and address.

Ed Fowler 

And I imagine people listening, there are going to be very many that really relate to this. Because I think it is, as you said, Marielle, it’s such a common experience, to like have really strong fear come up when there’s conflict in relationships, and fear that if I can’t resolve this conflict, I’ll be alone. I’ll be abandoned. I won’t be okay.

Ed Fowler 

And so being able to like recognize that and work with it, as we were talking a little bit before we started recording, like goes way beyond just some DBT skills, and DBT skills are necessary to help us get to Wise Mind when there’s such intense emotion coming up around conflict in relationships.

Marielle Berg 

You’re right, this, you know, addressing this question and all the different parts of it requires a lot of different things. The pulling on of many different ways of thought that, we’re going to touch upon today. But I think I first just wanted to extend a lot of compassion to the listener who wrote in this question, and to anyone who struggles with this. You’re not alone and there are certainly ways to help you feel less fear and less anxiety when it comes to conflict.

Marielle Berg 

And I think for, you know, when when you and I were talking about this question, both of us, kind of one of the first place we went to in thinking about it is states of mind, or that concept of states of mind, which relates to Wise Mind, versus these two other more extreme states of mind, like Emotion Mind, and Reasonable Mind. And I have a strong hunch that this listener is in Emotion Mind, or their, you know, subjective units of distress or SUDs, as we refer to it, is really rising, or does really rise when there’s any kind of conflict in close relationships.

Ed Fowler 

And I do think, when we find ourselves getting triggered into strong Emotion Mind, like those really high levels of distress, I think it’s valuable to do with this listener is doing, which is to notice the patterns, and try to understand them. And again, dialectically, understanding can help. And when there is some sort of like deeper pain, that’s unresolved, understanding isn’t going to resolve that pain completely, we’re going to need to do multiple things. I think the helpful starting place is just mindfully noticing, oh, this is a pattern that keeps coming up, when I have conflict, and as this listener said, when I have even small conflicts, I quickly get afraid that I will be abandoned, that if I don’t resolve this, I will not have this relationship anymore. And strong fear comes up.

Ed Fowler 

So being able to just acknowledge that, and acknowledge I’m in Emotion Mind about this. And anytime we find ourselves in strong Emotion Mind, we want to pull towards Wise Mind. How do we get back into balance? How do we bring in some Reasonable Mind? And so with this experience of of a lot of fear around conflict in relationships, one way to balance is to have the Reasonable Mind perspective of what’s going on here, what’s happening, what is this, beyond, oh, my God, I’m going to be abandoned.

Marielle Berg 

So part of what you’re talking about is looking at facts or logic. And of course, we we can’t do that very effectively when we’re in Emotion Mind. So trying to pull in, as you said, some of the more analytical and logical ways that Reasonable Mind can help us.

Marielle Berg 

And the first thing I think of is going to Distress Tolerance skills, to help us move more actually into the synthesis of emotion and reason, which is Wise Mind. And so when those fears of abandonment come up, or those feelings of not being safe in relationship, distress tolerance skills, and we can, you know, review some of our favorites here, or the ones that we think might be particularly helpful with relationship conflict, might be the first place to start just to bring down that anxiety and high distress.

Ed Fowler 

Because with something like this profound, safety in relationships and, and ultimately, safety within ourselves, I think that we do want to like try to let that emotion come down in order to think more clearly. And so that’s where the STOP skill is a really helpful starting point of just stopping and taking a step back, observing what’s happening, and then trying to proceed mindfully.

Ed Fowler 

Certainly TIPP skills around the, changing our body chemistry. And with this one, I’m thinking like, if you are noticing that you’re starting to get that nervous system activation around fear of abandonment in a conflict, like some paced breathing, just breathing in and out slowly, extending the exhale, which extends the relaxation within our nervous system, can just help to get a little bit more balanced.

Ed Fowler 

And to feel like you’re doing something, instead of oh, my gosh, emotions are coming up and now I just have to ride these waves and who knows what will happen. Being able to say I’m going to do some paced breathing, I’m going to breathe in and out at a slower pace can give us something to do that’s more active.

Marielle Berg 

And I also think about with Distress Tolerance, Self Soothing, because when we have a fear of abandonment, it’s a very young place. And what I mean by that, not like an immature sort of place, but we all have different kind of parts of ourselves or younger parts of ourselves that learn things about relationships early on, and that’s likely what’s getting activated when fears of abandonment or lack of safety in close relationships come up in adulthood.

