Please Note! I will be out on maternity leave from late July to late October. While I am out, you can reach out to Rose Murrin, LICSW, for any of your needs through Kesher. Please don't hesitate to call her at 401.331.1244 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to connecting with you when I return!
Communication is an essential part of our relationships as human beings. How we connect with others plays a significant role in everything from romantic relationships to parent-child relationships to incidental interactions throughout our day. A miscommunication or a challenging exchange can have a major impact on our moods and how we interact with others as our day progresses. Have you ever started the day in a disagreement with a partner or child and then later found yourself in conflict with others at work or at the grocery store? It can be difficult to shake the effects of communication gone awry. Research has even found that negative communication patterns are more linked to divorce than commitment levels, personality traits, or stressful events1. How, then, can we set ourselves up for more effective communication experiences?
I have discovered valuable communication lessons in my experiences both as a social worker and a martial artist. One of the basic tenets of social work practice is to 'start where the client is'; meaning that, in these communications it is important to approach an issue from the perspective of a person's own needs and desires and not my own agenda, no matter how helpful I feel it might be. That is not to say that I never offer a new perspective; that is far from the case. However, in starting from where the other person is, I am then able to better understand their needs and thoughts and have a more useful idea of how to convey a new perspective to them.
Believe it or not, this same dynamic is reflected in my martial arts practice of Aikido! Aikido is based on blending with another person's physical energy and then redirecting that energy. We first tune into where our partner is in the moment, truly understanding their intentions and movements in the interaction. Since it is a martial art, fundamentally their intention is to attack or do harm. In conversation, we often feel that another person's words are an attack on us as well. How we respond to that attack impacts the outcome of the interaction. If we attack back, avoid or ignore, or freeze physically in Aikido - or verbally in conversation - the results are often undesirable. Instead, what if we attempt to blend and redirect in our communication as is done in Aikido?
By starting where the other person is, we can understand their perspective and the needs they are trying to meet through a particular communication. Their needs may be very different from your needs in the interaction, but it is likely that their intent is grounded in a basic human need to which you can relate. The practice of "Nonviolent Communication" posits that we are all trying to "honor universal values and needs"- such as connection, well-being, honesty, and autonomy. Tuning into these needs can help us find where we might agree or overlap in our intentions in an otherwise difficult conversation. Once this blending occurs, we are better able to redirect that conversation to also include our own needs, perspective, and intentions. In Aikido, this results in both partners having a positive experience, even though the attacker may not have ended up where they originally expected to go. Such efforts can lead to better outcomes for both people in difficult conversations as well! Blending and redirecting can bring a different perspective to everything from an insensitive comment from a passerby to an intense disagreement between you and your partner.
It is difficult to start from a place of understanding or agreement when you are in a disagreement! Just like anything, it takes practice. Stay calm, tune in, listen, and try to understand the other person's perspective. When you start where the other person is, you can more effectively move the conversation to where you would like it to go.
If you have some challenging conversations in your life you would like support in navigating in a new way, please reach out! You can reach me at email@example.com or 401.338.8301.
1Lavner, J. A., & Bradbury, T. N. (2012). Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce? Journal of Family Psychology,26(1), 1-10.
2Center for Nonviolent Communication: A Global Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2017, from https://www.cnvc.org/
Can a show push you over the edge?
written by Rose Murrin, LICSW
Thanks to the show, "13 Reasons Why", which depicts the motivations behind a high school student's decision to take her own life, suicide has been at the forefront of many people's minds, newsfeeds, school letters, and popular media outlets. Concurrently, concerns regarding the on-line game, Blue Whale, which has been described as a "suicide game," have worried many about the promotion of suicide- particularly among teens.
Linking these two is the concern that various forms of media- whether through glamorizing, normalizing or active direction- may cause teens to attempt or commit suicide. The fear that a teen might commit suicide is visceral; and the stuff of nightmares - for all involved. There is some debate about how much influence this show and this game have over most youth. But what seems to be agreed upon by their critics is that while some youth may not experience these sources as encouragement to commit suicide, those who are already at risk may be further incited/provoked. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, youth and young adults ages 10-35. Since these media target people in this age group, particularly 13 and up, they are of specific concern. Locally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 in Rhode Island as well, third in Massachusetts. In December, the Rhode Island Department on Health (RIDOH) released a report on suicide and suicide(1) attempts in Rhode Island youth (ages 15-24). Per this examination, while rates of self-reported suicide attempts among middle and high school students have remained fairly constant over the past decade, 127 deaths occurred by suicide between 2004-2014. This is a staggering number of lives to be lost each year in such a small state. This report and others note that while females are more likely to attempt suicide, males are more likely to commit suicide. In Rhode Island, the group most likely to commit suicide are males 18-24, who live in suburban areas, are non-Hispanic Caucasian, and have experienced a crisis (interpersonal or otherwise) in the past two weeks. Among the youth who did commit suicide, a full 45% had a diagnosed mental health problem. It may come as no surprise that depression is by far the most common diagnosis.
Given this information, knowing that even one death from suicide is too many, what can concerned parents, friends, peers, relatives do to address these issues? Get information, understand the warning signs and TALK about these difficult subjects. Perhaps there are constructive outcomes of the "13 Reasons" phenomenon; information about suicide among youth (and in general) is easy to find, quite
consistent and most significantly, the door to talk about it has been opened.
It reminds us to ask when we suspect someone is in emotional pain, to get help for those who may or may not be considering self-harm, but are struggling with mental health issues. It reminds us to consider the words of youth seriously, even when tempted to chalk it up to "drama" or "attention-seeking." For those who want to learn more, Lifespan is offering Youth Mental Health First Aid courses. These are(2) designed for anyone interested in developing tools to help a person in crisis while getting them appropriate, professional mental health support. If you are struggling or have questions, you can also reach out to your Kesher social worker, who can help sort through your concerns to get you the best resources for your needs.
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or