Saving Face in the Digital Age

TECHNOLOGY AND ME

For about a week or so in my late twenties I flirted with becoming a Luddite. Computers will ultimately destroy what’s most human in us, I thought. We need to fight against this onslaught of technology. However, just like the college Peace Corp fantasy, my biggest passions tend to come in short bursts. I’m too lazy to be an idealist.

I got my first iPhone from my wife after my cheap, bottom of the line flip phone was destroyed in a Diet Coke accident. I didn’t really oppose technology at the time, I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. That changed.

I understand now the fascination and desire for technological innovation. I binge Netflix, listen obsessively to podcasts, FaceTime family thousands of miles away, learn guitar licks on YouTube, and have been able to create this very website precisely because of the magic of the Digital Age.

Still, at times when I am lost in my own screens, or even worse, when I look up and notice that my wife, two daughters, and I are sitting in the same room oblivious to one another with heads bent down, hypnotized by devices -- I get nervous.

George Orwell’s bleak quote from 1984 said it best,

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
— George Orwell, 1984

 

becoming a Ludd-LIte

To keep faces boot free we need a new ‘Ludd-lite’ philosophy, one that maintains the importance of the human face even as we use technology to work more productively, create more passionately, communicate more effectively, or just have fun. 

We don't need to rail against technology, we just need to be mindful of its consequences. Consequences to us socially and psychologically, but maybe more importantly, consequences to the integrity of the human face itself.

Time spent looking down at screens and away from the colorful faces all around us, robs us of something vital. The more we lose ourselves in digital spaces, the more we lose sight of our precious human faces -- and with them, something distinctly human and joyful. 

This face of ours is a unique membrane. At the surface it's the intersection and expression of our thoughts, feelings, and physiology; but at the same time, it points to something so much deeper. 

 

saving Face

I'm obsessed with faces. It's likely why I'm in the counseling profession. As a child, like many I imagine, I learned to read faces long before my first book. I still love to read as I work as a therapist today. 

Faces are sacred. Bright, beautiful, wistful, sad, angry, bored --  at every moment, they silently reveal our inner most being. Who we are and how we are reside first and foremost in the face. In their immediacy, availability, and vulnerability faces are the most authentic expression of our humanity.

They are the leading edge of our encounters with one another. They hint at mysteries just below the surface. Faces have the power to draw us in. With or even without our consent, they display our mood, our secrets, our character, our essence, our spirit, our soul. They express what words can't or won't.

The most relational organ we have, they are an essential instrument of intimacy and connection. As powerful as they are fragile, though, faces need our protection.

My task as a therapist in the Digital Age is pretty simple. It's about saving face -- and maybe in the process, saving our capacity for more intimate and meaningful connection with each other -- even as we live alongside the technology that serves us and benefits us in so many ways.


How can I help? Schedule your first session or set up a free phone consultation.

Call 425.451.1620 or email  joe@joebutlertherapy.com

 

 

7 Essential Tools for Better Couples Communication

Learning effective ways to dialogue with your partner can help you feel closer to each other, be better problem solvers, and keep conflicts from escalating out of control. I often start my couples off learning these tools.

 

1. Say Yes to 'I Statements':

'I statements' are the first communication tool I learned as a counselor. It's still the most effective tool I know. I've used it to help five year olds negotiate recess conflicts. It works equally well with forty year olds arguing about money, sex, or how to load the dishwasher. If you want to immediately increase your chances of being heard, express you concerns with an 'I statement':

  • “I Feel ____ When ____Because ____”

  • "I feel sad when you pull away from me because I want us to be closer.

  • I feel mad when you criticize me because it makes me feel like you don't value me."

By focusing first on our own experience, 'I statements' keep us from attacking, blaming, and criticizing our partner. This is a good thing because when we feel attacked, blamed, and criticized we close our ears and harden our hearts. 'I statements' help us talk about what we have control of -- our own thoughts, feelings, reactions -- and keep us from attempting to control what we can't -- our partner. 'I statements' increase opportunities for dialogue and decrease the likelihood of defensiveness. 'I statements' help us identify our unique reactions to a particular behavior of our partner. This tends to reduce defensiveness by making things less personal and emotionally charged. 

 

2. Say No to 'You Statements' and to Over-generalizations:

When we are upset it's easy to get caught up in our emotions. In an effort to be heard, we can feel the need to escalate the situation to get our partner's attention. "He's not getting it! He'll only listen if I turn up the volume," we think to ourselves. Increasing our volume usually has the opposite effect, though. Strong and emotionally charged statements filled with blame, accusation, and exaggeration can take over. These statements often start with 'you' and rely on words like 'always' and 'never'. 

  • "You always make excuses..."

  • "You never listen to me..."

  • "You do that all the time!"

The problem with 'you statements' is that even if you're right, you won't be heard. 'You statements' make others defensive. They're likely to pull away, protect, or attack in return. Next time you want to get your partner's attention, use an 'I statement' instead.

Don't overgeneralize. Try being specific and cite concrete examples addressing how a behavior has impacted you. Talk about one thing at a time, don’t pile on. Less is more, be succinct; when we go on and on, our partners start to drift away or become increasingly defensive. Our point gets lost.

 

3. Lead with LOVE, positivity, and curiosity

If you begin a conversation with your partner with a list of complaints and disappointments, you're likely to lose out on any chance to connect before you've even begun. Focus on the positive ways you want your relationship to be. Focus on what you hope for in the future. Be aspirational about the relationship itself instead of only looking at the negative behaviors of your partner.

  • "I love it when we ______"

  • "I remember us being so happy when we spent more time ______"

  • "I want a relationship we can feel good about, one where we have fun, trust each other, and are really connected."

If you do need to address behaviors, focus on what you've appreciated in the past, focus on what you do want, not on the behavior you don't want. 'Relationship talks' can be really scary for people. Leading with empathy, kindness, and understanding can help set the right tone. Bring that with you alongside your frustration and desire for change.

  • "I remember that time when you _______, that made me feel so safe, I felt so close to you"

  • "I like it when you _______"

  • "You are so good at _______, when you do that it helps me ________"

  • "Conversations like this are hard, it's difficult for me too..."

  • "I want to have this talk because you are so important to me. I believe that if we work together we can work through these difficult feelings..."

Instead of demands, ultimatums, and critical statements, use questions. Bring an attitude of curiosity and openness when looking at your relationship together.   

  • "I wonder what gets in our way of _______?"

  • "What are some things we could do together that would help us?"

  • "What do you think is happening when we have arguments like that?"

  • "How can we do it differently?"

 

4. Speak for Yourself, Not for Your Partner

Talk about your experience, your feelings, your thoughts, your behaviors. Don't speak for your partner or make assumptions about what they think or feel. If you want to know how your partner feels, ask. Don't analyze, mind read, or play therapist (that's my job!). Share who you are with your partner and allow your partner to share who they are with you. Many communication problems begin with the assumptions we make about the inner world of the person we care about. Be aware of the tendency to project your own feelings onto your partner. Be patient, receptive, and curious. 

 

5. Safety and trust are a must

Close, healthy, and secure attachments are founded on safety and trust. While there are lots of things we can do positively that can enhance that, there are behaviors that can quickly erode it was well.

  • No shouting

  • No finger pointing (literally)

  • Don't encroach on the physical space of your partner when angry

  • No swear words

  • Be careful with sarcasm

  • No aggressive physical contact

  • No intimidation

  • No violent behavior (throwing things, breaking things, slamming doors, fist pounding)

 

6. Time Outs Aren't Just for Kids

Dialogue is impossible when we are over-stimulated. Know your own boiling point, the point when your emotions are so strong you can't constructively dialogue with your partner anymore. Have a prearranged agreement to take breaks when either one of you have reached your boiling point. Have an agreed upon ‘time out word’ to use to indicate you need a break. Come back when blood pressures are down. Time out strategies must include an agreed upon length of time after which you return to continue dialogue and repair. Repeat as necessary. 

 

7. Listen for Understanding

Listen responsively with body language: eye contact, body turned to partner, head nods. Mirror what you heard, literally word for word if you have to. Focus on naming the feeling your partner identified. You can repeat back to them the 'I statement' they used (you statements are ok here!). Ask your partner if you got it right. 

  • “Sounds like you felt hurt when I didn’t include you … You feel abandoned when I don’t talk to you ... Is that right?

Try to check the need to respond to, defend, or explain each point your partner brings up. This will prevent you from really listening. Your turn will come and your partner will be more present if they feel listened to, validated, and understood first.

 

 

"this just isn't me..."

When practicing these communication tools with clients a frustration I ofter hear is, "This doesn't sound like me, I don't talk like this. This is therapy-speak..." While it may be true that these suggested 'techniques' go against your natural way of speaking, I remind couples who are struggling that the way they currently talk to each other isn't working. Trying something new (even if it feels foreign) might well be worth the risk. Over time and with practice, I find that couples learn to use these tools as guidelines that help shape how they interact more than robotic lines they repeat to each other.

 

Tools are Just the Beginning

In the end, communication tools are just that, tools. They work to enable opportunities for intimacy and connection, but they aren't the intimacy and connection themselves. Real intimacy in a relationship happens in time through patience, vulnerability, and commitment. Real intimacy happens as we better understand ourselves and our partner and the negative cycles we get into. Behind these negative cycles there are just two desperate and emotionally clumsy human beings, longing to love and be loved, unsure how to to get there. 

 

surprised by intimacy

Intimacy is mysterious; it can sneak up on us. I've seen the look of surprise on a couples' face as they seemingly bump into a beautiful moment of closeness together almost as if by accident. These moments are fragile, though. They're drowned out through the noise of arguing. They're starved by the silence of emotional distance. These moments are best cultivated when we're able to communicate with each other with more acceptance and compassion, less criticism and control. 

I encourage you to use these tools so you can change the kind of dialogue you have in your relationship and increase opportunities for intimacy and connection. Conversation between you and your partner can move from something you dread and avoid to something you long for and enjoy.  