Marielle Berg 

That there’s been some imprinting some learning that happened really young, maybe sometimes even too young for you to remember clearly, where conflict or or discord of any kind in a relationship might lead to pretty terrible consequences. And so I go to Self Soothing because there’s a way that using our senses.

Marielle Berg 

So just as a reminder, Self Soothing is thinking about, you know, touch, so that might be wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, or getting a massage. So touch taste, eating something that’s really pleasurable. Smell, smelling something soothing, like cinnamon, if you like that, or coffee or scented candles. Hearing, so what you hear, listening to music that feels comforting, or music that brings up positive emotions. And sight, what you see. So surrounding yourself or exposing yourself to beauty or nature. And this, this doesn’t have to be anything big or anything that takes a lot of time, you can usually find ways to self soothe just in the privacy of your own home with small things around you.

Marielle Berg 

But I think that that kind of taking care of ourselves physically and using our senses can help communicate to this, these very young parts that live in us that are scared, scared of losing relationships.

Ed Fowler 

And I think since we’re talking about Distress Tolerance as the starting point, which is very often the case. In order to think through and choose what we do in our lives, we need to be in that Wise Mind balance. And so when emotions are strong, we have to let those emotions come back down, and do things that help emotions come down. And so, you know, another Distress Tolerance skill is Radical Acceptance.

Ed Fowler 

And with this one, which tends to both create a lot of intense fear, but also shame, why am I so afraid of conflict in relationships, what’s wrong with me that I get so worked up about my relationships or about conflict, being able to put some effort and not necessarily a lot, but a little effort into saying, this is happening, I get scared about conflict in relationships, I get afraid of being abandoned. And being able to like put a little effort into that, just accepting this is something that I’m struggling with. This is something I don’t like, and I want to change, I’m not going to be able to change it quickly.

Ed Fowler 

In my experience has been this, this deep fear of abandonment, like Marielle, like you said, goes way back into childhood. And oftentimes, we’re not even really aware of the connections, but kids are so vulnerable. And so fear of abandonment comes up. Because if there’s conflict, I’m afraid that person is going to leave me. For a kid that’s really scary. And so this is deep, and being able to just say, Yeah, I have this, I have this fear, this is coming up, it’s happening again. And being able to just put a little bit of effort into accepting this as happening.

Marielle Berg 

I really like that. As you were talking, I was thinking, related to this acceptance that this is happening, is kind of opening up a bit more to the fear and naming it, which maybe puts us more on, you know, observing and describing of emotions. But you know, really labeling it for yourself, this is fear.

Marielle Berg 

And you can bring in some work from self compassion, which is not something we cover explicitly in DBT. But we work in a little bit, I think throughout our episodes, it might be helpful to put a hand on your heart, or two hands, one hand on top of each other, kind of in your, you know, you know, on your chest or on your heart because there’s warmth there under our palms. And as you’re sitting with the emotion and practicing Radical Acceptance that you have this fear of abandonment, also practicing Radical Acceptance, that fear is present. It may not fit the facts, it’s likely about old stuff, but it is here. And then we can be a little less scared of it.

Ed Fowler 

And I would say also being accepting if we aren’t less scared. Because if we’re having a strong emotional reaction, something’s happening. Something’s trying to get worked out. This is the thing we talk about with Emotion Regulation.

Ed Fowler 

Emotions give us information. And there’s something that’s trying to get worked out. We want to feel secure. I’m feeling afraid of abandonment in this relationship. Like sometimes we can do all the things we just described, and still feel that intense fear. Being able to just say, okay, this is more than a whole bunch of skills are going to help, what else. And then moving towards what else can I do? But with that sense of again, self compassion of like, Yep, I’m struggling with this. I really am.

Marielle Berg 

Yeah, and it’s not to make the fear go away. But I think the naming, and being with it, can help with, loosen some constriction, maybe loosen some of the intensity.

Ed Fowler 

Yes.

Marielle Berg 

But this, you know, as I think we keep coming back to, it’s not an easy fix. So there’s going to be a lot of different things one will need to try, over a period of time. Because you’re really healing something, you’re you can think about it as healing an old wound, which will need different kinds of treatment, we might say.

