Why Stepping Back Could Be The ONLY Thing That Moves Your Relationship Forward

Recently, a former coaching client of mine from, oh, maybe seven years ago was reminiscing about our work together. She said, “Your advice that I needed to step back in my relationship with my daughter – in order to make room for her to step forward – this completely changed my life. It completely changed our relationship. When I stepped back a little bit, she totally stepped up”.

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: what I recommended to this client was not that she turn her back on her daughter or cut off contact. Nor did I encourage her to deliver an ultimatum, make a long-winded speech about why she was going to step back, or stop speaking to her child.

However, there are times when the ONE thing that can move your relationship forward is stepping back with love. This is absolutely, positively NOT the same as turning your back on someone, throwing up your hands in a dramatic gesture, or trying to manipulate someone into doing what you want by threatening to dissolve your relationship. No.

The problem in a situation like this is two-fold:

1) A daughter is struggling

2) The relationship between mother and daughter is STUCK in a push-pull dynamic they can’t seem to get out of – one that is characterized by a loving, worried mom trying to help her daughter who resists, rejects or runs away from suggestions for change.

To be clear, everyone in this dynamic was in a lot of pain. The daughter was in distress because of the challenges she was experiencing. But mom, too, was in tremendous pain because she was watching her daughter struggle while unsuccessfully attempting to alleviate her daughter’s suffering.

What I suggested to my client was this: she would continue to spend time with her daughter whenever she could. But, while they were together, I invited my client to quietly shift this key dynamic: avoid offering advice, suggestions, or other thoughts about what her daughter could do to create more stability in her life.

If asked, mom could offer insight, wisdom, or knowledge – but only then. Otherwise, mom’s task was to listen, to witness, and to just be there, loving her kid like crazy. I suggested that by stepping back from offering helpful advice – advice her daughter didn’t or couldn’t (yet) welcome – she might open up some space between them.

This space might allow something new to enter their relationship. In particular, this new space could create an opportunity for her daughter to step forward and step up. Here’s the thing: my client knew her advice was really on point. She’s as loving and wise a mom as any of us could wish for. And she knew deeply that her daughter could experience her life in a completely new way if she made some different decisions.

But whether it’s your relationship with your child, partner, or best friend…there are times when stepping back with love is the only thing that can get you unstuck – beyond a cycle of push-and-pull that’s giving you both whiplash.

If any of this sounds at all familiar, I want to ask you this:

Are you trying to fix, rescue, or save another person?
Are you trying to carry the other person (or your relationship) on your back toward a finish line only you can see?
Do you feel like you continually reach out – only to have the other person pull further away (and as a result, you’re walking on eggshells trying to avoid conflict)?

No question, this is a tough place to be. However, sometimes, our loved ones become so unconscious to their own knee-jerk rejection of our reaching out to them…that our attempts to offer really thoughtful, loving support can actually push them further away.

If you continue in this way, you run the risk that the other person may become entirely alienated from you – and from the support you genuinely wish to offer them. So, how do you know it’s time to step back with love?

When you experience the subtle, uncomfortable feeling that your advice is being actively disregarded, dismissed, or declined…NOTICE your urge to lobby harder for your point of view – and quietly, gently step back from it.

Other tell tale signs that it might be time to step back with love include:

Your spouse, partner, or child is often impatient, abrupt, or has a short fuse whenever you switch into here’s-what-I-think-you-should-do mode.
They look away from you pointedly when you’re offering advice.
They turn the tables on you, pointing out mistakes you’ve made in a reactive counter-attack to what they perceive as criticism from you.

And this is the golden key to stepping back with love: it’s not the other person you’re stepping back from. You remain available to share support, connection, and insight if it is asked for clearly and directly – e.g. “Mom, what do you think I should do?”.

However, when you step back with love, you gently distance yourself from your own conviction that you know what the other person needs, what would serve them, what they should do…even better than they do. THIS is what you’re stepping back from – and here’s why: when someone is struggling with their shame demons, their mistakes, or their pain, they are very susceptible to feeling criticized, blamed, or even attacked.

In a situation like this, you can sometimes serve them best by being a soft place for them to land: a place where they know they’ll feel heard and seen, a place where they are understood and held in a loving gaze that silently mirrors to them their innate goodness – and your belief that they will come to know this in themselves again when the storms have passed.

Lest you worry you’re abandoning the other person, remember: it’s your love that permeates the space you’ve created for the other person to step forward into.
If and when they do step forward, it’s your love that will meet them there, in the space you’ve created by stepping back with love.

Because you may be right about what they need – but you may as well be wrong if they’re pushing back against your help. The result is the same. They stay in the difficult, painful place you desperately want to see them leave far, far behind. And as painful as it is to watch, a person you love may need to struggle, to flail, even to hit bottom. Sometimes it’s when we hit bottom…that we finally find our feet after months or years of free fall. If you find yourself in a situation like this one – but you’re not sure if it’s time to step back with love – I’d like to help.


If you’re curious about how Total Relationship Coaching can transform your relationships – whether you’re single, content in your relationship, or struggling through a rough patch – I’m offering you a chance to get me one-on-one for a complimentary, 45-minute Relationship Reboot Strategy Session.

Saddle up your biggest relationship wish – and let’s get you on track. Send me an email at erin@erinbentley.com right now and we’ll schedule your session in a hot minute!

Note: I only offer two of these Relationship Reboot Strategy Sessions per week and exclusively to professionals who are serious about creating loving, lasting, healthy relationships. If that is you, shoot me an email right now so we can get you scheduled in. Talk to you soon!

12 Invitations for a New Year – Or, How About We Start 2012 Without Shame & Blame?

Recently, I saw an online article posted via Facebook that inspired me to post this blog for y’all.

It was about things to stop doing if you want a life of fulfilling sunrises, great sex, mind-bending career opportunities, oodles of financial security, etc. Or something like that.

Well, no, I didn’t like the blog. But I noticed it was re-posted by many people who – like me – are devoted to self-transformation, being more present, and practicing kindness in the world. And I started to wonder why the blog was resonating for folks.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad – there were a few good ideas in the blog. Most were familiar, but there were one or two good reminders about self-sabotaging behaviors and thinking patterns.

However, after reading the first 10 or so of the recommend 30 “stop doing this” items, I started to feel oogey. That’s energy-medicine lingo for, “Reading this is making me feel like a bag of poopy-diaper-garbage”.

In other words, reading the article made me feel in my body that sensation I’ve come to associate with the arising of old shame.

Because I try to notice the signals my body is giving me – even when my mind is occupied with, say, reading something – I was able to take this as an opportunity to trace the contours of some old shame that I’d obviously been storing in my body. I stopped reading the stop-doing-blog immediately, and got very still. I asked, “Where in my body am I feeling this shame?”. It was in the center of my chest, radiating downwards and outwards a bit. It made me feel slightly queasy – and a little bit “cold”, energetically speaking.

I observed this silently for several moments.

Then, I asked myself, “What does this particular sensation remind me of? When is the first time I can remember feeling a sensation like this?”.

I waited, and just let the memories arise, while focusing primarily on the feelings – making space for the shame that was still active in me because I hadn’t been able to cope with or process it healthily in those past-moments.

It wasn’t rocket science, really.

As I got still with these questions, I recognized that the tone of the blog – its none-too-gentle, “Stop doing this, it’s bad for you, and you should know better!” approach – activated within me warehoused feelings from the many times in my childhood and adolescence when, all open and vulnerable, I got shamed or blamed instead finding the support and kindness I needed.

Hence, the cold feeling. Hence, the old shame arising.
After I’d thoroughly allowed myself to feel and transmute the emotional charge of the shame associated with those events, I wondered why this particular blog was being reposted all over Facebook.
Why did it resonate with so many folks who I know strive to live consciously and in the present moment? Why would we promote this blog, and others like it?

And I began to speculate that, maybe, just maybe, we are so accustomed to shaming, blaming reprimands to do better, do different, do right, do more…maybe we don’t even notice the stress these kinds of admonishments cause in our bodies – or the old emotions that will try to hitch-hike a ride with their present-moment triggers.

According to Gabor Mate’s book, When The Body Says No (2003), moments of acute or chronic stress in our childhood and adolescence become deeply problematic in our development when “environmentally conditioned helplessness that permits neither of the normal responses of fight or flight…results in stress becoming repressed and therefore invisible (emphasis mine; 2003: 20).

The helplessness Mate is speaking about here – helplessness that arises when there is no possibility of fight or flight – is just like the helplessness of a child who can’t flee from a parent or authority-figure who shames them in order to alter their behavior, or – that old abuse-excuse – “build their character”.

He goes on to state, “Eventually, having unmet needs or having to meet the needs of others is no longer experienced as stressful. It feels normal” (emphasis mine; ibid).

Concurring with more recent work such as that of Brene Brown, Mate also points out that, “Shame is the deepest of the negative emotions, a feeling we will do almost anything to avoid” (2003: 12).

Is this why we don’t notice when a blogger, politician, or partner shames us?

Is it because our inability to deal with this highly stressful emotion in childhood has hard-wired us to such an extent that we repress shame before we even notice it arising in our bodies?

Let’s take these questions a step further:

If most of us are hard-wired to instantly repress shame, is this why marketers and businesses are able to mobilize shame discourse so effectively to sell us products and services that will supposedly make us better?
Products and services, not coincidentally, that will feed our starving child-self’s innocent need for approval, recognition, validation, love, warmth, guidance, etc.?
Indeed, as Brene Brown suggests in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), “When the shame winds are whipping all around me, it’s almost impossible to hold on to any perspective or to recall anything good about myself. I [go] right into the bad self-talk of God, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? ” (2010: 9).

Considering the implications of our shame-response deserves thoughtful reflection and treatment. I will certainly ponder it at greater length in the months ahead, but for now, I want to make you a promise. I am not going to tell you to stop doing anything. Pick your most destructive habit. I will not tell you to stop doing that thing, thinking that way, or being like that.
Because there’s a very good chance that, like me, “Stop doing x, y, and z!” is only an effective approach to putting you right back in your childhood shame. And I firmly believe we can take better care of each other than that.

Instead, I want to kick off this calendar year by inviting you to try some stuff. Consider some stuff. Cozy like. Everyone likes an invitation. It feels like…well, like being included. Which is also something our child-selves very much wanted to feel. Remember? Yeah. Me, too.

And I am making a commitment to you that I will consciously strive to encourage, inspire, and soothe you rather than blaming and shaming you. In fact, I want all of us to develop the tools to surrender these triggers, once and for all. Okay?
So here we go:

  1. I invite you to feel entitled to gentleness.
  2. I invite you to ask for help, and to determine what kind of help is right for you if you feel you need it.
  3. I invite you to ponder the idea that you are not alone. At length.
  4. I invite you to listen to your body. Our bodies are speaking to us all the time, with epic love.
  5. I invite you to consider that you are perfect – that you came into the world  with an unbroken and unbreakable perfection inside you, and that nothing you do, say, or become can change this fundamental grace.
  6. I invite you to consider that the fear of feeling old pain and shame is more draining than finding your way through that old backlog of emotion.
  7. I invite you to be the expert-observer of your life, your thoughts, your feelings.
  8. I invite you to spend time with your younger self – in meditation, visualization, mantra-chanting, you name it – and be your own, sacred witness as you move through old pain.
  9. I invite you to consider the empty spaces in your life as places of fertile opportunity where you can create new relationships, knowledge, inspiration, projects, new…anything that meets you where you are.
  10. I invite you to prioritize long, languorous, hot baths; walks in nature; organic, fair-trade chocolate; and eating deliciously prepared, nutritious foods that warm you from the inside.
  11. I invite you to expand and evolve into absolute generosity of spirit.
  12. I invite you to fall tremendously in love with every single person in the world – before you ever meet them.

Please RSVP below if you’d like to accept any or all of these invitations. I’ll be here, and I’ll put the kettle on for your cuppa’ tea.

With all my love and warmth, Happy New Year!





All Experience is Generous. Yep. All of it.

I wanted to begin my adventures in blogging talking about this notion that I’ve shared with clients from all walks of life – folks who’ve been able to honestly and powerfully step out of their ‘victim story’ by integrating this notion: all experience is generous.

I’m suggesting that it’s not only the pleasurable or joyful experiences that have something to offer us.

Oftentimes, the hardest experiences of our lives – the loss of a loved one, a serious illness, the end of a relationship, losing a job – can also be rich with opportunities to transform our lives. Of course, they also can be pain-filled, loaded with grief, or downright devastating. But this does not mean they are not also offering us something.

What would happen if we devoted ourselves to looking for what’s generous about loss, grief, hardship, or heartbreak?

Now, I am not advocating denial. Denying or repressing our feelings is neither healthy nor spiritually productive. Gabor Mate has made the case for this idea that suppressing our emotions is a leading cause of illness and disease. His book, “When the Body Says No” is a very worthwhile read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

So, no, I’m not recommending that we pretend to be happy when we’re not, or otherwise deny our authentic feelings.

Rather, I’m suggesting that we ask ourselves what our feelings can teach us, and make room for them: holding a space for ourselves to feel powerful emotion allows us to experience both the feeling and the lesson beneath the feeling.

Crucially, we must recognize that when we repress the emotions that we find uncomfortable, we miss the lesson. Moreover, our joy, gratitude, and creative capacities are also muted, because when we repress the ‘bad’ emotions, we turn down the volume on all of them.

Simply put, I am suggesting that we do not need to be resigned to forever and only feeling helpless in the face of our grief, loss, anger, resentment, bitterness, or been-done-wrong feelings.

Rather, we can come to a place when we are authentically able to ask, “What can my anger about the loss of my father teach me?”.

Or, “How – amidst phone calls from creditors and utility companies – can I transform the loss of my job into an opportunity, a new experience, an inspiration to push me to confront my fear or shame about asking for help?

Can this experience inspire me to take a closer look at what it is I want to offer the world?

Can this event be a catalyst to community building, personal growth, or profound transformation in the ways I think about and move through the world?”

Once we’ve really done the work to see everything that an experience has to offer us – the good, the painful, the uncomfortable, all of it – thinking about or remembering that experience shifts profoundly, and takes on a deeply rooted quality of balance.

This allows us to move forward with an authentic recollection of what was challenging or painful about an experience, but also with an abiding gratitude for what it has given us.

Lived in this way, we can allow life’s difficult experiences to change us in the ways that we choose.

In this way, we can come to recognize that we are not diminished. In this way, life’s experiences can be consciously lived in ways that make us greater. This is consciously applying our highest awareness toward chosen processes of progressive transformation. This is freedom lived.