The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There Is No Way to Avoid Pain

There is no way to avoid pain. The human brain has evolved to avoid pain, but there is no way to avoid it. So we find ourselves in a bind.

 

We make concerted efforts to protect ourselves from pain. We try to minimize it or hide from it, trade one type of pain for another. We try to protect loved ones from their pain. And mostly it comes from a loving place. But when we try to protect ourselves and others from something so inevitable as pain we are doing a disservice.

 

We are reinforcing the belief that pain is something to fear, that we cannot handle it, that we should go to any length not to experience it. So we don’t take risks. We numb. We deny ourselves. We micromanage. We hide. We lie to ourselves. We stay in relationships that don’t feed us. We stay at jobs that don’t serve us. We silence our voices. We don’t get off the couch. We make excuses, and we rationalize. We do not live fully.

 

The worst thing about pain isn’t that it hurts or that it’s scary; it isn’t even pain itself. The worst thing about pain is our fear of it. We’ll do anything to put a wide berth between us and pain.

 

But what would it be like if instead of avoiding it, we learned how to interpret pain? What if we learned how to understand what it is telling us and how to manage it, how to soothe ourselves?

 

Because sometimes it’s telling us to move away from something. Sometimes it’s telling us to slow down or rest. Sometimes it’s telling us to move toward or into something. And sometimes it’s telling us that we’re on the right track.

 

How can we hear the messages that only pain can communicate and learn from this teacher if we don’t attune to it?

 

When we are willing to listen to our pain’s message, we find our limits and our limitlessness. We explore unseen capabilities and gifts. We become less afraid to live our lives. We experience intimacy. We trust ourselves. We stop asking for permission and start living in our authentic space. We stop people-pleasing. We explore what it means to be groundless. We explore what it means to live as embodied consciousness.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

Learning to Stay

Learning to Stay

As a species, we’re in for some challenges. Humans have both nervous systems and self-awareness, the awareness of change, loss, and of death. We are aware that situations change and it motivates us to hold onto the situations we like and try to force a shift in situations we don’t like. We’re aware of loss so; we go to great lengths in trying to avoid it. We’re aware of death and generally fear it so, we engage in all sorts of behaviors and thinking in an attempt to gain control over it. Since everything is temporary, all of our grasping and holding and forcing and avoiding is useless. There is no lasting way for us to ever really hold onto something or someone, force a shift, or avoid change, loss, or death. And this creates a pretty uneasy sense of being.

 

Look at some of your own fear-based beliefs for a second. What makes you nervous? What are you believing when you notice the nervousness? What do you dread? What are you believing when you notice the dread?

 

We have an extensive list of strategies that we employ to avoid feeling the discomfort of these beliefs, to avoid feeling our fear of life’s fluidity. We numb. We fight ourselves or others. We seek comfort in addiction.

 

Underneath all of this struggle is the fear that we are not ok.

 

In the mythology of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s final challenge before he reached enlightenment was doubt. Mara, the dark deity symbol of humanity’s shadow side, our challenging emotions, appeared to Siddhartha in the form many distractions some of which were fear, pain, and lust. Finally, Mara appeared to him as doubt. Siddhartha experienced the most difficulty and discomfort with this last challenge. Siddhartha put his hand to the ground and felt the earth, calling upon it to ground him and give him strength. He looked up at Mara and said, “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”

 

I’m always struck by this story. I find it comforting that Siddhartha, someone who had practiced for years, received years of mentoring and training and support, someone who was so well-resourced still felt the challenge of Mara, of the hard-to-feel, painful human emotions. I also appreciate that working through his last challenge involved asking for help, that he didn’t try to do it alone. And to boot, he invited the damn thing to tea!!

 

Siddhartha didn’t gain freedom from Mara all at once. It took years of practice and training. Gradually, after reaching out for help and engaging his own presence, he extricated himself. He was free.

 

On this quest for our own freedom, we learn of at least two important resources available to us as suggested by the Buddha mythology: 1) to ask for help when dealing with a challenge and 2) to be present with our experience of our process.

