Admittedly hotheaded and keenly emotional, there are two foolproof ways to upset my proverbial apple cart. First, in the event that I’m excited about something—good or bad—tell me to “calm down” or “chill out.” Yeah, that doesn’t go over very well, pretty straightforward. The second way is a bit more tangled: when I share a personal sentiment or struggle, respond by telling me how I should fix it, what you would do differently, that I should cheer up – anything in that vein.
Why does that sort of response rile me so much? It’s a little harder to explain; and for years, I didn’t know, so I would just get more and more unhappy with the other person, often talking in circles. I’d repeat and rehash my story from every angle, and they would repeat themselves, and we would both get frustrated because no one was getting what they needed. The real kicker is that it was my own damn fault; the biggest impediment to getting what I needed was my not taking the time to figure out what I needed in the first place. I was too busy feeling things to think! Does this sound familiar to anyone else?
Damon helped me sort this out, on both sides of the above scenario. Nine times out of ten (at least for me), when I share with someone, I simply want to be heard and acknowledged and… that’s it. All the suggestions and circular discussions were so frustrating because that’s not what I needed! And the solution is so deliciously succinct. Share, and acknowledge. Done. If I catch myself getting bent while trying to share something or just vent, that’s my reminder to ask for what I need. Asked and answered.
And it works both ways. When Damon starts winding up with an epic story of something that’s bothering him at work, my immediate impulse as someone who loves him is to want to help him, make suggestions, spitball ideas for solving the issue, or cheer him up—anything to help him feel better! But when I sense that frustration level rising, I stop and ask him whether he wants me to make suggestions or if he just wants me to listen. Asked and answered.
We don’t always get it right, but it really helps that we want to help each other get it right and that we’re willing to laugh at ourselves when we slip up.
I spent the lion’s share of my life at the mercy of my emotions, always reactionary, careening about, pushing and pulling until ideally something would magically someday maybe fall into place and fit and everything would suddenly be puppies and kittens forever amen. What a gift it is to learn that exhausting dance is completely unnecessary. What a gift it is to be able to take a breath—fifteen seconds!—to reflect and communicate inwardly. Then communicate outward—ask for advice, ask for empathy, ask for cheerful distraction, commiseration, a stiff drink, whatever! Or simply ask to be heard.
How about you? Any communication breakthroughs? Face-palm moments?