Do you really want to learn how to communicate better? Everyone thinks that communication is the problem in their relationship. This antidote to our relationship woes, provided by conventional wisdom, is but a hollow shell. What this shell gets filled with is as unique as the people whose relationship it represents. Though on the surface, it may be true that communication is where problems manifest themselves, underneath the surface is where the real concerns lie.
When you see a building fall during an earthquake, you do not blame the building. You are aware that seismic tremors under the surface of the earth are the real cause of the problem. When engineers design buildings in places like San Francisco and Tokyo, they focus on relating the features and the structures of the building to the seismic forces that the building will be subjected to. This concept is true for relationships and communication as well.
Underneath the surface of our conscious reality lies the seismic energy of our subconscious world. This reality is just as big a part of us as the parts we are in contact with and are subject to creating tremors whenever they get triggered. If the structure of our communication is only focused on the surface, and not engineered in relation to our subconscious processes, then communication is going to break down every time.
One of the things engineers do to decrease the force that a building is subjected to is to install base isolators. These come in a couple of forms, either as a huge squishy disc type structure that absorbs and deforms to absorb structural stress or in the form of plates that sit on top of each other and slide back and forth to provide movement. These base isolators combine what is happening under the surface with what is on top. Similarly, in relationships, we have to increase connection and merge the energy from below with the structure up above, so our relational interaction doesn’t fall apart.
Self-Awareness and the Need to Self-Expand
Creating a shock-absorbing connection first requires some conscious awareness regarding the existence of these seismic waves that we all possess. In ancient days every natural disaster was relegated to a direct act of God. With the advances in Seismology, we can now understand, measure, and track the energy waves under the Earth’s surface. In the same way, we need to be aware of the seismic energy of our subconscious.
Becoming aware of the existence of this energy will only get us so far. Secondarily we need to be honest about the meaning of that energy as it relates to our past. It is from our past experiences that the neuro patterns of these automatic responses were embedded and became part of our way of being. Denial of their existence is detrimental to any goals we have in our lives, in particular, one’s related to gaining and sustaining loving relationships. As we understand that these patterns are unique to us individually, we can separate them from the trigger on the surface that is bringing them into action and see them as forces we can reckon with.
Existing in Meaning
The meaning of our personal reactions and thus, our communication breakdowns lies in understanding the story of our past. Telling an honest rendition of the story that brought us this far will go a long way towards relating in the present. Incongruence in our life narrative leads to unnecessary misunderstandings and struggles in communication. However, upon developing a greater understanding of the presence and meaning of our subconscious seismic energy patterns, we can begin to relate that information to the present day surface concerns when we communicate with our partner.
Essentially, our relationships will become spaces that can absorb and hold space for this energy because we will be delivering it in an understandable manner. It is in this way that intimate relationships contribute to our personal growth. We expand those unconscious parts of ourselves into the relationship, which provides both increased awareness and close connection through the reciprocated validation, empathy, and understanding conveyed by our partners and loved ones. Furthermore, it is in this way that relationships also contribute to our self-confidence, esteem, health, and overall resiliency.
Conflict and communication do not only call us to increase our self-awareness, they are also essential happenings that seek to grow our resiliency and ability to handle life on life’s terms. Resiliency works hand in hand with self-awareness and relates to personal growth in the same way that powerlifters increase weight over time, which leads to muscle growth and strength.
Resiliency is one of the main ingredients in healthy communication and is measured in our personal ability to tolerate and endure stress. In intimate relationships I am required to to listen to another person while holding off my need to react and defend myself. Resilience or lack thereof becomes a significant but understated contributor to our ability to communicate. When we experience communication problems, what we may be experiencing is ours and/or our partner’s lack of resilience. This needs to be addressed as one of the “base isolators” for the communication structure in our relationships.
Resilience is built by spending time in the distress that we are experiencing while applying a mindful eye to the stress. This is something that takes place in therapy, though it is not relegated only to that setting. In therapy, much like with a good and honest friend, we are provided a safe space to explore our feelings and reactions, thus expanding our “Window of Tolerance.” Time spent in those settings looking for agreement and justification for our emotions is a fruitless endeavor. Our reactions, meaning our seismic energy, is our responsibility. Once we own that fact, we can provide a proper perspective of the present experience. A mindful, nonjudgmental look at our reactions will help us build the resiliency we need to endure conflict in our relationships productively.
Putting it Together
When we discuss the present situation in terms that relate to our meaning and awareness of self, we are bridging the gap using our communication base isolators. This mindful conscious awareness is critical to keeping the structure of our relational building standing. No matter how good your intentions are or how many times you try to put together effective communication strategies, your success will continue to be dependent on the work you do under the surface to prevent the destruction on the surface. If the building is your relationship, it becomes imperative that you look below rather than continue to rebuild your relationship on the fault lines unconsciously.
Of course, there are frameworks and no shortage of articles on healthy communication, with some being better than others from which you can benefit. However, frameworks are only as good as who’s fitting into it. If the things that I’m holding within me are powerful and I’m failing in the areas of self-awareness and resilience, then I’m sure to see communication breakdowns all around. It is my responsibility to address these issues, and perhaps instead of saying, “We have communication problems,” you might make an effort to assess your self-awareness and resilience.
So if we’re going to look at communication let’s look first at ourselves. Let’s look at our tolerance and our ability to maintain our head while under pressure. This is resiliency and self-awareness combining forces to improve our communication and maintain self-control. Let’s give up on blame and projection and learn to take radical responsibility for our reactions. If we’re having trouble communicating in our relationships, let’s take it to a third party. Perhaps a counselor, therapist, pastor, or a good friend will provide some space for us to begin to dig in. Resiliency and Self-Awareness are the base isolators for our communication. They will help increase connection instead of forcing our seismic energy into the relational structures that simply can’t withstand the force.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love and is republished here with permission from the author.
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