Tag Archives: honesty

Communication

Last week, my partner and I went to the movies and saw Arrival. Without giving any spoilers, I found it a stunning story about communication, among other things. It was the communication piece that really grabbed my attention, though.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking in a newly focused and intentional way about communication—what it means, how it looks, where it breaks down and how to do it well.

The truth is, I don’t want to know how to do it well. I want to know how to do it perfectly.

Another truth is I’m always thinking about communication, because I’m always working on my book, on this blog or on relationships, and they all involve communication. My partner says there is no relationship without communication, and I think he’s right.

As regular readers know I am wont to do, I pulled out my Random House Collegiate Dictionary to give myself a starting place. Anyone who’s used a dictionary knows there are often multiple meanings for any given word, so I made a list of the definitions I liked, cut and pasted a little, and came up with this (emphasis is mine):

Communication:

  • To give or interchange information to/with one another.
  • To express one’s true thoughts, feelings and moods easily.
  • To have or form a connecting passage.

Although I’m intellectually satisfied with this definition, it feels incomplete and inadequate. In fact, it makes me mad. If only effective communication was this easy and simple! Instead, it seems to be one of the most desperately difficult things we do, and we must communicate if we are to manage life in today’s world.

How many ways does communication break down for us in a day? Are we even aware of all the ways it breaks down? How often are we communicating something completely unintentional?

At the same time, have we ever, in the history of humankind, had so many devices and forms of communication at our disposal? Have we ever had access to so much information and so many other people?

So why aren’t we happier, more authentic, more secure and sure of our worth? Why are so many of us starving for healthy, fulfilling connection? What’s missing?

If I knew, I would fix it in my relationships, but therein lies one of the problems.

This is the part that always sneaks up and bites me in the ass.

Not everyone wants the level and quality of communication I do. Generally, I don’t take this cold little fact personally, but among my nearest and dearest it does feel personal, absolutely. I feel utterly and completely rejected and shut out, in fact.

Another problem is that not everyone is capable of the level and quality of communication I am. Many people carry terrible damage or experience disability that prevents them from being able to participate in touch, in sex, in eye contact and nonverbal cues, even in conversation. I can tell you from personal experience it can be very, very difficult to sort out those who want to and are unable to from those who simply don’t want to. In the end, it doesn’t matter, it all comes to the same thing. When communication is limited, relationship is limited.

I can do more. I want to do more.

A third issue is that communication is two-edged. It’s an enormously powerful skill and ability, both constructively and destructively. We all know people who use communication as a weapon, not a tool. Sometimes, a simple, ominous clearing of the throat can be far more terrifying and damaging than a blow. Both actions are communication. Even worse are people who deploy words that say one thing and an action that says another, like the abuser who says he loves you while he hits you. This is called gaslighting, and I’ll blog about it in the future. It needs a post all its own.

A fourth point is that we don’t have enough silence in the world. Silence is the cup that holds communication. It takes time to write, to create, to speak, to hug, to make love, to nurse an infant. It takes time to nurture a friendship, a lover, a child. Sitting with the ill or dying takes time and quiet. Listening takes time and presence. Our slavery to technology and stimulation has all but eliminated uninterrupted time for our relationships with ourselves, let alone with others.

And that brings up a fifth aspect. If we don’t, won’t or can’t communicate effectively and honestly about who we are, what we need and want and the truth of our thoughts and feelings, we can’t form a connecting passage, to quote the above definition. We’re not even connected to ourselves.

As though all those things didn’t make communication a big enough hairball, we have to remember who we are. We’re human, which is to say each one of us carries stories, beliefs, expectations, memories, scars and bleeding wounds that get in our way every time we communicate, even with (especially with) those we care deeply about. We all have painful triggers. We all get hijacked. We all make assumptions, we misunderstand, deny, obfuscate, conceal. We all filter through our particular history and experience. Few of us have any training in effective communication. We can tweet or text a sentence or two, but ask us to do more and we’re at a loss. For one thing, we don’t have time to deal with it.

We also have rules about communication, individual rules, tribal rules, cultural rules. We have rules about acceptable language, rules about keeping secrets, rules about being indirect, rules about protecting others, rules about loyalty and duty, rules about privacy, rules about what we’re willing to reveal to whom, rules about who we trust and don’t.

Even the words we choose can make or break communication. Here’s an example out of my own life I’m feeling particularly resentful about at the moment.

I’m a woman, a partner, a sister, a daughter and a mother. I love wholeheartedly and I’m very clear about how important healthy relationship is to me. I know the people I love well, and I try hard to accommodate their personalities, preferences and idiosyncrasies. I’m not Miss Fixit. I’ve no investment in protecting people, and the four men in the world who I love most are unbelievably capable and intelligent adults.

When I say, “What can I do to help? “Is there anything I can do to help?” or “Is there anything I can do for you today?” I’m not implying they can’t manage their lives, dammit! I’m giving a message of love. I’m saying, “I’m here. You matter to me. I’m glad to lend you support. I’d love to collaborate/cooperate/work with you.” I’m making a connection. I’m giving what I most want. Catch me being insulted if someone asks if they can help me figure out how to run the errands, take care of work and cook a meal!

My male partner says, with great patience, that I should use the word “assist” instead of help.

Seriously???? These four idiot men, who know me better than anyone else, need me to tippy-toe with my language in order to hear a message of love and support?

Never mind. I’m over it. Figure out your own damn life, and I’ll figure out mine.

Furthermore, catch me allowing any of them to help me, even though I know that’s connecting for them. They don’t need anything from me, I don’t need anything from them.

See how that breaks down?

And half of that is about me. I’ve been taught to be indirect in my language, I’m giving others what I want myself (this never works well, because the recipient rarely understands that’s what I’m doing), I’m coming across as relentlessly mumsy-wumsy and overprotective, and I’m assuming these four men are like me and won’t ask for help if they need it, but I’m the one who can’t ask for help, and now I’ve fastened myself more firmly in that position because they won’t cooperate with me and allow me to love them, so I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of…

And so on.

My conclusion about all this is that communication among human beings is a clusterfuck. It’s confusing. It’s messy. Most of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing and many of us are not that well intentioned in the first place. We have wildly varying degrees of ability with wildly varying aspects of communication. We try to hide, we misunderstand, we make mistakes, we don’t remember accurately and we’re often terrible at listening. We want to be right, we want to be validated and agreed with and we want others to meet our needs quickly and perfectly so life feels simple and uncluttered, emotionally, at least.

I’m never going to do it perfectly, and neither is anyone else.

But hey, let me know if I can help you in any way!

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Reciprocity 1: Balance

This week I want to turn my attention to reciprocity. Again, this subject is much bigger than one blog, so I’m going to break it into smaller pieces, just as I did with boundaries. For me, reciprocity describes a specific aspect of a larger subject: Balance.

Balance is, according to a quick internet search, “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” I’m constantly running into articles, blogs, books, opinions and speakers who talk about balance. It’s an important concept these days:  Balancing family and jobs, balancing creative life with paying-the-bills-life, balancing technology with face-to-face connection, balancing our diet (and our bathroom scales), balancing our exercise, balancing our time and our checkbooks. With so much discussion out there, I wonder why many of us are so remarkably bad at it.

I think finding balance requires two things. The first is clarity—the willingness to look honestly at our lives and our choices. The second is taking responsibility for the fact that we can make choices.

I don’t know a soul who finds either one of these easy, and I also don’t know anyone who always feels great about the balance in their lives, in spite of what they may say.

Note in the definition above the language “correct proportions.” What are the correct proportions? You tell me. Are you happy? Are you healthy? Do you find your life meaningful? Do you enjoy your home, your relationships, your work, a good night’s sleep? If the answer is no, and you want things to be different, I suggest you work with the idea of balance.

It so happens I came across a great exercise for this years ago in a book called Home Sanctuary by Nicole Marcelis. I was just out of an abusive marriage and this book became an important part of reclaiming myself, my life and my home. In it, there’s a chapter on balance.

The exercise asks you to make a pie chart and consider each piece of your life, calculating how much of the pie that piece takes up. Yes, you include sleep. You can make a pie chart for a day, a week, a month, or any increment of time you choose. Then, if you like, you can take each piece of that first pie chart and make another pie chart. If one of your pieces is parenting, for example, you might break parenting down into playtime, laundry time, cooking and food time, taking walks, reading aloud, visiting doctors, etc.

This exercise has absolutely no value (except to let you play with big pieces of paper and crayons) if you’re not willing to do it honestly. I, for example, am a solitaire junkie. I can play solitaire on this laptop for hours. Literally. Whenever I’m upset, or bored, or trying to regulate my feelings, I play solitaire. I feel like it soothes my anxiety when all the cards fall into neat little piles. I tell myself (and others) I’m planning what to write, or making a grocery list or writing an email, but that’s just bullshit. I’m playing solitaire and I’m feeling numb.

A game or two of solitaire is not a problem. I don’t feel ashamed. An hour or two is getting out of control. Three or four hours and I’m hiding it from my family. I do feel ashamed. I have a partner, a blog, a job, and I’m writing a book. I live in a beautiful place and love to be outdoors. What’s up with sitting for hours playing solitaire? Something is wrong. I’m out of balance.

Don’t be a weasel with this. Watching TV with your mate does not count as quality relationship time. Watching TV with your kids is not great parenting time. Don’t lie to yourself about your relationships. Connection time has to be connecting for everyone involved. Family mealtime is nothing but a sham if someone spends it on their tech device or you’re glued to the TV. (No, news isn’t different than a sitcom!) That goes in your tech or TV slice of the pie. You have to come clean with yourself in order to make real changes.

The thing about balance is that it’s dynamic. What’s balance for this day won’t be the same for another day. As we stand upright we’re using countless muscles, nerves and our senses to maintain our balance and proprioception. Balance in our lives is the same way. It’s so easy to get off balance, but the good news is one can regain it nearly as quickly.

But only if you’re willing to be honest and claim your power to make choices.

This exercise is fascinating. What I realized was I didn’t really know what I was doing with my time. When you actually count the hours you spend doing whatever you’re doing, it can be a real eye opener. When you’re finished playing with paper and crayons and you look at your life through the lens of these pie charts, then it’s time for some hard questions. Does the way you choose to spend your time reflect your priorities? If you say your family is your priority and 80% of your pie chart is spent working (yes, commuting counts!), then you’re out of balance and you’re also not being honest. If you love the outdoors and want to be exercising more but you don’t because you’re couch locked in front of the TV, you’re out of balance. (Watching Planet Earth doesn’t count.)

The exercise is entirely flexible. It works with any resource, not just time. For example, you can do it with energy. Is there a connection or relationship in your life that demands all your energy? Are you getting as much as you’re giving? Are there other relationships that nurture and reward you that you’d rather be spending time in, but you can’t because you’ve got this vampire attached to your jugular vein?

How about money? Most of us have budgeted at one time or another. Tell me, friend, how much money do you spend on cigarettes? On drugs? On beer? On shoes? Cable TV? Can you buy food? Are your bills paid? Are you working at a job you hate because you need the money in order to support your habits—and are those habits making you happy and healthy?

We all have the same 24 hours in any given day, and we all choose what to do with those hours. This is not so much about making “right” or “wrong” choices as it is about realizing we are making choices. Nobody makes us watch four hours of TV every evening. If we’re longing to do creative work and we tell ourselves and the world we haven’t time for it, all we’re really saying is we lack the will to make it so. Why not be honest and say we’re too afraid to try, or we’ve given our power to someone else, and they say we can’t, or we’re an addict and our addiction has our power?

If you made a pie chart of the kind of life you want to have, with the perfect balance for your needs, how different would it be from what your life is now?  What needs to happen to make changes?  What can you excise from your present chart in order to free up time/energy/money/life?

Make no mistake, this exercise takes an enormous amount of courage, but the payoff is powerful. I revisit it now and then, just because I like to keep track of what I’m up to, and I want to know my choices are reflecting my priorities. I also note that I’ve told people about this exercise, two who seemed to have no life outside of work and unhappy partners, and one who spent hours of screen time every day, both TV and computer, but talked about doing all kinds of fun things in the real world. I even loaned my book to one of them. None of them had time for clarity, change or choices.

Silly me.

Solitaire, anyone?

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Once Upon A Time…

Stories.  How many stories can you tell about your life?

I think story has always been deeply embedded in the human experience.  Every piece of art tells a story.  We read, watch television, go to movies, listen to the news, fall in love with music.  Stories, all.

Stories teach, entertain, connect, inspire and guide us.

Stories are prisons and torture chambers.  They brainwash and manipulate.  They can be powerfully limiting.

The paradox of story lies in the power we give it.

Think about a story from your own life.  Something painful.  Likely it’s a story you’ve told yourself many times.  It’s important.  It’s part of who you are and how you understand yourself.  It’s a place from which you look at the world.  It’s absolutely True.  You know.  You were there.  It was such a crippling experience you can’t ever, ever forget.

Stories can’t happen in a void, so there’s an event of some kind, an action, a word, a relationship, other characters in your story.

Let’s say your story is about four people who spend an hour together on a walk.  In that hour everybody sees, smells and hears, thinks and feels many things.  There’s conversation.  After that walk, and maybe for years afterward, each of those four people can tell a story about that day, that walk, that experience.  Every one of those stories is partly true.  Every one of those stories is inadequate and incomplete.  The truest story is the one all four people tell together.  If one person’s story is refused, denied, disbelieved or lost, all four people have lost something important out of that hour of their lives.  They’ve lost an opportunity for understanding, for compassion, for connection and for becoming just a little bit bigger.

The thing about story is that we create it.  Something happens.  We have an experience.  We have feelings, like mad, glad, sad or scared.  We have thoughts about our feelings.  We make up a story.  We tell it to ourselves over and over again as we try to make sense of our experience, or recover from some hurt.  We believe our story to the point that we refuse to consider changing it.  We behave as if our story is True.

Now we have a story that imprisons us.  The story has all our power.  We hurt people, break relationships and viciously defend our story.  We will kill people, including ourselves, to maintain our story.  Not only that, others must accept our story in its entirety.  They must never question it, add to it or take away from it.  Our story becomes us.  A threat to our story becomes a threat to our life.

We’ve made something up, chosen to believe in it and now it rules us.

A lot of people talk about truth and lies as though one is black and one is white.  As a story teller, a writer and a human being, I question that.  What is truth, really?  If I was walking with you on that day and I saw a beautiful grass snake and you saw a dangerous serpent, which one of us is lying?  What is the truth?  I was charmed, you were horrified.  So, I must be a sensitive scientist type with big glasses and a mouthful of Latin.  And you’re a beautiful, sexy woman with big boobs and brown eyes who needs to be taken care of in the terrifying outdoors.

There.  That’s my story.  I’m sticking to it.  Don’t you dare try to give me a different version.

See what I mean?

Isn’t the truth that two people saw a snake and had two different experiences and sets of feelings around it?  Don’t we all have histories, fears, beliefs, prejudices, expectations and filters through which we experience life?  Are yours right and mine wrong?  Are mine right and yours wrong?

Can’t we allow room for everyone to experience what they experience?

Some people lie, deliberately and with intent.  We all know people like that.  We learn quickly not to trust them.

Some people distort.  They’re caught up in their story about themselves, about the world, about others.  They’ve been deeply damaged and wounded, or they struggle with addiction, or they have health problems, or they take medication, or they struggle with mental illness.  Am I prepared to call them liars?

No.  But I recognize the danger of some of their stories.

Does investment in a distorted story mean the storyteller is not a valuable person worthy of love and compassion?  I hope not.  I’ve my own set of distorted stories.  I think we all have.

Other, very dangerous people deliberately manipulate with story.  They invalidate yours in favor of theirs.  They tell you you’re wrong, you didn’t understand, you’re too sensitive, you’re too dramatic, you’re too crazy; you’re unfair, mean, disloyal, bad, a liar.  They tell you your story didn’t happen, that they didn’t hit you, even though there’s blood in your mouth.

So what do we do about story—ours and everyone else’s?

Maybe the most important thing is to be aware that much of what’s happening in our head is a story.  It might be partly true.  It might not be.  It’s certainly part of something larger than our point of view.  Our feelings are ours and we need to honor them, but our thoughts about our feelings can become a real problem.

We could ask others about their stories.  We could be open, curious, nonjudgmental, compassionate, respectful and prepared to be enriched by someone’s perceptions and experiences.  We could, in short, build healthy connection.

If we’re holding tight to a story that hurts us, angers us, or is otherwise destructive, we could go to other characters in the story, tell them how we feel and ask for help understanding the situation.

We can build trust and respect with ourselves.  We can claim the power and dignity to form our own opinions about others, based on our own observations and experience, and decide when to build connection and when to limit it.  We can refrain from repeating destructive stories to or about others.  We can take responsibility for our own rigidity and blind spots; our intolerance, injustice and poor communication skills, and own that we might make mistakes in judgement.

We can be wary and watchful of people who impose their stories on us.  Some people use story like a hammer and chisel, relentlessly splitting connection and relationship.  In the end they hurt themselves the most, but many a relationship has been lost because of this kind of behavior.

We can pay attention to red flags such as feeling confused, feeling torn, feeling overwhelmed, feeling exhausted by drama, and feeling dragged down or being asked to keep destructive secrets.  Healthy people in our lives who truly love us will never try to split us from others or force us to make a “them or me” choice.  Healthy people do not share destructive personal stories about others publicly, nor do they tolerate or enable this kind of behavior.  Healthy people communicate honestly, directly and clearly and recognize the ineffectiveness of black and white thinking.

In the end, our only power lies within the circumference of our own lives.  If we want others to give us a chance to speak when someone tells a distorted story about us, we must do the same for them.  If we want to be heard, understood and treated with respect and compassion, we must extend those to others.  If we’re hurt and angry, we must find appropriate and effective ways to talk about that, either with a professional or with others in our story.  We can’t control what others say and believe about us.  We can only live the most authentic lives possible and hope that our actions and words speak for themselves.  We can be responsible for our own stories.

For more on the power of story, here’s another blog you might be interested in.  Same subject, different writer.  Look for the blog titled ‘Who Are You?’ http://carmineleo.com/blog/

Also, here’s a link to a remarkable teacher who asks, “Who are you without your story?”  I highly recommend her.  http://thework.com/en

Do your stories about yourself limit you?  Do your stories about others limit them?  Can you consider another version of one of your stories?  What needs to happen for you to revise one destructive story you’ve created?

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted