The Art of Conflict Resolution

Conflict is neither good nor bad.  How we handle a conflict, however, can determine whether the outcomes of the conflict are either constructive or destructive.  A well managed conflict can actually bring people closer together.  That said, an ineffectively handled conflict can severely damage relationships, not to mention leave important issues unresolved, which can have significant impacts upon various areas of a person’s life.  In fact, the renowned Psychiatrist Alfred Adler taught that difficulty with constructive cooperation with others is the major reason that people fail in the 5 Basic Life Tasks of Work, Love, Friendship, Belonging and Spirituality.  Helping people resolve conflicts cooperatively and constructively, therefore, is central to enabling them to become fulfilled and successful.  Toward this end, here are some guidelines and skills which can support constructive resolution of conflicts across a variety of situations.  I am outlining them as steps but they can be applied more flexibly in natural speech once one understands and internalizes the guiding principles behind the approach.  Furthermore, it is quite common for people to benefit from some coaching and facilitation when first replacing well established patterns of reacting to conflicts in destructive or avoidant ways.  Individual, family, and/or couples counseling can be used to help people master the art of conflict resolution.  The suggested steps are as follows:

1) Strike While The Metal is Cold.   We have all heard the phrase “Strike while the metal is hot”, which means don’t wait to act.  This may be true for metal work but the opposite is true in handling conflicts constructively.  Rather than reacting emotionally, good conflict resolution requires letting one’s primitive emotions, such as anger and fear, to settle so that the capacity for effective strategic choices can guide actions and speech.  Therefore it is better to delay responding and take time to calm down.  One example might be to ask to sleep on it or even to think about things.  Teaching our children to take a time out and go to their rooms when upset is another way this principle is followed.  Techniques such as meditation, journaling, calming affirmations, physical exercise, talking to a supportive friend and many others can be used.  The guiding principle is to cool down strong emotions.

2) Begin With Communicating Respect and Appreciation.  When it is time to talk about the difficulty rather than starting off on a hostile or aggressive note, begin by purposefully letting the other person know what you value about them and your relationship.  Then directly explain that this is why you want to work out a solution to whatever the conflict is.  This will set the stage for the discussion to proceed constructively rather than destructively.  It is important that what one communicates in this step be honest and not simply manipulation.  If it isn’t sincere this will likely increase defensiveness.

3) Outline The Facts Without Emotionally Laden Language.  After making clear reasons for sincerely wanting to resolve the conflict then clearly states the nature of the conflict without harsh terms, put downs, or blaming language.  A good way to begin is “I have noticed that ….” After making clear reasons for sincerely wanting to resolve the conflict then clearly states the nature of the conflict without harsh terms, put downs, or blaming language.  A good way to begin is “I have noticed that ….”

4) Clarify Both Sides Through Assertive Statements and Reflective Summary.  Having expressed positive motivation, non-emotionally outlined the facts of the conflict, now it is time to clarify the feelings and needs of both parties.  This can be done through clarifying feelings and needs in assertive statements.  A good assertive statement has three parts.  It goes like this: “I feel _____, when you _____.  What I need is ______”.   After expressing a clear assertive statement ask the other person what their side of is.  Once they finish try to say back to them a statement that includes those 3 parts and see if you understand them.  If not ask for more details until you can accurately capture their side like this: “Let me see if I have this straight: You feel ____, when I _____.  What you need is _____.  Is that right?”

5) Make Offers Not Demands.  Nobody likes to be told what to do so instead of trying to make the other person do what one wants, a more cooperative approach is to make a series of offers aimed at trying to meet the need clarified in step 4.  After each offer ask the other person if there is anything he/she could do to meet the need you expressed.  For each thing they offer try to offer another thing until you hopefully reach a good agreement.  A good agreement has 3 parts:. It should be fair, realistic, and specific.   If the agreement lacks any of these qualities try to revise so it has all 3.  Then the last step is…

6) Follow up.  A little time later, perhaps a week or so, approach the other person.  Begin by telling them you are glad the two of you were able to resolve the conflict.  Then tell them how you perceive things are going and ask how they think it is working.  If anything is identified as not meeting the needs of either party repeat the steps to come up with a revised and improved agreement.

Hopefully outlining this approach to mastering the art of conflict resolution will help people caught in non constructive patterns of communicating such that they can better find success and fulfillment in important areas of life.  If you would like further assistance in learning these skills please contact me at david@sacac.sg, or contact our office to schedule a consultation.

Written by:
Dr. David Shapiro
Psychologist

Ph.D. The University of Texas at Austin, M.A. Teachers College- Columbia University, B.A. The University of California at Santa Cruz

The Dark Side of being perfect

In an increasingly competitive world, there are constant demands to improve one’s performance.   In addition to meeting external demands, many people also experience the internal pressure to succeed or perform to a certain level or established standards.   This desire to meet high standards motivates one to achieve goals and perform effectively. However, the healthy pursuit of excellence crosses the line into an unhealthy striving for perfection when

  1. The standards (for yourself and/or others) are “high beyond reach or reason” (Burns, 1980)
  2. One’s self-worth is judged based largely on one’s accomplishment, productivity and ability to achieve such high standards
  3. One continues to strain or strive to meet these internal expectations despite experiencing negative consequences or a lack of satisfaction because one’s performance is not good enough

In clinical perfectionism, functioning at work, home, and in interpersonal relationships can be negatively impacted.  At an individual level, perfectionism have been shown to detrimentally affect one’s physical and psychological well-being.   It has a negative impact on the stress and coping process which in turn affects one’s health behaviours. Perfectionism have been associated with poorer physical health and an increased risk for poor adjustment and disease management of chronic illnesses (Molnar, Sadava, et al., 2012).

Perfectionism has been implicated in the aetiology and maintenance of eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression with research demonstrating a clear association between perfectionism, psychopathology and negative treatment outcomes (Shafran & Mansell, 2001).  For example, perfectionism is a

  1. Risk factor for developing eating disorders
  2. “destructive” force in depression and strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  3. Robustly associated with anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The aim of treating clinical perfectionism is not to lower or remove striving for personal standards.  Instead, it is aimed at reducing self-evaluation being exclusively based on meeting personal standards, and the associated self-criticism when the standards are not met (Egan, Wade & Shafran, 2011).  It is only through striving to overcome a difficult situation or experience that helps us to experience success and a feeling of competence. By focusing on being perfect all the time, if humanly possible, we never learn or develop the capacity to trust ourselves.   

Given the dark side of perfectionism, I’m contented with the beauty of just being good enough.  After all, as Winnicott puts it, “good enough” is far better than being perfect or the “best”.

References

Burns, D.D. (1980). The perfectionists’ script for self-defeat. Psychology Today, November, 34–52.

Egan,S. I, Wade, T.D, & Shafran, R. (2011). Perfectionism as a transdiagnostic process: a clinical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 203-212.

Molnar, D. S., Sadava, S. W., Flett, G. L., & Colautti, J. (2012). Perfectionism and health: A mediational analysis of the roles of stress, social support and health-related behaviours. Psychology and Health, 27, 846-864.

Shafran, R., & Mansell, W. (2001). Perfectionism and psychopathology: A review of research and treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 879−906.

Velda Chen

Clinical Psychologist

MClinPsych, BA(Hons), Registered Psychologist (Singapore)


Letting Go Of The Past

What drives us to live in the past? How can we be stuck in the past to the point of forgetting the present and neglecting the future? And most importantly, how to get out of this spiral and finally move on with our lives? All of us, without exception, have experienced one or more sad and painful episodes in the past. Some of us have been able to move on while others struggle to really let go.

When it comes to letting go of the past and moving forward, we always refer to bad experiences, one must forget their ex, failures, sad youth, and so on. Yet a disabling past that prevents us from moving forward may very well be of a glorious or a legendary time that unfolded what was once our success, power, and beauty.

Hence a separation from our past, be it painful or glorious, is crucial because it only slows us down.

