Did you ever notice that your poor communication habits come from a pain point? Or, at least, a fear of pain.
I notice this in my own communication issues – for one, avoidance. When I assume that someone will be upset or that there will be confrontation, I avoid (sometimes, unconsciously,) having the conversation at all.
I fear that I will “get into trouble” or will have to face some ugly side of myself that the person will most certainly point out. It rarely happens this way, but I fear it all the same.
The unhelpful communication habits that you and your partner have are often born out of pain (emotional and physical). Understanding this about yourself AND your partner can help the humanize the upsetting interactions and create a sense of understanding and empathy.
This week, I talk about how criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, contempt, and avoidance are all born out of pain and what you can do to curb them.
Communication Habits that Arise from “Pain”
Criticism comes from the pain of believing a need is not being met. It is pain of feeling unsupported over and over again. It is born from resentment, frustration, and a sense of injustice. So, when I hear someone being critical in my office, I totally get it! While this doesn’t make it right (and we know SCIENTIFICALLY that it ultimately leads to divorce), I can understand where it has come from.
It comes from experience of “NO ONE IS LISTENING TO ME! Maybe if I say it meaner they will!”.
When you feel critical, the best thing to do is take a deep breath and to calmly approach the person you are speaking to. You need to frame your critical thoughts in terms of your unmet needs.
“When you do _____, I feel _______, I need______”
And then, if they can’t meet your need, it is on you to reject the criticism of them and to try to find ways in which you can empower yourself to get the need met. You might also want to reflect on what is going on with the relationship that this is happening.
Defensiveness comes from a fear of taking responsibility for your own part in a negative interactional pattern. It is the fear of now having your side heard. It is the fear of having to admit culpability, to feel guilt, or to feel shame.
When people do not fear these feelings they are not defensive. They trust that their side will eventually be heard, they allow room for empathy and perspective taking. They move their ego to the side in order to allow for connection.
Stonewalling occurs when your body feels physical discomfort. Again, we know that it causes serious LONG TERM damage to your relationship, but the short term relief is what is sought. Stonewalling is a result of feeling physiologically overwhelmed where your “thought center” starts to shut down, your heart rate increases, and your body tenses up. You become “flooded” and can no longer access your words to have a meaningful part in the interaction.
When people stonewall, they are literally in pain/discomfort. Learning to allow the other person to calm their bodies while they take a break is incredibly important. Sometimes, when we sense “stonewalling” it throws our need to pursue into overdrive. Try to fight that urge by allowing space.
Contempt is criticism supercharged. Usually, there is an initial sense of injustice occurring in the relationship. This is followed by an unwillingness to be vulnerable and to allow intimacy. Instead of vulnerability hatred is spewed to the other person in forms of belittling, sarcasm, and smirks. To overcome this, a person must be willing to be accessible and to share their own needs, feelings, and regrets.
Avoidance is a fear of the unknown and a need for control. When we avoid it is because we are not yet sure how to control the situation in a way that will cause the least fall out. As you know, however, the avoidance often leads to more fallout.
Learning to manage avoidance means learning to face things head on with the understanding that it might or might not work out, but at least you are giving yourself relief.
Want to reflect more on your own communication barriers? Use this worksheet to better understand how you are struggling to communicate and what pain points you are avoiding:
Article by Elizabeth Earnshaw.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is the founder and Clinical Director of A Better Life Therapy. She supports individuals and couples to develop healthy and fulfilling relationships. She is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, right next to City Hall!