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It’s Not About You

Its-not-about-you - Taking things Personally

Taking Things Personally: The Downside

Your partner is late – again. You begin to fume, assuming s/he didn’t consider you enough to call or text.

Your work colleague didn’t inform you about an important meeting – again. S/he is trying to sabotage you, it’s obvious.

Taking things personally: rapidly interpreting another person’s words or actions as negative comments about you without considering other potential explanations. This damages your self-esteem, pummels self-confidence and too often renders us feeling angry, guilty or defensive.

It’s not about you.

Once you accept your vulnerability to over-personalize and consider other explanations for another’s words or actions, you step out of your victim mentality and create choice for yourself. Really, taking ownership of these rapid reactions, appreciating they are not about you, is truly freeing. Now you have choice in how to address the issue.

What are your triggers, what presses your buttons?

Triggers are reactivation’s of old emotional wounds or frustrations that still sting. A host of similarities to the original experiences such as a comment, body language, voice tone or look can trigger an over-reaction similar to the source experiences. These reactions are unique to each individual but are invariably disproportionate to a current given comment or behavior.

Other triggers develop via repeated frustrations with someone such as their being chronically late.

Becoming attuned to your triggers: “The body keeps the score”

An emotional red flag may be a sudden, rapid heartbeat or quickened breath, your chest or stomach may tighten, or your jaws may clench. Any of these reactions are important signals. Noticing them rather than reacting out of them gives you the opportunity to grasp the messages fueling these feelings.

To quickly step back from the trigger and step into the present moment, take a few deep, slow breaths, hold each a few seconds, then exhale slowly and name the feeling. This brief exercise allows you to step into the present moment, consider possible alternative explanations and take proactive or protective action.

Expressing your needs calmly and assertively will have you feeling more empowered and comfortable within yourself than taking things personally ever can.

Couples Conflict & Poaching


Couples often get stuck in repetitive patterns of interaction, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

There is frequently an attachment to each person’s point of view, ‘being right’ (referred to as a ‘losing strategy’), informed by a need to ‘win’ with an aversion to being ‘wrong’ which often solidifys such a stance.

A recent Royal Geographical Society (RGS) lecture on The Maasai Fight Against Poaching in Africa got me thinking about the need for couples in conflict to think outside the bounds of their conflicts to resolve their habitual struggles.

Maasai Daniel Ole Sambu and his Big Life Foundation is fighting against the epidemic of wildlife poaching with a variety of creative approaches in the Amboselli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem of Kenya and Tanzania.

His foundation’s unusual approaches reminded me of how important it is for couples to think counter-intuitively as Maasai Sambu has been doing, especially in dealing with repetitive conflicts.

For example:

In Maasai land, the only wild animal tribes kill is the lion. This is a coming of age ritual.

In an effort to change this long-standing tradition, the Foundation has created the Maasai Olympics where their young men ‘Hunt for Medals, not Lions’. And it’s working!

Another example:

Retribution killing based on tribal beliefs that when a wild animal kills a child or adult, or does destructive harm to their land, that animal must be killed in return.

To counter this belief, the Foundation’s conservation program compensates the tribesman for NOT killing. And it’s working!

A final example:

Poachers that are caught and punished with imprisonment are invited to become rangers once they have completed their sentences.

Maasai Sambu noted that these people make the best, most committed rangers!

Dr Melanie Bryan

Couples Institute Developmental Model

Premarital Coaching for a Strong Start That Enhances Connections & Preempts Disconnections


Premarital Coaching with Dr. Melanie Bryan aims to help couples lay a foundation of appreciation, effective communication, rapport and responsiveness that will enhance and enrich your relationship for years to come, especially when inevitable challenges arise.

Whether you’ve been happily single prior to a whirlwind romance, living together for years or remarrying, marriage deserves the same considerations and preparations you’ve given to your career and any other pursuits that require skill-building and practice. Otherwise, marriage can be a minefield of disconnected beliefs, behaviors and expectations.

In each premarital session, couples are helped to identify areas of potential agreement and disagreement. For example, a couple’s styles of communication, especially how they make decisions and resolve conflict, particularly when angry, can enhance their relationship or fracture it.

Couples come to appreciate, understand and work with differences in their temperaments and communication styles. They learn how to effectively resolve areas of conflict along a range of issues, including balancing individual needs while nurturing closeness.

Other important explorations include expectations regarding how finances, budgeting and debt are handled; views on sexuality and sexual needs; role expectations; the timing of a pregnancy and child-rearing assumptions; the extend of involvement with their respective in-laws; location or relocation hopes, as well as religious and spiritual beliefs and practices all deserve serious discussion – the more proactively the better.

Within the comfortable space of focused premarital coaching sessions, a couple can address any apprehensions in managing their individual interests, social engagements, as well as maintaining separate career ambitions and other pursuits. How they handle work stress, their involvement with, or tolerance for, the intrusions of technology may also differ markedly.

