How do you feel when someone tells you what to do? How about when you’re told what you “should” do? Is there a difference?
“You should use Tylenol not Advil.” “You should cut your hair and donate it.” “You should put on a few pounds.” These are just a few of the things I’ve been told I should do recently.
What about statements like: “You never call me!” “Oh, so you do know my phone number.” “You did it right.” And “You never listen to me!”
What do all of these statements have in common? They all come from a language of emotional shame rather than emotional respect.
When we grow up in homes that speak the language of emotional shame it can be difficult to recognize; we’re used to everyone telling one another what to do, what they should be doing differently, and whether what they’re doing is right or wrong.
What causes some people wake up to the fact that constant fighting in order to maintain one’s status doesn’t feel good and yet others never do? Walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding criticisms, judgements, and blame doesn’t feel comfortable either yet some people choose to continue the life long drama of who’s winning and who’s losing, who’s in charge and who’s not.
Sometimes it seems easier for us to notice this type of communication at work. We seem to take more offense at someone not particularly close to us giving orders, criticizing, and blaming us. I recently shared an article on how successful people deal with toxic people and in response have heard that many of you work with people just like the tyrant depicted in the article. If you pay attention, I bet you can find it closer to home than that.
I’d like to challenge you by reversing your perspective on that article; as easy as it is to name people you work or associate with as toxic, what if some people think of you when reading the article? Ouch! It’s more comfortable to be the martyr than it is to be the transgressor, isn’t it? Ultimately, who wants to fall into either of those roles?
From these familiar interactions, we learn to use judgements, comparisons, blame, and labels in order to keep ourselves in the top dog position… “She’s fat.” “I can do a better job than him.” “It’s your fault I’m mad.” “You always do this!” And “You never do what I ask.”
Whether or not you’re accustomed to thinking or saying shaming comments to others, you might recognize the thoughts that run through your mind about your own behaviors; the “I should’s.” For instance, “That was stupid,” and “I should know better.”
There are yet more pieces to the emotional language puzzle, but now that you’ve heard some of the components, I’d like to give their equal spoken in an emotionally respectful way. These are alternatives to the comments stated in the first paragraph. See if you can feel and hear the difference:
“Perhaps Tylenol would help, have you tried that?”
“Your hair is so long, have you ever considered donating it?”
“I’m worried that you’re losing weight, are you?”
For those of us that grew up learning the language of emotional shame, it can be difficult to learn there’s another way. We’ve built our world around making sure we stay on top, always. Of course this means everyone else has to stay beneath us, always. What happens when (not if, but when) we fall? Or worse yet, someone pushes us off? We fight and scream to get back on top, which means others have to go down. However subtle, this dynamic happening in homes and offices everywhere.
That said, we don’t all speak emotional shame (and if you’re thinking you don’t, consider the idea that placing yourself above this skill is putting yourself on top, affirming you most likely do) and even if we do, we can learn and practice emotionally respectful language. I won’t lie, it’s not easy! It isn’t pleasant looking in the mirror noticing how you speak to and think about others. For those of you that can identify this quality more easily in your self talk, it’s an impossibility for you not to be equally hard on others… pay attention to your “should’s.”
With emotional respect you’ll value individual differences and feel valued for your individuality rather than feeling compared. You’ll understand another person’s story and feel understood rather than feeling judged. You’ll be asked for desired changes from others and learn to ask, rather than demanding and criticizing. You’ll seek solutions to problems rather than blaming or feeling blamed. You’ll hear “I appreciate your perspective” rather than “You’re right.” You’ll know that you’re not perfect, they’re not perfect, and it’s okay. You’ll feel safe and comfortable around others because they’re authentic and in charge of their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and so are you.
As a personal trainer and a parent I’ve found a hotbed of opportunity to practice not using praise. What’s wrong with praise you ask? Well, it’s the flip side of the “That was bad” and “That was stupid” coin. Just as no one has the right to label you as “bad,” “stupid,” or “ugly” (judgements), no one has the right to label you “good,” “smart,” or “pretty.” We can, however, say things like “I love the effort I see you’re putting into that exercise.”
As a recent example of this, my oldest son excitedly told me he earned the highest score in his class on his physics test. My instinct was to tell him “Great job!” Instead, I asked “How do you feel about that?” He very enthusiastically replied that he was excited to see all of his studying pay off, to which I was able to respond with “I feel happy hearing the pride and relief in your voice,” allowing him ownership of his achievement.
So how do you change the language you’ve so adeptly learned if it isn’t the emotionally respectful kind? The first step is awareness and in order to have awareness you have to be present. Presence, as you know from previous blogs, means mindfulness. If you truly want to change how you think and relate to people, you have to be present, there is no other way.
My challenge to you is twofold: First is to practice being present (mindfulness) so that you can do the second part which is paying attention to your thoughts and words. If you’d really like to jump start your presence in the world, start a practice of mindfulness meditation. Aloha!
If one is estranged from oneself, then one is estranged from others too.
If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian