Communication makes or breaks a moment. A kind word in a moment of pain can change a life. A harsh word in a moment of vulnerability can shut someone down indefinitely. Often, communication happens only after someone is so upset that rational communication is no longer an option. (This is also known as the middle-class-American-screaming match.) When communication happens at an utterly wrong time, either too much or too little — the results are less than optimized for everyone involved.
I’ve observed that most people don’t communicate their needs because they are fearful of others viewing this action as “clingy”, “needy”, or a host of other negatives. We shut ourselves down because we fear that if others see our less-than-shiny spots, we will then be belly-up to the Universe in a full-scale prone spread, ready for the vultures to take their pick at our most tender places.
This vulnerability is, indeed — true. We must have faith that the person we’re attempting to communicate with is not a vulture.
Some people have come from backgrounds where if one speaks their needs, they are chastised or dismissed. Others come from backgrounds where there is no childhood modeling for decent two-way communication, so their communication is neither decent, nor two-way. It just isn’t.
We labor under the illusion that somehow, the Universe and everyone in it is supposed to know what we need by our sheer pouty slamming of coffee cups, or huffing behind the morning paper (do those even exist anymore?) as someone says a morning I Love You, or the infamous passive-aggressive “Nope, everything’s fine,” comment, followed by a tense evening over dinner, then breakfast, then the next night’s dinner — until a completely unrelated issue breaks the dam of ill will within the person harboring the resentment.
Yes Indeed. We are terrified to tell people how we truly feel. And we’re even more terrified to tip our hands that god forbid — we may need something.
Even worse, if we can calmly muster up the courage to be accountable for our emotions, and we bring those to another person, we then can be stale-mated with the wall of defensive embarrassment from the individual with whom we may have an issue. There is nothing worse than attempting to relay feelings in a non-aggressive way, only to have the individual we are bearing our souls to — then get nasty because they “feel attacked”.
I find the “feel attacked” response, when delivered to the person who is simply expressing how they are feeling in a non-verbally abusive way, to be fascinating. I myself have been on the other end of that comment, usually after attempting to do my best to rationally bring a behavior to light in another that has been causing repeat issues in our communication.
There is a big difference between “being attacked” and having someone point out that the stick you’re carrying and poking in their eye — is poking their eye out. That’s actually a statement on cause and effect, yet the “I feel attacked” person will make it out to sound like your eye is in the way of their life, their essence — who they are at their core. They will cease to hear the singular grievance at hand and turn the discussion into a discourse on how they are disliked in general. I’ve since found out that that is one of the signs of narcissistic behavior — the inability to accept accountability in any situation, then transferring the Self into a victim role. Yet that’s another blog.
It’s hard for any of us to simply hear that something we’re doing isn’t working for someone else. None of us want to hear that. Everyone’s inner Five Year Old feels embarrassed. The outer adult then creates issues when Pride gets in the way of actually observing and overcoming the behavior that’s causing the embarrassed upset. Notwithstanding verbally abusive relationships, the following are easy-to-read signs that our inner Five Year Old is running to hide in the closet of embarrassment — because it knows we’ve crossed the line and we can’t quite face up to it yet:
Defensiveness: Yes, the bottom-of-the-barrel deal-of-the-day when it comes to emotional reactions — defensiveness is a tale-tell sign that indeed, the other person is actually right. The more defensive we become to defend our behavior that is causing another to stumble — the more we know we shouldn’t be doing it. In fact, the nastier, more argumentative, more interrupting-someone’s-every-other-word-to-make-our-point that we get, the more right they are. To become defensive is to agree in full with the grievance held by the other party.
