positive psychology

The Shit Sandwich: #1 Communication Tool for Any Relationship

If you’re inclined to read this article,  chances are you already know that healthy communication is the foundation of any relationship. Whether it’s your bae, boo or boss, communication can feel like a complex web of intonation, body language, sarcasm, and satire. Despite the nuanced complexities of interpersonal communications, one simple skill can improve your communication exponentially. The Shit Sandwich.

The  ‘Something Nice’

We know from the research of John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy, that one of the major predictors of divorce is an element of communication they call the “harsh startup.” It’s the idea that when people start conversations in a manner that is perceived as aggressive, the other person immediately feels defensive. Defensiveness can quickly lead to interpreting words and actions through a negative filter. Generally speaking, most folks are only able to hear the first few words and the accompanying tone before their fight or flight responses kick in and they are busy crafting a retort. More often than not, conversations that begin harshly result in the other person being unwilling or unable to listen. If they do hear your words, you will most likely encounter a negative reaction by the third or fourth word in. The “cure” for this is to intentionally start discussions in a complementary fashion. You can think of this as the bottom slice of bread, or the foundation of the Shit Sandwich: Start off by saying something nice, so the other person is ABLE TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.

For example, I drive my wife crazy with what she calls my “nutty professor-isms,” the absent-minded things I do when I’m not paying explicit attention to my actions. After learning the Shit Sandwich, my wife now starts her conversation with “I love your nutty professor-isms, but….” Because she’s prefacing with a personalized statement of love and respect, I can actually listen to her request instead of the age-old habit of defending my absent-minded in the first place. The statement “I love your nutty professor-isms” is a double winner because it references “I” instead of “You. Try and be mindful of the “you” statements or backhanded compliments in disguise. Steer clear of starting off with statements such as;  “You know, I think you could be amazing at…” or “You’re usually good about this, but…. “These type of passive aggressive statements are like a fart in the car and can set the conversation down the wrong path.

The ‘Shit’

The shit in the Shit Sandwich is the unpleasant thing you have to say. You’ve already come in soft on the startup, so typically the other person is actually listening. If you are requesting someone do something, phrasing it as a question can be helpful, however, it can get dicey if you are proposing solutions. If you’ve got some shit to say, say it. Be direct and kind in your selection of words and tone, but get to the point.

The ‘Other Slice of Nice’

This is the follow up to the original Something Nice statement. There may be hints of defensiveness or feelings of criticism spilling over from the Shit, so this is where you can really wrap it up with a positive intent. A few simple, genuine sentiments can really take the edge off.  

For example:

Hey babe (cute, you are coming in soft!), you know I love your inner nutty professor (something nice), but it really pisses me off when you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing (the Shit). It’s just that I love you and I get worried you are going to hurt yourself! (Other Something Nice). Would you mind in the future slowing down and really being mindful when you are stressed out? (Optional: Potentially helpful solution)  

Remember, too many words can muddle your position, or worse, make the person feel they are being talked down to. Serve your shit sandwich with compassion and allow it to digest. If you need to toss out a side of helpful solutions, proposing them as questions help the other person feel part of the collaborative change process. Be aware of solutions that sound like demands. In general, the follow up is optional, so when in doubt, leave it out! Good luck!

YOUR INNER VOICE MAY BE A DICK: Combating Negative Self-Talk in the Trump Era

In the age of the angry clown regime, civility in discourse is at an all time low. Public humiliation, name calling, fat shaming, mocking, threatening, are all behaviors that disgustingly have become part of our new normal. The heavy prevalence of combative, derogatory speech, day in and day out, appears not only to be harshening the way we speak to each other, but also the way we speak to ourselves. Let’s face it, most of us don’t need too much help in this department.  Lately our inner dicks have been Breitbart-style emboldened to talk smack with absolutely zero evidence.

As a therapist in private practice I ask people daily to extrapolate and describe their inner world, to identify what they were thinking, feeling and what they are telling themselves about themselves. I ask them to run through a typical day with me–from waking up, to the first look in the mirror, to the last pore examining glimpse before bed. Overwhelmingly, people’s inner critic likes have a say in most of our daily duties. Some people’s inner voice is the internalized criticism of a parent, guardian or teacher, or a product of childhood bullying. Irrespective of origin, person after person describes their inner dialogue in a tone that has begun to sound eerily familiar. It is the same voice that we all hear blaring day after day, from morning till night, sucking up oxygen and your emotional bandwidth all the while gas lighting you with your own internal dialogue.

If your inner voice has been trumping your positivity lately, don’t despair. You can fire it Apprentice style.

1.) Control the Shit Show: Do you check your phone before leaving your bed? Are you checking out your social media feeds before you enjoy a shower or have coffee? Are you spending your breaks checking the news? Do you feel guilty if you skip a protest? You’re not alone. It’s a really important time to start having some firmer boundaries and discipline regarding technology and information. Don’t get me wrong, A LOT is happening right now and it’s important to engage and be informed but you have to put it away if you want to have less negativity floating around your brain. WHAT WE THINK– WE CREATE! Notice when you are most vulnerable.

2.)  Slap the Bag: in the land of psychobabble this is called “negative thought stopping”. It’s a staple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and fundamental way of firing the inner asshole. If you are anything like me, your inner asshole can be intrusive and it won’t stop its bullshit just because you want it to. I like to literally shake my head to interrupt the thought as a physical rejection, my partner imagines a giant eraser wiping the negativity away. If you like physical reminders you can wear a rubber band or hair tie around your wrist and pluck it when you’re bumming yourself out. Whatever your method, stopping the negative thought in its tracks is key!

3.) Create a Badass Bio: When you are trying to stop shitty thoughts from pummeling your psyche, you need a replacement thought. It’s damn near impossible to think of a an affirming thought when you are spending all your energy not having the crappy one. Keep a mantra on hand. A quick go-to that is easily repeatable and clearly conveys what you would like to think and feel. I personally like “you are a badass, you got this”. Choose something that you would like to believe about yourself, because remember WHAT WE THINK WE CREATE. Don’t worry if the mantra does not FEEL true right now–it will! I know, I know, you’re thinking “I can’t just make myself believe something that isn’t true”…YES YOU CAN. You have already made yourself believe negative things about yourself that aren’t true just by thinking them. Why wouldn’t it work in the other direction? It may sound cheesy, but it works.

4.) VIP Ass Anchor: There has never been a better time to build in some grounding routines. Morning meditations, yoga, exercise, sex, masturbation, prayer, nature, gardening, cooking and cleaning can all help you feel good in your skin and in your space. Invest in yourself everyday before you’re distracted by the rest of the world. If you treat yourself like a VIP, your psyche will follow.

5.) Support Beams: As overly simplistic as it sounds, the utilization or expansion of your support network is pivotal in fighting back against the inner dick. Reach out to old friends, join new groups, take classes, see a new type of practitioner or go to therapy. This thing called life is a weird ping-pong game of behaviors and insights which yield our perspective. Getting the right support can help shift our perspective to be more self affirming. The roof of your house would never weather a storm without support beams and you can think about your perception in the same way. If you fortify your soul, protect your positivity, accept help and offer it back, you’ll find that you’ve got a pretty solid shelter to survive the shit-show.