About Communication (Part I)
Understanding the Foundation: What Communication Is and What Itís All About
I often hear struggling couples say, "Our main
problem is that we canít
communicate." This statement is only partially true. It is true that lack of communication is always central to any relational breakdown. But to say, "we cannot communicate" is essentially an excuse to continue distancing from one another. What "we canít communicate" really means is "I canít make the other person see everything my way."
communicate. The truth is, many individuals choose not to communicate because honest, effectual
communication implies a resolve to be satisfied with less than total control of communicationís outcome. It should; communication is indeed a negotiation of harmony. Communion
(in or with union) is the principle of communication
. Remember this as you read and consider the contents of this chapter.
The justification for our need to desire communication, even insist upon it, I have explained in the chapter regarding the purpose of marriage and relationship. However, I will give a brief abstract of that line for our present consideration.
Human relationship, of which marriage is the primordial and prototypical model, is the obligatory
pursuit of manís particular place in the cosmic scheme and the eternal program of holiness, that essential Godliness by which all things consist and are held together. To which end, therefore, each constituent of any relationship has a vital role to play. Each individual party has unique insight, information, perspective, wisdom and Godly counsel that is needed to define, direct and nurture the relationship toward its ordained destiny. It is critical that this information be shared openly. Communication is the skillful and effectual coding (sending) and decoding (receiving) of this vital information.
Incidentally, a fundamental question is perhaps raised here: Can one truly commune with God if not also with oneís fellow man? For reasons that will become clear, the answer, biblically, and of course logically, is no
. Scripture repeatedly cautions those who would think otherwise. In the context of the Lordís Prayer: "For if you do not forgive those who offend you, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses." (I believe He will not because He cannot. In Godís sovereignty there are immutable laws that protect and govern relationship, just as there are immutable laws that protect and govern the physical universe.)
You will note the frequent reference to effectual communication
, or true, honest communication
. I have no interest whatsoever in superficiality. I am talking here about communication that has the power and the intent to effectuate the transformation of superficial relationships into holiness Ė that is, intimate interconnectedness
The first ingredient of effectual communication is honesty. To be honest with others I must begin by being honest with myself because honesty with others is a natural outcome of honesty with myself. Honesty with self naturally involves a certain amount of self analysis, more or less as the situation requires. I will explain self analysis in detail presently.
The second ingredient to communication, which rather follows from the first, is vulnerability
. Each person in the relationship must be committed to vulnerability. If there is lack of vulnerability on the part of either constituent there will be no effectual communication. Rather, the two will attack and defend in turn, and continue to create and reinforce distance. Distance eventually becomes the antithesis of holiness (wholeness).
The flip side of vulnerability is trust. Trust invites vulnerability. And thatís exactly what you want to do in communicating. You want to be trustworthy Ė honest, sincere, non-threatening Ė so as to invite the other person to be vulnerable. Then you must, of course, reward their vulnerability by reciprocating and thereby creating and maintaining a supportive and trusting environment.
Trust, like faith, is a thing that grows from a seed. So, I refer to trust in two parts: trust of risk and trust of confidence. Risk is the seed of confidence. The first time my daughter asked if she could take the new SUV into Seattle, at night, to a rock concert, I had to exercise trust of risk. She returned from her maiden voyage on time, with the car intact. Because she was faithful and rewarded my risk, confidence naturally grew. There must be an initial degree of risk. However, this risk must be rewarded, or it will never grow into confidence. Seeds that donít grow eventually die.
Communication requires risk, but it also enables us to reward the risk Ė and we must.
Trust of confidence will quickly grow in the caring, other-centered atmosphere of effectual communication. What happens then is an exponential effect. Honest, supportive communication begets confidence and confidence begets further effectual communication and the courage and desire to continue being vulnerable and supportive. When honest, effectual communication is the order of the day, one soon finds oneself surrounded in a nurturing, validating environment. This sense of reassurance soon begins to promote confidence in every venue of life. Children who experience healthy communication at home are better students. Husbands and wives who communicate well are better employees and employers. They tend to be safer drivers. They are generally physically healthier, and on and on.
After the communicative environment of honesty and vulnerability is established, communication must proceed in a prescribed and responsible manner. Good communication requires self analysis, situational analysis and the skillful and religious use of communication tools, all of which I will discuss in order in Part 2. The genuine, sincere, committed use of the following information will guarantee immediate results.
Of course, not every communication requires the same depth of attention and preparation. "Whatís for dinner?" "Wha-cha-doin?"
Or, "Cool, man!" Although even innocent remarks like these can be emotionally loaded
, on their own many such communications are seldom offensive. Quite a lot of basic daily functionality is based on this rather crude, superficial style of communication that can be taken for granted. But the fact that all relationships are at times emotionally fragile, prone to offense and division proves indisputably that all relationships also require careful and deliberate management of communication from time to time.
There are numerous issues and topics in the life of a marriage or relationship that can and will cause division, particularly in relationships that are characterized by chronic or repeated stress. These are the communications we are addressing here. If divisions are not healed, they will turn into chasms and 50 percent of the time these will result in the painful dissolution of the relationship. In the case of marriage, this means divorce. A good rule of thumb is the more emotion you have about an issue the more preparation you need before you attempt to express your viewpoint
. Letís understand why this is so.
Communication is largely a voluntary behavior (as opposed to an involuntary behavior such as respiratory activity), and like all largely voluntary behaviors it is rooted in deeply held personal beliefs regarding oneís safety and well being. Beliefs drive emotions and emotions (e-motions) drive motion or behavior. This is true of any communication no matter how banal or seemingly unimportant. An unimportant
communication is, after all, merely a communication about a subject with regards to which one perceives no personal threat. That, of course, is a matter of individual perspective.
Take, for example, a simple stop at the cappuccino shop. Imagine that two customers order triple-tall, non-fat, decaf, iced, Irish cream lattes. Two drinks are served but neither is what the customers ordered. Instead, each gets some kind of mint chocolate milkshake thing. One customer goes into an angry tirade about the lost rights of the customer and the collapse of western civilization. Whatís going on? Like a volcano spewing out magma from the depths of the earth, this person is spewing out deeply held belief-related fears, or representative opinions, that have directly or indirectly to do with his or her sense of safety, survival and well being. The other person takes a sip from his cup and says, "Hey, Iíve never had one of these. Yummy! Not too bad." In this case the mistake is for some reason not taken as a personal attack or threat. How could a cup of coffee touch off beliefs about survival? Well, humans are fragile creatures and our beliefs are all the reality we have, right or wrong. Belief, deeply held conviction or assumption, is what our seemingly routine lives are built upon and anchored in, however tenuously so.
I have introduced the idea of personal survival, safety and well being as the impetus behind belief, thus emotion, thus behavior. Wellbeing
is a sense, a frame of mind. Oneís construction of an environment of personal safety and wellbeing is essentially the acquisition and security of sufficient emotional and psychological space, which act as a buffer between the individual and any potential threat. When you think of the physical space around you, you think of air Ė oxygen. So, you might say then that physical space around you is measured in terms of cubic feet of oxygen. A personís emotional and psychological space is measured in terms of personal control, power and value
. These are the basic elements, if you please, of oneís emotional and psychological environment. Communication is largely a negotiation of control, power and value, or emotional and psychological space. The two customers in the cappuccino shop, in their respective responses to the beverages they were served, communicated very different needs for emotional and psychological space.
Another example goes like this: A story was told of two 17th century Native American men in the Puget Sound area, friends. One of the two had traveled far to the south of our Northern America, far enough to witness the Spanish soldiers riding horses, or what he described as large dogs
, and using these dogs
also to carry great, heavy loads. He thought it would be a wonderful thing to one day trade for such a useful dog. However, upon returning and sharing his adventures with his friend, his friend became angry at the report of the large dogs. Rather than desire such a useful dog to be part of his work life, he personally saw any such change as a threat to the coastal native way of life, the end of their culture. One event, two completely different interpretations, two very different senses of personal psychological and emotional space.
It is clear, is it not, that the greater oneís concern over emotional and psychological space Ė the more one believes he or she is threatened, or that his or her control, power and value are at risk of being diminished Ė the more heightened the e-motions and the more intense the behavior; in this case, communication. The less the fear, the more relaxed the communication. For example, when people yell in anger, they are demonstrating a high level of fear. They believe they and their reality are in some way threatened. They feel the need for greater control, power and value, the need for more emotional and psychological space. On the other hand, when people talk softly and behave pleasantly, they demonstrate that they do not believe they are threatened. They do not feel powerless, out of control or valueless. They do not feel the need for greater emotional and psychological space. They have just enough. Self analysis is basically the questioning of these beliefs and the concerns or fears they may cause.
You begin the analysis by focusing on the emotions that are driving the need to communicate any given thought. Focusing on emotion is an acquired skill. It takes practice. We have emotion from our head to our toes. These emotions are attached to memories, which also reside throughout the body. This may sound strange, but consider this. We are talking about the mind, not the brain. It is true that the locus of memory and emotion is centered in the brain. However, the mind is more generally located throughout the body. The mind is the center of your self awareness. When friends hold hands it is meaningful in part because the essence and the message of that caring touch are not confined to the brain alone.
In a typical exercise of biofeedback, one practices feeling or sensing the emotion beginning in the feet and working up to the top of the head. It is sufficient for our exercise that we focus on the emotion that centralizes in the upper abdomen and the chest. If you care to, you might just place your hand on your chest and acknowledge what I call the tossed salad of emotion
that resides there. If you were well practiced at identifying emotions, you could probably identify up to a dozen emotions that are in your chest, your mind, continually. I like to think this exercise of identifying emotions is like tasting a complex dish or salad and trying to identify the spices and ingredients that make it so delicious.
Some of these emotions are more pleasant than others. Believe it or not, they are all tied to memories Ė events that happened to you, or to someone you know, or to events you read about, heard about or dreamt about. These emotions, like the memories, never go completely away. They remain there, for the most part dormant, until some event offers them a means of expression or behavior such as communication
It is true then, that more often than you would suspect, the force behind communication, whether functional or dysfunctional, amounts to the expression of these emotions that have much to do with psychological and emotional space Ė our deeply held beliefs about personal security Ė and little or nothing to do with the immediate thoughts we want to convey.
For example, my daughter has left her room in a mess. I lose my temper and shout at her to clean it up. Two things are happening here. One is that I am trying to convey the need for her to organize herself. Thatís a good message from a caring parent. The other is that I am getting angry, which means I am afraid and I am trying to increase my emotional and psychological space by exerting control over my daughter. But this fear has nothing directly to do with my daughter. It has to do with beliefs regarding my security, my power, my control and my value.1
This emotion of fear could be attached to anything from a remote memory of something I read about Hitler, to concern about my aging, to the current cost of gasoline. It could be coming from my own
disorganization, the "overwhelm" I feel about my own messy room or office, the unsightly yard or the cluttered garage. Any one of these could easily raise questions of control, value, power, security and well being. What I can tell immediately is that I am demonstrating far too much emotion over a mere unkempt room. I have begun my self analysis.
I have said that communication is a negotiation of emotional and psychological space. Thatís precisely because beliefs that motivate communication, or any other behavior, are always eventually about personal security or survival. However, just believing something doesnít make it true. Beliefs do not always reflect reality, even when they are about yourself or your survival. I may have a belief that if a policeman pulls me over Iím going to get into some trouble. (HmmmÖbad example. Try again.) I may have a belief that if I donít get elected to the church board - an event perhaps beyond my control - it means I'ím not important to God or anyone at the church, that I am of no real value.
Now, although all of my behavior would, in fact, necessarily demonstrate this belief to some degree (that's what belief means: be-live, or live by), up to a certain point I may not even be aware or cognizant that I have such a belief. I might only first discover the belief when I failed to get elected to the church board. Thatís the thing about beliefs; the important ones are so often held beneath the conscious.
I would most likely discover the belief indirectly in this manner. I would initially become aware of and focus on the unpleasant emotions that came as a result of losing the election, and I would ask myself, "Why am I feeling so angry, tense, discouraged, soÖpowerless and valueless?" Then the answer would come, "Ah! It is because, based on the result of the election, I believe I have no value." The belief would, of course, be false; no one is without value and I could quickly rattle off a list of 10 or 20 people who think highly of me. Notwithstanding, the belief, false as it may be, would still effectuate unpleasant emotions. And, unless discovered and challenged, it would eventually be expressed in some dysfunctional communication such as yelling at my daughter over her unkempt room.
As to the etiology or source of the belief regarding personal survival and well being, beliefs are rooted in instinct, intuition and experience. (Specifically, survival is the most primary instinct). Once a belief is held, consciously or subconsciously, it must certainly have an effect on all of oneís life choices and subsequent or related beliefs as well. Beliefs could further develop from some failure as a child or as an adult, a traumatic event, chronic rejection, or less than adequate nurturing.
Of course, beliefs are not all negative. Positive experiences are also proverbial grist for the mill. Sir Isaac Newton was said to have remarked that the single event in his life that put him so confidently upon his road less traveled was socking a schoolyard bully in the nose. This occasion that afforded Sir Newton a heightened sense of psychological and emotional space (personal control, value and power) apparently in some way affected every choice he made from that time on. I can attest to the significance of such an act; as a boy, I had more than my share of fisticuffs with bullies.
Communication begins with honest self analysis of my beliefs. I approach communication fully aware that I have beliefs about my survival that are not altogether absolutely
true, and that these are driving emotions that are irrelevant to the issue I am about to discuss with the person standing in front of me. I must ferret out these incongruent beliefs with their subsequent interfering emotions, acknowledge them, and make sure I donít allow them to vent in the midst of the communication I am about to attempt.
The Psalms are a prime example of this exercise of belief analysis. Notice in the passage below how the Psalmist is initially aware of the emotion and then moves toward addressing his belief. Also notice that, as always, the belief is ultimately about personal survival and well being.
Psalm 42:5. Why are thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet the LORD will command his loving kindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
The point in all this is that beliefs are behind our drive to behave and communicate (or our resistance to communication). Thus, an honest
(I cannot over stress the importance of honesty) inventory of our beliefs is primordial to a positive communication experience. Let me give a personal anecdote.
One afternoon, while strolling through the kitchen with a snack in my hand, I managed to bump my leg on the dishwasher door. It was in the down position while my wife was loading the dishwasher. The moment the door struck my leg I felt an immediate surge of annoyance that quickly tended toward anger. The circumstances, however, were so banal that anger, even mild annoyance, seemed unjustified to me. Here was my wife, diligently at work at this task in the only way possible, and I bumbled into the work area. In fact, it wasnít anything like a crippling blow; I hardly felt it. Still, it seemed as though something had to be done. I felt I had to say something cross to someone, anyone
Now, as is generally the case, my overreaction here is clearly unjustified; there is no obvious threat to my survival. However, it is clear from my reaction that somehow a threat is perceived. My honest self analysis in this situation would have gone something like this: The first thing I realize is that the emotion of annoyance and anger is not warranted by the slight contact between the door and my leg. So, I begin to be suspicious of the emotion and this suspicion obligates me to consider a more exact account of the occurrence. Thus, on this particular occasion I was snacking and pacing. My snacking and pacing were actually due to the slightest bit of anxiety; they were, in fact, a subtle form of anger behavior. The anxiety, as always, was coming from some unfinished business Ė perhaps the business bookkeeping not completed, yard work pressing, writing project behind, office remodel needed, prayer life lacking, time with daughter and wife lacking. You get the picture Ė a number of abiding, subconscious factors adding up to some low-level anxiety.2
Looking at this list of factors you can see how each one ultimately has to do with my sense of control, value and power, which in turn has to do with my self image, my belief
about myself, and thus my belief
about my security. More to the point, it is not simply the belief, but also whether or not my behavior is congruent with the belief. For example, if I believe that keeping the business books in order is connected with my personal power and value, then I had better keep them in order, or I will surely feel powerless and valueless. If I believe that the yard work reflects on my real value, then I had better keep it current. If I believe that time with my daughter and wife is directly connected with my value, then I had better make it a priority. If I behave incongruously with my beliefs, I will have anxiety. Itís natural to attempt a quick fix for anxiety by finding someone else to blame. But this is just a temporary, illusionary fix that ultimately complicates the problem by reinforcing both the belief, which may itself be faulty, and the incongruent behavior. The only real solution is to analyze the situation, then test the belief against the behavior, and finally correct the behavior and perhaps also the belief.
Here is an example of a faulty belief that needs correcting. A woman I was counseling through a divorce would typically start every session with tears, regrets and self condemnation over the loss of her marriage. Although her husband was an abusive, unrepentant womanizer who bragged about his exploits and continuously referred to his wife in the most objectionable terms, she was certain that she had not done her best to please him and was therefore ultimately at fault for the divorce. We are talking about communication, and the communication in this instance was between this woman and myself. The pain, the tears and the message of her communication were driven by the belief that she could not survive without this man, that she had no power, control or value without him. Her belief amazingly stood in the face of all evidence that this man added nothing to her sense of value. She was caught between her need to leave him and her illogical belief that leaving would bring catastrophe. The inability to behave in accordance with her faulty belief is what brought about the anxiety.
In reality, anxiety often demonstrates a healthy conflict. Notice here that my client apparently did not fully
believe her husbandís assessment of her. Many women, with less self respect than this client, have managed to stay in abusive relationships. The key seems to be their ability to agree with the husbandís opinion of them as being valueless. Then the woman is more able to behave in accordance to the belief that the abusive male is in some way her savior.
To learn more about Daniel Pryor MA, please visit his website.
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