I’m Being Attacked: No, you’re likely not. You’re just hearing something that you don’t like and it feels icky. That’s not being attacked. That’s being embarrassed. There’s a difference. Each day, thousands of people are horrendously verbally abused by sociopathic people who don’t have any remorse for destroying their inner-most emotionality. There’s a big difference between that, and someone respectfully pointing out behavior we are exhibiting that is causing them pain. Casting one’s self in a victim role, or a role of the one being attacked, after one has been approached with a basic and respectful grievance, is a distraction tool designed to take the focus off of the grievance. It is a sign that one is not prepared to be emotionally accountable, period. It’s a cop-out. For the person attempting to work out the grievance, this is the mental equivalent of talking to a box of hair. It goes nowhere. At least the hair doesn’t blame the scissors for why it’s been cut.
The Shut Down: This is passive-aggressive emotional blackmail at its best. The Shut Down happens when any issue surrounding our not-so-shiny-spots comes to light. The individual being presented with the issues then shuts down completely, claiming they “can’t deal” with the situation. This can involve the infamous “silent treatment”, a lack of intimacy for an extended period of time (because the person who was approached with a grievance now “doesn’t feel safe”), or a perpetual sulking, punishing, and inward behavior until the other party can’t take it anymore and apologizes for even bringing it up — and the issue then never gets addressed. This is a dirty card to play, and because of it’s manipulative properties, it’s used most in the deck.
The Snark Attack: The parade of nasty, ugly, hideous things that will fly out of a person’s mouth, once they have been embarrassed by the reflection in the mirror someone held up to them — is called a Snark Attack. The person who is attempting to bring the grievance forward will be shot full of holes and dropped to the floor before they can even finish their sentence. This takes Defensiveness to a verbally abusive level and typically, is a horrific version of “I know you are but what am I”.
These Inner Five Year Old responses to conflict will net nothing but pain, confusion, and if they persist — break-ups. The most odd thing about these communication hiccups is the severe emotional reaction of the individual who is repeatedly exhibiting them, once the other party is so beaten down they leave. Often, it is utter shock. The lack of accountability and denial that is necessary to continually be the person who is defensive, the person who constantly feels attacked by life, the person who shuts down all the time, or the person who is a verbal spew of yuck in a Snark Attack, demands a great deal of focus and energy. There is only room for one person in a relationship where all the energy is going toward the self.
On the opposite pole of the communication planet is yet another challenge — the area of proactively speaking out one’s needs. Obviously, people are different and can do the best they can, day to day. Yet if we are not speaking out our needs to our family and friends, and instead becoming resentful in the wake of that which we have not received, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We are told that if we speak out our needs, we are selfish. And worse, we fear that if we do speak out our needs, we’ll be met with Defensiveness, or a Shut Down, or a Snark Attack.
Worse still, sometimes simply speaking our needs is then interpreted by another as a criticism, though it is not about the other person at all. It’s about what we need.
I find the latter to be the case as I sit with couples who are attempting to work through an impasse. For instance, one member of the couple will mention that they wish they were held more by their partner. The other half of the couple will instantly chime in with, “See? They’re not happy with who I am.” I will then be required to point out that the comment was in regard to being held, not the person’s humanity. The person now on the defense will then give me a laundry list of all the things that they DO “do” for the other individual — mow the lawn, go to the grocery store, “I’m the only one who ever does the dishes”, bla bla bla and on and on, and I will simply listen as the individual builds their list of how fantastic they are in the relationship. They will eventually tire. At which point I’m obligated to point out:
“I didn’t see ‘quality cuddle time’ on that list. Did you?”
This is typically met with the “I don’t have time in my busy day (that no one appreciates) that I just recounted to you” rant. I’m then obligated to point out that they do not make the time to cuddle. Because it’s not important to them. And that they should simply admit that it’s not important so the other person truly knows where they stand.
This is usually a stumper.
If the other party admits it’s not a priority for them — this validates their partner’s need to bring it up. Do they admit it’s not a priority? Or do they justify their stance? Usually it’s the latter. More going on and on about how they give, give, give and it’s never enough — give money, give to the kids, give, give , give — to which I’m then obligated to point out that yes, they give, give, give — except in the ONE way their partner truly is requesting, needing it. I also point out that if they’re so busy, busy, busy — wouldn’t it make more sense to cut out the twenty things they’re doing for their partner that the partner could care less about — and pop in the ONE thing that really would make a difference to the other person?