 

It’s so hard to keep ourselves from being swept away by the runaway train of our limiting beliefs, beliefs about ourselves and others, about the nature of the world; our fears of unworthiness; our doubt of our own lovability. Sometimes we can see this train coming for us and we freeze, unable to fight it. Sometimes we don’t see it coming; we realize we’re on it and don’t know how it happened. Sometimes we try to outrun it or fight it. One way or another, it picks us up anyway. Most of us are familiar with this cycle. Most of us know exactly what it’s like to be caught in Mara’s grip and to feel utterly helpless.

 

Asking for help is hard enough. Sitting with the discomfort, bringing presence to it is even more challenging. It requires a willing attentiveness, a moment of pause, and gentle inquiry. The sheer thought of asking ourselves gentle, inquiring questions when we’re in the middle of some kind of freak out brings with it its own uncomfortable trials.

 

Something I’ve found helpful both personally and professionally is Byron Katie’s work. It is aptly named “The Work.” She gives us four questions to pose to ourselves when we are facing the underlying doubt of our ok-ness. In those moments, Katie recommends that we ask ourselves:

 

  1. Is it true? We know that the experience of the belief feels real, but is the belief true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the indisputable evidence?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens for you? What is it like for you? What is the impact of this thought or belief on you? On others?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Can you sense what life would be like, what you would be like if you no longer lived your life by this thought or belief?

 

These four questions get us off to a good start in dismantling maladaptive or limiting thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs that served us at one time in our lives, but that are now crippling us. If you find it difficult to ask yourself these questions, start with this one: Am I willing to pay attention to what this experience is like for me? We can’t always jump right in so, simply bringing the intention of presence if often a good place to start.

 

I recommend first trying these investigative questions with a shallow or midlevel fear-based belief. Since we are often floating around in the experience of these thoughts and beliefs, identified with them, bringing attention and presence can be really intense. Start slow. If you’d like to apply this approach to deeper fears and beliefs including trauma, I recommend doing so with the help and support of a therapist or healer.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Break Free From Self-Doubt

Break Free From Self-Doubt

At some point, all of us doubt ourselves. We doubt that we are going in the right direction. We doubt that we are acceptable just as we are. We doubt that people will still love us if they saw certain aspects of us, found out about our past, knew what we were thinking, or learned about things we’ve done. We doubt that we are smart enough, or good enough. We doubt that our bodies, minds, and souls are enough. We doubt that we have enough, do enough, and are enough.

Self-doubt can be crippling. It keeps us stuck. We are too afraid to make a choice, to make a move. We stay at the same job, in the same relationship, in the same pattern that has caused us pain for years. Our comfort zone has now, somehow, become out uncomfortable zone, but to step even one foot outside the line feels too threatening, too overwhelming.

We start to believe that happiness is for other people, not us. Years go by, and we feel that, because we have been struggling with it, this should be as good as working on it. We grow increasingly resentful of the people around us who seem to get what they want without all the suffering we seem to experience. We are embittered, jaded, cynical, and now feel even further from our goals.

Then something happens. It looks different for everyone. But something happens. For some of us, it is a shift in our thinking. For others, it’s a slight change in our usual behavior. Either after years of striving or one day, accidentally, we allow a shred of hope to penetrate our despair. We’re still terrified, but not terrified into paralysis (or as much paralysis as before). We can still hear that voice telling us to turn back, that we’re going to be slaughtered, but we don’t follow its instruction. (This could be because we are learning that it’s just our scared little lizard brain trying to protect us from a threat that doesn’t exist.)

We start to realize that, while there will be many slips and falls along the way, we can’t be broken. We realize that the prison of self-doubt is so much worse than any slip or fall we could ever encounter. We don’t mind the trip-ups as much because we finally feel a sense of freedom, a sense of happiness that we didn’t think we would ever know

I want to walk with you on this journey. I want to talk with you about what keeps you locked in that tiny room of self-doubt and fear and anxiety and hardship. I want us both to find out what has kept you imprisoned for so long and what you need to connect to your courage so that you can emerge.

What will it look like when you stop living in doubt? Will you make any major shifts in your life? Will they be external or internal? Or both? What will you have in your life that doesn’t feel possible now?

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie