Uncomfortable conversations

I recently read somewhere (sorry, I don´t remember where exactly) that in order to keep healthy relationships, you need to have uncomfortable conversations every once in a while. This applies to all kinds of relationships.

It makes sense, right? Disagreements and conflict are inherent to human beings, and it´s the way we manage them that makes the difference.

But, what happens when you´re so afraid of conflict that you try to avoid it at all costs?

Hello, my name is Bea, and I´m a conflict avoider.

Two people having a conversation in the street, only their hands and arms are visible, their faces are not shown

I´ve spent many years tiptoeing through life in order not to bother anyone, not to create conflict. Many years acting as if certain problems did not exist, in the hope that they would sort themselves out.

So, you can imagine what happens, right? They DON´T sort themselves out, even though sometimes it looks like they do. To really solve a problem you have to bring it out into the light, you have to talk about it, otherwise the discomfort stays there, under the surface, until the day it inevitably comes out again.

So, what can we do then? Three things come to mind:

  • Accept conflict as something natural: we each have our own needs, opinions and ways to do things, which sometimes clash with those of other people.
  • Not take it personally: una cosas que ayuda mucho es centrarse en el problema en sí, no en lo que interpretamos que “nos está haciendo” la otra persona.
  • Find a good way to communicate, so that we can convey our needs and wants to the other person, and listen to theirs, in a respectful and non-violent way.

Cuando mis hijas eran pequeñas, a menudo les ponía una canción de Miliki que decía: “hablando se entienden las personas, y todo funcionará mejor…” A día de hoy, todavía de vez en cuando se la canto a ellas, y a mí misma, como recordatorio de que ninguno somos adivinos, y de que las cosas hay que hablarlas.

And you? Do you also avoid conflict? What uncomfortable conversation have you been trying to avoid?


Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

I´ve been asking myself that question for a few days now… I don´t think I ever thought of it before.

Close up of a brightly red flower against a blurred dark green background

They say that you learn something new every day, and the other day I learned, through a friend and colleague from my master´s degree (thanks Idoia!) that approximately 20% of the world population are estimated to be something denominated highly sensitive persons, or HSPs.

The nervous system of a highly sensitive person is more evolved than the average, which causes their brain to receive a much higher amount of sensory information. This is not an illness or a psychological disorder, it´s simply a personality trait. And like any other aspect of personality, becoming aware of it is really useful in order to understand ourselves better, in this case realizing that some people live their emotions in a different, and much more intense, way than others.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term HSP (translated into Spanish as personas altamente sensibles, or PAS), there are four basic characteristics that highly sensitive people manifest:

  • Depth of processing (profundidad de pensamiento) - they have a tendency to process the information they receive very deeply and intensely, which leads them to spend a lot of time reflecting on things and going over them.
  • Overstimulation (sobreestimulación) - given that they receive so many sensorial stimuli, they can get to the point of overstimulation, or sensitive saturation, especially when they have to process a lot of information in a short period of time.
  • Emotional reactivity (reactividad emocional) - they live their emotions in a much more intense way, both the pleasant and the unpleasant ones, and they also have a great ability for empathy, being able to feel what others around them are feeling.
  • Sensing the subtle (sensibilidad a las sutilezas) - their heightened sensitivity allows them to detect subtle changes that others may miss, such as small changes in the environment, or in other people´s moods.

On top of these four central characteristics, there are a number of complementary ones that many HSPs identify themselves with, and some of them are really interesting. I´m not going to list them all here, so as not to make this post too long; if this topic has piqued your curiosity (as it did mine), I encourage you to continue to investigate.

Pero sí que hay un aspecto que me parece importante destacar aquí, y es que muchas de estas personas a menudo tienen la sensación de no encajar, de ser “un bicho raro”, y de no encontrar a otros con las que realmente conectar… A menudo, su dosis extra de sensibilidad viene con una dosis extra de sufrimiento, debido a no comprender lo que les pasa y por qué son diferentes.

This is why I thought it was worth contributing to spreading the word on this topic. Because of that, and also because every time I read another article or watch another TED talk on HSPs, I find even more things that resonate with me 🙂

So, going back to the original question…

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

Untranslatable sentences: back to basics

Aquí va otra frase en inglés de esas que me gusta llamar “intraducibles” – no es que no se puedan traducir al español, pero en inglés suenan muchísimo mejor, para mi gusto, y la traducción digamos que hay que explicarla para que se entienda bien (otras frases y expresiones here, here and here).

