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Friday, July 21, 2017

We Need to Talk

Written by  Janan Broadbent, Ph.D.

If you hear that statement, does it make you anxious? Do you get a knot in your stomach? Why? Why is talking a dreaded behavior? Or is it the unknown about what the talk might involve? Now if you hear that in a work context, is it different than when it is in a personal situation?

I think the answer to these questions is not a simple one. Our upbringing definitely has a bearing on how and how much we talk. There are families where silence is seen as golden and conversations are not extended. The child then gets the message that the less you say, the better you are. Then there are families where talking, and expression of emotions, are the norm. Saying what you are thinking, possibly in a loud manner, is encouraged. I remember a friend told me that when he and his father used to go on long road trips, neither one of them would say much. As a result, he had learned that any time something needed to be said, it was out of necessity or something that involved correction: Meaning the child had done something wrong. The message from that kind of an atmosphere is clear: Keeping quiet is safe. Then, as an adult, whenever he heard this statement in the title, his anxiety went up until he found out what the matter on hand was.

In a relationship, put two people together where one person likes to talk about everything and the other is like my friend and bingo! there’s immediate conflict and misunderstandings afoot. Our brains are wired to use past learning to guide and to sort through what is necessary and what is superfluous. All of the direct and indirect messages we have received as we grow up set the foundation for this process. Even the volume of the speech affects us. If you are used to people who speak softly, then a louder person will seem to be yelling at you. For the latter, it is just the normal tone and volume, but discrepant expectations can bring on disagreements.

So what is the solution? First of all, it’s healthy to discuss issues between partners or family members. How else can we resolve any matter? We have to communicate to set up household chores, or how we meet for dinner, or what to cook, and so on. Where discomfort for some seems to reside is in sharing feelings because now, we are making ourselves vulnerable. The difficulty may be in sharing negative feelings, and for others, even positive ones. Saying I love you is indeed hard for some. Yet it is sad for any of us to keep feelings bottled up inside. Not only is it detrimental to our physical health, but also it poisons our mental well-being. So if you find yourself hard-pressed to express what is in your heart and mind, ask yourself: Why is this hard? What is it that gets in my way to say what I think or feel? What is it I am afraid of?

Then, confront your fear. A revealing question is: What is the worst thing that can happen if I verbalize my feelings? The answer to that question will open the way for you to use your insight and go on a healthy and productive path.

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