ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | DUSHKA ZAPATA
Q&A WITH DUSHKA ZAPATA
OPENING ESSAY — HOW CAN I HAVE THE PERFECT RELATIONSHIP? (PDBL p. 31)
The worst, most judgmental, most unforgiving thing I have ever done to myself is demand “relationship perfection”.
I felt for years that I was no good at it, to the point that I often wondered if what I needed to do was give up on relationships altogether.
What is the point? I can’t do this. I‘m never going to get it right.
After decades of beating myself up I discovered the most obvious thing that was right there all along: I am demanding of myself something that does not exist.
I am flawed and so is everyone else. We get together, as family, or friends, or lovers, and we make mistakes. We hurt ourselves. We hurt each other. We learn. This is how we grow. This is love. This is life.
Q: In the essay we used to open this podcast, you state that the goal of any relationship should never be perfection … that’s too elusive. What should be some of our goals in relationships in terms of improvement or growth?
- Perfection should be the goal of nothing because it doesn’t exist. I’ll perpetually be unhappy, and falling short, and frustrated.
- To grow, to learn, and to live a better life.
- Successful relationships are the ones that leave you a better person, not necessarily the ones that last the longest.
ESSAY: DO PEOPLE GET HURT IN A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP? (PDBL p. 179)
Nobody is perfect. We are human and as such we can be grumpy, clumsy, rude, tactless, ignorant, jump to the wrong conclusions, blame, be critical, get defensive, shut down.
Our behavior hurts the people that we love.
Hurting those we love creates conflict.
Here is the trick, the beautiful trick: what defines a relationship as healthy is not the absence of conflict, but conflict handled well.
Conflict handled well creates opportunities to lovingly navigate that conflict. How we manage conflict is how we make our relationships resilient.
We learn to pause. To become more receptive instead of defensive, more respectful instead of careless, to make room for another person’s feelings instead of focusing on our own.
We learn that there are other perspectives, vantage points and ideas beyond ours – that seeing things differently is not an act of aggression or defiance. This is not war – I just take up room.
We assume responsibility, learn to say we are sorry.
We become more self-aware, learn to set ourselves aside so we can listen. We become better people.
We never stop hurting those we love, or feeling hurt, because we never stop being human.
Q: What are some of your insights on handling conflict well in a relationship?
- Acknowledging the person who is hurt without being defensive takes away the air out of the anger. “I didn’t intend to do that!” vs “I can absolutely see how you would feel that way. I’m so sorry.”
- Beginning statements with “I feel” vs “You are”. Instead of attacking the integrity of the person, I am sharing what the person made me feel.
- Accept responsibility. Own the mistake and take action right away vs having a rebuttal and attacking back.
- People have a tendency to avoid conflict and not make anything a big deal. Ask yourself – “Is it worth it?” If this is important enough to be thinking about it, I should be talking about it.
- The more I walk into the conflict, the more skillful I can apply the tools that are available. My relationships become better and can resist distress. You get closer if you manage the conflict well.
- Low Distress Tolerance: Fighting means it’s the END
High Distress Tolerance: Fighting means we can talk through it and recover from this whether big or small.
- We should talk through things that bother us.
These are things that we have to work on internally in order to get good at … leads into next essay …
ESSAY: RELATIONSHIPS ARE AN INSIDE JOB (PDBL p. 90)
The things I practice getting in order within myself that have the most impact on my relationships are:
A solid footing so I can trust myself and assume the best in others. This is the opposite of being led by my insecurities.
The knowledge that I am fully responsible for myself: my wants, my needs, my emotions. I make me happy and I manage whatever I am feeling. I own my mistakes and see where I need to do work. This is the opposite of blame, the opposite of attempting to change or control another.
Good communication. An ability to speak up, work through conflict, refrain from criticism; knowing how to ask for what I want. This is the opposite of confusion, misunderstandings, assumptions, and guesswork.
Strong boundaries: setting them, enforcing them, respecting the boundaries of another. This is the antidote to resentment and the sense that I have been taken for granted.
A very crisp sense of what I want. This is an assessment of compatibility.
The ability to not take myself too seriously. This is humor, lightheartedness, and perspective which is a saving grace in difficult times.
