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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: February 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Start the Conversation (and the dangers of not starting the conversation)

It's not always easy to start the conversation.  Especially if the conversation is about a difficult topic, like not being happy in a marriage, or not feeling happy with one's job, or children or sense of self.
Sometimes we don't know how to start.  Sometimes we don't know who to start the conversation with.  We don't know what we will say.  We are afraid, even, of saying anything.  What if we don't have the right words? What effect might our words have? What effect would we like them to have?

Some people are afraid to put themselves into the equation, thinking they should just live with things as they are, or that their needs are too needy, or too shameful, or not "normal."  Some people think the other person's needs are too needy, too demanding, or not normal.  Sometimes we are afraid we will hear things we don't want to hear, or learn things we don't want to learn about ourselves or someone else.  We think we won't be able to deal with it.

Sometimes we don't start the conversation because we think we will be met with ridicule, or with dismissal or harm.  And there are times where that may be true.  Sometimes we don't start the conversation because we fear being misunderstood, laughed at, or not taken seriously.

And sometimes we don't start the conversation because we believe it won't make a difference anyway.  And sometimes we think that if we start the conversation we are going to make something become real that should not become real.  That we will be stuck with our words as if they are signatures on a contract, as if they are facts forever.  We don't know that we can walk through them without taking any action.  That even if our feelings get stirred up, we don't have to act.

Sometimes we don't start the conversation because we don't really want to.  And when we unpack that a bit we learn that we don't want to because maybe we just are not ready to open up that door. We are afraid of where it will go.  

And sometimes we don't start the conversation because we don't want to because somewhere in the back of our minds we want to take some kind of action and we don't want to veer off the path toward that outcome.  We have in mind what we are going to do and we don't want to think it through, or give another outcome a chance.

From where I sit, in the therapist's chair, all these years, I see what happens when the conversation does not start.  I see marital problems get swept under the rug until one person or the other has an affair, or leaves or blows up big time.  I see people quit jobs on a whim, lose it with children, hurt themselves or others.

Sometimes we are not sure how to talk safely.  But we can learn.  We can learn the right enough words to start with.  Whether we are starting the conversation with ourselves, with our partner, our boss, our kids.  The conversation does not have to be, in fact mostly, should not be, a once and done, intense blow out.  It can be ongoing, and rolling and open ended and gentle even.  We can start with "Hi, I kinda like the idea of starting a conversation - would you join me?"

Recently, someone said to me "As long as we keep talking we'll be okay."  And I'm thinking how great that is.  That I really believe that.  While we are not always emotionally able or ready to jump right in to the deep parts of the issues, and while we may not know exactly where the conversation will go, I think its true.  As long as we keep talking, we are not entirely alone.