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The Lost Art Of Communication

Written by: Junie Swadron, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

“What should I say to him? What if he takes it the wrong way?”


“What if I upset her? What if it comes out all wrong?”


“How do I get my point across so that he’ll listen and not get defensive? What if I don’t even get a chance to say how I feel? He hates talking about his feelings. In fact, I’m not even sure how I feel about this situation. I’m nervous.”

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” - Rumi

“What if I assert myself and get fired? What if I don’t say anything and stay stuck in resentment?”


“What if…?”


“What if…?”


“What if…?”


There are countless ‘what ifs’ that all of us encounter when thinking about discussing, confronting, or simply having a conversation with someone important in our lives, a partner, parent, sibling, friend, boss, doctor, or child.


Sometimes the mere thought of the discussion sends us into a panic where we remain mute or conversely end up blubbering it out in a way that we don’t mean and are sorry. What happens next is we go back to where we were – being nice, not saying anything at all, at least not verbally. Our body language, our tone, and our energy are saying a lot. But if we aren’t actually saying the words out loud, we think we are not sending out messages. Not true!


Spiritual teachings and quantum physics have taught us that our thoughts carry an enormous impact on how the scenarios in our lives play out. And the more emotion that accompanies our thoughts the more power it gives them. Thoughts create our reality, so we need to become conscious of what we are thinking. Do not be fooled that if you aren’t saying it, someone isn’t picking it up.


Learning the precious and precarious art of communication, is probably the most fundamental thing to choose to learn in order to fare well in the world. Words have the power to both build and destroy, and so do our thoughts. That’s right. Thoughts carry tremendous energy. Both internally and externally. What we say silently to ourselves (self-talk) and what we say silently to ourselves about others carries enormous weight as well. After all, if we’re thinking it, we’re feeling it and our body, mind, and spirit is one integrated system. How we do everything affects the whole.


If we were taught how to communicate in healthy ways from primary school forward, we’d live in a much healthier world. We’d be getting along much better with others. But since healthy communication skills generally are not part of the class curriculum, if we want to be more effective in our relationships, it is up to us to learn how to talk to each other. First, we need to become aware of what is verbally and non-verbally helping us or hindering us. Next, it is our response-ability (our ability to respond) appropriately that will make the difference in how we feel and how others feel about us.


You might ask, why is it so scary to say what we think and feel about things? Why would most people rather do anything else than confront what is uppermost in their minds concerning a particular person or situation?


It usually has to do with what we have seen and learned in our formative years. If we haven’t healed things that upset us when we were children, and if these kinds of experiences happened repeatedly, we formed beliefs about the world around us (e.g., the world isn’t a safe place) and those childhood experiences are still arousing unpleasant memories in us today. In other words, we are still being triggered today by events that happened when we were kids.


For instance, telling the truth is a strong social value in probably all cultures. Most of us grew up in homes where we were instructed to tell the truth and could get punished if we didn’t. Yet these same homes were often filled with untruths, covering over what was really going on.


It can start off very innocently, such as a child sees his mother looking sad or even crying and says, “What’s wrong, mommy?” Not wanting to upset her son, and not knowing what else to do, she smiles at him and says, “Nothing, darling, Mommy’s fine.” He feels confused but what he learns is that he can’t trust what he feels about a situation and hesitates in the future to express himself lest he be wrong again. Or, late at night a child hears his mother and father arguing, saying terrible things to each other. The next morning at breakfast they aren’t talking. Or perhaps, dad isn’t even at home, mommy has a frozen smile on her face, and nothing is said about the night before. Unwittingly, the mother is modeling behaviour that teaches the child not to talk about things that frighten him.


Another example could be that a child’s beloved pet dies, and she’s told, “I’m sorry honey. I know, it’s sad but not to cry, not to worry, we’ll get you another one.” One sentence and the pain the child is feeling has been dismissed with a subtle message that things can simply be replaced. She learns it’s not okay to cry, to be upset, to grieve.


These kinds of mixed messages teach a child not to trust his or her feelings and worst of all, not to express them. The child must not show anger or cry and show he’s confused, lonely or frightened. When I grew up, the popular tenet was, “Children should be seen and not heard.” The only acceptable behaviour was to be quiet and be good. So, what does this have to do with the art of communication? More than you may think.


The good news is that much of this is changing. We’ve come a long way, yet we still have a long way to go. In the 90’s we were witness to a revolution where secrets and skeletons came flying out of the closets. Therapists’ offices were exploding with people needing to unburden themselves, telling the most intimate details of their lives in an attempt to rid themselves of anger, guilt, shame, and sorrow.


At this same time, outside of the closed and confidential doors of therapist’s offices, so-called truths began pouring out in tidal waves. People were fed up with deceit, lies, and cover-ups. Instead of the earlier years of keeping silent, talk-shows were popping up everywhere. The combustion caused by stuffing things down hit epidemic levels and the pendulum swung to the extreme other side with shows like Jerry Springer in the early 1990’s that presented shocking stories and screaming matches with people accusing each other with everything under the sun.


The networks were also airing talk shows, morning, noon, and night that were addressing important issues with an intention to inform viewers as to what was going on in rational and heart-centered ways. Even famous people with mental health diagnoses were coming out of the closet of shame to help show that even so-called decent, intelligent, artistic, kind, and loving people can be burdened with mental health challenges. These stories began shedding some light on myths and stigmas about mental illness that portrayed people with a mental illness as uneducated, unintelligent, and often violent. Today, podcasts are one of the most popular ways to communicate messages where people are talking about everything under the sun with communication styles that will suit most every taste.


But what about the majority of people who are not interviewers or interviewees and have not learned how to express themselves in effective ways? Kind and respectful ways that bring people together instead of wedging them apart. We have circled back to learning the art and skill of effective communication.


Marshall Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist in the late 1960s and early 1970s developed a person-centred therapy to create harmonious relationships called Non-Violent Communication (NVC). NVC is based on mutual respect and partnership and has since become a world-wide movement.


His work became a highly respected model for communication - communication that recognizes a person’s unmet needs and resolves disagreements with empathy and compassion for oneself and with others rather than communication born out of a fear-based paradigm.


I believe that when the underlying motivation for speaking our truth is to foster greater understanding and harmony, it is worth every effort to learn how to communicate in a manner that will offer us this result. This requires skill and courage. Many people will stop themselves even when they have this motivation because they don’t want to upset the apple cart. They don’t want to make someone upset because of what it might cause. If we decide we are genuinely unhappy in a relationship and we say something, it may, in our most feared scenario, initiate the end.


However, it could also open the door for honest talks transforming power struggles into trust, cooperation, and deeper intimacy. And at the very least, with respectful communication, we empower ourselves by finding and expressing our authentic voice which will enhance our growth, no matter what the outcome.


As a therapist, writing coach, and life-long journal writer, one of the most effective ways I know to approach challenging exchanges with a greater chance for a successful outcome is to write everything down about the situation beforehand. If you are really enraged by someone’s actions toward you, you can write them an uncensored blaming letter WHICH YOU NEVER SEND. It’s for your eyes only as a way to get everything off your chest. Say it all in the safety and privacy of your journal. Then let it just sit for a few days. Allow what you’ve been feeling to sift and simmer. Clarity and a new awareness of relevant issues that you have not realized before often emerge on the pages of your journal when you least expect it.


Often, under the anger is fear and sadness. If you stay with the process, you will likely discover it has nothing to do with the person with whom you feel angry. Your anger, confusion, sadness, sense of not being heard or feeling disrespected etc., as stated earlier, come from a much younger time in your life and this person triggered your unhealed wounds.


Too often we project onto people our fears and experiences from the past, so we don’t really see them and what’s going on in the moment. We expect it to look like it used to, so it does. We need to clear out old perceptions and be in the here and now. That calls for stepping back, becoming a witness to the experience in order to see objectively where the other person is coming from.


The beauty of journaling before having difficult conversations is we are more likely to own our perceptions instead of blaming, attacking, and defending to drive the point home. Instead, we are much more likely to be listening with our hearts when the other person is explaining where they are coming from. We realize that it’s probably just as scary for them as it is for us and to honour them by listening and not being busy interpreting, interrupting, or thinking about what we are going to say next. In this way we transform criticism and blame into compassionate connection while still honouring our own needs and perspectives. I call it loving backbone which is having the courage to speak our truth using assertive communication instead of combative communication.


We also need to recognize that healthy communication begins with ourselves. What do we really want and need? What steps are we willing to take to get there? How much of this truly depends on someone else? Often, very little.


Instead of expecting another person to look after these deeper needs, when we address the earlier issues that have created the pain in the first place, that other person isn’t involved at all. This is an opportunity to re-parent the little child inside of us who feels so hurt, abandoned, and alone. It is a perfect occasion to turn up your love toward the sweet, innocent child that still is alive within you. Protect him or her as you would any precious object. Love yourself more, not less. The more you will do this, the more you fill yourself up from the inside, the better you will feel, and the less you will need others to fill that empty space.


Communication is an art, and it requires the skill of an artist. This means patience, perseverance, creativity, and an openness to discover what the blank canvas will reveal. It is not set on outcomes. It calls for radical self-care to the one who will be with you for the rest of your life, no matter what. That’s you! Be open to new discovery with every stroke and gesture. Now, isn’t that worth every word! 😊


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Junie Swadron, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Junie Swadron is an author, playwright, psychotherapist, international speaker, workshop facilitator, and professional writing coach who has spent the last thirty years guiding thousands of students in writing and sharing their life stories. She sees the therapeutic process and the creative process as one. “It is about accessing a special place within us where serenity, love, courage, and truth reside. It is from this place that we begin to know our true spirit. It is from this place we begin to heal.” What makes Junie’s approach to healing extraordinary is that she knows both sides of the couch. On her own healing journey, Junie found writing to be her greatest ally. Her personal experiences have taught her resiliency and coping strategies for choosing health and wellness again and again. She now shares her success with her clients and students, helping them connect to their creativity and healing through the written word and other modalities.

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