One of the biggest challenges that faces us as adults is to own the fact that no matter what we say we are always talking about ourselves. For unconscious reasons this is a bitter pill to swallow as we’ll see.
We tend to illusorily believe two things; one, that what I say is about the other and, two, that what the other says is about me. For example, I say ‘you’re always late’ I think what I’m saying is about the other person’s tardiness. But ask yourself the question: how come I’m making that statement and why am I not saying what I’m really feeling – ‘I’m really feeling angry and frustrated at having to wait around every time you’re late.’ And, furthermore, what is it that underlies your waiting? Is it not the case that you are being late in the caring of yourself and the setting of a boundary around the agreed meeting time and your being on time in the meeting of your commitment to yourself? As long as you believe that your statement ‘you’re always late’ is about the other, then you are waiting for him or her to change and to take responsibility for the neglect that you perpetrate on yourself by waiting beyond the agreed time. There is some hidden insecurity that leads you to do that and unless this becomes conscious you will cleverly hold to the illusion that when you talk you are talking about the other person. Perhaps ‘being the nice person’ is your means of getting recognition and you don’t want to jeopardise that protection by taking action for yourself by going about your business when the other person fails to arrive at the agreed time.
Another possibility is that at a core level you dread conflict and any confrontation means risking it and you thereby avoid it. Until you resolve your dependency on ‘being the nice person’ to gain recognition and/or stand firm in the face of conflict you won’t allow consciousness of what you say is about yourself to emerge.
The other wonderful illusion is that what another says is about you. This is the situation when you personalise what another person says, rather than seeing that what the other says is about and belongs to him or her. When you personalise, for example, what you perceive as a judgement – ‘you’re so selfish’ – there is a protective purpose, unconsciously created, to internalising the message that belongs to the other. Possible protective intentions may be not wanting others to see how badly you see yourself, or fear of conflict, or not wanting to reveal inner doubts about your worth and intelligence. The defensive response to the verbal expression of another of internally blaming self or silent emotional and physical withdrawal or taking on responsibility for what the other person says by attempting to appease him or her is to keep hidden the truths that dare not be expressed. Examples of defensive communication are being:
- Verbally threatening
- Blaming of self
- Blaming of others
Each of these ways of communicating hides an aspect or aspects of oneself that we dare not reveal due to threats we experienced when children. Possible hidden issues are being:
- One’s own individual self
- Expressive of truth
- Vocal about physical, emotional, sexual or intellectual violations
Resolution of defensive communication involves getting behind the defensive walls and bringing out what lies hidden. When individuals, particularly, those in leadership and management roles – parents, teachers, managers, bankers, chief executive officers, managing directors, doctors, psychologists, social workers, priests, bishops, cardinals and Pope communicate defensively, then issues that need resolution go underground and fester like an untreated wound – a reality that is now rocking the country – economically, socially, religiously, politically and educationally. The sad fact is that I don’t see the leading players, whose actions are responsible for the major downturn, seeking psychological help for the hidden unconscious issues that urgently need resolution. If they don’t take responsibility, the outlook is not good.
Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist, Author, National and International Speaker and Director of several UCC courses including a 1-year Certificate course in Interpersonal Communication.