Creative Conflict

man-couple-people-woman.jpgConflict is one of those words most people have an instant recoil reaction to which often we avoid at all costs.

Whether because of negative experiences of conflict or just being bewildered by the whole messy concept, we as a general rule really don’t like it.

But what if i told you conflict wasn’t just useful it is absolutely vital to robust relationships and wellbeing?

Firstly lets clarify the concept. Im not talking about the arguments that go no where and get bogged down in stonewalling or defensiveness . Or the passive aggressive round and round of blame with no resolution .

Im talking about creative conflict  (no its not just a made up thing) it is a way of communicating which values differences and sees obstacles as a way to growth. This can be at work with friends ,family or loved ones. It can even be about how you relate to yourself!

In this blog Im going to introduce you to a couple of tools that can help you get the most out of conflict..

1- Agree to disagree.Creative conflict doesn’t mean you have to agree. Its not about who is right or trying to have only one view.You don’t have to agree and neither does the other party ,what is important is finding a solution which can work. Respecting each others unique perspective is key to working with creative conflict.pexels-photo-573238.jpeg

2- The aim is to listen to understand not reply. Do you really get where the other person is coming from and even their motivation or intent? Can you communicate this back to them clearly and most of all CALMLY? By creating understanding we BOND  (our body releases calming and connecting hormones)and when this occurs we are more likely to be receptive to new or difficult conversations.

3- Take the emotional punch out. Most problems arise when we feel attacked or we come from a critical/defensive place. Keeping the “start off” calm and open increases the chances of people being receptive and engaged .No one responds well to being yelled at or intimidated as our fight flight  and adrenaline responses tend to take over. Keeping our voice /tone balanced, maintaining receptive eye contact ( thats right no rolling your eyes) with non threatening body language (no hands on hips) helps create a safe space to voice difficult issues.

A warm approach of ” hey ( insert loving or kind endearment) I have something important to talk with you about .I would like us to be able to work out  some solutions to what might be a tough discussion. When would be a good time?”

Quick tips also include.

  • Only one issue at a time
  • No personal attacks instead  use ” I “statements
  • Take a breather to keep things calm
  • Take turns to talk, listen and recap.
  • Most of all look for options and ways forward .

If you would like to learn more about how to navigate conflict and improve your relationships call  or email Caroline at 


Resources of interest

Gottman Institute




When Your Get Up and Go Walks Out The Door

I woke up one Monday morning and it dawned on me that my “get up and go” had actually done exactly that. It had got up and slipped off without me realising it had happened. I was shocked and wondered  “was there a moment or conversation which was the crucial point when my motivation just stopped?”. I know I’m not alone in this because it’s a topic which rears its lethargic head  regularly with clients or friends.

Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”?
Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month?
Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities?
Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ourselves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core. We all have times when we feel that our motivation has somehow drained out of us while we were asleep, or suddenly found ourselves living a life of quiet discontent. Have you ever found yourself waking up in the morning and after you have shuffled out of bed to get your coffee thinking “Oh no here we go again”? Do you have a list of “things to do today” which was really a list of things to do last month? Are you finding much of your time is spent “forcing yourself” to do things or trying to enjoy activities? Often it creeps up on us and slowly but surely we find ou selves just getting by rather than living a life which has meaning and joy at its core.

So how can we change this slow shuffle to the grave and start to re engage with our passion, motivation and joy again? To help create change its important to understand that our thoughts,feelings and behaviours are all interconnected . Habits are  created by our behaviour and thinking in the moment which is reinforced by our feelings,these feelings are often mistaken for fact and override our logical goals and needs.
While we have “control” over what we think how we behave we don’t have this same control over our feelings, often people mistake feelings for being “fact” when actually they are merely just signals to our brain and body to:

  • Interpret the world
  • Warn us of danger
  • Are hard wired to seek lifes “ings” (eating, sexing, drugging, shopping,facebooking, gambling, relationshiping etc)
  • Communicate and understand
  • Prepare us for action/inaction


So imagine one of your goals is going to the gym, while logically you know it’s good for you, is in line with your goals and will help you feel more energetic, you lack the feeling of “motivation” and create an unhelpful emotional equation.
We listen to the “feeling” as being fact and then our thoughts “I never follow through, I will always be unfit etc” and behaviours ( withdrawal, eating comfort food,engaging in pleasurable distractions) follow suit creating a habit which is powerful and very convincing. We then associate “going to the gym” with a negative feeling and negative feelings are powerful demotivators!.  Many people make the mistake of believing feelings are fact, need to be acted on and that they are permanent,often waiting till they feel like doing something before they start.When in reality if we think well,behave well our feelings will generally follow and create a different and more joyful habit.
Steps to Create Change

Break down goals into simple steps using SMART goal settings and keep this some where visible. Your goals should include the strong positive emotional states you are seeking and thoughts kept positive and empowering so you change those unhelpful habits into empowering and ones full of joy!


