ERP 335: Understanding How Fear Is Expressed During Conflict — An Interview With Tami Kiekhaefer

By Posted in - Podcast August 30th, 2022 0 Comments

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. No matter how great your relationship with your partner is, conflicts are inevitable, and that is not always a bad thing. Depending on how well you manage them, they can either weaken or strengthen your relationship.

Most people don’t even realize that they are responding to conflicts out of fear. When a problem arises, they automatically arm up to protect themselves, which leaves it unresolved and eventually breeds resentment.

In this episode, Tami Kiekhaefer discusses how fear manifests itself in conflict situations through physical cues and an illustration. Most importantly, she explains how you can apply this knowledge to resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.

Tamara Kiekhaefer, LCSW, has operated her psychotherapy practice since 2002. She provides individual, family, and couple therapy around anxiety, depression, domestic violence, trauma, relationships, and empowerment. Tami is a certified yoga instructor and weaves concepts of holistic therapy into her clinical work. Her first book provides hands-on tools required to work through the past, stabilize the present, and prepare for a loving relationship.

In this Episode

5:50 How Dr. Jen became interested in sexuality and mindfulness.

7:49 Why is mindful intimacy so crucial? 

20:43 Obstacles to profound intimacy and how mindfulness overcomes them.

47:48 A practical step you can take to begin engaging in mindful intimacy.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Be open and honest with your partner. Being vulnerable is scary but necessary if you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner.
  • Listen to your body and pay attention to early cues that you are about to retaliate.
  • Remember that managing conflict isn’t about perfection, but rather getting to know your partner better.
  • Every conflict is an opportunity for learning, so consider what it is teaching you.
  • Concentrate on the things you can control rather than the things you cannot.
  • Fear is a valid emotion, but you don’t have to dwell on it.
  • Never attempt to control others because nobody likes being controlled.
  • Know that you’ve got all the tools that you need inside of you.
  • Before you respond, consider what this person truly wants.


Preparing for the Jungle: Avoiding Snakes and Pitfalls on the Path to Healthy Love (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Cone of Fear

Prepare for the Jungle (online self-paced course)

Shifting Criticism into Connected Communication

Connect with Tami Kiekhaefer


Facebook: |






Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins






Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 


Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Tami, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be on the show with you.

It is. I love sharing the virtual stage with people that are clinicians that are actively in practice doing the work and then being able to offer insight and guidance and distill principles to be able to help people at a greater scale. And so, I really honor just where you’re coming from here with us today. 

I know we’re going to be pivoting towards the topic of how fear plays a part in conflict in relationships. And before we pivot to that, for people who don’t know you, would you like to share a little bit about what got you into supporting people in the way of a relationship?

Sure. I’ve been in private practice for about 20 years now. I work with couples, individuals. I work with families. I’ve always done couples counseling. It was interesting. I think my big pivot was providing couples counseling while I was going through a divorce. And I was like, “Oh, here I am going through a divorce, but let me help you with your relationship.” 

I think that living life like that’s just part of life. It makes you have to step back and really adjust. I looked at it as a huge learning opportunity. I realized that here I am doing couples counseling, I have to figure out what’s going on in my life. It made me have to take a step back to look at how I managed conflict in my relationship. 

How did we even get here? How did we get to a point? We’ve got these two beautiful kids, and now we’re getting divorced. It’s tragic. We both are therapists. So, that made it even more interesting. 

Going through the process of figuring out and really doing the reflection on myself helped me help people even more. And that’s where I understood there’s so much where fear drives, negative externally expressed emotions. And when you can stop and take a look at where am I coming, why am I behaving the way that I am, why am I managing this conflict in the way that I did, it kills your relationship. 

Free Pensive multiracial women near wooden wall looking away Stock Photo

“If you can’t manage conflict, you end up with all of these unresolved issues. Unresolved issues lead to resentment. Resentment is going to kill your relationship.”

If you can’t manage conflict, you end up with all of these unresolved issues. Unresolved issues lead to resentment. Resentment is going to kill your relationship. And really doing the self-reflection, I wanted to try to piece it together and help even more people learn what I’ve learned that, you know, it’s brought me to a beautiful relationship now, and I’m engaged, and probably in one of the healthiest relationships I’ve ever had.

Thank you so much for the transparency. Yeah, I resonate. I had a relationship that really challenged and brought me to a deeper dive in my own self growth as it relates to relationship and what was, in some ways I like to say relationship was a mirror that provided for me things that I perhaps wasn’t fully aware of, or hadn’t totally looked at in the deepest way. 

Also empathize with the judgments that might happen in our professional field where, like you said, here I am offering guidance and support. And yet, I’m here going through this very difficult, tragic experience with my husband and getting a divorce. It sounds like you’re really normalizing that we’re human. We’re on this path. While that wasn’t necessarily what you and your ex-husband were setting out to do, at least for you, you really took that as an opportunity to grow and become more healthy and really learn some of this in a much more profound way. Was that what I’m hearing?

I think that I had to take a look at myself so that I could learn how to have a better relationship with him, with my kids’ dad, because we have kids. So, no matter what, we’re going to be in a relationship for the rest of our lives. And luckily, he and I both put our kids first and have been able to figure out how to co-parent in the best way that we possibly can. But I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t step back and learn that I needed to handle conflict differently. 

I see it in so many of my clients. I see where that fear just drives the defensiveness, and it doesn’t allow you to get into a vulnerable space. Vulnerability is really scary. Vulnerability, like you’re saying, you know, when you take a look at yourself in the mirror, and you get into the depths. Those depths can be very terrifying sometimes.

I also raised my hand that I am on this path, and I try to speak to that and share stories when it feels appropriate for my own relationship with my husband, and just continue to do my own growth. And also, if you’re open to sharing, there’s a part of me that’s just really curious because I hear people’s judgment around, “Oh, they’ve had a failed relationship yet they’re relationship experts.” Is there anything that you can get to kind of align in a way that you really had integrity? Not that you weren’t in integrity, but in confronting those judgments or what people project onto you.

It’s so interesting because I think that when that judgment comes out, I think that people are looking for reassurance in their own situation. So, I’ve had people when I was not engaged and I didn’t have a ring on, I know people would look at and say things like, “Well, are you even in a relationship? How do you know what to tell me if you’re not even in a relationship?” 

Free Men Arguing with Each Other Stock Photo

“When judgment comes out, I think that people are looking for reassurance in their own situation. They feel like they’re losing control. I try to help them realize that they have more control over their lives than maybe they think that they do. And whether I’m in a relationship or not, or married or not, or divorced or whatever, it really doesn’t have an impact because I want to help them recognize that they have control over their own lives.”

I think that when that judgment happens, I try to really help them understand where they’re coming from. And they’re looking for reassurance. They’re coming to me because they need help and they’re in a really dark space, and they don’t know what to do. They feel like they’re losing control. I try to help them realize that they have more control over their lives than maybe they think that they do. And whether I’m in a relationship or not, or married or not, or divorced or whatever, it really doesn’t have an impact because I want to help them recognize that they have control over their own lives.

This seems like such a great segue, Tami, because that question and even the implied judgment around it, even if the intent was not to be offensive, but just that really underneath that you’re connecting with their need for reassurance. Can I trust you? Are you a resource that I can rely on? Is this solid? Is this a safe source of guidance?

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And they are. It’s scary to go to therapy. It’s scary to go in and talk to someone who you’ve never met before and completely spill everything out there, and then be open for feedback and open to really that challenge of looking at yourself. It’s easy to go in and blame the other person but that will only get you so far. 

I think that getting into therapy is something that I would recommend for everybody because you’re always learning about yourself. So, you’re right, you know, when you go into counseling, you’re really trusting that that other person is going to keep you in a safe space and offer you solutions and ways to look at your life to make you feel like you are going to be okay.

Yes. And I also want to say for listeners that maybe they haven’t had the best experience in any type of therapeutic space, there is something to be said about the fit. And so, I want to encourage that in a safe environment, as one is engaging in, let’s say, a therapist, and one is feeling internally like it’s not helpful or feels off or it doesn’t resonate, then perhaps another person might be a better option and to really support people in running it through their own intelligence systems. Because even with that fear, and your response, there’s a transaction there. 

And even holding the mirror, right? Relationship is a mirror. Therapeutically, we are as therapeutic practitioners being able to offer reflection to someone to be able to help them confront things that they maybe haven’t been able to look at or help them process or metabolize things that have been too traumatic or painful and support them in that safe guidance to help the healing. 

If one is feeling that that’s happening, right, really to encourage that that is the priority to not abandon one’s own judgment, got sense or false sense around that supportive help. Right? We don’t want to say, across the board, the therapist is right. Right?

Yeah. Yep. And it is. It’s such a personal situation. You’ve got to feel connected. And if you don’t, it’s okay to say, “This isn’t working out. I want to explore different options and different therapists.”

Yes. Because really, what we’re looking at is in the service of helping somebody grow and heal, and when people are in fear and what comes out when they are in fear and don’t have that safe space. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. So, let’s go into that. 

You’re saying how fear impacts us and what we might say to someone else when we are in fear or there is a conflict, right? Even coming into therapy. People typically are super nervous and like, I don’t know that there isn’t rapport, there isn’t trust out of the gates. 

So, there is a little bit of conflict, not that there’s opposing goals, but that there’s something that feels nerve racking or reactivating. So, let’s talk about what you are seeing in like, the dynamic with fear and how that affects someone and how they approach conflict.

I think that there’s no perfect relationship out there. It doesn’t exist. So, there’s going to be conflict in a relationship. The degree of conflict is different, but there’s going to be conflict. I’ve seen where people don’t know how to handle conflict, or when there’s unhealthy conflict, then they just shut down and they don’t talk about things or it ends up in an escalation, then they fight, but the real reason of why they are in an argument never really gets addressed. And it just gets shoved to the side and shoved under the rug. The more things don’t get resolved, then they turn into resentment and resentment builds and builds, and resentment will kill a relationship. 

And so, no matter how great of a relationship you have with somebody, there’s going to be things that are irritating and that you’re going to disagree with. When conflict happens, a lot of times, I know that people will throw our defenses up. It’s kind of an automatic response. If you feel like someone’s coming at you, you’re going to put your hands up and try to protect yourself. And oftentimes, what happens is when that defense goes up, the other person’s defense goes up. And now, all of a sudden, the escalation just continues to rise. As the escalation happens, that’s when mean things get said, bringing up the past. Oh, gosh, just like a ton of things get in the way of actually hearing each other. 

The more defensive you are, the less vulnerable you are. And again, vulnerability is a scary place to get to, but you’ve got to be vulnerable in your relationship. I’m looking at my coffee cup right now. I can’t have a relationship with my coffee cup because my coffee cup, while it means something to me, it has significance to me, it’s never going to give me any emotion back. I can’t have a relationship with my coffee cup because there’s no vulnerability. 

Free Side view full body barefoot young bearded male in casual clothes standing against window and lifting laughing girlfriend up during relocation and unpacking things from cardboard boxes Stock Photo

“The more defensive you are, the less vulnerable you are. There’s no depth to the relationship. When you’re guarding against being vulnerable, guarding your heart, guarding not getting hurt, the result of that can be where there’s a lack of connection.”

And so, think about having a relationship with someone who doesn’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. There’s no depth to the relationship. And so, when you’re guarding against being vulnerable, guarding your heart, guarding not getting hurt, the result of that can be where there’s a lack of connection. And then, that gets into intimacy. And, and not just the sex part of intimacy, but a closeness, a depth of a relationship type of intimacy. So, yeah.

So, being true to ourselves and being open to connection and closeness at the same time. They’re mixed. They’re going in opposite directions. One is like armoring up and protecting and keeping me safe, like going away, and I have to have a buffer here. And the other one being close to feel bonded and connected, that requires open and to have permeability and access. So, they’re very different sources or agendas.

Yeah. And then think about it, you want to be close to this person and you’re opening up and you get close, but then they do something that hurts you so badly. And then that conflict and that paradox is like, “Wait, I want to be close to you, but I have to guard myself. How are we going to handle this?”

And Tami, I often will bring this up because it just feels so true for myself. It just seems to be something we contend with as human beings. We were talking that we’re really cognizant of this and that this is really conscious and a part of our awareness. And yet, I think we’re often operating so quickly, things are happening so automatically, that I would say most of us don’t even recognize when fear is there. What do you think?

Oh, yeah. It can be such a reaction, such an automatic human reaction. I think that when something happens and you have to protect yourself, you go into maybe that fight-flight-freeze mode. And so, sometimes it can just be so automatic. 

I was just telling one of my clients this morning. I sit here and I talk about this stuff all day long, but I find myself in conflict and getting defensive and throwing my guard up and saying things I don’t mean also. I mean, it can be really, really hard. 

Yeah, absolutely. And what does one do with that? As we just even name how easy it is to not know that we’re afraid because I can’t even begin to tell you and I’ve worked with someone and just even acknowledge, “Oh, I’m scared.” That can be a huge shift just to even recognize. Oh, I thought I was really angry and upset with someone or my partner. They look at it. I’m scared. Yeah, I feel fear.

Yeah. I’m also a yoga instructor. And so, I believe so much in paying attention to our body and feeling your feelings and allowing Grace. I fully believe in that. I think that your body’s always talking to you. So, if you think about it, when you’re cold, you get goosebumps. When you’re hungry, your stomach growls. When you’re tired, you yawn and your eyes water. 

It’s no different. When you feel fear, your body gives you so many signs and symptoms. It tells you something’s happening. Your nervous system is going to kick in, and then you react. So, if you can try to be aware of the early signs that your body is trying to scream at you, maybe you get a tightness in your chest, maybe your stomach starts to hurt. Maybe you do the short, shallow breathing or your mouth gets dry. There are all kinds of signs that your body is trying to tell you to watch out because you’re about to react. 

I think that that’s your first opportunity to say, “Okay. I need five minutes. I need to go get a cold glass of water. I need to splash some water on my face. I need to take a deep breath.” If you miss that opportunity, here comes the verbal stuff and you start to talk louder. Sometimes, I think, you talk louder because you think, “Oh, well, you must not have heard me so I’m going to repeat myself and I’m going to talk louder.” 

And so, that next stage is your next opportunity to go holy cow, I’m getting ready to go down the rabbit hole, I need to take a timeout. If you miss that opportunity, then maybe you start slamming a door or a cabinet, or you pound your fist. If you miss that opportunity, then you might throw something if you miss that opportunity. 

So, there’s lots of opportunities to stop and collect yourself. I think that the best thing that you can do is to be aware of how aware of myself can I be to where I need to stop and pay attention because my body’s telling me something’s happening and you need to collect yourself.

I think we can all reflect on times where we felt this progression. I just love how clearly they say there’s not only different stages, but there’s another opportunity. And so, I love it’s so true in life that rarely is it like everything’s hinged on one decision. We often get that opportunity. There’s another opportunity. Sometimes it gets intensified, or the stakes get higher, but there’s usually another opportunity. So, I love that there’s so much ground for practice, right? 

Yeah. I think it just feels so good. It feels empowering when you can take control over your own life. But if you feel like you’re just reacting to things going on around you, it’s so unsettling.

I do think the learning curve, typically at least how I’ve understood it, is just even the awareness brings insight that there is a learning curve. And then, typically, we don’t notice, like, we just have to keep working with it and we’ll start noticing, “Oh, there were five opportunities.” Maybe we increasingly start to dial it back where we can catch it sooner and sooner and sooner. I think we get to the “no” more immediately. In the moment, I can feel my body, I’m aware of my body, I have an opportunity, and I can make a choice. That takes some work to get even to that.

It does. It does. And it’s not about perfection. It’s about learning. I try to encourage them with my life with no regrets. I think I did have a marriage that didn’t work out. It wasn’t a failed marriage because there was so much that I learned from it. It was unfortunate but there’s everything that’s a learning opportunity. And if you beat yourself up about it, then okay, that’s fine but where are you going to go from there? I tried to look at it as more of an opportunity for growth.

Right. And it seems to be that there continues to be that, right? Like otherwise you wouldn’t. So much a part of what you teach. Well, I’m also aware as we’re talking, and I’m wondering if you can speak to this, that for some they might say I’ve been in survival mode for so long. My breath is always shallow. You know what I mean? And so, I do think there are subtleties even within being in that dysregulated state that we could still feel activated even more, but what would you say to someone who’s been dealing with a level of chronic stress or trauma for a period of time and how to recognize the body’s signals?

I think that that survival mode is such a scary place to be, first of all. I think that when you’re in survival mode, your confidence definitely takes a hit. I think that that is exhibited by not trusting your gut feeling, second guessing yourself, not listening to your intuition, not trusting yourself to make good decisions, not trusting people around you. 

That survival mode is just a constant state of fear. I think that when your anxiety is high, your confidence is low. When your confidence is high, your anxiety is low. So, it’s kind of a teeter totter. Anxiety to me is about two things. It’s about not having a sense of control over your environment, not that you have to be a controlling person, but not having a sense of control over your own environment causes anxiety. 

The second thing that is defining anxiety is your cognitive thought process where your mind goes. And typically, the mind goes into the worst-case scenario, or what if this happens, what if that happens. And so, not having a sense of control and your thought process, those two things create anxiety. 

I think that it is about where you’re placing your energy on what you can control. I don’t know. When you feel super, super out of control over your life, it’s almost like you’re doing this free fall from an airplane. You’re grasping on anything that can give you some reassurance, grasping on anything that you can get control over. And for whatever reason, human nature is to try to control other people. It just reinforces how out of control you are because you can’t change other people. But for whatever reason, it seems like we grasp out to like, “Okay, well, if this person can change, I’ll be okay. And if that person would just do this.” It makes you feel more out of control. 

A lot of times, that’s where survival mode becomes repetitive and becomes almost a way of life for people because they’re focusing on things that they can’t control versus going internally and looking at, okay, given this situation I can’t control, what do I actually have control over? 

Just realizing, what I’m doing isn’t working. I mean, definitely the survival mode is coming from somewhere from a trauma, your past situations, your past relationships, whatever it is. It’s coming from somewhere. So, it’s legit fear. But to live in that fear doesn’t have to be like that.

I appreciate you just acknowledging how hard it is to be in this mode and how natural it is to look for things, to feel reassured, to feel at ease, to feel comforted, to feel some sense of ground when you’re so unknown, and so many question marks and perhaps even so overwhelming that it is natural to grasp for things to feel more anchored. 

And we do that with other people. And how that can be a vicious cycle, right? Then, they try to do that typically, the response if someone doesn’t want to be controlled is going to push back, is going to get either turning away or fighting back. So, it can get pretty escalated as you start to talk about just these dynamics.

Yeah. And that’s a really good point to what you just said that nobody wants to be controlled. So, if you’re trying to control other people, how do you think that’s landing on them? And you’re absolutely right, I think that’s a great point. Of course, they’re going to come back with their own defenses. And then, that’s what leads to the escalation and the lack of resolving the conflict of what you initially were wanting to try to find some resolve to.

And you have peace around this. I would love to turn towards that. How would you like to start introducing the funnel that you were sharing with me?

Yeah. So, there is something I call the “cone of fear.” If you picture an ice cream cone shape, and at the very top of the ice cream cone, you’ve got a mound of emotions, and that top of the ice cream cone is going to be your negatively expressed emotions. So, they’re all the things going outward. Being critical, maybe giving someone the cold shoulder, being manipulative, being controlling, sarcastic, jealous, judgmental, angry. I mean, we could come up with a million of them. 

Anything that you’re doing that’s externally expressed, that’s negative, that’s at the top of the ice cream cone. And then if you visualize, like a slab of concrete and underneath the ice cream mound is a slab of concrete, that’s your defense mechanism. 

Because they’re like, how strong that is. I love the analogy. Sorry.

And it is thick. So, if you get a drill and a hammer out and you pound some holes in there, if you can poke holes through that defense mechanism, what you’re going to get into is the first layer is depression and sadness. If you keep digging, you’re going to get into worry and anxiety. And if you keep digging, you’re getting into deeper seated issues. You get into feeling guilty. If you keep digging, there is shame. 

And then at the very, very, very tip of the bottom of the ice cream cone is fear. It can be fear of rejection and fear of abandonment. Those two fears are such deep seated emotions that we all have a piece of to some degree or another, but they’re from a long time ago. Maybe even the 0 to 3 area, you know, the age range, the attachment stuff. It can be so deep seated. But if you think of the fear of rejection and fear of abandonment, and then you draw an arrow from the base at the tip of the ice cream cone all the way up to the top where the ice cream is, if you draw arrows, what I’m talking about is that fear drives every single one of those negatively expressed emotions.

And as you lay this out with the digging and the depression, and the anxiety, and the shame, and the guilt, and the worry and all of it, what are you seeing in the work that you’ve done yourself? Or perhaps in your guidance in the work with others? I imagine that relates to past experiences. Help me. I would love to know more about what you see there. 



Yeah. Yep. I think that, you know, the brain never forgets. So, maybe it’s not in our conscious everyday thinking but there’s triggers that happen all over the place. And then there’s a reaction to those triggers. So, if there’s fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, I mean, it could be rejection and abandonment from a parental figure, a family member, a coach, friends in school, teachers, past relationships, you know, whatever. It’s like, nobody wants to feel rejected. That’s such an awful feeling. Nobody wants to feel abandoned. It’s such a lonely feeling. Just such isolation, just alone. No one wants to feel that. 

I don’t know. Sometimes I play a little game with myself, and I think, “Okay, give me any situation. I’ll show you where fear drives that emotion.” Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

A long time ago, but yes.

Do you remember the dad? He would say, “Give me a word, and I can tell you why it’s Greek.” I think of that, and I think of any situation where people are fighting, and you peel it, peel it, peel it, peel it. There is a fear of rejection or fear of abandonment. And once you can realize that piece of it. Now there’s your gold mine of what you can work on individually, but you can also understand where your own negative, angry, defensive reactions are coming from. 

And now, you’re acting from an impulse. You’re acting from a guard. You’re acting from a reaction. But when you can give yourself and find that reassurance that you’re going to be okay, whether you’re with that person or not, you’re still going to be okay. 


You can rely on yourself. You can have that empowerment. You can work through your past, but your past doesn’t define where you’re going from fear, then your reaction is changed.

Well, there’s so much in what you’re saying. I love that it can ultimately be incredibly healing and perhaps corrective and reparative to acknowledge the fear more directly and then being able to meet and give yourself what you need and the empowerment around that. 

I mean, this is most of what I’m doing in sessions with people. Not all the time but helping them access the deeper vulnerability because a lot of times what people are most aware, especially in conflict that’s been escalated, is the anger. Right? 


Or you just said the concrete and the protection of like how all the violations and the wounding and all the injury and legitimately is that doesn’t feel good or feels crappy. And the emotion that you’re trying to help people dig and unpack and get to a real core around that 

I typically notice and probably fear of rejection is similar to. I see the fear of abandonment. And I also see fear of not being good enough, right, which is probably another talk to the rejection. 

It is. 

yeah. And so that once we can understand and have compassion, and when we do couples work, this is where if that’s visible to the other person, and they’re like, “Oh, you don’t think I’m terrible?” Like, are you scared or your fear that I am not happy with you, or I don’t want to be with you like, that becomes such a different interaction.

Yes. Yes. And I think then you can act with compassion towards the other person because when you see that someone is actually suffering internally, it throws a completely different view on the situation that you’re talking about. Because now all of a sudden, it’s not the anger claws out, I’m going to hurt you before you hurt me. It’s like holy cow, you’re suffering internally, like help me understand more of this. And if you’re with somebody who doesn’t take a look at that, then I would suggest that you reevaluate that relationship because there’s more issues going on there.

Free Upset ethnic girlfriend with raised hand and concerned African American boyfriend breaking up on street against metal grid on background Stock Photo

“When you see that someone is actually suffering internally, it throws a completely different view on the situation. If you’re with somebody who doesn’t take a look at that, then I would suggest that you reevaluate that relationship because there’s more issues going on there.”

Yes. If you’re in therapy or have a support person to help guide this process, and they’re still not able to respond to that compassion just to really recognize there might be other things happening there that complicate that. You want to name what that might be. I mean, a lot of times, there can be substance issues, it can be an affair going on, or it can be some more significant personality disorder stuff, perhaps. I mean, certainly something you want to name.

