I haven’t prided myself on many things in my life, but being a good communicator is one of them. At least, I’ve always worked hard at it. I have honed my written and verbal communication skills to the point that I am often complimented on my ability to communicate clearly, effectively and how articulate I am. While these things are true, it seems they are only true in the world at large when dealing with professional organizations, business people, and navigating through the various levels and hoops of governmental and service agencies. My biggest frustration is that it seldom seems to translate into my personal communications with those I love, the truly important people in my life.
I can read people well and understand, a significant amount of the time, what the underlying concerns and issues may be. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about personalities, psychological factors, societal conditions, and how different people are affected by conditions in their environment: abuse, neglect, family dynamics, including generational factors and cultural/sub-cultural norms. Having the ability to understand and read through these filters generally helps me to quickly establish rapport and connect with people in ways that are mutually beneficial. Again, this doesn’t seem to translate into my interactions with my loved ones.
Since what little self-esteem I’ve had, essentially my value identity, has been embedded in the idea that I’m a good communicator, I function as if all the breakdowns in communication, miscommunications, communication conflicts, and lack of communication is always the fault of others. This is a very difficult and painful realization to have.
I am a very good diagnostician. At least in how it pertains to others.
41 So why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the splinter from your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!
I guess the more emotionally and personally invested I am in an individual person or relationship, the less able I am to open myself up to them. I’m a closed communicator with my family and other loved ones. I’ve been hurt and hurt them so much that it’s incredibly difficult to communicate with them from the same rational, composed place that I am able to with people on the “outside.” I’m starting to see and understand how guarded and closed off I am with the important people. In my misguided efforts to protect myself and hold the conflict down to a minimum, I wind up maneuvering and manipulating my words and language in a way that creates barriers between us. Occasionally, it’s simply a result of me feeling overwhelmed and at the end of my resources and I just shut down and close them out.
I am grateful that I have some friends who don’t give up on me. If you’ve been following my blog for very long, you may have had a chance to read through some recent text conversations between a friend of mine and myself. Based on those posts, you may have gotten the sense that this person is not as good a friend as she thinks herself to be. However, I can assure you that she is one of my best friends, despite my assertion in a previous post that we’ve never been as close as I think she sees us. That assertion is less about her imposing and assuming things and more about the fact that even with the people I love and care about the most, there is still a strong sense of disconnectedness on my part.
She reached out to me on Monday and again on Wednesday morning. When she reached out to me on Wednesday morning, she did so both privately and by commenting on the post that detailed a previous conversation of ours. In the interest of honesty, fairness, and full disclosure, I’m going to include our recent communications here.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Friend: You stopped talking to me
Me: No, you never responded to my last text & we’ve both been dealing with life things. It’s been 3 days.
Friend: Oh. How are things going?
Me: Working on getting Luna to sleep in her own bed again.
Friend: I did not know how to respond to your last post.
Me: Then you could have said that. When I set boundaries, I try to do so as respectfully as possible. If you or others do not respond I leave it up to you to respond and at least acknowledge my position, especially if I have tried to respond constructively to what led up to it. For some reason, whenever you start questioning me and offering your opinions and advice I have a tendency to feel on the defensive and like I’m being judged and attacked. I don’t believe that you intend to judge or attack, it’s just an internal reaction I have and I don’t know why. You aren’t the only person I have felt like this with. I know you care about me and the kids and that there is no intent to hurt me.
Friend: I can try and do that. Some of the texts that I receive feel disjointed like I am missing part of the message or that you are starting mid thought and I’m not getting the beginning.
Me: When that happens ask for clarification. Sometimes my phone will break up long texts and send them out of sequence.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Friend: Are you wanting to talk? Were you able to get any rest last night? I am trying but it is not easy.
Me: I took some prescription pain meds I found. I just recently woke up. I read and responded to your comment on my blog.
Friend: I did not realize how much of our conversation I actually did not receive.
Me: Oh ok. I didn’t think you read my blog unless I posted a link. I am appreciative that you do/did.
Friend: I am trying. You must think I’m a cruel and unfeeling b****. Not my intention at all.
[At this point, our text communication broke down and she didn’t receive the next message I sent. So we switched to private messaging via facebook]
Me: No, I don’t think that. I just think you have a lot you are coping with and that one of the ways you cope is by trying to take care of and focus on the people you love. Unfortunately, sometimes you approach it in a way that implies that you think you know things about me and what’s going on in me and my life. When you ask question’s they sometimes feel like I’m being criticized and judged. When you give me advice and opinions I feel like you think you could live my life better than me and that you believe I am a weak disappointment. I seldom feel validated or encouraged, even though I know that is your intent.
Friend: I am sorry you don’t feel I am giving you the support you need in the way you need it. I will work on changing this.
Me: Thank you. I’m sorry I have a hard time communicating with you. I just often feel like you already have formed an idea of how things are and when I try to explain how it really is for me that you believe I’m making excuses or not trying hard enough. There are also times it seems you think my direction and focus should be on one thing and that I’m in the wrong because I am focused in another direction. Most of the time I just don’t have the energy to explain and “defend” or justify my actions, thoughts, and feelings
Friend: I am sorry I have made you feel this way.
These two conversations with my friend are positive and good because they show me that I still have things to learn in how I communicate with the people who care about me. The breakdown in communications isn’t always their fault, as I have a tendency to assume. Sometimes it’s due to faulty technology and sometimes its because I assume my message has been received and if there’s no response, I leave the ball in their court because I feel if they need clarification or if they disagree with me, then it’s up to them to let me know. Now, I realize that a lack of response doesn’t automatically mean they didn’t like what I have to say or disapprove of me. Sometimes it means my message did not get through.
The best thing about these conversations is that I get to see how much my friend values our relationship and that she is receptive to what I have to say when I am able to express myself in calm and constructive ways. That’s invaluable.