Real conversations require our full participation. This is the space where two people participate in an unfolding conversation. Genuine conversations invite the sense of “us” the space where a participatory reality unfolds. How do we achieve this authentic experience of conversation?
To do so, we must let our guard down. The barrier that we build to protect how we want to be seen precludes authentic conversation. Socially learned rules of engagement isolate us as they instruct us against appearing weak, vulnerable, ignorant, assertive or unhappy. These exchanges betray our authentic being and thwart our growth, individually and relationally.
When we release our need to be seen in a particular way we can then move into the space between the other and me. In this space there arises the potential for a participatory unfolding of two people where the conversation isn’t predictable or predetermined.
This engagement moves well beyond the transactional exchange of data points. “What have you been up to?” prompts “Oh I’m so busy with the kids and vacation plans I don’t have a minute to come up for air.” Or ask, “How’s the job going?” and you can anticipate, “Pretty good, can’t complain.” The proverbial, “How are you?” necessitates the automatic, “Good, and you?” There’s no conversation occurring in these exchanges. These transactions are routine, robotic and self-protective. And they are dehumanizing.
To enter into authentic conversation—the realm of participatory relationship—requires that I drop my defenses and release my armor. When I embrace my vulnerability and allow the conversation to enter the realm of the uncertain— the possibilities of genuine engagement are summoned.
When the conversation enters into unknown territory don’t pull it back into the retreat of the familiar. Ask a new question, one which you’ve never considered and be present for the response. Or share a part of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. In the unfamiliarity of a new dialogue, you’ve both entered a sacred space, a space that allows you both to truly relate. A real conversation is an adventure into the unfamiliar where two people present their authentic self, unguarded and welcoming the uncertain. This is where new possibilities await.
In my last post, Silence: A Relationship Killer, we explored the ruinous consequences that intentional silence has on relationships. Silence is antithetical to healthy communicating. Very often people may resort to silence because they anticipate that what they need to say will fall on deaf ears or, worse still, invite an angry reaction. Anticipating that roadblock, we may choose silence. There is a better way, however. Let’s look at how we can navigate these sensitive communications successfully.
When we initiate a challenging discussion, it’s more than likely that the other party may not truly be listening. Their negative reaction may be triggered by specific words or topics, our tone, or body language, but it is most likely anchored in the memory of past impasses and unresolved conflicts. More often than not, the other person appears to be defending their territory and preparing their rebuttal while we’re still trying to articulate our thoughts, and vice-versa of course. Your sentence may not be complete before the other person’s reaction has begun. The futility of not being heard becomes a primary reason why people may default to silence. Read more
In my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.
I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.
This question — asked so often — suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our identity were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their being and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn’t be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you’d like to experience.
Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?
Mel Schwartz Psychotherapy & Marriage Counseling • 246 Post Road East, Suite 275 Westport, CT 06880
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