Y la frase de hoy es “back to basics“, que significa más o menos “volver a lo básico”.

¿Y qué es lo básico? Pues depende del tema del que estemos hablando. Si estamos hablando de decoración, por ejemplo, o de moda, puede ser apostar por líneas y colores más sencillos, en vez de estilos más rebuscados. Si hablamos de educación primaria, puede ser volver a poner más énfasis en las asignaturas esenciales, como son la lengua y las matemáticas. La idea que a mí me transmite el “back to basics”, en general, es que nos hemos vuelto tan sofisticados (en el área que sea) que we have forgotten what is truly important, the basis of it all, and we must return to it.

It´s a sentence that can be applied to many situations, at home, at school, and at work. Today, I´d like to propose that we use it as a reminder to look after ourselves.

woman doing hand heart sign while looking at the sunset

Looking after ourselves first, so that then we´re able to look after others, or take care of our own tasks. Because, how often are our days so busy, and so full, that they go by without us dedicating any time or attention to ourselves? And by the time we realize it, we´re already out of energy, already exhausted.

It may be due to us believing that other things are more important, that other people must come first… But that´s not sustainable in the long run. I love the way Katie Reed expresses it:

“El autocuidado es darle al mundo lo mejor de ti, en lugar de lo que queda de ti.”

Katie Reed

Would you like to have the energy required to give the world the best of you? Then I suggest that you return to focus on these four basic pillars, if at any point you have stopped paying attention to them:

  • Rest – getting enough sleep every night (enough hours of deep, restoring sleep), as well as taking short breaks during the day.
  • Diet – keeping to healthy, balanced, and if possible, natural foods. Also, drinking lots of water in order to stay hydrated, and practicing conscious breathing every now and then, to help oxygenate each and every cell.
  • Exercise – dedicating some time to move, even better if it´s outdoors, and often. If you choose something that you like and find motivating, you´ll be more likely to keep at it: your favourite sport, swimming, running, dancing, yoga…
  • Connection – encontrar el equilibrio entre dedicar tiempo a conectar con los demás, pues somos seres sociales, y conectar también con nosotros mismos, para poder mantener “las pilas cargadas”.

What do you think about these four basic pillars of self-care? Would you add any others? Which one do you think would be good for you to give more time and attention to, at this moment in your life?

Not enough hours

Do you ever feel that your days are too short, that they´re not enough to be able to do everything you want (or need) to do?

En esas estaba yo hace unos años cuando me topé con un programa de RTÉ, la televisión nacional irlandesa, que se llamaba precisamente así: “Not enough hours” (no hay horas suficientes).

Recuerdo que en aquella época yo estaba bastante agobiada en general, de hecho el subtítulo de mi blog de entonces (la anterior encarnación de BinaryWords), era “en lucha contra el caos”. Porque así era como me sentía: había mucho caos en mi vida, y yo tenía que luchar contra él, y todo se me hacía cuesta arriba… Básicamente lo que estaba pasando era que tenía un trabajo a jornada completa, una niña pequeñita más otra en camino, y unas expectativas de mí misma que no era capaz de cumplir.

So that TV programme was to me just what the doctor ordered, for multiple reasons. First, I felt better when I saw that what was happening to me was also happening to many others, in different ways. Second, I learned several things that I found both interesting and useful; I´m sharing two of them down below.

And third, that´s how I got to meet Owen Fitzpatrick, the psychologist and time management expert who presented the programme. He accompanied a different person in each episode, helping them with their particular problem. I loved the way he explained time management concepts and then applied them to figure out solutions that truly worked for each of the participants... Later on, speaking with a work colleague (thanks Tim!), I found out that Owen was an expert in many other areas as well, and that´s how I ended up taking my first NLP course, in Dublin, back in 2013, with Owen Fitzpatrick and Brian Colbert 🙂

These are the two learnings I took away from the programme, as I remember it:

  • Cómo el perfeccionismo nos hace más mal que bien, y la frase “perfecta” para que no nos agobie ni nos bloquee a la hora de hacer algo:

It doesn´t need to be done perfectly, it only needs to be done.

(Owen Fitzpatrick, and many others using similar words)

Interestingly, even today, when I realize I´m stuck trying to perform a task to the level of perfection, what I hear in my head is Owen´s voice saying this phrase, and that helps a lot (it also confirms that one of my main representational systems is the auditory one, which is something I learned in his NLP course).

  • How the concept of time is something abstract, represented internally in different ways by different people. For example, when imagining a timeline, some people visualize it from left to right, placing the past on one side and the future on the other side, while others represent it perpendicularly, placing the past behind them and the future in front of them. Depending on your particular internal way to represent time, you may find it more difficult to get organized with a traditional format calendar, and if so, there may be other strategies that suit you better to get things done.

What do you think about these two ideas? What would help you to make the most of your time?

Learning from the artists

Yesterday, taking advantage of a free day in Madrid (and running away from the heat, it also has to be said), I went to visit the Prado Museum.

I truly enjoyed the visit, totally recommend it. What I wouldn´t recommend is doing the whole museum in one single day, as I did; by the end of it my feet were hurting... For reasonable people like you all, there´s a very good audio guide with recommendations of what pieces to see, depending on whether you want your visit to last for one hour, or two, or three. I simply kept walking from room to room, going with the flow, curiously looking around. Don´t ask me how long it took me.

One thing that immediately caught my attention were some paintings that were copies of other paintings, or parts of them, sometimes showing side by side. Please note that I´m saying copies, not forgeries; the intention was not to try and make one painting pass as another. They were often made by painters as part of their training, or as a tribute, copying paintings from the great masters of their time (or a previous time), with high quality results as well.

On other occasions, the same painter made several copies with slight variations on the same theme, especially if his art was in high demand, and sold different copies to different people (back then it was not as easy as copy and paste 🙂 )

Y otra cosa que aprendí fue cómo para ciertos encargos de importancia, algunos pintores hacían uno o varios bocetos en un formato más pequeño, antes de ponerse a pintar el lienzo grande. Así podían ir ensayando y probando la estructura y los elementos del cuadro, y además enseñarle a su mecenas una “vista previa” del resultado, para conseguir la aprobación del encargo final. Resulta muy curioso ver cómo evoluciona la obra desde el primer boceto al lienzo definitivo, parecido a como se hace hoy en día con los cómics, las películas, etc.

Pero volviendo al tema de los cuadros copiados: un buen ejemplo es el de Rubens, que durante su estancia en Italia copió varios cuadros de Tiziano, entre ellos “The rape of Europa“.

Original work by Titian (displayed at a Boston museum):

Copy by Rubens, displayed at the Prado:

Pero la cosa no acaba aquí. Luego ya, para rizar el rizo, llega Velázquez, y en uno de sus cuadros incluye también un homenaje a esta obra. Fijaos en el tapiz al fondo de la escena representada en “The spinners” (también llamada “The fable of Arachne“), expuesta en la misma sala del museo del Prado:

I thought it was a very cool idea, a painting inside another painting 🙂

Una idea de la que luego me fui encontrando más ejemplos por el museo, como este cuadro de Jan Brueghel y Rubens, dedicado a “Sight” como parte de una serie sobre los cinco sentidos:

Y ya el que me pareció una pasada fue este otro, de David Teniers el Joven, “Archduke Leopold Wilhelm van Habsburg in his art gallery in Brussels“:

OMG, the amount of talent needed to paint all that...

En fin, que me encantó la visita al Museo del Prado, más que por ver los cuadros típicos y famosos como “Las Meninas” (que también), sobre todo por ver cómo los artistas iban aprendiendo unos de otros, apoyándose en el conocimiento y las técnicas que ya existían para innovar y crear otras nuevas, y así hacer su propia contribución al mundo del arte, para que otros pudieran disfrutar y aprender a su vez.

Me hizo pensar en cómo también nosotros, en cualquier cosa que queramos aprender, tenemos seguro un montón de maestros a quienes modelar y de quienes aprender (y más en estos tiempos de Wikipedia y Youtube), y así no tener que “reinventar la rueda”, como se suele decir en inglés. Y también se suele decir que la mejor manera de aprender es enseñar, es compartir lo que ya sabemos, por supuesto dando crédito a aquellos de quienes lo aprendimos.

Sharing knowledge, learning together, we all move forward.