Good communication in our relationships requires having a good sense of yourself so that you can express your feelings and needs in direct non-threatening ways. It means that you are aware and accepting of your own needs so that you are not solely focused on defending them. It also means that your need to get your own experience validated does not override your interest in understanding the other persons communication.
Thirdly it means you can experience and express your frustrations when your needs are not met, so that you are not stuck in a defensive position, because being defensive often includes projecting your feelings onto the other person and making it even more difficult to relate to them. And finally, it means that you can be open and curious about what your partner is feeling or needing and willing to try to grasp the complexity of their experience even when it is surprisingly different from your own.
Communicating in relationships is like juggling
Learning to communicate in relationships is a little like learning to juggle, because the essential ingredient is to be able to hold in mind and relate to more than one thing at a time, at least to the many layers of our own experience and hopefully to that of the other person. Watching the interchange of two jugglers as they toss and catch several objects between them, comes close to what happens in a conversation when both people are aware of the four operations that need to happen in a related conversation. Both members need to be aware of sending their own message and its impact on the other, while simultaneously being able to receive the others intended message and track its impact on us. Understanding that there are at least four operations that happen in a communication is not typically grasped.
Learning to be aware of our own needs as well as those of the other
This can be particularly difficult to learn because a big part of our psychological history is absorbed in developing a sense of ourselves and learning to express ourselves, both of which require that others relate to us. Because we have many needs in relation to others that involve them hearing and accepting our experience, we are typically busy trying to get our own needs met by others, so that we have little room for relating to their needs. Sometimes people do not grasp that part of what they need to do in a relationship is to learn how the other person experiences things. We get so absorbed in our own experience and our own need to have our experience validated that we do not learn to relate to what is going on with the other person.
How we communicate reflects our early relational history
Some children have it easier than others. They have caretakers that are able to pay close attention to how they are feeling and what they need. These children have been taught how to express their needs and they feel secure that their needs will be met. They learn to regulate their own emotions in these early relationships where they have learned to negotiate their own needs with those of others. Because most of the time their needs are related to, when they are not, they still feel the ongoing sense of responsiveness they are accustomed to. Growing up in an environment in which people are encouraged to say what they feel and think and connect to what they need, makes it much easier to listen and take in what other people are feeling or needing. Later as adults you can do this in your relationships.
Early life frustrations create later communication difficulties.
For other children who do not have their relational needs met, sometimes simply because there is no awareness of these kinds of needs, the feelings of anger and hurt and disappointment that they incur, if this situation is chronic, become a problem in later relationships. Old feelings of frustration often get associated with and triggered by any relational situation that evokes similar feelings of not being responded to. If we are uncomfortable or unskilled at expressing anger, hurt and frustration, we run into further difficulty.
What are communication difficulties?
One psychological option we are left with is to act out these feelings in indirect ways, often withdrawing and cutting off the relationship. Another is resorting to self-destructive behaviors. Similarly, when we have not learned to regulate these emotions, we can become abusive, striking out either verbally, or physically trying to express our frustrations, in the only way we feel we can.
What causes communication difficulties?
Sometimes these feelings have been put away because they seem too big to handle as children. In this case as adults we find that we unconsciously project them onto the other person and see them through the eyes of our earlier experience, not as the person in present time.
Many people never question their perceptions of emotional events. They never realize that how they are experiencing something is highly original to them and is made up of the many associations they make to the behaviors or words of the other person. These associations to current experience are drawn from a life time of personal experience. We each interpret the meaning of events in a very unique way.
Because we always create a picture in our minds of what the other person has said or done we use our pictures to develop our reaction - our narrative about what is happening. We create our own reactions, they are not caused by the other person. Our reactions contain our whole unique emotional history. They are like little emotional autobiographies. We think we are having clear perceptions of the other person, but in fact we are usually re-creating our own history.
We can not relate to the other person by holding onto our own pictures
It is these pictures, or representations, of the other person that are the hardest obstacle. When we hold another person in our minds only with our own picture we are not actually relating to them. We are actually only relating to ourselves because it is only our picture of them.
This picture can prevent us from seeing the other person, or relating to their reality. Being able to open up a space in our minds to take in the other person's experience of something, is a different thing altogether. At first this can feel disorienting. We have to suspend our own picture, particularly if it is an habitual one, and open to the possibility that we are not getting what the other person is experiencing.
The solution takes practice
Being able to hold the experience of the other person and your own reaction to them simultaneously requires being able to think; to be conscious while we are experiencing an interaction. It does not mean losing connection with your own feelings, it means being able to communicate your feelings and thoughts without blame so that the other person can take in and validate your experience.
When the other person takes you in, it is easier for you to reciprocate by being able to provide the same thing for them. Usually when both people feel understood a flow is created in the communication-the jugglers pick up the missed toss and continue.
Copyright 2011 TruceWorks