Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How To Say What You Mean

I recently saw this quote on Pinterest:

"Sometimes when I say, 'I'm OK,' I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say, 'I know you're not.'"

I do not understand this, and even though I know I should not be judgy, I sort of am. I realize that I am a horrible person. I realize that many people in my life, including people that I love, and including people in my family, can probably totally identify with this.

The Pinterest quote reminded me of an episode on a recent vacation: I had prepared and served a festive meal for the family, and a few minutes after we finished eating, and well before our digestive systems had fully engaged, my SIL started clearing the dinner dishes.  "Sit down," I suggested, "Relax.  I'll get to those later."

She kept cleaning up, and said, "You don't really mean that." She asserted that everyone appreciated help with the dishes after whipping up dinner for a bunch of people.  "I always do this for my girlfriends," she said, "Even when they say, 'Oh, don't bother!'--because I know they don't really mean it."

"Well, I really mean it," I said.  "I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it.  It's really nice of you to do the cleaning up, but I honestly wouldn't mind cleaning up a little later. I'd be happy to have you sitting down and relaxing."

Apparently, this is what people do: they say things they don't mean. Folks seem to believe that people don't say what they really feel, and that their true meaning and intention must be discerned from something other than their words. And on the flip side, they communicate in the same way, skirting around a direct statement and expecting their listeners to read between the lines or interpret their body language.

Sometimes I feel like I am from a different planet, or that I have some kind of narrow form of autism that makes me unable to read social cues, because this just does not make sense to me. This confusing mentality leads to Harlequin-romance-type misunderstandings and conflict. 

I believe that we should take people at their word, and act accordingly. Say what you mean. Don't say what you don't mean. Ask for what you want or need--but at the same time, have very limited expectations of what people can and will do for you. This is the Peevie Rule for Clear and Sensible Communication.

My immediate response to that Pinterest quote is, instead of saying that you're OK, why wouldn't you say, "I'm not OK. Could I have a hug?" This seems more--incoming judgyness!--mature--and more likely to elicit the outcome you hope for.

It is a fundamental sign of emotional health to take responsibility for one's own happiness. I tell my kids, "You are responsible for your own happiness. Not me, not your siblings, not your teachers, not your friends. If you are not happy, do something about it."

"Most folks are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be." --Abraham Lincoln

What good does it do to say you're OK when you're really not? I mean, unless you're in a social situation, like your workplace, where it's not necessarily appropriate to ask for hugs and to lay your true feelings right out there. But I'm guessing that those are not the people you want looking deep into your soul and sussing out your need for a moment of physical reassurance.

When you're around people from whom a hug is appropriate and would feel good--why would you not just say, "I'm so sad. I could use a hug"?

It is one goal of this blog to encourage people to say what they need, and to express in direct, non-metaphorical language, how they feel and what would help them feel better. Let's practice together:

"I'm feeling lonely. I'd like someone to hang out with tonight. Are you available?"

"I feel sad. I really miss [person's name that you miss]. I'd like to talk about him/her."

"Would you be willing to help out with the dishes tonight?"

"I'm sorry to cut you off, but I need to get off the phone now."

"I know you want to keep reading my delightful blog, but I really want to end this post and go watch some TV."

Let me know how it goes. Alternatively, let me know if you think my expectations are completely unrealistic and that I don't have any understanding for how real people communicate in western culture. I can handle it.


jeanie said...

I want to take your class, sit at your feet and learn how to do this better. I think my fear of being turned down is greater than my need. Anyway E. you make is sound so simple, and i believe it is. Yet, if you're afraid of a, "NO I can't really do what you're asking," what do you do with that?

And now I want to go watch some TV.

Eve Bradshaw said...

That comes in the class syllabus under the heading "Low Expectations." I don't think we should have expectations that other people will meet our emotional needs. When it happens, it's great and lovely; but expectation often leads to disappointment and/or frustration.

Also: If you ask someone to meet an emotional need--say, you ask them for a hug, or you ask them to spend some time with you--and they say no: what you do with that is you learn that that person is not safe for you (reference the Cloud/Townsend Safe People theory); and you find people that are safe.

This all sounds like I'm an expert in mental health, which clearly I am, if by "expert" you mean "suffers from extreme mental health issues and is learning in the trenches what works for her but may not work for other people."

I think there's another blog post brewing here.

studioGypsy said...

i want to hug you right now. and. i love you and your words. xo