I think that many of us have good intentions when we offer our opinions, feedback, constructive criticism and advice. I believe that most folks want to make positive changes in their lives. However, despite the many things out there regarding effective and constructive communication, there remains a lot of difficulties for many of us.
I personally deal with defensiveness and a sometimes overwhelming need to make others understand my position and where I’m coming from. Both of these things frequently play a role in the conflicts which make my life more difficult. I get defensive when I perceive that the person speaking to me is of the opinion I’m making the wrong choices and decisions or not doing enough to accomplish whatever it is I’m working toward.
I’ve been a fan of Biggest Loser ever since it began, although, I haven’t been a faithful watcher. One of the most difficult and gratifying things to see is how the trainers push, sometimes yelling and calling out the participants. When Jillian starts in on someone whom she believes is, “phoning it in,” I have a physical stress reaction and start feeling my own internal resistance and defensiveness rise up.
Obviously, I identify on a deeply personal level with the contestants who can be combative, whiny, and who appear to be giving it less than their best effort. When any of the trainers, especially Jillian, target those individuals, I feel the heat.
Then I watch the trainers talk to them “privately” and get the contestants to open up about a key factor in their lives that drives the attitudes, thoughts and behaviors which led to their obesity. I see how the trainers make an effort to understand and address what’s happening beneath the surface attitudes of defensiveness, weakness, anger, and indifference the contestants display.
Deep psychological and emotional wounds are often at the root. Emotions like fear and profound grief, which have been repressed and ignored, stuffed down with food, get brought to the surface and we get to see breakthrough moments when contestants shift their attitudes and beliefs about themselves, the trainers, and even each other.
This pattern of a person in the helping role being seen as the enemy, someone out to bring harm in some fashion, not really caring about the people they are there to serve and being treated with suspicion, sarcasm, contempt, and even hatred is all too common by those caught up in poverty.
It becomes the default communication filter because of experiences which have demoralized and devalued them, making them feel “less than.” When the inner sense of self is being systematically stripped away by life experiences and encounters with other people, defensive armor like anger, pride, bravado, as well as helplessness, excuse making, and passive aggression become like a second skin.
It is bewildering and upsetting to those trying to help. Especially if they don’t have similar life experiences and backgrounds.
A couple of years ago, when I was working as assistant manager of the subsidized property I now live in, I had a conversation with someone whose job is to help residents whose incomes have grown to the point they are no longer receiving subsidy, transition into home ownership. He was completely baffled as to why it was such a struggle to get people willing to explore the possibility of home ownership.
I attempted to share my perspective and understanding that when you grow up and have a life of such instability that you can’t keep track of everywhere you’ve lived and lost just about everything you’ve owned with every other move whenever finances took a downturn, the thought of home ownership feels like an unrealistic and unsafe pipe dream, especially knowing that if finances change while living here, it’s a matter of reporting the change and doing paperwork, the threat and worry of homelessness is diminished.
He couldn’t get it. He couldn’t make the connection. For him and from his perspective home ownership meant security and upward mobility. Why wouldn’t the people he was wanting to help want that and why would they keep themselves tethered to housing? He dismissed what I said as excuse making instead of recognizing that our sense of security comes from knowing we won’t lose housing again the next time unemployment or major illness hits. He wanted to help, but he was genuinely clueless in his certainty that his beliefs and experiences were correct and that we just are resistant to helping ourselves.
Our life experiences and internal beliefs drive the way we communicate and respond to those we are interacting with. When we are trying to help another or need help from someone whose experience and understanding are worlds away from our own, reception issues and faulty connections can interfere and impede progress. It then becomes critical that we seek to understand the other person if we expect to get them to ever be able to understand us.
Have you ever tried to help someone and had a major disconnect in the communication between you? Have you ever miscommunicated with someone trying to help only to realize later you had robbed yourself of an opportunity? Do you know where your communication reception and connections are faulty?