Dr. Alison Poulsen has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, a Masters in Philosophy, MBA, and a Law Degree from U.C. Davis. She teaches a “Healthy Relationships” class in Hailey, Idaho, and has appeared weekly on a TV segment Couples Solutions on This Week in Sun Valley. Alison’s been married for twenty-three years and has two children. She is an avid snow and water skier.
This blog gives relationship tips to transform ineffective thinking and communication into effective thinking and communication. If you examine negative expressions, thoughts and actions, you can usually find underlying needs and desires that are positive and valuable. When we learn to express ourselves with deeper meaning in a positive way, relationships and life become easier and more authentic, and bring us closer to living the life we desire.
My psychological view of people is developed in large part from the theories of Dr. Carl Jung, as well as Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone’s “Psychology of the Selves.” Both Jung and the Stones emphasize the role of the unconscious in the dynamics between people’s different “parts” of themselves. I also base my ideas on the theory of differentiation developed by Murray Bowen, and further explored by David Schnarch. I look to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication” for an excellent approach to effective communication. Exciting new findings in brain neuroplasticity reveal ways that we can break ineffective habits in our lives and actually transform ourselves–if we have sufficient knowledge, desire and effort to do so.
Living a more fulfilling life is possible when people become self-aware and understand the dynamics of a relationship. By seeing how we participate in relationship dynamics, we can then exercise the only real power we have in a relationship, that is, in deciding how we choose to interact.
Mutual Respect and Self-respect
The basis of healthy relationships is mutual respect. Mutual respect involves not only respecting other people, but respecting yourself by learning to take care of your own needs and desires in a positive way.
Withstanding the Anxiety of Intimacy
Intimacy requires the ability to calmly withstand the tension of anxiety—anxiety involved in disagreement, conflict, anger, or embarrassment. Handling anxiety without being reactive—withdrawing suddenly, lashing out angrily, or falling apart—is crucial in developing and sustaining long-term passionate relationships.
Moderating The Inner Critic
An inner critic can be either an encouraging supporter or a stifling monster. Only when we learn to recognize and change the way we demean or criticize ourselves, can we recognize and prevent demeaning and overly-critical behavior from others. In order to stop putting up with negative, judgmental, or destructive behavior from or toward others, we must become aware of and tone down our own inner critic.
We can learn specific communication skills to effectively convey our needs and desires, without conveying neediness or hostility. Much of the emotional heat that wreaks havoc in relationships can be avoided when people become aware of and fine-tune their body language, tone of voice, demeanor and use of words.
Avoid Criticism and Belittlement
Negative relationships often develop so gradually that it’s hard to notice their disintegration until it’s too late. While it’s very difficult to make changes in existing abusive relationships, we can learn how to avoid future relationships that gradually descend into demeaning, hostile, or controlling dynamics—all potential precursors to abuse. We need to consciously promote awareness and mutual respect in unsuspecting everyday moments.
By examining expressions of the unconscious, such as outbursts, attractions, dreams, and recurrent relationship patterns, we can discover unconscious complexes that move us. Ironically, we can become more self-empowered, creative, and loving by recognizing and appreciating our unconscious vulnerabilities, as well as our undeveloped drives and constraints. Through this awareness, we can live consciously rather than being driven by unknown or unrecognized forces.
Developing New Parts of Ourselves
Different parts of ourselves—such as the parts that are responsible, fun-loving, productive, or fearful—are specific personality structures with their own histories, feelings and ways of being in the world. Understanding how and why our distinct primary selves developed opens up the possibility of no longer merely reacting automatically to specific triggers. It also gives us the opportunity to develop the undeveloped parts of ourselves in a positive way. With added choice, we can live more multifaceted lives, and extend this depth and breadth into our relationships.