Marielle Berg 

And so once your distress is down to a more manageable level, where your Subjective Units of Distress, we might say, is maybe a six or below, you can begin to think about using other skills. And this is when we would want to think about Emotion Regulation skills, certainly Interpersonal Effectiveness skills, because this listener is talking about avoiding conflict, like becoming preoccupied with the conflict, but then also avoiding addressing it or resolving it. Which can of course, like if we don’t try to repair the ruptures in our relationship, they can sometimes sort of just fester, and then the thing that we’re scared of will happen anyway where our relationship might end.

Marielle Berg 

So when there’s conflict, you know, when the time is right, and our Wise Mind can help direct us and of course, the other person has to be in the right frame of mind to, we do need to kind of go forward or go, you know, approach the conflict and talk about it and do what’s uncomfortable rather than avoid, and we have different skills in Emotion Regulation, I’m thinking right now that can help with that.

Marielle Berg 

And maybe the most obvious is Opposite Action. Because fear wants us to avoid, to run away, to not move closer to the thing that is scaring us. So thinking about what your emotion is telling you to do, which is to avoid, and doing the opposite of that, to approach.

Ed Fowler 

And again, with with any emotional regulation, we start with Checking the Facts, which again, what we’ve talked about, noting, oh, this is happening, I’m feeling fear, I am wanting to avoid, and then being able to recognize, okay, rather than avoid, what can I do to approach?

Ed Fowler 

And I think we need to really layer the skills that we’ve been talking about here, because there’s a big difference between, okay, you’re avoiding get over your avoiding, go talk to that person, there’s nothing wrong here, you’re not being abandoned. And a totally different approach, which is hand on your heart saying, I’m afraid, I’m struggling, I don’t want to be abandoned. This is old stuff, I’m afraid to even talk about this, and I want to try to practice Opposite Action and talk to the person I’m having the conflict with. And so really trying to bring that gentle approach to something this tender, and doing that Opposite Action with a lot of gentleness and care.

Marielle Berg 

Yes, both for yourself and the other person, they might be having similar struggles. And as you were talking, I was thinking about, and this will take us a little bit away from Emotion Regulation. But hopefully we’ll come back to it. I was just thinking about how no relationship can survive long term without conflict.

Ed Fowler 

Right.

Marielle Berg 

And so maybe even like, kind of trying to shift our mindset a little bit that conflict isn’t necessarily a dire warning that things in a relationship are about to fall apart. You know, if anything, if there’s a relationship where there’s never any conflict, I get a little concerned. Like, what isn’t being said, and how authentic are we actually being with each other? So perhaps a reframing in one’s own mind about the meaning of conflict, because conflict is sometimes necessary to bring up things that might otherwise get swept under the rug.

Ed Fowler 

And the reason why all relationships have conflict at some point, any lasting relationship, is because we human beings, we’re different. We have different experiences, different priorities, different desires, and it is inevitable that there will be some differences that come up. And like we talked about with Emotion Regulation, if we feel anger when differences come up, or we feel fear when differences come up, that’s just giving us information that there is a difference that needs to be resolved.

Ed Fowler 

And because we’ve probably all had experiences of conflicts that blow up and are very tense, and that do end relationships where we lose that relationship, because of the conflict and our inability, either ourselves or the other person or both, to resolve it positively.

Ed Fowler 

So being able to just try to reframe for ourselves, like conflict is a part of relationships. It’s simply information that there’s a difference here. And what can I do to explore this difference with the other person, again, drawing on some DBT skills to help in that process.

Marielle Berg 

You might even want to think of it, or sometimes I think of it this way, instead of like, oh, this is a terrible thing. I mean, it’s, of course, it’s hard for me to get in this mind frame. But I will sometimes think of it with gratitude. If someone is bringing up something that is upsetting them, or that they want to talk about in our relationship or something maybe that I did or said, that makes them feel uncomfortable or badly, or in one way or another, you know, potentially, it’s an invitation to be more real with the other person. So that might feel like a stretch. But um.

Ed Fowler 

That’s, I would say, what you’re describing is heavy duty Opposite Action of like, instead of, I’m freaking out, or I’m so angry, how dare they, to be able to say, oh, I’m grateful that this is coming up.

Ed Fowler 

Again, the whole point of Opposite Action is we act the way we want to feel. We act the opposite of what our current emotion is telling us, until that emotion changes. So approaching it as like, okay, I’m grateful for this opportunity. Eventually, ideally, we’ll feel more of that.

Marielle Berg 

And I also think about dialectics here, keeping in mind that two seemingly opposing things can be true at the same time. So we can love or really like someone and also be really angry with them. And one doesn’t have to cancel out the other. And I can guarantee that if you love or, are just very close, and really, really, really like someone over you know, a really dear friend, there will be conflict.

Ed Fowler 

And another dialectic is, we can be afraid of conflict in relationships, and capable of handling conflict. We can want to avoid conflict, and do the work to address conflict. So not negating one or the other, but being able to hold both. Like, oh, I’m so scared, and I can handle this. I want to run away, I want to avoid this, I want to figure it out in my own mind before I talk to the other person, and I can try to open up and just open the dialogue with the other person and see what happens.

Marielle Berg 

Yes, which is probably very different than what this listener and other people who relate to this experienced in their younger years or their childhood. And I, this saying that I heard many years ago is, is coming to mind as we talk about this, which is: What you fear most has already happened.

Marielle Berg 

Meaning that the disruption or destructive outcome of conflict and relationship that you likely experienced at a earlier time in your life that felt more devastating, probably because you were too young to have skills to manage it, that that’s what you’re fearing. That that pain is going to be as intense as it was.

Marielle Berg 

And so I think it’s helpful to keep in mind, that very often what we fear most has already happened. It will never be, I don’t know if I want to say never. There’s you know, it will likely not be as intense as the kind of disruption or abandonment or lack of safety that one has felt earlier in their life and relationships. As an adult, we have so many more resources. I mean, people who are listening to this podcast and engage in therapy, and DBT, you have a lot of tools to pull upon, that you don’t have when you’re a kid and you don’t have a lot of say.

Ed Fowler 

Or than you have, you know, a month ago,

Marielle Berg 

Right.

Ed Fowler 

Like you now you have this insightful podcast to help you think about your relationship issues. And you didn’t have that yesterday. But this is the reality. And again, this is a way of checking the facts, and framing what we’re experiencing to encompass the totality of what’s happening.

Ed Fowler 

So there are fears, and when we have deep fears, they are based in stuff that’s happened that was painful, and we want to avoid that pain. And we are in a different place, no matter whether that pain happened yesterday or 50 years ago. We have more tools than we did the last time. We have opportunities and options, we have people we might be able to call on. We have ways to deal with things that are different than other times in the past. And reminding ourselves of that can again, deepen that sense of security within us, that can help us keep engaging something that is scary and threatening.

Marielle Berg 

Right. And we can do this when we’re doing a Check the Facts for fear. Like, wait a minute, I have so many more tools at my disposal. I know how to communicate clearly. And if I’m unsure, I can turn to my DBT skills, to my DEAR MAN and other Interpersonal Effectiveness skills. I can talk to my therapist, I can talk to trusted people in my life. I can read books about clear communication, I mean, there’s lots and lots of options.

Ed Fowler 

And kind of moving into some of the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills that might help. Again, I think if there’s a conflict in a relationship, that is an invitation to take out the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills and look at like, Okay, if I was going to talk to this person, how would I do that with the DEAR format? Using that that structure of communicating what we want or need, how might I do that?

Ed Fowler 

And do I need to bring in skills, for instance, in an important relationship, the GIVE skills, that when a relationship is important, we basically make the discussion more gentle overall. And thinking through a little bit. Like if I was going to say something, what would I say? So that it’s not just like, oh, my gosh, I’m feeling so afraid of this conflict, oh, I want to avoid this conflict. I just want to think about this conflict. I can’t stop thinking about it. Being able to say, Okay, I probably want to address this, let me take out the DEAR MAN and say, What would I say if I was going to do that?

Ed Fowler 

And I think an important thing to put in a DEAR or any discussion about of conflict that is causing a lot of fear, is to acknowledge to the other person, I’m feeling a lot of fear around this conflict. I am feeling some fear of abandonment. I want to emphasize with this, and this is something to think about. You want to communicate, if you do communicate, I’m feeling fear about this conflict. You want to do it in a way that that makes it clear to the other person, I’m not expecting you to handle this for me. I’m not asking for you to say no, don’t worry about it it’s okay because I’m feeling afraid. I’m not asking for you to dive in and help me figure out my fear. I do want to let you know, this is the background.

