Getting into arguments with others, especially with those that you love, are awful. They leave you feeling upset, angry, disappointment, and amped up – none of which are good feelings. Yet we all do it. How many times have you started a conversation with someone and all seems to be going fine, then all of the sudden you find yourself in the thick of a heated debate? If you’re anything like me, once all is said and done, you look back at the conversation and think, “how did things go south so quickly?” As a therapist, I like to take a look at where in the timeline things shifted. When it comes to communication struggles, it’s important to see the bigger picture and not remain focused on fire that is burning inside.
So what really is going on when things do go awry? Although there are usually many factors that can prompt a rift, one thing is usually always present. Invalidation – the feeling or perception that someone else isn’t hearing you, dismissing your thoughts, or flat out telling you that you’re wrong. At the core of each of us, we want to feel validated for it’s through this sense of validation that we feel respected, appreciated, wanted, and secure. Invalidation is often the main culprit causing the breakdown in communication leading us to either shut down or put on our battle armor and get ready to go toe to toe with the other person. None of this feels good, though.
How do we stop this cycle? First and foremost, breathe. Once our feelings of insecurity get tapped, our bodies respond with: increased heart rate, tightening of muscles, and rapid breathing. Slow yourself down; breathe in and breathe out. Next, identify and embrace that you’re having some strong feelings to the situation and give yourself permission to respond to these feelings. Gauge the intensity of these feelings and decide if you’re too amped up to effectively interact with the other person. It’s okay to tell the other person, “I’m having some pretty strong feelings right now and I’m going to need to step away from this for a minute”. Use this break away to take a look at what is prompting these intense emotions. Are you ticked off? Sad? Hurt? Disappointed? Tired? Hungry? Assess what’s going on within you before you launch back into the conversation.
Remember those good old ‘I statements’ that we all learned about in elementary school? Well, here’s the ideal time to dust off those skills:
Lastly, remain honest with yourself and with the other person. Nothing fans the flames of an argument more than dishonesty and deception. Sometimes the truth is a tough pill to swallow, but facing the truth head on is much more effective than trying to back track through a web of lies.
Confrontation and debate don’t have to be negative experiences. I don’t believe that any of us are perfect when it comes to communication. I do believe though, that with the proper tools and confidence, we can all continue to improve our abilities to effectively communicate with others. Rather than allowing these “bumpy” experiences to create a rift between you and the other person, utilize them as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship through the power of effective communication.