Friday, November 2, 2007

Communication Breakdowns

On the advice of my therapist, who I will always refer to as Ivan because she doesn't want her name out on this blog due to confidentiality reasons, I have been avoiding my family members that I am having some issues with.

The first thing you need to understand is that I am one of those people who always answers the phone, regardless of anything because you never know what may potentially happen. Day or night, good or bad, I've always taken phone calls. So for me to avoid and screen all my calls is something new for me. Ivan suggested that if I didn't recognize a number on my caller ID, I should let it go to my voice mail. That's exactly what I have been doing and it really helped with my stress.

The only problem with this is that the people I'm ignoring don't know about this and they keep calling. While I am justified to take this stance, it's also hard on them not knowing. It wasn't until my sister sent me an email that I decided to momentarily interact again. I tried to imagine myself in her place and realized she should be told what I was doing because it was only fair.

But even as much as I felt this was the case, I hated the prospect of telling her because I knew she would not handle this well or respectfully. I knew that telling her I felt hurt and beaten up and I would need time to process everything that happened, she wouldn't listen to what I would ask her. That's why I struggled with responding, but eventually I emailed her back when I was ready. I did this even though I believed that instead of honoring my request, she would begin a new round of accusations and attacks against me and my wishes.

There was no comfort in being correct. Regardless of what anyone thinks, when she disrespected my wishes for space and privacy to sort things out for myself and laid into me for wanting to take that stance, I never felt good, or superior, or vindicated. Again, she hurt me by choosing to attack me.

All she had to do was say something supportive and acknowledge that she understood what I wanted, even if she didn't agree with me. But that's not how things work in my family, at least not when I try to talk.

What often happens when I try to explain myself or a point is that I am cut off in mid sentence, and then denounced as being arrogant, or cold-hearted, or acting as though I know everything. When I try to re-establish what it is I was trying to say after this initial opening shot against me, I am often blatantly ignored as they introduce a new topic that diverts the conversation into a new direction (often with a statement or accusation for me to defend) or they'll want to start the original argument all over again. It's counterproductive and highly stressful. Don't get me wrong, there isn't a script or set structure to this, but that's a pretty good summary of how conversations are in my family.

And that's what happened when my sister wrote me back.

But my counseling has helped me to avoid getting pulled into to these unhealthy tactics and to stay focused on communicating my intentions or positions. I simply ignore all of it and just try to restate my previous comments politely, but firmly. If I feel I need to add some additional information to help get my point across, I do it, but I mainly just restate my initial request.

I have to be honest here and say how hard it was for me to do that. I have some ideas as to why my sister acted the way she did and said the things she said, but they still angered me and hurt me further. The names she called me were unfair and wrong and I felt that after all these years of trying to get closer to each other, she truly has no idea of who I am and how I treat people. The assumptions she made about how I treat people were short sighted and I feel as though she operates on a false ideal, or image of me, and it's one that I find repulsive.

But I am proud of myself because followed the steps and tools Ivan and I talked about in our sessions and let them go (although I Will bring them up later at the appropriate time because they need to be addressed) so that I could restate what I wanted and get back to processing what I needed to do.

I fully expected my sister to jump further along the path of emotional chaos and bring her next response loaded with a world of hurt. I am so thankful and happy that didn't happened.

Instead, she acknowledged what I wanted, agreed to respect it, and even went a step further and offered to be there for me if I needed her. I am so proud of her for finding the strength to do this productively. That was precisely the response I needed. If she discovers this blog and reads this post I hope she realizes how sincere I am about this. It's a major step for us to be able to move forward once I'm ready.

This is also why I've decided to use email for most, if not all, of my correspondence with her because it allows me to be in control of expressing myself without interruptions.

I don't know what the final outcome will be, but I have more hope now than I did before.

1 comment:

Jason Berek-Lewis said...

Small steps are always great to begin healing a relationship.

I know this might sound wanky, but I am really proud of you, Crazz. You are a class act and I wish you were around to advise me when I was having huge issues and arguments with my Dad and his wife...

Keep yourself level and you will get through this.