Saturday, April 13, 2013

I know you ain’t talking to me like that!

“I know you ain’t talking to me like that!” I don’t know about you but I have
thought or said those words many times when people have spoken to me in ways that I felt were unacceptable or inappropriate. When people have spoken to me in condescending tones or in a patronizing manner, I immediately address their rudeness tactfully, or at least I attempt to. There is something about disrespect and disrespectful communication that shake me at my core. Honestly, it makes my blood boil, and I always feel the need to address it immediately and emphatically, yet diplomatically. As a personal commitment to myself, I always speak up.

Dealing with rude people who I really don’t know or don’t have a relationship with is difficult enough. But interacting with people who speak to me in degrading, offensive and patronizing ways who also claim to love and respect me is extremely problematic; it is downright painful.  Listening to a person who claims to love me speak to me in a demeaning way makes me feel a whole range of emotions, and none of the emotions are positive.  And even though there are many psychological and communication theories that explain the impact of tough tones and rough words, I am convinced that my son expressed it best when he was just 4 years old. He said, “Mommy, when you yell at me like that it hurts me in my ears and it hurts me in my heart”.

 Wow! The comment stopped me in my tracks and made me realize how careless communication damages the spirit and sometimes causes irrevocable damage in a relationship. Like my son so eloquently expressed, hurtful words and hurtful tones linger in the heart and can reverberate in your ears for weeks, and sometimes months.  And the sad part is that you can never recall the words or delete the encounter etched in the minds of your loved ones. You can’t un-ring the proverbial bell.

So I want to offer a few tips that may help you when/if your boo has a temporary and infrequent
communication lapse. In other words, when she has a melt-down and has a bout of temporary insanity and speaks to you in a disparaging way. And I want to emphasize two words: temporary and infrequent. If you and your partner have frequent communication lapses (yelling, biting comments, condescending tones, insults, etc.) or consistently communicate with each other in disrespectful ways, that is indicative of a larger problem.

Tip #1: Recognize that people who feel or have been wounded often yell the loudest and the most. People who don’t feel acknowledged, cared for, appreciated and protected (overall or in the moment) often respond in ways that are totally disproportionate to the situation. Their over-the-top responses and comments are not at all about you. Their responses are usually about their own emotional triggers that have been activated by something or someone. And, many times they are usually not emotionally aware that the have been triggered; they don’t know what’s going on until it too late. They are just responding and reacting without thinking/ considering the impact of their words or considering the origin of their discontent. They are just lashing out.

Tip #2: Recognize that people who feel or have felt powerless may respond aggressively to perceived slights. It is a known fact that people tend to be hyper-sensitive and over-react when they feel vulnerable, weak, helpless and hopeless. When some people don’t feel in control of their circumstances or they don’t feel in control of themselves, they may also project their feelings on to you. Instead of looking inward to effectively address their discomfort, they look outward, and oftentimes outward in your direction. If they are emotionally immature or/and under a significant amount of stress, they may resort to blaming, shifting responsibility, justifying, yelling or other manipulative tactics in efforts to point the finger at you. Why?  Because looking at themselves is too painful or too overwhelming; sometimes it is just emotionally too hard.

Tip #3: Recognize that some people don’t know how to access or explain their emotions and feelings  and so they act out. Yes, I said it – adults have tantrums. They act up and they act out when they are unable to express their thoughts, feelings and perspectives in way that makes them feel heard. I have even known couples resort to what I call low level communication – cursing, sarcasm, and innuendo. When some people are unable to identify their emotions and articulate their feelings they “hit below the belt”.  If/when they are unable to say "I feel frustrated, I feel scared, I feel ashamed, I feel disappointed, I feel angry, I feel lonely" or whatever the emotion is, they are more prone to respond in ways that are emotionally destructive and spiritually damaging.

Even though it is difficult to see beyond verbal attacks and irrational outbursts, it is important to try. Many times behind the cutting comments and offensive behavior is a hurting, scared person. A person who really doesn’t need or want to battle even though their actions and words suggest otherwise. What they really need is compassion, understanding and empathy. However providing any support,  let alone those three, are difficult to extend when tempers flare and when people “cross the line”, specifically your disrespect line.

But I challenge you to try.  I am in no way suggesting that you excuse bad behavior and verbal assaults. I am suggesting that you respond in ways that de-escalate the situation to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your relationship. And, there are a few proven ways to decrease tension when communication break-downs or melt-downs occur.

The first way is to offer silence so that you maintain your composure and resist the urge to retaliate. Or you can provide a gentle touch or a hug to show your willingness to stay connected and engaged during the conflict.  You can lend an ear and listen to what they are attempting to say even though they may poorly communicate their needs. You can leave the room to give you space and to give them time to collect their thoughts and calm down.

After the verbal tirade is over, it will be important to discuss what caused the emotional outburst and the discussion should include facts and feelings. The facts will hopefully help you understand and appreciate what happened - situation, event, interaction or person.  And discussing the feelings will help  you understand the triggers - old wounds, emotional baggage, feelings, fears - that precipitated the intense response.

It will also be important to discuss the heated exchange and/or the cutting comments too. Be sure to express how the exchange made you feel, and offer ways to prevent the verbal outbursts in the future. Like I said before, infrequent communication lapses are problematic enough and need to be addressed. But consistent, out of control rants should never been tolerated.

Being spoken to in a way that feels disrespectful is never good; it can feel insulting, embarrassing and humiliating. And when you don’t respond in a way that restores your respect or challenges the disrespect, it can make you feel cowardly and ashamed.  But if we are honest, we all can admit that we have had communication lapses. We all, at one time or another, have done some yelling or have been yelled at. And we all have also been the recipient as well as the perpetrator of some offensive and patronizing interactions too. 

So here is the take-away. When your spouse/partner/boo has a communication lapse, remind yourself that her reaction is not about you. It is her own internal emotional stuff surfacing.  Don’t make it about you and don’t make it your sole responsibility to placate her. Remind her that you love her, that you are willing to listen, and that you are willing to help as long as it is done with and in love and with and in respect.

 As long as communication lapses are the exception and not the rule, be encouraged. You can work on yourself to better identify and/or control your emotions, and you can practice communicating with you partner in a direct, yet loving way. So if you have a communication lapse, quickly admit your mistake, apologize for communicating in a dishonoring way, and commit to do better. You deserve it and so does she.

Good luck and success to you as you continue to CREATE Love!

SharRon Jamison
I Can Depend on Me

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