Crazy Making Communication #@%&*!!
Has anything like this ever happened to you in any of your relationships?
A Simple Misunderstanding
Kevin had what he thought was a mild misunderstanding with Melissa over a missed appointment. It seemed like the issue had been resolved with an acknowledgment of no fault miscommunication and an apology from Kevin. But, Kevin didn’t feel like it was over, even though Melissa said she wasn’t really upset. Frustrated and disappointed were the words she used, but not upset.
Melissa’s smile seemed forced and it felt like there was more that she wanted to say, but Melissa insisted they forget about it and move on. Still, Kevin had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that made him wary of Melissa.
One of the hallmarks of enlightened conflict resolution is emotional authenticity. Emotional authenticity can be compromised by emotional incongruence. Often, unrecognized fears complicate what could be a direct, straightforward exchange of information.
Most of us have learned to hide our true feelings. Dropping your mask and being emotionally honest can sometimes leave you feeling vulnerable. But that is just the reason it is so disarming and why it tends to build trust and compassion.
Emotional incongruence is complex because sometimes you know you are doing it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you may intentionally lie about your feelings in order to get the upper hand. It’s almost always a stupid move because it is so transparent. People may not notice it right away, but after they have had a chance to reflect on it, it usually dawns on them. They may not confront you on it because it is not worth the effort, but they will feel wary and simply “go polite” and keep their distance. Just like Kevin did with Melissa.
At other times, you may be out of touch with your feelings and try to fool yourself into maintaining a particular self image. Perhaps it is an image of being nice or spiritual or in control. But just beneath the surface, your fear of looking bad, or being wrong or being cast aside dictates your defensiveness. Defensiveness is almost always experienced by others as aggression, which escalates arguments. You may think you are communicating clearly, but you are sending mixed messages. Just like Melissa was.
Mixed messages are confusing. Mixed messages are crazy-making. Mixed messages are infuriating. They undermine trust and usually make conflict resolution a very difficult undertaking. In the Conscious Upset Resolution Exercise (CURE) the first thing you do is “inner work” to get to the bottom line of your own part in the upset before having a dialogue with the other person. This is very important because if you are still feeling angry or blaming, but mouthing words of reconciliation or good intent, you will be incongruent.
Invisible Carrier Wave of Emotion
The words of a conversation are transmitted on an invisible carrier wave of emotion. The emotion is more powerful than the words alone. In other words, the emotion is “louder”. Sometimes the emotion is screaming so loudly that you can’t even hear the words that are being said. Consequently, one of the worst things you can do is lie about your feelings or try to hide them. All it does is send mixed messages and makes other feel like they are standing on shaky ground, causing all manner of silent alarms and red alert signals to clamor through their energy field. There is a dreadful, unsettling feelings that comes with that “everything looks okay, why does it feel so bad, where is the danger really coming from?” feeling that usually throbs in your stomach and raises the hackles on your neck.
Just as it is easy to tell when someone is being emotionally incongruent, it can be equally difficult to know when you yourself are doing it. It can be extremely difficult for people who hold a high value for peace or kindness to be honest with themselves, or anyone else for that matter, about their darker emotions. It can generate a deep inner conflict to have “hateful” feelings when you see yourself as a “nice” person. If you have been a victim of emotional violence it can be even more difficult.
If You Want To Be Emotionally Congruent . . .
Over time, people automatically suppress feelings they judge to be “bad.” This leads to acute emotional incongruence. The thing that can be so crazy making is you can’t feel the feelings you are transmitting to others. If you want to be emotionally congruent it is vital that you recognize the importance of learning to feel safe with all your emotions. Look to see the role fear or anger has played in your life.
In the case of Kevin and Melissa, it is likely that Melissa had some old historical feelings triggered by her interaction with Kevin, of which she was unaware. And it was these unconscious feelings being unintentionally transmitted by Melissa to which Kevin was responding by feeling uneasy and like there was more she wanted to say. It is entirely possible that Melissa was being perfectly sincere in her statement that there was nothing more, simply because she was not in touch with her deeper feelings.
It is exactly for this kind of dynamic that we wrote our bestselling book, You’re Never Upset for the Reason You Think. It provides a clear roadmap through this emotionally swampy, highly charged territory and leads you to the high ground of emotional congruence.