Part of our human nature is that we need a social environment. Of course, we can choose to live alone, but the price is high. Loneliness gives us a sense of security, a kind of isolation from others in that the outside world can also be seen as something threatening.
In any interpersonal relationship, we are on guard and anxious to defend boundaries to protect ourselves from threats and dangers. From our experiences whether good or bad, we construct subjective dangers, threats and are prejudiced.
As a result, we are tilting at windmills and fighting against them. Wouldn’t it be better to stop for a moment and reflect on ourselves? In this situation, we should take the perspective of the spectator in the theatre who is watching what is happening on stage.
How does the brain work?
The fact that we have had to protect ourselves for thousands of years is, to a certain extent, understandable and deeply rooted in our brain stem. Emotions are generated in the limbic system, which is not subject to consciousness. It is only when the cerebral cortex is switched on that feelings become conscious. Whether fear, joy or hate is felt depends on which areas of the cortex are active (read more: The brain).
In the past, we ran away from the tiger. Today, fears are different, but have not become less: at work or in social relationships. They require balance and therefore (mental) strength.
Gut feelings – Good communication?
Assessing intentions, especially in the online world, has become more difficult: there, we can no longer rely on the non-verbal communication signals that make up the majority of communication, and the verbal expression of our own feelings suffers as a result. This in turn can affect our “offline” world communication.
Since we usually only express ourselves in writing on online portals, facial expressions and gestures are missing. However, these are far more important in interpretation. (See also: The brain – body language – facial expressions) On the one hand, every human being tries to act according to his or her own logic: within a few seconds, we estimate whether someone wants to do us harm or good. Who hasn’t experienced this: a meeting with the boss is coming up and we think about what will be discussed beforehand. We let ourselves be guided by feelings and premonitions. Coulda, woulda, shoulda dominate our thinking and try to come up with answers to fictitious questions. This triggers stress and negative feelings, as well as fear.
In the book, Instructions for Unhappiness, by Paul Watzlawick, there is the “Hammer Story“, which impressively describes the power of negative thoughts. It is the vicious circle of communication.
A downward spiral of feelings and no matter what the other person says or does, we often see our “premonitions” confirmed. We don’t even give him/her the chance to react “differently”. It seems that only our reality and perception exist and are correct, so the interpersonal relationship suffers.
The vicious circle must be broken: Negative words create negative reactions and make the other person defend himself. Our reaction to this? Defence. (more in my book: Chapter 2.3 Into the Vicious Circle of Emotions)
Sometimes we assume malicious intentions but in reality we do nothing but project our negative emotions. The conversation will come down to me not being open. Not listening and while the other person is talking, already thinking of a response – Ergo not listening. I just wait for the other person to say what I expect in order to confirm my negative thinking. Communication cannot work like that.
Heraclitus of Ephesus said: “All men are granted to know themselves and to think intelligently.” (Philosophy Documentation Center)
Listening begins with asking questions, or questioning our own thoughts, beliefs. Self-awareness is only possible through self-reflection: Why do I think…? Why do I react like this? Why do I have these feelings in me?
Active listening (Schulz von Thun’s four ears model) should be internalised.
Time is our ally: you can always stop and take your time. One should/should not react immediately. One should/should not give an immediate response.
By creating a positive environment through our attitude and communication, we pass on the positive environment to our fellow human being where he does not feel threatened (by us).
In a relationship we should have the courage to be honest. But this also makes us vulnerable and attackable. We should have/develop the ability to open ourselves to our partner, because we want to feel safe in this relationship. It is precisely with our partner that we should be honest. WITH WHOM ELSE? This is exactly why we have a relationship. To feel at home and not to pretend. To simply be who we are.
That is the magic of a deep, intimate and long, intense relationship.
Let’s work on it.