A sampling of writings
All © Amara Wahaba Karuna
Feel free to print these for your personal use only:
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COMMUNITY LIVING PROCESSES
If you hang on an edge?long enough
?things melt and shift?
edge of pain?
edge of death?
edge of orgasm?
edge of discovery?
edge of breath?
what is this edge?between the worlds?
in the moment between breaths?
study this moment?
feeling desire but not acting?
seeking thirst, not water?
what you thought was solid?
who you thought you were?
In the moment of pausing?
look between the worlds
HOW DOES A DOORSILL FEEL?
trusting, opening my heart
letting myself be moved
a holy grail
container of living substance
shaped and created by it's contents
like a sea shell
Inside a seething vibrant light
If I dive into this cauldron
I find it has no bottom
this heart is not really a cup
dervish means doorsill
How does a doorsill feel?
The Face of a Rose
The face of a rose?is Your face?
fall into a universe?of radiant petals?
cool velvet Goddess?
pinwheels of spinning light
?pausing to take form?
the face of this rose?
the face of my heart?
the face of each friend?
is your face, Goddess?
Let me admire you?forever
The fish gasps for water?
struggling in one dry puddle?
hen the Love Ocean flows?only a leap away
A fountain, a spring?which once flowed?is now dry
Forget it!?A million springs on all sides?burst with delight?
begging to be tasted
Only attachment?keeps you sitting here
weeping?looking for love where it is not
A Love Ocean twinkles and shines?in every particle
?only a breath away
Fall open?wide and infinite!
Swim in this breath!
HUMAN INTELLIGENCE and EMOTIONAL HEALING
Summarized by Amara Wahaba Karuna, © 1997
This is a summary of the basic ideas from Re-evaluation Co-counseling, (RC). RC is based on observation of what really works in practice, not on theories of what ought to work. It evolved from the experiences of thousands of people. It is a grassroots, people's movement, aimed at teaching lay people how to be effective in helping themselves and others with emotional issues, and in regaining our innate goodness and intelligence.
You can use this on different levels- use it occasionally just to blow off steam in stressful times, or as a deep long term therapy, systematically changing yourself for the better, and removing the blocks that keep you from realizing your dreams.
Take what you want of these ideas, just the ones that make sense for you, and leave the rest- you are encouraged to think for yourself about everything in these handouts and classes.
BASIC THEORY OF OUR HUMAN NATURE
What are human beings really like? Underneath all the programs, conditioning, expectations and hurts that we get, what is our true basic nature? Think about: What would you be like if you were really free to be your true self? What are young children like before they are socialized? ?-Human beings are basically intelligent, zestful, loving, communicative and cooperative. Our inherent nature is: Each of us is whole and complete, unique, and with limitless potential. Nothing can permanently damage our real nature, but many things can cover it up.
NORMAL THINKING PROCESS
Intelligence is defined as the ability to respond to new situations in a fresh, appropriate way. When thinking well, we look at a present situation, and our minds compare it to many past experiences, and then create a new, precisely tailored, successful response. We are naturally vastly intelligent.
Animals with less capacity for intelligence rely on instinct, which gives them general responses for situations that happen frequently, such as what to do when an enemy is nearby. But these instinctual responses are not flexible, and so don't always work well in every situation. Example: a opossum on the road will freeze when startled, which may or may not be the right (survival oriented) thing to do at that moment!?-When our thinking process is working well, when we are relaxed and feeling normal, information from our environment (sounds sights, smells) comes in, (as it always does) mostly on subconscious level. It gets evaluated, processed and sorted, and then filed in our memory in separate isolated bits, which can be recalled at will later.
Why don't people always act according to our true inner nature? We get hurt. Physically, mentally and emotionally-on all levels, and frequently. ?-When we are being hurt, our thinking process shuts down, or seems to work very differently. People do not usually think well while hurting. Ever try to think with a headache or while very upset? The input of information from the environment is still pouring in, but it's not getting processed or evaluated as usual, and a kind of mis-storage occurs. All the sights, sounds, smells, etc., emotions, as well as the experience of being unable to think clearly get stuck together in one big recording/ memory. This recording is like a videotape of the incident, which is stored for later processing, perhaps at a safer time.
In an ideal situation, as soon as the hurtful event is over, the person would be able to release the hurt and heal. Hurts always naturally seek release. However the safe space, time, and attention from a caring person which encourage the healing is not usually available to most of us, so the emotions and information tends to stay stuck. They will stay stuck an entire lifetime unless they are processed. EXAMPLE: People afraid of heights because once they fell down.
Negative effects of STORED HURTS:
A stored hurt creates a rigid, inflexible spot in our mind, a recording of the whole event. The recording seems to take up space, to use up some of our capacity for intelligence. All the information seems to be stored in one big lump- separate bits can't be remembered separately as they can when it is stored normally. It becomes a place where we can't think well, that when alone we avoid remembering. Why? What happens right now when you think about something that was really a hurtful event? You re-experience the hurt. It's all still right there, and so we try to avoid remembering it.
But it's also booby-trapped: a later event which is similar enough to the first recorded hurtful event will "set off" a re-playing of the old recording. The new situation may not even be a hurtful event- it can just be similar in any way. We call this being "Re-stimulated" or "Triggered." ( it's commonly called getting buttons pushed, or overreacting.) When the old recording starts to play, it feels like a replaying of the old incident- you feel the same feelings, sometimes find yourself saying the same words.
A person in the grip of an old distress recording will: Say things that are not pertinent; do things that don't work; fail to cope effectively and gracefully with the present situation; and endure terrible feelings which may have nothing to do with the present situation. You can tell you've come across residue in someone: they're acting frozen, nonsensical, rigid. They become irrational and "not themselves". They may get memory flashes of the old situation.?Can you think of times when you have acted like that?
Snowballing of distress
Because the person has failed to cope effectively with the new situation, it also becomes a hurt experience, and gets recorded with all its new feelings, sensations and thoughts. Thus new situations are added on top of the old ones- and the distress recording gets bigger, adding more layers:
This means: The booby trap has more triggers. It takes up more of our free thinking space, and there are less areas available which are not upsetting to us. The person becomes more disposed to be upset by more situations, and more deeply upset, and for longer times. It has been estimated that a very successful adult in our culture is probably using only approximately. 10% of the original capacity of the flexible mind we were born with.
We get hurt early and often- By accident, when we are babies: we get bumps, or get cold, hungry, frustrated or scared. This is a normal part of life, and could get taken care of by our inherent healing process, if it were allowed to happen. But by far the greatest cause of our hurts are from contagion from distressed adults. When the adults around us get restimulated and act irrational, this is a very distressing experience for a young person. For example, a child runs outside naked, and the parent (having been punished by their own parents for exactly the same thing) gets upset and yells at the child, telling them how bad and embarrassing they have been acting. Then the child carries guilt, shame and fear about their body as a recorded distress.
When there has been enough restimulation, and when the same hurts happen over and over, they form patterns which become incorporated into our personalities and even reflected in our body structure.
-Most patterns are latent, when you do not feel the distress all the time, but it lies inside waiting to be pulled out by a similar event. We see these as our "problems"- like "Oh, I always get mad when someone is late for anything."
Chronic patterns: happen when we are hurt so frequently over a long time, that the feelings become pervasive, and we think "that's just the way I am". These are seen as idiosyncrasies of personality, or as your viewpoint on reality. Chronic patterns are constantly restimulated; they play all the time. They are like colored glasses through which we see the world. They can be identified in a person's posture, speech, emotional attitudes (like pessimism), and ritual rigid behaviors (addictions).
THE INHERENT HEALING PROCESS
-The process of storing hurts can be reversed. Our abilities to think clearly can be recovered, and repaired.
-A natural healing process is built in, we are all born with it. If it could operate, it would allow stored distress to be removed immediately. This emotional release process can be called "discharge" in the sense of discharging or draining a battery.
-Emotional release is a natural, inherent process- every child does it spontaneously. It looks like: When sad, we cry, When afraid, we laugh & tremble & have cold sweat, when angry we rage with loud sounds and large movements & have hot sweat, when we have physical discomfort we relieve it by yawning & stretching, and animated, non-repetitive talking.
-If the process is allowed to finish, the stuck information is released, evaluated and stored correctly. The area of our thinking is restored to flexible awareness. This is called "Re-evaluation," and is an automatic response after emotion has been discharged. It is the "Aha" feeling of resolution (understanding). The purpose of counseling is to encourage the discharge process so that we can reclaim all the areas of our flexible thinking that have been blocked.
BLOCKS TO THE HEALING PROCESS
-What keeps the natural healing process from happening??Mainly the lack of an attentive, loving person. There is a vast shortage of people who know how to truly pay attention to someone else. We grow up with a chronic feeling of never having enough personal attention. This is due to similar hurts instilled in the adults we depend on, and also to the isolating structure of our society which makes it very hard for parents to get the help they need.
Do you feel like you got enough attention while growing up?
Our culture also confuses the healing process with the hurt. We think, if someone is crying, that if we can get them to stop, then they will be all better. We do not realize that the crying itself was what would make the hurt dissolve. Inhibiting mechanisms are learned early- We are told "don't cry", and get lots of patting, rocking, threats, or humiliation: "Big boys don't cry". Soon the inhibitions become internalized, and we stop ourselves without having to be told.
No form of discharge is more important than the others. If they are encouraged and persisted with, the stuck hurt will be released in just the right way for the client. Often you will have many different feelings about one hurtful event.
-Everyone keeps trying to get attention, although unawarely. We talk out our problems, or cry on a shoulder with friends. But it is hard to be thorough and deep with this unaware clienting, because our conditioning not to have feelings takes over whenever the discharge gets deep. Also friends are often unskilled at listening and will often offer advice, give criticism, or just take the attention back to themselves by interrupting and talking about their own feelings. If you listen, much of everyday conversation is people trying to client about their problems. ?In co-counseling we structure our time together so that we create a safe time for us each to have a turn being listened to, when the listener has been trained to listen well. In this way deep and true healing can take place.
-If the discharge process is allowed to operate, people can return to natural state of freedom and zestful living. Each gain in recovering our capacity for intelligence is worthwhile, however small. Total re-evaluation is called "re-emergence".
Sources: The Human Side of Human Beings, and The Fundamentals of Re-Evaluation Co-counseling Manual by Harvey Jackins.
by Amara Karuna
Meetings and formats that we use at Laakea Community, include
· Morning checkins- a short report on how each person feels and what activities they plan to do that day, and any request for help, rides, etc
· Long business retreats- a day or two set aside every month or so to talk about deeper issues of vision and policy that take a longer time to consider
· play retreats- spending time together at the beach, or park, or a picnic
· business meetings ? happen weekly and handle all current business
· Consensus theory and skills ? we all learn how to come to group decisions in a co-operative, non authoritarian manner.
· Heartshare meetings- happen weekly and are a chance to feel connected.
Possible activities during a Heartshare meeting:
We use several formats to do processing emotion:
Communication skills ? we all learn how to listen well, give empathy, and the kinds of statements that are and are not helpful when communicating with others.
A primary form is Non Violent Communication - learning to identify and express feelings, needs and requests in a way that others can hear them.
1. The forum- a process of revealing one's true thoughts and feelings in a group setting, involving movement of one person in the center of a circle, as everyone else listens with respect. Some trained helpers can come in and support them at times. There are guidelines that help make this safe and this increases the group's feeling of safety.
2. Let-Go's - A process of revealing things that have been withheld from another person or the group, which are not discussed at that time. These can happen in a group or between two people only.
We ask ?does anyone have any let-gos?? and someone might say, ?yes I have one for Amara, do you want to hear it?? Then Amara can say yes or no, if she is not in a good space to hear it. If she says yes, then the person shares the let-go in an NVC format: ?when__________ happened, I felt _________________. I am needing ____________________ and (optional) my request is _______________.? Amara simply says ?Thank you? and they discuss it at a later time.
3. Appreciations- We ask ?Are there any appreciations?? People offer them to individuals or to the whole group. It could be personal or about something someone did.
3. Co-counseling- a way of introspecting, owning and processing one's deep feelings so that they no longer are controlling our reactions and behavior. This is more about clearing one's own self in order to be able to communicate better with others later.
We might take a 5 minute each mini session, with one person sharing whatever is up for them, and the other person simply listening, or asking questions, but not giving advice or comments. Or sometimes we might give each person equal time in the whole group for sessions. Any emotions that need to flow are welcome.
4. Long check ins- we divide up the time, and each person talks about whatever is going on in any aspect of their lives they would like to share.
5. Hot seat- can be combined with check ins. We ask the person on the hot seat questions about their life and experience. They can answer or not. If they answer and go on a long time, the questioner can interrupt and say ?Thank you? when they have heard enough of the answer. This process helps draw out people who are new to the group and might be shy to speak. Questions should come from the questioner?s true curiosity.
6. Appreciation circles: everyone has a turn receiving appreciations from the whole group. Comments should be authentic and spoken to the person directly. The receiver does not respond except for ?Thank you?. This creates a real feeling of closeness and bonding in the group.
7. Touch check ins- we divide up the time and people ask for the kind of touching they want, like massage or cuddles. They can check in at the same time or be silent or ask for appreciations or songs or toning.
8. Theater Games and other games- playful ways to connect with the group. They might include some of the New Games, or Playback Theater games. We like Whoosh ?Bang- Pow and Fluid Sculptures, among many.
9. Massage- we might spend a whole meeting simply trading massage in pairs or triads or quartets.
10. Cuddle Puddles- We might end a meeting with some time in a cuddle pile.
11. The Forum- a process for sharing in the large group, where one person at a time stands up and moves through the center space, expressing how they feel authentically, including movement. The movement helps to keep the energy moving. The intent is not therapy, but revealing the truth to others. We often use the simple form of 3 minute each turns, with no feedback or facilitation. Not everyone needs to take a turn. Clapping happens after every piece, and when opening and closing the forum. There are more complex forms of the forum that require training to facilitate.
12. Mediations- for people who are in conflict, we may take time in the whole group to help. We prefer to do this in smaller groups and not use the whole group time, but sometimes the conflicts affect everyone. Or we may process a larger conflict that many people are affected by, such as a disagreement on how to move forward on a project.
13. Vision and Policy- we may process group feelings on a certain topic, such as raising children, food issues, drug use, etc.
14. Personal Histories- we share on a certain topic such as our personal histories with sexuality, or sexism, classism and money, etc. this helps us understand each other.
©1998 by Amara Wahaba Karuna
Grounding What does grounding mean? Making the body real, putting your attention on the physical body, and strengthening the energy connection between your body and the earth.
MATTER AND ENERGY All matter is energy, only there are different levels of vibration, like a spectrum, some finer and faster; some dense and slow. We have many different levels of being- the dense physical form, the less dense (but still weighty) emotions, the finer level of thoughts, and still finer essence of our souls or spirits; our pure consciousness. We have many "bodies", one for each level, which can be seen psychically as overlapping layers of an energy field or aura. They get lighter and lighter as you move out farther from the physical body. The physical is the most solid. But even matter, on the atomic level, has more space in it than substance. The fast movement of the atoms gives the illusion of solidity, like the turning blades of an electric fan seem to become a solid wheel. Science is not even really sure if there is such a thing as a particle, since atomic bodies act just as much like waves of energy as anything else.
