Communication and Remembering Who You Want to Be with Compassion
Relationships are hard. They’re really frickin’ hard. Complicated, weird, fun, strange, joyful, sad, and so confusing. At least for me. Communication in particular is hard to navigate.
Both people in a relationship are coming into it with different, if not totally opposite, learning histories (significant experiences from before the current moment) that have established deep-seated and automatic belief, thought, feeling, and behavior patterns within us. This can be a real challenge when one person is more comfortable being in logic mind and the other in emotion mind (this is a concept from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, created by Marsha Linehan).
Really, our communication with others starts from our communication with ourselves, since we are with ourselves 24/7 for the entirety of our lives.
So how do we become more effective in our communication with others and ourselves?
Ultimately, it comes down to building awareness of our reactions, taking ownership of what we can control (our breath and our responses are two big ones that come to mind), understanding with compassion, and staying connected with our values. Reactions are the unconscious and reflexive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we have when something activates us, while our response is what we choose to do once we realize what we’re doing.
These tools can work not only with our communication with others, but also with ourselves. What could this look like?
Awareness of reactions: taking time to reflect on behaviors, starting with after an activating experience. Then, as it becomes easier to recognize these things, noticing the urge to engage in the behavior before doing it. For example, after getting in a fight with someone, we notice that we got activated be something that they said, which led to us yelling and bringing up all the past things (we think) they did wrong. As we practice being aware of this pattern, we can notice the urge to yell and blame before we do it. We can do the same thing with hurtful behaviors towards ourselves such as excess drinking, emotional overeating, food control, watching TV for hours on end, etc.
Taking ownership of what we can control: practicing deep belly breathing regularly—in whatever rhythm or count that you like and find helpful—even one slow, deep, breath inflating the lower tummy, which will allow us to use it in moments of distress. And, with growing awareness, starting to change our responses. Choosing a different behavior to replace one that is no longer helpful, such as breathing plus asking for a 5 minute break with a partner versus yelling, or breathing and practicing 10-15 minutes of distraction when we have the urge to engage in a self-hurting behavior.
We can do this with our thoughts too. We have thousands of thoughts every day, and most of them are automatic and out of our control. But what’s so cool is that we can choose if we accept those thoughts as truth or choose to reframe it.
Understanding with compassion: most if not all of our behaviors and thoughts began in response to good or bad experiences and become reinforced over time. And most of the time, they are trying to protect us, even the painful, critical thoughts, and the unhelpful or even harmful behaviors. We have parts of us that have been seriously hurt by past experiences, and parts of us that do their very best to protect us from having these vulnerable parts be exposed and raw again. Even just recognizing that our behaviors and thoughts don’t just come from nowhere to cause pain can help us feel more kind and compassionate towards them. Making a comforting gesture such as putting our hand over our heart can help connect us to our breath to slow down, feel warmth in our chest, and feel self-compassion.
Staying connected with our values: really getting to know what is important to us can help create a compass to guide us in moving towards behaviors that are more helpful and adaptive. For example, if we value peace and harmony, and we find ourselves yelling at our friends, family, and partner in reaction to feeling angry, we can recognize, validate, and have compassion towards these behaviors, while identifying more helpful behaviors that better align with our values to work towards. What behaviors would go with a value of peace and harmony? Maybe this could be meditating to increase peace and work towards listening more and speaking softly with others. We get to decide what the behaviors that align with our values look like.
Changing behaviors literally changes our emotions and even our thoughts. Like when we are feeling down, pushing ourselves to go for a walk, talk with a friend, or watch a cute cat or dog video (my personal favorite pick-me-up video) can create moments of happiness and accumulate to make us feel better. This is the outside-in, fake it ‘til you make it type deal, guided by what we value and enjoy.
This is a great time to reflect on our commination with others and ourselves, identify our values, and practicing awareness of our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings with Mercury going retrograde from December 29th to January 17th of next year. And we are actually already in the shadow period, meaning we are starting to feel the Mercury retrograde effects already like miscommunication, tech glitches, travel delays or accidents. It’s a great time to step back, start slow down, reflect, and compassionate self-care. The universe is supporting you.