How do human emotions get stored as patterns, and then release and flow?
How can we work together in community, in harmony?
What are the most effective ways to communicate with others?
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Chapter One of Heartbeat Nurturing Therapy book. Available on Amazon.com
©2011 by Amara Wahaba Karuna
What happens when we decide to be partners and build family with someone, and after a few months or years the rosy glow of our idealism wears off and it seems to become so much more difficult than we imagined? Why do we find ourselves arguing, feeling jealous, greedy, and uncooperative? It seems if the other person would just do it our way, and stop being so unreasonable, things would work out great!
How do we communicate what we want without being controlling? How do we stay connected when our needs seem to be conflicting with others? Why do we keep trying to stop drinking, smoking or eating too much, and find it such an ongoing struggle? Why does life seem so unsatisfying at times?
Emotional problems between people are the main reason for breaking up relationships, businesses and communities. Because our Western culture is so emotionally repressed, most people have no models for how to handle their own emotions in a responsible and healthy way. We go through life hoping for peace and pleasure, and if we get triggered or have our “buttons pushed”, we tend to blow up out of control, and then try to get out of the unpleasant emotions as fast as possible, without really understanding where they came from or why they are so intense.
The shadow is any part of the psyche that is unpopular and judged as undesirable. Shadows exist because of an accumulation of past hurtful experiences. We can see our own shadows in the places where we find ourselves compulsively doing things that we have already decided we do not want to do, such as indulging in addictions. It is also seen in chronic illnesses that we can’t seem to heal. Or where we feel blocked in moving forward toward the things we want to create in our lives.
Shadows live in our unconscious, so by their nature they are hard to see. It is far easier to notice something you do not like about another person, thus projecting your shadow on to them. The problem with shadows is that no matter what attempts are made to control or ignore them, they keep popping their ugly little heads up in the most inopportune and embarrassing moments.
This is because they want healing, and they want to be honored and acknowledged. The longer they are pushed away and repressed, the more energy they build up, until they really seem like monsters lurking somewhere under the thin veneer of our “nice” conscious personalities.
The good news is that shadows and old emotional distresses can be cleared and permanently resolved, with loving help from others. This book is intended as a resource for people who would like to help themselves, their friends and their lovers to feel more deeply satisfied with life and relationships.
This chapter and the next give a summary of some of the basic ideas from Re-evaluation Co-counseling (RC), because it is a really useful groundwork on which to base our more specific Heartbeat Nurturing Therapy. If you have not yet been trained as a co-counselor, these chapters are important.
Peer counseling is aimed at teaching lay people how to be effective in helping themselves and others with emotional issues, and in regaining our innate goodness and intelligence. It is based on observation of what really works in practice, not on theories of what ought to work. It evolved from the experiences of thousands of people.
You can use it on different levels. Some people have sessions occasionally just to blow off steam in stressful times. Some set up regular sessions which provide a deep long term therapy, systematically removing the blocks that keep them from realizing their dreams.
Re-evaluation Co-counseling is a world wide network of non-professional counselors, who trade sessions for the purpose of clearing emotions, dissolving rigid patterns of behavior and recovering the ability to be present and think clearly and rationally. It is a people’s liberation movement that started in the 60’s and has spread all over the world. RC has spawned many permutations and offshoots, such as Co-Counseling International, the National Coalition Building Institute, and Holistic Peer Counseling.
This spreading of information was encouraged by Harvey Jackins, the founder of RC, because of his generous attitude that the more people who know and practice their own healing, the faster the world situation will improve. You can see the original organization at www.rc.org, where you will find many resources for learning the skills.
What are human beings really like? Underneath all the programs, conditioning, expectations and hurts that we get, what is our true basic nature? Think about: What would you be like if you were really free to be your true self? What are young children like before they are socialized?
Human beings are basically intelligent, zestful, loving, communicative and cooperative. We love to be close with each other, and we love to share. We love to create things. Our inherent nature has a vast capacity for flexible intelligence. Each of us is whole and complete, unique, and with limitless potential. Nothing can permanently damage our real nature, but many things can cover it up.
When our thinking process is working well, when we are relaxed and feeling normal, information from our environment comes in mostly on a subconscious level. Most of what is happening at any time does not need our conscious attention, such as sounds sights, smells, temperature of the air, etc. It gets evaluated, processed and sorted, and then filed in our memory to be recalled at will later. We can respond to each new situation with an appropriate, new and creative response.