YOU ARE CONSCIOUSNESS Our attention or consciousness is not limited to our physical bodies. We often leave our bodies, as in sleeping. Wherever your attention is, that is where you are as a being. you are your attention point, or in other words, your essence as a being is a pure point of awareness. This consciousness can never die, it is eternal. When you are paying attention to what you will do next week, or what you did in the past, part of your energy or being goes there. If your energy is always centered on the mental levels of planning for the future, you are not present in the physical present time reality. It draws you out of what is happening here and now, which , after all, is really where the action is. When we experience hurtful events which are then unhealed and unresolved, part of our psychic energy gets "stuck" there in the past, until healing occurs.
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE BEING AND THE BODY Most people are "out" of their physical body a lot; thinking of faraway places, being centered in their head only ( thinking), spiritually asleep, or feeling the body is ugly or bad, or avoiding physical pain or boredom. The physical body has it's own consciousness. In fact, every cell of the body has its own kind of awareness. A physical body is like a huge city, with millions of little beings, ( cells, bacteria, etc. ), making it work, doing their different jobs. It is an expression of, and a reflection of, your state of consciousness and your spiritual being. A body is very wise- it knows exactly what it needs for healing at all times. It will keep working- breathing, heart pumping, etc.' even when the being is not paying much attention to it. But if the connection gets too remote, illness and death result.
But when you are not in your body much, the body doesn't feel very safe, kind of like an abandoned child. The energy field around it becomes weak and flat. it needs love and attention from your spirit, because the spirit is the source of life energy for the body. The Connection Or Bridge Between The Spirit And The Body Is The Breath. Life energy is brought to the body mainly via the breath. The body can only live a few minutes without breath. Learning to breathe properly can change your entire mental and emotional state.
MAKE THE BODY SAFE AND LOVED
When doing meditation and healing, if the body isn't safe, It won't allow you to be aware of subtle energies - the emotions or physical pains will clamor too loudly and drown out the quieter voices. This is why it is hard to know what your guidance is, what is the right thing to do, when you are upset. In our culture, we are taught to identify with our body as being the most real part of ourselves. this belief leads o our fear of death; because , although our physical body must die, our being does not. a being who believes it is only the body is trapped and afraid. At the same time, our culture discounts the physical body as being bad, gross, something with passions that need to be controlled. We hide it with clothes, and hide it's natural functions as shameful. We need to reclaim our love for our bodies, learn what is needed to be healthy, and care for them as a best friend or a child. one thing bodies need is to be grounded.
What effects does this have? Although being out of your body reduces pain, it makes you feel unstable, with your energy diffused. We feel vulnerable to attack, awkward, off-balance, unaware, ineffective. anytime you feel scared, you are probably not well grounded.
LEARN TO BE IN THE BODY We want to learn to bring the vibrations of consciousness into the body, and to re-tune the body's energy systems to be accustomed to higher energies. Our bodies are very flexible, and able to adapt to a wide range of vibration. In doing meditation, we are actually raising our vibrational level. If you get the vibration fast and high enough, disease organisms can't live. The lower vibrations of microbes can't exist in a strong ,higher field. People who have a lot of life force running through their bodies are more resistant to disease. Other things that raise the vibration are exercise, oxygen, occasional fasting, avoiding animal and low quality foods, and healing old emotional blocks.
When we bring our consciousness into the body, we are able to focus our energies to move the world around us, and create our own lives. this body, here and now, is the point in the universe that you have to work with, that is all your own. The more you are in your body, the more you have real power in this world available to you. You can also separate your own energy and problems from other people's since you are better aware of your own physical boundaries.
The first step is grounding Psychic energy follows the same laws of physical energy- energy flows long the path of least resistance. in electricity, outlets are grounded with a wire to allow any surges of power to bleed off harmlessly. We experience surges of psychic energy also; as in shocks, someone getting upset with us or attacking, or loud noises that set off out "fight or flight" adrenal responses. When energy gets stuck in us, it hurts. If it has somewhere to flow out to, a large surge is not uncomfortable.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath; your brain needs oxygen or it shuts down. It takes no effort to visualize; thoughts are so light, just relax. Put your hands on your hips and imagine a cylindrical tube attached to your pelvis, going down into the ground. It can be a pipeline, a hose, a tube, a root or a tree trunk. On an exhale, imagine it sinking, falling easily, getting longer and longer, falling though all the layers of the earth, rocks, water, lava, all the way down to the very center of the earth. image it very solid. As it winds around the center of the earth, getting firmly attached. You can imagine a heavy ball or rock dropping down, and that may make it easier .
Now on an exhale, imagine draining out any energy that you don't need right now- you don't have to see it or know what it is; just suggest to yourself that whatever is not needed now, you are letting go of, letting fall. Where is there tension or pain in your body? Relax and drain out that excess energy. Breathing at the same time will help a lot - gather the energy into a ball or blob on the inhale, then let it drop on the exhale. Practice for a few minutes. Breathe, stretch, drop over so your arms dangle to the floor, let your head be loose, and let any energy that may have been stuck in your head drain out the top. Stand up, and practice grounding. Walk around. Keep your attention on your grounding cord. How does it feel different than usual?
Exercise: Grounding in Pairs One partner ( person #1) physically pushes on the second partner ( #2) before either of them have tried grounding. Then have person #2 try the grounding exercise and have person #1 physically push on person #2. Do you notice any difference between the grounded and ungrounded interactions? Try variations of this with person #2 sitting on the ground or in a chair. How does this variation change the energy levels? Try picking the person up physically. Switch positions and repeat the exercise.
The body accumulates excess energy during the day unless it is grounded. Try taking a grounding break a few times a day when you are tired. When sitting on a toilet for a few minutes is a good time; or while driving. It is important to get your body used to this new feeling, so practice grounding. Especially ground before a hard demanding task, or stress. Try grounding your car, your house, your bedroom. Just imagine a grounding cord as wide as the object you are grounding. There are no limits in the thought realm.
GROWTH PERIODS It's good to do this carefully, so you don't get blown out by too much of a vibrational jump at once. When you are changing something, like a set of old beliefs, or diet, or surroundings, it means an energy shift. This can be uncomfortable as your body is learning to handle the new vibrations. The body tends to resist new changes, because of the inertia of the physical plane. Emotionally, everything may seem new and different, or overwhelming. You may become crabby or off balance. If it is extreme enough, it can cause physical illness. This is called a growth period or healing crisis.
The body needs good food, sleep, sex, playful fun and exercise to get through growth periods easily. these things help run more life force through it and give it what it needs to be happy and safe. if you feel odd after meditation or a class, go for a walk or eat something.
Also be aware that we have all been open before when we were young, but we have gotten too hurt and overwhelmed, and since we had no grounding or protection or support, we chose to shut down and get out of body. We all have hurts stored about not being able to be as aware, honest, and free as we really are, and having to hide our true selves. people are naturally psychic. it is not a strange mysterious talent that only a few have. it is part of our natural being to perceive non-physical energies and feelings. We are often humiliated and threatened when we are psychic or spiritually aware as young people, and told that what we perceive is not real. The process of opening up to the subtle energies may kick up a lot of old feelings and memories.
it is good to take some time processing on an emotional level, by exploring the memories with a caring listener or in a journal.
Do you remember a time when you were aware of something and got oppressed for it? Did you get support at any time?
DEEP RELAXATION Practice grounding before going to sleep. You may find that you sleep less, remember your dreams more often, because your energy is flowing more in connection to your body. Learning to relax deeply anytime you want is an invaluable skill. Deep relaxation can replace some sleep time, reduce stress, and hasten healing illness.
RELAXATION VISUALIZATION lying down, get comfortable. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Do this five times. imagine the grounding cord is as wide as your body, and cradling your body, going all the way to the center of the earth. Breathe. If you slip away, bring yourself back into your body by breathing or touching your head. Stay present so you can hear and be aware. Now on the inhale, tense up your feet and ankles, as tight as you can. Hold for a moment, and then exhale and completely let go. Imagine any excess, unneeded energy is draining into the earth. do the same process with your calves, your thighs, your buttocks, your stomach, your chest, your back, your arms and hands, your shoulders , your head and face. Feel yourself become lighter and more empty and open with each breath. Imagine a large, golden sun above you, which is your very own special highest soul energy. Look at it, and see what it looks like. this is the best energy in the world for your body to have in it. Your own present time energy. Let it wash down through you, melting away tension, filling up any weak spaces, revitalizing you. on the inhale, let it rush in, on the exhale let it soak into all of your cells. If you want, you can think a message to your body: "I'm here" or "I love you" or "Be healthy". Let yourself be completely limp, open, and receptive. If you are going on to another activity, begin to wiggle your fingers and toes, and then stretch. Slowly sit up when you are ready, staying grounded.
WHAT HELPS, AND WHAT HURTS COMMUNICATION ©1998 by Amara Wahaba Karuna
WHAT IS GOOD COMMUNICATION? GIVING AND RECEIVING When you are able to let your thoughts or feelings be known to another person in a way that they can understand, without attacking (trying to hurt) them, that is good communication. This requires an attitude of cooperation, honesty and respect.
In order to really be communicating, your message must be received as well as sent. If you say something that the other person doesn't hear or understand, you have expressed yourself, but you have not really communicated anything. If you want the other person to change or act differently somehow, it is especially important to carefully consider how to get your message across in a way they can hear it.
Communication can happen through written and spoken words, gestures, pictures, actions, body posture, facial expressions and the tone of voice. Often the words themselves carry the weakest impact, with the non-verbal signals being much more important. Example: Someone says "I really like you" in a bored voice with a perfectly straight, stiff face. What have they really communicated?
It's very important to honestly, and carefully, communicate feelings. Uncommunicated feelings create distances between people. Even if it is uncomfortable, sharing your real experience in a caring way is the greatest gift you can give to keep a relationship healthy.
As human beings, we feel best when there is openness and understanding between us. Having lots of unsettled problems hanging in our relationships is not a comfortable feeling- they tend to weigh us down and create a blocked, trapped feeling. It takes a lot of courage to face someone and honestly communicate our uncomfortable feelings, but the feeling of release and freedom afterward is a great reward.
Most of us were constantly criticized when growing up, by parents, teachers, relatives, friends. It is usually easier for us to verbalize our dissatisfaction than what we like. Many people are very sensitive about being criticized. It is important to communicate your critical feedback carefully, to make it easier for the other person to hear it. People learn best from someone that they trust and feel safe with. If they can hear it, there is a greater chance that they will change their behavior.
When both people communicate clearly what they think and feel, and are listened to respectfully, it is possible create solutions to problems together so that everyone wins. Many problems are imagined or blown out of proportion, and vanish when the people involved communicate carefully.
WHAT HELPS COMMUNICATION HAPPEN?
WHEN YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE TO SOMEONE ELSE, Helpful steps are:
1. CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF:
Is this a good time for you to say what you have to say? Do you have enough time or are you in a rush? Is your thinking clear? Missing sleep, or taking drugs (even coffee) can make it harder to communicate, because the drug's influence will flavor what you say and do. How are you feeling right now? If you are very upset, it will be harder to communicate in a way that can be received by the other person. The more calm, strong and clear you are, the easier it will be to have a good communication. If you feel inside that you want to hurt the other person, get back at them, teach them a lesson or prove you are right, you are coming from a competitive rather than a cooperative attitude. Strong fear will also make it hard to think. The other person will feel this, and understanding each other will be harder. This also applies when you have strong positive feelings that you want to communicate. Sometimes it can be just as hard to express affection as it is to express criticism. What are some ways you can use to get clear and calm? Journal writing, counseling, a long walk, talking it over with someone else... What do you use to get back in touch with who you really are?
When it seems hard to get calm and clear enough; It often helps to go talk it over with a friend who is uninvolved until you are feeling calmer. If you want to avoid gossiping, you don't even need to mention the names of the other people involved with your problem. Just talking about your feelings often takes a lot of the tension away. This step helps avoid dumping all the force of your old hurts caused by parents, etc. onto the usually relatively innocent person you are trying to talk with now. Practice saying what you want to say, either alone or to a friend, or in writing. Sometimes you might need to have an ally with you in order to feel clear enough to talk over something that you have a lot of intense feelings about. (For example, having your parent come with you to talk to a teacher about a problem). Another option is to write a letter to the person, instead of talk with them. This sometimes helps you to carefully choose your words without pressure. Or some people find that talking over the phone feels easier.
2. ASKING FIRST- CHECK IN WITH THE OTHER PERSON Does the person want to communicate with you right then? Are they in a hurry or tired, and do they have time? How much of a need do you have to talk right then, or is it something you can put off until a better time? Respect their right to say no, but be firm about setting up a later time. What you have to say is important. If you have something uncomfortable to say, it is even more important to ask beforehand. A lot of bad communication happens when people just "pop" out with a critical remark and the other person is unprepared, and so responds defensively. This is a bad habit that many of us have grown up with. We are often more polite with and thoughtful of our acquaintances than the people in our families we really love most. Examples of good ways to ask : "I want to talk to you about something important. (or serious, or uncomfortable, or a problem) Is this a good time to talk?" "Can we set up a time to have a private talk?" "Something is bugging me and I want to clear it up with you. Do you have a few minutes?" "I would like to share some of my feelings with you." "I have something difficult to say to you. Can you give me some time?"
3. VALIDATE and APPRECIATE BEFORE GIVING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK. -Satisfying relationships are built on a positive flow of love and appreciation between the people involved. The more you receive, the more you will want to give. The more continuous and deep is this exchange, the more satisfaction will be felt. -This positive feedback loop is a skill that can be practiced, and can become a habit. Many people become locked into habits of criticism and invalidation with their partners or children, creating a loop where they get more and more shut off and less willing to give. Sometimes this ends in a feeling of the relationship "not being worth it" because the rewards become less than the effort. Build a positive relationship- practice appreciating the other person. Tell them you like it whenever they do something you appreciate. Look for things to appreciate, even if it seems difficult. Examples: "I really love you" "I'm so glad you are my special (friend, partner, mate...) "I love being close to you" "I am proud of you, I respect you" "I appreciate the work you do" "Thanks for taking care of that project- you did it well." -When preparing to give negative feedback, first give appreciations. This builds safety, reminding both of you of the good energy possible between you. -If you can't think of any appreciations, at least explain to the person that your intention is to communicate honestly and clearly, in a way that neither of you gets hurt. Why are you bothering to talk with them? Let them know your good intentions. "I don't want this to stand in the way of our friendship." "I want to be honest with you."
4. CLEARING - Guidelines for giving negative feedback in a considerate, effective way:
It will be helpful if you both agree to use these guidelines first: to take turns listening and paraphrasing, to agree not to interrupt each other, to use "I" messages and avoid the things that block communication.
CLEARING IS NOT THE SAME AS COUNSELING- A time set up for clearing and good communication is a time to be as calm and centered and rational as possible. It is a time to communicate information, ask for changes and make agreements. People will hear what you have to say much better if there is not a strong emotional charge mixed with it. If you have strong feelings, try to work them out beforehand in a counseling session, where you don't have to concern yourself with being polite or rational. Depending on who you are clearing with, (your boss, your mate, your child) they may be more or less interested in the details of your emotional reactions. Don't expect them to be your counselor. Decide if you want to be their counselor or not, if they become irrational during the clearing process. If you do, listen to them calmly without taking it personally while they express their emotions. If you don't, stop the process until they can calm down. Ask for help if necessary.
A. TELL THEM HOW YOU ARE FEELING FIRST, before you try to give information. Then they will have an idea where you are coming from and be less likely to mis-interpret. Examples: "I feel really nervous saying this." "I am kind of tired right now and distracted." "I am a bit angry." USE "I" MESSAGES: statements about your own experience; feelings, thoughts, desires. While people can argue about an accusation or insult, ("You are always sloppy") they can't argue with a statement about your own experience. (I don't like it when you don't clean up") Examples of feeling "I" messages: "I'm really annoyed and I don't want to stay upset with you." "I am afraid." "I am really happy and excited." "I Messages" can also contain information about why you are feeling that way. Examples: "I feel happy and warm when you visit me." "I am worried that you might be in trouble." "I am scared that you might hit me, and I feel unsafe." "I felt rejected when you didn't call." You can also explain what you are thinking with "I" messages: "I have a different opinion. The way I see it..." "I don't want to join in that activity."
WATCH FOR HIDDEN "YOU" MESSAGES: Beware of statements that begin "I feel that you..." because they are always what you think about them, not what you feel. These give no information about your own experience or feelings. LIke "I feel that you are untrustworthy because you didn't call." (A true "I" message would be: "I don't trust you, because you didn't call.") Or "I feel that you are wrong about that." (better: "I disagree.") "I know you are trying to hurt me." (better: "I feel attacked and unsafe with you.") Sometimes changing these into direct questions is useful: "Why didn't you call me?"
B. WHAT YOU WANT AND WHY: Say exactly what you want the other person to do from now on (what you want), as opposed to explaining what they were doing "wrong" (What you don't want). Going into all the ways the other person was "bad" puts people on the defensive and closes them down. Stating the problem as factually as possible is helpful. Not so good: "You never get to meetings on time! You are so unreliable and self centered!" Better: "You have been late every day this week. I would like you to get here on time from now on. I am frustrated when you are late." Begin by asking for 100% of what you want. You can compromise later, after you hear what they want, to work out something mutually agreeable. EXPLAIN WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU: It will help the other person to understand what you want and need if you tell them why. Ex: "It is important to me because the other people at the meeting can't really get started until you arrive, and a lot of time gets wasted." This is especially important when talking to young people. "Because I said so" is not a good reason, it is a command.
C. MAKE SURE THEY HEARD WHAT YOU SAID PARAPHRASING- After one person has expressed their thoughts, feeling and wants, have the listener paraphrase what was just said in their own words. Do this every few minutes, or it will be hard for the listener to remember all that was said! Ex: "What did you hear me say?" "I heard that you are frustrated because you don't like waiting for me to arrive to get started working, and you want me to be prompt from now on." Keep doing this until the first speaker feels satisfied that the listener heard what was being said.
D. TAKE TURNS- They deserve a chance to say what they have to say to you. After the first person speaks, and the listener says what they heard, then let the listener have a turn. Keep taking turns until you feel that everything has been said. Try to give each other approximately equal time. It is not fair if one person keeps talking so long that the other doesn't have a turn. You can even time it- try five minutes each, back and forth til you feel done.
THINGS THAT HURT AND BLOCK GOOD COMMUNICATION
1. DISRESPECT: Things that imply the person is helpless, unimportant and incompetent. INTERRUPTIONS-breaking in while the other person is talking, before they are done. It implies that what they have to say is not important. Sometimes this is unavoidable, like when you have a time deadline, or when the other person is attacking you. You can say "Excuse me for interrupting, but..." "This isn't working for me." If the other person interrupts you, or seems to spend much more time talking that is fair, express your feelings using "I" messages, and request change. RESCUING - Stepping in to take care of someone, doing it for them, protecting them in a way that keeps them from learning from their own direct experiences. "Oh, here, let me do that." "I'll tell him for you." This is not the same as defending someone from an attack, when they really need help. It is more like not letting them have a chance to be as strong as they really are. ADVICE- Telling someone what you think they should do to solve a problem. "Maybe you could try..." Even if it seems that you know exactly what they should do, really they are the only person who can know the best thing in their own unique situation. Advice implies lack of trust and respect in the person's own power. Sometimes it is appropriate when they ask for it directly. CORRECTING- Pointing out bluntly what they did wrong. "You said 'ain't' again. That's bad grammar." "You shouldn't have told him the answer." ASSUMING/ MIND READING- Believing that you know exactly what the other person is experiencing. "I know just how you feel, it is caused by..." "Oh that has happened to me a million times, don't you feel mad?"
