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!





Why Forgiveness Makes Us Shiny…

xA few years back when “The Secret” was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show, I heard something that made me begin to reconsider what I’ve since come to call “unforgiveness”.

Lisa Nichols was one of the featured speakers for that episode, and she shared her definition of forgivness. She said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different”.

I nearly went bananas when I heard her say this because it resonated with me so deeply. There are many things I love about this way of describing forgiveness. For example, it doesn’t let us off the hook for what we do when we get it wrong; it doesn’t sound like an obligation; it’s not presented as something we should do in order to purchase God’s approval.

What it does do, however, is position forgiveness as something we can do for ourselves. It’s a letting go. And yes, it puts the responsibility for importing the past into the present squarely on us.

It does all of this while preserving space for meaningful accountability – something I value a great deal (more about that another time!).

In other words, the definition Lisa Nichols offered was one that I found empowering. It’s not about being a doormat or a martyr. It’s not about being a saint. It’s about freeing ourselves from the burden of old stories / pain / emotional baggage, etc. so that we can make a space inside us where joy can live. Or kindness. Or tenderness. Or creativity. Or whatever good stuff you want more of in your life.

Do you ever replay negative scenarios in your head?

You know, that argument you had way back when? Or that thing that happened to you in high school that still makes you cringe when you think about it? Or that road-raging-twit whose hand was stuck to his / her horn in traffic today?

Yup. Me, too.

I used to do this whenever I was in the shower. Go figure, right? Seriously, I would replay what I call “mental movies” of all the shitty things that other people had done or said to me in my life. And given that I felt like an outsider for the first 30 or so years of my life, I had a lot of mental movies to provide variety.

Except, in the shower, I always re-wrote the script. I said that witty thing that put that other person in their place. Or I used all my powers of persuasion to change their mind about what they were doing, making them see the error of their ways. Or, if I was remembering getting bullied as a child, I would imagine busting out a ninja move that would make them sorry for every bit of torment they ever tried to visit on me.

Oh, yeah. I pitied the fools.

Even when I started to notice that I was doing this “mental movies” thing – in the shower or out of it – I couldn’t seem to stop doing it. And it always put me in a crappy mood.

This is because rehearsing painful events in our minds activates the emotions that accompanied these experiences: the grief, loss, humiliation, unworthiness, etc.

Before I saw that episode of Oprah, I had already begun to notice that keeping my resentment, bitterness, victimization, anger, pain, rage, and been-done-wrong feelings alive didn’t serve me.

What it did do was allow my ego the illusion that it can change the past. Seriously, the ego has delusions of grandeur, and this is one of them. Ego says, “If I just rehearse that past event again and again, I can change it!”.

Then the Universe put me in front of the television on the day that Lisa Nichols spoke her truth about forgiveness. Man, if I ever meet her, I am going to give her one big, squishy, grateful hug of thanks. She gave me a key piece of the puzzle on my journey to this realization:

I am not the things that have happened to me.

Once this thought arose in me, I started to ask myself if maybe I needed to forgive the folks who had treated me badly by letting go of my hope that the past could have been different.

And I discovered that I really, really didn’t want to forgive the people in my past who had caused me pain.

I wanted to hold onto my righteous victimhood.

I wanted to keep making them wrong, over and over again, in my mind – as if that could somehow even the score.

I wanted to cling to my moral certainty that the other person or people who had wronged me were less than me.

I wanted to preserve my belief that those other people who had been cruel or mean spirited or abusive didn’t deserve the time of day – let alone my forgiveness.

In effect, I was creating a victim-identity for myself out of my past, painful experiences. This was an identity I could use to position myself as morally superior. This is because, in the stories I was drawing on for the foundations of this victim identity, the other person was always the bad guy.

This meant that, in my mind, I got to be the good one – the one who was deserving of approval, love, respect, recognition, worthiness, and all the things I thought other people could withhold from me.

Over time, I created a forgiveness ritual for myself.

I find some time and space for stillness, close my eyes, and say something like this:

“Thank you, Universe, for helping me to surrender and release any unforgiveness towards myself and (person’s name) for what happened in x y z situation. I surrender and release this to you now, and I thank you for taking it from me”.

As I say this – giving it my fullest attention – I visualize the unforgiveness (read: bitterness, resentment, anger, grudge, etc.) leaving me.

Then, I say,

“And in the space I have made within by releasing this unforgiveness, thank you Universe for helping me to bring in _______”. I then bring in whatever feels appropriate on that day – peace, discernment, compassion, gratitude, grace, understanding, joy, etc. – to fill the space within me that used to be occupied by my unforgiveness about that event / person.

Now, this is my personal forgiveness ritual. Feel free to use it, change it, discard it and / or create your own. But I recommend having one. It sounds simple, but it’s deeply transformative. By practicing this little ritual myself, I’ve let go of a lot of anger, grief, loss, resentment, frustration, anger, shame, guilt, remorse, etc.

Guess what happened along the way?

Because I gradually but persistently put down my unforgiveness…I became more open.

I became more comfortable in my skin.

I became more aware of opportunities to offer kindness day to day.

I became more accountable to myself for the experiences I was creating, and more grateful for what I was learning about myself, my choices, my boundaries, etc.

I became less judgmental and more watchful for opportunities to be compassionate towards others who – like me – sometimes made mistakes, acted badly, or somehow showed up as less than they were for one reason or another.

And, boy, let me tell you…did I ever become less angry.

Most importantly, I became more…me.

Instead of carrying these victim stories, I became more reflective and creative in my self definition (instead of being reactive to what others thought about me).

For example, instead of mentally saying, “I’m not your doormat / emotional scratching post / target!”, I started saying, “Who do I want to be in the world?” – and then choosing that, acting and behaving and relating to others in ways that were more consistent with that.

Without the weight of all those grudges and grievances about being an outsider, a victim, misunderstood, or badly treated weighing me down, I had more room in my mind and heart to say, “what can that experience teach me about myself? About who I am? About who I want to be in relation to that person / circumstance / event?”.

I felt more empowered to make conscious choices, instead of feeling like a victim of my life.

And instead of creating mental movies where I re-lived all the stuff other people had done “to me”, I started using that mental energy to imagine how I wanted my life to feel.

This is very, very joyful. Because, yes, when we put down all that anger, fear, and pain…

We can create a space inside where joy can live and thrive and shine.

So what’s so shiny about shining? Because that’s when our REAL beauty emerges into the world, effortlessly. For real.

Click here to read my last post, “All Experience Is Generous”.