Why don't people always act according to our true inner nature? If we are so cooperative and loving, why are we killing each other and the planet? Through the natural process of living, we get hurt. We get hurt physically, mentally and emotionally on all levels, and frequently. This is a normal part of life, and we are equipped to deal with it, if we were allowed to.
When we are being hurt, our thinking process shuts down, or seems to work very differently. People do not usually think well while hurting. The forebrain, which holds the more evolved part of our brain and the capacity for rational thought, becomes less dominant. The more primitive reptilian brain area takes over, inducing feelings of fight or flight. Did you ever try to think or make decisions with a headache or while you are very upset?
The input of information from the environment is still pouring in, but it's not getting processed or evaluated as usual, and a kind of mis-storage occurs. All the sights, sounds, smells, etc., emotions, as well as the experience of being unable to think clearly get stuck together in one big recording/memory. This recording is like a videotape of the incident, which is stored for later processing, perhaps at a safer time.
Emotions are natural waves of energy that arise in response to a stimulus, and if they are allowed to flow and are not repressed, they naturally resolve themselves. It is natural for a child to get angry if another child steals a toy, or if they are denied a food that they really want. The emotion can be validated and allowed space to be felt, and yet not be the deciding factor in how the situation is resolved.
Hurtful things happen to us as a natural part of life, and our emotional responses to them are our natural way of healing the hurts. A child who is sad about not having another cookie can be allowed to cry, and have the feeling acknowledged in a respectful way. They can be given empathy, but not another cookie, and soon the tears will wash through and the inner sun with shine again.
In our lives, in this culture, we experience many disappointments and moments of neglect, abuse and not having our needs met. If we are not given loving empathetic attention around the emotions stirred by these hurts, they tend to get stored in our subconscious shadows. In an ideal situation, as soon as the hurtful event is over, the person would be able to release the hurt and heal.
Hurts always naturally seek release. However the safe space, time, and attention from a caring person that encourages the healing are not usually available to most of us, so the emotions and information tends to stay stuck. They will stay stuck an entire lifetime unless they are processed.
A stored hurt creates a rigid, inflexible spot in our mind, a recording of the whole event. The recording seems to take up space, to use up some of our capacity for intelligence. All the information seems to be stored in one big lump, like a recorded movie. Separate bits can't be remembered individually as they can when it is stored normally. It becomes a place where we can't think well, that when alone we avoid remembering.
Why? What happens right now when you think about something that was really a hurtful event? You re-experience the hurt. It's all still right there, and so we try to avoid remembering it.
Take a moment and think of times when you have acted like that. Maybe write them down for further reflection. This behavior indicates a place here you have been hurt, and still carry the scars of that hurt.
The recordings wait in our subconscious storage vault, like a booby trap. When anything later happens which is similar enough to the original hurts, we experience that unpleasant phenomenon known as being triggered. The new situation may not even be a hurtful event. It may just be similar in any way to the old event. We call this being "Re-stimulated" or "Triggered." It's also commonly known as getting
your buttons pushed, or overreacting. When the old recording starts to play, it feels like a replaying of the old incident. You feel the same feelings, find your self saying the same words or compulsively doing the same actions. It takes you out of the present and into the past.
A person acting out of an old distress recording will say things that are not pertinent, do things that don't work, and fail to cope effectively and gracefully with the present situation. They will feel terrible feelings that may have nothing to do with the present situation. You can tell you've come across residue in someone because they're acting frozen, nonsensical or rigid. They become irrational and "not themselves". They may get memory flashes of the old situation. "Temporary insanity" is a classic description of being triggered.
Whenever someone is triggered, and they have failed to cope effectively with the new situation, it also becomes a new hurtful experience. It gets recorded with all its new feelings, sensations and thoughts. Thus new situations are added on top of the old ones, and the distress recording gets bigger, adding more layers.
This means the booby trap has more triggers. It takes up more of our free thinking space, and there are less areas of experience in life that are not upsetting to us. The person becomes more disposed to be upset by more situations, and more deeply upset, and for longer times.
We get hurt early and often. We get hurt by accident when we are babies; we get bumps, or get cold, hungry, frustrated or scared. This could get taken care of by our inherent healing process, if it were allowed to happen. But by far the greatest cause of our hurts is from contagion from irrational adults. For example, when a child runs outside naked, and the parent (having been punished by their own parents for exactly the same thing) gets upset and yells at the child, telling them how bad and embarrassing they have been acting. Then the child carries guilt, shame and fear about their body as a distress.