Findings of a USA National Marriage Project noted that “Couples who do Premarital Counseling fare better”. No wonder.

The realities of this significant lifestyle change is worthy of the time, energy and reflection that premarital coaching with Dr Melanie can offer. Investing in your marriage before marriage really can pay handsome dividends.
Do consider it.

Caught in the Middle, Children and Divorce

Caught in the Middle, Children and DivorceParental conflict is hard on children at any time, all the more so when their parents are separating or divorcing. And when the former spouses are unable to establish a cooperative, responsible co-parenting relationship with each other following the divorce, the negative impact on their children is compounded.

The good news however, is that separation and divorce need not be a catastrophic experience for children. A majority learn to adjust to the initial disruption of their family without many psychological and social scars and become well-functioning adults. Contributing factors to a child’s positive adjustment to separation and divorce, especially during the first year, are strongly associated with the degree of parental conflict to which a child has been exposed. Many studies have documented a correlation between parental conflict, it’s duration and resolution and a child’s stress levels, as well as post-divorce adjustment. When both the residential and non-residential parents are aware of the potentially harmful impact of exposing their conflicts to their children, they endeavor to shield them from such disputes. In the heat of separation and divorce demands, protecting children from emotional distress and frustrations requires parents to be able to work with their own emotions and those of their children, seek support from family and trusted friends, and/or a qualified therapist or divorce coach while pursuing healthy outlets. Creating a stable home life during this time of upheaval benefits everyone concerned.

When parental conflict becomes intense and frequent, the stress on the children mounts as well. Some parents have difficulty establishing boundaries between themselves and their children, so the children may often overhear or are witness to parental anger and aggression around ongoing conflicts. Especially when the disagreements concern them, emotional and behavioral difficulties in the children are likely to develop. Conversely, when parents model healthy conflict resolution for their children, through negotiation and compromise, it can enhance their social skills.

Not all expressions of conflict are overt however. Parents who model withdrawal or discourage open dialogue with their children around the separation and divorce issues are encouraging unhealthy internalization of their negative feelings. Better to encourage children to feel safe asking their questions and receiving answers that are clear and concise, without blaming or making harsh judgments or snide remarks about the other parent. Denigrating a parent puts a child smack in the middle of a loyalty conflict that children find extremely distressing.

Other examples of being caught in the middle include having to carry messages between parents, feeling disloyal by being pressured to answer questions about the other parent’s behavior, or hearing derogatory comments about the other parent.

Parents who are not able to separate their emotional needs from their childrens needs, cannot protect them from their own hurt and agitation. Rather than focusing on the child’s needs, such parents may confide in their children or turn to a particular child for comfort. This is known as parentification and places a tremendous burden on a child.

Moderate levels of instrumental parentification such as cooking meals, looking after their siblings or doing housework can teach a child responsibility, while moderate levels of emotional parentification such as comforting siblings, can teach a child empathy. High levels of parentification demands are associated with adjustment problems. For girls from high-conflict divorced families both types of parentification are associated with girls’ depressed and anxious behaviors; for boys, high levels of emotional parentification by fathers are associated with sons’ depression. (Heatherington).

There is a strong association between children’s mental health and parental conflict, even when children do not display awareness of the conflict. When a child is alienated from a parent or exposed to contentious child custody litigation or visitation battles or other failed parenting responsibilities, emotional and behavioral problems such as anxiety or depression, aggressiveness, or poor impulse control are likely to surface or increase.

Children often feel responsible for their parents separation and conflict and may try to intervene in the conflict. Ineffective parenting will increase their stress, which may be reflected in signs of guilt, sadness, manipulation, declining academic performance and problems with friends, phobias or compulsive behavior.

Helping parents help their children adjust to divorce includes guiding parents to move beyond their anger, reduce their parental conflicts and triangulation of the children to develop agreement on rules and predictable expectations that minimize stress on their children, develop more effective parenting skills and foster a healthy connection between family members during divorce, and a positive adaptation to the relational changes post-divorce. Such cooperative parenting also encourages healthy self-esteem and effective communication skills not only in their children but in their parents as well.

Possible Stress Reactions in Children* Age: Signs of Stress Birth to 3 Regression, separation anxieties, eating and sleeping problems, tantrums, aggression, possessiveness, withdrawal. Preschool Irritability, “too good behavior,” aggression, need for physical contact, sadness, self-blame, fear of abandonment and loss of parental love. Ages 6 to 12 Sadness, fear of abandonment, guilt, anger, fantasizing reconciliation. Adolescent Open hostility at parents, acting-out behavior, school difficulties, aggression or withdrawal, difficulty with peers, dependency on others. *Adapted from Kersey, k. (1986) Helping your child handle stress. Washington, D.C.: Acropolis. Heatherton, E.M. (1999) (Ed.), Coping with divorce, single parenting and remarriage.

Co-parenting Mindsets





One or both of the parents believe that the other parent does not have the best interests the children at heart as their primary focus. One or both of the parents disrespects and openly denigrates the other person’s parenting style and parenting opinions. One or both of the parents believes that the other parent has fundamental character flaws, parental deficiencies, a personality disorder, or substance abuse issues that interfere with their parenting ability. They believe that the other parent is detrimental to the children.One or both of the parents believe the other parent should not have an active, supportive relationship with the children because it will damage them. One or both of the parents believe that they need the assistance from mental health professionals and court professionals to help them make child sharing decisions. But once the recommendations or orders have been made, one or both of the parents may actively sabotage the court order and badmouth the professionals who worked on the child sharing plans. One or both parents continues to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the children, believing that they have to protect the children from that parent, by taking away time or getting the courts to determine they are unfit.


Both of the parents believe that the other parent has the best interests of the children at heart as their primary focus. Both parents believe that the other parent is valuable, worthwhile and important in the children’s life. Both parents believe that the children need to have a relationship with both parents, and they will actively support that relationship. Although the parents may have disagreements with each other about the issues that need to be resolved, they will both work together, (even if it is difficult) in order to reach some kind of parenting decision. Even if it is “parenting by default.” Once the parents have made the parenting decision, they will actively support the decision and each other in that decision. Both parents will do whatever it takes to support the other parent’s relationship with the children. Both parents believe that the other parent is important in the children’s life and will do whatever they can to support the children’s relationship with the other parent.

Beating Relationship Stress


​No one doubts that setting up and living in or getting ready to leave Hong Kong puts unrelenting strain on relationships, the kind of strain that brings conflicts to a head after years of simmering.

All of us see the world through the filters of our own wants and values.

It is an over-zealous attachment to our own viewpoints that creates the most difficult power-struggles in any relationship.In either joint and/or individual sessions, my work with couples targets their unmet needs and unfilled expectations, their divided loyalties, fears and modes of miss-communication. Individual expectations for the therapy are also addressed, as well as each person’s experiences in Hong Kong and hopes for their relationship during their time here, and well beyond.

Improving a conflict-ridden or stress-ridden relationship requires flexibility, open-mindedness, shared goals and an appreciation of a partner’s needs and views. Mutual commitment to shared goals over the long-term can lead to settling short-term disputes more effectively with a co-operative, rather than controlling mindset. At a time when personality differences can become gaping, it is crucial to maintain genuine respect and tolerance for your partner’s needs and quirks, and to make allowances for the fact that heavy emotional baggage can spill over under excessive strain.

Even well-matched couples experience conflict, hurt, disappointment and anger. Talking it through and articulating emotions is never more important than during times of strain. Allowing pride and stubbornness to get in your way only creates more difficulties.

Learning to accept each others shortcomings is vital, although not easy. Partners may recognize weak links in their relationship in the areas of showing consideration for each other, willingness to converse about uncomfortable topics and expressing feelings and desires clearly. But in spite of such frustrations, studies show that happier couples never give up on their efforts to co-operate and compromise their way through disagreements.

Shying away from conflict is not the answer. Complaining about your partner’s shortcomings does not indicate an unhappy relationship. It is when complaints create distance, distrust, negativity and a lack of support that the relationship hits trouble.

Voicing discontent freely and openly and dealing with it straight away, rather than allowing it to build up into thunderclouds, can lead to strength in a relationship, noto distance. Open discussion is a sign of ongoing problem-solving.

When caught in a cycle of blame and counter-blame, attack and counter-attack, it is time for partners to acknowledge their more vulnerable feelings beneath the surface anger. (This is often more easily done within the safe context of a therapy session initially.) Many of us do a great job of burying our most tender feelings – those feelings that quietly cry out for intimacy and reassurance and shrink away from being hurt or rejected. But only when these feelings are recognized and expressed can a power struggle be resolved and the road to potential solutions be paved.

So even if you harbor a strong dislike for overt disagreement, you should make every effort to express troubles, concerns and needs clearly and without blame. Then either strive to arriva at a compromise or agree to accept the differences.

It also helps to express feelings in a more positive manner, replacing accusations like “you never listen to me” with milder, easier to swallow requests like “I need you to listen to me”. In other words, say what you support, not what you oppose, say what you want, not what you don’t.

Everyone should take responsibility for communicating their desires and making sure they are understood. Concerns, problems, unfulfilled expectations not dealt with do not go away. They simply go underground until they erupt.

No one ever said establishing and maintaining a healthy, mutually supportive relationship was easy. It takes work, especially in over-driven, over-indulgent, frenzied Hong Kong, where career and social pressures can easily overshadow personal priorities. A fulfilling relationship requires a commitment of time, attention, energy and emotional honesty. Not easy.

But it could be worse. You could be setting up in Syria.

Couples Institute Developmental Model

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