COVID-19 has taught us all a very important lesson about the need to communicate with others. When I say ‘communicate’, I do not mean a half-hearted nod or wave to your neighbour, but a desire to talk with meaning about the things that impact us the most.
‘Talking’ is something that we often take for granted. A toddler is regularly monitored by their local health visitor to monitor their development growth and speech. There is often much delight in a baby’s first words; will it be ‘mum’ or ‘dad’? There is fierce competition to be the first. To the parent(s)/caregiver, talking equates to the ability to communicate one’s need.
As the infant grows, they begin to engage and communicate verbally and non-verbally in an open way about the world around them. Their innocence in the way they communicate is often among the most ‘liked’ videos on social media.
We often quote phrases such as ‘out of the mouth of babes’, further demonstrating how the young and inexperienced often can be remarkably wise.
We are full of admiration for these little people but for many of us adults, authentic conversation is but a distant memory, with some of us, never recapturing this gift.
As a child, I was taught not to have a voice. My mother’s voice was the loudest and strongest. Her words were punishing and painful, her voice and her presence evoked fear and trepidation. My sisters and I learned very early on in our lives not to be our true self, not to communicate truth.
So my ‘locus of evaluation’ was compromised, external in nature, always seeking to please at the cost of my own needs and my happiness. Never actually knowing the truth about what I liked or disliked, avoiding deep conversations at all costs and content to go with the flow (or in the extreme), to be overly opinionated.
Talking in truth can be extremely difficult for some; the cost of engaging in truthful conversation can often result in the sudden end of a relationship. We only need to look to the ever-rising divorce rates to recognise that, poor communication ranks among one of the top reasons for relationship breakdown in the UK.
It would be great for all of us to have access to the financial means to see a therapist, to explore our challenges with authentic communication. However, the stark reality is, is that many of us cannot afford it. So, how can we begin the process for ourselves and make use of the internal resources we already have? How can we begin to engage in authentic conversation without dissolving into a mass heap on the floor?
Below I have given some guidance to get you started. As with all my tips for greater personal growth, please, only go as far (emotionally) as you can. If it is too painful, stop, walk away and return when you are ready to tackle this topic again.
I would also encourage you to purchase a notebook or journal to record your thoughts and reflections. This will be a further testimony to your journey.
Points to reflect upon
1. Early years. Our childhood experiences can hugely impact the way we live today. Reflect on the following:
- How did your parent(s) communicate with you?
- Did your parents speak openly with each other? (Give examples)
- If raised in a one-parent family, did your parent have someone to talk things through with or did you become the ‘surrogate’ husband or wife? Sometimes too much authentic communication, too soon, is just as damaging as too little.
- What type of things did you talk about within the family unit? Was there much talk about emotions or feelings or were you taught to respond to challenges by having a ‘stiff upper lip.’
2. Culture and communication. Different parts of the world, view the act of authentic communication in different ways. My teaching experience has shown me that eastern European students tend to be more honest in communicating their experience of the truth; often to the irritation of English students.
- So what has been your cultural experience of authentic communication?
- How has it shaped your life?
3. Growing in relationships. Our relationships reveal a great deal about our personality, more than you care to think. I for one gravitate to ‘straight-talking people’. ‘Straight-talking’ is refreshingly attractive for me but could be a complete nightmare for others. So consider the following:
- What types of people did/do you form relationships with at school/college/work? This is especially important if you find it challenging to be authentic with others about your needs. Often we are attracted to others that display behaviours that we too wished we could have.
- Consider what type of friend you were or are to others. Were/are you regularly taken advantage of? What do you feel are the reasons for this?
- Were/are your needs often overlooked by others?
- Were/are you considered to be a people pleaser? Can you shed some light on where you may have adopted this behaviour?
4. Here and now. Honestly look at the relationships you are currently engaged in all aspects of your life.
- On a scale of one to ten (one being inauthentic and ten being extremely authentic), where would you rate yourself and why?
- Do you find authentic communication varies in different parts of your life? If so, why is this? Use your journal/notebook to explore this further.
I must stress, this is only the beginning of your journey to authentic communication and authentic living, but it is a start. As a therapist with over 14 years of experience, the journey can be long and arduous but take it from me, one that is extremely liberating. Authentic communication could change your life, your future, so it is not to be taken likely. Engage a close relative, read books, pray, or do whatever you need to begin the journey to being the real you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Image credit: Freepik
Delia Edwards-Julien is the director of EVE Therapy Training & Counselling