When there has been enough re-stimulation, and when the same hurts happen over and over, they form patterns, which become incorporated into our personalities and even reflected in our body structure. They color our beliefs and affect every part of our lives.
Most patterns are latent, when you do not feel the distress all the time, but it lies inside waiting to be pulled out by a similar event. We see these as our "problems". We know that certain things trigger us. "Oh, I always get mad when someone is late for anything." "I hate to talk in front of a group".
What kinds of chronic patterns have you seen in yourself and others? Take a moment and write down the basic ideas about life and this world that you base your actions on. What do you believe about yourself? About the world?
Chronic patterns are created when we are hurt so frequently over a long time, that the feelings become pervasive, and we think, "that's just the way I am". These are seen as idiosyncrasies of personality, or as your viewpoint on reality. Chronic patterns are constantly triggered; they play all the time. They are like colored glasses through which we see the world. They can be identified in a person's posture, speech, emotional attitudes (like pessimism), and ritual rigid behaviors (like compulsions and addictions).
The process of storing hurts can be reversed. Our abilities to think clearly and respond freely can be recovered, and repaired. A natural healing process is built in, and we are all born with it. If it could operate, it would allow stored distress to be removed immediately. This emotional release process can be called "discharge" in the sense of discharging or draining a battery, or catharsis.
Emotional release is a natural, inherent process. Every young child does it spontaneously. It is a physical, chemical process that happens in our bodies. When sad, we naturally cry and sob. When afraid, we laugh, tremble and have cold sweat. When angry we rage with loud sounds and large movements, and have hot sweat. When we have physical discomfort we relieve it by yawning and stretching. When we want to communicate an experience we do so with animated, non-repetitive talking. All of these are avenues of release for the emotional energy, and have a healing effect if done consciously within a safe and loving situation, with someone who wants to listen.
If the process of catharsis is allowed to finish, the stuck information in the distress recording is released, evaluated and stored correctly. The area of our thinking around the old painful moment is restored to flexible awareness. This is called "Re-evaluation," and is an automatic response after emotion has been discharged. It is the "Aha" feeling of resolution and understanding that comes after releasing. The purpose of counseling is to encourage the catharsis process so that we can reclaim all the areas of our flexible thinking that have been blocked.
What keeps the natural healing process from happening?
Originally it is the lack of an attentive, loving person at the moment of the hurtful experience. In painful moments, we are often alone or the others around are involved somehow in their own pain. There is a vast shortage of people who know how to truly pay attention to someone else when they are hurting.
We grow up with a chronic feeling of never having enough personal attention. This is due to similar hurts instilled in the adults we depend on, and also to the isolating structure of our society, which makes it very hard for parents to get the help they need. Do you feel like you got enough attention while growing up?
Our culture also confuses the healing process with the hurt. We think if someone is crying, we need to get them to stop, and then they will be all better. We do not realize that the crying itself was what would make the hurt dissolve.
Inhibitions are learned early. We are told "don't cry", and get lots of patting, rocking, threats, or humiliation: "Big boys don't cry". Or "I'll give you something to cry about." Soon the inhibitions become internalized, and we stop ourselves without having to be told.
No form of catharsis is more important than the others. If they are encouraged and persisted with, the stuck hurt will be released in just the right way for the client. Often you will have many different feelings about one hurtful event.
Everyone keeps trying to get attention, although not with awareness. We talk out our problems, or cry on a shoulder with friends. If you listen, much of everyday conversation is people trying to client about their problems. But it is hard to be thorough and deep with this unaware "clienting", because our conditioning not to have feelings takes over whenever the discharge gets deep. Also friends are often unskilled at listening and will often offer advice, give criticism, or just take the attention back to themselves by interrupting and talking about their own feelings.
In co-counseling we structure our time together so that we create a safe time for us each to have a turn being listened to, when the listener has been trained to listen well. In this way deep and true healing can take place. In Heartbeat Therapy, we do some of this discussion and listening work before and after the cradling sessions, so it is useful to know the skills.
If the discharge process is allowed to operate, people can return to natural state of freedom and zestful living. Each gain in recovering our capacity for intelligence is worthwhile, even if it is small.
One of the main things that keeps all the emotional patterning in place is the isolation that is built in to our modern society. We have gotten far away from our tribal roots, and many people live alone, or in small families. Our daily lives are not structured to create opportunities for deep sharing and closeness.
Most people hope to find one other person to live and be partners with. They depend on that one person for all their needs for sharing and intimacy. Even if we do have a partner, the internal and external stresses often make it hard to have enough satisfying time together. As we can see, this places great stress on the primary relationship, and many relationships do not last long. The feelings of hurt and rejection are added to old feelings, until a fear of any intimacy arises. It seems easier just to be alone. Many people struggle just to have any closeness and connection in their lives.
When we take time to share therapeutic time in sessions, it creates an opportunity to not only release our programs about isolation, but to meet some of our actual needs for closeness. By going to the roots of our first experiences of closeness in infancy, we create a situation where the patterns can be re-structured.
Amara Karuna, 2011
©2018 by Amara Wahaba Karuna
Meetings and formats that we use at Laakea Community in Hawaii, include:
· Morning checkins- a short report on how each person feels and what activities they plan to do that day, and any request for help, rides, etc
· Long business retreats- a day or two set aside every month or so to talk about deeper issues of vision and policy that take a longer time to consider
· play retreats- spending time together at the beach, or park, or a picnic
· business meetings - happen weekly and handle all current business
· Consensus theory and skills - we all learn how to come to group decisions in a co-operative, non authoritarian manner.
· Heartshare meetings- happen weekly and are a chance to feel connected.
Possible activities during a Heartshare meeting:
We use several formats to do processing emotion.
Communication skills are needed for all this to work We all learn how to listen well, give empathy, and the kinds of statements that are and are not helpful when communicating with others.
A primary form is Non Violent Communication - learning to identify and express feelings, needs and requests in a way that others can hear them.
1. The Forum- a process for sharing in the large group, where one person at a time stands up and moves through the center space, expressing how they feel authentically, including movement. The movement helps to keep the energy moving. The intent is not therapy, but revealing the truth to others. We often use the simple form of 3 minute each turns, with no feedback or facilitation. Not everyone needs to take a turn. Clapping happens after every piece, and when opening and closing the forum. There are more complex forms of the forum that require training to facilitate.
2. Let-Go's - A process of revealing things that have been withheld from another person or the group, which are not discussed at that time. These can happen in a group or between two people only.
We ask "does anyone have any let-gos"? and someone might say, "yes I have one for Amara, do you want to hear it?" Then Amara can say yes or no, if she is not in a good space to hear it. If she says yes, then the person shares the let-go in an NVC format: "When__________ happened, I felt _________________. I am needing ____________________ and (optional) my request is _______________." Amara simply says: "Thank you" and they discuss it at a later time.
3. Appreciations- We ask "Are there any appreciations?" People offer them to individuals or to the whole group. It could be personal or about something someone did.
3. Co-counseling- a way of introspecting, owning and processing one's deep feelings so that they no longer are controlling our reactions and behavior. This is more about clearing one's own self in order to be able to communicate better with others later.
We might take a 5 minute each mini session, with one person sharing whatever is up for them, and the other person simply listening, or asking questions, but not giving advice or comments. Or sometimes we might give each person equal time in the whole group for sessions. Any emotions that need to flow are welcome.
4. Long check ins- we divide up the time, and each person talks about whatever is going on in any aspect of their lives they would like to share.
5. Hot seat- can be combined with check ins. We ask the person on the hot seat questions about their life and experience. They can answer or not. If they answer and go on a long time, the questioner can interrupt and say ?Thank you? when they have heard enough of the answer. This process helps draw out people who are new to the group and might be shy to speak. Questions should come from the questioner's true curiosity.
6. Appreciation circles: everyone has a turn receiving appreciations from the whole group. Comments should be authentic and spoken to the person directly. The receiver does not respond except for "Thank you". This creates a real feeling of closeness and bonding in the group.
7. Touch check ins- we divide up the time and people ask for the kind of touching they want, like massage or cuddles. They can check in at the same time or be silent or ask for appreciations or songs or toning.
8. Theater Games and other games- playful ways to connect with the group. They might include some of the New Games, or Playback Theater games. We like Whoosh=Bang- Pow and Fluid Sculptures, among many.
9. Massage- we might spend a whole meeting simply trading massage in pairs or triads or quartets.
10. Cuddle Puddles- We might end a meeting with some time in a cuddle pile.
11. Mediations- for people who are in conflict, we may take time in the whole group to help. We prefer to do this in smaller groups and not use the whole group time, but sometimes the conflicts affect everyone. Or we may process a larger conflict that many people are affected by, such as a disagreement on how to move forward on a project.
12. Vision and Policy- we may process group feelings on a certain topic, such as raising children, food issues, drug use, etc.
13. Personal Histories- we share on a certain topic such as our personal histories with sexuality, or sexism, classism and money, etc. this helps us understand each other.
WHAT HELPS, AND WHAT HURTS COMMUNICATION
©2015 by Amara Wahaba Karuna
WHAT IS GOOD COMMUNICATION? GIVING AND RECEIVING
When you are able to let your thoughts or feelings be known to another person in a way that they can understand, without attacking (trying to hurt) them, that is good communication. This requires an attitude of cooperation, honesty and respect.
In order to really be communicating, your message must be received as well as sent. If you say something that the other person doesn't hear or understand, you have expressed yourself, but you have not really communicated anything. If you want the other person to change or act differently somehow, it is especially important to carefully consider how to get your message across in a way they can hear it.
Communication can happen through written and spoken words, gestures, pictures, actions, body posture, facial expressions and the tone of voice. Often the words themselves carry the weakest impact, with the non-verbal signals being much more important. Example: Someone says "I really like you" in a bored voice with a perfectly straight, stiff face. What have they really communicated?
It's very important to honestly, and carefully, communicate feelings.
Uncommunicated feelings create distances between people. Even if it is uncomfortable, sharing your real experience in a caring way is the greatest gift you can give to keep a relationship healthy.
As human beings, we feel best when there is openness and understanding between us. Having lots of unsettled problems hanging in our relationships is not a comfortable feeling- they tend to weigh us down and create a blocked, trapped feeling. It takes a lot of courage to face someone and honestly communicate our uncomfortable feelings, but the feeling of release and freedom afterward is a great reward.
Most of us were constantly criticized when growing up, by parents, teachers, relatives, friends. It is usually easier for us to verbalize our dissatisfaction than what we like. Many people are very sensitive about being criticized. It is important to communicate your critical feedback carefully, to make it easier for the other person to hear it. People learn best from someone that they trust and feel safe with. If they can hear it, there is a greater chance that they will change their behavior.
When both people communicate clearly what they think and feel, and are listened to respectfully, it is possible create solutions to problems together so that everyone wins. Many problems are imagined or blown out of proportion, and vanish when the people involved communicate carefully.
WHAT HELPS COMMUNICATION HAPPEN?
WHEN YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE TO SOMEONE ELSE, Helpful steps are:
1. CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF:
Is this a good time for you to say what you have to say? Do you have enough time or are you in a rush? Is your thinking clear? Missing sleep, or taking drugs (even coffee) can make it harder to communicate, because the drug's influence will flavor what you say and do. How are you feeling right now? If you are very upset, it will be harder to communicate in a way that can be received by the other person. The more calm, strong and clear you are, the easier it will be to have a good communication. If you feel inside that you want to hurt the other person, get back at them, teach them a lesson or prove you are right, you are coming from a competitive rather than a cooperative attitude. Strong fear will also make it hard to think. The other person will feel this, and understanding each other will be harder.
This also applies when you have strong positive feelings that you want to communicate. Sometimes it can be just as hard to express affection as it is to express criticism. What are some ways you can use to get clear and calm? Journal writing, counseling, a long walk, talking it over with someone else... What do you use to get back in touch with who you really are?
When it seems hard to get calm and clear enough; It often helps to go talk it over with a friend who is uninvolved until you are feeling calmer. If you want to avoid gossiping, you don't even need to mention the names of the other people involved with your problem. Just talking about your feelings often takes a lot of the tension away. This step helps avoid dumping all the force of your old hurts caused by parents, etc. onto the usually relatively innocent person you are trying to talk with now.
Practice saying what you want to say, either alone or to a friend, or in writing. Sometimes you might need to have an ally with you in order to feel clear enough to talk over something that you have a lot of intense feelings about. (For example, having your parent come with you to talk to a teacher about a problem). Another option is to write a letter to the person, instead of talk with them. This sometimes helps you to carefully choose your words without pressure. Or some people find that talking over the phone feels easier.
2. ASKING FIRST- CHECK IN WITH THE OTHER PERSON
Does the person want to communicate with you right then? Are they in a hurry or tired, and do they have time? How much of a need do you have to talk right then, or is it something you can put off until a better time? Respect their right to say no, but be firm about setting up a later time. What you have to say is important.
If you have something uncomfortable to say, it is even more important to ask beforehand. A lot of bad communication happens when people just "pop" out with a critical remark and the other person is unprepared, and so responds defensively. This is a bad habit that many of us have grown up with. We are often more polite with and thoughtful of our acquaintances than the people in our families we really love most. Examples of good ways to ask : "I want to talk to you about something important. (or serious, or uncomfortable, or a problem) Is this a good time to talk?" "Can we set up a time to have a private talk?" "Something is bugging me and I want to clear it up with you. Do you have a few minutes?" "I would like to share some of my feelings with you." "I have something difficult to say to you. Can you give me some time?"
3. VALIDATE and APPRECIATE BEFORE GIVING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK. -Satisfying relationships are built on a positive flow of love and appreciation between the people involved. The more you receive, the more you will want to give. The more continuous and deep is this exchange, the more satisfaction will be felt. -This positive feedback loop is a skill that can be practiced, and can become a habit. Many people become locked into habits of criticism and invalidation with their partners or children, creating a loop where they get more and more shut off and less willing to give. Sometimes this ends in a feeling of the relationship "not being worth it" because the rewards become less than the effort.
Build a positive relationship- practice appreciating the other person. Tell them you like it whenever they do something you appreciate. Look for things to appreciate, even if it seems difficult. Examples: "I really love you" "I'm so glad you are my special (friend, partner, mate...) "I love being close to you" "I am proud of you, I respect you" "I appreciate the work you do" "Thanks for taking care of that project- you did it well." -When preparing to give negative feedback, first give appreciations. This builds safety, reminding both of you of the good energy possible between you. -If you can't think of any appreciations, at least explain to the person that your intention is to communicate honestly and clearly, in a way that neither of you gets hurt. Why are you bothering to talk with them? Let them know your good intentions. "I don't want this to stand in the way of our friendship." "I want to be honest with you."
4. CLEARING - Guidelines for giving negative feedback in a considerate, effective way:
It will be helpful if you both agree to use these guidelines first: to take turns listening and paraphrasing, to agree not to interrupt each other, to use "I" messages and avoid the things that block communication.
CLEARING IS NOT THE SAME AS COUNSELING- A time set up for clearing and good communication is a time to be as calm and centered and rational as possible. It is a time to communicate information, ask for changes and make agreements. People will hear what you have to say much better if there is not a strong emotional charge mixed with it. If you have strong feelings, try to work them out beforehand in a counseling session, where you don't have to concern yourself with being polite or rational. Depending on who you are clearing with, (your boss, your mate, your child) they may be more or less interested in the details of your emotional reactions.
Don't expect them to be your counselor. Decide if you want to be their counselor or not, if they become irrational during the clearing process. If you do, listen to them calmly without taking it personally while they express their emotions. If you don't, stop the process until they can calm down. Ask for help if necessary.
A. TELL THEM HOW YOU ARE FEELING FIRST, before you try to give information. Then they will have an idea where you are coming from and be less likely to mis-interpret. Examples: "I feel really nervous saying this." "I am kind of tired right now and distracted." "I am a bit angry." USE "I" MESSAGES: statements about your own experience; feelings, thoughts, desires. While people can argue about an accusation or insult, ("You are always sloppy") they can't argue with a statement about your own experience. (I don't like it when you don't clean up") Examples of feeling "I" messages: "I'm really annoyed and I don't want to stay upset with you." "I am afraid." "I am really happy and excited." "I Messages" can also contain information about why you are feeling that way.
Examples: "I feel happy and warm when you visit me." "I am worried that you might be in trouble." "I am scared that you might hit me, and I feel unsafe." "I felt rejected when you didn't call." You can also explain what you are thinking with "I" messages: "I have a different opinion. The way I see it..." "I don't want to join in that activity."
WATCH FOR HIDDEN "YOU" MESSAGES: Beware of statements that begin "I feel that you..." because they are always what you think about them, not what you feel. These give no information about your own experience or feelings. LIke "I feel that you are untrustworthy because you didn't call." (A true "I" message would be: "I don't trust you, because you didn't call.") Or "I feel that you are wrong about that." (better: "I disagree.") "I know you are trying to hurt me." (better: "I feel attacked and unsafe with you.") Sometimes changing these into direct questions is useful: "Why didn't you call me?"
B. WHAT YOU WANT AND WHY: Say exactly what you want the other person to do from now on (what you want), as opposed to explaining what they were doing "wrong" (What you don't want). Going into all the ways the other person was "bad" puts people on the defensive and closes them down. Stating the problem as factually as possible is helpful.
Not so good: "You never get to meetings on time! You are so unreliable and self centered!" Better: "You have been late every day this week. I would like you to get here on time from now on. I am frustrated when you are late." Begin by asking for 100% of what you want. You can compromise later, after you hear what they want, to work out something mutually agreeable.
EXPLAIN WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU: It will help the other person to understand what you want and need if you tell them why. Ex: "It is important to me because the other people at the meeting can't really get started until you arrive, and a lot of time gets wasted." This is especially important when talking to young people. "Because I said so" is not a good reason, it is a command.
C. MAKE SURE THEY HEARD WHAT YOU SAID
PARAPHRASING- After one person has expressed their thoughts, feeling and wants, have the listener paraphrase what was just said in their own words. Do this every few minutes, or it will be hard for the listener to remember all that was said! Ex: "What did you hear me say?" "I heard that you are frustrated because you don't like waiting for me to arrive to get started working, and you want me to be prompt from now on." Keep doing this until the first speaker feels satisfied that the listener heard what was being said.
D. TAKE TURNS- They deserve a chance to say what they have to say to you. After the first person speaks, and the listener says what they heard, then let the listener have a turn. Keep taking turns until you feel that everything has been said. Try to give each other approximately equal time. It is not fair if one person keeps talking so long that the other doesn't have a turn. You can even time it- try five minutes each, back and forth til you feel done.
THINGS THAT HURT AND BLOCK GOOD COMMUNICATION
1. DISRESPECT: Things that imply the person is helpless, unimportant and incompetent. INTERRUPTIONS-breaking in while the other person is talking, before they are done. It implies that what they have to say is not important. Sometimes this is unavoidable, like when you have a time deadline, or when the other person is attacking you. You can say "Excuse me for interrupting, but..." "This isn't working for me." If the other person interrupts you, or seems to spend much more time talking that is fair, express your feelings using "I" messages, and request change.
RESCUING - Stepping in to take care of someone, doing it for them, protecting them in a way that keeps them from learning from their own direct experiences. "Oh, here, let me do that." "I'll tell him for you." This is not the same as defending someone from an attack, when they really need help. It is more like not letting them have a chance to be as strong as they really are.
ADVICE- Telling someone what you think they should do to solve a problem. "Maybe you could try..." Even if it seems that you know exactly what they should do, really they are the only person who can know the best thing in their own unique situation. Advice implies lack of trust and respect in the person's own power. Sometimes it is appropriate when they ask for it directly.
CORRECTING- Pointing out bluntly what they did wrong. "You said 'ain't' again. That's bad grammar." "You shouldn't have told him the answer."
ASSUMING/ MIND READING- Believing that you know exactly what the other person is experiencing. "I know just how you feel, it is caused by..." "Oh that has happened to me a million times, don't you feel mad?"
2. HUMILIATION: Ways of actively putting other people down, or insulting them.
KIDDING- this is often a form of disguised criticism or insult, which would not be said at all if it had to be said in a straightforward way. Kidding makes people defensive and cautious. If challenged, the kidder can say "Oh, I didn't mean it" but there is always some truth under a jibe. Ex: "Hey, is there a real face under all that make-up?"
SARCASM & RIDICULE- like kidding but usually intended to be hurtful. Sarcasm is saying one thing when you mean the opposite. Ex: "Oh my, look at the beauty queen today! I just LOVE your make up." Ridicule is mocking and sneering with the intent to belittle. "You don't even know THAT?" "Everybody else has a better one than you."
SHAME- Making someone feel somehow bad, wrong and that they should be different. Shame is a paralyzing feeling that keeps us from learning from our experiences and mistakes. Ex: "How could you wear so much make up? Shame on you! That's disgusting!"
NAME-CALLING AND LABELING- Name calling is a personal insult: "You look like a slut!" "You are stupid" "Dummy!". Labeling is putting down the person as a member of a whole group: "All you freshmen are so uncool and tacky." "Another dumb blond." Both of these make it hard for the other person to respond in any way except being defensive. There is no invitation to improve the situation or be helpful. They are another form of hurtful attacks.
DISCOUNTING- When someone is not taken seriously, either for their feelings or thinking. Discrediting or invalidating a person's right to state what is real for them. Ex: "Oh it's not that bad." "Why are you upset about that little thing?" "Don't be silly." "No, that's wrong. You don't know what you are talking about." "You're to young to know what I mean." Or even worse: "You don't really feel that way."
3. MANIPULATIONS: Unhealthy ways of trying to make the other person to do what you want, or see it your way. Using fear and guilt to get them to change.
ORDERING- telling them what to do directly without considering their wants or needs ("You must finish that right now!" "Shut up and listen!")
COERCION- Sneaky ways to get someone to do something, like bribing ("I'll like you better if you do this for me") or pressuring ("Everybody will know that you are the only one who didn't go along with this" "Come on, just try it once, just a little?")
THREATENING & WARNING- Directly threatening bad results ("If you don't do this, I'll never speak to you again.") or intimidating ("You are really going to get in trouble if you do that").
PREACHING & SHOULDS- Assuming you know what is best for them. "You should always be honest with your mother." "Everyone knows that the right thing is to always be clean and tidy."
TEACHING- Giving a lecture, telling them you know more than they do, giving information when it is not wanted. You may be correct in what you are saying, but if you don't say it in a way the other person can hear it, it is useless. "Sugar inhibits your immune system, you know- it's really bad for you."
4. HURTFUL ATTACKS: Ways of trying to hurt the other person, making them your enemy, saying they are the problem, fighting
ACCUSATIONS - Telling others what we suspect to be true, in a disapproving way. "You left those dirty dishes!" "You cheated on that test!" They are almost certain to deny or argue in response. These can easily be turned into questions to get accurate information: "Did you leave the dirty dishes?"
GENERALIZATIONS- Always and Never are words to avoid. "You always say the wrong thing!" "You never tell me you love me." It may feel like it's true, but it usually isn't, and it gives the other person something to argue with.
BLAME- Making it seem as though it is all the other person's fault, and that they are bad. "This is all your fault! You're the one that got me in trouble!" It implies that their very nature is bad and ignores why they may have acted in that way. It is important to separate people's negative behavior from who they really are; in other words, the action is bad but the person isn't. Often negative behavior is just a mistake. When it is intentional acting out, that is a call for help and attention from someone who is hurting inside. Often blame is used to project the responsibility onto someone else, when really it was our own.
ESCALATIONS- When you are arguing about something, and it is getting louder and faster and more heated. The end of an escalation is a shouting match, in which no one is thinking or listening. If you feel an escalation happening, tell the other person that this is too intense and loud for you to continue right now, and wait quietly to see if they calm down. Tell them what you hear them saying, in as considerate a way as possible. If they don't calm down, it is better to leave and try to talk again later. It's not necessary or helpful to be some else's punching bag or dumping ground.
GOSSIPING AND BACKSTABBING- Complaint about someone, but not taking it directly to them, but instead complaining to everyone else about them. "Do you know what she said to me yesterday?" This hurts the other person in many ways- mainly because the people who are listening to the gossip form negative thoughts about them without hearing their side of the story. People will often gossip to form coalitions; to get a group of people on "their side". This is very divisive in a group, and it makes a problem between two people become a problem of the whole group. It is much more workable to take your issue directly to the person you have it with. Or as mentioned earlier, discuss the problem with others first, preferably with people who are not involved, but don't reveal the identity of the other person.
IGNORING and ABANDONING- This may not seem like an attack, but really it is the most devastating way to hurt someone emotionally. It is a cutting off of relationship, a closing of the door for communication. Many of us learned to do it, since in the past there was usually not a way to clear up the bad feelings, our only choice was to ignore them and avoid the other person. But this leaves a festering wound between you.
Attempts to avoid the other person often mean giving them a lot of power over your life, for example choosing to not attend events you think they might be at. Ignoring someone can be used as a last resort, if all attempts at communication have failed, and the other person still insists on attacking you. But it is a short term, less than ideal solution. It usually feels better if we can discover why the other person is attacking us, and try to deal with the real problem and resolve it.
GETTING HELP- Don't Give Up Before you Have asked for Help
MEDIATION- If you have tried to communicate one-to-one and it hasn't worked, or if for some other reason you feel unsafe communicating that way, call in a third person to mediate. This will often defuse the conflict enough to work it out rationally. The mediator can help make sure that the guidelines are followed, that each person has equal time, that each person is hearing the other, and that things do not escalate. Professional mediators also help people work out agreements and solve problems.
RELATIONSHIP COUNSELING SESSIONS- These are different from mediation because the purpose is to explore the feelings of each person about the other, and see what is within each person that is creating their mutual problem. The counselor may work with each person, encouraging emotional expression, while the other person watches. This promotes greater understanding about the roots of the conflict and can be essential if the problem is between mates or family members. Some relationship counselors also do mediation and problem solving.