Please note every single one of these things is an inside job – me looking within to improve my relationships.
Me improving my relationship with me is the only way I can ever contribute to improving my relationship with others.
Q: Talk to me about good communication in relationships … in particular asking for what you want, not making assumptions, gaining clarity, avoiding misunderstandings, etc. …
- Importance of getting VERY CLEAR on what you are asking for or fighting for – Getting to the core of the underlying issue. Is it MY insecurity vs YOU doing something that is hurting me?
- Assumptions – Expecting the other person to know what I want or read my mind. Clearly spelling out what I want looks like “I’d like you to take me out for dinner for our Anniversary this Friday.”
- “Never go to bed angry” is TERRIBLE advice! Taking a PAUSE looks like “Do you mind if we talk tomorrow when I have a clear mind?”
- Asking – My assumptions about you is me actually ERASING you. I cannot see or hear you. Simply asking is easier than trying to read your mind.
- When I don’t clearly state what I want, I not only leave it unsaid, I encourage the other person to be unable to deliver.
- People around us WANT to love us, but they simply may not know HOW to love us unless we let them know.
I feel this all leads to a new paradigm of a “Conscious Relationship.”
ESSAY: WHAT IS A CONSCIOUS RELATIONSHIP? (PDBL p. 22)
In a conscious relationship, I’m awake, self-aware, curious and flawed. I am questioning my own thoughts. I am exhibiting self-compassion and have a rich life outside my relationship.
I don’t expect perfection from anyone – not from me, not from my partner, not from our story. Expecting perfection is the opposite of accepting life as it is and as such is a form of unconsciousness.
I know what I want. I am clear about my values and what I am looking for, even as I change.
I take responsibility. This was me. It was something I dragged in from a past experience, or something related to an insecurity, or a conclusion I jumped to. I am sorry.
I’m responsible for my emotions. I am not looking for someone to make me happy, take care of me or complete me. I am not looking for someone to save.
I take time to figure out what I need and express it as clearly as possible.
I am respectful and loving when my partner is upset or uncomfortable rather than diminishing or denying his experience.
I fight well, which includes everything from clear communication to making sure we both feel supported rather than abandoned during and after the fight.
The opposite of a conscious relationship would be the belief that a soulmate is the solution to listlessness; an absence of self-awareness, making approval a priority, blaming others for how I feel, believing that fairy tales are romantic, when real life is where it’s at.
Q: Can you tell us about your own experiences in developing a conscious relationship?
- Being flawed: Expecting something to be perfect and fairytale-like is a form of unconsciousness
- Questioning my own thoughts: My automatic assumption is that my thoughts are real. A conscious ‘thought pause’ is questioning – Is that REALLY true? Ex. “You don’t love me anymore!”
- Assuming responsibility for my own actions: “I did this because of you.” vs “I did this – It was ME.”
- Being fully responsible for my own emotions: Not believing the notion that others are supposed to make me happy.
- The notion of having to SAVE someone: I automatically become an enabler. An enabler separates a person from the consequences of their own actions.
- Fighting well: I make sure the other person always feels SAFE looks like “Even if I’m angry, we will navigate through this together.”
- Making approval a priority is a form of unconsciousness: Instead of focusing on what I want, I’m focused on what the other person wants, and how can I give them that so they approve of me. I forget I also have needs.
- This book is about a romantic relationship, but it really applies to any relationship … with friends, as parents, etc.
You have some great advice on how to practice these skills …
ESSAY: A FEW THINGS TO PRACTICE (PDBL p. 298)
Notice when you place yourself at the center of the story. This looks like any attempt to control an outcome, fixing, helping, changing. It means demanding that someone meets my needs (that’s my job). It means keeping score. Placing myself at the center of things causes disconnection.
Practice getting better at listening. No interruptions. No thinking what you are going to say next. No defending. No arguing. No saving. Just listen.
Start any discussion with your feelings, rather than his behavior. If he’s been working late, say “it makes me feel like I don’t matter to you” rather than “you are so careless with our relationship!”
Try positive statements instead of negative statements. Instead of “all you ever do is spend time with friends!” try “I would love it if we could set time aside just for the two of us.”
Point out the good, instead of the bad. Instead of asking him to change or adjust or improve, tell him all the things you appreciate about him. The more personal, the better.
Try something new. Resist the rut of always doing the same things, even if it feels comfortable and familiar, and try new things (go on a hike you’ve never been on!). Extra points if you learn something new together (learn a new language, then plan a trip where that language is spoken).
Q: It seems you are truly able to maintain a positive focus in your relationships. It seems that the default for most others is towards complaining about what’s wrong. How have you been able to flip this around in your life?
- Humans tend to zone in on what we DON’T like.
- Exercise telling other person what they’re doing WELL looks like “I love that you listened.” This changes what I notice and ultimately the dynamic of my relationship.
- In ANY relationship – When nagging, all the other person feels is constantly inadequate.
- Referenced article – “The Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse” by John Gottman.
- 4 behaviors that predict the death of relationship: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, Contempt. Contempt is looking down on someone – and is the MOST corrosive to a relationship.
I want to shift over to “For All I Know” for the rest of our conversation. One topic I want to ask you about is how many people seem to get stuck in a fixed mindset based on their past.
ESSAY: DOES YOUR PAST DEFINE YOU? (FAIK p. 50)
My past defines me only in that it makes me resilient.
My past, rather than holding me back, grants me experience.
My past is proof that I can both evolve and heal.
My past does not make me unlovable. Instead, it’s evidence of my strength.
My past is not something to be ashamed of. It’s what makes me both empathetic and compassionate.
My past affects my future only in that it has given me practice in managing change, and in integrating what has happened to me with who I want to be.
Q: How would you respond when someone says something like “well that’s just how I am.”?
- It’s an example of defensiveness
- Neuroplasticity means our brains are elastic – We change even if we don’t want to.
- We have HUGE capacity to recover, to heal, to change ANYTHING we want given the practice. Not wanting to change is denying one of the most beautiful parts of us.
- We get STUCK because we believe something is true. If we can’t change fast, we can plot our escape.
- Not to diminish people’s past experiences of traumatic things, however we can put ourselves in a better place to not become a victim of what once happened to us.
- We are who we are because of our stories – How powerful is it when we can change who we are by changing our stories.
- Relationships are the single thing that can make us happier in life – The better our relationships, the better our life.
A big part of this personal evolution can sometimes be uncomfortable.
ESSAY: COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE (FAIK p. 76)
I don’t ever get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Rather, I come to terms with discomfort as the price to pay if I want to grow.
I remind myself that –
If I am uncomfortable I will make my comfort zone bigger.
Just because something doesn’t feel right does not mean I should avoid it.
Just because I don’t like doing something does not mean I should never do it.
Just because I am afraid or nervous it’s not enough of a reason not to try it.
Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean I should run from it.
Just because I have never done something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try it.
Just because something is going to suck, doesn’t mean it won’t be valuable.
Just because something is risky does it mean it’s not worth doing.
I tell myself “this will be awful and that is OK.”
This is the logic I use when I have difficult conversations, when I try something new, when I leave a job I know for a job I don’t, when I tell someone how I feel, when I deem it important to go to a social event and would rather stay home, when I do things that would be easier for me not to do (such as except a speaking opportunity), and when I set a boundary that makes me feel like I am being selfish.
After doing something hard I always feel proud of whatever discomfort I overcame.
Q: This is easier said than done. Tell us about how you have developed this habit in real life.
- I am very introverted and would rather stay home. But a lot of things have made my life wider, and my preferences could circumscribe my life if I let them.
- The more we take on being uncomfortable, the more reinforcement we get to take on bigger challenges and elements of discomfort in order to get to where we went to be.
- 1000 Sources of Pride – May be easy for others but are difficult for me such as using a spreadsheet or getting to the doctor. Feeling so proud of the series of decisions I made to get the result that I want.
Last, Dushka, a lot of our audience is very young, and sometimes social norms can powerfully influence their behavior.
ESSAY: SOCIAL NORMS (FAIK p. 94)
Social norms have a way of disconnecting us from ourselves.
Here are some examples:
Allowing “what will everyone think of me?” to guide what I do or don’t do. (Following through on a wedding despite my sense of doom, because the invitations have already been sent out.)
Keeping myself busy so I can seem important, instead of listening to when I need to slow down, pause, think, rest, lounge, loiter.
Feeling like failing or quitting is not an option – when failing is part of any learning process, indivisible from true progress, and quitting is often the healthy (and sane) course of action.
Choosing a profession – doctor, lawyer – that is not at all what I want, and wondering why I feel listless and empty at the end of a gruelling day.
Believing that putting myself first is “selfish’ instead of healthy, and that sacrifice is virtuous, necessary and a sign of loyalty, then wondering why I so often feel taken advantage of.
Refraining from saying “no” in an effort to not seem rude or off-putting, then having to deal with overwhelming resentment when I find myself doing things I don’t want to do.
Spending money on things I cannot afford – an expensive car, an expensive house, and expensive wedding – in an effort to make an impression.
Presenting myself a certain way on social media to contribute to the sowing of a collective sense of inadequacy, instead of using social media as a way to connect with people who feel all the things I feel. Connection is better than envy, but then I’d have to admit my life is not perfect and that sometimes I too feel lost.
Q: Why does it seem so hard for so many of us to present our authentic selves, including all the messiness that comes with that?
- We have two responsibilities:
- Use Social media to connect – People can relate when I reveal my life is not perfect.
- Be responsible for who I follow – Instead of following people who make me feel inadequate, I follow those who make me feel inspired.
- Our PRIMAL fear is “I am not enough”. Attempting to show evidence that we are enough to counteract that we are not enough, not having enough, being inadequate, being unlovable.
- We curate our own feeds and have the power to do something better with social media than what we are letting it do to us today.
DUSHKA’S BONUS ESSAY: EMOTIONAL MATURITY
To any degree, practice the following:
More responsibility, less blame.
More truth-telling, less truth-smudging.
More boundaries, less people pleasing.
More awareness regarding what I need, less pushing aside what I need.
More validating myself, less expecting others to validate me.
More self-care, less dismissing it as “selfish.”
More compassion, less berating myself.
More forgiving, less grudges.
More self-forgiving, less regret.
More awareness of my patterns, less falling into my patterns.
More pausing, less reacting.
More “this is not about me”, less me-centric.
More asking, less assuming.
More self-evaluation, less judgment of others.
More surrender, less control.
More flexibility, less rigidity.
More resilience, less despair.
More self-trust, less self-doubt.
More learning, less coasting.
More acceptance, less inner war.
Dushka, you have an incredible way of taking complex life subjects and challenges and distilling them down to simple direct language that others can ponder and implement to improve their lives suffer less.
3 things that stuck out the most:
- Clarity – defining what we want in relationships and in life – and learning to ask vs assuming.
- Handling conflict well – Rather than avoiding conflict to suffer less, find a way to discuss it in a positive way – learn to work through it together.
- Neuroplasticity – ANYTHING you are you can change. If you are resigned, you don’t HAVE to stay that way. There’s a road to improvement, growth, and changing your life for the better.
Dan concludes by reading one of his favorite Dushka essays …
WORDS FOR MY YOUNGER SELF (FAIK p. 8)
The single most powerful most tectonic thing I can tell you is that everything you do every day will add up. Think carefully about what you want to do every day.
There is a world of power and transformation in learning how to pause. Before reacting, pause.
Don’t believe everything you think. Question everything, in particular your own thoughts.
Spend no time “being right”. The truth is many contradicting things are just as accurate.
Learn as much as you can about boundaries. They are the key to two things you will need forever: healthy relationships and self-love.
You do not need to exert any kind of effort to get someone to love you.
When anyone loves you, how they love you is who they are, not who you are.You will forget this and believe how others love you reveals something about you. It doesn’t.
People do not love you the way you want them to. They love you the way they can.
It’s normal to outgrow friends.
Fear is not a good decision maker.
Feelings feel like this is the way things will be now, but they are in fact fleeting.
Your life has its own cadence. It does not look like the cadence of another person’s life and that’s OK. Trust that.
The most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with you. Stand up for you. Learn to trust you. Love yourself.
Show Notes courtesy of Dushka “Superfan” Sally Ngo.
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