Ed Fowler 

And so kind of thinking about how do you communicate, I’m feeling afraid of abandonment now, or I’m feeling some fear around this conflict, that also communicates, and I’m working on it. I can handle it, I don’t need you to do anything about these fears other than be aware, I’m going to manage these fears myself.

Ed Fowler 

Because I do think if there’s a conflict, and then we come back and say I want to talk about the conflict, but I’m feeling a fear of abandonment. And the other person thinks, oh, now I have to take care of them, I have to help them deal with their fear of abandonment, you’re not going to resolve the conflict. And that’s the point, you want to resolve the conflict so you have that experience of, I can have conflict and not be abandoned. So being able to communicate, I’m feeling some fear, I don’t need you to do anything, I’m managing it. But I want you to know that this is bringing up some fears that I have.

Marielle Berg 

Such a good point. I think that relates to self respect, as well. Because if we want to use a DEAR MAN, and communicate with someone to try to resolve a conflict, but we make ourselves kind of less capable than we are, and in some way or another, sort of try to make resolving the fear that we’re having and the other person’s job, that can really decrease our sense of self efficacy or self respect.

Marielle Berg 

So the naming and the kind of owning, like I’m taking care of it, but I just want you to know that this is sort of in the field. I also think about Build Mastery with this too. Like how to build that muscle within yourself like okay, like I’m really scared right now. I’m terrified, this relationship is going to end and again, I’m going to try to approach rather than avoid. And every time you do that, you will build the muscle and you’ll have this muscle memory, oh, I’ve had results, other difficult conflicts in relationships and, and it turned out okay, or maybe we even became closer, which actually can really happen a lot when conflicts are resolved well.

Ed Fowler 

Right. And again, that’s where fears from the past, of conflict, means relationships ending or means a lot of pain, misses the reality that conflicts that are managed well and resolved well almost always end up in more closeness.

Ed Fowler 

And so that’s what we’re going for is we want to be closer, and we don’t want to be abandoned. And so I’m going to make the effort to to not avoid because I’m afraid, but to try to approach and resolve so I can feel more of a sense of I’m capable of handling conflict and addressing conflict can make me feel closer to the other person, as opposed to more afraid.

Marielle Berg 

Yes. And I’m wondering if we should do a quick rundown of the acronyms we threw out? I mean,

Ed Fowler 

I was just about to say like for anyone who is newer to the podcast or newer to DBT? It’s like the deer, what now?

Marielle Berg 

Do you, do you want to start with it?

Ed Fowler 

Sure. So when we think about Interpersonal Effectiveness, and for those who are familiar with the DEAR MAN, and this is your chance to try to beat me to the description and see if you can remember what the DEAR acronym stands for.

Ed Fowler 

But basically, we want to approach the other person with a bit of a script, where we Describe that’s the D, describe the situation we want to talk to them about that needs to be addressed; Express our feelings, our opinions; Assert what we want, so sometimes that’s where asserting that we’re saying no to a request, sometimes it’s asserting what we’re asking for, but we assert what we want; and then R in DEAR is we Reinforce what’s in it for them to give us what we’re asking for, we reinforce, reward them in advance for what will you get out of this, if you give me what I’m asking for. So DEAR, is we describe, express our feelings, assert what we want and reinforce what’s in it for them to give that

Marielle Berg 

Just because I know the reinforce can sometimes trip people up, it can be as simple as you know, I think our relationship will be a lot stronger if we can, you know, address this issue, I think we’ll get along better or something like that.

Marielle Berg 

And then the MAN portion is to be Mindful when we’re having this conversation, and that has two parts, so avoiding attack. So the M, the being Mindful has two parts, and the first one is Broken Record. So if you’re having a conversation with someone, and they kind of go off topic and say, Well, what about what you did, or, you know, XYZ thing from the past, not following that tangent. Because you will get waylaid and you’ll you’ll kind of lose your, your original point or the original thing you want to talk about. So that’s the Broken Record.

Marielle Berg 

And then the other piece around being mindful is Ignoring Attacks. And it’s kind of similar to the broken record, if attacks come your way or something, you know, more painful, that the other person might be expressing, that feels like a personal attack, trying to just let that go. Remembering they might be in Emotion Mind if they’re going down that road, and not matching them there. So that’s staying mindful and doing whatever you can, in conversation to be mindful.

Marielle Berg 

So ideally, you’re having this conversation live. I think it’s so hard to resolve conflicts over text, and email. And so even if you’re not doing it, you know, actually in person, it’s over the phone, or over video so you can hear each other’s voices, you can hear the voice tone and inflection, which can communicate a lot. If it’s in person or over a video, you can see some body language, which also can help quite a bit.

Marielle Berg 

And so thinking ahead of time, like what you I need to stay as mindful as I can, so I don’t get thrown off and kind of go into Emotion Mind while we’re having this conversation? It might be something that like you want to kind of hold in your hand like a rock, you might want to have the conversation kind of sitting in a kind of supported chair with both feet on the floor, that can help us feel grounded, you might want to remember to check in with your breathing. I think that’s always a great barometer of how you’re doing. Like am I holding my breath am I starting to breathe shallowly? And so you know, these are just little touch points to come back to that can help you stay mindful in difficult conversations.

Marielle Berg 

And then the A is Appearing confident. So again, with voice tone. You know, you don’t want to be stammering or like over apologizing. And the N is Negotiating, which inevitably has to happen in relationships.

Ed Fowler 

And then to touch on the GIVE acronym for skills when a relationship is really important. So anytime we have to talk to someone about a conflict, there’s some objective we want to meet, we want to get a need met. But sometimes we really want to keep in mind that this relationship and maintaining this relationship is important. And so we’re going to take a different approach than if it’s strictly business. I want you to do this thing or I’m saying no to this, but I want to maintain the relationship we bring in the GIVE skills which are: be Gentle; act Interested, be interested in what the other person has to say; Validate their perspective and their point of view, validate that you’re making an effort to understand where they’re coming from so that it’s not one sided, here’s what I want, but you’re really saying I get that this is what you want; and then the E in give is to use an Easy manner. So be kind of easygoing. Tends in relationships, if it’s really intense, and I need this, and this is important, people can get more tense and more stressed and sometimes more defensive. Whereas having a very easy approach of like, Oh, can we talk about this thing I’m kind of uncomfortable about it, can go a long way.

Marielle Berg 

So that’s just a quick run through of what these acronyms stand for, for those who are unfamiliar, or who need reminders. But we have entire episodes devoted I believe to both DEAR MAN and GIVE that you can check out if you want to learn more about how to use those particular skills.

Marielle Berg 

And so just as a way to sort of recap where we’ve been, we talked initially about checking in to see if you’re an Emotion Mind, if you are and your distress is high to use Distress Tolerance skills, and we suggested several of them. And then once your distress level comes down, it doesn’t mean that you’re just neutral or totally okay with trying to resolve conflict in relationship, but you feel like you’re in your wise mind enough. You can think about Check the Facts and the Opposite Action, and Interpersonal Effectiveness skills, particularly DEAR MAN, with the GIVE.

Ed Fowler 

The thing that I would want to emphasize as we wrap up is to try to acknowledge to yourself when you’re feeling great fear around conflict in relationships. Be very gentle, this is common, almost always comes from childhood, when we are more vulnerable, and have more fears about relationships, because we don’t have as many skills and we don’t know as much about what’s going on. And children are so easily hurt.

Ed Fowler 

To be able to just be gentle with yourself to try to remind yourself, okay, this is coming from some deep pain. I’m going to work on this. Be accepting of where you’re at. And then also, while you’re being accepting this is hard and painful and scary and I’m feeling a lot, move towards what can I do? What are my options now? What skills might I use? How might I address this? Who in my life can I call on for help with this? Like a therapist or a really trusted friend or family member who can help you work through? I’m feeling these fears in this relationship? What are my options? What can I do and move towards action that helps resolve the conflict rather than avoid it?

Marielle Berg 

I think that’s a nice note to end on here. So wishing this listener, good luck and skillful practice with conflict, and to everyone listening who can relate to this particular challenge.

Marielle Berg 

Yes.

Marielle Berg 

All right. Thank you, Ed.

Ed Fowler 

Thank you.

Marielle Berg 

Bye. Thanks for listening to today’s episode. To learn more or if you’re in the Bay Area and want to get started with therapy you can find us online at bayareadbtcc.com. That’s bayareadbtcc.com.