How can I help? Schedule your first session or set up a free phone consultation.

Call 425.451.1620 or email joe@joebutlertherapy.com

 

 

Why I'm A Therapist

Youngest of Seven

Born the youngest of seven in a large Catholic family in Seattle, I was raised in a house way too small for the nine people, dog, and cat living there. This made escape from each other impossible, but learning from the experience inevitable. The lessons learned there are a large reason I am a therapist today!

Big on love, laughter, chaos, and anxiety my family taught me that life is full of wonder and pain -- you don't get to have one without the other. We live best when we're able to embrace life as a whole, making room for all of it -- not just the easy stuff. 

I also learned that being seen is the most powerful medicine there is. What we want more than anything in life is to be recognized -- for who we really are. By some cruel trick of human nature, though, this also tends to be one of our greatest fears. I became a therapist to help others face this fear and dare to be seen. I believe this is what heals us and makes us whole!

From my own journey I discovered that living our life today starts when we can make sense of the life behind us. It helps to know our own story if we want to be in charge of writing the next chapters. We don't have to wallow in our history, we just need to understand, accept, and learn from it. 

People want to live a life they can really love, not one they have to endure. Unfortunately, we often discover that what we long for most in life is tangled up with some of our deepest fears and anxieties. Ultimately, I became a therapist because I understand this conflict. I am deeply passionate about helping others face these worries, fears, and anxieties so they can get closer to a life that's meaningful. 

 

Dancing Stars

Good therapy has the power to create great moments. Moments where everything you thought you knew about yourself is turned upside down. This can happen with tears, with laughter, or even in silence. This happens best when we enter into this journey together, both working, both risking to listen to your pain and allow it to point us in the direction of your greatest healing. When we face the darkest, most chaotic parts of who we are, something new and joyful can be created.

You have to have a little chaos in you to give birth to a dancing star.
— Nietzsche

I am a therapist because I want to help you understand the chaos and anxiety in your life so you can love more fully, laugh more deeply, and give birth to your own dancing star. 


How can I help? Schedule your first session or set up a free phone consultation.

Call 425.451.1620 or email joe@joebutlertherapy.com

A Little About Therapy

Funny Business

Therapy is a funny business. Why in the world would anyone sit down with a complete stranger and tell them their life story? Why would someone share things with a therapist they wouldn't share with their closest friends or family?

Still, people do it. I've done it. And believe it or not -- it works.

After 25 years in the helping profession, I continue to be amazed by two things:

  1. the courage people show as they take giant risks to reveal who they are, and
  2. the capacity of the human heart to recover from the deepest hurts and make sense of the most profound pain

Whether you realize it or not you'll bring something essential with you to your very first therapy appointment -- the human instinct we all have that pushes us to grow. We have this in spite of our fear. Some part of us wants a richer and more meaningful life, even while we are afraid of what it can take to get us there. 

 

First sessions

I see this tension play out often at the start of my work with people. First sessions in therapy often unfold like this: 

Siting down carefully on the couch, you survey the new surroundings and look up cautiously.

Unsure about where to look exactly, you move your eyes from mine to the floor and back again as you think about where to start. You rehearsed this a few times at home but it feels different now -- a lot harder. 

Before any words come out, you're overcome with emotion. 

It's been a long time since you could just be yourself.

You've been holding it together forever; holding it together for your friends, for your co-workers, for your family, for your partner.  

Pretending has been exhausting. 

You feel relief as the powerful emotions you always knew were there begin to leak out, unexpectedly. This feels surprisingly good -- but it also feels scary and unfamiliar. 

The bigger part of you wants to be reached. Even though you've become an expert at hiding, there's a hope inside you that 'being found' just might be worth the risk.

Anytime we try something new it can feel scary and unfamiliar. Growth and fear always go together.

We stop growing, though, the moment we let our fear trick us into believing that this smaller, carefully hidden version of ourself is all there is.

 

become more of who you are, not less.

My greatest wish for you in therapy is that you become more of who you are, not less.

I believe that much of the pain you feel -- your anxiety, depression, loneliness, or anger is a signal that you aren't living the kind of life you want to be living. 

Our attempts to manage that pain lead to avoidance strategies like hiding and pretending. The hiding and pretending keep us further away from a fuller life. This leads to more pain and then more avoidance strategies. 

We get stuck in a cycle that limits us and makes us unhappy.

What if turning toward the pain was a way to get out of this cycle? What if a more authentic you was behind the hurt?

We do this in therapy by: 

  • noticing what we are experiencing instead of avoiding it
  • turning toward and understanding the undesirable parts of ourself we used to run away from
  • tending to these parts with acceptance and compassion 
  • learning more about what we value, desire, and wish for 
  • taking the action needed to move us toward what we really want in life 

With understanding, courage, and a hopeful invitation we can be who we are and step out into the light of day. 


How can I help? Schedule your first session or set up a free phone consultation.

Call 425.451.1620 or email joe@joebutlertherapy.com