There are two kinds of past that it is challenging to get over:

The tragic past

It is all the negative experience that prevents us in one way or another from moving forward, to get better and live the present moment.

The nostalgic past

It is the strong, even sickly, attachment to a glorious era of our life to the point of rejecting the reality that is often different and sometimes much less advantageous. 

There is no harm in being nostalgic, one would say, as it does not matter to rethink tenderly of our youth or past success and provided that this nostalgia does not stop us from accepting our age, physical shape, health, current financial and / or social situation.

Also regretting the harm that had been caused to others because of our past actions is a human and benevolent reaction that will prevent us in the future from doing the same wrong again. On the other hand, hiding in the depths of the past so as not to face reality creates a feeling that only gives one the illusion of a temporary well-being.

The past is the past and the present is where you are now, but the future is what you make! If you have not done so yet, it is high time to make the decision to let it go of your past.

Start by making a conscious decision followed by the commitment of getting over the past; accept the pain inflicted to you in the past and learn from it; stop the victim attitude and take ownership of your actions. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, and stop dwelling into past glories, the future is yet to come!

Seek professional help if letting go of the past remains a challenging task.

Written by:
Sanaa Lundgren
MS (Counselling), MS (PolSci)

Positive Parenting Tips

Positive parenting may seem daunting at first, especially if your child is expressing behavioural, or emotional difficulties. However positive parenting focuses particularly on your child’s good behaviour, helping both yourself and your child identify the behaviours we would like to see more of.

It is however also not a means of ignoring negative behaviours, rather providing additional options to your child, so he or she may learn to choose behaviours that would lead to quicker and more effective results for both parents and child.

One of my favourite parenting books Children Are from Heaven, speaks about five messages for parents to provide to their children which not only helps a child feel safe, confident and in control, but also helps frame behaviours in a positive light for parents to understand why difficult behaviours occur.

These five messages include saying,

  1. it’s okay to be different, unique and who you are,
  2. it’s okay to make mistakes, let’s learn from them,
  3. it’s okay to express positive and negative emotions,
  4. it’s okay to want more, more time, more hugs and more space,
  5. it’s okay to say and hear no, with love knowing mom and dad are still in charge.

By simply saying these five things to your child you can help them see that what they are feeling is “normal” and okay, and that they can express themselves without fear or judgment.

Now that we’ve reviewed five ways of normalising emotion, let’s consider the top five positive parenting techniques that you can implement starting today

  1. Making eye-contact – this not only helps sustain attention but also provides you with an opportunity to talk on your child’s level, crouch down and seem less intimidating.
  2. Make your requests as clear as possible, instead of saying “go clean your room”, you can say “please go to your room and pack away your books, toys and clothes, then we’ll continue to play this game”.
  3. Give positive praise – when the situation calls for it remember to give praise to well-earned positive behaviours, “thank you for cleaning up your room Timmy, you even found all your socks
  4. Express yourself – linking to positive praise and the five messages, allow yourself also to model emotions for your child, let them see how you manage anger, joy, stress, and gratitude.
  5. Use positive phrases – instead of saying “no running” you can say “Sabrina you can walk”, and instead of saying “no hitting” rather say “Brian, we’re using soft/ gentle hands”.

By engaging in these five messages and five parenting techniques with the parenting style you’ve been using it may provide your child with understanding of their behaviours, modifying their responses and meet you halfway.

More resources

  • Children are from Heaven –  Positive Parenting Skills for Raising Cooperative,Confident, and Compassionate Children by John Gray, Ph.D.
  • The positive Parent Raising Healthy, Happy and Successful Children, Birth-Adolescence by Kerby T. Alvy Ph.D.

Alex Koen
Specialist Wellness Counsellor (ASCHP)

How to Cope with a Burn-out or Overexhaustion

This blog is related to the previous blog: “Are people with a burn-out lazy people? NO, on the contrary”.

Seeking professional help to learn to cope with a burn-out or overexhaustion is highly recommended. This can be a difficult step but the quicker you seek help the sooner you recover.

In therapy we will have a look at different aspects:

Step 1: Understanding

Psychoeducation on what a burn-out or overexhaustion is (see my previous blog ) and reflect on what has contributed to you experiencing these symptoms.

Step 2: Short term change

In this step we look at finding back a balance. To get you on a structured balance and feel a bit more yourself. With a structured balance I mean looking at, among other things; lifestyle changes, sleep patterns, self-care, healthcare, nutrition, time management, relaxation, mindfulness, rest, work-oriented interventions.

Step 3: Long term change

If we stop here and don’t do step 3 the chances of you not feeling 100% better or you relapsing in a burn-out again are huge.

In this step we look at how we can make a long term effect by looking at your personal style / coping and where this coping comes from.
So we look at how you cope with certain situations due to your beliefs, personality, your thoughts and the origin of these beliefs. What has contributed to the existence of these beliefs (past experiences, upbringing, parenting, traumatic events, schools, bullying, friendships, relationships) and how can we cope in a healthier way that fits in this life phase that you are in.

Step 4: Relapse prevention plan

And last but not least we set up a relapse prevention plan for you to have as an instruction manual of yourself. This instruction manual will help you recognize the signals of your body sooner and that when these symptoms arise you know what you can do to help yourself. In this prevention plan we will also look at risk factors and how the environment can contribute to help you prevent from relapsing.

The process to recovery from a burn-out and overexhaustion goes with ups and downs, but overall there will be an average increase in vitality. When you have a down the down will be less severe or last less long and you will recover more quickly from the down period.

Written by:

Flo Westendorp, Registered Clinical Psychologist

Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate, MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)

Hormones and Happiness

Hormones play a role on our level of happiness. Are you aware of the main ones?

Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphin participate in the transmission of information in our body, between neurons (they act as neurotransmitters) or via the blood to the organs (we speak of hormones). Each of them is secreted in specific situations and is linked to the activation of so-called “positive” emotions. By focusing on these hormones, we can learn about our behaviors and situations that will trigger them.

  • Endorphin is produced during a significant effort: for example jogging or laughing A few minutes is enough to feel the benefits. In addition to its short-term effects (sensation of pleasure, anti-pain …), endorphin is effective in limiting the harmful effects of stress.
    Tip: head over to the closest laughing or yoga club, or get ready for a good meal in front of your favorite comedy.
  • Dopamine is caused by situations that are assessed as pleasant by our brain and generates a feeling of pleasure (what we feel when we eat a piece of chocolate). The pleasure then felt becomes a great incentive to action our goals and create again this sensation. Dopamine then makes us want to experiment and take on challenges. In contrast, a low level of dopamine is found in people who have a tendency to procrastinate or lack of enthusiasm.
    Tip: Break down your long-term goals into short-term achievable micro-goals.
  • Oxytocin plays a key role in our social relationships. Indeed, it is produced during positive social relationships (for example: a hug, compliments received or given, when we make or receive a gift …). It creates in us a sense of intimacy and trust that in turn facilitates social interactions and altruistic or cooperative behaviors.
    Tip: Allow yourself pure moments of tenderness. Take in your arms, your partner, your children or your animals.
  • Serotonin regulates our mood. It is known to be involved in the phenomena of depression. It is produced when we feel recognized for our true worth. It makes us feel serene and optimistic while a lack of serotonin promotes irritability and impulsiveness. Like endorphin, secretion of serotonin is facilitated by physical activity. In addition, exposure to the sun also promotes a satisfactory serotonin level.
    Tip: Learn how to value your successes. For example at the end of the day, take a few  minutes to write down what you did today.

I believe having an understanding of our body and how we can self-regulate our emotions is key. It helps us in being proactive and avoiding to reach out automatically for medication.

A Life More Ordinary – What to offer your Exasperating Teenager…

When you peer, infuriated, over the mountain of washing at a snoring mass of limbs on your sofa, spare a thought for the poor creature. It’s not all their fault; nor is it yours. The teenage years are unpredictable, often unrecognizable to parents. Adolescence itself is a time of transition; physical, mental and emotional. A period of increased risk-taking and novelty-seeking, it is a testing time for all. At school, home and in the wider world, teens are testing their own capacities in all aspects of life – which often tests the patience of their parents. The adolescent brain – yes there is one in there somewhere – is actually becoming more efficient. A final period of ‘pruning’, selection of the necessary brain cells, takes place in the late teens. It is developing and sharpening the senses and coordination but the slowest part to grow up is the capacity for decision-making. That’s where you come in – after all, you know best.

Adolescents are looking for the walls, the boundaries, the things to bounce off of. They will turn to their peers more than you, since these are now the sources of their sense of identity. But don’t worry, they’ll be back when they need you. Adolescents often feel lost within themselves, as if their over-sized clothes have consumed them and they don’t know who they are anymore. Yet they also feel like they could do anything; powerful and unbound. Teenagers are regularly attracted to popular culture’s superheroes, magicians and vampires – creatures with enlarged capacities, perpetually changing themselves or others. What’s more, their parents may look at them with disbelieving eyes, as if they were someone else’s children. But they are still yours and you can help them remember that.    

An old but very interesting book book on counselling young people reminded me recently that adolescence is a period of loss and gain. ‘Personal maturation requires some things to be yielded to make way for new ones.’ (p.19, Noonan. 1984) It’s a time of letting go of things and getting hold of others. Teens are required to mourn the loss of their childhood selves, not to dispose of them but to internalise them; to keep the memory of their childhood alive and within as they mature. But this work is not theirs to do alone. It’s yours too. 

In the transfer of responsibilities which growing-up involves, parents are there both to protect and release their kids. It is a contradiction similar to those faced by the teenager; you provide the walls of safety and the gateway to the wider world. You, through your constant interest and consistent structures will help usher your child into the world of the adult, through the tunnel of the teenage years. Some conflict will inevitably take place but your role is to stand your ground; this not only helps your teenager to know their own boundaries but also to develop a positive sense of what it is to be an adult. You are, much as you were with your young child, there to filter life experience, to help your teen feed themselves in digestible ways so that they can grow. But it requires you to stand a little further back, to allow their own opinions room. Through this, you will help grant them ‘psychological autonomy’ (p.8, Steinberg. 2001). It’s no accident that as the demands on teenagers grow (from social media in particular), there is increased reporting and recording of eating disorders, self harm and and other struggles between body and mind. It’s harder with adolescents because they are bigger, stronger and even more needy than the kids.

So don’t try it alone. Share the burden with partners, friends and family. Between you, you will keep this low-voiced, poorly dressed eating-machine on track. Your teenager needs to be loved just as your child was, but perhaps forgiven more freely after more intense negotiations. They still need the boundaries too, yet like the re-drawing of a map after a war, these need to be agreed on by all parties. Hopefully, by providing them with a life more ordinary, they will discover their own extraordinary selves along the way.

Written by:
Robert Leveson

Psychotherapist & Counsellor (TSP, BPC)

References:
Music, G. (2010) Moving Towards Adulthood. In Music, G. ‘Nurturing Natures. Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development’, Hove, Psychology Press, pp.185-197
Noonan, E. (1984) ‘Counselling Young People’,  Methuan, London/NY
Steinberg, L (2001) We Know Some Things; Parent-Adolescent Relationships in Retrospect and Prospect. ‘Journal of Research on Adolescence’, 11, (1), 1-19
Wallis, C. (2008) What Makes Teens Tick? ‘Time Magazine’

The Power of Play

The importance of play shouldn’t be underestimated. It has a number of benefits for children and can help to build the parent-child relationship. Play helps children to learn who they are, learn about the world around them and what they are capable of. Playing with others also teaches social skills, such as turn taking, and helps to develop emotional understanding, such as empathy. In particular, play with parents can have a special role of building a strong relationship or attachment which can fill the child up with positive feelings.

At times of stress, when the parent-child relationship is not at its strongest, the child can draw from the positive feelings that they have stored up. Through play, you can build the self-confidence and self-worth of your child, you can help them to solve problems and develop their imaginations as well as vocabulary.