Yeah. I think about all of the things. Sometimes you don’t even know what’s going on with the other person, and you feel like you’re losing your mind, because you’re doing everything that you think you’re supposed to do, but it’s still not working. And maybe there’s some gaslighting going on or something. I try to look at that, and try to encourage people to say, “Okay. Thank you so much for showing me what you’re capable of. Now, I have to decide if this is going to work for me or not.” Because maybe they’re being as compassionate as they’re able to be, maybe they just can’t do it. And it’s not like you can change them but you can evaluate if that’s going to work for you in your life.

Right. That you have more information to work with and make a decision. I like to think about it too, that if I clean up my side of the street, really doing what I can do to show and take those emotional risks of being vulnerable and having my own back and showing in the interest of having connection. And if I’m still feeling like my person can’t respond, or is attacking or criticizing or whatever, like I engage with support and it’s still like that, that does change the decision making.

Yes. Well, and it’s empowering. 

Yeah, absolutely. Because I think it then does, as I spoke about a moment ago with the repair and that corrective experience, that what we’re talking about here with this ice cream, and this cone is a level of shaping and repetition of maybe there is a core injury or perhaps there’s just this accumulation of a similar theme that has really shaped us and is informing our relational map. And so, what you’re suggesting is if we can operate or at least take some risks to start to operate differently, then we’re challenging that old map. 

Yes. And focusing on things that you can change versus things that you can’t change.


Absolutely. Yeah.

Can you speak a little bit more about how to navigate this having this kind of diagram and frame? How do you suggest people work with that?

Free Couple Looking in the Mirror and Smiling  Stock Photo

“The best gift that you can give to yourself is learning to be comfortable and self-reflect.”

First is recognition. Again, I think self-awareness. The best gift that you can give to yourself is learning to be comfortable to self-reflect. And so, I think that you spoke to another really good point: understanding the why behind the behavior basically. It’s like, what is it that’s in my past that I keep repeating the same cycle? What is it? Why am I still attracted to the same type of unfulfilling person or relationship? So, try to understand yourself.

That’s kind of what got me into the book that I wrote is understanding yourself becoming empowered internally so that you can go forward and make different decisions and create different relationships whether you are looking for a relationship, whether you don’t want a relationship but you still have like family relationships and friend relationships and neighbor relationships, or whether you’re in a relationship and you’re trying to strengthen the connection, the communication, the ability to be on the same page and work as a team. 

I think all of this. What I’ve put together is step by step understanding the why behind your own behavior, so that you can shift that, change that, and strengthen it, and move forward.

I will just reinforce what you’re saying. Or I’ll just underscore what you’re saying that the more that I’m in practice, the clearer things get. There’s much more access because this awareness that you’re speaking to, these bodily cues that you’re helping us recognize, and also the decision making and really being aware of what we’re reaching towards, what we can control, what we have power over what we don’t, that those are such guiding principles that as we practice becomes so much more a part of us and integrate and are so much more clear. Would you agree?

100%. Yeah. And it’s not a control over, power over its internal sense of control that I think you’re talking about that makes you relax in a relationship, which allows you to be open minded, which allows you to see that maybe the other person has a point of view. Let me put my stuff on the backburner and let me hear what the other person has to say. And because that’s an internal sense of I don’t have to fight for my words, I don’t have to make you see where I’m coming from. I have enough internal confidence and control that I can put my stuff aside and really listen to my person, my partner, my neighbor, whoever.

Yes, and that there is some implied empowerment that I will listen to, and I could still make a decision. I think sometimes people feel if I listen, I’m condoning and endorsing and agreeing with. Right? 


I could ultimately decide. I get to prove my right.

Yes. That’s the basis of validation, you know. Validating is that you don’t have to agree with each other, but you do have to let the other person know that you hear them. That’s a huge part of conflict resolution.

Free Back view of unrecognizable enamored young male and female travelers in casual clothes hugging and looking at each other while recreating on peaceful lake shore during romantic trip at sunset Stock Photo

“Validating is that you don’t have to agree with each other, but you do have to let the other person know that you hear them. That’s a huge part of conflict resolution.”

Yes. Tami, thank you so much for what you’re sharing. And would you like to talk about your book that you mentioned here?

Sure. Yes, thank you. My book is called Preparing for the Jungle: Avoiding Snakes and Pitfalls on the Path to Healthy Love. And basically, it starts out just really understanding what role model to you was, what your family role was growing up, learning about attachment styles and personality types, learning how to communicate and how to manage conflict, and then it gets into understanding the cycle of toxic conflict and healthy conflict, learning to be confident and trusting your own intuition. 

Talking about how fear can drive so many of our choices and behaviors, and really understanding what it is that you want in a relationship. What are your non-negotiables? How do you identify the red flags? How do you move forward in a relationship to honor and respect yourself? And so, it’s step by step. It’s hands on. It’s action oriented. I’ve got talking points and things for people to work on after every single chapter. 

I’m hoping that it can just bring some clarity and comfort to people and help them move forward in their lives to where they’re creating healthy relationships around them. 

Well, I love that. Everything you’ve spoken to is so valuable. It also occurs to me even in our conversation about fear that I wonder if there are people and even myself that sometimes might say, “Oh, I want to eliminate your fear.” But the reality is, I’m always going to be experiencing some fear. That’s just how we’re wired. And so, the goal is not to eliminate fear, but it’s how to be aware and work more constructively with the fear so that we’re feeling more supported and empowered, would you say? 

Yeah. Fear is just a normal emotion just like happiness. That would be like saying, “No, I don’t want happiness anymore.” You know, I don’t want fear anymore. I think it’s changing your relationship with fear. Sometimes I think about it like I’m having a dinner party and all of a sudden fear and maybe I call it Mildred. I don’t know if Mildred shows up to the party. And I have to sit back and go, “Do I need her here right now? Do I need Mildred? Is there something going on that I need to be aware of and kind of fearful of and cautious? And then I decide, nope, I’m just having a dinner party at my house. Everything’s fine. “Thanks for coming, Mildred. You’re not invited to this.” 

And then sometimes if I’m walking down an alley at two o’clock in the morning, I better hope Mildred shows up because I need some anxiety. I need to be aware of my surroundings and cautious and my fight or flight instincts to be on point. So, I think that it’s changing your relationship with fear, with anxiety, that your brain is just trying to protect you. And sometimes you need it, and sometimes you don’t. 

Yes. And in the process that you’re talking about here with us today, I even imagine that there could be another scenario, where—Is it Mildred? 


Where Mildred comes to dinner, and perhaps she’s hooting and hollering. We set the table and we turn towards her, and we listen, and she starts to become a little more regulated and we start to understand, and we validate. “Oh my gosh, yes. That makes sense that you’re so upset.” or “We understand, and we help comfort and help soothe.”

Yeah. Yeah. It is. It’s almost being thankful for Mildred that she’s part of your life, that you have control. And that’s probably a whole nother anxiety, you know, session. But you have so much more control over the thoughts that go on in your mind and your anxiety response.

Let’s brainstorm how we deal with this. Maybe you didn’t get training around how to deal with, you know, certain things, like, you talked about boundaries and other things. So, I love it. Okay, great. How can people find you and learn more about what you’re offering?

Probably my website is the best way to find me. It’s I’ve got a bunch of articles that I’ve written. There’s a blog page. You can find the book. I also created an online course for people who want to dig in a little deeper, and really personalize their situation. I’ve got videos that I did for each module. I believe they’re seven modules. I think there’s five videos that really just walk you through everything that’s in the book. Let’s see. I’ve got a Facebook page for women. It’s called The Women’s Empowerment Toolkit page Facebook group. So, yeah. And all of that’s on my website. That’s probably the best way to look me up.

Wonderful. I’ll make sure to have all of these links on today’s show notes. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This has been wonderful. I want people to know that you’ve got all the tools inside of you. You’ve got the ability to find peace in your life. We’re just here as a guide to help you find that. And please, please, please take steps to take care of yourself and find your peace.


Signing Off

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here. 

Thank you so much for your interest in improving your relationship. 

Also, I would so appreciate your honest rating and review. Please leave a review by clicking here

Thank you!  

*With Amazon Affiliate Links, I may earn a few cents from Amazon, if you purchase the book from this link.

Please leave a Comment

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.


Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching