Communication Styles that Kill Relationships

Recently a friend shared that she noticed a shift in her relationship with a good friend. She expressed concern that their once fulfilling friendship has become draining. She noticed that she feels on guard during their time together and no longer feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. She hates that the dynamic of the friendship has changed drastically but feels it would be too difficult to address. She decides to avoid her friend for a while until the awkwardness dies down.

How many times have we experienced a disagreement or a misunderstanding with a friend? If you have friends you have known for a while, you know this can often happen. When problems arise, communication is vital to reaching a solution. The ways we use communication reflect our goal in a relationship. Our goal could either be to foster connection or disconnection. Connection is developed through vulnerability. Disconnection is maintained through avoidance of vulnerability.

Deep down we all long for others to accept us, to choose us and to desire our friendship. Memories of rejection or manipulation by others could lead us to create strategies to protect ourselves from future pain. If we grew up in an environment in which others validated our thoughts and feelings or experiences, we are more likely to develop confidence that our view matters and that we are valued as individuals. This confidence allows us to be vulnerable with others and still feel secure in who we are. On the other hand, if we grew up in an environment in which our thoughts and feelings were invalidated or ignored, we are more likely to believe that our view does not matter and that we do not have value as individuals. If we believe that our thoughts and feelings are not important, we probably won’t value the opinions, thoughts, beliefs or feelings of others.

A critical environment creates a sense of fear of judgment and shame for who we are. We don’t feel secure to speak our mind and share what we think and feel. Fear and shame begins to motivate unhealthy communication styles such as: passive communication, aggressive communication and passive aggressive communication.

Passive Communicators keep their real thoughts and feelings to themselves. These communicators are extremely agreeable in an effort to avoid judgment. They can be described as people pleasers. They never allow others to see them upset and they may discount their own desires for the sake of others. They want to matter, but to risk trusting someone else with their thoughts and feelings is so scary that they choose to avoid it all together. It does not take long until this communicator begins to resent the other person for the one sided relationship they have created.

Aggressive Communicators desire to have all the power in a relationship. They maintain control by intimidating the other person and invalidating their thoughts and feelings. Any time they perceive their power is threatened, they become more aggressive. If a disagreement arises, aggressive communicators refuse to gain understanding but instead focus on getting the other person to agree with them.

Passive Aggressive Communicators avoid being vulnerable in relationships but still hold people accountable for any offense they perceive. They may withhold attention, affection, forgiveness or love in order to punish the other person for hurting them. The other person may sense something is wrong but because the passive aggressive communicator refuses to admit any hurt the other person has no opportunity to make amends.

The healthy approach to communication is Assertive Communication. Assertive communicators speak to gain understanding. They value others opinions and are not threatened by different points of view. They don’t tell people what to think, they ask people what they think and genuinely desire to know. A power struggle does not exist in this style of communicating since both individuals are secure in their worth as individuals.

As you read the descriptions of unhealthy communication styles, you may have had a few people come to mind. Maybe you thought about a friend or your parents that are unhealthy communicators. It’s easy to recognize these styles in other people, but I want to challenge you to see if you, intentionally or unintentionally, use one of these styles in your relationships. We cannot change other people but we can absolutely change the way we communicate.  If you notice that you are a passive aggressive communicator and your goal in relationships is to connect, something needs to change. The first step to change is to explore the ways that your communication style keeps you from intimacy in your relationships.

Heroes Reborn

If anyone out there loved the television series Heroes… it’s back! Now called ‘Heroes Reborn,’ it’s a show about ordinary people discovering their special abilities and learning to maneuver the world with those abilities.

One of my favorite ‘heroes’ from the original series is Hayden Panettiere, who had the power to spontaneously regenerate. She could fall off a building, get hit by a car, jump in a fire but wouldn’t get hurt. Other characters had some very cool abilities as well – the ability to fly, to read people’s minds, or travel through time.

But Hayden Panettiere is a real life hero (of mine anyway) because she has demonstrated the special ability of vulnerability, transparency, and truth telling as she recently disclosed that she is dealing with post-partum depression.

It absolutely takes a special ability to tell millions of people (in a world where perfection is not optional), that you are not only not perfect but struggling and battling with a mental health issue. Other heroes? – Catherine Zeta-Jones (Bipolar Depression), Brooke Shields (Post-Partum Depression), and Halle Berry (Depression and suicide attempt).

You may disagree with me, but I do consider them heroes in this aspect. Our culture and our pride forces us to hide, feel guilt or shame, believe that we are alone in our struggles, and keep our mouths shut.

We may not be able to fly or travel through time, but we are able to tell the truth. So I encourage you to use that special ability. Be different. Be vulnerable. Be open. Be a hero and tell the truth about what is really going on in your life. You may be surprised to find out how desperately the world is in need of a hero.

The Beauty of Vulnerability

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brené Brown

There is one thing that I am definitely not good at — being vulnerable. I’ve always been taught that vulnerability was a sign of weakness; that people will take advantage of you if you show weakness. The fear is that if I reveal my true self that I may be misunderstood or rejected.

What I have learned is, being vulnerable isn’t just about being okay with showing parts of yourself to others, it’s more about being okay with all of yourself. When you love all of yourself, it matters little what others think.

What I am also learning is that vulnerability is a choice. It doesn’t always come easy and I haven’t mastered it yet. There are still many moments when I remain guarded and less willing to be truly open. It takes a conscious effort to look for the opportunities in which to be vulnerable. However, the rewards are much greater than the risks. There is a level of connection that cannot be met if you tend to hold part of yourself back.

Here are a few practicals on being vulnerable:

  1. Be honest. If you are going through a difficult time, tell someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response.
  2. Ask for help. Contrary to popular belief, this is also a sign of strength. You don’t need to struggle in silence, there are people willing to help.
  3. Learn to say no. Sometimes being vulnerable is letting others know that you are not a superhero. By saying yes to everyone, you are saying no to yourself. Let people know when you have too much on your plate.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. In actuality, their lives aren’t better than yours. You really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.
  5. Be wise. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean telling everyone everything about you. Be wise in whom you choose to be open with.