2. HUMILIATION: Ways of actively putting other people down, or insulting them. KIDDING- this is often a form of disguised criticism or insult, which would not be said at all if it had to be said in a straightforward way. Kidding makes people defensive and cautious. If challenged, the kidder can say "Oh, I didn't mean it" but there is always some truth under a jibe. Ex: "Hey, is there a real face under all that make-up?" SARCASM & RIDICULE- like kidding but usually intended to be hurtful. Sarcasm is saying one thing when you mean the opposite. Ex: "Oh my, look at the beauty queen today! I just LOVE your make up." Ridicule is mocking and sneering with the intent to belittle. "You don't even know THAT?" "Everybody else has a better one than you." SHAME- Making someone feel somehow bad, wrong and that they should be different. Shame is a paralyzing feeling that keeps us from learning from our experiences and mistakes. Ex: "How could you wear so much make up? Shame on you! That's disgusting!" NAME-CALLING AND LABELING- Name calling is a personal insult: "You look like a slut!" "You are stupid" "Dummy!". Labeling is putting down the person as a member of a whole group: "All you freshmen are so uncool and tacky." "Another dumb blond." Both of these make it hard for the other person to respond in any way except being defensive. There is no invitation to improve the situation or be helpful. They are another form of hurtful attacks. DISCOUNTING- When someone is not taken seriously, either for their feelings or thinking. Discrediting or invalidating a person's right to state what is real for them. Ex: "Oh it's not that bad." "Why are you upset about that little thing?" "Don't be silly." "No, that's wrong. You don't know what you are talking about." "You're to young to know what I mean." Or even worse: "You don't really feel that way." 3. MANIPULATIONS: Unhealthy ways of trying to make the other person to do what you want, or see it your way. Using fear and guilt to get them to change. ORDERING- telling them what to do directly without considering their wants or needs ("You must finish that right now!" "Shut up and listen!") COERCION- Sneaky ways to get someone to do something, like bribing ("I'll like you better if you do this for me") or pressuring ("Everybody will know that you are the only one who didn't go along with this" "Come on, just try it once, just a little?") THREATENING & WARNING- Directly threatening bad results ("If you don't do this, I'll never speak to you again.") or intimidating ("You are really going to get in trouble if you do that"). PREACHING & SHOULDS- Assuming you know what is best for them. "You should always be honest with your mother." "Everyone knows that the right thing is to always be clean and tidy." TEACHING- Giving a lecture, telling them you know more than they do, giving information when it is not wanted. You may be correct in what you are saying, but if you don't say it in a way the other person can hear it, it is useless. "Sugar inhibits your immune system, you know- it's really bad for you."
4. HURTFUL ATTACKS: Ways of trying to hurt the other person, making them your enemy, saying they are the problem, fighting ACCUSATIONS - Telling others what we suspect to be true, in a disapproving way. "You left those dirty dishes!" "You cheated on that test!" They are almost certain to deny or argue in response. These can easily be turned into questions to get accurate information: "Did you leave the dirty dishes?" GENERALIZATIONS- Always and Never are words to avoid. "You always say the wrong thing!" "You never tell me you love me." It may feel like it's true, but it usually isn't, and it gives the other person something to argue with. BLAME- Making it seem as though it is all the other person's fault, and that they are bad. "This is all your fault! You're the one that got me in trouble!" It implies that their very nature is bad and ignores why they may have acted in that way. It is important to separate people's negative behavior from who they really are; in other words, the action is bad but the person isn't. Often negative behavior is just a mistake. When it is intentional acting out, that is a call for help and attention from someone who is hurting inside. Often blame is used to project the responsibility onto someone else, when really it was our own. ESCALATIONS- When you are arguing about something, and it is getting louder and faster and more heated. The end of an escalation is a shouting match, in which no one is thinking or listening. If you feel an escalation happening, tell the other person that this is too intense and loud for you to continue right now, and wait quietly to see if they calm down. Tell them what you hear them saying, in as considerate a way as possible. If they don't calm down, it is better to leave and try to talk again later. It's not necessary or helpful to be some else's punching bag or dumping ground. GOSSIPING AND BACKSTABBING- Complaint about someone, but not taking it directly to them, but instead complaining to everyone else about them. "Do you know what she said to me yesterday?" This hurts the other person in many ways- mainly because the people who are listening to the gossip form negative thoughts about them without hearing their side of the story. People will often gossip to form coalitions; to get a group of people on "their side". This is very divisive in a group, and it makes a problem between two people become a problem of the whole group. It is much more workable to take your issue directly to the person you have it with. Or as mentioned earlier, discuss the problem with others first, preferably with people who are not involved, but don't reveal the identity of the other person. IGNORING and ABANDONING- This may not seem like an attack, but really it is the most devastating way to hurt someone emotionally. It is a cutting off of relationship, a closing of the door for communication. Many of us learned to do it, since in the past there was usually not a way to clear up the bad feelings, our only choice was to ignore them and avoid the other person. But this leaves a festering wound between you. Attempts to avoid the other person often mean giving them a lot of power over your life, for example choosing to not attend events you think they might be at. Ignoring someone can be used as a last resort, if all attempts at communication have failed, and the other person still insists on attacking you. But it is a short term, less than ideal solution. It usually feels better if we can discover why the other person is attacking us, and try to deal with the real problem and resolve it.
GETTING HELP- Don't Give Up Before you Have asked for Help
MEDIATION- If you have tried to communicate one-to-one and it hasn't worked, or if for some other reason you feel unsafe communicating that way, call in a third person to mediate. This will often defuse the conflict enough to work it out rationally. The mediator can help make sure that the guidelines are followed, that each person has equal time, that each person is hearing the other, and that things do not escalate. Professional mediators also help people work out agreements and solve problems. RELATIONSHIP COUNSELING SESSIONS- These are different from mediation because the purpose is to explore the feelings of each person about the other, and see what is within each person that is creating their mutual problem. The counselor may work with each person, encouraging emotional expression, while the other person watches. This promotes greater understanding about the roots of the conflict and can be essential if the problem is between mates or family members. Some relationship counselors also do mediation and problem solving.