Here are some ideas about how you and your child can get the most from playtime:

  • Follow your child’s lead: it’s the one time they can be in charge and make the rules, so let them be the boss of playtime.
  • Praise and encourage your child’s ideas: hold back on the criticism and encourage your child’s creativity and imagination.
  • Provide support for your child’s emotions: label their different feelings (e.g. excitement, frustration), and help develop their emotional regulation skills (e.g. being calm, waiting their turn).
  • Be sensitive to the level and pace of your child’s play: choose age appropriate toys and play at your child’s pace, not yours.
  • Set aside a regular (daily, if possible) 10 minute play time with your child.

Play can have a positive impact on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as strengthen your relationship with them, so what are you waiting for, get on the floor and start playing!

Written by:
Dr Kanan Pandya-Smith
Clinical Psychologist 

Facts About Success

Most people want to be successful. Success is the “achieving of the results wanted or hoped for” according to Cambridge English Dictionary, that varies from “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status” adds The Oxford Dictionaries.

Whilst most people are aware of what it takes to attaining success namely goal setting, consistence, focus, time management, discipline, people skill, etc. there are other facts about success that people don’t know about, or do they?

Success comes with a huge cost, it is not gifted to people, rather it is something that they have to achieve, and to do so they will have to put in time, give up much more sleep and put in much more money again and again. Success comes with a price that is normally bigger that what most people bargained for.

Becoming successful can be a very lonely journey. You are holding onto a vision that no one else may get. You may expect and need your loved ones and friends to get the vision with you, but it was not their job to get your vision as the vision is yours and only yours. To nurture your vision you will be willing to put everything into your project or experience but expect to have lonely moments, hours, weeks and months in the process.

Success is hollow and extremely unfulfilling if measured just by business, money earned, likes or popularity on social media. It is a shallow experience indeed if we only measure success by the balance in the bank account, or by the amount of media exposure or by the number of likes, followers, and people giving us accolades.

Rather success is about building memories and relationships, about the ability to live in the moment, the ability to smell the flowers, listen to the sound of the waves, and enjoy a good laughter.

When people trade in the very things that makes life feel successful they realise- often quite late late- that they wish to go back and make sure those things are along the journey too. Marriages break, children become strangers and friendships are mostly with conditions; this is the legacy that comes with fame, popularity and the significant bank account.

Success it is a holistic and entire experience, so when you sign up for success, make sure you sign up for the complete experience from the costly years, the standing up again after many falls, for no one getting your vision and for bringing in your loved ones, have dinner with them, watch a movie together so you won’t leave them behind.

Written by:

Sanaa Lundgren
MS (Counselling), MS (PolSci)

Collaborative Family Practitioner (SMC)

Conflict in Relationships: Small Flares to Larger Fires

In today’s jam-packed life, couples often avoid small conflicts until they precipitate into the proverbial tinderbox. Disagreements that are seemingly mundane and innocuous ranging from disagreements about the helper to what school to send one’s kids to can all snowball into much larger issues, if not addressed appropriately. As per research conducted by the Gottman Institute, the average couple waits 6 years before seeking help, often until it’s too late.

While these smaller conflicts may themselves be the catalyst or the precipitator, as the case may be, the underlying mechanisms at play are often more severe. Over time in the relationship, as these disagreements continue to be brushed under the carpet, they breed resentment that can lead significantly detrimental patterns in communication including high levels of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and even points of contempt towards one another.

While there is no one-size fits all solution or quick-fix, the root of it comes down to how the couple manages conflict, especially early in the relationship. Contrary to popular belief, the first step is to not avoid conflict. One should be cognizant to respond to their partner’s needs to discuss matters of importance to them and acknowledge that there may be differing viewpoints. While in the discussion, avoid devolving into criticism. Instead approach the matter with respect, positivity, and an aim to find a solution, and steer clear of assigning blame. In the argument, leave room for repair, and post the disagreement, work towards healing as soon as possible. Finally, if one starts to notice turbulence in the relationship, the Mantra is to seek help early.

Written by:

Sukriti Drabu
Psychologist & Counsellor