 Here are some useful suggestions to get moving and get out of the rut.

  • Post it notes ,liquid window chalk, quotes,images and reminders in your environment
  • Get a friend to buddy up so you keep each other on track
  • Download phone apps ,10 minute motivators,alarms with motivating messages,goal tracker etc
  • Keep a journal so you can keep track of your progress
  • Challenge negative thinking
  • Gratitude journal, or join on of the many online gratitude/positivity groups so you get positive reinforcing messages.
  • Negativity jar, you write the negative thoughts, behaviours or feelings down and get rid of them in a jar.
  • Positivity jar put all your change in and save for a big treat
  • write down something you are grateful/love/has happened and save them for a day you are struggling to keep on track
  • Be creative!

Relationships; The Heart Ache of Being Dumped


Heart ache of being dumped

“Parting is all we need to know of hell.” Emily Dickinson got it right. Almost no one in the world escapes the feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, fear and fury that rejection can create. Among college students at Case Western Reserve, 93% of both men and women reported that they had been dumped by someone they passionately loved; 93% also said they had rejected someone who was deeply in love them. And these men and women were still young—with decades of love, and possible disasters, ahead of them. Ain’t love grand? You bet…when your passion is returned and things are going well. But when love is unrequited, it’s a whole other story.

Why rejection hurts so much?

Brain studies confirm that love can be described as an addiction.  It is a natural addiction.  Maybe drugs like cocaine just hop on the natural addiction systems needed for hunger, thirst, romance and attachment.

Indeed, the passion we feel after rejection shows all of the traits of an addiction.

The Cycle of Love Addiction

Foremost, like all addicts, recently rejected lovers display intense energy and motivation to get their drug: the beloved.  They focus their attention and think obsessively about him or her–intrusive thinking.   When we asked our rejected participants what percentage of the day and evening they thought about their departing partner, most replied that they thought about him or her some 85% of their waking hours; others said they never stop thinking about their rejecting mate.  Someone was camping in their head.

The besotted man or woman also craves emotional union with their sweetheart.  Sure, they’d love to have sex with him or her.  But foremost, they hope their disappearing lover will call, write, invite them out, rescind their decision to depart and say those precious words, “I love you.”   Like any addict, abandoned lovers hunger for their drug—their mate.

Rejected lovers also express personality changes, as do other kinds of addicts.  Some change their hair or clothes to look sexier or more romantically appealing; some adopt new interests to attract or appease; some even change their careers or move to a different state or country to follow him or her.

And as the cocaine addict becomes highly anxious without their drug, the lover suffers “separation anxiety” when out of touch.  Even worse, when rejected they often love even harder–frustration-attraction. Alas, barriers increase romantic passion.  Terrence, the poet of ancient Rome expressed this aptly, saying “The less my hope, the hotter my love.”

Rejected lovers distort reality, too.  Most can list all the things that went wrong in the relationship.  But they sweep these truths aside–believing they can overcome almost any obstacle to win back their lover and make their dreams come true.

Like the cocaine addict who will do just about anything to get their drug, lovers are emotionally andphysically dependent.  Most are willing to do dangerous or inappropriate things to regain their mate.  They lose their self-control, a central trait of any addiction.

Indeed, rejected lovers show all three of the central characteristics of any addiction: Tolerance; Withdrawal; and Relapse.   Like the addict who needs more and more of their “drug of choice,” the lover must see the beloved endlessly.  When rejected, they plummet into excruciating mental and physical pain as well, withdrawal. And long after the relationship is over, even the slightest reminder, such as a song on the car radio or any other external cue, can re-trigger their intense craving for him or her.

Most revealing, all of the primary addictions engage the brain’s Reward System.   So does romantic love.


Love as a natural addiction:

Individuals in the early stage of intense romantic love show many symptoms of addiction, including euphoria, craving, tolerance, emotional and physical dependence, withdrawal and relapse.  We have proposed that romantic love is a natural (and often positive) addiction that evolved from mammalian antecedents by four million years ago as a survival mechanism to encourage hominin pair-bonding and reproduction, seen cross-culturally today in Homo sapiens.  Brain scanning studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) support this view:  feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s “reward system,” specifically primordial dopamine pathways, including the ventral tegmental area, caudate and accumbens also activated during drug addiction.  Thus, because the experience of being in love shares reward pathways with those associated with drug addiction, romantic love may influence drug craving.  Indeed, a study of nicotine craving has shown that feelings of intense romantic love attenuate brain activity associated with cigarette craving under some circumstances.   Could other socially rewarding experiences be therapeutic for drug addictions?   We suggest that “self expanding” experiences like romance, and expanding one’s knowledge, experience and self perception, may also affect drug addiction behaviors.  Further, because feelings of romantic love can progress into feelings of calm attachment, and because attachment engages more plastic forebrain regions and the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, there is a rationale for therapies that help drug addiction by promoting activation of these forebrain systems through long-term, calm, positive attachments to others, including group therapies such as 12-step programs.  The medical community currently considers addiction as a negative (harmful) disorder that appears in a population subset; while romantic love is often a positive (as well as negative) state experienced by almost all humans. Thus, researchers have not categorized romantic love as an addiction.  But by embracing data on romantic love, it’s classification as an evolved, natural, often positive but also powerfully negative addiction, and its neural similarity to many drug induced states, clinicians may develop more effective therapeutic approaches to alleviate a range of the addictions, including heartbreak–an almost universal human experience that can trigger stalking, clinical depression, suicide, homicide and other crimes of passion.

Here are some suggestions we have written about for dealing with romantic rejection:

Clinicians have a host of strategies for helping lovers and drug addicts.   However, when data on romantic love and substance abuse are considered together, some approaches have a strong rationale.

Perhaps most important, rejected lovers should remove all reasonable evidence of their abandoning sweetheart, such as cards, letters, songs, photos and memorabilia, as well as avoid contact with their rejecting partner, because reminders and partner contact can act as cues that induce craving and are likely to sustain the activity of brain circuits associated with romantic passion and thus retard the healing process. Self –expansion research also finds that positive outcomes such as personal growth and positive emotions are possible (even likely) following a break-up if the relationship had offered few self-expanding opportunities and if the newly single person engages in rediscovery of the self (Lewandowski and Bizzoco, 2007).

Close, positive contact with a friend or friends is rewarding and may also help to replace the craving for substances or a rejecting partner, because looking at a photo of a close friend activates the nucleus accumbens, associated with reward (Acevedo et al., 2011).   Looking at a photo of a close friend also activates the periaqueductal gray, associated with oxytocin receptors and the calm of attachment.   This suggests that group therapies, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, are successful because these group dynamics engage the brain’s reward and attachment systems.

Data suggest that rejected lovers should also stay busy to distract themselves (Thayer, 1996; Rosenthal, 2002).    Physical exertion may be especially helpful as s elevates mood (Rosenthal, 2002), triggering dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens to bestow pleasure (Kolata, 2002).   Exercise also increases levels of β-Endorphin and endocannabinoids which reduces pain and increases feelings of calm and well-being (Dietrich and McDaniel, 2004; Goldfarb and Jamurtas, 1997). Also, engaging in a new form of exercise can be a self-expanding experience (see Xu et al., 2010).  Because of these benefits of exercise, some psychiatrists believe that exercise (aerobic or anaerobic) can be as effective in healing depression as psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs (Rosenthal, 2002).

Further, smiling utilizes facial muscles that activate nerve pathways in the brain that can stimulate feelings of pleasure (Carter, 1998).  Focusing on the positive may be effective too.  A study by Lewandowski (2009) found that writing for 20 minutes on three consecutive days about a recent relationship break-up was beneficial when people wrote about positive feelings as opposed to when they wrote about negative feelings or wrote without expressing any feelings.  Perhaps most important, time attenuates the attachment system.   In our study of rejected men and women, the greater the number of days since rejection, the less the activity in a brain region (the ventral pallidum) associated with feelings of attachment (Fisher et al., 2010).

As disappointed lovers use strategies originally developed to quit a substance addiction, their love addiction is likely to eventually subside.

But here is the problem, and probably why it hurts so much.

It appears as if evolution has overdone the negative response to romantic abandonment.  But romantically rejected individuals have wasted precious courtship time and metabolic energy; they have lost essential economic and financial resources; their social alliances have been jeopardized; their daily rituals and habits have been altered; they may have lost property; and they have most likely experienced damage to their personal happiness, self-esteem and reputation (see Leary, 2001; Fisher, 2004; Fisher, 2014).  Most important, rejected lovers of reproductive age are likely to have lost breeding opportunities or a parenting partner for the offspring they have already produced—forms of reduced future genetic viability (Fisher, 2004; Fisher, 2014).  Thus, romantic rejection can have severe social, psychological, economic and genetic consequences.

But all the feelings are totally natural and mark us each as human beings who can love– and will love again.  It is a rite of passage into the next phase of our lives.