You would think the answer was yes. Yet Pride is an addictive drug. Again, the partner is bringing forward a need, and the person is making it all about themselves. Often the response is, “But what about MY needs? I’m so busy I don’t even have any time for myself.”
To which, my response will often be, “What about your needs? You seem to have difficulty honoring one need belonging to your partner. If you can’t get to one, I’m sure you can’t get to two, no matter whose they are.”
This usually reflects the folly in the situation, and the person’s pride will break enough for some humility and some humanity to show through. I’ll often be asked: “Where do I find the time in my day?”
To which I’ll respond, “Take it away from facebook. But this not about time. It’s about your willingness to give that which you yourself do not require. It’s about being selfless.”
The bottom line is that changing our behavior into that which would benefit another is not about time. It’s about emotional willingness to factor in someone else’s needs. People call this resistance to change “being stubborn”, but it is not — not in this context. It is being fearful of letting in anyone else’s needs, because the person doesn’t truly feel they can meet their own needs. Often, the people who are the most resistant to changing personal behaviors in order to factor in differing behaviors to account for another’s needs — have a very difficult time committing to themselves in one way or another. These folks may have unfinished projects laying all over the house, or perhaps weight they claim they can’t lose, or unfinished books marked with unopened bills from 1998.
A lack of selflessness in a person is a sign of a great deal of personal neglect. Until we love the self fully, we don’t know how to make room to love another, especially if it’s in a different way that’s not convenient for us. That requires growth on our part.
Selflessness is the act of doing something for another that you yourself won’t directly benefit from. Yet the growth it brings always reaps benefits. For instance, my wife works very early hours, in the fitness industry. I will choose to go to bed early with her because that personal time is very important to us as a couple and I love to fall asleep with her — if I can. Sometimes I will get up and continue to work after she falls asleep because my body clock is more attuned for late nights, and simply won’t go to sleep. But I’ve done my best to turn it around so we can spend more quality time together. Personally, it’s of no bonus or benefit to me to turn my body clock around. As a couple, it makes a huge difference to US. So this is something I regularly work on. I’ve also benefitted by having more time in the day to use productively, which has been a great side-effect of growth.
Now, tonight, I’m not doing so well with it, at 2:39am. But it’s a process I choose to keep working on.
To truly love another, we must GROW beyond who we were when we started into the relationship. We must change, to become a WE, rather than a ME. Who we bring (as ourselves) into the relationship is important. But who we choose to BECOME while humbly and diligently committing ourselves, our hearts, and our lives to another, while they do the same — is far, far more desirable.
There is a great myth that by bending, changing, compromising and growing in relationship — we lose the self. That’s not true. When there is balance with another, the self is finally able to release and relax into it’s full potential as we no longer require the Ego Fence to define who we are, thanks to a partner that will give us regular feedback and provide us a place to rest.
Anyone who gets into a relationship and says, “I’m not going to let this relationship change me,” is missing the point of what a healthy, TRUE, loving, reciprocal, spiritual relationship is all about.
It’s not a pissing contest or a border war. It’s a blending project. This takes a great deal of communication.
So this Valentine’s Day — and every day — give yourself, and your loved ones, the gift of YOU. Communicate freely and openly. Be honest yet be kind. Listen when others air grievances, and give the grievance your compassion instead of your defensiveness. Replace “The Problem With You Is”, “I Can’t Deal With It”, and “I Won’t” with — “I’m Sorry”. Compromise. Do something for another just because they need it, not because you’ll benefit, or not just when it’s convenient for you. See the day through another’s perspective, to see life from a broader persepcetive. Remove the self —
To find the self.